Friday, February 28, 2014

Giant and RPR. 2014-02-28

Friday, February 28, 2014

The first day of three days in the Adirondacks.

I had the peaks to myself until the descent. Gorgeous day. First in, first out. 4h 45m. My best time ever! Pleased as can be.

Not much color but lots of texture.


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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Dix Range Traverse. 2014-02-23

Sunday, February 23, 2014

On Sunday, I joined Neil and Joe (JoeCedar) for a traverse of the Dix Range. We started at Round Pond at 6:45 AM and finished at the North Fork Boquet (highway 73) 10.5 hours later.

Nearing the summit of Dix, we met RidgeRunner and on the summit Justine (VeggieLasagna) joined our team.

The weather cooperated throughout the day and only the summits were chilly owing to strong winds.

Thanks go to Rik, Inge, Blackbear, Carl, and all others who participated in breaking out the herd-paths the previous day. Navigation was a given.

East of South Dix, we met Kerry who informed us the second crossing of the North Fork Boquet presented a problem. She had to double-back and stamp out a new route along the south side of the river all the way to Lillypad Pond.

On Grace, we congratulated Joe for completing his fifth consecutive Single-Season Winter 46!

Nearing Lillypad Pond, we followed Kerry's path and, with a little extra trail-breaking, connected with the south-side herd path. Some rock-hopping along the river was required.

Neil, hiking his sixth straight day, was in good spirits and, although professing to move no faster than a sustainable "ten-day pace", hiked at a quick clip throughout the day.

Crossing Round Pond at sunrise.

Best seat in the house.

Nature's Swarosvski crystal.

On top o' the world, Ma!


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Summit of Dix.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Allen. 2014-02-16

Poor Doru. He had plans for three days of hiking but, due to a snowstorm and partners altering their itinerary, the first two days fell through. On Saturday evening, I let him know that, should Sunday's hiking partners opt out, he was welcome to join Brian (Pathgrinder) and me.

Waking at 3:30 AM, I checked my email messages and Doru indicated Sunday's group canceled so he would be joining us. I phoned Brian (who was already en route) and let him know I found another trail-breaker. Doru and I left Montreal at 4:15 AM and arrived at Upper Works three hours later.

We left the Allen trail-head at 7:30 PM. Apparently, Winter Mama's group had broken the trail the previous day. In addition, a group of three from Rochester departed at 7:00 AM. The trail was firm but pock-marked by the bare-booting Rochesterians. We left our microspikes behind and used snowshoes all day long.

Brian kindly lent me his spare set of Tubbs Flex Alps snowshoes. I wanted to compare them to my MSR Evo Ascent snowshoes. In brief, their bindings are simpler and faster to operate and are very comfortable. The oversized crampon teeth bit securely into icy slopes. The serrated rails provided very aggressive traction, almost too much because I found it difficult to glissade with them. The longer tails (2") made the shoes a bit more clumsy to handle when crossing over waist-high obstacles. I think if the tails were shorter, and omitted their metal teeth, they would handle more like MSR's Evo Ascent.

The temperature was 5 °F (-15 °C) and the sky was cloudless. Trails and herd-paths were easy to follow and had received a dusting of snow overnight. The Opalescent river featured remarkable banks of "aggregated ice-blocks" that looked very similar to terrazzo flooring.

"Ice-terrazo" along the Opalescent.

Skylight Brook.
We made excellent progress and overtook the Rochesterians shortly before Skylight Brook. Upon arriving at Allen brook, we knew the "approach" was finally over and now the real work would begin. The final ascent, about 1700 feet over a distance of just under one mile, was punctuated by, according to Doru's count, twenty-three fallen trees. Many of the obstacles provided extra exercise because they were too high to step over and required crawling under them.

One of 23 fallen trees.
Despite the previous day's passage by Winter Mama's group, the slide was completely smoothed over by drifting snow. The views from the slide, of the Santanoni and Seward ranges, far in the distance, were superb.

