Thursday, December 18, 2014

Allen for the Four-Season Grid. 2014-12-18

Today was an auspicious day for me because it brought to a close my year-long obsession to complete the Four-Season Grid (46 ADK peaks x 4 seasons). Accompanied by Tom (Randomscooter), I tagged Allen's summit and completed the final peak of my Fall round and the Four-Season Grid. Experiencing the High Peaks in all seasons has made me a more seasoned hiker (pun intended) and given me a deeper appreciation for the High Peaks and the determined people (a.k.a. "Gridiots") who have completed the Grid (12-month and 52-week versions). The more time you spend hiking the High Peaks, the more you learn about them and, more importantly, about yourself.

After finishing a Single-Season Winter 46er round this year, I wondered how many peaks remained to complete Spring, Summer, and Fall rounds before year's end. I checked my hiking log and the remaining quantities seemed feasible even when added to my other objectives (completing the NH48 and NE67):.

  • 16 for Spring.
  • 6 for Summer.
  • 18 for Fall.

It didn't take long for me to regret my decision to avoid hiking in soggy October. "Backloading" all my Fall peaks into wintry November and December meant I would have even fewer opportunities to cherry-pick the best days for weather. In addition, I would experience winter-like conditions but without the advantages of what true winter can offer such as smooth, groomed trails compacted by the snowshoes of many aspiring Winter 46ers.

I experienced first-hand that, in late Fall and early Spring, the High Peaks see far less hiker traffic, especially to distant and trail-less peaks. As a result, one is more likely to encounter challenging trail conditions such as several inches of loose untrammeled snow concealing the many hazards of a typical Adirondack trail. I now know that these 'shoulder seasons' present their own set of hurdles to test your mettle. They can produce conditions that are more challenging than found in the dead of winter when popular trails are often 'paved in compacted snow'. There is no question that a bitterly cold winter's day, with miles of breaking trail though deep untracked snow, still tops my list of 'humbling conditions'. However, I've learned that winter doesn't hold a monopoly on teaching one humility.

I'd like to extend my thanks to Neil and Tom who had hiked to Allen on Tuesday to explore the route, break trail, and increase my odds of success on Thursday. Thank you gentlemen! On Thursday, Tom and I were able to complete the hike in ten hours without undue difficulty.

Crossing the Hudson by head-lamp.
Tom and I left the trail-head at 6:20 AM by head-lamp. The morning was cool (-1 C, 30 F) and there was a very light snow-shower. Wearing snowshoes, we made good progress to the Opalescent river crossing which was as frozen as it had been reported two days earlier. Downstream, at the confluence of the Opalescent and Skylight Brook, the river was open. Upstream, the Opalescent was mostly but not completely frozen over. I had checked the USGS water-level for the Hudson river (the closest monitoring station) and learned that water-levels were in steady decline and approaching a seasonal low. The weather forecast predicted temperatures slightly below freezing but not anything (like heavy rain) that might cause the river ice to break-up; I felt reassured the ice would remain intact throughout the day.

Tom tests the Opalescent's frozen surface.
The recent snowfall and subsequent days of mild thawing had caused spruce trees to sag under their burden of snow. As a result, sections of the trail beyond the crossing were narrower than usual. Upon arriving at the herd-path junction, I noticed the unique, hand-carved "Allen" sign was gone. It has been replaced by a stock trail sign with "ALLEN" hand-written in marker. The tree bearing the old sign is also gone and I assume it fell over. The fate of the rustic sign is unknown to me.

This tree and sign no longer exist.
The new normal.
The herd-path was mostly hard-packed snow except for a few sections where, like at Lake Sally, running and standing water created soggy discontinuities. Skylight Brook was not frozen over but two stepping stones helped us cross without getting our boots wet. I consider Skylight Brook to be the end of the "approach" portion and the beginning of the "ascent" section. The stretch to Allen Brook passed uneventfully and we paused yet again to prepare ourselves for the steepest ascent of the day.

Skylight Brook. Two small stepping stones make all the difference.
The real work was about to begin and now we would truly benefit from the trail-breaking done by Tom and Neil two days earlier. Tom reported it had taken them 100 minutes to ascend to Allen on Tuesday and today we would cover the same distance a full half-hour faster. The most challenging portion was the open slide where it had received 4-6 inches of fresh powder snow. It gave way easily and one had to frequently step-kick into the slope to gain purchase. It was also breezier and made me very aware that I was wearing only a baselayer and T-shirt. I picked up my pace to get back into the relative calm, and warmth, of the sheltering woods but not before snapping a few photos of Tom ascending the slide.

Several inches of fresh snow on Allen's slide.
The route's steepness continues well past the slide and the effort of the ascent quickly had me warm again. The moment the grade decreased I smiled because I knew I was now close to the end of the ascent and the Four-Season Grid. After 5.5 hours of effort, Tom and I stood on Allen's summit. Tom congratulated me and I grinned from ear to ear. There were moments in the last few weeks where I doubted I'd be able to complete the Fall round this year but it all fell into place.

Tom and I celebrate another great day in the High Peaks.
We took a few moments for a snack and then bundled up for the steep and snowy descent. I took advantage of the fresh powder and glissaded wherever possible. We arrived at the base of Allen Brook 35 minutes later and, overheated by the descent, paused to peel off a few layers. The return to and crossing of Skylight Brook was uneventful. We chugged up from Skylight Book to the height of land and then settled in for the long descent to the Opalescent.

Appreciating whatever views we can get on a cloudy day.
The river crossing remained intact and we traversed without making any spooky creaks, cracks, or watery holes.  A half-hour from the crossing, we came across a set of tracks and drag marks that told the story of beavers who had crossed the road, cut down several saplings, and dragged them back to the river.

Beavers out for a snack.
The phrase "Trudging the road of happy destiny" played over and over in my mind during the road-walk to Lake Sally. I can't recall where I first heard it but learned it originated from Alcoholics Anonymous. I'm not sure how the AA interprets it but it seemed apropos to describe the road-walk. Beyond Lake Sally, the trudging continued on yet another road but one that now seemed like "the longish road of mostly happy destiny". Nevertheless, our pace was steady and we were pleased to discover we would exit before dark.

As predicted, we crossed the Hudson bridge under the failing light of dusk and signed out at 4:26 PM. In the parking lot, we met a group of hikers who had just returned from Adams. They were the only other hikers we saw all day. After cleaning up, we settled in for the drive back to Tom's home.

One chapter has ended and it's time to move on to the next. I have a three peaks remaining to complete my sixth 46er round and two peaks, in the Catskills, to complete the NE115. Beyond that, the Grid (12-month version) makes for a nice long-term distraction.

Newly minted Four-Season Gridiot. :-)


See all photos.

Hike Stats

  • Distance: 18 miles.
  • Ascent: 3850 feet.
  • Time: 10h 5m.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Marcy, Skylight, Gray (and Marcy). 2014-12-14

MonoSodium Glutamate!

