Thursday, June 27, 2013

Grace and Spotted (Great Slide) 2013-06-27

Late Wednesday afternoon, Neil inquired if I had hiking plans for the following day. Thursday's weather forecast was the best of several days to come so I suggested visiting Grace by way of the Great Slide. Neil had seen this route many times before but agreed it would make for a fun day.

We parked on the eastern side of route 73, just past the bridge over the North Fork Boquet river. The morning was warm and very humid so we both switched to T-shirts and shorts. Trail-runners were the ideal footwear for the day. At 7:40 AM we began our hike along the southern bank of the river.

After passing two designated campsites, we continued along the smooth herd-path, until we reached a crossing. It looked like a viewing spot along the river bank and I had passed it and continued along the distinct herd-path. Neil called out to me and pointed to a cedar on the opposite bank marked with a faded red paint-blaze. The "viewing spot" was indeed a crossing and we rock-hopped across to pick up the herd-path on the northern bank. The path rose above and away from the river.

We crossed smaller brooks, headed left at a fork (right leads northwest), crossed the North Fork Boquet River, passed a side-trail to Lillypad Pond, veered away to pick up the South Fork Boquet River, and paused briefly at a campsite. The campsite (could not find a designated campsite marker) is located between two parallel brooks, one is the South Fork Boquet River and the other a major tributary that leads west to the Beckhorn Slide.

Idyllic pool along the South Fork Boquet River.
We followed a distinct herd-path rising out of the campsite but it ended abruptly. I had seen a cairn at the southwestern end of the campsite but assumed it led elsewhere. Figuring it had indicated the proper path we simply cut directly south, about 50 yards, and picked up the desired herd-path following the course of the South Fork Boquet.

We reached an intersection of three brooks that Neil, based on a description offered by Glen (Mastergrasshopper), called "Four Corners". We passed one more tributary and, a few minutes later, the herd-path veered away from the brook and began ascending Grace. We stopped to sterilize some water since we didn't expect to find any until we finished our traverse of Grace, Spotted and Elizabethtown #4.

Neil on herd-path to the Great Slide.
No sooner had we started up the path, we spied a deer, no more than forty feet up the trail, motionless and staring at us. As we moved forward it crossed the herd-path and stopped to look back at us.  We moved again and, violating its forty foot 'personal space', it sprinted away into the woods. No time for photos but captured as an indelible memory.

Upon reaching the first exposed bit of rock, we left the herd-path and began ascending it. Whatever was wet was dangerously slippery and forced us to remain on the 'dry and narrow'. How wet was it? Wet enough for frogs!
Emerging from the primordial ooze on the Great Slide.

Neil follows the 'dry and narrow'.
The lower portion of the slide is reverting back to woods and so we threaded our way from one exposed patch of slick rock, through woods, and on to the next. Eventually the woods receded and gave way to an open slab offering cleaner, and drier, rock as well as grand views of Hough and Dix.

Neil, Hough, and Dix.
The ascent of the slab went smoothly and was over all too soon. We found ourselves back in the trees and searched for an easy means to regain the upper portion of the slide. After a bit of exploration, we corrected our direction and resumed the ascent. Upon reaching the base of the final cliff we opted to climb it as opposed to ducking to the right and using the herd-path.

About ten yards below the summit, we found a broad chute featuring a hand-crack along the left and a V-shaped trough along the right. Neil and I chose our preferred routes and topped out on the cliff's head. I thought it was the best bit of climbing of the entire route!

Upper terminus of the Great Slide.
It took only a few seconds for the black flies, and deer flies, to find us. We quickly changed into pants, long-sleeve shirts, and "caps with curtains" to fend off the hungry hordes. Free of our packs, we proceeded southwest along a herd-path to tag the true summit of Grace. A new summit disk has been nailed to the rock and continues to offer a choice of appellations: East Dix and Grace.

Returning to the cliff, we took one last look down the Great Slide, and shouldered our packs. Accompanied by the persistent "light-saber" buzzing of deer flies, we began our descent east to double-humped Spotted Mountain. The herd-path frequently petered out and required some bushwhacking to thread a route from one stretch of open rock to another. Blueberry shrubs lined the periphery of the open stretches but their fruit wasn't ripe.

Spotted was a delight. Its two humps provided a good blend of interesting rock, woods, vegetation, and commanding views of the Dix Range. At one point we were mesmerized by nine turkey vultures soaring high above us. Their aerial gyrations were accompanied by the flute-like music of nearby thrushes and inquiring calls of white-throated sparrows. Like one radio station overpowering another, nature's symphony was soon overshadowed by the bag-pipes of deer flies. Our cap-curtains kept them at bay but did little to muffle the whine of their eager dentist-drills.

