Sunday, March 17, 2013

MacNaughton 2013-03-17

St.Paddy's Day Bushwhack to Mc/MacNaughton.

The day after I completed my first winter round (ADK 46) on March 9th, I mailed my ADK 46er paperwork to my correspondent. Each line of the form had been completed with the exception of one, that "honorary 46er", MacNaughton. I explained to my correspondent that I intended to visit it before winter's end and would send him an updated form upon completion. With one weekend remaining in 2013's winter, it was time to follow through on my promise.

I've ascended MacNaughton twice in summer. The first time, in September of 2010I bushwhacked to the peak with a great deal of caution and some trepidation. The second time, with Brian (Pathgrinder) in August of 2012I was more relaxed and less reliant on my compass. I was now looking forward to exploring it in winter. I was especially interested in seeing Wallface Ponds whose beauty had impressed me in summer. I imagined a windswept landscape, untrammelled by hiker traffic, and I was not disappointed.

Tom (BogHollow) had never been to MacNaughton and, eager to see it before winter's end, joined me on St. Patrick's Day. Starting from the Adirondack Loj's High Peaks Information Center (HPIC), we signed in at 7:55 AM, and headed to Scott Clearing along the Indian Pass trail. Unlike the spring-like day on Dix a week earlier, the temperature was a cool 15 F (-9.5 C) with a slight breeze and snow-mist. The trail around Heart Lake had several impressive patches of ice courtesy of the recent thaw. 

We paused for a break at Scott Clearing before crossing Indian Pass Brook. The brook was not completely frozen over and, based upon the snowshoe-sized holes, the previous day's group (Winter Mama) appeared to have found a few weaknesses in the ice cover. Wearing spikes, we stepping gingerly from rock to ice to rock and crossed without a dunking. It would prove to be equally uneventful upon our return.

The trail, following an old tote road, rises about 800 feet, to a height of land, before dropping to Scott Pond. In summer, the trail is eroded and frequently wet. One often encounters large sections of mud and standing water. What a pleasure it was to find nothing but clean snow. The snow-mist limited the views but, looking eastward through the breached dam, we were able to spot Shepherd's Tooth and Marshall.

Continuing past Scott Pond we arrived at an unnamed pond that I call the "gunsight". Looking down its length, to the east, one is presented with a perfectly framed view of the MacIntyre Range.

MacIntyres from "gunsight" pond.
In my first MacNaughton trip report, I described a flooded section of trail as the "UnWelcome Mat"  to Wallface Ponds. Today, buried under a deep carpet of snow, we cruised over its surface with little effort or concern. A few minutes later, we arrived at the shore of the largest of the Wallface Ponds. The wind reminded us it was still winter and we retreated into the woods to don snowshoes and prepare for the summit.

The previous group's snowshoe tracks were clearly visible and they snaked around the pond's shore towards the outlet. We made a beeline across the pond and arrived at its outlet to discover flowing water. We hugged the shore and then carefully crossed the outlet over patches of ice and rock. 

Although I had a good recollection of the route, it was clearly marked by the passage of Saturday's group. The tracks did not follow the path I preferred but why quibble over minor details. On my previous hikes, I chose to follow the shore of the narrow pond (at the foot of the mountain) to nearly its end, turn left and towards the confluence of two drainages, and ultimately intersect the summit ridge at its mid-point. In contrast, the tracks led up the slope immediately and emerged at the eastern end of the summit ridge. Six of one, half a dozen of the other; we'd arrive on the summit either way.

I glanced at my watch and noted it was 11:00 AM. We engaged our Televators and started up the slope. It was a steep route that, without the benefit of a few feet of snowpack, might have proven to be impractical in summer. We arrived at an intersection at 11:35 AM that I mistook for the summit ridge. The tracks seemed to lead in more than one direction, suggesting the previous team may have been searching for the best route. Realizing that we were probably standing on MacNaughton's rounded eastern end, I picked up the path that led northwest. Ten minutes later, we emerged at MacNaughton's western end and stood next to its mispelled "McNaughton" summit sign.