Low-lying clouds (a.k.a. "undercast") were the day's 'flavor enhancer' for our trip to Marcy, Skylight, and Gray. The undercast spiced up the views by allowing only the Four Thousand Footers to poke their heads above the clouds and appear like islands in the sky.

Tom (Randomscooter), Alistair, and I left the Loj at 6:10 AM bound for Skylight and Gray by way of Marcy. Tom and I were on a 'list-fulfilment' mission. Alistair was out to stretch his legs after a hiking hiatus of several months. Seeing that his hiking muscles had been unused for so long, he reserved the right to  tag Marcy and forego the other peaks.

Dawn at Marcy Dam.
About 20 inches of snow had fallen a few days earlier so we expected to do some trail-breaking. Tom had visited Tabletop the previous day so he knew the Van Hoevenberg trail was broken out to Indian Falls. He had seen a register-entry for Marcy, and tracks beyond Indian Falls, so we assumed the Van Hoevenberg trail would be broken out all the way to Marcy. Our assumption was only partially correct.

Just before reaching Indian Falls, I heard the sound of a freight train gaining on me. I turned around and immediately recognized the two locomotives charging uphill; Steve (Little Brown Mushroom) and Wayne (Waynald) were heading to Lower Wolfjaw by way of a Great Range Traverse.

We paused at Indian Falls to greet them and discuss our respective itineraries. Everyone had a long day ahead of them so it wasn't long before we bid them good luck and they continued up the trail. Trail conditions eventually allowed us to catch up to them. Whoever had signed in for Marcy the previous day had stopped well short of the Hopkins junction and left the remainder unbroken.

We caught up to Steve and Wayne at the Van Ho-Phelps trail-junction where they were stowing their gear in preparation for a spur-trip to Marcy. We hitched our wagons to the two locomotives and followed the track they cleared.

Tom, Wayne, Alistair, and Steve prepare for Marcy.
At treeline, I got my first good look at Haystack rising above the undercast and it was 'otherworldly'! I assumed the clouds would eventually dissipate but they lingered all day and provided truly unique views of the ADK 46. It was easy to point to a four-thousand footer because it was the only thing tall enough to rise above the clouds.

Otherworldly vista.
Four hours from the Loj, we stood on breezy Marcy and marveled at our good luck. The sun blazed in a clear blue sky over an ocean of cloud dotted with the Adirondack's tallest peaks. The area bounded by Marcy, Skylight, Redfield, and Gray remained cloud-free and that was perfect for our needs.

With hand-shakes and well-wishes, Wayne and Steve departed Marcy and sped off to Haystack. Alistair confirmed Marcy was the turn-back point for his hike. We bid him good luck and watched him recede in Marcy's northern horizon. Spying the southern line of cairns Tom and I began our descent to Schofield Cobble. Moments after leaving Marcy's summit, we were out of the wind and felt the sun's warming rays. Tom suggested we stop for a snack and enjoy the moment. Windless, warm, sunny and with a commanding view, it was an ideal spot to survey our objectives: Skylight and Gray.

Cairns mark our descent to Schofield Cobble.
The descent to Schofield Cobble was a gas! I love glissading in snowshoes through loose snow and the conditions indulged my passion. Arriving at the Cobble, Tom pointed out the route over it. Now at treeline, I was concerned we might have difficulty finding the entrance to the trail. However, rabbit tracks led directly to its entrance. The snow was soft and compressed 6-10 inches underfoot but little effort was expended because we were descending. Wherever I could, I avoided sliding down slopes and chose to create steps. I knew we would be returning via this trail later in the day and it would be easier to ascend on steps rather than slopes denuded of snow.

Four Corners was pristine; there was no trace of anyone's passage from the east or west. We unloaded some gear and Tom broke trail up Skylight. Being on Skylight's shaded side, the snowy trees did not drip melt-water onto us. We'd get that later on Gray. The view from Skylight's breezy summit was gorgeous. Only Allen poked out of the undercast but just barely so.

Sky and Skylight.

Man and Marcy.
We spent a few minutes savouring the views and then made a speedy descent to Four Corners to collect our stowed gear. We continued along the unbroken trail to Lake Tear's outlet. Lake Tear appeared to be frozen but I was in the lead and wasn't 'feeling lucky'; the temperature was above freezing and I didn't want to discover any unfrozen sink-holes.

At the outlet we, once again, stowed our surplus gear. The herd-path was in full sun and the trees were raining melt-water. In anticipation of a soggy ascent, I donned a hardshell and shell-mitts. The snow underfoot was a heavy, sticky mush that clung to poles and snowshoes. It was a wet uphill slog but at least the herd-path, although unbroken since the snowfall, was easy to follow. It was my sixth ascent of Gray so the route was familiar to me.

It felt good to tag Gray. With only Allen remaining for the Fall round, the completion of my Four-Season Grid (46 peaks x 4 seasons) seemed well within reach. We paused for a brief snack and shared our mutual concern about the re-ascent of Marcy. The trail was also south-facing and the snow would undoubtedly be heavy and wet. We rationalized it would be easier than Gray because we had already broken the trail earlier in the day.
Misty Marcy (from Gray).
The descent back to Lake Tear's outlet was swift and uneventful. We collected our stowed gear and retraced our steps to Four Corners where we began the thousand-foot ascent to Marcy's summit. As we had predicted, the climb was made easier by virtue of having broken the trail earlier in the day. However, there wasn't much we could do about the melt-water raining on us other than ignore it until treeline.

For number-crunchers, the distance from Four Corners to the Loj via Lake Arnold or via Marcy is virtually the same (7.4 miles). The elevation gain via Marcy is 1300 feet versus 770 feet via Lake Arnold. In other words, for an additional investment of 530 feet, you get the benefit of Marcy's views instead of the (often) swampy trail to Lake Arnold and its limited views. The ascent to Lake Arnold from Feldspar Brook is about 500 feet. The ascent from Four Corners to Schofield Cobble is about 600 feet. Once you've reached Schofield Cobble, you are effectively above treeline and the remaining 400 feet of open views to the summit are your 'scenic payback'. Naturally, if the weather is horrible, returning via Marcy is much less appealing.

500 feet of awe-inspiring ascent.
Above treeline at Schofield Cobble, the wind was noticeably stronger than it had been in the morning. We battened down the hatches and began the scenic walk up the windswept snowfield. Our tracks were still visible and we retraced our steps to Marcy's windy summit. Marcy represented a milestone because the day's major climbing was behind us and now we looked forward to a relatively easy descent to the Loj. One foot in front of the other, for the next three hours and several minutes, returned us to the Loj, safe and sound.
Blue light special.


