Sunday, January 26, 2014

Cascade and Porter. 2014-01-26

Yesterday, on Saturday, I hiked to Marshall and Cliff with Brian ("Pathgrinder") and Sam. I had a good night's sleep at the Maple Leaf Motel, in Schroon Lake, and was now driving north on the I-87, enjoying the views on a sunny Sunday morning.

Unlike the previous day, Sunday morning was sunny and cold. I'd be passing several other trail-heads along the way so I had my choice of destinations but the short combination of Cascade and Porter seemed ideal. It was a quick jaunt to a windy summit with great views and that appealed to me.

I had a late start, and wasn't looking for a ten-hour hike, so thoughts of Giant or Gothics filled my head. As I drove by the trail-heads at Round Pond, Chapel Pond, Ausable Club, and Roaring Brook, I was surprised by the paucity of vehicles. Admittedly it was a cold morning (~ 5 °F, -15 °C) but it was sunny and so where were all the winter hikers? When I arrived at the Cascade trail-head at 9:00 AM I was only the second car in the lot.

The other car's occupants were preparing for their hike. I greeted them and they asked if I would be using snowshoes. I explained the conditions I encountered the previous day and said I would not be using them. I bid then good-day and signed-in at 9:20 AM.

What a difference from Saturday! The air was cold (2 °F, -16.5 °C), dry and fresh. The sun shone through the trees and a light breeze reminded me it was truly January. I was wearing the lightest clothing I dared to wear in winter because I knew this would be a short hike.

The trail conditions were excellent and I bare-booted the entire hike. There were a few icy patches dusted with snow but not enough to make me stop to put on spikes. It took me an hour to reach Cascade's treeline where I stopped to prepare for its exposed summit.

The temperature was now a brisk -10 °F (-23 °C) and the wind gusts were appreciable. I intended to spend a little time on the summit so I put on an insulated jacket and over-pants. It was my first use of the insulated pants and their full-length zippers spared me the hassle of removing my boots. I covered my face with a neoprene mask and donned goggles. The addition of shell mitts completed my "spacesuit" and I was now ready for Cascade's windy summit.

Strong winds had scoured all snow from the rocks so I didn't need spikes. In fact, the going was easier than my last visit, in December, when the rocks were sheathed in verglas. However, the winds were as stiff as during my visit in November. I estimate the wind gusts were on the order of 40+ mph based on their ability to interfere with my balance while walking.

Great Range on the horizon.
I tagged the summit (10:37 AM) and sought shelter from the wind. From my vantage point, Cascade and Porter seemed to be the only peaks that weren't buffeted by snow clouds. The peaks of the Great Range would come into view and then disappear behind a gauze of wind-driven clouds. There were moments when I could spot Giant and Algonquin but then they would fade to white. It was fascinating to watch, in the comfort of my "spacesuit", but photography was an uncomfortable prospect. Upon removing my hand from its warm cocoon, and despite wearing liner gloves, I only had about fifteen seconds before my fingers became painfully cold. Back in the windproof mitt, I clutched the chemical hand-warmer and allowed my aching fingers to reheat before shooting the next series of photos. The windchill was crazy-cold!

Fully protected by my "spacesuit".
Although it felt long, I only spent fifteen minutes on the summit. Back at the trail junction, I removed my "spacesuit" and was immediately chilled by the cold. I hurriedly packed my gear and set off to Porter double-time in order to warm up. The trail was smooth and easy and I reached Porter in 25 minutes. Its summit was much more benign than Cascade's. I walked past the open rocks into the woods, out of the wind, to don a jacket. I returned to the rocks to take a few photos and enjoy the drama of snow clouds playing in the peaks.

Cinerama view from Porter's summit.
Shortly after departing from Porter's summit, I met the duo from the only other car in the lot. They chose to hike Porter first. I cautioned them that Cascade was "wicked cold" and wished them luck. I was moving faster now and it took me only fifteen minutes to return to the trail-junction.  The trail-conditions were perfect for a quick descent. I fell once, stopped once to strip off gaiters and shell mitts, and paused to speak with a lone female hiker, the third and last person I'd meet on a normally popular mountain on a beautiful Sunday!

I met her, about a quarter of the way up the trail, and what surprised me was that she was wearing goggles (on her forehead), a heavily-frosted face-mask, and an open shell jacket revealing an underlying down jacket. It all seemed out of proportion to the relatively benign conditions, in the woods, but I figured she was definitely prepared for awaited her. I gave her the same "wicked cold" remark, about the summit, and informed her there were only two other hikers on the mountain so the trail was essentially all hers today.

I signed out at 12:35 PM; three hours and fifteen minutes of fun. There was ample time to eat lunch in Lake Placid before driving home. I stowed my gear, called my wife to let her know I was done, and then headed to the Lake Placid Pub. Watching folks skating on Mirror Lake, through the steam rising out of a hot bowl of chili, capped another great day in the High Peaks.


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