Saturday, December 22, 2012

Seward, Donaldson, Emmons 2012-12-22

Did you know there's cell phone reception at the Raquette River trailhead on Coreys road? One 'bar' is what separated trip-cancellation from a great day's hike in the Sewards.

Based on enthusiastic postings, it seemed like half of the forum's membership planned to be in the Seward Range on Saturday. Hoping to get a jump on the crowd, five of us planned to meet at the gate (Raquette River trailhead) and car-pool to the summer trailhead in Kyler's 4WD truck. Illness and worrisome road conditions took their toll and, by 9:00 PM Friday, three members had opted out.

Friday's weather was execrable and Saturday's threatened to be either sloppy or an all-day snowfall. Either way, road conditions would be challenging so I chose to commute on Friday and spend the night at Tmax & Topo's hostel. The drive through the constant rain didn't feel the least bit wintry. The temperature dropped in the evening and a light snowfall gave me hope I wouldn't be hiking in the rain on Saturday. I got my wish and then some.

I left the hostel at 5:15 AM and, owing to slippery roads, arrived at the Coreys gate at 6:10 AM. The road, up to the gate, was in fine shape with no more than an inch of newly fallen snow. There were no fresh tire tracks beyond the gate. I could have driven to the summer trailhead but was concerned about its condition after a day of snowfall. Anyway, I had already agreed to rendezvous at the gate and the only missing element was Kyler. 

Sitting in my car, I watched the morning rush of hiker traffic barrel along toward the summer trailhead. At least a dozen cars zipped by including a half-dozen in a convoy. We weren't the only ones who wanted first crack at pristine trails.

Kyler had indicated he'd be late but the snowy roads threatened to extend "late"; he had a much longer trip to make than I had. I turned on my phone and was pleasantly surprised (astounded) to see one bar of reception (ATT). I left a message indicating I'd abort at 6:30 AM. Kyler replied at 6:20 AM and informed me he had just reached Tupper Lake. I spent the intervening time preparing for the day's hike. He arrived at 6:40 AM and so began a fantastic day in the Sewards.

The road to the summer trailhead was littered with easily avoidable tree limbs plus a few downed trees, including one that blocked half the road's width. There were no washouts or other irregularities that demanded a high-clearance vehicle. All in all, it was passable to most passenger vehicles.

Dawn was breaking when we pulled into the parking lot and took the last available spot. It was alive with activity; hikers were busy preparing for a long day in the mountains. I spoke to two hikers, who had been out the previous day, and the consensus was that snowshoes were unnecessary. Always a tricky call but, given the herd of snowshoe-less hikers who'd be flattening the herd paths, it seemed like a reasonable risk. Besides, the previous day's weather had probably consolidated the trail-base and that theory proved to be true.

We left at 7:30 AM along a wet, snowy, muddy trail in the dim morning light. Attempts to stay out of the open water had limited success. Most of the route up to the Calkins Brook junction was a mix of open water, snow, slush, and snow-covered mud.

We heard voices nearby and met the source at the intersection of Calkins road and the horse trail. MtnManJohn and a large group of happy faces were bound for the Sewards. After a round of hearty greetings, and an exchange of forum monikers and real names (so many names, so little brain power to recall them all), Kyler and I joined the cheerful crowd for the road-walk.

At the Calkins Brook intersection, we wished everyone good luck and headed up the herd-path. We followed footprints to the brook, crossed it via a log (a few feet upstream from the usual crossing point), and met the owners of the prints at the boggy section. BlackBear, Sprucetrap, and one other hiker (sorry, forgot his forum moniker) were making their way through the slush and water. They indicated they had hiked Seymour the previous day and received a thorough drenching. Today's cold and snowfall were a welcome change. We bid them a great day and pressed on, now on a pristine trail.

It was a fairly typical winter ascent with the notable difference being the absence of snowshoes. Everything was sheathed in dense snow; spruce boughs drooped under the heavy burden. I suspect the previous day's weather was responsible for either plastering the woods with wet snow or raining on the existing accumulation. Either way, the result was a dense trail-base that was steadily being paved with fresh, fluffy snow. Eventually the newly fallen snow became slippery enough to warrant traction aids which we used for the balance of the hike.

We reached the ridge at 10:15 AM and Kyler took the lead into the col. The powdery snow made the descent quick but tricky because it concealed underlying ice. It was a surprisingly cold 5 F (-15 C) and the strong westerly gusts added some sting. The drifting snow made reading the course of the herd-path a bit more challenging. We paused and backtracked at least twice to correct our course.

During the ascent out of the col, one encounters two steep rock slabs. Both slabs were glazed in ice under a meringue of snow. On a particularly ornery section, Kyler's Microspikes couldn't provide him with the purchase he needed whereas my Trail Crampons held fast. His determination, and long legs, eventually overcame the hurdle.

Just short of the open rocks on Seward's southwestern side, we stopped to put on shells in anticipation of the bitterly cold wind. Owing to compacted drift snow, the open rocks were easily scaled. Shortly after 11:00 AM, we arrived at Seward's frosted summit sign and congratulated one another. Seward became my 27th winter peak and Kyler's 43rd.