Approaching the slide.
Brian and the Santanoni Range.
I tagged Allen's summit at 12:00 PM and, before long, was joined by a member of the Rochester group and then, in quick succession, Brian, Doru, and the remaining Rochesterians. A few steps north of the summit-sign we were treated to a spectacular view of the central High Peaks. One could identify peaks from Redfield in the west to Macomb in the east.

Unique view of the central High Peaks.

Dynamic Duo.
Almost a half-hour passed before aching toes signaled it was time to get underway. Doru anticipated that Brian and I might get ahead of him so he gave me his car-key. Descending peaks in winter is my favorite activity because, given the right snow conditions, you can glissade and make excellent progress. It sure beats the heck out of treading cautiously over slippery rocks coated with Allen's infamous "red slime".

One icy bulge got the best of me. In a flash I went from a seated position to a heap of tangled limbs and poles. My glasses lay in the snow a few feet away and I felt like someone had punched me in the nose. It took me a moment or two to understand that one of my hiking poles had struck me across the bridge of my nose. Brian asked if I was OK and I replied "Yeah, just stunned." After the pain finished radiating from my nose to my ears, I felt fine. My nose was swollen and tender but not broken.

Descending the slide was the best part of the hike. I chose to glissade through the deep, unbroken snow. Brian opted to butt-slide the compacted chute and I'll let the photos describe the fun he had. The fallen trees seemed easier to tackle on the descent using a "crab-walking" approach.

Allen's slide put to the test.

Prime butt-sliding territory.
I paused at Skylight Brook and waited for Brian to catch up. We pushed on and became separated over the course of the next 1.5 miles. I arrived at the sand-pit at 2:05 PM and stopped to tend to a nagging hotspot on my foot. A blister-bandage and fresh socks made it right. Within the next ten minutes I was joined by Brian and Doru. After re-crossing the Opalescent, we settled in for a long walk with Doru in the lead.

Re-crossing the Opalescent.
At 3:55 PM, just shy of 8.5 hours from our departure, I signed out at the trail-head. Within the next ten minutes, I was joined by Doru and Brian. After stowing our gear and changing into fresh clothes we swapped ideas for future hikes. Brian and Doru are aspiring Winter 46ers and close to completing their first round. With tentative plans made for the following weekend, we bid one another good-bye and settled in for the commute home.


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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Basin and Saddleback. 2014-02-13

Neil and I left the Garden trail-head at 6:45 AM and bare-booted the Phelps trail to the Shorey Shortcut junction. The trail was all hard-packed snow and we didn't even bother to bring microspikes. The temperature was 14 °F (-10 °C) and the cloud ceiling was hovering around 4000 feet. The predicted snowstorm was several hours away and we had a hard-limit of 5:00 PM to exit the Adirondacks. We didn't see any reason why we wouldn't be out well before then.

At the junction, we paused to put on snowshoes, Neil calibrated his altimeter, and we headed up the Shorey Shortcut. Just before its crest, we paused to admire the slides on Basin's southwestern flank. The clouds partially obscured our view but we managed to study the slide's track and wonder what it looked like up close.

Beyond the height-of-land, the one good viewing spot of Haystack offered nothing to see. The snow conditions were soft underfoot and we made a rapid descent to the junction in the Basin-Haystack col. We paused briefly for a snack, stowed our packs and headed south in search of an abandoned pack.

Given that were in the vicinity of a reported "lost pack" we calculated it would take us no more than 45 minutes to locate and retrieve it. It's location was estimated to be midway between Sno-Bird and the 3-way junction at the base of Little Haystack. It had been hung from a tree and temporarily abandoned, to save weight, while its owner continued to Haystack. Upon her return, she and her son overlooked to retrieve it. Apparently some of its contents had been transferred to the son's pack and I was under the impression it was mostly empty.