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Hike Stats

  • Distance: 17 miles.
  • Ascent: 5800 feet.
  • Time: 11h 50m.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

A day with Marshall Redfield. 2014-12-07

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Highlights of the sunny but cold day:
  • Meeting a spry 71 year-old with double knee replacements who was completely at ease in the cold weather wearing jeans, sweatshirt and cotton work gloves.
  • Unknowingly shadowing "rbalbs".
  • While descending Redfield, hearing then seeing large flocks of snowgeese overhead.
  • Twilight at Lake Colden.
  • Hiking through Avalanche Pass under a canopy of stars.
  • Hike stats: 20.5 miles, 4900 feet.
  • Hike time: ~11.5 hours.
  • Itinerary: Loj to Marshall (7.6 mi; 2805 ft; 4h 15m), Marshall to Redfield (4.6 mi; 2000 ft; 3h 5m), Redfield to Loj (8.4 mi; 725 ft; 4h 15m).

Early morning at Marcy Dam.

Redfield's southern panorama.


Twilight at Lake Colden.


See all photos.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Only Lonely Cliff. 2014-11-22

Saturday, November 22, 2014.
  • My sixth hike to Cliff, including two in winter, yet this outing seemed most challenging of all.
  • Compared stats for two routes to Uphill Brook lean-to: 1st via Lake Arnold and 2nd via Avalanche Lake. I discovered they are surprisingly similar.
  • Lake Arnold route is 0.6 miles shorter and 150 feet more ascent (3.45 miles, 1300 feet); I headed in via Lake Arnold and returned via Avalanche Lake.
  • 2-3 inches of fresh snow at Avalanche Camp.
  • No tracks to Lake Arnold; 6-8 inches of snow beyond Crossover junction.
  • The descent from Lake Arnold, into the Opalescent valley, featured 1-1.5 foot drifts.
  • Treacherous footing because the snow was unconsolidated and obscured what lay beneath (rocks, roots, etc). Pace was much slower than normal.
  • Snow on foot-bridges made them seem twice their true width. Bridges constructed of a single log were fiendishly deceptive.
  • The snow-covered double-log bridge over the Opalescent stands six feet above the water. That one required extra focus to cross.
  • Boggy area was not fully frozen. Flat and featureless; impossible to see where the water is and isn't. I punched through twice. Glad I waterproofed my leather boots.
  • It took an hour to descend from Lake Arnold to Marcy trail. It took half that time during a previous winter's hike!
  • Met two hikers heading to Skylight and Gray. Met no one else until Avalanche Pass.
  • No trace of anyone's passage to Redfield or Cliff.
  • Cliff's famously steep bits were blanketed in fluffy snow that was too loose to provide purchase for traction aids. It only served to obscure hazards and handholds alike.
  • Time and effort were expended digging away snow to expose climbable surfaces.
  • A few sections were surmounted by grace of the fact I can step up a full yard and know how to do hand and foot jams. Shorter people take note.
  • It took me 1h 19m to ascend Cliff's measly 0.9 miles and 800 feet.
  • Within minutes of being on the summit, a dark band of clouds rolled across the sky like a blind. The forecast called for sleet in the afternoon and it looked like the stage was set.
  • Fell once during the descent and got off easy (skinned a knuckle).
  • Descent took about an hour; trickier than in "real winter" owing to a lack of a solid base of snow and ice.
  • Cliff got in one more dig before I finished. Nearing the junction, I punched through and came up with a bootful of muck.
  • At the junction, I found no trace of anyone's passage to Redfield.
  • Considered the impending sleet and the effort needed to 'dig my way up' the steep sections of the Redfield trail; reluctantly decided to call it a day.
  • Trail to Lake Colden was packed down and pace was restored to normal (~2.1 mph).
  • Trail along eastern shore of Lake Colden was unbroken up to the Mount Colden junction. The balance of the trail was well trodden.
  • Covered the 4 miles from Uphill Brook lean-to to Avalanche Camp in 2 hours. This is the same time it took me via the slightly shorter Lake Arnold route. No speed advantage owing to the conditions (unbroken trail; unconsolidated snow).
  • Avalanche Camp to Marcy Dam was a cake-walk.
  • Snow flurries developed at around the time I arrived at Marcy Dam. It changed to drizzle and then sleet by the time I signed-out at the Loj.
  • Checked the trail-register and it seemed like the majority headed to Marcy, Algonquin, and Colden.
  • Good trip; valuable lessons learned about route selection and snow conditions.
  • Hike Stats (apprx.): 2100 feet, 15.7 miles
  • Hike time: 9 hours.

Snowy Upper Opalescent Valley.

Dark clouds roll in fast.

Monochromatic Avalanche Lake.
Snow showers arrive at Marcy Dam.


See all photos.


I started at 7:12 AM. I kept a detailed record of my time because I wanted to compare the two routes from Avalanche Camp to Uphill Brook lean-to (Lake Arnold vs Avalanche Pass). The conditions kind of hamstrung the Lake Arnold route. The toughest part of that section was not being able to look ahead as far as I normally do (6-8 feet) and just cruise along. I found myself staring down often (just 3' ahead) due to the flat lighting and uncertainty about what I was about to step on under the snow. Snowshoes might have helped along that stretch.

7:12 Loj
7:51 Marcy Dam
8:14 Avalanche Camp
8:49 Crossover
9:12 Lake Arnold
10:17 Marcy Trail
10:34 Uphill Brook lean-to junction
10:48 Leave lean-to
12:07 Cliff summit
12:11 Leave summit
13:05 Redfield-Cliff junction
13:09 Uphill Brook lean-to junction
13:46 Opalescent bridge
13:49 Lake Colden junction
14:05 Mount Colden junction
14:16 Northern Lake Colden trail-register
14:21 Leave trail-register
14:29 Southern Avalanche Lake
14:45 Northern Avalanche Lake
15:09 Avalanche Camp
15:15 Kagel lean-to
15:20 Leave lean-to
15:36 Marcy Dam
16:14 Loj

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Esther Whiteface and Porter Cascade. 2014-11-15

"A Day in Two Parts" by Esther Whiteface and Porter Cascade.

Part One: Esther and Whiteface
  • Slept in; started around 9:00 AM.
  • Sunny day. About -6C (21F) at the ASRC and -10C (14F) at the summit.
  • Icy; no mud.
  • Seems like everyone wore microspikes except for those who lost them along the way.
  • As a challenge, hiked to Esther without microspikes.
  • Wore microspikes for the balance of the hike.
  • Caught a microspike on a root and did a face-plant; injured my pride.
  • Broke another trekking pole (unrelated to face-plant).
  • Very hard ice above the Wilmington Bend. Had trouble getting microspikes to grip during the descent.
  • Hike stats: 10.2 miles, 4000 feet.
  • Trip time: 4h 35m

Part Two: Porter and Cascade
  • Left after 2:00 PM; two of three parking areas were full.
  • Met lots of people descending.
  • Trail was thoroughly 'tenderized' by hiker traffic.
  • Tagged Porter and was treated to a view of snow flurries on Algonquin.
  • Cascade was darn cold; -14C (7F) and windy.
  • Saw someone's pack at the junction; I wasn't the last to summit.
  • Fun walking on deserted trail at dusk.
  • Headlamp came in handy 45 minutes after sunset.
  • Hike stats: 6.2 miles, 2300 feet.
  • Trip time: 3h 2m

Sum of the parts: 16.4 miles, 6300 feet, and 7.5 hours of hiking fun.

