Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Algonquin and Iroquois 2012-03-21

There are times in life when you're in the right place at the right time, like the Adirondacks on Wednesday, March 21st. The last day of the 46ers official winter season offered Florida weather with Adirondack views.

I picked through my list of winter peaks and decided Iroquois was the best fit for the day. Algonquin and Wright put up a tough fight last winter. When we reached Algonquin's summit we were running low on time and stamina to visit Iroquois. It now seemed fitting to hike over Algonquin on a freakishly warm "winter" day.

I left the Loj at 6:50 AM. I expected the trail to be spring-like muddy but it still came as a surprise to encounter mud in March. As I ascended the trail, the mud's consistency changed from syrup, to fudge, and finally to cookie dough. I managed to negotiate the first bits of icy spine in bare-boots. The rock hummock, near the campsite, was skinned in ice. After ascending it, with some difficulty, I decided it was time to put on my Trail Crampons. The ice eventually gave way to firm-packed snow that ran unbroken all the way to treeline. Except for its north-eastern face, Algonquin's summit was snow-free.

I arrived topside at 9:50 AM. The temperature was about 12C (52F), the winds were light, the sun was shining brightly in a clear blue sky, and I was the only hiker on the peak; it was wonderful! I called my wife and shared the moment with her.

New boots on Algonquin.
I could've spent the entire afternoon on Algonquin watching the ravens soar overhead and listening to the soothing rush of water in the valleys. However, Iroquois was the day's objective and, after a quick snack and a few photos, I began descending Algonquin's southern face. This section is one of my favourite places; it's a comfortable descent over solid rock amidst alpine sedges and sweeping views.

Fifteen minutes from the summit, I arrived at the junction and strapped on snowshoes. The herd path has a narrow spine that stands about four feet tall. It winds its way through the dense, stunted spruce trees and becomes a knife-edge in a few spots; bare-booting would be a bad idea. Boundary's summit was snow-free and so the snowshoes came off temporarily.

The recent version of MSR's snowshoe binding uses a metal stud, in lieu of a clip, to hold the excess strap. Anyone who has ever tried to push a strap-hole onto the stud, in cold winter weather, will attest to the fact that it is a difficult and frustrating task. I am happy to report that I have discovered how to make it easy. The exterior temperature has to match the interior temperature of the lab where MSR invented this infernal system.

Somewhere between Boundary and Iroquois I noticed that my face was becoming uncomfortably hot. I had forgotten to put on sunscreen before setting out. I usually carry a tiny squeeze-tube of the stuff in my ditty-bag but it was missing. A tube of Dermatone Lip 'n Face Protector is normally tied to my shoulder-strap and so I decided to try out the 'n Face part. It did the trick but it feels like greasing up for a Channel swim.

Iroquois's north-eastern slope was paved in snow and I chose it for my ascent route. At 10:50 AM, I was atop Iroquois, peak number 26; my winter season was officially over. The views were excellent; I could see the Sewards in the west and Allen in the east. Colden was covered in tendrils of snow and ice. Lake Colden retained its winter cover but Flowed Lands was clearly flowing again.

Iroquois's summit cairn.
The return to the junction was uneventful and seemed mostly an exercise in donning and shedding snowshoes. I arrived at the junction at 11:30 AM and realized the day would be over very quickly if I simply reversed course over Algonquin. I chose to return via Avalanche Pass. The descent to Lake Colden would change the hike's tone.

Descent to Lake Colden.
My recollection of the 'yellow trail' to Lake Colden was based on a single hike many summers ago. I recalled it was steep and followed the course of a stream that trickled over exposed rock offering good views. I now have a very different memory of this trail. With spring melt in full swing, this trail is a wild ride.

The upper section was paved in soft yet supportive snow. With my snowshoes in a snowplow stance, I was able to slide down the steeper pitches. All the while I heard the ominous sound of water flowing underfoot. The views of Colden were fantastic and I made excellent progress. I optimistically predicted a one hour descent to Lake Colden. I was wrong by one hour.

