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.


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