My 27th winter High Peak,
Had I known how cold it'd be that day, I wouldn't have hesitated to wear my heavily-insulated winter boots. Instead, I wore fleece-lined leather boots which had served me well during two recent cold-weather hikes. However, today was considerably colder and my toes, although not painfully cold, reminded me they weren't comfortably warm either. We didn't dawdle on the summit and left at 11:15 AM. 

The most surprising discovery, during our descent into the col, was finding markedly less evidence of our passage. Any notion of 'breaking trail' for others was erased as quickly and effectively as the steady snowfall and swirling winds were concealing our footsteps. The return to the junction was slightly faster and we hit the mark at noon. The trail showed signs of the passage of many boots; all other hikers chose to summit Donaldson and Emmons first.

Within a few minutes past the junction, we stepped up onto Donaldson's summit ledge. Its beautiful view of the Cold River Valley was obscured by an opaque curtain of snowfall. Nevertheless, the spruces clad in snowy armour, standing beneath swirling snowflakes, created a magical scene. After the requisite summit photos, we paused to refuel. We were feeling fine, in good spirits, and pleased by the good trail conditions. Views would've been welcome but it was an acceptable trade-off for no rain.

No views but worth the visit.
Traction aids and hiking poles made short work of descending the icy slabs and drops en route to Emmons. One drop was enhanced with a fixed-line of green cord. Always looking to test the limits of my traction aids, and technique, I didn't use the cord. I didn't remove it either because I had no idea if the groups ahead us had installed it and would be relying on it upon their return.

About a third of the way down we met MtnManJohn's group returning from Emmons. At first it was difficult to recognize them because I saw no happy faces. I asked what happened to everyone's smiles? My friendly jibe produced a few. Admittedly, one or two glassy stares suggested the journey had made them immune to my attempt at humor. Announcing the temperature reading, a mere 5 F, probably cost me a few more friends. Kyler and I described the conditions to Seward, wished them well, and continued to Emmons.

Shortly before the summit we passed another a group of three hikers and met two more of their group atop Emmons. Smiles and summit photos ensued. Emmons became my 29th winter peak. Although one of my least favorite peaks, the warmth and good spirits of fellow hikers made Emmons a great place to be on a cold and snowy December day.

All smiles on Emmons.
We followed the group out and eventually overtook them. A bearded lone hiker, travelling light and fast, passed us on his way to Emmons. We arrived at Donaldson at 2:00 PM and paused for one last snack. It didn't seem like much time had passed before the lone hiker reappeared, paused to acknowledge us, and then sped down the trail. Who was that bearded man?

Some part of my hydration system had finally succumbed to the cold and refused to work. The bite-valve was fine and I had been purging the tube so I theorized the water had frozen low in the tube near the bladder's outlet. I didn't bother to investigate, or decant the remaining water. I downed the last of the hot water from my thermos. I rationalized it was unlikely I would expire from thirst over the remaining few miles to the trailhead.

I reached into my food bag to retrieve an anticipated chunk of Toblerone chocolate. What I found was far from the neat wedges I had anticipated. The heat of the hot water in the hydration bladder had, over the course of the morning, melted it into a blob. Eventually it cooled into an irregular, apple-sized mass that was, fortunately for the other contents of my pack, constrained to its plastic bag. Aside from being a little difficult to eat, it was simply delicious!

We left Donaldson at 2:15 PM and our return via the Calkins Brook herd path was uneventful. We removed our traction aids once it became a bother to repeatedly chisel off the accumulated ice. Sunset came and went. The parking lot appeared out of the gloom at 5:00 PM and signaled the end of an enjoyable day. 

Kyler drove me back to my car along a still very drivable Coreys road. We wished one another season's greetings and he drove off to spend Christmas with his folks. I enjoyed hiking with him and I hope we get the chance to do so again. I bided my time organizing my gear, changed into fresh clothes, and stashed sodden items into plastic bags. 

The drive along Coreys road was a breeze but a new adventure began shortly after I turned onto the highway. The pavement was slippery and a convoy of four cars, perhaps equipped with nothing more than four-season tires, was inching toward Saranac Lake at no more than 30 mph. The wind caused drifting and obscured vision with swirls of blinding snow. No sooner had I passed them when I took caboose position on yet another chain of creeping cars.

When I arrived in Lake Placid I called my wife to let her know I was safe and, to keep it that way, would spend another evening at the hostel. It seemed like a better way to end the day than crawling to Montreal at a snail's pace or being towed out of a ditch. It was a fair trade for having had an exceptional day in the Sewards.


See all photos.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Dial, Nippletop, and Colvin 2012-12-13

FUN DNC. Walk this way!

Which way? Clockwise!

Ah, the age old question: Dial and Nippletop, clockwise or counter-clockwise? For a change, I decided to hike it clockwise. It was fun. So much so that I added Colvin as a bookend. The trip took me 8.5 daylight hours; headlamp snoozed in my pack.