I enjoyed M. Night Shyamalan's 'Signs'. One of the film's themes is whether there are coincidences or does everything happen for a reason. In other words, events do not happen by pure chance but serve as signs and are part of a plan. If I believed this theory, I probably would've placed more meaning into discovering a puddle of excrement by the side of the trail.

It was very clear that someone, or something, had severe bowel issues and was forced to evacuate very urgently. It was the most disgusting thing I've ever encountered on a hike and prompted a "What the f__k?" The filth was alongside a steep pitch that descended to the first of several difficult water-crossings; was it a sign?

The first water-crossing made me realize that the so-called 'water hazards' I encountered two days earlier, on the Lillian Brook herd path, were child's play. The yellow trail's steepness ensures plenty of fast water and the early onset of spring eliminated all snow-bridges. I jinxed myself when I hoped it was the worst of the lot. It proved to be one of the easier ones to cross.

At one point, I stood above three raging streams and wondered which one, if any, was the trail. I descended via a narrow finger of land, separating two streams, and eventually caught sight of the trail in the distance. It felt good to get back on 'dry land' but the next water crossing was not far away. The direction of travel was never an issue but finding the path of least resistance kept me busy.

No sign of the trail but the direction is obvious.
After yet another tricky crossing I came to an area covered in earth. I prodded the surface with my trekking pole because I had no idea if the dark earth had caused the underlying snowpack to soften. There were a few ice floes beached on its surface. It was an odd sight and I suspect it is the result of a flash flood because it lay across from a large waterfall. I suspect its sheath of ice burst and released a torrent of water and soil onto the trail. I followed its course and it led to a spot that seemed to be a deadend. It was the first time I felt overwhelmed and that prompted me to stop and rest.

After a few minutes to eat, drink, and clear my mind, the problem seemed solvable. I bushwhacked along the steep shoreline to find a better vantage point. The trees were very closely spaced but at least the snowpack was solid. I spotted the trail and continued to the next crossing.

I had forgotten the yellow trail switches from one bank to another several times over its length. I recall feeling very pleased after successfully crossing a tricky stretch of water. I walked about a hundred yards downstream and discovered, to my disappointment, the trail crossed back over a far more difficult stretch of water. I retraced my steps to the upstream crossing, recrossed it, and bushwhacked a hundred yards to regain the trail. Whoever cut the trail must have done so in August.

The next crossing finally won and I went hip deep through a snow bank and into the underlying water. I probably uttered a few choice words and each squishy step thereafter reminded me of my carelessness. I was heading along the southern bank and came to a very wide crossing to the northern bank. Screw it! Feeling I was close to Lake Colden, I chose to bushwhack the remaining distance.

Someone else had the same idea because I came across snowshoe tracks several times. The snow was supportive but became patchy as I neared the lake. I learned how awkward it is to step over tangled deadfall while wearing snowshoes. Two hours after leaving the Iroquois/Algonquin col, I exited onto the blue trail within a stone's throw of the footbridge.

I had been looking for something to spice up the hike and I had found it. Amongst the numerous crossings I found many beautiful waterfalls and cascades. The rush of falling water served as background music, thunderous yet soothing. The price of admission was a little steep but the spectacle was memorable. I'm very glad to have experienced everything it had to offer.

I stopped at Lake Colden's northern trail register to put on dry socks. I wondered if I'd be able to cross Avalanche Lake and it wasn't long before that question was answered with a resounding "No". Most of the lake is covered in ice but it is gray and fractured; a moat of open water separates the ice from the shoreline.

Trap Dike purged by Hurricane Irene.
Purged by Irene, water was flowing freely through the Trap Dyke. The two Hitchup Matildas were in good shape and the northern one featured a 'hiker wash' in the form of water dripping from above. In Avalanche Pass I finally met another hiker. He appeared to be descending the slide created by Hurricane Floyd. He was wearing running shoes, T-shirt, and shorts. He zipped past me on the icy spine without the aid of traction devices. He made me wonder what kind of magical soles allowed him stick to ice. A silly thought occurred to me: maybe he was moving so fast that he never touched the ice long enough to slip!