We passed Sno-Bird and continued up the slope. The midway point came and went and we trudged upwards towards the 3-way junction. Neil was in the lead, breaking though several inches of fluffy snow and was the first to spot it. As reported, it was hanging from a tree along the trail.

The first thing that I noticed was that the pack was larger than I had expected. From its belt dangled a water-bottle, folding knife in a leather sheath, and a goody-bag with snacks. Its appearance suggested it was far from empty and my suspicion was confirmed when I lifted it off its perch. I'm fairly certain I said something like "This thing is heavier than my pack!" only with more colorful language. Weighing it afterwards, my assumption of it being "mostly empty" was very far from reality. The "found-pack" weighed 15 pounds! Hello "training weight"!

I looked up and saw the exposed rocks of Little Haystack's treeline. To satisfy my curiosity, I dashed up the trail and, within fifty feet of the pack, arrived at the 3-way junction. Neil arrived a moment after me, grinned, and asked if I wanted to continue to Haystack. He was joking, of course, because we not only didn't have enough time, there was little to see, and Neil had visited Haystack several times over the past few weeks.

Three-way junction below Little Haystack.
We returned to the pack, I shook it free of snow, put it on, and we glissaded down to the col. After a brief ascent to the Shorey Shortcut junction we were reunited with our packs. We paused to inspect the "found-pack". It did not appear to be damaged, by hungry critters, because its goody-bag still contained dried fruit and a piece of granola bar.

The water bottle contained a cup of what appeared to be frozen orange juice and there was no way to empty the contents. I put it and the, now empty, goody bag into the pack and handed the sheathed knife to Neil for a look-see. I did a cursory inspection of the main compartment but only to satisfy myself that it didn't contain any bricks (to explain its heft). It wasn't my property so I was not comfortable rifling through its contents. Nevertheless, the darn thing weighed a tick over one stone and I was hoping there was something non-essential inside, like a frozen leg of lamb, that I could discard.

There was no easy way to combine the two packs into one, so I chose to wear both of them in a "spooning" fashion. The found pack had substantial padding so I wore it and then threw my own pack over it. The shoulder straps of my pack, extended to their maximum length, didn't sit properly but tended to slide outward and into the underside of my deltoids. I couldn't buckle the sternum strap, to draw the shoulder straps inwards, because it sat high up against my neck. It was an interesting little problem that didn't have an obvious solution other than "ignore it".

The two packs "spooning".
Neil set a comfortable pace and it took us an hour to ascend Basin. The ladder was easy but the long stretch of iciness above it was trickier. Once the trail moderated, I knew the worst was over and now we had a short walk to the summit. As expected there was nothing to see and we continued on to Saddleback.

Atop Basin's frosty summit.
Basin's northern side had far more snow then its south, especially drift snow. The ample snow made for excellent glissading and it was fascinating to watch the drifts fracture and slough off their underlying base. This winter's conditions have created an avalanche hazard and it was evident from observing the way the packed powder sheared away.

I had some trouble maintaining my balance with the poorly-distributed weight on my back. I missed a turn at the base of a slope and ended up in hip-deep snow. Whereas the trail held a few inches of snow, just enough to obscure all previous tracks, the surrounding woods were filled with "feathers and oubliettes". I struggled to get back on my feet and vowed to be more careful on the descents.

I recalled there was a very steep pitch just before the final drop into the col. As expected, it was glazed in ice and descending it in snowshoes was not part of my skill set. Using the trees along its perimeter, we monkey-armed our way around and down the hurdle. Once in the col, I let my guard down for a moment as I pushed a branch away with my right arm and walked into a knee-high stump with my left leg. The stump let out a sharp "Crack!" and I let out a grunt. Neil looked back and said "What was that?" in a tone that suggested "Tell me that wasn't your femur!" I reassured him I was fine, just clumsy.

