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 Québec. 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. 


See all photos.

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