Our group of six consisted of Mike (TelemarkMike), Bill (BillB), Sam, Bill H., Pete, and last to leave the trailhead, l'il ol' me. By 7:20 AM we were all safely across the Hudson, warm and bone dry.
With the exception of Sam, who used NEOS overshoes, we employed some form of makeshift waders to ford the foot-deep waters of the Hudson. Not knowing what to expect, I had fashioned a pair of chaps out of contractor-grade garbage bags. They were tied to my waist belt and could've allowed me to wade through thigh-deep water. Fortunately for all, the conditions were not so demanding.
Mike and Bill were in the lead followed by Bill H. and Pete on skis, Sam, and then me in the caboose. The trail appeared to have been broken the day before, or earlier, and was freshly flattened by the passage of two groups that left before us.
Mike followed tracks that led upstream of the marked, but untracked, Opalescent crossing. The tracked crossing led over a broken set of ice floes in a narrower section of the river. We crossed in snowshoes without incident. Upon our return later in the day, I noticed a large section of the crossing, outlined by fractures, had settled; the ice bridge was passable but was collapsing.
Beyond the crossing we met a group of forum members (Bushman Brian) and lurkers. We would cross paths with them at least twice more. We stopped for a break and to stash some gear such as Bill and Pete's skis and my over-engineered "wading chaps". Mike and Bill forged ahead while Sam and I waited for Pete and Bill H. to switch into their snowshoes. The group eventually split into two where four of us were in the lead and two were in caboose position.
About a mile past the trail junction we met the first group of the day, John Davis and Eesti. We would meet them at least three more times during the day.
Having met at least a dozen hikers on the trail, I noted the wide differences in metabolic rates. Many of the people we met were bundled up, some with balaclavas drawn over their faces. In contrast, Bill had stripped down to a baselayer shirt, I wore no hat or mitts, and Bill H. commented he might have to ascend Allen in his underwear!
We paused at the location of a "thunder box" (field toilet) located a mere fifteen feet from the herd path! Someone had a strange sense of humor when this "privy without privacy" was installed in full view of the trail.
The appearance of Skylight Brook signaled the end of the long approach trek and the beginning of the ascent. The brook was easily crossed and the section to Allen Brook was uneventful and a good warm-up for what lie in wait.
Allen Brook was snowed over and its infamously slippery slime was nowhere in sight. We encountered several fallen trees that required crawling under or over but that's par for the course. Overall, the route was less treacherous than in summer when the mud, slime, and running water seek to pull the rug out from under you.
Allen's slide was spectacular. Blanketed in fluffy snow, footing was very good and only a few icy spots required aggressively setting one's snowshoe crampons for traction. The deep powder snow promised an effortless descent. We hugged the (climber's) left side of the slide and didn't pause except to admire the superb views of the Santanonis and Sewards. We didn't know it at the time but most of the central and eastern High Peaks were engulfed in snow clouds whereas the southern and western peaks were bathed in sunshine.
|Mike ascending upper Allen slide.|
|Sam ascending Allen slide.|
|Allen becomes my 40th winter peak.|
|High Peaks are engulfed in snow clouds.|
We met Bushman Brian and company at a ledge and stopped to chat and let them pass. Once the trail was clear again, Mike led the charge to the slide. At the slide I stepped out of the path and glissaded through the unbroken powder. If only the ascent was as effortless as the descent! After clearing the slide, I forged ahead and reached the base of Allen Brook at 1:45 PM. I wrote the time in the snow, indicating to the others that I was safe and moving ahead.
|Looking west to the Santanoni Range.|
Whereas four members of our group had car-pooled, Sam and I had our own vehicles. The foursome needed to stick together since they all had to exit with the driver. Skylight Brook is a pretty, quiet spot but the half-hour intermission was rapidly cooling my sweaty clothes. Sam and I decided it was time to get out of Dodge. The trailhead was a long ways off and it'd be nice to see it before sunset.
I left a trail of breadcrumbs in the form of time-stamps drawn in the snow. The rest of the team, a party of four, would know that we, a party of two, were making safe progress.
At the trail junction we met a lone backpacker heading for state land to camp for the night. I indicated Skylight Brook was a long walk away but there was spot a mile up the trail to Flowed Lands. He thanked us and proceeded to break trail towards Flowed Lands. Sam and I marvelled at the size of his streamlined backpack. He certainly looked like he lacked nothing to make his evening comfortable.
|The "sand pit".|
We reached the Opalescent crossing around 4:00 PM. The herd of hikers, pulks, and dogs had taken its toll and the ice bridge had fractured and settled. It remained easy to cross but its appearance inspired less confidence than when we saw it earlier in the day.
|Opalescent's ice-bridge is collapsing.|
|Long shadows at sunset.|
|Sam crossing Lake Jimmy.|
I spent the next half-hour cleaning up and organizing my gear. By 6:00 PM, seeing that the balance of the team was still en route, I left a thank-you note on their van's door and drove away under a moonlit sky. Thanks Mike, Bill, Bill H., and Pete for a great day!