Algonquin, Iroquois, Shepherd's Tooth, and Cold Brook Pass.
Sunday, I joined other members of MOAC (Montreal Outdoors Adventure Club; a Meetup group) for a hike to Algonquin and Iroquois. The trip was well run by its genial organizer, Géraldine. The group was composed of eleven hikers and it was a pleasure to make their acquaintance. My thanks go to: Géraldine, Werner, Kat, Gilbert, Fritz, Renaud, Donny, Robert, Richard, and Marianne.
For a Sunday morning, the border-crossing was surprisingly busy and we lost a half-hour waiting in the queue. Thereafter things moved along smoothly. The car-trip gave us (Werner, Kat, Gilbert, and I) plenty of time to break the ice. At the Loj, Géraldine gathered the group and explained the ground rules to ensure everyone's safety and comfort. We departed at around 9:30 AM.
|Géraldine instructs the group.|
Despite the recent rainy weather, the trail was in remarkably good condition. The two-plus hours to the summit gave ample opportunity to chat with others and learn more about them. We paused at trail-intersections, and MacIntyre Falls, to re-group and to ensure no one was struggling. The steep stretch of rock-slab, beyond the Wright junction, took its toll and the group spread out with everyone proceeding at their own comfortable pace.
Atop Algonquin, we paused for lunch and I chatted with the summit steward, Kevin, who I had seen a few weeks earlier en route to Colden. Despite a 60% chance of showers and thunderstorms, including the possibility of heavy rain, the cloudy skies held back and we had fairly good views of the surrounding mountains. There was also a surprising, and very welcome, lack of bugs!
|Enjoying lunch atop Algonquin.|
Richard (a MOAC co-organizer), Marianne, and Gilbert decided that Algonquin's views were sufficient and chose to descend the way they came. The balance of the group continued to Iroquois. At the herd-path junction, Werner, who had already announced his intentions, chose to skip Iroquois and descended directly to Lake Colden (the group would return along the same route and could 'sweep the trail' behind him). The weather was still good so we continued to Iroquois.
|Off to Iroquois.|
The new bog-bridges were a welcome addition and allowed us to make good time through the muddiest sections. Up and over Boundary, it wasn't long before we were scrambling up the northern slope of Iroquois. Atop its summit, capped with an impressive cairn, we saw a wall of rain-showers moving from Wallface to Marshall. The wind increased and we felt a few sprinkles. Unlike Algonquin, there'd be no lingering and Géraldine informed the group that it'd be best to begin their return immediately.
It was at this point that I asked Géraldine if I could continue on alone and catch up with the group somewhere along the planned return-route. I explained I would no longer be her responsibility but let her know that if she was uncomfortable with my request that I would happily continue with the group. She paused, considered it, then agreed saying her decision was based upon my experience. Her valid concern was that I would emerge behind the group and so there'd be no way of knowing my condition until, worst case, they were at the Loj.
With the weather deteriorating, the group did not dawdle on the summit and, after saying our good-byes, left Iroquois to return via the trail to Lake Colden. I donned pants and my hardshell in preparation for a windy and rainy descent to Shepherd's Tooth and Cold Brook Pass. Before departing the summit, a young couple arrived and I was intrigued by a sound I had not heard in years. The young man had a film camera and was manually advancing the film to the next frame. He explained they could still be acquired on eBay and knew where to process the film. The young woman had a DSLR in her pack but said the small film camera was, at times, more convenient. I used their DSLR to immortalize their moment on Iroquois then began my descent to the "Tooth".
As soon as I left the summit, I was sheltered from the wind. The herd-path was easy to follow (although it could be tricky if obscured by fog) and it quickly led me to the treeline where I had to pay more attention. Unlike the well-defined herd-paths found on the so-called "trail-less peaks", the path to "Shepherd's Tooth" requires you to look beneath the branches to follow its course. I had visited Shepherd's Tooth on a previous hike so I did not expect any surprises. Maybe a little over-confidence is what led me 'off-route' and I soon found myself pushing through thick trees. I kept the Tooth in view and, within a few yards, found the herd-path again. After a tiny bit of scrambling, I was on the Tooth's rocky summit and admiring its views.
