Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Whiteface (ADK 46er x 2) 2011-08-09

I intended to hike all 46 peaks thirty years ago but lost interest four years and 36 peaks later. As a young man, life's many unexplored opportunities drew me in other directions. I left hiking the remaining peaks for a later date. In a blink of an eye, three decades passed. It was not until a medical diagnosis reminded me I could not delay indefinitely. I finished on Allen last summer. The experience piqued my interest to explore the High Peaks in winter. I hiked sixteen peaks and, by season's end, decided to hike the balance before year's end. My second round would present an opportunity to rediscover trails I had hiked long ago as well as improve my fitness. I chose Whiteface to be my 46th peak in order to allow my family to greet me and share in the moment.

On Tuesday, August 9th, I achieved my goal and completed my second round atop Whiteface. On Allen I had raised a glass of Scotch in memory of departed family members. On Whiteface it was a joyous celebration with three generations of my family and a bottle of sparkling wine.

I had originally planned to complete my second round in September. However, my Toronto-based family members could only visit during the second week of August so I accelerated my hiking timetable by one month. The weather forecast for the week of August 8th did not offer the sunniest days of summer. Tuesday was chosen based on a high cloud-ceiling and little chance of rain until late in the afternoon.

I left Montreal a few hours earlier than my family in order to get a head start. The plan was to have everyone on the summit about a half-hour before my arrival. I budgeted a generous four hours to hike the 6.5 miles from Connery Pond to Whiteface's summit. Our cell phones proved very useful for coordinating the summit reunion. Three hours after my departure I was 100 feet from the summit whereas my family was still an hour away! 

I left the Connery Pond trailhead at 8:20 AM and followed the broad, smooth trail to Whiteface Landing. Whiteface Landing was busy with young campers preparing breakfast and a motorboat taking on passengers at the dock.

View from Whiteface Landing.
I continued towards Whiteface lean-to where there were clear signs that a large party of campers had settled in. The most curious sight was a set of three tripods, constructed from tree branches, bearing Sketcher's Pads inscribed with smiling faces. Totems for some sort of backwoods ritual?

Totem at Whiteface lean-to.
I have no idea how many people hike to Whiteface along this path but it is less eroded than the Wilmington trail. On many trails, rocks and tree roots are laid bare whereas here they barely break the surface. Rocks don't appear until the upper reaches where the trail steepens. I reached the first notable lookout at 11:10 AM, paused, and then moved to a higher vantage point about ten minutes up the trail. I heard voices and, thinking a group of hikers was ahead of me, looked up to discover people looking through scenic viewers; I was less than a hundred feet from the summit.

Trail to Whiteface,
I pulled out my cell phone and contacted my sister who informed me she had just passed the town of Ausable Forks. I realized I had at least an hour to while away. Fortunately, I couldn't have picked a nicer 'waiting area'. I stared off into the distance and began identifying the visible peaks.

The sky was filled with layers of gray clouds but, fortunately, they were all above 5000 feet. It was far from being the 'sunny day' they had predicted but at least it was not raining. After an hour, I changed out of my damp clothes and put on a jacket. I called again and learned that my sister and her family were now on the summit and were waiting for the others to catch up. I informed her to walk towards the scenic viewers and look down towards to the open rocks. She said she was already there and could see one person on a rock. I waved, she laughed, and it was time to finish the ascent.

Hugs and kisses from three generations, six years old to eighty-one, made it the best summit experience of all. Whiteface was busy with tourists and hikers but I felt like we had the place to ourselves. As I headed to Whiteface's official summit, I passed a hiker, a winter 46er, who inquired what was the nature of the celebration and then congratulated me on completing my second round. I thanked him but overlooked to get his name; thank you and I hope we meet again.

Summit souvenirs.
After a quick photo next to Whiteface's exceedingly popular and photogenic summit sign, we retreated to an open area of the summit. Folding chairs were set up for the elderly and my brother-in-law began setting up a tripod and camera for a group photo. My wife produced a bottle of sparking wine to toast the occasion. Armed with plastic glasses filled with bubbly, we posed together to commemorate "46 x 2". Afterwards, my wife gave me a souvenir T-shirt, listing all 46 peaks, and my mother-in-law presented me with a wonderful "Yay for you!" greeting card annotated with her well-wishes. I was especially happy to walk around the summit holding the hand of my energetic six year old niece. She fearlessly climbed onto, and jumped off, whatever lay in her path. 
Hugging the youngest member of our clan.
We spent an hour and a half on the summit before a cool wind and darkening sky signalled it was time to leave. The plan was to call my wife upon reaching the Connery Pond trailhead. I predicted I'd cover the 6.5 miles in two hours. Afterwards, we'd meet at the Lake Placid Pub and Brewery. I dashed off the summit at 2:15 PM and, in my haste, headed in the wrong direction. I could see the slide whereas I ought to see the ski lift. A quick course correction over the boulders among the cripplebrush and I was back on the trail.

