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

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