A completely different kind of hike was planned for Thursday. The ambitious itinerary required an ice-axe, so I rented one. Unfortunately, the other party fell ill. Finding myself fully prepared for a hike on a beautiful day, I spun the Wheel of Hiking and it stopped at Nippletop and Dial.

I left the AMR trailhead at 7:50 AM, shortly after sunrise, and headed up the H.G. Leach trail. Within a few minutes I caught up with two ADK High Peaks forum-lurkers (Charlie and Don) also heading to Nippletop. I'd meet them again later in the day at the Elk Pass/Colvin junction. 

The day would prove to be a study of the Great Range from four vantage points. Noonmark's shoulder provided the first view. In early morning light, under a bluebird sky, shrouded in a fresh mantle of snow, the Range appeared vibrant and inviting. By the time I reached Colvin, about two hours before sunset, the Range appeared dark and forbidding.

The Great Range from Noonmark's shoulder.
For no better reason than a desire for challenge, I hiked up Bear Den without traction aids. There were a few moments that made me question my decision. Nevertheless, it certainly spiced up what is otherwise a milquetoast trail. Atop Bear Den, I paused to don gaiters and Trail Crampons. There are no views from Bear Den but everyone knows that. 

It was a bit chillier than I had expected (-8 C or 18 F) but I was moving at a brisk pace and generating a lot of heat and sweat. The trail conditions improved and by that I mean more snow and ice and fewer rocks and roots. The valley had been a carpet of snow-dusted leaves but the ridge offered wintrier conditions.

Dial greeted me with a commanding view of the Great Range and then some. One could identify all peaks from Skylight to Lower Wolfjaw and even Big Slide through the Wolfjaws col. Face southeast and the bulk of Nippletop rises before you.

The Great Range from Dial.

On to Nippletop.
I enjoyed the trail from Dial to Nippletop. There are no significant views but the snow-dusted trees and frozen trailbed made for easy passage. Two inches of fresh snow carpeted the route. The Elk Pass trail junction signalled I was very near to Nippletop's summit.

Pristine trail to Nippletop.
Although I enjoy hiking with others, and meeting people on the trail, I am fond of being the sole person on a snowy trail and windswept peak. Except for the company of the wind, I had the summit to myself. Lunch consisted of the same food I had been eating all morning supplemented with much appreciated hot tea.

Nippletop's wintry summit.
I tend to hike "hot", meaning I generate a lot of heat and sweat when in motion. Accordingly, I wear lightweight clothing while hiking. When I stop for a break, I'm too lazy to dig out the insulated parka, hibernating in my pack, so I simply curtail my break when I become cold. Twenty minutes of munching on space-food, and snapping photos with bare hands, was sufficient to bring about a chill. My fingertips were aching in pain and signalled the need to put on warmer gloves, swap my cap for a hat, and get moving. Naturally, I had to pause to take photos of Dix, an imposing presence under the cloud-speckled sky, and sugar-frosted Dial.

Shortly below the trail junction I met a group of three hikers ascending from Elk Pass. I knew I was going to have more fun descending into the pass than they had climbing out of it. Although steep and very icy, most of the route consisted of ice-steps as opposed to ice-ramps. Shod in Trail Crampons and armed with trekking poles, I descended the route at a brisk pace and emerged in the pass, safe and sound, thirty-five minutes later. A third of the morning's elevation gain was shed in a little over a half-hour.

Elk Pass.
I emerged at the Elk Pass/Colvin trail junction shortly after 1:00 PM. I knew I had enough daylight, and gas in my tank, to visit Colvin so I turned left and headed up. Bleak Blake was never given serious consideration. The route had a few steep sections of ice and one of them, although easily bypassed, tempted me to use my ice-axe. I had carried it this far so why not? I chopped out four steps and made my way up. It was a cheap thrill. The axe proved to be handier at the "Colvin Step" where I used it to hook onto tree roots. Whoever hung a cord as a handrail for this section, be it known that I packed it out.

I emerged on Colvin's summit shortly before 2:00 PM. Now late in the day, and under a cloudier sky, the Great Range appeared anything but its earlier, "warm and friendly" self. Thoroughly soaked from the exertion, I didn't dwell on the summit. After a little more food and water, I was down-climbing the Colvin Step and looking forward to the hike out. By pure chance, I met Charlie and Don, taking a break from their descent of Nippletop, at the Elk Pass/Colvin trail junction.

Lower Ausable Lake.
Taking the bypass trail, I emerged at the Lake Road at 3:30 PM. I peeled off the Trail Crampons and gaiters, downed the last of the lukewarm tea, and began the comfortable walk back to the trailhead. After a day of lifting one's feet, it was a pleasure to simply stride over comparatively level terrain. The road was frozen and merely dusted with snow.

I signed out at 4:20 PM and, from the paucity of log entries, noted that I was one of the very few fortunate to have had fun on DNC. I'll be back after December 21st to add Dial and Nippletop to my Winter 46.


See all photos.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Marcy 2012-12-06

Marcy; the crowd pleaser. Fortunately for me, there were no crowds to please on Thursday. Marcy and I spent time together with no one else in sight.