By the time I reached the junction at Whiteface Landing it had begun to drizzle. Before long, it began to rain heavily. I saw no reason to stop and don a jacket because I was in dire need of a shower. The rain was peppered with sporadic downpours and they spurred me to pick up my pace. I arrived at the trailhead at 4:10 PM and signed out. I had planned to head to Tmax and Topo's for a shower but there was now little need for it. A few minutes to clean up and change clothes and I was ready for the pub.

After a hearty meal, washed down with plenty of Ubu beer, my wife presented me with a memorable dessert. A simple tray of brownies was adorned with blazing candles that read: 46 x 2. It was a tasty end to the meal and a wonderful finish to the day. 

Dessert fit for a 46er.


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Saturday, August 6, 2011

Esther 2011-08-06

The 46th peak of my second round will be Whiteface, where I'll meet my family, and I want to hike it from Whiteface Landing. Accordingly, a visit to Esther would need to be a separate hike and Saturday seemed like a good time to do it.

After a good night's rest, I left Tmax and Topo's shortly after 6:00 AM. I parked at the ASRC trailhead and departed for the Marble Mountain trail at 7:00 AM.

Largely unmarked, the trail descends a gravel road, past discarded equipment, and into a clearing containing a radio tower. At the far end of the clearing, a cairn (and a foil-wrapped stick) marks the beginning of the trail up Marble Mountain.

The trail follows directly up the fall-line and passes between five pairs of concrete blocks that are the remains of a ski lift. The trail-bed is loose rubble and challenges your footing while ascending and more so during the descent. Its upper reaches are home to at least one hermit thrush who serenaded me with its flute-like calls. 

The morning was warm and exceptionally humid and I was in no hurry to reach the summit. There was a chance of thundershowers developing but not until later in the day. I arrived at the junction at 8:45 AM and marvelled at the tall cairn. It stands below a clearly visible sign that indicates the herd-path to Esther. Nevertheless, increasing its height is an irresistible pleasure for passing hikers.

The route to Esther is a bit scratchy and seemed longer than its true length. I reached Esther's summit at around 9:20 AM. The woods were abuzz with the sound of flies and the air was filled with flitting dragonflies. It was magical.

Natty spats atop Esther.

For dessert, baby spruce cones laced with fresh sap
I paused briefly to admire the view of Whiteface. The silence was sporadically broken by the call of a raptor giving chase high above me (or was it the urgent cries of the prey?). A less natural sound was the snarling of a Harley ascending Whiteface's road. After a few minutes rest, I departed for the junction. I arrived at 10:00 AM and chose to descend as quickly as my old legs allowed.

I passed several ascending hikers and paused only to answer questions about distance, time, and presence of water. I found it difficult to maintain a brisk pace on the loose rocks of the Marble Mountain trail. I stopped to photograph a toad who obliged me by remaining motionless no matter how close I positioned my camera. An hour later, at 11:00 AM, I emerged at the ASRC parking lot. It was the end of a very enjoyable morning in the woods. 

Mr. Toad contemplating life, the universe, and everything.


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Friday, August 5, 2011

Santanoni Range 2011-08-05

Santanoni Range: Santanoni, Panther, Couchsachraga.

The Santanoni Range represented the last range to hike before completing my second round this year on Whiteface. My visit would foster a new and healthier attitude towards Couchsachraga, originally not one of my favourite destinations. I think Emmons now occupies that spot.

I left Montreal at 4:00 AM and arrived at the trailhead shortly before 7:00 AM. Only three cars were in the parking lot; I looked forward to a quiet day in the Santanoni Range. I was the first to sign in and was on the trail at 7:10 AM.

