Saturday, August 18, 2012

Sawteeth, Blake, and Colvin 2012-08-18

  • Sawteeth via the Scenic Trail.
  • Warden's Camp.
  • Carry Trail.
  • Blake via the Elevator Shaft.
  • Colvin.
  • Fish Hawk Cliffs and Indianhead.

Late Friday afternoon, I dropped in at Tmax and Topo's hostel and gave its genial hosts, Terri and David, my belated personal congratulations for their marriage. The newlyweds are doing fine and Terri's "scoped" knees are healing quickly. During my brief stay, I had the opportunity to meet a wonderful science teacher. Her clever young grand-daughter described her passion for identifying mushrooms and other fungi. Her inquisitiveness inspired me to pause and photograph various mushrooms I spotted during my hiking trip the following day. I also met the indefatigable "rbalbs" and his young son; we had met briefly atop Haystack (March, 2011) when he was tackling what he had described as "The Monster(5 peaks: Skylight to Saddleback). In contrast to "The Monster", my amusement park ride would feature a paltry three summits and something called "The Elevator Shaft".

The mere knowledge of having to awaken at 4:00 AM is sufficient to cause me a poor night's sleep. The moment it seemed I had truly settled into a deep slumber I was awakened by my phone's alarm. I removed my ear plugs and, by light of my phone, exited the room as quietly as possible, so as not to disturb my bunkmates, but I doubt I was completely successful. While gorging on a mountain of cereal, two more sleepy-eyed guests wandered into the common room. I can't eat breakfast without reading something so I thumbed through an issue of Adirondack Life and discovered a wonderful article entitled "Into Thin Hair" by Don Mellor. Even if you are not a Boomer, I think you'll appreciate Mellor's views on aging.

Sunrise was still a half-hour away when I arrived at the Saint Huberts parking lot. It was a cool morning (51 F, 10 C) but a brisk walk to the gate warmed me up. En route I passed the AMR's "animatronic deer diorama". I believe they have changed the programming because the normal scene, deer peacefully foraging on the golf green, has been replaced by a doe which sprints to the forest's edge, pauses, looks back, and is quickly joined by two fawns. It tugs at your heart-strings and suggests Disney may have consulted on this gig. I imagine the entire scene is replayed for each passing hiker.

I was the first to sign in at the AMR gate at 5:50 AM. I was still groggy and moving along on auto-pilot. The first thing to penetrate my mental fog was a nagging "wardrobe malfunction" that caused my pants to ride up my butt. It made me wonder if, in the darkness of the hostel's bunk room, I had put my underwear on backwards! After considerable adjustment the overly-familiar pants kept a respectable distance. The silliest things can spoil a nice walk.

I was eager to put the Lake Road behind me and arrived at the dam less than an hour later. I was treated to one more display of animatronic deer. I must confess these seemed real because two ran to a safe distance whereas the third, separated from the others by me, stood motionless. The moment I was no longer a wedge, the lone deer sprinted to join his mates. An interactive diorama?

Deer diorama.
From the vantage point of the bridge, I had a clear view of fog rising from the lake's surface and rising to the summit of Colvin. It was a perfect day to hike the Scenic Trail with a clear sky and cool, dry air. The initial section generally heads along the shore and offers a few good views of Indianhead. At a point where I imagine the trail crew decided "OK, enough with the lake, it's time to go up!" the trail begins to ascend in earnest. Naturally, several switchbacks are needed to get around obstacles. While following the path I thought it would be quite challenging to navigate it in the dead of winter. I spoke too soon because, in the dead of summer, I missed a switchback.

Indianhead, right profile.
I passed under a large rock overhang sheltering a small, and illegal, bivy site decorated with a single piece of charred wood. I followed a very faint path to a steep pitch that required scrambling to ascend. I topped out above the overhang and discovered all traces of the path were gone. Clearly, I was off-route. I retraced my steps and found where I had mistakenly veered away from the trail. I had stepped over some timber, ostensibly placed to prevent entry, and had hiked straight ahead instead of turning right. I rearranged the branches to dissuade other hikers from making the same mistake. 

There are several lookouts along the way to serve as rewards for one's efforts. At 8:20 AM, I took a twenty-minute side-trip to Marble Point. The lookout was damaged by fire recently but, due to quick efforts, only a small area was affected. Nevertheless it will take several years before the vegetation recovers and the charred stumps will remain for many years to come.

