Sunday, July 10, 2011

Algonquin, Iroquois, and Shepherd's Tooth 2011-07-10

It was such a beautiful weekend that it was difficult to pry myself out of our back yard. On Saturday afternoon, my wife and I were stretched out on our outdoor swing-bed, listening to the fountain's patter on the pool's surface, looking out onto out flower gardens, and savouring the warm breezes. Thoughts of finishing my second 46er round were far from my mind. Yet it seemed like a shame to not scratch off another peak from the list.

My wife would be accompanying me to Lake Placid on Sunday but would not be hiking. With the exception of Iroquois and RPR, my remaining peaks are full-day excursions (Sewards, Santanonis, Dixes). So I chose Iroquois with the intent of completing it quickly so that my wife and I could have the balance of the day together. 

My wife would drop me off at the Loj and I'd call her from Algonquin's summit. We fixed a return time based on my estimate of a seven-hour hike. I left the trailhead at 8:35 AM.

About 15 minutes past the trail junction (to Marcy Dam) I discovered a child's running shoe. I picked it up and, within a few yards, found the pant leg of a pair of convertible pants quickly followed by the matching shoe. Several minutes later, my scavenger hunt came to an end . Junior's pack had been left open. Mom took responsibility for the error and junior was happy to be reunited with his shoes. All in a day's hike.

Fifty minutes out from the Loj, I was reunited with a memory from a previous hike to Algonquin. Upon returning from Algonquin last March, our group was volunteered into performing impromptu trailwork. We sawed and removed a snag that had fallen across the trail. I spotted the sawn end, which remained pointing into the air, but was now several feet above the trail's surface. It stood as mute witness to the depth of this past winter's snowpack.

One hour from the Loj, I arrived at MacIntyre Falls where I stopped to get water. I thought about what the falls looked like last March: a wide, featureless gully of snow with no evidence of a waterfall. Now it revealed itself as a wondrous collage of rock, lichen, moss, fallen timber, and cascading water.

Just past the falls, I caught up with the source of fresh tracks I had been following. A husband and wife team had paused for a rest and we discussed hiking poles. He was new to hiking with poles and had encountered difficulty with pole-placement. I explained they were a tremendous aid for my old knees and, with experience, pole-placement becomes second-nature, like driving a car with a stick-shift. We chatted for several minutes and then I pressed on to the summit. We'd meet again later in the day.

Shortly after 10:00 AM, I arrived at the Wright/Algonquin trail junction. It was now clear to me that there had been no need to 'tank up' at MacIntyre Falls. I had passed several water sources and now found it flowing down the Algonquin trail. Water was in abundance on Algonquin's northern slope but, except for soupy mud puddles, it would prove to be absent along the ridge to Iroquois.

At 10:30 AM, I reached a section of trail featuring a long, steep pitch of exposed rock. Recalling last March's hike, it was the long, snow-covered chute that we had slid down on our snowshoes (and butts). Now it was a steep slope of broken rock where any form of sliding would be the result of a mistake.

At 11:00 AM, I stood on Algonquin's USGS summit marker and called my wife. I reported my progress and explained I'd check in again upon returning from Iroquois. Only a few High Peaks stand at the fringe of Lake Placid's cell range so it's a rare treat to call someone. I suspect that the current generation, so eager to share every moment of their lives, will demand better cellular coverage. Before long, hikers will stream video from summits, tweet at trail junctions, and text in tents.
Summit steward educating first-time visitors to Algonquin.
The summit steward, a petite young lady, explained how a significant amount of the summit's greenery had been restored. She showed me photos, taken in the mid 70's and early 80's, illustrating how the summits of Algonquin and Marcy had been despoiled by hikers. I laughed upon seeing a photo of an orange tent pitched in front of Marcy's memorial plaque. It was dated 1981 and I commented that the early 80's were 'my time' and I certainly knew you weren't permitted to camp there; the photo exaggerated the abuses of the time. Although not as catchy as today's 'Do the Rock Walk', 'Keep off the grass' was a concept promoted 30 years ago. Having said that, it is clear that there had been progress because Algonquin's summit is no longer mangy.