Atop the "honorary 46er", MacNaughton.
Standing on at least three feet of snow, the lookout offered a slightly better view west to the Sewards. The temperature, a brisk 5 F (-15 C), and the westerly wind curtailed our photography session. We retreated into the woods and headed to MacNaughton's southern lookout. We spent some time there eating lunch and enjoying the view of the Santanoni Range. After a fresh change of mitts and hand warmers, it was time to duck back into the woods and begin out return to the Loj.

Looking north to Street, Nye, and the Macintyre range.
Returning to the first summit junction, we decided to investigate the trail leading east. We guessed it might be a path created by a group that had planned to ascend from the south (Upper Pond) the previous day. After a few yards, the tracks stopped and the remainder of the path petered out. We returned to the junction and began to follow our tracks out. Just before leaving the summit, we crossed an open area offering a beautiful view of the MacIntyre range.

Unlike bushwhacking in summer, where little evidence is left of one's ascent route, we were able to quickly descend via our tracks. Winter offers several unique advantages and I like exploiting them whenever possible. For example, given the proximity of Wallface Ponds, it would seem a shame to not indulge in some "pond-bagging". Upon arriving at the first pond, we opted to leave the herd-path and traverse the two ponds located between us and the marked trail.

Upon reaching the first pond's northern shore, we looked back to see MacNaughton looming above us. We entered the woods and I threaded a path through the trees to emerge on the shore of the largest of the Wallface Ponds. I'm positive the route I chose would've required far more effort to complete in summer, given the thick underbrush and deadfall. We stepped out onto the pond's surface and made a beeline to its opposite shore and the marked trail. Oh if it were so easy in summer! 

MacNaughton from Wallface Ponds.
The weather had improved markedly and by the time we returned to the "gunsight" pond, we had a clear view of the MacIntyre range in its sights.

Wright, Algonquin, and Boundary.
Arriving at Scott Pond, we chose to "pond-bag" it as well. Knowing its appearance in summer, a meandering stream through a grassy plain, I stepped out carefully and avoided the snowy swales and hollows. The center of the pond offered a unique view of the surroundings as well as the breached dam.

Scott Pond.
After clearing the height of land, the remainder of the trail was a pleasant descent to Scott Clearing. We paused to switch out of our snowshoes and take a few more photos of the Clearing and the ruined dam. With the temperature at a more pleasant 20 F (-7 C), we ambled along the Indian Pass trail and chose to make a small detour to visit the Rocky Falls lean-to.

Coursing over Rocky Falls, Indian Pass brook was a mix of snow hummocks, ice and open water. Seeing the crossing was not going to be easy, we opted to admire the lean-to from afar. 

Rocky Falls lean-to.
We arrived at the Heart Lake at 4:45 PM, just under nine hours from our departure, and signed out at the register. We saw no other hikers the entire day and the logbook confirmed the only other visitors chose to hike Street and Nye. The parking lot was alive with hikers and skiers, returning, as we had, from a spectacular day in the High Peaks. After cleaning up, we slaked out thirst and hunger with some of Tom's "Russian Imperial Stout" and home-made beef jerky.

Shortly after leaving the Loj, I stopped to take one last photo, one that is well known to many, the iconic view of the High Peaks from the Loj road. See you again soon, my friends!

End of a beautiful day.


See all photos.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Dix 2013-03-09

The Adirondack Tattler
Club W46 celebrates with an open bar on Dix.
Saturday, March 9, 2013. By Rips Norton
This past Saturday saw the grand opening of "Club W46" atop the sun-drenched summit of Dix mountain. The ‘high-concept' idea was the brain-child of a Canadian entrepreneur known as "Trail Boss" and his three business partners, "Pathgrinder", "BogHollow", and "Sam" (undoubtedly a pseudonym as well). Club W46 featured an eclectic mix of wintry decor, 3D mountain scenery, a tanning salon, and an open bar exclusively for fans of single-malt Scotch whisky.

Club W46's opening was remarkably well-attended despite its height and distance from the parking lot, lack of valet parking and an elevator. It is reported that "Trail Boss" personally scouted 45 other locations before finally choosing Dix mountain.

The opening day party lasted over two hours and then, as suddenly as it appeared, Club W46 closed its doors. Rumor has it that Trail Boss, and his associates, moved Club W46 to Schroon Lake where a group of smiling women cheered their arrival.