Shortly before reaching Marcy Dam, I experienced the new section of trail. It's a very nice re-route and, to my surprise, has a bed of small river stones! Considering the rugged character of most Adirondack trails, this short stretch feels like a manicured garden path.

Marcy Dam's reservoir is full and a torrent of water gushes from the dam's breach. The dam is in a sorry state; it felt like visiting an old friend who had fallen on hard times. How many wonderful memories have started and finished with a crossing of the dam's bridge? I proceeded down the road to the temporary water crossing.

A sign indicates where the blue trail crosses Marcy Brook. It points to a trail that leads downstream; I didn't follow it. I descended the slope to the brook and crossed it via a plank. Getting to the plank is a little tricky owing to the volume of water.

On the opposite shore I met three hikers who asked me where I had crossed the brook earlier in the day. They had been following the brook's shoreline and discovered the plank. I explained I arrived via a different route, namely by hiking over Algonquin.

I now believe the re-routed trail leads to a water crossing, downstream from the plank, that may be impassable due to the water level. It would explain why they were moving upstream and scouting the shore. I headed directly up the slope and, within a hundred yards, found the original blue trail.

The balance of the hike was uneventful and I arrived at the Loj at 4:20 PM. It was a fine day spent on sun-drenched peaks and along rushing streams and waterfalls; memories to last a lifetime. 


See all photos.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Macomb, South Dix, East Dix, Hough 2012-03-18

I'm not a big fan of crawling out of bed at 3:30 AM so I booked at room at the Maple Leaf Motel in Schroon Lake. Others have said good things about it and I'll add my thumbs up as well. A clean, well-appointed room, for a budget price, awaits you about ten minutes away from Northway exit 29. There's a convenience store across the road and Mr. P's Mountain Smoke House (Update: Mr. P's is no longer in business) is a very short drive away in the town of Schroon Lake. I had the opportunity to sample Chris Palmatier's version of the classic Philly cheesesteak, made with smoked pulled pork, and it was delicious. I will definitely return to try other dishes. Chris plans to add poutine to the menu and, given the excellent fries, I think it'll be a hit. I bought a tall boy of Coors at Stewart's, headed back to my room, kicked back, and watched Bruce Willis run around barefoot in the Nakatomi building.

At 3:30 AM I was awakened by the sound of an idling diesel engine. Now what? After fifteen minutes of being serenaded by the oil-burner, I peeked out the window to discover a flat-bed truck parked in front of my room. I was the sole guest. I stepped out and noticed the flat-bed was hauling an SUV and the two adjoining rooms had doors wide-open. I approached the first person I saw and asked if they could instruct the driver to kill the engine. More people emerged from behind the truck and I was informed he was leaving. I returned to my room and only then I realized the SUV was disabled and its occupants were being deposited at the motel. I guess they weren't going to get much sleep either. After two and half hours of staring at the ceiling, I got up and ate breakfast.

It took less than a half hour to drive from the motel to the Clear Pond trailhead. Brad (BradleyC1319) was already waiting in the lot and before long we were joined by Doru and Zack(ADKZ). We left Clear Pond at 7:00 AM. Zack had brought his bike and cruised passed us on the road to the summer trailhead. Within fifteen minutes we stopped to shed layers; it was unseasonably warm.

I had brought a slip of paper listing milestones and times recorded during my hike to the Dix Range last summer. I planned to use it as a guide to help estimate travel time from one milestone to another and to gauge my own performance. I had no illusions of hiking all five peaks in the time I had achieved. The current trail conditions, and my own physical conditioning, were wildly different from eight months ago.

The initial stretch to Slide Brook was adequately paved in supportive snow and we made good time in bare-boots. Beyond the cairn, we switched to µspikes. This was the first of many stops to switch between µspikes, snowshoes, and bare-boots. We reached Macomb's slide at 9:20 AM. In case it isn't blindingly obvious that you've reached the slide, a misguided do-gooder spelled it out with a Sharpie on not one but two birch trees. Here's hoping the ink doesn't last the summer.