Neil atop Spotted's southwestern summit.
Elizabeth #4 lies about 750 feet below Spotted and our eyes confirmed the height disparity. We started the descent along a herd-path but eventually followed whatever course felt right, mostly by traversing from one bit of exposed rock to another. The final rock outcrop offered some fun scrambling and, after emerging from an intervening col, we stood on "E-town #4".

Neil descending to Elizabethtown #4.
The summit harbored a picturesque pond surrounded by smooth rock and luxuriant moss. It seemed like a lovely spot to bivouac under the stars. Well, maybe not this evening because we noticed the cloud-cover was descending and breaking over the summit of Dix. Heavy rain, possibly a thunderstorm, was predicted to begin in the coming hours and we wanted to be, at the very least, off the summits and in the valley before the deluge arrived.

Still-life on E-town #4.
Neil pointed to his topo map and indicated E-Town #4's northern side might offer a good descent route. The map indicated it had an open expanse of rock that could offer less resistance for our descent. It proved to be an ideal route and appeared to have been used by others. We found a few bits of weathered flagging and evidence of cleanly-sawn trees and branches. The "trail-clearing" led past the base of the rocky slope and into the woods for about 200 yards before we lost it at a steep drop-off. By the height of the flagging, Neil guessed it might have been a route cleared for skiing. The remaining stretch of forest, to the South Fork Boquet, offered open woods and an easy descent.

Easy bushwhack down to South Fork Boquet River.
We emerged on the Boquet and sat in its midst to tank-up on water, have a snack, and just lounge in the river and watch the water go by. Neil spent time photographing various water features while I sat happily munching my way to the bottom of my bag of "dog kibble". The flies seemed to sense it was time to leave us alone and I appreciated their cooperation.

A few yards up and out of the river brought us to the main herd-path. The remaining miles, a playback of the morning's travels, slipped by with little effort. We knew we were close to the highway when we heard the sounds of people enjoying the flumes and pools of the North Fork Boquet. Their laughter signaled the end of my first trip along the length of this valley and to the Great Slide. I'm already eager to return and discover its many other treasures.


See all photos.

Neil's Photos.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Colden Traverse (Trap Dike and Southeast Slide) 2013-06-20

Imagine two teams leaving Adirondak Loj, one headed for a double traverse of the MacIntyre Range and the other for a slide-traverse of Colden. That's what four of us did on a dry, sunny Thursday, the last day of spring. Neil and Bib tackled the MacIntyres while Brian (Pathgrinder) and I scrambled up the Trap Dike to Colden then descended via the Southeast Slide (more precisely, the "1990 Slide").

Bib, Neil, and I, car-pooling from Montreal, arrived at the Loj's parking lot shortly before 7:30 AM and spotted Brian preparing for the trip. Equipped with two-way radios, to allow our two teams to coordinate an exit time, we selected a channel and tested communications. A-OK.

This would be my first extended hike without coddled feet. Normally my tender feet are taped, greased (with Boudreaux's Butt Paste), swaddled in wool-blend socks, and shod in trail shoes. Today I was, comparatively-speaking, 'going barefoot' because I'd be wearing synthetic socks (DryMax) and trail-runners (La Sportiva Raptor). The experiment would prove to be a success.

Brian and I left the trail-head at 7:40 AM, ambled along a fairly dry Van Hoevenberg trail, and emerged, forty minutes later, at Marcy Dam. We immediately spied Hurricane Irene's gift to hikers, the Trap Dike Slide, high on Colden's western flank. We'd first have to ascend the Trap Dike to reach the slide and that brought back a few memories.

Objective: Highest visible slide on Colden.

My first ascent of the Trap Dike was in the early 80's. Whereas today one can use the Internet to find timely reports, photos, and videos of the Trap Dike, thirty years ago my buddy Bob and I approached it with the sole knowledge it was a cleft in the mountain, with waterfalls, that led to a slide (Colden Slide). We brought a climbing rope and wore heavy leather boots. We were prepared for a grand adventure into the unknown (unknown to us). The rope went unused and the boots weren't ideal but we had a safe and memorable trip as many, undoubtedly, had before us. I was eager to see the Trap Dike again, reshaped by Irene.