My last hike was in October so I was overdue for a dose of clean air and mountain views. I needed a trip to clear out the cobwebs and ease back into cold-weather hiking. Thursday promised to be sunny so I planned for a day above treeline.

I woke up at 3:45 AM and spent the next hour preparing for a cold-weather hike. I boiled enough water to deliver a baby. Hot water! Clean linens! Hot water for the hydration bladder, the vacuum bottle, and for the liter bottle to remain in the car. A hearty breakfast, brush my teeth, kiss my sleepy wife goodbye and, at 4:45 AM, I was off.

I arrived at the Loj at 7:15 AM. After changing into my hiking clothes, taping and greasing my feet, and running through a mental checklist of items to bring/leave, I signed in at the trailhead at 7:35 AM.

The day's hike included new gear: lightweight pants and short gaiters. In lieu of my winter-weight softshell pants, I wore lightweight softshell pants over polypro bottoms. Within minutes of exiting my car, the surprisingly cold morning, -10 C (14 F), suggested I had made a grave error. Fortunately, a few minutes of walking at a quick pace proved the combination to be comfortably warm and dry. Instead of knee-high nylon gaiters, I wore an ankle-high softshell version. They were comfortable owing to better ventilation. Unfortunately, the softshell fabric was eventually torn by errant crampon teeth. Good height but wrong fabric.

The Van Hoevenberg trail became more interesting beyond Marcy Dam. The usual dog's breakfast of rocks, mud, and water was fortified with ice and snow. Unperturbed by the cold temperature, and to my vexation, water flowed freely over the frozen trail. A perverse combination of laziness and a desire for challenge, convinced me to hike without traction aids. I managed to bare-boot up to the last trail junction, just shy of Marcy's summit (Van Hoevenberg/Phelps trails). The decision probably added some time to the ascent because I had to pussyfoot around the trickier stretches of icy trail. I knew it would be foolish to extend this challenge to the descent.

Marcy Brook was running high at Indian Falls. Fortunately, an icy foot bath was avoided by crossing on a nearby fallen tree. The view of the MacIntyre range was breath-taking.

MacIntyres from Indian Falls.

View from former site of Hopkins lean-to.
Shortly past the Van Hoevenberg/Phelps junction, the trail became a sheet of ice and the wind developed a stinging bite. I found a sheltered area to don windgear and Trail Crampons. I learned a valuable lesson: if you can't pull your windpants over your boots in a warm house, you'll be equally unsuccessful on a cold, windy mountain. Refusing to be thwarted by reason, and not wishing to extract my feet from warm boots, I shoved my right foot, boot and all, into the pant leg. Within short order, I managed to wedge it so firmly it refused to budge in or out of the pant leg. Oh good job! Feeling very foolish, I slowly and carefully finessed the boot out of the pants. I proceeded to take off my gaiters and boots and put my pants on the proper way. Exposing my stockinged foot to the cold air wasn't as bad as I had expected.

Summit dome.
The remaining mile to the summit was a pleasant walk winding over rock and ice. The summit greeted me with a chilly breeze and an impressive 360 degree view of the High Peaks. After taking a few photos, I descended the snowy leeward side and found a bare rock for a seat. I spent the next 45 minutes having lunch, soaking up what little warmth the sun offered, and enjoying my good fortune of having the summit all to myself.

Marcy's summit.
During my descent to treeline I saw a snowshoe hare in the cripplebrush. Unfortunately, the little fellow scooted away before I could reach for my camera. A half-hour into my descent, I met a hiker from my home province. He indicated he had taken a wrong turn but decided to continue anyway. Shortly afterwards, I met yet another lone hiker from Québec.

Both hikers seemed prepared for the day's conditions and had asked if the summit was nearby. I simply indicated how long I had been descending. I saw no other hikers for the remainder of the hike. Later, while signing out at the trail register, none of the entries indicated Marcy as the destination. In fact, two parties from Québec reported they were heading to Phelps. To each his own, but I don't see how they were helping themselves by indicating one destination then heading to another. 

Below Indian Falls, the conditions of the Van Hoevenberg trail became brutal to traction aids. Each glancing blow of steel teeth on rock sounded like the ringing of spurs. Eventually the Trail Crampons became a hindrance and I removed them at the bridge over Phelps Brook.

The remainder of the trail presented few challenges except for the rock-hop across icy Phelps Brook. When I arrived at Marcy Dam, the sun was low over Caribou Pass. I arrived at the Loj at 3:30 PM, refreshed by the invigorating air and beautiful scenery. The following day, knees and calf muscles would remind me of the exertion. Nevertheless, I was already looking forward to my next wintry hike.


See all photos.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Saddleback 2012-10-26

Saddleback via the slide!

The days are growing shorter, the temperature is dropping, and Hurricane Sandy threatens to inflict havoc on the northeast. Against this backdrop, Friday's forecast, sunny and exceptionally warm (low 70's), was a siren call. Seeking to take best advantage of this gift of summer weather, I decided to climb a slide. I've not seen Hurricane Irene's handiwork on Saddleback so it seemed like the best thing to do.

