Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Whiteface and Esther 2013-01-15

Mike (TelemarkMike), Rev (Mike's canine personal trainer), and I, visited Whiteface and Esther on Tuesday. The weather was favourable, the trails paved in concrete-like snow, and the views were impressive. Rev set the pace and obliged us to complete the circuit in five and a quarter hours. The three major rest stops of the day (Esther, bend in the auto road, and Whiteface) added up to about 50 minutes. Rev chided us (it sounds like whimpering to human ears) whenever we appeared to stay in one place too long. However, keeping us moving was not Rev's primary motivation. The time we wasted at rest-stops, stood between her and the summit where she was rewarded with doggy treats.

  • A tremendous amount of snow has melted.
  • Trail's snow-spine was hard as concrete.
  • Conditions allowed for faster travel than in summer.
  • I wore Trail Crampons, Mike wore snowshoes, Rev went barefoot.
  • Post-holes were evident but diminished by the recent thaw.
  • Dogs, although loyal, prefer to always be ahead of you.
  • Large swaths of the auto road are no longer covered in snow.
  • The snow cover has deteriorated on the lower portion of the trail up Marble Mountain.
  • Met only two hikers (on Whiteface).
  • Mike led up. I led down. Rev allowed us to think we were leading.

Personal Trainer Rev's Suggested Milestones
(Concessions made for humans, like rest-stops, and only two legs)
07:45 AM, ASRC.
09:30 AM, Esther. 09:35 AM, Depart Esther.
10:30 AM, Auto road. 10:35 AM, Depart along auto road.
11:05 AM, Whiteface. 11:45 AM, Depart Whiteface.
01:00 PM, ASRC.

Next time Mike and I go for a hike, I'll ask that he put ankle-weights on Rev!

Where sky, trail, and road meet.

Castle in the sky.
Tourist walkway.
Find Mike!


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Saturday, January 12, 2013

Nippletop and Dial 2013-01-12

I had a great time hiking Dial, Nippletop, and Colvin (DNC) in mid-December but, despite the authentically wintry weather, they didn't count as "winter peaks". What rich irony that I chose to hike Nippletop and Dial on an official winter's day in spring-like conditions!

I had my doubts about Saturday's weather. It seemed like no two weather-forecasters agreed on what to expect other than unseasonably warm temperatures in the high 40's (> 7 C). The possibly of early morning rain showers was not a pleasant thought on a winter's day. The rain showers were a no-show but the drippy spruces, shedding their snowy coats as melt-water, did a fair impression of "light rain". However, the warm weather and yielding snow made the day worth the trip.

Upon exiting my car, in the AMR parking lot, a familiar vehicle pulled up beside me and out stepped Joe (JoeCedar). We greeted one another and I learned that he was heading for CBND. Seeing that our objectives overlapped a bit, I asked if I could bend his ear for a short stretch of the trip. Joe agreed and off we went up the hill to the AMR gate.

We signed in at 8:05 AM and noticed the handwritten notice, tacked to the wall, suggesting hikers wear snowshoes on the Lake Road "as if it were required" (or something seemingly tongue-in-cheek). Assuming the Lake Road would be paved in compacted snow, we both set off without snowshoes. Within about a hundred yards of what felt like walking in Earth Shoes, we stopped to put on snowshoes.

Joe set a brisk pace and we marched up the road to the Gill Brook Cutoff. We arrived forty-five minutes later and Joe graded our performance as "good for winter in snowshoes". I needed a minute or two to allow the numbness in my soles to disappear! I offered to cut the 'courtesy cord', that invisibly bound him to me, and let him go ahead at his own pace. Ever the gentleman, he suggested we continue to the Nippletop/Colvin junction.

Joe impressed upon me the importance of setting a steady pace. 'Dash and stop', when averaged out, is not as fast and efficient as a 'steady burn'. I was mindful of his advice, while ascending Nippletop, but it'll take more hiking before I master the technique.

We arrived at the junction at 9:45 AM, wished one another a great day and went our separate ways. The route into Elk Pass was, as everything before it, soggy from the 40 F (4 C) temperature. The trail showed evidence of use but some of the tracks were already covered by snow sloughing off overhanging spruce boughs. Everything was melting in a hurry. It was amusing to see small spruces, bent over with their heads in the snow, suddenly spring up. It was as if they were awakening from their winter slumber and wondering "Huh? Spring? So soon?"

I heeded Joe's suggestion to save a few steps and crossed the first pond in Elk Pass. Although obviously frozen, I remained leery of the surface's condition and chose to cross an isthmus of drift snow as opposed to the exposed, wet ice. Combined with searching the woods for a convenient entry point, I left behind a Z-like path suggesting I was navigationally-challenged. Nevertheless, I chose my entry point well because there was nothing but open forest between myself and the trail.

