Thursday, December 6, 2012

Marcy 2012-12-06

Marcy; the crowd pleaser. Fortunately for me, there were no crowds to please on Thursday. Marcy and I spent time together with no one else in sight.

My last hike was in October so I was overdue for a dose of clean air and mountain views. I needed a trip to clear out the cobwebs and ease back into cold-weather hiking. Thursday promised to be sunny so I planned for a day above treeline.

I woke up at 3:45 AM and spent the next hour preparing for a cold-weather hike. I boiled enough water to deliver a baby. Hot water! Clean linens! Hot water for the hydration bladder, the vacuum bottle, and for the liter bottle to remain in the car. A hearty breakfast, brush my teeth, kiss my sleepy wife goodbye and, at 4:45 AM, I was off.

I arrived at the Loj at 7:15 AM. After changing into my hiking clothes, taping and greasing my feet, and running through a mental checklist of items to bring/leave, I signed in at the trailhead at 7:35 AM.

The day's hike included new gear: lightweight pants and short gaiters. In lieu of my winter-weight softshell pants, I wore lightweight softshell pants over polypro bottoms. Within minutes of exiting my car, the surprisingly cold morning, -10 C (14 F), suggested I had made a grave error. Fortunately, a few minutes of walking at a quick pace proved the combination to be comfortably warm and dry. Instead of knee-high nylon gaiters, I wore an ankle-high softshell version. They were comfortable owing to better ventilation. Unfortunately, the softshell fabric was eventually torn by errant crampon teeth. Good height but wrong fabric.

The Van Hoevenberg trail became more interesting beyond Marcy Dam. The usual dog's breakfast of rocks, mud, and water was fortified with ice and snow. Unperturbed by the cold temperature, and to my vexation, water flowed freely over the frozen trail. A perverse combination of laziness and a desire for challenge, convinced me to hike without traction aids. I managed to bare-boot up to the last trail junction, just shy of Marcy's summit (Van Hoevenberg/Phelps trails). The decision probably added some time to the ascent because I had to pussyfoot around the trickier stretches of icy trail. I knew it would be foolish to extend this challenge to the descent.

Marcy Brook was running high at Indian Falls. Fortunately, an icy foot bath was avoided by crossing on a nearby fallen tree. The view of the MacIntyre range was breath-taking.

MacIntyres from Indian Falls.

View from former site of Hopkins lean-to.
Shortly past the Van Hoevenberg/Phelps junction, the trail became a sheet of ice and the wind developed a stinging bite. I found a sheltered area to don windgear and Trail Crampons. I learned a valuable lesson: if you can't pull your windpants over your boots in a warm house, you'll be equally unsuccessful on a cold, windy mountain. Refusing to be thwarted by reason, and not wishing to extract my feet from warm boots, I shoved my right foot, boot and all, into the pant leg. Within short order, I managed to wedge it so firmly it refused to budge in or out of the pant leg. Oh good job! Feeling very foolish, I slowly and carefully finessed the boot out of the pants. I proceeded to take off my gaiters and boots and put my pants on the proper way. Exposing my stockinged foot to the cold air wasn't as bad as I had expected.

Summit dome.
The remaining mile to the summit was a pleasant walk winding over rock and ice. The summit greeted me with a chilly breeze and an impressive 360 degree view of the High Peaks. After taking a few photos, I descended the snowy leeward side and found a bare rock for a seat. I spent the next 45 minutes having lunch, soaking up what little warmth the sun offered, and enjoying my good fortune of having the summit all to myself.

Marcy's summit.
During my descent to treeline I saw a snowshoe hare in the cripplebrush. Unfortunately, the little fellow scooted away before I could reach for my camera. A half-hour into my descent, I met a hiker from my home province. He indicated he had taken a wrong turn but decided to continue anyway. Shortly afterwards, I met yet another lone hiker from Québec.

Both hikers seemed prepared for the day's conditions and had asked if the summit was nearby. I simply indicated how long I had been descending. I saw no other hikers for the remainder of the hike. Later, while signing out at the trail register, none of the entries indicated Marcy as the destination. In fact, two parties from Québec reported they were heading to Phelps. To each his own, but I don't see how they were helping themselves by indicating one destination then heading to another. 

Below Indian Falls, the conditions of the Van Hoevenberg trail became brutal to traction aids. Each glancing blow of steel teeth on rock sounded like the ringing of spurs. Eventually the Trail Crampons became a hindrance and I removed them at the bridge over Phelps Brook.

The remainder of the trail presented few challenges except for the rock-hop across icy Phelps Brook. When I arrived at Marcy Dam, the sun was low over Caribou Pass. I arrived at the Loj at 3:30 PM, refreshed by the invigorating air and beautiful scenery. The following day, knees and calf muscles would remind me of the exertion. Nevertheless, I was already looking forward to my next wintry hike.


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