Breezy day on Whiteface.

More guests on the summit.

Snow clouds obscure the approaching sunset.

Beautiful but darn windy and cold.


Saturday, November 8, 2014

Colden, Tabletop, and Phelps for Fifth Round. 2014-11-08

Fully healed and rested since last week's hike, it was time for this recovering couch-potato to return to the High Peaks and chip away at his Autumn round of the ADK 46. I perused my list of 16 remaining peaks and chose Colden, Tabletop, and Phelps. I had never hiked them as a combination and Phelps was the final peak for my 5th round. I guessed it was incrementally more challenging than the previous week's hike, to Street and Nye, and would be ideal for easing back into hiking. Only later did I learn the trio's stats: 5300 feet of ascent and just over 17 miles of distance. Ignorance is not always bliss! By the time I was ascending Phelps, my body's complaints suggested I was gravely mistaken about "incrementally more challenging".

I left the Loj around 7:20 AM and headed to Marcy Dam along the frozen trail. The previous night's snowfall left a dusting on the ground but I expected to encounter more as I gained elevation. It was a cool morning (25 F, -4 C) but I dressed lightly (ball cap, long-sleeve baselayer with T-shirt, long pants, no gaiters) because I knew the day's exertion would keep me comfortable. I came close to putting on a shell atop Colden but simply chose to curtail my stay on the summit. In contrast, many people I met seemed dressed for mid-February, sporting hardshells, hooded down parkas, beanies, etc. I met only one person less dressed than me: he was bare-armed in a T-shirt.

Between the Loj and Lake Arnold, I passed about a half-dozen hikers. The low clouds had not lifted so Lake Arnold's frozen surface was illuminated in cold gray light. The L. Morgan Porter trail crosses seepage from Lake Arnold. Carpeted in snow and protected from freezing, the seepage was notably squishy underfoot. It was one of many other bits of trail that seemed benign but whose snowy-white surface concealed a messy surprise. As I began the ascent, I noticed the temperature had cooled slightly (21 F, -6 C) but the wind remained calm. I hoped the clouds would lift by the time I reached the summit.

I caught up and passed the two hikers whose footprints I had been following since the junction. I emerged on Colden's false summit and was greeted by a cold blast of westerly winds; my T-shirt felt awfully thin. I briefly glanced at the cloud-laced scenery then ducked into the shelter of the col. One or two ledges required a little finesse to descend without bruises or worse. I passed under the cantilevered rock, traversed a sloped icy section (foreshadowing), and turned up a short spur to tag the summit. The clouds had lifted just enough to reveal they continued to favour Marcy.

Clouds breaking over Marcy.
I took time for a small snack and to put on gaiters. I've grown to appreciate the added ventilation of hiking without gaiters. However, snow was getting into my boots and the short, softshell gaiters would add a little extra warmth. By the time I had my fill of taking pictures, my fingers signalled it was time to either put on a shell or get moving; I chose to move.

Just steps beyond the sloped ice, I met the two hikers again. I noticed they weren't wearing microspikes and I asked if they had any. They said they did not. I asked which way they were heading and they replied to Lake Colden. I explained they "Would have 'fun'." because the trail is steeper and may be considerably icier because it faces south. They confirmed they had overlooked to bring traction aids and it had already caused them to shrink their itinerary. As the leader turned he slipped on the sloped ice; a harbinger of things to come. I wished them well and we went in opposite directions. They were far from the only hikers I saw without microspikes.

The descent to the false summit was quick with the only challenge being one particularly icy ledge. I passed several more hikers during the descent to Lake Arnold. One individual was having difficulty ascending a slab of iced rock in bare-boots. His partner stood at the top of the slab calling out instructions. Seeing that he was making little progress, I asked if he'd allow me to descend. He agreed and, with poles and spikes, I was safely down in a blink. I wished them well and continued on to Lake Arnold, now bathed in bright sunshine.

Sunny Lake Arnold.
The western end of the Lake Arnold Crossover, paralleling Arnold Brook, was exceedingly wet. Beyond the hard-right turn, the trail was in better shape. I arrived at Indian Falls and was treated to an excellent view of the MacIntyres. I paused for a snack and realized I had failed to seize the opportunity to bring leftover Halloween candy! Doh!

Grand view at Indian Falls.
The first third of the herd-path to Tabletop's summit was a sloppy mess of ice, snow, water, and mud. I met several descending hikers who I would meet again later in the day. I tagged Tabletop shortly before 12:30 AM. A couple from Quebec were preparing to descend and I noticed they were responsible for the crampon tracks I had seen. Both were outfitted with mountaineering boots and full crampons. I grew weary just looking at the monsters on their feet. I figured they must be in training for something big.

I got to say "Hello again!" several times as I passed people I had met earlier. I arrived at the Phelps junction and, with knees and hips complaining in ways I hadn't experienced in years, began the final ascent of the day. Last year I had hiked Wright, Algonquin, and Iroquois before continuing on to Colden, Tabletop, and Phelps. On this day, that trip felt as if it happened a lifetime ago.

I slowed my pace to give my body less to complain about. No personal records would be broken today; fifty-five minutes of trudging uphill brought me to the summit and the completion of my fifth round. The sun shone weakly through the overcast sky and imbued the landscape with an ashen pallor. Despite the cadaverous surroundings, I was very happy to have achieved the day's objectives.

Phelps for Round 5.
I spent a few moments appreciating the monochromatic scenery. Gazing at Marcy, I could discern the dark silhouette of hikers on its summit; they had a few miles to cover before day's end. Off to the east I could see the serrations of the Great Range peeking over Tabletop's bulk, Far off to the east, Camel's Hump distinctive snowy profile shone in the sun. The wind picked up, nipped at my exposed ears, and ushered me off the summit.

Ashen landscape from atop Phelps.
The descent to the junction took a half-hour and my hips and knees, perhaps realizing the climbing was over, remained silent throughout. Upon arriving at Marcy Dam I recognized an approaching ranger. I introduced myself and explained we had met in May along the North Fork Boquet. He recalled the day and we proceeded to talk about the Dix Range and today's icy conditions. He noted he had seen hikers in sneakers and many without microspikes. I relayed my story of the Lake Colden-bound duo I had met atop Colden. He replied despite the potential for injury, they get surprisingly few cases. Perhaps only the folks who become truly lame call for help and all others, feeling chastened, limp back to the trail-head. We shook hands and he headed south to continue his patrol.

I arrived at the Loj at 3:45 PM and signed out. It took awhile to find my name in the logbook owing to the number of people who had signed in after me. Summer may be the peak hiking season but autumn is no slouch. The hike had been more challenging than expected but, except for a few aches to be dulled by ibuprofen, I was no worse for wear. A few more hikes to clear out the cobwebs, and finish the autumn round, and I'll be ready for winter.


5300 feet, 17.4 miles, 8h 24m.


