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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