Macomb's slide was a collage of surfaces ranging from soggy talus, soft snow, ice, and bare rock. After a hundred feet or so, three of us removed our µspikes and threaded a line of talus and bare rock. Only the last hundred yards required post-holing through mashed potatoes. Doru did his best to climb it in showshoes but I doubt his route survived the day's warm temperatures. Macomb has lost it's winter mantle.

Rock, snow, and ice; something for everyone.
The views from the top of the slide were too good to ignore so we stopped for a few minutes to admire the scenery. The sky was a brilliant blue and the sun lit up Elk Lake's frozen surface. Skylight, Haystack, Marcy, and Basin were caped in white and gleamed in the morning sun but by day's end they would be mottled with grey. Winter was aging rapidly.

We reached Macomb's summit, my twenty-second winter peak, at 10:15 AM. We were joined by a young couple who were heading to South and East Dix. The temperature was now around 10C (50F) and we were all stripped down to base-layers. The descent to South Dix gave us the opportunity to experience post-holing with snowshoes. The old snow appeared deceptively supportive but was in fact ready to swallow legs whole. It was like a spruce trap, minus the spruce; a sink-hole. Having the slightest build of the group, I expected to breeze on by yet I experienced my fair share of 'that sinking feeling' plus one headlong plunge. Brad was adept at finding sink-holes and effectively marked the perimeter of the spine with holes. He was also darn good at springing spruce traps. I think he expended twice as much energy on this hike as anyone else. Later in the day, he encountered a double-whammy, namely a leg-deep sink-hole that ends with a thorough foot-soaking in ice water.

The herd path was easy to follow but we still managed to lose it in the col between Macomb and South Dix. We were only off by about 50 yards and the post-holing through soft, yet wet, snow underscored the difficulty of off-trail progress. The air temperature whispered summer but the snow in the woods shouted winter. We shed our snowshoes and hiked up the bare, warm rock to South Dix's summit. We were topside at 11:15 AM. This was Doru's thirteenth winter peak and he expressed his concerns about what South Dix had in store for him. Fortunately, South Dix was feeling generous that day and only demanded the loss of a water bottle en route to East Dix. We paused for a few minutes and some members dropped thier packs whereas others simply left behind some gear. The young couple forged ahead and we'd see them only one more time.

Ascending South Dix.
We lost the herd path along the way to East Dix. I guess we zagged when we should've zigged and ended up staring at the young couple's post-holes through dense woods. We followed their path for a few yards and then spotted the herd path through the trees. A quick beeline and we were riding the monorail once again. The snow is melting quickly and erasing all signs of passage. At times the only evidence of a herd path, as we'd discover later on the Lillian Brook path, is a supportive spine with a slightly dimpled surface. 

Shortly before the East Dix's summit, we met the couple returning to South Dix. They were heading back to Macomb. We reached East Dix at 12:10 PM. It has lost its summit marker and only the nails remain. The snowless rocks made an ideal perch and we paused to appreciate a summer's day in March. The temperature was now 17C (62F) and we remarked that on a 'real winter hike' lounging around on a summit usually isn't a practical option. We were lucky to be out on such a unique day.

While descending East Dix, I manage to get beaned in the head. A snag had fallen across the path at head-height and I pushed it aside. It broke and the overhead section swung down and smacked the side of my head. I used a fistful of corn snow as a cold compress and, not feeling dazed or dizzy, continued on. 

I don't recall the precise time we returned to South Dix but it was clear to me at the time that I was well behind my summer hike's timetable. It was my fourth winter hike and my endurance level was not where it needed to be to breeze through all five peaks of the Dix Range. Despite unhappy legs, the company was great, the weather was incredibly good, and the herd path was enjoyable. I'd see how I and the the group felt atop Hough and then play it by ear. We collected our belongings and pressed on.