I rock-climbed in the distant past but, thirty years later, I was wary of relying on long-unused skills. All I could count on was feeling at ease on steep rock. I brought my old rock shoes (Chouinard Canyon's!) but they simply served as ballast; my trail shoes proved to be adequate for the job.

I left the Garden a half hour after sunrise (7:55 AM) and met a hunter barely a mile out. I knew the hunting season was in full swing, yet I managed to overlook wearing bright colors. I hoped my red pack would do the trick. I was not alone; none of the hikers I met sported "blaze orange".

Shortly past the Orebed lean-to, at a house-sized boulder lying next to the trail, I turned right and descended through open woods to Orebed Brook. I entered the brook on a smooth slab of wet rock. Moss and leaves signalled me to watch my footing as I carefully crossed the thin carpet of water to get to dry rock. Negotiating the brook's many rocks, rivulets, ledges, cascades, and waterfalls would prove to be far more enjoyable than trudging along the muddy Orebed Brook trail.

The volume of water was sufficient to produce interesting water features but not enough to impede my passage. A fair bit of rock-hopping is required because a great deal of the brook is littered with large rocks and boulders. Occasionally one can follow along the banks, scoured clean by Irene, and on stretches of smooth rock. I noticed small plants have started to take root in the silt and will add some color next spring, unless Sandy has other ideas.

If there was nothing more than rock-hopping to get to the slide then, at least for me, it would've become boring. Fortunately, there are many waterfalls en route to prevent monotony. I have no idea if they have been given names so I invented my own. Here are the five most interesting cataracts I encountered:

Serrated Falls
Ledge Falls
Broad Falls
Layer Cake Falls
Ramp 'n Stairs
Above Ledge Falls lies a broad expanse of smooth rock that is an ideal spot for a picnic or just lounging away a sunny afternoon. Beyond Broad Falls, a small stream enters from the north (left hand side when ascending). This tributary indicates where the Orebed Brook trail lies close to Orebed Brook. Like the house-sized boulder, it serves as a marker indicating where one can easily switch from brook to trail or vice versa.

For the purposes of slide climbing, I'd say things become more interesting above Ramp 'n Stairs where one encounters what I call the Amphitheater. The Amphitheater is an imposing, curved, stepped wall. It is fairly easy to ascend but signals a change from the smaller walls and ledges ascended earlier.
Once past the Amphitheater, I saw a huge mound of dark material that I assumed to be earth. In fact, it was a band of dark rock with traces of rust. It may be an ore deposit (iron?) but its appearance suggested a waste product so I called it the "Slag Pile". I had no difficulty ascending it.

Beyond the Slag Pile I had a clear view of the new slide. The entire area is white rock mottled with dark patches giving it the appearance of old, rotten snow. I studied the surface and decided to head towards an easily recognizable landmark, namely a low sloping wall I named "Blackstripe".

Blackstripe Wall
I had brought rock shoes but my trail shoes were providing very good adhesion on the clean rock. Upon reaching Blackstripe Wall, I looked back and gazed at the spectacular view of the Orebed valley. I decided to zag to the left and work my way up to a ramp flanked by a large boulder ("Climber's Delight").

"Climber's Delight"
The ramp proved to be a wee bit taller and steeper than expected but, with a little help from the boulder, I managed to ascend it without incident. Beyond "Climber's Delight" I paused to catch my breath and admire the expansive view of the valley flanked by Gothics.

The next section posed no significant hurdles and offered a broad variety of rock features allowing me to pick and choose whatever suited my fancy. Upon reaching the headwall, I had several options to ascend it. The headwall has two major vertical cracks. The left hand crack is a dike and the right hand one may also be a dike but I didn't investigate it.

I ascended the left hand dike to a point where there is a step in the slab between the two dikes. I ventured to the center of the lower slab, discovered the step was waist-high, moved up over the step onto the upper slab, and studied its surface. It was steeper than expected and didn't have much in the way of dimples, nubbins, or protruding "crystals". Hmm.

I moved up and paused again. While I studied the surface, it felt like my shoes had been freshly greased. A tingling feeling came over me indicating my confidence was waning, the next move would not be easier, and I was going to lose some skin. I decided that my trail shoes, and rusty skills, had met their match and now was a good time to bail out.

Unwinding my last move was not easy so I chose to move laterally, to the right, to a nearby slanting crack. Now armed with a solid handhold, I lowered myself past the step and stood on the lower slab. Well, that was exciting! I was too lazy to don my rock shoes and decided to find easier terrain. I walked back to the large dike and stepped onto its left hand slab. The grade was a good match for my shoes and I quickly ascended the last few yards to the top of the headwall.

Having appreciated the views earlier, I didn't dawdle on top of the headwall and ducked into the woods following faint traces of a herd path. Within the woods I found a wall and, following Neil's suggestion, headed right. I recalled his words about a precipitous drop on "climber's right" and then heading up to "pop up" on the summit.