Just as I passed the locked gate, an oncoming SUV, with a US Forest Service logo, slowed to a stop and a fellow stepped out to unlock the gate. We exchanged brief pleasantries and I continued up the road. I wondered what they had finished doing so early in the morning.

The morning was sunny, cool and dry. Except for persistent deer flies, I wasn't bothered by mosquitoes or black flies. My plan was to hike the three peaks in a counter-clockwise loop, as I had done last August, by ascending the ridge via Panther Brook and descending via Santanoni Express. Panther Brook herd-path offers running water close to the ridge whereas the Express route is dry for most of its length.

The start of the Panther Brook herd-path is no longer dry. It now crosses the outflow of a beaver pond on spongy logs. I plumbed the murky water with my hiking pole and it sunk about a yard deep. 

I stopped at the last crossing of Panther Brook and sterilized a liter of water. I cached the bottle at Times Square and downed it upon my return from Couchsachraga. It was a welcome addition to the three liters in my hydration bag. By the end of the hike, my clothing recuperated at least one of those four liters. 

The writing on Panther's summit disk has been refreshed. Other than that, all else seems unchanged including the muddy patch just short of the true summit.

I've developed a greater appreciation for Couchsachraga's sense of humour. It lures you with a herd-path that is in better shape than many others. The descent is spiced with a few steep rocky pitches and ends at a filthy 'welcome mat'. I hear Couchie greeting me with 'Hey there! Kick off your shoes and stick around!" After crossing 'The Bog of Lost Soles', you get punked by a few false summits. Finally, a steep trough of rock signals the true summit is nearby and you pop up onto an inauspicious knob. The final gag is that the best view is the direction from which you came so you can best appreciate the elevation loss. Ba-da-bing! Good one, Couchie!

It was my first opportunity to view the replacement for Couchsachraga's stolen summit sign and I think 'ersatz' sums it up. It attempts to capture the original sign's rustic charm but fails. The original's sun-greyed wood with decorative end-caps, loose rope-binding, and engraved serif lettering have been replaced by a painted board. The replacement sign is attached, with a wood-screw, directly to the tree that bore the summit disk. The disk is gone and the tree's trunk has snapped above where the wood-screw was inserted. It's a sad sight.

Couchie's bog continues to be a broth of muck and compost but it seemed easier to cross due to more downed wood. It can now make the following claim, "New and improved! Contains more fiber!" 

En route to Santanoni, my legs collected two more souvenirs. I looked up to view Santanoni and, right on cue, tripped over a fallen sapling. A scraped knee was the price for a moment's innattention. The sapling is now resting off the trail. Later, I stepped over a long-dead tree trunk and down a short drop. I failed to notice a protruding branch-stub and levered my right shin directly into it. The intense pain signalled it wasn't just a scrape and I had probably bruised my tibia. With a swift kick, accompanied by Ukrainian swear words ('sookhin sin' ... there, now you're on the road to learning a new language), I snapped the @!*# spike off the log and it won't be troubling anyone else.

Santanoni's summit marker has been refreshed and moved to a larger tree a few inches away. The view of the High Peaks is wonderful but better from the lookout on Santanoni's closest sub-summit.

Towards Algonquin
The upper terminus of the Express path, located at the second of three sub-summits, seems a bit more defined than last year and that's probably due to increased usage. Within 50 yards of the summit, the Express trail drops steeply through a short eroded channel that is now littered with deadfall. Beyond that, it becomes a smooth path that eventually leads to a slab of rock. I distrust weather-beaten ropes and down-climbed the slab. The Express route's detour around the beaver pond is no longer marked with unsightly flagging tape.

I met (more like startled) one hiker while descending Couchsachraga (Salut Philippe!) and another hardy-looking fellow upon my return to Times Square. The bulk of the hikers I met (five) were encountered along the Bradley Pond trail while I was exiting. It was grand day for peace, solitude, and reflection.

Along the gravel road I paused to photograph several beautiful butterflies, Great Spangled Fritillary, feeding on the nectar of, what I believe to be, Sweet Joe-Pye Weed. It was one of those rare and magical moments that put the finishing touch on a very fine day.

Great Spangled Fritillary butterflies on Sweet Joe-Pye Weed.
I arrived at the trailhead at 3:30 PM, eight hours and twenty minutes after my departure. I cleaned up and headed to Tmax and Topo's for a good night's sleep (and to ice the lump on my shin, thanks David!) in preparation for the following day's hike to Esther. 


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