The descent from South Dix to the col was steep and quick. There were no fresh tracks visible, only remnants of older ones. Pough came and went. We stopped in the col and discussed who desired to push on to Dix. Zack indicated he would decide atop Hough. Doru and Brad were happy with the original itinerary. I was on the fence. I knew Dix was an hour and half away from Hough and it would be a shame to miss out on such a gorgeous day. However, my performance had not been exemplary so it was likely that I'd find it to be a tough slog. Plus there was the matter of the long hike back.

I decided to leave my options open by hiking up Hough with all of my gear. If I hiked up without a pack, I'd get a false sense of its difficulty and suffer "hiker's remorse" for having dropped my pack and closed the door on Dix. If I hiked up with a pack, I'd gain a realistic sense of my performance and render a better decision regarding Dix.

We arrived at Hough's southern lookout at 2:20 PM and stopped to remove our snowshoes. We scrambled up the rocks, thrashed around in the mashed potatoes and stopped again to put on our snowshoes. Doru, believing the summit was near, left his snowshoes at the lookout. The next fifteen minutes of terrain proved to be a challenge so we packed down the snow ahead of him to spare him from the sink-holes. We arrived atop Hough at 2:35 PM and paused to admire the view of the Beckhorn.

We relaxed on the summit and discussed our good fortune to be out in the Dix Range on such a fine day. By 2:50 PM, it was time to decide if I wanted to proceed to Dix. Zack indicated he was prepared to go and, for someone who looked as fresh as the moment he stepped out of his car, it wasn't a big decision; it was good day to be on Dix's summit. Based on my summer hike, I estimated 90 minutes to the summit and at least 3.5 hours to the trailhead. I knew I could find it in me to get there but I was more concerned about the exit. The valley would be alive with meltwater and make for a long slog back to the summer trailhead. I added that the final slap would be me watching Zack zip down the road, to Clear Pond, on his bike! I decided to leave Dix for another day.

We all shook hands, wished Zack the best of luck, and went our separate ways. The following morning I checked in on Zack and he reported he was in good shape. He indicated it took him 90 minutes to get to the summit, one hour of soaking up the sunshine, followed by just a little over 3.5 hours to the trailhead. However, based on what he encountered on the Beckhorn and near Dix Pond, it's clear to me that I would've experienced difficulty keeping up with him. Icy conditions, plus thoughtless post-holing on the Beckhorn trail, and flooded lowland trails, made for a challenging exit. Our descent of the Lillian Brook herd path gave us a taste of what he encountered.

Doru, Brad, and I left Hough and rapidly descended to the col and proceeded down the Lillian Brook herd path. I was looking forward to this leg of our trip because I've never hiked it. I had run out of water back at the col and was now scooping up water with cupped hands and greedily drinking from every rivulet of meltwater.

The initial descent was steep and filled with numerous small streams. Fortunately, the snow pack was intact and the meltwater was heard but not seem. All of that changed quickly when Brad stepped though a bank, in showshoes, and thrashed in knee-deep meltwater. The game had begun.

Entering the Lillian Brook 'water park'.
In brief, all major stream crossings have lost their winter snow-bridges. Add a large volume of fast-moving meltwater and the result is a formidable obstacle. A short bushwhack and walking along a log, in snowshoes no less, allowed us to bypass the worst of it. However, it was the seemingly benign crossings that tricked us and gave us foot-baths in ice-water. Nevertheless, we all agreed we felt invigorated, had caught our 'second wind', and were descending quickly and in good spirits. Perhaps it was the summer-like weather, knowledge we were homeward bound, or baptism by ice-water that was responsible for our high morale. It was a great day to be in the mountains.

We reached the Elk Lake Trail at 4:50PM. I drank from the brook and surveyed the trail. It was winter in rapid retreat. We tried to preserve the remains of the spine by wearing our snowshoes. Less than a mile later, after pussy-footing around far too many puddles, rocks, and mud, I stopped and exclaimed in disgust "I've had enough!" I'm all for preserving the monorail for the good of the next hiker but the snow was disappearing before my eyes! We removed our snowshoes and bare-booted the balance of the trail. High-top rubber boots would've been best.