Approaching fire-scarred Marble Point.

Blake Peak and Upper Ausable Lake.
I arrived at Outlook #5 at 9:00 AM and it provides the best vantage point for viewing points east. Eighteen minutes later, traversing Rifle Notch, I was atop Sawteeth and admiring the views of Gothics and other peaks in the Great Range. After a few photos, I doubled back to the trail junction and began the most anticipated leg of the hike, the descent to the Warden's Camp.

Upper Great Range.
I'd heard great things about this trail and it all proved to be true. The trailbed is pristine forest floor and free of rocks, mud, and roots. The uppermost portion provides several good views, through the trees, of the Upper Great Range's western flank. It was a pleasure to descend and I made good time. A stone's throw from the private/public land boundary, I stopped at a nameless brook crossing (9:55 AM) to top up my water supply. I saw no other sources of running water prior to the brook.

En route to Warden's Camp from Sawteeth.

Aerated tree.

I arrived at Shanty Brook at 10:30 AM and was greeted by several small cairns, standing like gnomes, in the brook. Constructed of a few stones each, they clearly weren't for navigation but were erected out of pure whimsy. The brook is wide at the crossing and it took me a minute or two to find the less-than-obvious entry to the trail on the opposite bank (hint: it is a several yards downstream).

I arrived at the Warden's Camp a few minutes later and waved to a fellow riding a tractor towing baggage. At the crew quarters, I struck up a conversation with its two friendly stewards. We discussed the AMR property and its pristine trails. They indicated that a loop-trip to Haystack takes about 3.5 hours from the Warden's Camp. I filed that tidbit away for a future trip. I was also informed that there was a spring, created in a carved-out hollow, along the Carry Trail next to a "packrest". I left the Camp at 10:45 AM and followed the Carry Trail, one of the most park-like stretches of trail in the High Peaks. It connects Lower and Upper Ausable Lakes via a level path that winds along a mossy forest floor and then follows the course of the East Branch Ausable River to the Lower lake. It is a gem but cannot be reached without scaling the likes of Sawteeth, Colvin, or Blake.

The park-like Carry Trail.
Fifteen minutes later, I found the "packrest", a tall wooden bench, and stopped to inspect the spring. I had envisioned trickling water flowing in a mossy hollow but found something a little different. The spring had no running water and was simply an earthen hollow, dug out of the bank, featuring a tiny pool of water. A water pipe capped with a tap stood beside it; a sierra cup dangled from the tap. The water was clear but there was at least one insect paddling the pool's surface and another rooting around on the bottom. The tap had to be an ornament but I still gave it a turn to confirm; nothing came out of it. I dipped the sierra cup into the shallow pool and poured its contents into a water bottle. I then proceeded to sterilise the water; better safe than sorry. Several casually-dressed hikers, probably AMR members, greeted me as they headed in the direction of the Warden's Camp. I finished my Clif bar and moved on to tackle the next challenge of the day: the Elevator Shaft.

Pack-rest along the Carry Trail.
The ATIS trail leading from the Carry Trail to the Colvin/Blake col is called the "Elevator Shaft". It rises about 1400 feet in one mile. The trail's name is written vertically on a tall, narrow sign to, I suppose, highlight its kinship with a shaft. Fortunately, it is nothing of the sort and is simply a steep ascent over a very good trailbed. Frankly, the steepest section is the initial climb out of the brook where the "Elevator Shaft" sign is located. Tanking up at the spring was unnecessary because there's water to be found along this trail. It took me 45 minutes to reach the col.

The ugliest trail of the entire day was between the col and the summit of Blake. There are at least two tricky pitches and one is so badly eroded that it could benefit from a re-route or a ladder. Out of expediency, and against my better judgement, I grabbed an obviously compromised tree for assistance and it pulled out in a shower of muck. I managed to arrest my fall and, anointed in moist Adirondack soil, uttered a few choice words. I decided to avoid further destructive gardening and carefully ascended the wet slab relying exclusively on friction. Traversing this pitch will definitely become more interesting over time.