We stopped in the col where we had our first view of Saddleback's cliff. Actually, the clouds only let us see the lee side of the cliff but it was still impressive. The rocks were frosted and that suggested they were slippery. Leaving behind our microspikes now seemed like a questionable decision. Maybe I should have looked in the found pack to see if it had a set or two!

We paused for a snack and a breather before the next milestone, ascending the cliff. If the conditions didn't prove to be favorable, it would make for an interesting afternoon. Based on Neil's description of his recent ascent via Chicken Coop Brook, to the very col we were standing in, it didn't seem like conditions were optimal for a retreat via that route. Come ice or snow, we'd make the cliff a "go".

When I used to rock climb, back in the Age of the First New Wave, I had a bad experience that left me, for better or worse, forever wary of "helping hands". Wearing a pack loaded with climbing gear, I intended to rappel (abseil) down the climbing route. An acquaintance (not my climbing partner) offered to lower me to the ground and I accepted. Unlike a rappel, where you are in complete control of your descent, being "lowered" places your destiny completely in someone else's care. Long story short, I was dropped the last few feet. I landed squarely on my back and the blow was cushioned by my pack. Miraculously, I was uninjured but I vowed to never be lowered again and to never climb with the "acquaintance".

With our snowshoes, poles, and assorted packs strapped to our backs we proceeded to ascend the cliff. The rock was indeed frosted and slippery. The first move, just getting up onto the cliff, was a challenge given the lack of friction for hands and feet. Neil made the first move and I placed my hands under his left boot-heel to give him a bit more purchase. I proceeded to duplicate the same move but declined assistance predominately due to an aversion of "helping hands". I should have shared my little story with Neil because I may have come across as being a stubborn hard-head.

We continued to follow a secure line that brought us to a six foot stretch of gently sloped but seriously frosted rock. We tested the surface, slid, and could not find anything that would allow our bare-boots to stick. I looked around but found nothing easier. We explored the slope further and found that the "move" needed to clear it would have to be "dynamic" (forward momentum is your friend; don't linger at an intermediate position). I took note of the handholds on its far side and envisioned how I would have to move across the rock.

Having the longer legs, I volunteered to go first. I stepped out with full commitment, made contact, allowed my left boot to smear and slip, and let forward momentum be my friend. Contact! I turned around, braced myself, and outstretched my arm. Neil reached out for it and cleared the slope in one smooth step. OK, that part was done. Clearly, this was not going to be a summer-like, five minute, speedy ascent of the cliff.

We moved laterally to the marked route. It was a section of blank rock bisected by a boot-wide crack choked with ice and snow. Neil indicated this was the route he had taken during his last trip. Without microspikes, I didn't like our chances of ascending all fifteen feet of the clogged crack without a slip. Popping out of the crack put you on the frosted rock and we knew it offered no friction. I voted to continue east to the nearby winter route. We discussed it briefly and Neil agreed to try the treed ramps of the winter route.

We post-holed up the ramps and monkey-armed around the worst of the ice to arrive at the base of the chimney. It was a grunt getting there but it was comforting to know a slip would deposit you a few feet away in cripplebrush rather than unyielding rocks. The chimney was frosted but free of significant deposits of ice and snow. We removed our packs and I clambered up onto the top of a large flake. Standing on the flake placed me chest-high with the top of the chimney. The surface of the exit ledge was sloped and completely iced over. No "get out of chimney for free" card today.

I reached down and Neil handed me the packs, one at a time, which I proceeded to deposit on the exit ledge. I did my best to push the packs as far as I could so they rested on the nearby cripplebrush but arm's length is all I could muster. They needed to be secure otherwise they would slide off the ledge and drop ten feet to the base. The same fate awaited us if we didn't pay attention to our footing on the iced exit ledge. Of course we first had to get out of the chimney and onto the ledge and that required a bit of study.

There was no way to "mantel" onto the ledge (the term comes from climbing onto a fireplace mantel) because it was iced, sloped, and being at chest-height it was simply too high for my skinny arms. The frosted walls of the chimney yawned outwards, like an open book, and I couldn't see how to use them to any advantage. A four-inch wide vertical crack offered the best option.

