Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Rocky Peak Ridge and Giant Traverse 2011-07-19

I've always heard good things about the East Trail to Giant. Starting at the trailhead in New Russia, it wends its way over Blueberry Cobbles, Bald Peak, Mason, Rocky Peak, Rocky Peak Ridge and finally, after eight miles and 5300 feet of ascent, arrives at the summit of Giant. The appeal of this trail is that it traverses an open ridge offering unobstructed views of the countryside. I love hiking over open rock, amidst park-like pines, sedges, and wildflowers, with sweeping views of nearby peaks and valleys. I wondered why I hadn't visited this attractive trail and two reasons came to mind: it's a thru-hike, so there's a need for return transportation, and its 5300 foot ascent requires a healthy measure of fitness.

I solved the issue of transportation by deciding to bike from the Chapel Pond trailhead back to New Russia. Chapel Pond lies about a thousand feet higher than New Russia so most of the route is an effortless downhill run. This was important to me because I'm not much of a cyclist and I wasn't enamoured with the idea of an uphill bike ride after several hours of hiking.

Since January, I've hiked 31 peaks, as part of my second 46er round, so I'm no stranger to long hikes. However, I doubt I've exceeded 4500 feet in a single hike so the East Trail would be 'pushing the envelope'. I figured it would be a good test before embarking on a one-day hike of the Dix Range which, in its shortest form, provides an identical ascent and a similar distance.

My fitness is not where I'd like it to be. I'm now plagued with all sorts of 'podiatric problems' that refuse to 'get better with rest and time'. Unlike my leg muscles, my feet refuse to 'toughen up' and have chosen to 'break down'. If my feet survived this hike, I figured they'd be fine for the Santanonis, Dixes, and Sewards.

My first hike to Rocky Peak Ridge (RPR) was 30 years ago via the usual route, namely as a side-trip from Giant. I hiked Giant this past winter but ran out of steam to visit RPR. All this to say that I was looking forward to climbing RPR via a route I'd never hiked.

I left Montreal at 3:40 AM and, shortly before 4:00 AM, barely managed to board the Mercier bridge. The entrance ramp was being sealed off with traffic cones and was about a dozen cones shy of complete closure before I managed to slip in. Otherwise, I'd be forced to detour to another bridge and, at 4:00 AM, taking a longer route to your destination is especially unappealing. If you want to experience true 'carmageddon', come visit the island of Montreal this summer; once on the island, you may never get off!

I arrived at the Chapel Pond trailhead (i.e. Zander Scott trail) at around 6:15 AM. I spotted Gerard's vehicle and recalled that he and Bud were heading to Giant. They had chosen an early start and I hoped I'd meet them during the day. I extracted my disassembled bike from my car's trunk and began to put it back together. It was a good thing I brought work gloves because it was a messy affair to get the rear wheel and chain back in place. I headed into the woods, not so simple while carrying a bike, and found a suitable place to stash it. I locked it to a tree and made sure I pocketed the key!

The trip to the New Russia trailhead would've been faster had I known its precise location. Although armed with the ADK guidebook, and a foggy mental picture derived from Google's Streetview, I failed on my first attempt. Second time was a charm, it was farther than I thought, and I found it just north of Gilligan's Lane. I signed in and left the trailhead at 7:10 AM.

It must have rained overnight because everything was dripping wet. The trail had the appearance of being freshly swept and the air was thick and humid. Within minutes I began to sweat profusely and didn't stop until the hike was over. I became concerned that my 3 liter water supply would be inadequate and there'd be no refueling until Lake Marie-Louise or Giant's lower western slope. Fortunately, it lasted the entire trip.

It is clear that the East Trail to Giant does not see a lot of use. It begins in a stand of mature firs yet its surface is uneroded duff. It reminded me of portions of the East River trail, on AMR property, and a section of the identically named East River trail that heads south from Flowed Lands past Hanging Spear Falls. Hiking these park-like trails is a treat. What an odd coincidence that they all have similar names!

I reached the first lookout just before 8:00 AM and, in addition to a fine view of a cloud-laden valley, I was rewarded with blueberries! Blueberries are in season and can be found lining the trail from the first lookout all the way over Blueberry Cobbles (naturally) and Mason to the summit of Bald Peak. Although not fully ripened, their sweet-tartness was a delicious bonus I greatly appreciated. To say time was lost to harvesting berries would be shortsighted. I consider it time well spent fully appreciating the trail's bounty.
Whereas other mountains provide a wonderful sense of exposure solely on their summits, the route to RPR also offers it along the way to its summit. An added bonus is that the trail, well-marked with cairns and paint blazes, winds through blueberry and raspberry bushes, mosses, sedges, pines, firs, oaks, and wildflowers. 
Bald Peak stands 3000 feet tall but requires an ascent of about 2600 feet (including elevation lost to descents) which, elsewhere in the Adirondacks, will put you on top of a 46er peak. However, unlike most 4000 footers, a significant portion of the trail to Bald Peak offers unobstructed views. 

