Saturday, December 21, 2013

Cascade 2013-12-21

A Cascade of Slushy, Slushy, Slush!

Ben and Jerry's latest flavor, a humorous ode to the fictional Ron Burgundy, is named "Scotchy, Scotchy, Scotch!". Described as "butterscotch ice cream with a swirl of butterscotch", Saturday's trail conditions were best described as being, to channel Ron Burgundy, "watery slush with a swirl of watery slush". What a watery flavor for the opening day of the winter season!

First, congratulations to the folks who persevered and completed the Saranac 6er Winter Ultra. Like its spring counterpart, the winter opening-day was cursed by freakish weather undoubtedly wreaked by "the Kiwassa Curse" (whatever that is). I had considered joining the fun but the conditions appeared to guarantee no views and a bad case of Trench Foot.

Nevertheless, I still wanted to sample the conditions so I signed up for a modest hike, organized by MOAC, to Noonmark and Round. I had secured a ride with André, who owns a 4WD vehicle, and waited for Saturday's romp in the freezing rain. At the eleventh hour, the trip organizer prudently canceled the hike (now rescheduled to January) owing to concerns about safe travel to and from the Adirondacks. Fortunately, André was still game to go.

I did my best to forewarn him about the hazardous driving conditions and the very "unwintry" weather but he was adamant. He was eager to attempt his very first winter hike and bad weather would not be an obstacle. With motivation like that, I had no difficulty convincing him to attempt Cascade for his first winter hike and first winter 46er peak.

We left Montreal at 7:00 AM and, after three hours of cautious driving, arrived at the Cascade trail-head. A warm breeze greeted us upon exiting the car. The temperature was an unseasonably warm 43 F (6 C) and the snowpack looked like the tired remains seen in late spring. The moment we began to collect our gear, a light rain began to fall and proceeded to be our constant companion throughout the day. Snowshoes seemed unnecessary but we dutifully strapped them onto our packs. Shod in microspikes, we descended to the trail-register and began the hike at 10:30 AM.

The soggy route to Cascade.
The rain and above-freezing temperature had decimated the snowpack. It was now no more than four inches of sodden snow. The trail was very evident owing to the gray, water-logged footprints of previous hikers. Upon reaching woods filled with conifers, I hid our superfluous snowshoes off-trail under a spruce tree.

It wasn't long before I was calling the snow "white mud". I joked that it was no longer "mashed potatoes" but just "gravy". Rain and melt-water flowed in sheets over exposed ice and collected to create boot-deep puddles of standing water and soupy snow. It was a grand test of waterproofness and, by hike's end, my boots had finally succumbed to one too many immersions.

André's first winter hike!
Being André's first winter hike, and given the weather, we ascended at a relaxed pace. Halfway up we met fellow forum member "Gracepoints", and her two hiking companions, returning from Cascade and Porter. She reported Cascade's summit was pelted with rain driven by high winds and agreed the conditions were less than pleasant. Nevertheless, it was the first day of winter and the hiking bug had bit so here she was taking it all in stride.

Somewhere along the way, André experienced the common affliction of losing one's microspikes. He slipped on an incline and I noticed that his right foot was toothless. I found the wayward Trail Crampon about fifty yards down the trail looking rather forlorn in the slush. André commented he couldn't believe he walked right out of it and hadn't noticed its loss. I explained it was one of the many quirks of winter-hiking and not all lost spikes are reunited with their owners.

Slushy, Slushy, Slush!
Upon reaching Cascade's artificial treeline, we stopped for lunch and to don appropriate clothing for the wind-scoured summit. We left our packs under the dripping branches of a fir and headed into the fog and drizzle.  At the first cairn, on bare rock, we ditched our Trail Crampons and clambered up the wet slabs. My eyeglasses were mottled with raindrops and, with decreased depth-perception, made the scrambling all the more challenging. André was wearing goggles and made me wish I had brought mine.

The gusty summit wasn't particularly cold but the blasts of wind-borne drizzle didn't make it an inviting place to linger. It was a little difficult to capture photos without fouling the lens but we succeeded. I congratulated André for his first winter peak and added "only 45 more to go!" His wide grin seemed to say that his future would be filled with many more peaks.

Andre's first winter 46er peak!
Upon returning to our packs, I asked if André was interested in visiting Porter. Given the unfavorable conditions, he declined to extend the day. A snowstorm was expected that evening, in Montreal, and it would be best for us to return prior to its arrival.

During our descent we met a couple from Québec ascending with enormous packs. Wearing double mountaineering boots and packs laden with weights, they were training for a trip to Aconcagua in Argentina. Reaching the summit of Cascade didn't seem to be today's goal; they were out for a "training hike".

After retrieving our cached snowshoes, I noticed how much the snowpack had diminished since the morning. My tracks leading to the snowshoes were now shallow depressions exposing the underlying carpet of fallen leaves. We continued along the slush-filled trench of trail accompanied by a light drizzle. We met one more couple before finally arriving at the trail register.

André heads for home.
At the car, I stripped down and bagged my sodden clothing. Dry clothes went on in a flash. André did the same and then remarked how much one's mood improved when wearing warm and dry clothing. After a quick tour around the vehicle to ensure we had not dropped or forgotten any gear, we headed east past the Cascade lakes.

Throughout our journey home, past the villages of Keene, Jay, and Ausable Forks, I marveled how the frosted trees drooped under their burden of ice. The drizzle had turned to rain and, being the passenger, I had to time to reflect on the storm's impact. Whereas hikers are liable to show up regardless of conditions, High Peaks cross-country skiing has been ruined for the Christmas holiday period. Alpine skiing has undoubtedly been set back by the rain as well. Folks who enjoy visiting Lake Placid for its Rockwellian winter vistas might be disappointed by its rain-despoiled, snow-sparse appearance. I doubt this pre-Christmas thaw will be a source of fond memories for the local merchants.

Back in Montreal, winter had held a firm grip and, despite some freezing rain, remained blanketed in snow. André mused about returning to the Adirondacks another day when the weather was more winter-like. Another winter-hiker is born!


See all photos.

1 comment:

  1. After reading your excellent account and notwithstanding the frequent truism that "a bad day of hiking is better than a good day at the office", I am now NOT sorry that the MOAC event was postponed. My initial concern, and most everyone else's too, was mainly for driving safety. I spent part of yesterday half regretting a missed opportunity for a great hike. Now that I've read your report, all regret has faded away. I love all sorts of mountain activities and have been blessed with a high threshold of tolerance for discomfort and all manner of unpleasant conditions, but there are two things I am not wild about on a hike or climb... biting insects and slush. Fortunately, I don't often encounter either of those in significant quantities, but it sounds like yesterday might have been one of those days.

    I can't count the number of times I have trekked in severe winter conditions on a Northeastern peak while Montreal remained spring or autumn-like. Sounds like this was a role reversal. As you presumed, it never got warmer than several degrees below zero in town. Happy that you made the most of it and had "a good day in the mountains". Guess we'll meet sometime on another MOAC hike.