I raised my right foot to thigh height, inserted my boot into the crack and locked it place with a toe-jam. At chest-height, I inserted my right hand into the wide crack and locked it in place with a fist-jam. I pulled hard on my fist to ensure my over-mitt would not cause it to release; it held firm. With my left hand on the lip of the ledge, I levered myself upward and stood tall. It was a very easy rock-climbing move but one I had never attempted in winter conditions (or since Duran Duran dominated MTV).

I scanned the exit ledge and found nothing desirable. Knowing time was of the essence, I placed my left palm flat on the ice and, thinking that if I apply all my weight it will hold fast, proceeded to mantel onto the ledge. Once on the ledge I realized I was crouching on sloped ice and the best real-estate was occupied by the packs. I grabbed nearby cripplebrush and, with zero points for style, pulled myself towards it.

I explained to Neil what I had done but cautioned him the hardest part was placing one's left hand on the ice and expecting it to "stick" during the mantel. To eliminate this wild-card, I would belay his ascent. I found a secure handhold, braced one leg, grabbed a pack and, using its shoulder strap as a sling, lowered it to him. Neil repeated the jams, levered himself up, grabbed the strap and, in a strange maneuver where he inched forward in concert with my pulling the pack higher, he cleared the icy ledge and moved into the cripplebrush. I maintained my belay position while he moved the packs higher and out of my path. A few more steps and we and our baggage were on a level portion of the trail. Big grins all around; the hardest part was now behind us.

We looked back at the top of the cliff and it was sheathed in ice. Had we chosen to continue straight up the cliff, and succeeded, we would have had to traverse east, to the summit, over the ice. I think it would have been a little dicey even in toothy snowshoes. We'll never know.

All's well that ends well on Saddleback.
Wearing snowshoes again, we walked up the last few yards of rock to the summit. We paused for a minute and then headed north to begin our descent into the Saddleback-Gothics col. During the descent we were treated to an impressive view of Gothics and the cable route.

Gothics in full winter garb.
The trail into the col was unbroken and made for good glissading in snowshoes. Upon reaching the col we encountered a hard-pack trail indicating recent traffic to Gothics. It was now 2:00 PM and several miles stood between us and the car so we didn't dawdle at the junction.

Upon reaching Ore Bed slide we ventured out onto it and, hugging its edge, plowed down through the soft snow. A short distance past the slide's debris field we encountered two hikers, the only ones we would see all day.

Upon reaching the Ore Bed Brook lean-to we chose to stop and remove our snowshoes. The lean-to's entrance was completely sealed with a huge sheet of plastic. Neil took a peek inside and I jokingly quipped "Let me guess, there's a tent in there?" to which he replied "Yup!"  I looked inside and saw a tent occupying the lion's share of the floor along with piles of freshly cut branches and short sections of dimensional lumber for kindling. I looked outside and noted a blackened hole, the tell-tale sign of a recent camp-fire. Ironically, one had to pass an eye-level "No Fires" sign to enter the lean-to.

Beavers, in a tent, in a sealed lean-to?
The multitude of infractions was unlike anything I had seen in recent memory. It was unclear if the occupants were the couple we had met on the trail. It was also unclear if they made the fire or it was made by a previous party. Anyway, it wasn't our responsibility to clarify the situation nor to identify the culprits. We left everything as we found it and pressed on to Johns Brook Lodge.

We walked past Camp Peggy O'Brian, crossed Johns Brook, and hoofed it to the Garden. We emerged at 4:20 PM, approximately 9.5 hours after setting out. I entered a note, in the bottom margin of the trail-register's logbook, indicating the multiple infractions at Ore Bed Brook lean-to.

We stowed out gear, put on some dry clothing, and by 4:30 PM we were off to Montreal. Not a stellar day for views but a very interesting one nevertheless, filled with challenges and discoveries.