I reached Bald Peak at 9:30 AM and got a close-up view of what's involved to get to Rocky Peak. The trail drops 200 feet into the col (Dickerson Notch) and then climbs 1200 feet in less than a mile (0.7)! At the time, I was unaware of the measurements and, based on a simple visual assessment, I thought to myself, "Hmm, there's some serious hiking to do!'. I wasn't proven wrong. 
Atop Bald Peak.
Glacial erratic amidst blueberries.
The trail rises almost a thousand feet in the first half-mile yet, despite its steep grade, it is in excellent condition. Completely wooded, there were no significant views until topping out on Rocky Peak. After many pauses to catch my breath, and sip water, I arrived on Rocky Peak at 10:40 AM and saw the prize, RPR, less than a mile, and 300 feet, away. I looked forward to this portion of the trail because I'd be visiting Lake Marie-Louise and the open meadow leading to RPR's summit.

Lake Marie-Louise was not exactly what I had imagined it to be. In my mind's eye I saw a pretty mountain pond in the midst of a meadow. In reality, it is surrounded by a conifer forest. I've read warnings about its water quality but, at least visually, it looked no worse than any other Adirondack pond I've seen. Having said that, I certainly would not drink its water untreated and didn't bother to sample it. Water quality aside, it's a lovely pond with clear water, a grassy patch of shore, lilypads at its western end, and a good view of nearby RPR from its eastern end. I didn't bother to inspect the nearby campsite but I imagine it would be a lovely place to spend a starry night.
Lake Marie-Louise.
The final 300 foot ascent rises out of the trees and traverses a beautiful meadow. At 11:30AM, after 6.7 miles and 4700 feet of ascent, I arrived on RPR's rocky summit. I met two hikers from Montreal and we engaged in a long conversation, in French, about our respective hikes. They indicated they hiked the Zander Scott trail whereupon I asked if they encountered 'deux gros gars' ('two big guys', namely Gerard and Bud) along the way. They had met them early in their hike and the two were making slow progress. I explained that, although slow, the 'two big guys' were awfully determined to succeed.

The two Montrealers generously offered to drive me back to the New Russia trailhead. I thanked them and said I might just accept their offer should I finish in a bad way. However, I was feeling pretty good and looking forward to zipping down route 73.

It left RPR at 11:45 AM and, 50 minutes later, arrived at the Zander Scott trail junction. The trail up Giant, out of the col, represented the 'pushing the envelope' part of my hike and I think I faired well. Five minutes later I was standing atop Giant's heavily populated summit. In addition to several small clots of hikers, the summit was littered with teenage boys, apparently part of some association, sunbathing on the rocks. It was certainly a different world compared to the peace and solitude of the morning's hike. The only people not on Giant were 'les deux gros gars'.

I spent 20 minutes on the summit, resting, snacking, changing socks, and admiring the acrobatics of the soaring ravens. I gained respect for these remarkably intelligent birds after reading Bernd Heinrich's Mind of the Raven. Attracted by hikers bearing food, they swooped in surprisingly close in order to nab a treat. Boldness is one of their survival skills and it is clear that these birds have learned that the reward can be greater than the risk.

Refreshed, I left Giant's summit at 1:00 PM and, 15 minutes later, finally met Gerard and Bud. Despite many hours on the trail, they appeared to be in good spirits and determined to succeed. We chatted very briefly, I wished them well and they pressed on to the summit. At 1:30 PM I passed the two Montrealers and, once again, thanked them for their offer but it looked like I'd finishing in fine style and would be cycling back. I passed several descending hikers and yielded to ascending hikers. I stopped at the Nubble junction where I found a mossy brook and took a moment to sterilize a half-liter of water. The cold clear water was delicious and a welcome change from the lukewarm bathwater I had been sipping all day.

The remainder of the trail sped by quickly and provided notable views of Giant's Washbowl, Chapel Pond, and Chapel Pond Slabs. I arrived at the trailhead at 2:20 AM, ducked into the woods to retrieve my bike, stowed my poles, donned my helmet, and was out on the road at 2:30 PM. Southbound route 73 rises gently from Chapel Pond but, a few hundred yards later, begins a lazy descent that quickly steepens to provide an exhilarating ride. A day's worth of sweat evaporated in a flash and, bathed by a cooling breeze, I'm pretty sure I wore a silly grin for most of the descent.

Once on route 9, peddling was required to get past the flats and a few gentle uphills. Thirty-five minutes after starting out, I pulled into the New Russia trailhead and quickly began the messy job of disassembling my bike for storage. I stowed my gear, signed out at the register, changed into swim trunks and drove off to the nearest swim hole.

Being a hot, sunny day in July, Split Rock Falls was a busy place. The waters of the Boquet River never felt so good. A day's worth of grime was swept away and replaced by a sense of invigoration. I sat on a sun-baked rock to dry and watched the river cascade down the rocks. It was a perfect ending to the day.

Split Rock Falls.


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