Nippletop and Dial
13.5 miles, 4500 feet, 4h 45m
I arrived at St-Huberts shortly after 7:00 AM and was able to park in a shaded spot. I signed in at the AMR Gate at 7:30 AM and headed up the Lake Road on a mild (60 F, 15 C) and sunny morning.
Along the Lake Road, I paused at the small dam where water is drawn from the brook and transported via pipe for use elsewhere. Staring into the clear water, my attention was drawn to the carcass of a drowned frog. It was a reminder that even the cleanest-looking water can harbor unpalatable surprises. It also made me wonder what caused the frog's demise.
|A little frog in your beverage, sir?|
Whenever possible, I prefer to get most of a hike's ascent done in the cool of the morning when I'm fresh. Accordingly, I chose to hike to Nippletop first and then cruise along the ridge, over Dial and Bear Den, to Noonmark's shoulder. I usually take the Gill Brook Cutoff trail but this time I followed Gill Brook. I hadn't hiked it in ages (15 years?) and its soft path, cascades and waterfalls were a treat.
|Waterfall along Gill Brook.|
The croaking of a bullfrog greeted me as I approached the ponds in Elk Pass. I inspected the designated campsite and it seemed a little damp but was fairly flat and had a fire-ring. About 50 yards away from the designated site, I saw a tent pitched about ten feet from the trail. I heard stirring with the tent and called out "Hey folks, don't let the ranger catch you camping here." The tent replied "There's a camping disk here." I chuckled. The tent replied yet again "Well, I'll be leaving very soon."
My interest in learning if a designated campsite can truly be ten feet from the trail vanished as I prepared myself for the steep climb out of Elk Pass. I ate a handful of dates, put on cycling gloves, deployed my poles, and began the first step of many to ascend 'higher than Colvin'.
A combination of Joe Cedar's ascent philosophy (maintain a steady vertical ascent) and my own ("CFM", Constant Forward Motion; stopping doesn't bring your destination any closer; if tired, just slow down) brought me to the junction in about a half-hour. Two-tenths of a mile later, I stood alone in cooling breezes atop Nippletop. Albeit a little hazy, the views of the Great Range were impressive. Along the way back to the junction I paused to snap a few photos of the impressive slides raking Dix's south-western face.
The hike from Nippletop to Dial was a pleasant stroll on a soft path dappled by sunlight filtering through the canopy. Aside from a few persistent deer flies, I was not bothered by black flies or mosquitoes. The route reminded me of a recent hike to Abraham and Ellen in Vermont, albeit with more ups and downs. A steep eroded section signalled the final rise to Dial. Upon its summit I met three hikers, two of which I had met earlier on the Lake Road. I paused to munch on a Clif bar while soaking up the sun and the slightly different perspective of the Great Range. In retrospect, I think Dial's view of the Range may be slightly better than Nippletop's.
|Dial's view of the Great Range.|
I realize the fire that devastated the shoulder was a tragedy but the silver lining is the vantage point it created to appreciate the lower Great Range. Now that the alders have grown in, even the path leading to the shoulder's summit is an interesting variation from the usual High Peaks fare. After one last look around, I began the 1500 foot descent to the Lake Road. I emerged at the road at the precise moment an AMR bus stopped to drop off a few hikers (AMR members and guests only).
The remaining distance to the gate was covered with a brisk walk and a jog. I signed out at 12:15 PM and hurried back to my car to prepare for the next hike of the day.
Porter and Cascade
5.7 miles, 2350 feet, 2h 45m
I walked across the highway to the Roaring Brook trail-head and filtered a liter of water from the brook. By now both trail-heads were filled to capacity and cars were parked along the highway's shoulder. After changing into dry clothes I drove to the Cascade trail-head. Along the way I stopped at Stewart's and chugged a quart of fat-free milk. Looking back, it might have been the cause for the subsequent sluggishness I felt as my stomach set to the task of digesting four cups of milk. Anyway, it sure tasted good at the time.
As expected, route 73 was lined with cars near the immensely popular Cascade trail-head. By a stroke of amazing luck, I found a free spot two spaces from the trail-head's entrance! I dumped a few items I didn't need (filter, spare socks, rain jacket) and, at 1:05 PM, signed the trail-register.
Cascade is a fun destination because it offers excellent views from its summit yet is the easiest of the 4K peaks. As such, it attracts a wide variety of people, many of whom are experiencing their first hike to a High Peak. People-watching is all part of the enjoyment of hiking Cascade and Porter. From toddlers to seniors, all of humanity, capable of walking, can be seen on the trail to Cascade. If you're looking for solitude, Cascade on a summer weekend isn't it.
The majority of hikers I met were descending from the summit. If you have a morbid fear of dogs, be advised that most dogs I saw were unleashed. However, perhaps due to the combination of heat and exertion (or training) none of the dogs showed an exuberant interest in others and generally kept to themselves.
Looking for a handy scapegoat, I blamed the quart of milk for causing my lethargy. Being a 'weekend warrior' couldn't have anything to do with it, of course. "CFM" kept me moving but I knew I was off my normal pace when I arrived at the junction some ten minutes later than usual. I felt better, and my pace improved, on the way to Porter. Surprisingly, its summit was thinly populated. I spent only enough time to take a few photos and then double-backed towards Cascade.
Cascade's summit was alive with the energy of people completing their first High Peak. Smiles, hugs, high-fives, and group-photos heralded the joy of a good hike. If anyone had an unhappy time ascending the trail, they weren't evident on the summit. Toddlers wandered shirtless in the sun; an image that captures a sense of care-free innocence. Naturally, a few wandered a little too close to precipitous drops and were herded by alarmed parents. Several ravens kept everyone enthralled by their aerial acrobatics and added to the wonder of the moment.
|Carefree on Cascade.|
I called my wife from the summit and left her a message explaining my hike was effectively over and I was safe and sound. After a quick and uneventful descent, I signed out at 3:50 PM and proceeded to clean up before the commute home. Only two more peaks remain, Big Slide and Colden, to complete my Summer round and I've yet to invent a hike that incorporates both of them.
Hike stats: 19.2 miles, 6850 feet, 7h 30m
See all photos (12).