I found a precipitous drop, climbed up onto a ledge but failed to discover an easy path to the summit. I was staring at a seemingly impenetrable expanse of cripplebrush. Some of it seemed so tightly knit that it might even support my weight. Upon closer inspection, I was looking at the tops of trees that, if stepped on, would swallow me whole. I looked down at the base of the ledge and found more thick cripplebrush. I was in no mood to plow through this field of wire-brushes and chose to retreat and find a more welcoming route.

I descended about twenty feet, moved to climber's left a few yards and, staying low, followed whatever route allowed me through while aiming for blue-sky seen through the trees. I was wearing long pants but was too lazy to put on a long-sleeve shirt. I moved carefully and did a fair job of avoiding the appearance of having wrestled with an angry cat.

The terrain was much friendlier and, despite what felt like a long time, I emerged a short while later on the trail, a mere 25 feet from the summit. I was rewarded with a spectacular sight: all valleys east of the great Range were blanketed in clouds. It looked like a glacial field extending out to the horizon!

I took off my footwear, laid everything out to dry, and broke out the Clif Bars. I had planned to hike to Basin and return via the Shorey (ain't no) Shortcut. However, for a change, I chose to spend time relaxing on the summit and enjoying the fine weather and views. I spent about an hour and quarter on Saddleback and had the summit all to my self.

I chose to descend Saddleback using the Orebed Brook trail to a point, above "Broad Falls", where I could enter the brook again. Just below the Saddleback/Gothics col, I met a couple from Quebec who were planning to traverse Gothics, Armstrong, and Lower Wolfjaw. It seemed a little late in the day for the chosen itinerary. I answered their questions and even showed them a few photos of the route given that I had hiked it the previous week.

It seems that Mother Nature hates ladders. The extensive ladder-like staircase, flanking the expanded slide on the Orebed Brook trail, was installed shortly after Irene erased the old trail and its ladders. A recent storm toppled a tall spruce tree directly onto the last set of stairs blocking about 25 feet of it. What are the odds of such a direct hit?

I re-entered Orebed Brook above "Broad Falls" and began a comfortable descent back to my starting point. It was fun retracing my steps and, once again, a welcome change from the muddy trail. I walked about a hundred yards past my initial entry point, in order to inspect an interesting cascade and pool, and then made a beeline up the slope and intersected the trail.

The remainder of the hike was unremarkable except for a brief moment when I walked into a branch stub protruding from a fallen log. It had become so warm that I regretted not having brought shorts. I had rolled up my softshell pants and that exposed my calf to the stub which left a nice souvenir of the encounter. 

Between Johns Brook Lodge and the Garden, I met at least four groups of hikers ranging in number from two to six. Two fellows looked like it may have been their first time out for an overnight. Torn jeans and gear lashed on in a mound suggested the trip would be a significant learning experience. A group of three included two fellows hand-carrying full gallon-bags of water. For added exercise? Farther along, I met two groups of young hikers. The boys in the first group, bare-chested, were laden with enormous packs while bright-eyed girls followed in their wake. The second group, all smiles and laughs, had paused in Deer Brook to refresh themselves. For their sake, I hoped the weather would hold for at least two more days.

I arrived at the Garden at 4:00 PM and discovered fifty people had signed in after me. Everyone was trying to squeeze in one more weekend in the woods, in fair weather, before Sandy remodels it. It had been a great day to visit Irene's handiwork and I wondered if Sandy will make her mark as well. 


See all photos.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Gothics, Armstrong, Upper Wolfjaw and Lower Wolfjaw 2012-10-18

After a hiatus of many years, Robert a.k.a. "Bib" is returning to the Adirondacks to attain 46er status. We were introduced by way of mistaken identity (he thought I was someone else) but it was a fortuitous mix-up. I discovered he lives in Montreal's West Island so, given proximity and a shared interest in hiking, we teamed up to hike the 4K peaks of the lower Great Range.

We left Montreal at 5:00 AM, arrived at St. Huberts at 7:20 AM, and signed in at the AMR trail register at 7:40 AM. Nine hours and four High Peaks later, we were on our way to knock back a few beers.

We selected the best weather day of the week and weren't disappointed. Although equipped for ice and snow we encountered none. In the bright sunshine, the mountains shed their coats of snow and offered us good ol' rock and mud. Traction aids, lulled by constant motion, snoozed all day in our packs.

We made good time and arrived at the dam in just under an hour. Ascending the Weld trail, we topped out on Pyramid around 11:00 AM and were greeted by forecasted winds of 35 mph. The conditions were outside the boundaries of my new lightweight softshell's "design envelope" so I retreated momentarily out of the wind to don a hard shell (and gloves).

Upper Great Range viewed from Pyramid.
The view of the Upper Great Range, and rushing clouds cleaved by Haystack, was spell-binding. The spell was broken after being sufficiently chilled by the constant wind. A quick snack, a few more pictures, and then, still fully-layered for warmth, we descended into the steep col and popped up on Gothics' shoulder fifteen minutes later.

Slightly less breezy than Pyramid, we spent about a half-hour on Gothics enjoying some of the best views around. Despite a recent snowfall, there was no evidence of it; the peaks were dark green tinged with the oxidized palette of post-leaf-peeping season. Shells were stowed and we began our descent to the Gothics/Armstrong col.