Trap Dike from Hitch-up Matilda.
After negotiating the obstacle course around Avalanche Lake, we swung around to the lake's eastern shore and proceeded along a rugged herd-path to the base of the Trap Dike. The broad field of rubble, bathed in morning's sunlight, would have made for a pleasant spot to pause if not for the black flies. In an instant we were transformed into "Joe Btfsplk", the eternally jinxed L'il Abner cartoon character sporting a permanent rain cloud over his head. In our case, the clouds were composed of black flies who actively sought out our eyes, ears, and throats. I buttoned up my shirt, applied DEET, and did my best to ignore the intrusions into my personal space. Fortunately, a bit of forward movement was sufficient to lose the clouds so we began our ascent in earnest.

The sun was positioned at the dike's exit and made it difficult to observe (and photograph) the length of the dike. However, the intense glare of sunshine made for very dramatic lighting. Nearly two years have passed since Irene's devastation and plants have returned to take root within the dike's cracks and sandy soil. The dike's high walls enclose an irregular staircase of rocks that leads one through several cascades to arrive at the base of the Trap Dike Slide. Devoid of trees, nothing obstructed our view of the rocks below us, Avalanche Lake and, as we rose higher, the peaks of the MacIntyre Range.
Heading skyward.

The second waterfall provided the greatest challenge of the ascent and earned its reputation as being a Class4 route. It did not intimidate me but did demand my full attention. Hand and footholds are abundant; one only needs to seek them out and move smoothly and confidently. Looking down from above the second waterfall, one can easily appreciate the consequences of a careless movement or misstep.
Brian at the second waterfall.
Beyond the second waterfall, we encountered a few more short vertical sections, including one that was best ascended via the cascade, and then the grade decreased. The height of the dike's walls diminished and soon we were near to the pre-Irene exit, namely the Colden Slide. It remains a viable option but lichen has mottled its weather-beaten surface whereas the Trap Dike Slide is pristine.

There is a field of debris, mostly twisted timber, demarcating the end of the Trap Dike and the beginning of the Trap Dike Slide. Actually, one could continue following the Trap Dike to it terminus in the col between Colden and its northern sub-summit. However, this portion is wooded and ceases to be a simple stroll over open rock.

The debris field demarcates the slide and dike.
From afar, the base of the Trap Dike Slide appears to be a broad and imposing "footwall" of white rock. Upon closer inspection, one discovers it is a steep slab whose surface is very coarse and pock-marked with golf-ball-sized depressions. Its surface is undulated and so, with a little route-finding, one can find something easy or, if one prefers, something challenging.

The base of the Trap Dike Slide.

Brian scaled the Trap Dike with great confidence and little apparent effort. It was gratifying to know I was with an eager and confident partner. Earlier in the day, he indicated he had never rock-climbed so I took a few moments to study the slab's surface and select a suitable route. While I was occupied, he stepped smartly onto the slab and began ascending directly up the fall-line. Seeing that he had no qualms, I ceased my search for the line-of-least-resistance and joined the fun.

Brian contemplates his next move.
Contemplating my next move.
The base of the slide proved to be, at least to me, the steepest and most interesting portion of the slide. Its coarse dimpled surface provided tremendous friction. My splayed fingers fit neatly into its many dimples. I joked it was like gripping a bowling ball.

Coarse, dimpled rock.
The balance of the slide was less steep and allowed us to walk upright. We paused a  few times to admire the views and to contact our friends on the MacIntyre Range. Although we could see them on the summit of Iroquois, they had difficulty spotting us on the slide.

What a backdrop!
As we neared the slide's head, we approached a stepped section with a horizontal band of loose earth at its base (the "Nitty Gritty Dirt Band"). I tread carefully because the material was treacherous underfoot; it readily gave way and the dislodged bits rolled freely down the slide. Once above the step, it was clear sailing to the end of the slide. The final few yards of rock were wet but not very slippery. The herd-path, through low scrub, led us directly to the trail and within a few yards of the summit. We agreed it was one of the most scenic routes to Colden!

We proceeded to the southern end of Colden and, with a commanding view of Lake Colden, paused for lunch. We hailed Neil and Bib and learned they were on Shepherd's Tooth and preparing for their descent into the Cold Brook Pass. We agreed on an exit time, 6:30 PM, wished each other well, and then turned off our radios.

The view from our "lunch room"!
We met only one other hiker on the summit, accompanied by his amiable dog Dino. After a brief chat, we proceeded to a vantage point with a view of Colden's eastern flank. We could see the old slides, and the brook far below, but the newest addition to the Southeast Slide, the "1990 Slide", was obscured by trees. I knew it started near the northern end of Colden's summit so we returned to the marked trail to explore our options.