More details to follow if and when they become available.

Dix for Winter Forty-Six.
Brian (Pathgrinder), Tom (BogHollow), and Sam joined me to celebrate my completion of the ADK Winter 46. Although originally planned for Friday, a last-minute adjustment for weather, and flexibility on their part, allowed us to re-schedule to Saturday.

It proved to be a good decision because we were rewarded with possibly the finest day of the season; cloudless, sunny, mild, and a summit completely free of wind. It was a sharp contrast to the viewless and inhospitable conditions that often made fifteen minutes more than enough time to appreciate a wintry summit. On Saturday, luck was on our side and we spent over two hours toasting the occasion and becoming sunburned in the process.

As we were preparing our gear in the parking lot, a vehicle pulled over and out leaned Alistair to congratulate me on my upcoming final peak. Thank you, Alistair! He was en route to RPR & Giant to accompany BillB on his final two winter peaks.

We left the Round Pond trailhead around 7:40 AM and returned at 5:05 PM. No speed records were broken that day but I think I set a personal "summit time" record. I can't recall spending 2.5 hours on another summit. I'm positive I never drank more!

I knew Chris (Crepuscular) would be in the area and the logbook confirmed his presence. A cheerful "Go Taras!" was printed and circled in the book; it was going to be a memorable day.

We met two campers, at the Boquet River lean-to, who informed us two hikers had passed by in the middle of the night. We had seen fresh snowshoe prints and surmised they were an hour or two old but not several hours old. Had Chris and his friend started in the wee hours of the morning? There were no prints indicating anyone had returned from Dix. The logbook had indicated Dix and Hough as their objectives so maybe they were hiking to Elk Lake? Everything would be illuminated, shortly.

The temperature was now well above freezing. Upon stepping out of the woods and onto the open slide, we were greeted by the warming rays of the sun. The slide had an ample base of snow and, upon our return, we watched three skiers carve graceful turns down its length. They were from Vermont and crowed about the superb snow conditions in the Adirondacks. One quipped that the only thing wrong with the Adirondacks is that they're in New York!

Upon re-entering the woods, the real climbing began in earnest. Rising some 1500' in a mile, the conversation was replaced with the sounds of kick-stepping and deep breathing. Within minutes of the slide we met Chris, his hiking partner, and Koda, a handsome and highly wary German Shepherd.
Koda, held tight on his leash, barked the alarm that strangers were approaching. To mollify Koda, I presented my "business card" (the back of my outstretched hand) for olfactory approval. After passing the smell test, Koda settled down.

Chris shook my hand and offered me "pre-congratulations" for my 46th winter peak. He explained they tried to get to Dix's summit before sunrise but it beat them to the punch. Nevertheless the summit was spectacular and the butt-sliding was second to none.

The ascent became slightly more challenging because of the smooth trough left over from Chris & Co.'s butt-sliding. Tom had never hiked Dix from Round Pond and remarked that the trail's reputation for being the steepest was well-deserved.

Seeing that this was "my day", my hiking companions let me lead and reach the summit first. My enthusiasm was high and I marched upwards, eager to stand on the surveyor's marker. Just a few feet shy of the bolt, a small surprise was waiting for me. Chris had left a handmade sign featuring a photo of John Adams Dix, and my forum avatar with a Winter 46-er emblem, superimposed on a background of Dix mountain along with a congratulatory greeting. The sign is now part of my 46er memorabilia. Thank you, Chris!

A surprise memento for me
With sign in hand, I stepped onto the summit with a wide grin. The sun shone in a cloudless blue sky, the air was warm, still, and without sound, and all around me the mountains sparkled in their mantles of snow. It would have been difficult to stage a more perfect moment to complete one's winter 46.

Proud Winter 46er.
After ten minutes of solitude on the summit, my hiking partners began to arrive. They greeted me with hearty handshakes and sincere congratulations. Unlike my first round, where I hiked most of the peaks alone, for my winter round I made an effort to hike with others. It was a great decision because I met wonderful people who enriched my hiking experience.