Upper Great Range viewed from Gothics.
While descending towards Gothics' northern summit, I remarked to Bib what an amazing place this becomes in winter. The northern ridge can accumulate so much snow that one walks more than 8 feet above the trail! The twisty, rocky descent to the northern summit becomes a smooth highway of snow. However, on this day it was its normal self of rugged trail through stunted trees.

In the col we stopped for a snack and to listen to the symphony of wind through the firs. The growth of young firs among the greying logs of old blowdown brought back a memory of stepping into a spruce trap two winters ago. They appeared to be benign today but their true nature will become evident in a few months.

I had started the hike with an inflamed tendon in my lower left leg and muscle pain in my right shoulder. I wasn't sure if these injuries would prove to be a liability so the Beaver Meadows trail was a potential bail-out route. Both Bib and I felt fine so we continued to Armstrong.

One of the disadvantages of doing this route clockwise is the views become progressively less impressive. Compared to what Pyramid offers, Lower Wolfjaw's views are humdrum. In my opinion, Armstrong offers the last good view before Upper Wolfjaw takes it down a notch and Lower Wolfjaw just pays lip service. We reached Armstrong at 12:30 PM and enjoyed the last good view of the upper Johns Brook valley under a warming sun and mild breezes.

Gothics viewed from Armstrong.
South of Armstrong, the Range trail drops steeply over a series of rock slopes including one spanned by a ladder. Shortly before reaching the ladder, we met our first hiker of the day. I couldn't help but bring attention to the gentleman's fluorescent green trail runners. He mentioned there wasn't too much mud and I indicated his shoes were mute evidence given that they were "still glowing".

Bib en route to Upper Wolfjaw.
Twenty minutes past the ladder we stood on Upper Wolfjaw (1:15 PM) and paused, very briefly, to admire the last good view of our route. I mentioned to Bib that many folks mistake the next summit, with a glacial erratic, for Upper Wolfjaw. A few minutes later we arrived at the erratic and met two more hikers who, mapless, assumed they were atop Upper Wolfjaw. They indicated they were heading to Gothics so, chances are, they will ascend Upper Wolfjaw's true summit. I recounted an example or two of people losing their way due to a lack of a map and navigational skills. I ended my sermon with "Get a map!" We bid them good luck and began our descent into the wolf's mouth.

In the col we paused and, still feeling chipper, agreed to continue to Lower Wolfjaw. The 700' ascent went by quickly and we arrived at 2:20 PM. Referring to a map, we explored our descent options and chose to return by way of the shorter route, namely the Wedge Brook trail. Our descent was at a comfortable pace that permitted us to fully appreciate walking under a canopy of golden trees and enjoy the last bit of fall color. Although by no means a technicolor display, this last vestige of autumn splendor is vibrant compared to what November will offer.

Bridge over Wedge Brook.
We arrived at the AMR trail register at 5:40 PM and then proceeded directly to the Ausable Inn for well-deserved burgers and beer. 


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Ascent: ~5300 feet
Distance: ~16 miles
Time: 9 hours

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Rocky Peak Ridge and Giant Traverse 2012-09-25

Shortly before the recent spate of rainy weather, Brian (Pathgrinder) and I hiked the East Trail, from New Russia to Roaring Brook, over Rocky Peak Ridge and Giant. Brian had completed his first round of 46 and had three more peaks to re-hike in order to complete a single year round of the 46. Having had an enjoyable hike to MacNaughton, I opted to join him on what would prove to be a superb day to hike the East Trail.

The weather forecast promised sunny skies with temperatures in the mid 50's and wind gusts of 25 to 35 mph atop the summits. The wind chill factor prompted us to bring appropriate extra clothing. Stuffing a fleece hat and sweater into my pack was like an official ceremony declaring summer was truly over.

We met at the Roaring Brook trailhead, prepared our hiking gear, and car-pooled to New Russia. This would be the third time I'd hike the route; my first "hike 'n bike" was from New Russia to Chapel Pond and followed by a recent second hike in the opposite direction

The New Russia trailhead lies about 600' above sea level, whereas Chapel Pond is 1600' and Roaring Brook is 1250'. As a result, this is one of the few hikes in the High Peaks where the direction of travel is more than merely an aesthetic choice. An east to west traverse, starting from New Russia, adds from 600 to 1000 feet of elevation gain compared to going west to east.

If you want to experience Rock Peak Ridge's true majesty, as opposed to a mere side-trip from Giant, hiking it from New Russia is best. RPR ranks 20th in height, at 4390', but the ups and downs of the East Trail create 4700' of ascent (as per ADK Guide Book). It is the highest ascent for a single High Peak and follows a route offering spectacular views, terrain, and vegetation. In my opinion, the well-worn and heavily used Van Hoevenburg trail to Marcy is a bore compared to the East Trail to RPR.