While ascending out of Elk Pass I tried to pace myself but couldn't complete the entire ascent without a few pauses. On the bright side, the conditions were superior to what I had encountered in mid-December and the trail is now a paved incline without any icy steps. A few more days of warm weather may change all that.

I reached the trail junction at ten minutes to the hour and reached Nippletop at 11:00 AM. Between the junction and the summit I met a lone male hiker heading to Dial. Nippletop's head was literally in the clouds and offered no views. With nothing to see or do, and just a cold breeze for company, I took a semi-recognizable summit photo and left.

See? Nothing to see on Nippletop.
En route to Dial, I met three hikers heading to Nippletop. One mentioned that the "rest of my group was ahead of me". I learned there were at least two hikers, a male and a female, also heading to Dial. Below its summit, on a steep slope, two more Nippletop-bound hikers zoomed past me, all smiles even after one had an unplanned butt-slide.

I arrived on Dial at noon and met the lone hiker soaking up the views. Everything south of Dial was engulfed in clouds but we were privileged to see the lower Great Range and Johns Brook valley. We snapped a few photos of one another and then I continued to Bear Den. Winter peaks 31 and 32, and the major ascents of the day, were behind me.

First good view of the day.
Descending Bear Den was fast and fun. The snow conditions were ideal for a fast descent. If the trail seemed dicey, one could easily plow through the soft, unpacked snow off-trail . Around 12:40 PM, I arrived in the col, formed by Bear Den and Noonmark's shoulder, and briefly chatted with the female hiker who turned out to be a fellow forum member, "veggielasagna".

Upper Great Range smothered in cotton-wool clouds.
While ascending out of the col, I met two hikers from Qu├ębec. They inquired if the peak lying ahead of us was Bear Den or Dial. I indicated the former. They asked how long it would take to get to Nippletop and I explained how long it took me to get here from there. They seemed satisfied by my response and went on their way. Now closing in on 1:00 PM, it seemed like a late start for Nippletop.

I left the clearing atop Noonmark's shoulder at 1:00 PM and arrived at the Lake Road at 1:30 PM. It was one of the most enjoyable descents imaginable (and without a single butt-slide). I thought descending through fresh powder was fun but soft wet snow is a close contender. The snow off-trail was especially fast; it felt like it was greasy underfoot and provided the kindest surface for old knees. A few sections were riddled with post-holes but I either plowed through or around them. By the time I reached the road, my legs were achy in all new places but I was still smiling.

Spring-like day in January.
I took off my snowshoes just past the gate and immediately felt like I was walking on air. I signed out at 1:45 PM, five hours and forty minutes from departure, soggy and achy from the effort, but oh-so-happy to have experienced a spring day in January. 


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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Giant and Rocky Peak Ridge 2013-01-08

Bib, Tom (BogHollow) and I hiked to Giant and RPR starting from the Chapel Pond trailhead. We represented the spectrum of winter hikers:
  1. I was visiting RPR to make it my 30th winter peak. Two winters ago, it had taken me 5.5 hours to break trail to Giant and I ran out of energy to include RPR.
  2. Bib was looking forward to test the results of weeks of physiotherapy for his troublesome knee. The testing process, if successful, would also net him his first two winter peaks.
  3. Tom completed his Single Season Winter 46 last year and then spent the summer pursuing other activities. Giant and RPR presented an opportunity to knock the rust off his snowshoes and flex long-dormant muscles.
We left the trailhead at 8:00 AM in good spirits and the mood only got better throughout the day. The weather was very cooperative and, although not a bluebird day, it was warm (-1 C, 30 F) and sunny. The summits were breezy and cold but nothing that staying on the lee side couldn't fix.

The Zander Scott trail was a veritable concrete sidewalk; it was practically post-hole-proof. Nevertheless, we chose to wear our snowshoes. The sooner we became accustomed to wearing them (again), the better for us on future hikes when they'd be essential.

It was my first time hiking the Zander Scott trail in winter and I thought it was even lovelier than in summer. The switchbacks are still there, though many are short-circuited by luge runs carved by many butts, but all its unevenness is paved smooth. Its many stretches of open rock are carpeted in snow and surrounded by gnome-like trees wearing snowy parkas. The views seemed crisper and more impressive especially Empress and Chapel Pond slabs, now sheathed in ice and snow.

Chapel Pond overlook.
Except for an eager wind, Giant's summit was deserted. We congratulated Bib for reaching the top of his first winter High Peak. He was clearly pleased with the results of his efforts to rehabilitate his knee and get back into hiking. With a happy knee, Bib was game for continuing to Rocky Peak Ridge.
Bib's first winter High Peak!