In honor of our friendship, I turned to my pack to retrieve a surprise. I extracted a handful of plastic shot glasses and Lagavulin (16 year old single malt scotch whisky from the Islay district of Scotland). It was time to toast the occasion, friends, family, loved ones, and any other reason to down a dram of Islay's finest. I called my wife and shared the excitement of the moment with her.

Celebratory libation in honor of my 46st winter peak.

Smörgåsbord for the eyes.
After a few shots of malt, smoke and peat, my companions turned to their packs and revealed a few libations of their own. Brian presented Stella Artois and Tom served a revised version of his hops-infused vodka. This was not going to be a 'tag-the-summit' occasion, we were here to celebrate.

A perfect winter's day on Dix's summit.
Declaring 'open bar!', I served whisky to all summit visitors willing to partake. The first group of three hikers to arrive included Winter Mama. They were followed by a couple and finally a father and daughter team. The father, Serge, was a spry and delightful gentleman, who posed with me for a photo as we toasted to good times. The best compliment of the day came from Serge, an émigré from France. Hoisting his glass he said "You know how to live well!"

The celebration continued for over two hours and then we decided, being so close, we ought to take a peek at the Beckhorn. We were probably four of the most "festive" hikers to be found as we ambled to the end of the ridge. The herd path was visible owing to Serge and his daughter's passage from Hough. Brian and I dropped down to a ledge overlooking the Beckhorn trail and found no trace of recent use. Sam pitched a few snowballs for the benefit of Brian's camera and then it was time to call it a day.

Sam and Tom on the Beckhorn.
Upon our return to the summit, we closed the bar and began preparing for the descent. Winter Mama and her crew left first. At 2:15 PM we bid the couple goodbye and began traversing the ridge. At the northern end of the ridge, we met the two campers from the lean-to. Unfortunately for them, the Lagavulin was packed for the descent and "happy hour" was over.

The conditions were good for glissading in snowshoes and Tom sped down the trail. We lost sight of him after pausing, somewhere past the Hunter's Pass trail junction, to jettison used beer.

Following Tom's freshly groomed luge run, I caught up with him at the top of the steepest section of the trail. He was dusting off snow and cursing. He had planned to video-record his descent but the camera fell and was now zipping down the slope without him. All I could see was a tiny object, many yards below me, merrily tobogganing down the steep slope and finally coming to rest. Amazingly, it remained unburied throughout its descent.

Sitting down, he zipped towards it and, at about the location where I thought it had stopped, let out another expletive. Apparently the bow wave of snow, created by his feet, smothered the camera. Fortunately, it survived both its ski run and burial. Tom quipped the descent was so much fun it was almost worth climbing the slope for another run. No one followed through on that idea.

We caught up with Winter Mama's group at the slide and, timing being everything, caught sight of skiers descending the slope. After chatting with them briefly we continued to the leanto. Despite the above-freezing temperature, the Boquet remained frozen over. The two miles of trail, following the Boquet, seemed longer than its true length and we blamed that on booze.

Upon reaching Round Pond, Tom indulged in "pond-bagging" and marched out onto its frozen surface. The late afternoon sun cast a dramatic shadow across the pond's breadth and highlighted the ledges along its northern flank. Crossing the pond revealed features I had never appreciated before and inspired me to return this summer and explore the ledges.

Tom "pond-bagging" Round Pond.

We took away memories and left only footprints.
Upon reaching my car, I spotted a note on its windshield. It was a message of congratulations from Bill (BillB) who had also completed his winter round. Thank you Bill and congratulations to you as well!

Tom continued the welcome post-hike tradition of sharing some of his outstanding home-brew I.P.A. We toasted yet again to the occasion and the company of good friends. Tom departed for home and the rest of us made a beeline to the Maple Leaf Motel. After cleaning up, we drove to Schroon Lake for supper. While inspecting the menu on the TimberWolf pub's signboard, Cynda (WannabeALJr) popped out of Flanagan's and exclaimed "The party's in here!" My evening was capped by seven attractive women congratulating me for my 46th winter peak. Yup, some days are so much better than others and this was one of them.

The ladies show how to party.


See all photos.
See all Brian's photos.
See Tom's photos.