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Saturday, February 8, 2014

Santanoni Range. 2014-02-08

Snowy, snowy, Santanoni!

Wow! There's something to be said about this year's winter when February is the first month requiring the use of snowshoes from start to finish! The Santanonis were blanketed in several inches of the fluffy stuff and Doru and I expected to spend many hours breaking trail. However, many others had the same idea, and started earlier than us, so we had nothing more to do that just follow the tracks of those who preceded us.

Doru and I left Montreal at 4:15 AM and arrived at the Santanoni trail-head three hours later. The parking area was filled to capacity! We had planned to meet Doug ("Sparty") and his group of seven (or was it nine?) at 7:00 AM. We missed the starter's pistol but felt confident that we could catch up. The trail-register indicated at least twenty people had signed in to hike the Santanonis.

Full house. Over 20 people are signed in.
We left the trail-head at 7:45 AM in a misty snowfall and a nippy 0 °F (-18 °C). Whereas the skies were clear during our drive along I-87, the clouds refused to vacate the Santanonis. We hoped things would improve later in the morning.

The road was packed down by a combination of snowmobile and snowshoe traffic. We passed a group of three hikers hauling overnight gear to Bradley Pond. Eventually we caught up to the first of several folks associated with Doug's group. After leap-frogging the group's members, Doru and I caught up with Doug shortly before the Express junction.

At the junction, Doug's party began to reassemble and some chose to hang back whereas others pressed on. Doug set a good pace and before long we, Doug, Doru, Suzanne, and I, were following the well-broken Panther Brook herd-path. Clearly we were the umpteeth people of the day because the path was well-trodden and blindingly obvious. There were one or two spots where one might quibble about the path being "off-route" but, as with most wayward winter herd-paths, a path underfoot is easier than a path unbroken.

Somewhere along Panther Brook, Doug paused and invited me to continue. I forged ahead and caught up with a group of seven hikers. Unable to get past more than two of them I became part of their train. With no room to pass, I was obliged to move at their pace which did not suit me well. Four steps, stop, four steps, stop; it felt like stop-and-go rush-hour traffic. By the time I reached Herald Square my toes were painfully cold.

Doru, Doug and Suzanne arrived minutes later and paused for a quick break. We briefly discussed which peak to tackle next and then I had to excuse myself. My toes were aching and I had to get moving, and moving quickly, to reheat my feet. Off I went to Couchsachraga. It was evident from the condition of the path that far fewer people had ventured past Herald Square.

At Times Square, as a public service, I scrawled the direction of Couch in the snow. Last February, while returning from Couchsachraga, we met hikers who were under the impression they were descending to Santanoni. I hoped my ephemeral trail-sign would prevent a similar mistake, at least on this one day.

The descent to Couchsachraga's bog was a breeze and took me a half hour. My feet were now toasty warm. Shortly before Couchsachraga's summit, I met Wayne ("Waynald") and we paused for a lengthy chat. An accomplished and experienced hiker, he and Steve ("Little Brown Mushroom") are making short work of Adirondack trails. They were heading to Santanoni next and would continue to Allen the following day. I wished him luck and pressed on to the summit.

On a fine day, Couchsachraga offers a unique view of Panther and Santanoni. Sadly, timing was everything on this day and I stood alone on Couchsachraga with nothing but a view of a low cloud deck. Oh well, better luck next time.

Not much to see today from Couchsachraga.
I met Doru below the summit and apologized for the appearance of abandonment but I had to keep moving briskly to stay warm. He had no issues with the separation but wondered what was I going to do when I finished early? Would I just hang around in the parking area? I laughed and replied that he need not worry about me and that I'd think of something. In retrospect, I probably should have asked him for his car keys but it just didn't cross my mind at the time.

