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.


See all photos.

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