See all photos.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Street and Nye. 2014-11-02

Know thyself!

It was now November 1st and I had not hiked or exercised since September. October's chilly wet weather dampened my ardor for both hiking and exercising outdoors. Sunday's weather looked very promising; a lovely sunny day with little chance of rain yet cold enough to freeze some mud. All that remained was to choose a kind and gentle destination that wouldn't overtax this couch-potato.

My remaining objectives for 2014:

  • 18 peaks for the Fall round of the ADK Four Season Grid (4SG).
  • 3 peaks for a 5th round of the ADK 46.
  • 2 peaks for the NE 115.

I chose to hike to Street and Nye  because they combined two objectives, 5th round and 4SG, plus it's a short and sweet hike. It seemed just right to ease my torpid body back into the game.

This was not a trip with a bleary-eyed 4:00 AM wake-up. I woke up at 6:30 AM Eastern Standard Time (gained an hour's sleep overnight), re-checked the weather, and whispered to my wife "I'm going." Truth be told, earlier in the week I had planned to hike but, after checking the weather, crawled back into bed. However, today was the day and I was out of the house at 7:00 AM. I rolled into the Loj's sunny parking area at 9:15 AM and was on the trail ten minutes later. Three hours from bed to trail; not too shabby.

The air was crisp, the wind was gusty, and everything was dusted with snow. An uneventful half-hour's walk brought me to the bank of Indian Pass Brook. I hadn't bothered to bring garbage bags or wading shoes. I figured persistence would let me to find the proper combination of stepping stones. The fall-back would be a very chilly wade through the brook.

A fresh dusting of snow.
A quick test confirmed that all 'dark rocks' weren't just wet but sheathed in ice so they were off the menu. I found nothing that suited my skills at the designated crossing, so I headed upstream, about a hundred feet, and found a suitable chain of 'light rocks'. I regained the herd-path and continued west. Despite the leaf-litter, the herd-path was very easy to follow.

Somewhere around 3500 feet, the trail became icy. The footsteps I had been following had developed holes from microspikes. Owing to a blend of being stubborn and lazy, I chose to forego donning traction and just hauled myself up the icy bits. Eventually I caught up to the mother and daughter team responsible for the footprints, wished them well, and continued to the junction. Deciding that this was a nice level bit of ground, I stopped to put on microspikes and then headed south to Street.

My aching fingertips signaled it had grown colder. The mud was crunchy and the puddles were skimmed with ice, but only just so. A few spots fooled me and had me banging my boot against a tree to knock off watery muck and slush; "Should've seen that one!"  Two hours after leaving my car, I tagged the summit of Street. Since my last visit (May 2014), it has gained a shiny new summit-sign.

Late-model sign on Street.
I ambled over to the southern lookout, climbed a tree, and snapped a few pics. From the crow's nest I had an unobstructed view of the MacIntyre Range, Lost Pond Peak, MacNaughton, the Santanonis and Sewards. Looking east, I could resolve several peaks in the Great Range and, of course, the very obvious Marcy and Giant. Not a bad haul for a treed summit.

The color palette of cold weather.
I replaced my thin liners with fleece gloves, aspirated half a Clif bar, and headed off the summit. I passed the mother and daughter team during the descent and, twenty minutes later, emerged on the summit of Nye. After a quick pic with its new sign, I descended to its lookout rock for one last good view of the MacIntyres.

Tagging Nye's new sign.
After a ten minute descent from the junction, I met the first of three groups ascending the peaks. Two young men made up the first group (whose sudden appearance came as a surprise), the second was a couple with a friendly dog (unleashed as it seems most dogs are), and the third had a little story behind their venture.

When I had arrived at the Loj's toll-booth I noticed a group of hikers crossing the road and heading in the direction of the Indian Pass trail-head. I assumed they were heading to Street and Nye and would be ahead of me. However, their footprints disappeared at the junction of the Old Nye ski trail. After I had hiked both peaks and descended for a half-hour, I met the group making its way up the path. One individual, ostensibly the leader, asked if the junction was near and I reported my descent time. He explained they weren't certain where the herd-path began and had proceeded towards Indian Falls. A slip of the tongue; I assume he meant either Rocky Falls or Indian Pass. Not finding a junction, they bushwhacked and eventually connected with the herd-path. It certainly explained why they weren't ahead of me! There wasn't much to say other than "You're on the right path now. Have a good one!"

The path had grown noticeably muddier since my morning's passage. I paused at the brook crossing to look at the discarded logging gear. Maybe I didn't look hard enough but I think some items have disappeared since the last time I photographed them in 2010. I wondered if this stuff isn't better off in a museum instead of in someone's garage.

Number of logging artifacts seems fewer than 4 years ago.
Recrossing Indian Pass brook was easier because the rocks had shed their veneer of ice and I was able to rock-hop at the designated spot. The remainder of the trail was an easy-peasy repeat of the morning's walk. I emerged from the woods at 1:30 PM, just a tick over 4 hours from departure. Thoughts of bagging Porter and Cascade danced in my head. I certainly had enough daylight but the mild discomfort in my hips and right knee convinced me to leave them for another day. Easy does it!


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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Colden and Big Slide for Summer 46. 2014-09-10

July and August had me busy pursuing the completion of the New Hampshire Four Thousand Footers (NH48). However, I had not forgotten my other goal to finish hiking a summer round of the ADK46 as part of a quest to complete the Four Season Grid (hike the ADK46 in each of the four seasons). Winter and spring were done and Colden and Big Slide were the last two peaks on my summer list.  I had considered hiking a single route that included both peaks but it would've required arranging a car spot. With summer drawing to a close, I decided to head out and hike the two peaks separately. It would be a workman-like affair; Colden from Adirondak Loj and Big Slide from the Garden.

I had not bothered to tally the total mileage and ascent but I guessed it would be around 20 miles and over 5000 feet. I later calculated the distance to be 20.6 miles (guidebook data) and the elevation gain to be around 5700 feet (Google Earth data). I estimated a conservative figure of ten hours to complete the two so I left Montreal at 5:00 AM to ensure I had plenty of daylight for the hike.

The pre-dawn drive south along I-87 was relaxing; I was treated to a beautiful sunrise over the Green Mountains of Vermont. I rolled into the Loj's parking area at 7:30 AM and signed the logbook at 7:45 AM. The morning was cool and the peaks were partially shrouded in clouds. However, the forecast called for a warm and partly sunny day so I looked forward to good views from Colden.

Within a minute of leaving the trail-head I met two young women at the Mr. Van trail-junction. They asked which trail led to Marcy and I replied "Straight ahead". I added it would be a nice day for Marcy and wished them well. Unfortunately, the day's weather would prove me wrong and the tallest peaks would be in and out of the clouds (mostly in the clouds).

The trail to Marcy Dam was bone-dry and a brisk pace brought me to the dam in 35 minutes. The breached dam and its mud-flat of a reservoir no longer make for a very picturesque setting. Nevertheless, the view of Colden is still impressive and today it showed clouds scraping their bellies on Colden's summit.