During my last visit, the lower portion of Stevens Brook was dry but this is no longer the case. However, the balance of the route offers no reliable sources of water until Lake Mary-Louise (and you'll definitely want to filter its water). We did spot one or two springs while ascending the western slope of Dickerson Notch; rainy weather may reveal more springs. We didn't rely on ephemeral springs and brought all the water we needed.

A note at the register indicated the presence of wasps near the Blueberry Cobbles bypass-junction but we did not encounter any. Upon cresting Blueberry Cobbles, we had our first good look at our route including the eastern tip of RPR and Bald Peak.

Rocky Peak Ridge and Bald Peak from Blueberry Cobbles.
Although Bald Peak stands just over 3000', the ascent from New Russia is 2600', the distance is about 4 miles, and the summit is open with 360° views. Taken all together, Bald Peak feels like a top-tier 4000 footer. The trail register indicated many people choose it as their destination for a day-hike. You may not get to say you climbed a 46er but the views, trail, and paucity of hikers, more than make up for it. We paused at Bald Peak's summit cairn and, cameras in hand, spent time admiring the sweeping views.

Brian makes a journal entry atop Bald Peak.
Along Bald Peak's southwestern ridge lies a large glacial erratic. As we approached it, a bit of foolishness finally came to an end. A significant portion of the East Trail follows along open rock marked with yellow paint blazes. Some misguided hiker chose to conceal the paint blazes with rocks. I uncovered each obscured blaze until the erratic where the concealment ended.

Glacial erratic en route to RPR.
Past the erratic, the trail drops into Dickerson Notch which is a spectacular place because it is forested in birches. At this time of year, the foliage is bright gold and, set against a pure-blue sky, made for a magical place. The wonder faded away as we began the 1100 foot ascent out of the notch. It rises one thousand feet in about three-quarters of a mile but the footing is very good. It was an uneventful climb except for the moment when I looked up and jabbed myself in the eye with a thumb-thick, broken branch protruding into the trail. The chance of looking up at the precise moment needed to jab oneself was very slim but there you have it. My eyeglasses took the brunt of it and my eyelid suffered a small abrasion. I had been unlucky to walk into it but lucky to escape with only a minor injury.

Rocky Peak Ridge features a 4000' high ridge that extends eastwards for about a mile. Once on this ridge, it is a delightful walk among stunted conifers, cripplebrush, birches, mosses and other alpine vegetation. A slight drop brought us to Lake Mary-Louise nestled among a mixed grove of birches and confers. A camp site, lying at an elevation just shy of 4000', offered several level grassy spots for tenting. We did not find any "Do Not Camp" markers but neither did we see markers indicating it is a designated camp site.

Lake Mary-Louise.
Lake Mary-Louise has benefited from recent rains because its water is now clear and no longer the "used motor oil" I had seen in mid-summer. The remainder of the route along the ridge winds through cripplebrush and mosses wearing autumn hues of old hay, peat and umber.

Lake Mary-Louise awash in golden birches.

The forecasted winds had been our companions throughout the hike. My thermometer indicated low 50's but the windchill on the exposed ridge made it nippy. We paused briefly at RPR's summit cairn for a few photos then, for our lunch break, descended a few feet and sat on the lee side of the summit. Aside from a miniature plastic dinosaur left between a few rocks, we were the only ones on RPR. Hiking on a weekday certainly has its advantages.

Cool, breezy day atop RPR.
There's not much to be said about the trail from RPR to Giant other than the RPR side seems less steep. For variety, we took the side-trail to see one of Giant's many slides. I don't know the slide's name but it seemed like a more interesting way of ascending Giant. We followed it to its top and then made a short (<100 yards?) bushwhack back to the trail. The views from the slide were excellent and the ascent was a welcome change from the trail.

Ascending one of Giant's many slides.
Giant's summit was windier than RPR's but, once again, the lee side was comfortable without having to don a windshell. We were joined by a young couple who, after a few photos, also retreated out of the wind. After a brief rest, we continued to the Roaring Brook trail junction where we stopped to chat to a hiker carrying a large framepack. He had started from route 9N, camped the previous night, and was heading to Roaring Brook Falls for one more overnight. We spent about a half-hour talking to him and discovered he had thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail and recently moved to Keene Valley. If you can hike well into your retirement, Keene Valley is a nice place to call home.

Giant's expansive view of the High Peaks.
The remainder of the trail to Roaring Brook Falls was uneventful. Without any significant views, the route seemed longer than the Zander Scott trail. Naturally we didn't pass up the opportunity to inspect the top of the falls and its scenic vista. After a few last photos, we headed down to the trailhead where we discovered that someone parked a foot away from my car. Fortunately it was on the passenger side so I didn't need to do any gymnastics to slip behind the wheel. I can't say I was impressed with the driver's decision to shoehorn his vehicle into an undersized space. I guess there's a first time for everything.

A short while later we were back at the New Russia trailhead where Brian's car stood alone. The East Trail is a gem that sees far less traffic than many other trails in the High Peaks. The 4700' ascent to RPR (5300' to Giant) is probably what discourages many people from exploring this route. However, that's a plus for anyone willing to put in the effort and be rewarded with spectacular views along an exceptional trail. 


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