Sunday, February 10, 2013

Redfield and Cliff 2013-02-10

I had the good fortune of joining Nancy (HighOnLife), the Lamb sisters (Mary "Alpine Lamb" and Cynda "WannabeALJr"), and Brian (SummitHat) to visit Redfield and Cliff. I knew it would be special because Nancy's message indicated I ought to wear red and the theme would be Valentine's Day.

I own no red hiking gear except for an insulated jacket which rarely leaves the bottom of my pack. No problem. While sitting in the back seat of my car in the Loj's parking lot, administering to the needs of my feet, my car door swung open and Nancy cheerfully handed me a swag bag. It contained several bright red necklaces, with heart-shaped charms, a red rabbit toutou (plush toy), and candy. I was good to go! Upon greeting the Lamb sisters, they draped another necklace around my neck giving the day a feel of Mardi Gras! 

The morning was gloriously clear and bright but a touch on the cold side (-15F, -26C). Dressing for today's conditions included wearing several necklaces, one with an attached shot-glass, and a red rabbit peering out of my pack. Mary signed in for us at 7:10 AM. We would return a little over 13 hours later. Our route would be to cross frozen Marcy Dam, Avalanche and Colden lakes and proceed via the Opalescent to Uphill lean-to.

Friday's snowfall resuscitated the conditions for snowshoers and skiers. The trail to Marcy Dam received about six inches of fresh snow and was well-packed. At the Algonquin trail junction, we made the requisite pause to adjust clothing. Nancy's knee was troubling her but she soldiered on and eventually was motoring in the lead. The forest was filled with the crunch-crunching of our snowshoes punctuated by Mary's exuberant exclamations.

At Marcy Dam, we walked onto the frozen reservoir and were greeted by sunrise and spectacular views of Colden and the Angel slides on Wright. Mary and I crossed to the opposite shore and the balance of our group crossed the reservoir to its southern end. We reconvened on the trail and continued, on the packed trail, to Avalanche Pass.

Crisp winter day at Marcy Dam.
In theory, crossing the frozen surface of Avalanche Lake ought to be faster than negotiating the trail along its shore. In practice, it is difficult to avoid stopping frequently to admire and photograph the wonders of Avalanche Pass. At its southern outlet, we stepped gingerly onto the shore being well aware that the ice may be thin. Upon our return, we found this to be the case and noted a few holes and open, shallow water.

Early morning in Avalanche Pass.
No longer screened by Mount Colden, the sun made its luminous appearance when we stepped onto Lake Colden. The view of the MacIntyre Range is worth the trip alone. Windless and relatively warm, we paused for a snack and then continued to the lake's southern outlet.

Mary and Cynda on the northern end of lake Colden.
The suspension bridge across the Opalescent was laden with a thick layer of compressed snow so we chose to cross it one at a time. The trail was unbroken but the few inches of fluffy powder presented no real obstacle. The real work would come later during the ascents.

We paused at Uphill lean-to for a snack and prepared ourselves for the two peaks. The herd paths to Redfield and Cliff were unbroken and the snow depth varied from a half foot at the base to a foot on the upper slopes with knee-deep drifts. Redfield was the first objective. Some of our group left gear at the junction to lighten their load. Naturally, we wore snowshoes except for the upper portion of Cliff where everyone, except me (more on that later), switched to crampons.

Shortly after the junction, and unknown to us, blowdown obscured the herd path. We followed a likely path that eventually petered out. Knowing the herd path follows the brook, we simply made a hard left and quickly intersected the proper path. The blowdown would eventually lead to an unusual injury that would add a little more red to the day.

The lookout above Uphill Falls is one of my favourite spots with a commanding view of Algonquin reminiscent of Indian Falls. I was recounting this to Brian when he ventured onto the pristine surface and plunged waist-deep into the brook. Fortunately, he was not immersed and, upon extracting himself, discovered the surface was a treacherous layer-cake of fluffy snow, thin ice, void, followed by more snow and ice and finally water. As inviting a trail as Uphill Brook appeared, we didn't tread on its surface and hugged its bank.

Brian tests the surface strength.
We took turns breaking trail and route-finding. The trickiest bits were along the tributary that leads into Uphill Brook. The herd path follows its course but the deep gullies of snow, leading to open water, once again made us hug the deeper drifts high along its banks. We topped out on Redfield at approximately 1:00 PM whereupon we decorated its summit sign with playful rabbits and monkeys. A bright red balloon announced "Happy Valentine's Day!" A few days early but who's counting!

Furry friends on Redfield.
The snowpack gave us a boost and, standing tall, provided us with excellent views to the north and south. The warming sunshine and bluebird sky were a refreshing change from all too many frigid, viewless peaks I've hiked this winter. After snacks, chocolate truffles, and a few rounds of group photos, Nancy led the quick descent back to the junction.