The walk to Avalanche Camp was quiet and uneventful. At the Camp I met a couple toting helmets. I said "I guess those are for something challenging today?" to which they replied "We're climbing the Trap Dike." I explained I had climbed it the previous summer and that led to a brief discussion of the ins and outs of the route. I wished them good luck and we parted at the junction.

Before leaving the junction, I held up a lone Vibram sole and quipped "I'll bet that was inconvenient." I placed it on a rock to be retrieved upon my return. However, I had forgotten about it and later learned that its owner was camped nearby, heard our conversation, and collected the sole before his departure.

The trail to Lake Arnold was marked with wet footprints and I caught up to the authors at the junction with the (Indian Falls) Crossover trail. Several young women wearing bonnets and pioneer dresses were being led by a young man in more contemporary clothing. I greeted them and asked their destination to which the man replied "Marcy". I waved my hand in the direction of the Crossover and said "Well, that'll be the way. Have a good one!" and continued to Lake Arnold. I may be mistaken but I suspect the majority of people who head to Marcy by way of the Lake Arnold and Crossover trails do so out of error. It certainly can't be for the scenery.

The low water-levels of late summer have a way of ripening the odor of stagnant bodies of water, like Lake Arnold. Its outflow seeps across the start of the L. Morgan Porter trail and greets one's nostrils with a pungent perfume (ahem). The trail had been fairly dry up to the junction but was noticeably muddier beyond Lake Arnold. One or two spots required a little dancing across fallen timber but nothing to make me regret eschewing gaiters. I emerged on Colden's northern summit and, looking south, saw clouds grazing its true summit. To the east and west, Algonquin and Marcy were completely engulfed and I hoped, for the sake of the Marcy-bound hikers I had met, conditions would improve.

Clouds breaking over Colden.
Nearing the summit ridge, I passed under the cantilevered rock and kept my eyes open to spot the herd-path to the 1990 Slide (a.k.a. Southeast Slide). Finding this junction proved to be troublesome when Brian (Pathgrinder) and I had ascended Colden via the Trap Dike and elected to descend via the 1990 Slide. A stump approximately ten feet south of a chest-high boulder was what I had recalled and it proved to be correct. A series of bog-bridges spanned the muddiest sections of the ridge (new to me) and, within minutes, I stood astride the drill-hole marking the summit.

Does that say "PEAK" or "DEAK"?
The clouds had lifted higher than Colden but continued to sweep through Avalanche Pass and provide fleeting glimpses of Algonquin. Nothing was visible to the west. I explored the summit and discovered small stones had been used to delineate the boundaries of the alpine flora. A pile of small rocks lay at the head of the spur trail leading to the summit. A sign indicated one should drop one's contribution on the pile (I didn't get the memo so had none to offer).

Misty views of Lake Colden.
At least two of the spurs leading into the woods, including the one directly in front of the large erratic, had been brushed in and posted "Re-vegetation area. Keep out". I recall at least two winter ascents when we sought refuge from the bitter wind in the wooded oasis next to the erratic. I guess it's all for the best.

I spent about fifteen minutes on the summit, watching the clouds part to reveal views of the surrounding peaks and lakes. I peered into Avalanche Pass and wondered how the intrepid climbers were doing. Standing at the head of the Colden Slide, the white stripe of the Trap Dike Slide was clearly visible to the right. Were it not for another peak to hike the same day, a slide-ascent would've certainly made for a more interesting route to Colden.

Looking down the Colden Slide to Avalanche Lake.
Seeing that the clouds stubbornly refused to show me Marcy's summit, I headed north and began my descent to Lake Arnold. Nearing the cantilevered rock, I glimpsed a lone hiker on Colden's northern summit. The advantages of hiking mid-week are crowd-free trails and having a popular summit to yourself.

Colden, the Trap Dike Slide, and the Macs.
Upon reaching Marcy Dam, I chose to cross the brook at the base of the dam. The water level was low enough to expose rocks that permitted me to easily cross without wading. A short distance away, I approached a ranger (J. Giglinto) cutting deadfall with a chainsaw. I paused until he saw me and motioned it was safe to pass. I picked up my pace and arrived at the trail-head at 12:30 PM.

Colden and Avalanche peering over the remains of Marcy Dam.

Hike Stats: 12.6 miles, 2800', 4h 30m.

I stowed my gear and drove to the Garden trail-head in Keene Valley. At the head of the Loj road I paused to call my wife and let her know my status. I arrived at the Garden at 1:15 PM, paid the fee, changed into a fresh set of clothes and topped up my hydration bag (1 liter). The act of driving from one trail-head to another reminded me of hiking the Saranac Lake 6 Ultra. Another reminder was the stiffness in my calves! Sitting in a car between hikes has a way of causing my leg muscles to tighten. I signed in and left the trail-head at 1:25 PM.

The walk to First Brother loosened my calves. Unlike the morning's cloudy hike to Colden, the sun was peaking through and warming me as I wended my way up along the open rock of the Brothers. In other words, it had become rather warm and I grew a little concerned about my stingy water supply. I had also forgotten about the steep rock ledges leading to the two Brothers! My knees were a little achy and I wondered how they'd feel during the descent.

Being so close to one another, the views from Second and First Brother are nearly identical. I was disappointed to see that someone named "Tommy" had chosen to carve his name into the rock along with a tic-tac-toe grid. In the same vein, many hikers still don't know how to bury their toilet paper and feces. I wish I could say that the Brothers attract beginners who don't know better but piles of paper and poop can be found near most summits. Who knew burying your waste is such a big secret?

Along the trail over the Brothers.
Beyond Second Brother, the trail enters the woods and that had me back in the shade. I paused at a lookout which provided a view of Big Slide. I ascended through a birch forest to wooded Third Brother and then descended slightly through a spruce forest. I passed several hikers returning to the trail-head. Upon reaching the col, I found a trickle of water running over a mossy bed. I was no longer concerned about my water supply but made a mental note of its location.

The ascent to the junction with the Slide Brook trail was uneventful except for a strange little detour. I followed a herd-path that ran for about 50 yards and then ended back at the trail. I thought it might avoid some nasty blowdown on the main trail. Upon my return, I purposely avoided the herd-path and discovered the main trail is in fine shape and there's no reason for the herd-path!

The final 0.3 miles to the summit is the steepest stretch and includes a set of stair-like ladders. The topmost ladder is missing a few rungs and could use some maintenance. The summit was deserted which was no surprise being 3:30 PM on a Wednesday afternoon. I snapped a selfie holding up three fingers to indicate the completion of three seasons of the Four Season Grid. The cloud ceiling concealed Marcy's summit but otherwise all of the peaks of the Great Range were clearly visible.

Big Slide's eastern face and the Great Range.
I thought of descending the Slide Brook trail to the valley and following the Phelps trail back to the Garden. However, when it comes to scenic "bang-for-your-buck", returning via The Brothers is hard to beat. My knees were up to the task for the ledges and my descent to the trail-head was a little quicker (~90 minutes). I was back shortly after 5:00 PM. I ran the last third of a mile and passed a bearded hiker wearing an old-fashioned Adirondack packbasket. I imagine we made quite the contrasting pair.