We arrived at Slide Brook lean-to at 5:20 PM. I peeled off my water-laden socks, dried my feet, greased them with Boudreaux's Butt-Paste, and slipped on dry socks. What a treat! Even the soggy boots felt good. The relief would be short-lived because the Elk Lake trail had a few more surprises in store.

We left the lean-to at 5:30 PM. Slide Brook was now roaring with meltwater and the sturdy bridge across it was appreciated. We increased our pace and arrived at the summer trailhead 40 minutes later. However, not before experiencing some of the new attractions at the Elk Lake 'water park'. The morning's snow cover had disappeared revealing a flowing stream. Rock-hopping and skirting the deepest parts served to keep my feet dry. However, one section was completely flooded and introduced me to an unfamiliar water-hazard. I discovered that three inches of water flowing over seemingly solid ice can conceal well over a foot of water below the ice. Goodbye dry socks, it was nice knowing you!

We covered the final stretch of road, to Clear Pond, in 30 minutes. Brad had the longest drive and left first. He and I had hiked the Sewards the previous summer and it was great that we got the chance to hike again, especially on such an exceptional day. Doru and I spent about a half-hour, cleaning up and munching on snacks. We agreed to meet again, potentially for a hike in the Whites, and then went our separate ways. Before leaving, I looked up the road towards Elk Lake. The stillness and dusk's cool light made me reflect on my decision to skip Dix. I was happy to have finished the hike in good spirits; tired but not spent. I quietly wished Zack, working his way through the 'water park' by headlamp, the best of luck and drove away.


See all photos.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Skylight and Gray 2012-03-11

“Your head’s not in the game.”

That thought-cloud hung over me from the moment I awoke, at 3:20 AM, until the summit of Skylight. Actually, DST had kicked in at 2:00 AM so it was 4:20 AM. Nuts. I felt robbed of one hour’s sleep. Talk about getting up on the wrong side of the bed.

Skylight and Gray were the day’s objectives but the trip to Upper Works, from Montreal, offered plenty of time to dither. It was only my third hike of the season and I wasn’t ‘feeling the love’ I enjoyed last winter. Thoughts of scaling down the day to Cliff and Redfield or just Colden danced in my head. Anyway, the hardest part of my day was prying myself out of a warm bed and that was done. The fun begins on the trail, it always does.

Frost heave is hard at work along the northernmost section of Upper Works Road. Beware of several hummocks and dips that can do damage to your wallet. I left the Upper Works trailhead at 8:20 AM wearing Disco-era gear.

During last week’s hike to Marshall, I was intrigued by Neil’s use of Nordic skis to cover the first two miles of trail. I didn’t bring my ski gear because it is literally the first pair of skis, and boots, I ever owned. How old would that be? My parents gave them to me as a birthday gift in 1978. Yeah, that old!
Ski boots circa 1978.
I had dusted off the boots but what really needed dusting was my skiing technique. Considering the run of warm weather we’ve had, the morning seemed unusually cool at -12C (10F). As a result, the snow was frozen, crusty, and unyielding to edgeless, skinny skis. Long unused muscles in my legs strained to control the lateral slippage on the unforgiving snow. A few descents, punctuated by 'sitzmarks', confirmed that my technique had been measured and found wanting.

Despite the shaky descents, effortlessly gliding along the flats made it feel like I was making good time. An illusion, I assure you. After two miles of skittering and floundering about, I left the skis and boots by the side of the trail, and switched back to boots. All thoughts of skiing across Flowed Lands were also left by the wayside.

Within moments I met Snickers and Brian returning from an overnight at Flowed Lands. She was beaming; she had completed her Winter 46 on Gray. I congratulated her and we discussed trail conditions, spruce traps and more. She cautioned me that other hikers discovered the surface of Flowed Lands to be a soupy mush. After chatting for awhile, they left, no doubt to continue the celebration, and I pushed on to enjoy two more peaks in winter and bring the tally up to 21.

