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.


See all photos.

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