I signed out at the trail-register and noted an entry for "". A young couple were hiking the ADK 46 in seven days to raise awareness and funds for Suicide Prevention Week. I wrote "Good Luck" in the margin and drew an arrow to their entry.

Hike Stats: 8 miles, 2875 feet, 3h 45m.

I stowed my gear, cleaned up a bit, switched into clean clothes, and drove to Stewart's in Keene to down a quart of fatfree milk and a large chili. At Ausable Forks (nearest location with AT&T service), I called my wife to let her know I was safe and my summer round was done. The drive home gave me time to think of the 18 autumn peaks remaining to complete the Four Seasons.


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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

July in the White Mountains. 16-07-2014 to 20-07-2014

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

I met Brooks (Biji) at Mr. Pizza in Gorham at 6:00 PM where we broke bread, quaffed beer, and swapped stories. Brooks had reserved an upscale campsite at the White Birches Camping Park in nearby Shelburne. The wooded site, carpeted in pine needles, was large enough to host a troop of scouts. It was located on a hillside in their "Topknot" area along a dead-end road. It was well away from the highway and was very peaceful.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

We spotted my car at the Stony Brook trail-head then double-backed to the Carter-Moriah trail-head in Gorham. There's only room for a handful of cars at the dead-end. Later we learned there's a clearing, under a power-line, on the west side of the road about a 100 yards before the dead-end.

The trail ascends over Mount Surprise and provides a few views of Madison and Adams across the notch. Atop Moriah, Brooks' 46th 4K peak, we were joined by several other hikers. We continued along the Carter-Moriah trail over South Ledges to the Stony Brook trail. This proved to be the most scenic part of our day with gorgeous views to the south and east plus beautiful alpine flora including Sheep Laurel.

Sheep Laurel.
The section over South Ledges reminded me of Giant's Zander Scott trail in the Adirondacks. The trail crossed Stony Brook above a lovely pool then led us along a fairly smooth path to the trail-head. We headed back to the White Birches to clean up then returned to Mr. Pizza to replace lost calories. The evening was spent around a campfire and swapping more stories.

Spectacular scenery along the Carter-Moriah trail.
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Friday, July 18, 2014

We woke up with the birds because we had to strike camp and meet Tom (Boghollow) at the Glen Ellis trail-head at 7:30 AM. We rolled in with 5 minutes to spare and greeted Tom who had already arrived. Tom and I drove off to the Rocky Branch trail-head, parked his truck, then shuttled back to Glen Ellis where Brooks had graciously completed and paid for my parking pass. We set out along the Glen Boulder trail with high expectations of grand alpine views and we were not disappointed.

Upon reaching treeline we were welcomed by a fresh cool breeze and awe-inspiring vistas. It was Tom's first hike above treeline in the Whites and he was impressed with its grandeur. He, as well as Brooks and I, were equally impressed with the intense cooling effect of the constant wind. It was just this side of tolerable in sweat-soaked T-shirts but not enough to don something more substantial (and lock in the sweat).

Tom and Brooks pause to admire the scenery.
We had hoped to save a few steps by rock-hopping across the alpine lawn to the Davis path but ended up walking the trail to the junction.  We turned south on the Davis path and began an initially gentle then precipitous descent to Mount Isolation. The views to the west, of the Southern Presidential Range, were outstanding. We agreed that Brooks had chosen this leg of the hike well; the return from Isolation to Rocky Branch, the trade-route, was viewless.

We paused for a break at the Isolation-Davis trail-junction. Along the way to Isolation we met a hiker who informed Brooks that our return route, via Rocky Branch, was closed. Brooks had queried two reliable sources before setting out and they did not mention a closed route. We chose to ignore the stranger's beta which proved to be the right decision. Later, during our return, we discovered the portion of Rocky Branch we needed was indeed open whereas the balance was closed.

We cheered Brooks as he approached Isolation's summit, his 47th peak. He has left Carrigain for last and plans to return in August. Isolation offered excellent views of the entire arc of the Southern Presidentials, and Oakes Gulf, leading to the summit of Washington.

From Eisenhower to Washington and on to Boott Spur.
Isolation's summit also harbored fearless Gray Jays who readily landed on our outstretched palms to feed on raisins and peanuts. It was a memorable treat for us all and we eventually attracted several of them. It got to the point where I couldn't point to a faraway summit without having one attempt to land on my hand!

The far from timid Gray Jay.
Tom share's a treat with Isolation's welcoming committee.
Upon our return to the Davis-Isolation trail-junction, we passed a lone hiker heading to Isolation. We greeted one another briefly and continued to the junction where we stopped to wait for Brooks. It crossed our minds that the individual was approaching Isolation late in the day. Brooks arrived several minutes later and informed us we had just passed Jason Beaupre. He had started out to establish a new record for hiking the NH48 but, unfortunately, his support team fell apart. As a result, he was now  attempting a personal record. What Jason had left on his itinerary made my head spin. I hope he succeeded in setting a personal best!

The balance of the hike was a woods-walk and offered few views. I was especially happy we had not used this 'trade-route' for an out-and-back to Isolation! We considered shortening our route slightly by bushwhacking from the Isolation trail to the Rocky Branch trail. When we arrived at the jump-off point, the second-to-last brook crossing, Tom ventured into the woods and concluded the effort wasn't worth our while. We hiked the extra distance, crossing and re-crossing the brook, and arrived at a herd-path that appeared to lead back to the jump-off point. We'll never know where the path emerged precisely but the time to hike the extra distance was a mere 20 minutes; I don't believe the bushwhack would've been a tremendous time-saver. However, in the event of high-water, the bushwhack eliminates two potentially dangerous crossings.

Crossing Rocky Branch brook.
The portion of the Rocky Branch trail leading to the height-of-land near Engine Hill is effectively a brook. Flanked by tall grass, we rock-hopped up the very wet trail and met an elderly hiker. He asked us to inform his family that he was heading out to greet them. We met them, a couple and their young son, at the height-of-land and relayed his message. At the same spot we also met an elderly couple from Colorado. She had hiked most of the NH48 back in the Fifties and was returning to complete them. She said she thought some of the peaks may have changed their names but Brook informed her that there were only 46 4k peaks in the Fifties. Two more were added, resulting from a more accurate survey, and the "changed names" were probably "new names".

We chatted with the two groups for awhile and eventually Grandpa arrived and greeted them. Everyone was heading to the Rocky Branch shelter to camp and then hike to Isolation the following day. The youngest of the group was treated to M&M's whenever he replied positively to the question "Do you have a good attitude?" Naturally, we all chimed in that we also had a good attitude and were treated to M&M's. Two more hikers joined the fray on the narrow trail and signaled time for us to leave. The balance of the descent was uneventful except for the discovery of a message "Meet at car" formed with small pebbles on a large boulder.