I passed two male hikers, descending from Blake, and arrived on its summit at 12:30 PM. I stopped to eat some fruit and to chat with three other hikers, all aspiring 46ers. The team of two women left about fifteen minutes later and I remained with the lone male hiker. He shared some of his trail mix and it was a welcome change from my usual hiking diet. I was feeling rested and refreshed and, at 12:55 PM, we parted company. I passed the two women and carefully descended the two tricky pitches. Hiking poles are great devices but there are times when grabbing at whatever is handy provides a speed advantage. I paused to answer questions from a father and son team; they looked like Blake was getting the best of them. It pained me to inform them that the summit was not nearby and they still had to get past two nasty bits of trail. I arrived at the col at 1:13 PM, only a few minutes faster than my ascent which says something about the terrain.

At Colvin's ladder, I passed the two male hikers and pressed on to the summit. I knew the next stretch runs along Colvin's ridge and feels longer than it appears on a map. I was looking forward to stopping on Colvin and enjoying the views. Twenty-five minutes from the col, I arrived on the summit to find it was carpeted in hikers. It appeared to be a group outing of one or more families and they were seated shoulder to shoulder. It was clear I was not going to spend time here. I took a few photos, visually traced my route from Sawteeth and, reluctantly, left the busy summit at 1:40 PM.

Lower Great Range and Lower Ausable Lake.
I arrived at Fish Hawk Cliffs about an hour later and it was deserted. Avalanche Pass is impressive but Lower Ausable Lake, flanked by Sawteeth and Colvin rising two thousand feet above its waters, is breathtaking. Indianhead, which looks good from the Scenic Trail, is most impressive when viewed from Fish Hawk Cliffs. The final ascent of the day was a mere blip of 50 feet between Fish Hawk Cliffs and Indianhead. After a few last looks from Indianhead, I began the descent to the Lake Road. I stepped onto the road at 3:30 PM.

Colvin and Sawteeth.
My last major hike had been a traverse of the Upper Great Range from Marcy to Gothics. It was a trial run for a Great Range Traverse and I learned that my fitness level, notably my right knee, was not up to the challenge. I added a lot of stretching to my exercise routine plus squats and increased my running route to 10 kilometers. The extra effort, over a period of four weeks, appeared to have improved my knee strength. My right knee felt stable throughout the hike and I felt discomfort only near the end of the route, while descending Colvin. I hiked without ever using my poles but I was glad they were handy. The final 3 miles of striding along the sandy roadbed was a welcome relief for my tired knees.

The Lake Road was busy with hikers, runners, the shuttle bus, and a person in a wheelchair being pushed uphill. Some were out for a stroll, others for training, and perhaps a lucky few were heading for the Carry by boat. Fifty minutes later, I arrived at the gate and, after a little trouble locating my name (many people had signed in), I signed out and made the short walk back to my car. The parking lot was filled to capacity and overflowed onto the shoulder of the highway. I changed into dry clothes and headed for a hot shower at the Magic Pines campground to attend the ADK High Peaks Foundation's Summer Gathering. A party in the company of fellow hikers was the perfect ending to the day. 


See all photos.


AMR Gate 5:50 AM
Lower Ausable Lake Dam 6:45 AM
Lost about 15 minutes by deviating from the trail.
Marble Point Junction 8:21 AM
Marble Point Junction 8:42 AM
Outlook #5 9:00 AM
Sawteeth 9:18 AM
Brook crossing 9:55 AM
Haystack trail junction 10:33 AM
Warden's Camp 10:37 AM
Left Warden's Camp 10:45 AM
Packrest 11:00 AM
Left packrest 11:09 AM
Elevator Shaft 11:21 AM
Colvin/Blake col 12:05 AM
Blake 12:31 AM
Left Blake 12:54 AM
Colvin/Blake col 1:13 PM
Colvin 1:39 PM
Nippletop/Colvin Trail Junction 2:17 PM
Fish Hawk Cliffs Trail Junction 2:35 PM
Fish Hawk Cliffs 2:46 PM
Indian Head 3:01 PM
Lake Road 3:30 PM
AMR Gate 4:10 PM

Total: 10h 20m

Lower Lake from gate, 700', 3.3 mi
Sawteeth from Lower Lake, 2275', 3.0 mi
Descent to Warden's Camp, 2.8 mi
Carry Trail, 0, 1.0 mi
Blake from the Carry, 2000', 1.7 mi
Colvin from Blake, 600', 1.4 mi
Descent to Lake Road via Fish Hawk Cliffs, 3.3 mi
Gate from Lower Lake, 3.3 mi

Distance: 19.8 mi
Ascent: 5575

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