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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