After shuttling back to Glen Ellis, we all drove to Bartlett where we said goodbye to Brooks. Tom and I continued to his campsite, at Jigger Johnson campground, where he was a most gracious host and grilled Chicken Spiedies on a campfire. Tom's excellent home-brew IPA rounded out the meal and the evening.

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Saturday, July 19, 2014
Tripyramids, Whiteface and Passaconaway

Despite an early start, we found ourselves scrambling to make the 7:30 AM rendezvous at the Pine Bend trail-head. We arrived a few minutes early and waited for the arrival of Geoff (Kyler) and Ken (Kensquest). They arrived after having spotted Ken's truck at the Oliverian Brook trail-head so we were all set to go. Ken initially hung back but then probably snuck in a 'Lance Armstrong transfusion' and proceeded to lead the group at a spirited pace for the balance of the day. We arrived at the Pine Bend-Scaur Ridge junction 1.25 hours after leaving the trail-head. We covered a distance of 3.2 miles and 2000 feet ascent in just over an hour and that set the tone for the day. I don't know what Ken ate for breakfast but it really put the "Quest" in Kensquest!

Rest-stop after a speedy ascent of North Tripyramid.
We paused on North Tripyramid for a snack and to sample its limited views. All three peaks of the Tripyramids are wooded but there are lookouts to be found. The conditions were very hazy so we mostly saw outlines of distant ranges. The fun began during the descent from South Tripyramid to the Kate Sleeper junction.

I read about the two slides on the southern face of the Tripyramids. There appears to be a preference to ascend one (North Slide) and descend the other (South Slide) based on their ability to provide good footing. I found the South Slide, what little of it we hiked, to be fun if you avoided the "ball bearings". Many of the boulders are peppered with pea-sized gravel and landing hard on this loose material would be a very bad idea. The ball bearings are also found on slopes and readily give way to a descending footstep; I learned this from experience.

Descending the upper section of the South Slide.
The Kate Sleeper trail is a 2.5 mile stretch rising and falling over the two Sleepers and several intervening hillocks. It had a very remote feeling to it that was enhanced by passing through a quarter-mile of jaw-dropping blowdown. The trail-crew that cleared the devastation deserve a medal!
One-quarter mile of devastation along the Kate Sleeper trail.
Whiteface is one of those summits that can be passed in the blink of an eye. Lying along the wooded Rollins trail, a cairn and slender vertical marker (looks like a mezuzah!) mark its summit. We stopped for a break and socialized with the many other hikers continuing to Passaconaway. The wooded Rollins trail runs along the precipitously steep edge of a 1500 foot depression called "The Bowl". Lookouts along the way gave us excellent views of the Bowl and our final objective, Passaconaway.

Passaconaway and The Bowl from the Rollins trail.
After pausing at a lookout to respond to a survey held by a local trail-improvement society, we made the final ascent to the summit of Passaconaway. The sight of its diminutive cairn reminded me of the undersized Stonehenge stage-prop in the film "This is Spinal Tap". We spent at least a half-hour on Passaconaway.

Passaconaway and its undersized "Spinal Tap" cairn.
Geoff descended a side-trail to a lookout and then Tom went looking for him. When neither returned, Ken and I joked that they had gone to the "Lookout of No Return". We began the descent to the lookout but quickly met them ascending. They reported the descent was far more than they had anticipated but they had continued because it was certain to be "Just around the next bend!" Reunited on the summit, we began the final descent to Oliverian Brook but not before one final sanity-check.

Passaconaway has a trail that loops around its summit and has two junctions (three if you count the spur to the 'Lookout of No Return'). We met one couple (who had passed us earlier) staring at their map, thoroughly befuddled by why they were where they shouldn't be. Tom offered his assistance and then spent some time orienting them. They had another nine miles to go, to Chocorua, so time was of the essence.

We met others, who we had passed earlier, who were ascending via our descent route! Apparently, they overshot the first junction on the west side, curved around the summit, and ascended via the east side. During our own ascent we had paused and scratched our heads at a signless intersection. All this to say that if you don't pay attention to the terrain, and the signage, you can can easily hike in circles or end up somewhere other than planned.

While descending, we passed the eastern junction of the 'summit loop' and began descending the trail. In my mind, I thought we were already on the Passaconaway Cut-Off trail, heading northeast to the Oliverian Brook trail. Within short order we started to pass a junction whose sign indicated a meeting of the Walden and Cut-off trails and we were on Walden. In addition, the terrain was rising to our right when it should've been falling away. Huh? I stopped to pull out my low-resolution map to orient myself. Everyone consulted a map and agreed we shouldn't be following the Walden trail. We turned left and that was the last bit of navigation for the day.

The rest of the hike consisted of a brisk descent along the Cut-off and a beautiful walk along the broad Oliverian Brook trail. We emerged at the trail-head, 8.25 hours after leaving Pine Bend and looking forward to a cold drink. Ken shuttled us back to Pine Bend and then left for home in western New York. Tome, Geoff, and I returned to Jigger Johnson to clean up and devour the Michigans Tom prepared on the campfire. Several cold brews later we retired to our tents and slept like logs.

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Sunday, July 20, 2014
Tecumseh and departure

After breakfast, Geoff departed for home while Tom and I set out for Tecumseh. Light showers fell during the drive to the Price Chopper in Lincoln where I parked my car. Let's just say that the worst part of Tripoli road lies along the first few miles of paved road! Tom chose to steer his pickup well clear of a washed out section filled with deep, shock-busting potholes. The remaining miles of dirt were much kinder provided you avoided the rocks jutting out of the roadbed (spray-painted orange for visibility). Tripoli road is lined with many primitive campsites (fee) which appeared to be populated by organized groups.

Showers continued during our hike but very little found its way through the forest's dense canopy. The trail to the summit is unremarkable except for the last few hundred yards which rises steeply to Tecumseh's partially open summit. The showers had stopped but the views were hamstrung by the low-lying clouds. Most of the hikers we met on the summit had arrived from Waterville Valley. We spent a mere 15 minutes on Tecumseh and then returned to the trail-head. Back in Lincoln, we made tentative plans to return in mid-August and visit a few more peaks.
Summit of Tecumseh.
I took the time to follow Brooks' advice and headed to the Mountain Wanderer bookstore. I selected a half-dozen guidebooks ranging from alpine ecology to animal tracks plus Brooks' recommendation "The 4000 Footers". I had the opportunity to meet Steve Smith, the store owner and co-author of "The 4000 Footers". When I introduced myself, Steve recognized my name and that got the conversation rolling. Personable and knowledgeable, Steve answered all my questions including the ones about how to properly pronounce local place names like Tripoli (Triple-Eye), Willey (Will-lee), Coos (Ko-aws), and Kancamagus (Kank-a-MAW-gus or just Kank). Moosilauke seemed to be an even split between excluding and including the trailing "e". I'll never pass for a New Englander but at least I won't hurt the locals' ears with mispronunciations!