Approximately mid-way between the Henderson Memorial and Flowed Lands, I saw a pine marten. Upon my return later in the day I was treated to a second sighting in the same spot. Unfortunately, he moved faster than I was able to retrieve my camera and the only photo I have is as unconvincing as a Yeti sighting.

I arrived at Flowed Lands shortly after 10:00AM. It was cold and the surface appeared to be solid. Two hikers were crossing the lake. I switched to snowshoes and cautiously probed the surface with my trekking poles. It was solid as concrete.

Mount Colden and Flowed Lands.

Halfway across, there was clear evidence that this morning’s ‘concrete’ used to be pudding. It was pockmarked with snowshoe tracks, each filled with freshly frozen water making them look like miniature skating rinks. It was enough to convince me that I would be returning by land later in the day.

The two hikers were now heading towards me. They explained the tracks ran out. They were heading to Marshall and now had to retrace their steps. I said that was a shame because the lean-to and Herbert Brook were just a few hundred yards away.

As per their report, the tracks stopped at the iced-over stream feeding Flowed Lands. The ice was untracked. I tested its surface, it wasn’t pudding, and twenty paces later I could see the lean-to. I turned around and called out to the hikers but they were now out of earshot. I suspect crossing Flowed Lands will be a very dicey proposition by week’s end. I arrived at Colden Dam at 10:35 AM and stowed my snowshoes.

Hiking along the Opalescent river is a pleasure year-round. I’ve never given suspension bridges a second thought but this day was different. The bridge across the Opalescent was covered in a foot-thick slab of icy snow. My inner engineer paused and, with a faint semblance of Monty Python’s Holy Grail, wondered “What is the bridge’s maximum weight-bearing load?” I chose not to be the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’ and stepped smartly across it. I stopped to peer into the Opalescent Gorge and it grinned with icy fangs stretching deep into its maw.

I arrived at Uphill lean-to at 11:30 AM. No one was home but it definitely had a cozy, lived-in look. The trail steepens at the “3500 feet” sign and that’s where I strapped on my snowshoes. I raised the Televators and settled in to a steady pace. Gummy bears fueled my ascent.

At 12:35 PM, Lake Tear’s snowy surface brought a smile to my face. I can still see John, a college-days hiking buddy, using an ice-axe to chop through its surface to find water. That was a trip during the last Ice Age, around 1980, with deep-winter conditions in mid November. John found no water; Lake Tear was frozen solid and it was probably a good thing no one sampled it.

A half-hour later, Gray, peak number 20, offered up its views to me. I had visited it last April and was unable to find neither the summit sign nor marker. This time I found both. I must admit the route I took last year, a beeline from Marcy, was far more scenic than from Lake Tear.

Best buddies.
Just before leaving the summit, four hikers arrived. Adirondack Ladies, Murph, Bill and “Adirondack Ladies Wannabee” had arrived by way of Skylight. It was good to meet them and we chatted for awhile. They said Skylight provided them with a great butt-slide that made their descent fast and fun. I’m a failure at butt-sliding. I sit and go nowhere; butt-sliding-less wonder.

Fifteen minutes later I was back at Lake Tear. Four packs hung in the trees. As a solo hiker, I’m reticent about putting distance between myself and my pack. I’ve done it once or twice and felt naked without my ‘security blanket’. I dread the thought of lying injured on the snow whereas my warm clothing and food are a very ‘un-fun’ butt-slide away. There are clear benefits to hiking with others.

Thirty minutes later, I was atop Skylight; number 21. Skylight’s summit cairn was barely recognizable under a cloak of ice. I felt all my concerns disappear and I credit the views and the stiff wind for that gift. 3:00 PM was my turn-around time and I was a full forty-five minutes short of the trip-wire.