Cold River valley.
En route to the bog I met Doug and let him know that I was pressing on to Santanoni. Shortly afterwards I passed the "group of seven" and then met only one other hiker, a woman who was possibly part of Doug's team, before reaching Times Square. The ascent out of the bog was a bit of a grunt and it took me an hour to return from Couchsachraga.

I hung my pack from a tree in Herald Square and headed off to Panther. On its summit I met the three backpackers seen earlier and an assortment of other folks. The low clouds provided a few fleeting views but, separated from all the goodies in my pack, it was too cold to wait for the best scenery to appear. The conditions were improving steadily and my hopes were pinned on Santanoni.

Low cloud deck on Santanoni.
Near Panther's summit there is a stretch of steep rock that hikers actively avoid. How? They walk on the cripplebrush. The ascent route was littered with fragments of cripplebrush torn off by snowshoes. While others were actively widening the route, I descended the ice and snow-covered rock with nothing more than a quick skittering sound. Please folks, unless completely buried in firm snow, keep off the cripplebrush.

Reunited with my pack, I returned to Times Square, scribbled "1:25 PM" in the snow (a message to Doru to mark my passage), turned left at the rock and headed to Santanoni. The clouds had lifted and I was eager to see its storied views.

Onward to Santanoni.
Wayne had reported that Rik and Shawn ("Blackbear") had broken out the trails earlier in the day. I tip my hat to them because the route along the so-called ridge seemed "summer-perfect". In fact, some of the route-finding confusion we had encountered at the base of Santanoni, during a trip in snowy October, was completely absent. Rik's route ran clean and true and it was breeze to follow. The stroll through the trees, blanketed in fresh snow, was an answer to the question of "Why hike in winter?"

Why we hike in winter.
I paused at the junction with the Express and took in the view of the High Peaks. The snowpack was easily four feet deep and no cripplebrush was present to obstruct the outstanding view north to the central High Peaks. A few minutes later I "stood tall", on the ample snowpack, next to the summit marker.

I spent about five minutes on Santanoni admiring the scenery. At 2:15 PM I left the summit and returned to the Express junction where, in winter, it offers a less obstructed view of the central High Peaks. The triumvirate of Algonquin, Colden, and Marcy lets you orient yourself and then, with barely a movement of one's head, you can identify twenty peaks peaks from Street and MacNaughton in the west to Allen and Macomb in the east.

The central High Peaks.
I began my descent along the Express path with a sense of déjà vu. In February of 2013, we had started then aborted our descent of the Express because the snow was knee to thigh deep and the route was unbroken. We turned around and returned the way we came via Panther Brook. The snow wasn't nearly as deep today but more importantly the path was broken out. I took one last photo of the view from the Express trail just before it enters into the woods; this is my favorite shot of the day.

Down the Express.
The most direct herd-path to Santanoni has several monikers including "New/Old", "NON", "Express", and simply "Santanoni". On Saturday I felt it deserved the name "Express" as in "Express Elevator"! The upper third was a wild ride down steep chutes and under low-hanging fir boughs laden with fresh snow. The middle third was less steep but required lots of ducking and the final third was just room to anticipate its end.

Along the descent, I  found a balaclava which proved to belong to Wayne. Fifty minutes later, I emerged at the junction with the Bradley Pond trail no worse for wear with the exception of a bruised hip from taking a spill. I scrawled the time in the snow (3:07 PM) and began the easy-breezy walk back to the parking lot. The trail was now smooth as a sidewalk. It was a far cry from its usual messy self outside of winter.

I passed a lone backpacker ascending to Bradley Pond and, at the first stream crossing, caught up with a group of backpackers returning to the trail-head. The road-walk was an opportunity to stride comfortably over packed snow and enjoy the fresh air, blue sky, and low afternoon sun.

Path of the hiker ... and snowmobiler.
Eight and a half hours after departing from the trail-head, I was back and signing out. Now what?