The descent from Algonquin summit to Iroquois's herd-path took me about 5 minutes. Twenty-five minutes later, at 11:45 AM, I was standing atop Iroquois. The herd-path is as evident, and mucky, as a marked trail. Its rocky pitches are marked with yellow paint blazes. It has one significant wet area but I had no trouble traversing it. The path is a highway compared to when I hiked it 30 years ago. Nevertheless, it makes it that much easier to visit Iroquois and experience its charm.
Atop Iroquois.
I had time to spare so I decided to visit Shepherd's Tooth. There are several cairns that point the way down to treeline. The route through the cripplebrush reminds me of the herd paths of yore. Combine trodden fir needles and a few tell-tale patches of exposed earth, shrouded beneath a canopy of abbreviated cripplebrush branches and you have a herd-path circa 1979. It is evident but you must pay attention, especially if it veers off the straight and narrow. To put it into perspective, descending Algonquin took 5 minutes whereas Shepherd's Tooth took 18. It's not a long time in itself, but significant for the distance travelled. I did it in convertible pants and regret that I was too lazy to attach the pant legs. Some of those 'abbreviated branches' are stickers waiting for a fleshy target.
Shepherd's Tooth and Marshall.
The view south from Shepherd's Tooth isn't much different than from atop Iroquois. However, there is a heightened sense of being off the beaten-path. When viewed from Iroquois, the Tooth seems like a short distance below. When viewed from the Tooth, Iroquois looms high above. I admire the folks who've made the trek from Cold Brook Pass. I hope to do that bushwhack in cooler weather. I spent a few minutes taking photos and then descended into the col, where I lost and found the herd-path, and then began the 300 foot ascent to Iroquois. After a 20 minute hike, involving the reconstruction of a few cairns, I arrived on Iroquois's summit at 12:40 PM.

The hike back to the Boundary/Algonquin col was uneventful except for finding a cellphone case, which I dropped it off at the HPIC, and passing a solitary hiker and his dog. The climb back up Algonquin took 15 minutes and I arrived at 1:20 PM. Algonquin was now populated by at least a dozen hikers. Looking at its northern slope, several more acolytes were making the pilgrimage to the summit. The devout were attired in all manner of dress (and undress): short-shorts, shirtless, and one in pantyhose. Most were young but one or two gray-hairs, like myself, dotted the throng.
Colden, mountain and lake.
Despite the 50 minute side-trip to Shepherd's Tooth, I was ahead of schedule so I called my wife to alter the pick-up time. My cellphone indicated there was no signal. I tried moving around the summit, and momentarily picked up a signal, but was unable to place a call. I decided to try later after I had descended a hundred feet or so.

I began my descent at around 1:45 PM. After dropping in elevation, I checked my cellphone and it indicated a strong signal. I called my wife and reported that I was fine, Iroquois was great, and the pick-up time was now 3:00 PM. After hanging up it dawned on me that I may have been overly optimistic about the 75 minute descent time. A ranger, who had been on the summit, was now making his descent and he was moving at a fast clip. I figured if I could keep up with him, I might just exit at 3:00 PM.

I matched the ranger's pace for awhile but lost ground wherever the trail dropped steeply. His iron legs allowed him to jump and land with a thud. I needed to use hiking poles, to soften the landing, and they effectively slowed my descent. I eventually lost sight of him, regained it at the rocky chute, and then he disappeared down the trail.

Along the way I yielded to ascending hikers. At the base of the rocky chute I overheard a heavily-laden backpacker quip to his buddies, "Oh no! Just look down, don't look up!". I passed five nubile young women who appeared to be in training for the Swedish Bikini team. I passed two young men slowly making their way up. I offered them encouragement by reporting the presence of five attractive females farther up the trail. I passed the husband and wife team I had met earlier in the day. Descending, they were now using and appreciating their hiking poles. By the time I passed the Whale's Tail junction I realized I'd be a few minutes late. At 3:10 PM I exited the trail and was greeted by my wife's radiant smile and a big kiss.

I was a sopping mess and opted for a side-trip to Tmax and Topo's for a hot shower. I was greeted by Terri and David, furnished with soap, shampoo, and a towel. It was money well spent as I emerged clean and refreshed. We bade them farewell and then departed for Lake Placid to spend a lazy afternoon capped by a substantial meal, and cold beer, at the Lake Placid Pub and Brewery. A perfect ending to a beautiful summer's day.


See all photos.