Skylight, Marcy, me, and the wind.
I spent about ten minutes enjoying the views and sunshine. I could clearly see the outline of hikers on Marcy’s summit. Strong gusts of wind reminded me why this is a treeless summit. I would’ve spent more time but my internal coach reminded me that the hike was only half-done and there was still a matter of ten miles to cover.

Magnificent desolation.
Back at Four Corners, my eyes felt dry and uncomfortable. It dawned on me that I wasn’t wearing sun glasses and the sun has been reflecting off the snow all day. I put on sunglasses but I suspect the wind was the cause of the ‘grit in the eyes’ feeling. Rejuvenated by Gray and Skylight on a picture-perfect day, I proceeded to retrace my steps without a care in the world.

Somewhere between the “No Camping above 4000 feet” and “3500 feet” signs, the trail was smooth as a luge run; the hikers preceding me had done some butt-sliding. I sat down, lurched forward, didn’t budge, lurched again, nothing, got up, and felt like an old fogey trying to imitate children. Enough of that gol’ darn foolishness!

At 3:25 PM I was back at Uphill lean-to. The lean-to was now empty and I paused to replace my snowshoes with µspikes. A few hundred yards past the lean-to I passed three hikers who had hiked Cliff and Redfield. I haven’t seen a woman clear her nose ‘farmer style’ in many years and it isn’t a pretty sight or sound. However, I don’t think I do it any more politely, albeit I hike alone.

I reached the ‘Pi Bridge’ at 4:15 PM and the south end of Flowed Lands at 4:30 PM. If someone told me it only takes fifteen minutes to skirt Flowed Lands by land, I’d disagree. That section always feels longer than its actual length. In contrast, crossing Flowed Lands is so scenic that it’s over all too quickly!

The next 2.5 miles or so were uneventful. I saw the pine marten again, two mosquitoes and jillions of snow fleas. A few yawning holes have developed in the snowpack that are sure to cause skiers some concern.

The snow had softened and I was looking forward to putting on skis. The anticipation of turning a corner and discovering my skis made the last mile feel longer. More than once I thought someone stole my ancient gear, to decorate a restaurant wall, or I had blinked and passed it. Finally, I recognized the terrain and there they were, safe and sound. I put on dry socks, slipped into ski boots that felt like slippers, clipped into skinny skis and zipped down the slope.

The fun ended at the first incline. The morning’s crusty snow had removed all of the ‘wet snow’ wax and back-slip was king. I recall reading that waxable skis are a great fall-guy. If you have any problems, you can always blame the wax: wrong color, too thick, too thin, temperature has changed, etc. Too lazy to break out the wax and cork, I herringboned up the shallow inclines, and walked up the steep ones. Phooey.

The last quarter-mile offered an effortless glide and that was enough to make up for the walking and back-slip. I cruised into the parking area at 6:10 PM, just shy of ten hours in total. It was a very good trip that ended safely, lifted my spirits, and renewed my desire for more. 


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Sunday, March 4, 2012

Marshall 2012-03-04

Great snow conditions, mild weather, and excellent company guaranteed an enjoyable hike up Marshall

Notable notes:
  • Path was broken and firmly packed yet dusted with enough fresh snow to allow for boot/butt-sliding. We µspiked the entire route.
  • The soles of my feet were numb for 90 minutes. Definitely something wrong with my electrical system.
  • Pete Hickey will be pleased to hear that winter hikers have chosen to cross Calamity Pond rather than skirt it via the summer route. 
  • Crossing Flowed Lands is far more scenic than the summer route (and much faster).
  • Lots of deep, unconsolidated snow off-trail. I'll borrow a term I learned: Snow up to your Adam's Apples.
  • We 'highlighted' the route; lots of samples for urinalysis.
  • I got ski-envy watching Neil zip effortlessly down the slope. More gear to explore.
  • Sunshine greeted us upon our return to Upper Works. Better late than never.
Beach-combing on Marshall.
Cheers to Neil, Alistair, Zack (ADKZ), and Michael (CommissionPoint). Thanks for a great day!


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