There's an anecdote in Mark Bowden's "Guests of the Ayatollah" that I will never forget. Delta Force's first mission was to rescue the hostages being held at the US embassy in Tehran. They landed at a rendezvous point in the desert but had to abort the mission. A sandstorm caused two helicopters mechanical problems and forced them to return to the aircraft carrier. The mission was now below the threshold of required transport and had to be canceled. As it stood, there was no loss of life. Then things took a turn for the worse.

In the blinding sandstorm, a pilot misinterpreted the directions of a signalman and the helicopter's rotor blades struck a tanker plane. The tanker exploded in a ball of fire that quickly spread to nearby aircraft. Men hurriedly jumped out of the burning aircraft to seek shelter from the inferno. One individual, woken from a nap, saw flames through the windows and his companions rapidly exiting the burning plane. Thinking the aircraft was aloft, he leaped out in full spread-eagle position. He impacted several feet below on the desert sand. He wasn't wearing a parachute. When his buddies asked what was he planning to do after jumping out of a burning plane without a parachute, he replied "One problem at a time!"

So my next problem was to stay warm until Doru arrived with the car keys. I placed my pack on a nearby trailer and pulled out all my spare clothing. I replaced my wet mitts with dry ones and inserted fresh hand-warmers. I stripped off my damp baselayer and, as quickly as I could, replaced it with a dry one. I donned a balaclava and insulated jacket. I was going to put on dry socks but my feet felt warm so why disturb them?

The group I had passed earlier arrived and offered to let me warm myself in their car. I thanked them but explained I was fine. One of them recognized me and we struck up a conversation. Jordan ("Nadroj2*") and his friends had spent the last few days camping at Bradley Pond and had ventured out to Panther. Several minutes later, a ranger (I didn't get his name) arrived and after chatting with everyone turned to me, the lone loiterer, and quipped "I guess you exited ahead of your partners?" I confirmed his suspicion and he asked if I was going to be OK. I confirmed that I was in good shape and if my companion was running late, I would simply put a note on his vehicle and start walking along the road to keep warm.

The ranger proceeded to give me the best tip of the day. We were not in the Eastern High Peaks region so I could build a fire in the woods. "Just don't make one in the parking area, OK?" I thanked him and proceeded to take the opportunity to make a fire. As luck would have it, it was one of the few times I didn't bother to bring matches. Yet, fortune smiled because one of Jordan's friends gave me a nifty waterproof container filled with the most serious-looking matches I've ever seen. I gave him a Clif Builder Bar in return. Jordan sweetened the deal by parting with a package of firestarter. I thanked them, wished them all a safe trip hope, and scurried off into the woods to play with my new toys.

About fifty feet into the woods, I found a tiny clearing and proceeded to clear a sizable area of its loose snow until I struck hard-pack. I found some partially rotted deadfall that I broke into two-foot lengths by swinging it against a tree. I laid the logs on the hard-pack to create a "raft" for the fire. I collected "squaw wood" for kindling and found plenty of "dead and down" wood which I cut to size using the "bash against a tree" technique. After having collected enough fuel, I made a mound of kindling, lit the firestarter using the supplied "hurricane match" and watched it all go up in flames, as it should.

The start of something hot.
Before long my insulated jacket was back in my pack and I was both warmed by the fire and kept busy searching for additional fuel. The campfire's flames lit the woods and its sparks shot up into the clear evening sky and tickled the face of the cold half-moon hovering above. It was a perfect moment and my "problem" was solved.

Something hot.
I didn't have to tend the fire for long because Doru appeared a little over an hour after me. He said he had been concerned about my welfare but after seeing the fire in the woods he understood there was no reason to fret. While he was stowing his gear, I returned to the woods and extinguished the fire. I stirred its sizzling remains with snow, tossed the largest charred bits away into deep snow, then covered the black patch with more snow. Goodbye warm friend, it was fun while it lasted.

Something hot, all gone.
After changing into clean dry clothes, we drove off and swapped stories about the day's experiences. It was a marvelous day to be in the Santanonis and they left us with many good memories.


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