The descent into the col was fast and fun. The trail had an inch of fresh snow and a few slightly deeper drifts. A few steps off-trail and snowshoes easily sank in the soft snow.

RPR's snowy summit was wind-scoured and firmly packed. Its cairn wore a cape of fluted snow ostensibly carved by the same biting wind that greeted us on Giant. Congratulations all around (#2 for Bib, #30 for me, rust-free snowshoes for Tom) were followed by photos and then we retreated eastward, out of the wind.

RPR, my 30th winter High Peak.

Wind-scoured summit of RPR.
Lake Mary-Louise and Bald Peak served as the backdrop for our lunch (it was noon). Tom shared some much appreciated hot tomato soup. Out of the wind, it was a lovely spot to snack and chat but the surroundings showed clear evidence that this place isn't always so benign.

Backdrop for our lunch.

The descent back into the col was a replay of the earlier one. Ascending the other side, for a change of scenery, we ventured out for a peek at the slide. The view of RPR and the valley was impressive and the slide beckoned us to ascend it. The snow was settled and dense, it had not snowed recently, there were no visible fractures, the weather had been evenly cold for days, and everyone agreed to give it a go.

All smiles and eager to ascend the slide.

Tom pauses before taking the lead.
I began the uphill plod through the snow, staying within about twenty feet of the slide's edge. My snowshoes sank about eight inches deep. The extra effort was a small price to pay for the opportunity to ascend the slide. Three-quarters of the way up, Tom took the lead. At the top of the slide we selected an entry point in the woods that appeared to offer the least resistance.

The conditions ensured the short bushwhack would not be boring. Knee to thigh-deep drifts, in snowshoes, demonstrated how challenging a winter bushwhack could be. Bib discovered the airy combination of spruce boughs and snow. After a bit of shuffling, crawling, and floundering, the trail appeared and the bushwhack sampler was over.

We met a young man and woman at the trail junction. They were the only hikers we saw all day. They stowed their snowshoes and proceeded to bare-boot down the Zander Scott trail.

Return from RPR.

Our day and hike draw to a close.
Spoiler Alert: the Roaring Brook trail now intersects the Zander Scott trail beyond (i.e. higher up the mountain) than the official, marked junction. The location of the junction is unchanged. However, there is a drainage that looks like a path when given ample snow coverage. Hikers follow the drainage and make it look like a proper path.

During our descent, we arrived at an unmarked junction. The left fork was clearly the Zander Scott trail. The right fork was assumed to be the trail that skirts the "bump". While ascending we had noticed a small sign indicating the direction to go over the "bump" (we did) or around it. We now assumed we were standing at the upper junction of the the "bump" trail. Our assumption was incorrect.

Tom took the right fork and indicated he'd meet us below the "bump". We followed the left fork and discovered it had nothing to do with the "bump". We emerged at the official Roaring Brook/Zander Scott trail junction. Where was BogHollow?

At the junction, the Roaring Brook trail was unbroken. It became clear that, unless Tom realized the error, it was unlikely he would emerge at the junction. I began to suspect he may be descending the Roaring Brook trail.

In an attempt to gain his attention, I shouted his name and blew my Osprey pack's built-in whistle a few times. It was the first time I used the whistle and, frankly, it's kind of lame. Anyway, we didn't hear a response (Tom also has an Osprey whistle) and that concerned me. Bib observed that the snowy woods may be attenuating my calls.

I told Bib I would head down the unbroken Roaring Brook trail and look for signs of fresh tracks intersecting it. I indicated I'd return in fifteen minutes. If I found no tracks, we'd have to double-back and follow the right fork to find Tom.

Within five minutes of the junction I found a broad and freshly swept luge run. Someone had a good time butt-sliding through here recently on what could only be the Roaring Brook trail. I called out Tom's name twice and received a reply. Within moments he appeared, moving uphill quickly, apologizing for the screw-up.

He explained he had a great descent, and covered a fair bit of distance, before realizing he was nowhere near the so-called "bump". A glimpse of the AMR's club house in the distance confirmed he was on the wrong trail and now he had to regain the elevation he had lost. We had a good laugh about it and were back with Bib within the promised fifteen minutes. Not far below the Roaring Brook junction we encountered a partially obscured sign indicating the way up and around the "bump".

At the Nubble junction, Tom and I chose to remove our snowshoes. Once we began to boot-ski freely down the hard-packed trail, we regretted not having removed them earlier. 

We signed out at 4:00 PM, cleaned up, and then proceeded to toast our success with appropriate refreshments and snacks. Good friends, good food, and a great hike; hard to beat that.


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