View north from Redfield.
The source of the original route-finding error was discovered to be a large fallen tree. It obscured a bend in the path causing us to incorrectly proceed straight ahead. Highonlife and I had arrived first so, while waiting for the others to arrive, I chose to do some trail maintenance.

I broke off two large limbs, from the fallen tree, and created a large "X" to block the entrance of the incorrect path. Not satisfied with the "X" I decided to break off one more limb which proved to be a fateful decision. Unlike the others, the third branch refused to give way easily and, when it did, shattered in my hand. Now a projectile, it delivered an uppercut that drove my lower lip into my upper incisors.

Naturally, the event happened so quickly that all that registered was a snap, followed by a thwack, and then shock, and finally pain. I could feel a laceration inside my mouth and the development of a 'fat lip'. I spat blood. It was not the kind of 'red' contribution I wanted to make for Valentine's Day.

I scooped up a handful of snow, compressed it into a ball and pressed it to my lip. The cold helped to reduce the swelling but wasn't doing much to staunch the flow of blood. After many handfuls of snow, and decorating the junction with numerous bloody gobs, I began searching my ditty bag for a better solution. I folded a pad of gauze and, sort of like chewing tobacco, inserted it between my lower teeth and lip.

Now looking and sounding like Benjamin Buford "Bubba" Blue, from Forrest Gump, Mary and I had fun reciting the numerous ways of preparing shrimp. The injury was not a welcome development but, given the projectile's path, the least severe of possible outcomes. Shortly after Cynda arrived, I departed to catch up with Nancy and Brian.

Nancy had used her Whippet poles (small ice-axes attached to trekking poles) to surmount a heavily ice-encrusted section. Brian proceeded and decided it was time to replace snowshoes with crampons. I did not bring crampons so, while everyone paused to don them, I offered to continue in snowshoes and break trail. Persistence, and caution, allowed me to get around the nastiest bits and, once past the longest of the icy sections, I continued breaking trail through the woods.

At some point in my ascent, I realized no one was following me. I called out several times and heard no response. After waiting for several minutes I guessed something was amiss so I backtracked in search of my hiking partners. I found them below a steep icy pitch. Apparently, Cynda had sprung a spruce trap and was delayed by the experience. All was well now and the group was on the move again.

Route-finding between the false and true summits presented two or three head-scratchers. Wearing snowshoes, I helped consolidate the deeper drifts but the balance of the team, wearing crampons, were able to plow through the fluffy snow with minimal post-holing. We reached Cliff's summit at 3:45 PM and congratulated one another on a job well done. The plush toys joined us for summit photos. Daylight was becoming a precious resource so we didn't dawdle on the summit. 

Furry critters and a fat lip on Cliff.
I stopped at the false summit, donned an extra layer, and swapped out snowshoes for Trail Crampons. I stowed my hiking poles as a result of a valuable lesson learned from a previous trip to Cliff. I had tried to use poles exclusively for the descent, fell, and left some skin on the rock. This time I planned to use the trees. The combination of Trail Crampons, trees, and my long limbs, served me well.

I met Nancy at the junction where I indicated I'd be heading back to Uphill lean-to to change into fresh socks. The balance of the team, returning from Cliff, would reconvene at the lean-to. It was a pleasure to replace the soggy socks with a dry pair. Brian peeked around the corner and indicated the rest of the group had continued down the trail. He produced a thermos and shared a delicious blend of hot chai and cinnamon. Now shod in snowshoes, I joined Brian in a brisk descent to catch up with our hiking partners.

Being 5:30 PM, the sun had set and we were descending by the blue light of dusk. We caught up with the ladies and followed in the pools of light cast by their headlamps. The group spread out while crossing Lake Colden and I paused to admire the bright canopy of stars and the last dying glow of dusk. I took a long-exposure photo of the glow with limited success. While savouring the moment, the lake made a most disconcerting "BLOOP" noise seemingly to my immediate left. Naturally, I moved in the opposite direction and very quickly I might add! The idea that the solid surface beneath me was in an audible state of flux was not comforting.

I've never hiked by headlamp in winter so it was a new experience for me. I have to admit the first half-hour is exciting and then it becomes routine. Avalanche Lake's surface made a few less-scary "tick" noises indicating its surface was also in motion. I strode across the lake quickly in order to have time to look back and photograph the clutch of headlamps moving towards me. Unfortunately, the photo didn't quite capture the magic of the moment.

Headlamps on Avalanche Lake.
From Avalanche Pass to the Loj, the trail was ironed smooth by many skis. With little to see beyond the reach of our headlamps, we settled into a smooth rhythm to bring the long day to a close. At 8:20 PM, Mary and I emerged at the HPIC parking lot and were shortly joined by our companions. After shedding gear and switching into dry clothing everyone met for one last time for hugs and handshakes. Thank you all for a great day in the peaks!


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