Last summer (July 2011), I enjoyed hiking from the New Russia trailhead, over Blueberry Cobbles, Bald Peak, Rocky Peak Ridge and Giant, to the Chapel Pond trailhead. The experience left me with wonderful memories and I vowed to hike the route in the opposite direction. When Mike (Photobug65) announced his intention to traverse Giant and RPR, from Chapel Pond to New Russia, I jumped on the opportunity. Mike and Doug are great hiking companions and I looked forward to ridge-walking on a hot summer's day.
While preparing my hiking gear, I was reminded of the fact that my last hike was to Iroquois on March 21st; my hiking poles were still equipped with snow-baskets! Starting in April, I had taken up running to build endurance for a Great Range Traverse (GRT) at the end of June. Unfortunately, in early June, my right knee developed a severe pain that had me hobbling on level ground and wincing while ascending stairs. I shelved plans for a GRT and ceased running until my knee healed. After three weeks, the pain eased and I was able to run again. The hike over Giant and RPR would be the first test of my knee's recovery. It would also be the first hike wearing a new pair of low-cut shoes (Garmont Momentum XCR).
I arrived at the Chapel Pond trailhead at 7:40 AM and was joined by Mike and friends at 8:00 AM. Mike, Doug, Christopher and I intended to traverse the peaks whereas four other members of the group, including two friendly dogs, were heading exclusively to Giant. Two additional people were late so Mike chose to stay behind to greet them while we departed via the Zander Scott trail. Along the way, one of our group's members chose to turn back.
We stopped at the Washbowl lookout to wait for Mike and friends to catch up. Upon his arrival, he reported the two other hikers were a "no show". After a half-hour of rest, photos, and pleasant conversation, we split into two groups. Four of us left for Giant and the remaining three, two hiking newcomers led by Doug, proceeded at a more relaxed pace.
Along the way I learned I was in the company of at least three people who completed the Great Range Traverse two weeks earlier. I congratulated them and was happy for their success. I was also a little sad my own plan had fallen through. I eagerly listened to the physical and mental hurdles they overcame. A midnight start was followed by 20 hours of hiking interspersed with long breaks on sunny summits. It sounded as good as I had imagined.
The Zander Scott trail is for hikers who enjoy "all ascent" and "no approach". Exit your car and you immediately begin a three thousand foot ascent over a distance of three miles to Giant's summit. The trail is hardened (rock stairs, waterbars, switchbacks, etc) and passes over open rock slabs offering splendid views of the High Peaks. It has been a hot, dry summer and the trail was mud-free, bone-dry, and dusty! Even the blackflies and mosquitos, who normally enjoy my company (the feeling is not mutual), were absent. Was I truly hiking in the Adirondacks?
Each of us brought several liters of water in anticipation of hiking on a hot, muggy day via a very dry trail. By day's end, I had consumed all I brought (3.5 liters). Aside from the Washbowl and Marie-Louise Pond, there are no obvious sources of water.
The summit steward atop Giant greeted eveyone with a "Are you hydrating?". He had packed extra water and offered it to anyone in dire need. As expected, Giant's summit was like a day at the beach minus the water; everyone was stretched out along its rocky "shoreline" and gazing off into the hazy distance.
We played "Name That Peak" and, being 46ers, couldn't stump one another until I spotted one on the horizon lying behind East Dix. Even the summit steward was at a loss to identify it. It appeared to stand taller than East Dix but we knew that couldn't be true. If it was a 4000 footer, we'd all have climbed it! At home I used mapper.acme.com and my best guess is we were looking at Hoffman. It lines up directly behind East Dix, when viewed from Giant, and is 300' lower than East Dix.
We spent an hour atop Giant, eating lunch, enjoying the views, people-watching, and trading hiking stories. Doug and the newcomers were making their way to the summit when Mike and I decided to push on to RPR where we'd wait for Doug and Christopher to join us. Fifty minutes later we were atop, much less inhabited, Rocky Peak Ridge. Mike used a walkie-talkie to communicate with Christopher, on Giant, but the reception was, surprisingly, very spotty. Eventually we were joined by Doug and Christopher and we began our trek down the East Trail to New Russia.
|Summit of Rocky Peak Ridge.|
Along the descent to the pond, my knee signalled it was unhappy. I slowed down and paid more attention to using my hiking poles. The pain subsided but I remained watchful of my footing for the remainder of the hike. The new shoes proved to be very comfortable and supportive. I normally wear ankle-height boots but didn't miss their extra support. I did roll my ankle once but, fortunately, did not injure it.
Marie-Louise Pond (or Mary Louise Pond or Lake Mary Louise) is "good from far but far from good". It's a lovely spot to photograph but, up close, its water is brown and opaque. I described it as being "filled with motor oil". Its nearby camp site, nestled among birches, is lovely and offers at least two grassy spots for tents.
|Prime camp-site near Mary-Louise Pond.|
|In the path of an oncoming 'mushroom cloud' of rain.|
He was accompanied by his five-year-old son and both were in good spirits. An enormous pack lay on the rock. His right boot had lost its sole and gave him the appearance of wearing a leather sock. We were informed the group was packing 30 quarts of water! I wondered if they were planning a culinary feast featuring many soups and stews. We chatted for awhile, concluded he and his son were no worse for wear, and continued on our way.
Blueberries were few and far between. Unlike last year's bumper crop, I found the bushes to be parched and almost free of berries. The few that bore fruit were mostly under-ripe or tart. The shortage of rain has affected the plants and, although no expert, I suspect many will not bear fruit this season. Many other plants, especially those growing in full sun in thin soil, have withered from the heat.
The remainder of the hike was a pleasant descent on an excellent trail. As throughout the hike, our group of four divided into two groups, Mike and I, Doug and Christopher, moving at different paces and occasionally regrouping at lookouts and rest stops. It was a leisurely descent and tacitly indicated no one wanted the trip to end.
Nearing the New Russia trailhead, we met a group of three women whom we recognized from the summit of Giant. One of the group was clearly injured and was hobbling along using two branches as walking sticks. I inquired about her injury and she explained she had sprained her ankle. I asked where this happened and she said "During the ascent of Giant". I was taken aback. I sputtered something along the lines of it being an example of "sheer bloody-mindedness". It seemed to me that there was plenty of opportunity to turn back and avoid exacerbating the damage to the ankle's ligaments. However, I did not know this woman's tolerance for pain and here she was, many miles and two peaks away from Chapel Pond.
She didn't accept our offers of proper hiking poles or an elastic bandage. Mike checked his GPS and informed her she was at least a quarter mile from the trailhead and she replied "I've come this far, I'll tough it out". Having very litle else to offer, I suggested analgesics and she accepted two Tylenols. Unfortunately, none of us had any water left. Mike and I pressed on to his car where he retrieved a bottle and headed back to the injured woman. Arriving at the trailhead, the group thanked us for our concern and assistance. We were informed RPR was the injured woman's fourth High Peak.
Mike ferried me back to my car, parked at the Chapel Pond trailhead. It had been a great hike with engaging trail companions and I hope we share more miles in the future.