Finding the herd-path to the head of the 1990 Slide proved to be a puzzler. Along the summit's trail we found three obvious side-trails, the southernmost one is across from the glacial erratic, the middle one leads to the summit rock, and the northernmost one appears to lead to a tiny clearing with its own herd-path that leads nowhere.

We continued northward, past the two massive boulders forming a tunnel, began losing elevation, and then stopped to check our bearings. I retrieved my camera and examined a photo taken of Colden, the previous week, from the summit of Gray. The 1990 Slide clearly starts at the north end of Colden's summit. We backtracked, confirmed we could identify only three side-trails, and selected the middle one, at the summit rock, for our departure point.

A few steps into the woods confirmed they were very dense. The trees knitted their branches into a barrier that seemed to push back as hard as we pushed forward. We emerged out of the trees and discovered we were above the older sections of the Southeast Slide but not the desired 1990 Slide. Our objective was several yards north of our position. Rather than trample sensitive alpine plants, we ducked back into the woods to regain the trail. We emerged at our starting point, the summit rock, with a greater appreciation of the effort needed to bushwhack through cripplebrush!

We moved north along the trail, ducked into the northernmost of the three side-trails, and started a new bushwhack. After another round of squeezing and pushing we emerged in view of the 1990 Slide. Unfortunately we were still south of it! However, we were tantalizingly close and chose to make a bee-line through more woods. We emerged on the slide about three yards from the established and very obvious herd-path!

Wanting to know where the herd-path intersected the trail, I followed it up the slope to its end. I discovered the intersection is quite subtle and not as obvious as the other three we had found. It lies about five yards south of a waist-high boulder and is marked by a foot-tall stump. I hurried back down the herd-path to rejoin Brian on the slide.

Trail-marker and waist-high boulder on the left; stump for herd-path on the right.
1990 Slide found; the descent begins!
Sections of the 1990 Slide seemed steeper than the Trap Dike Slide but that perception may be due to the fact we were descending it. I did my best to walk upright on the steepest sections (knees deeply bent) but eventually my creaky knees had me "crab-walking" backwards (technically speaking, we were "down-climbing"). I didn't care for crab-walking because it was substantially slower than walking upright but it relieved the stress on my knees.

Brian demonstrates "crab-walking" backwards.
Before long we were at the base of the open slide and being funneled into the brook. We stopped to draw water and admire the marvelous view of the Opalescent valley with Marcy and Gray towering high above. The brook's banks were speckled with the whites, blues, and pinks of fresh spring flowers. As to be expected, the black flies ensured our pauses remained brief. Before long, we found ourselves on level ground and, following a short bushwhack, back on a marked trail.

Pausing to admire the view of Marcy and Gray.

The route to Lake Arnold was in excellent condition albeit the ascent seemed a little more than anticipated. We emerged on the shore of Lake Arnold and paused for a snack and so did the black flies. I haven't visited Lake Arnold, outside of winter, for many years and it was a surprise to discover the quantity and quality of the bog-bridges in its vicinity.

At the junction with the "crossover trail" to Indian Falls, Brian agreed to extend our hike by visiting the falls. The crossover trail was in excellent condition. Nearing the falls, we followed a herd-path to its base. Rather than backtrack, we scaled the rocks and emerged atop Indian Falls and treated to one of the most memorable views of the MacIntyre Range. I turned on the radio and hailed our MacIntyre team but there was no reply.

The memorable view of the MacIntyres from Indian Falls.

We continued to Marcy Dam and chose to tour its shoreline. We paused at its inlet to photograph Colden and found several moose tracks in the soft earth. At the breached dam, we stopped to take one last look and then proceeded back to the Loj to end our day. At 5:40 PM we signed out and headed to Brian's car to clean up.

Moose tracks at Marcy Dam.
I tried contacting Neil and Bib but it appeared that they had left their radio off. By 6:10 PM I encouraged Brian to leave, since he had a four hour commute and there was no guarantee the others would arrive at 6:30 PM sharp. We said our goodbyes and Brian left, to return two days later for trail-work. I look forward to our next hiking adventure together.

Cleaned up and waiting for my ride home.
The next seventy minutes was spent lounging on the porch of the closed HPIC building. I performed a prolonged set of stretching exercises, helped a hiker rent a bear canister (go to the Loj when the HPIC is closed), and watched about two dozen hikers return from various trips.

