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.

1 comment:

  1. WOW! What an excellent hiking blog. I've got 9 to go and in the ADK and this will help.

    FYI. I added your trip reports to today. I'm trying to index every hiking trip report in the Northeast, as a resource for hikers. Your's is the 124th blog/forum added.