|Southern face of Iroquois from Shepherd's Tooth.|
The rainshowers never amounted to much so I replaced my hardshell with a long-sleeved shirt. After donning gloves, and taking one last look around, I descended into the tiny col, between Shepherd's Tooth and Iroquois, and headed a few yards west where I easily found the herd-path leading into the western drainage. Once in the drainage, it was only a matter of keeping one's eyes glued to the ground to see evidence of previous foot-traffic.
|Herd-path? Keep your eyes on the ground!|
Based on information from Neil, I knew the drainage would end at a cliff and I'd need to traverse eastwards, several yards, to a "ramp". The mental image I had of this area was unlike what I discovered. Nearing the cliff, the herd-path descends steeply; I had the sense I was getting close to the end of the drainage. I emerged at the top of the cliff, carefully peered through the trees, and saw the flowing water disappear over the edge. Cold Brook Pass was tantalizingly close, about 40 feet below me.
|Definitely not the way down!|
I moved eastward and followed a gnarly route in search of a beautiful slope of smooth rock bordered by steep walls. Well, that's what I imagined it would look like but the reality was more of a "dirty gully" or "messy cleft in the cliff". Although I knew the ramp was "no more than 50 yards to the east", anticipation made it feel longer and at one point it seemed like the path began to rise slightly. Maybe it led upwards to join the ramp but I refused to gain even a yard of elevation and chose to continue directly eastward. Besides, I could see something through the trees that suggested a break in the cliff. It wasn't the magical ramp of my imagination but a real-world cleft in the cliff with trees and an easily negotiable slope. Within moments I was at the base of the cliff and within minutes I was standing on the Cold Brook Pass trail (thirty-five minutes from Shepherd's Tooth). I had finally experienced a section of the Adirondacks I had dreamt of for years and I was quite pleased with I had found.
The Cold Brook Pass trail was an interesting mix of rock-hopping through standing water, bog-bridges, garden-path, and a tiny bit of blowdown. It was in much better shape than what I had anticipated. The stretches of mud I encountered were easily avoided. During the descent I found a navy-blue jacket that, from its clean appearance, must have been lost earlier in the day. I stashed it and, upon my return to the Loj, turned it in at the HPIC.
|Trail through Cold Brook Pass.|
The descent from the top of Cold Brook Pass to the Lake Colden trail took about fifty minutes. It included a brief pause at the final brook crossing where I stopped for water and to remove my sweat-soaked pants and shirt. What a relief it was to be back in a T-shirt and shorts! While walking towards the Caretaker's cabin it dawned on me that it might have been useful if Géraldine and I arranged to leave a signal at the trail-junction. Whoever arrived at the junction first would leave a signal, perhaps a triangle of three stones, to let the other party know they were already on their way back to the Loj. I thought I would eventually catch up to them but had failed to consider the possibility that I might get ahead of them.
I decided to take a short side-trip past the Caretaker's cabin to get a view of Lake Colden. The heavy clouds didn't make for interesting photography of the lake but the flowers, notably Indian Paintbush, were in full bloom. I returned to the main trail, continued northwards, and thanks to an amazing stroke of luck, arrived mere seconds after Géraldine and the others emerged at the junction! Reunited, we continued to Avalanche Lake.
|Indian Paintbrush in bloom near the Caretaker's cabin.|
A few showers began at the lake and raindrops danced on its mirror-smooth surface. The group was in good spirits and the cooling shower was welcome. We paused at 'Hitchup Matilda' for a group photo and then proceeded along the obstacle course that forms the western side of Avalanche Lake.
|Donny and Renaud approaching 'Hitchup Matilda'.|
Within Avalanche pass, Donny pointed out an impressively large mushroom and I've yet to identify its type. My best guess is that it's some kind of Amanita.
At Marcy Dam, the group proceeded to the bridge-crossing whereas I descended to the base of the dam. I hoped to get a good photo of the group passing along the opposite shore but the tree-cover was too dense. Seeing an opportunity to cool my feet, I waded through Marcy Brook and rejoined the group on the opposite side. Nearing the parking area, we were refreshed by a "sun-shower". The combination of sunshine and cooling raindrops was a perfect end to the hike. The 'cherry on top' was a pit-stop at the Stewart's in Ausable Forks where we indulged our appetites. Ice cream was the winning pick!
|Géraldine and Renaud enjoying a sun-shower.|
It was an enjoyable day with kindred spirits and I hope we get the opportunity to share another day together in the Adirondacks.