Around 7:40 PM my two smiling friends emerged. Bib had overlooked to keep himself properly fueled and had 'bonked' during the ascent of Iroquois from Cold Brook Pass. He recovered sufficiently to complete the ambitious hike, only his second outing after a half-year's hiatus to strengthen his knees. Bib was in good spirits and happy to report his knees felt great.

Reunited, we piled into Neil's car and recounted our day's experiences during the ride home. No better way to spend a day in the mountains than with good friends.


See all photos.

Brian's Photos

Chapter 1: The Trap Dike
Chapter 2: Trap Dike Slide
Chapter 3: Colden Southeast Slide

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Sunny Skylight and Gray 2013-06-15

Daniel (HikerDan), Brian (SummitHat), John (MtnManJohn), and I left Upper Works at 7:15 AM on a cool and sunny morning. The recent rains did a good job of replenishing the Calamity Brook trail's famous mud. We met a group of hikers near the Henderson Memorial and did a few permutations of group-photos.

Brian at Flowed Lands.
At Flowed Lands, we watched the stillness of its surface broken by a lone swimming dog. A quick curve around the bay revealed the "Pi Bridge", across Herbert Brook, has had its swaybacked handrail replaced and no longer looks like the letter "pi". More strength but less character.

The view of Mount Colden from the Colden Dam was textbook perfect. The Opalescent was running well and its waterfalls were in full. More mud greeted our feet near Uphill Brook.

Fishing for photos along the Opalescent River.
As we ascended to Lake Tear I played a favorite game to pass the elevation away: try catching up to the source of the muddy boot-prints ahead of me. Ahah! The prints are getting wetter and muddier so we're closing in on our quarry! But how close? Half-hour, more or less? Halfway up Gray we met the author of the muddy glyphs, none other than Brian (Pathgrinder), descending from the summit. His itinerary matched ours and he was on his way to Skylight. Atop Gray we congratulated Dan for ascending his 34th peak. We paused for lunch and to shoot the breeze.

No bad views today.
Earlier I had noticed Brian was holding his camera upside down while taking photos. The reason was to minimize the distortion caused by a scratched lens. When equipped with its mini-tripod, Brian's camera had a very amusing appearance.

Gen one GPS? Tivo? Digital divining rod?
Back at Lake Tear, we met several hikers including a few who appeared to be out for a run in the park on a sunny afternoon. At Four Corners, I opted out of the traditional of carrying a rock to Skylight's summit. Funny how some traditions escape LNT ("Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.").

John looking northeast on Skylight's summit.
Skylight became Dan's 35th peak and Brian's sixth round. Hearty congratulations were exchanged and we settled in for a spell. I chatted with newlyweds from Ithaca celebrating their honeymoon in the High Peaks (once again, congrats David and Nicole). Using our four cameras, they snapped pictures of our merry little band atop Skylight's hillock of transplanted stones.

John, Brian, Daniel, and moi.
I suppose if we all didn't have somewhere else to be the following day we'd have languished on Skylight a good deal longer. After a slight delay due to a glut of hikers ahead of us, we overtook them at Four Corners and sped down along Feldspar Brook.

There had been talk of heading to Cliff to add a 36th notch to Dan's belt. Upon reaching the Redfield/Cliff junction, he decided to leave Cliff for another day. The extra time needed for Cliff would cause an uncomfortably late return home; Cliff will wait for him. To give Dan a sample of what's in store, John led him farther along to experience the herd-path's copious mud. Upon their return, John's freshly muddied boots said it all.

We stopped at Flowed Lands for a break and I wandered off to the lean-to to chat with its occupants. One of their group, allegedly shod in "wrestling shoes", arrived and I recognized him from earlier in the day. He was an aspiring 46er who we had congratulated on Gray and Skylight (28 peaks if I'm not mistaken). Before long, the black flies interest in me became difficult to ignore. At about the same moment, Dan informed me the others had already left. Off we went to catch up with our buddies.

Picture-perfect day.
Lost in conversation, the remaining miles rolled by with minimal effort. Shortly before the trail-head, we crossed a substantial patch of mud. It didn't seem much different from other mud we had crossed but, in the car, my sodden trail shoes smelled like a drainage ditch. Well, nothing that a garbage bag couldn't fix.

Back at the trail-head we all agreed it had been an enjoyable day and we briefly discussed doing other hikes in the future. We retreated to our respective cars to clean up and, with the exception of Brian who was heading to Schroon Lake, begin the long drive back home to Ottawa, Montreal, and Albany.  Although we live many miles apart, we are drawn together by the siren call of the Adirondacks.

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Brian's photos.

John's photos.