Thursday, December 18, 2014

Allen for the Four-Season Grid. 2014-12-18

Today was an auspicious day for me because it brought to a close my year-long obsession to complete the Four-Season Grid (46 ADK peaks x 4 seasons). Accompanied by Tom (Randomscooter), I tagged Allen's summit and completed the final peak of my Fall round and the Four-Season Grid. Experiencing the High Peaks in all seasons has made me a more seasoned hiker (pun intended) and given me a deeper appreciation for the High Peaks and the determined people (a.k.a. "Gridiots") who have completed the Grid (12-month and 52-week versions). The more time you spend hiking the High Peaks, the more you learn about them and, more importantly, about yourself.

After finishing a Single-Season Winter 46er round this year, I wondered how many peaks remained to complete Spring, Summer, and Fall rounds before year's end. I checked my hiking log and the remaining quantities seemed feasible even when added to my other objectives (completing the NH48 and NE67):.

  • 16 for Spring.
  • 6 for Summer.
  • 18 for Fall.

It didn't take long for me to regret my decision to avoid hiking in soggy October. "Backloading" all my Fall peaks into wintry November and December meant I would have even fewer opportunities to cherry-pick the best days for weather. In addition, I would experience winter-like conditions but without the advantages of what true winter can offer such as smooth, groomed trails compacted by the snowshoes of many aspiring Winter 46ers.

I experienced first-hand that, in late Fall and early Spring, the High Peaks see far less hiker traffic, especially to distant and trail-less peaks. As a result, one is more likely to encounter challenging trail conditions such as several inches of loose untrammeled snow concealing the many hazards of a typical Adirondack trail. I now know that these 'shoulder seasons' present their own set of hurdles to test your mettle. They can produce conditions that are more challenging than found in the dead of winter when popular trails are often 'paved in compacted snow'. There is no question that a bitterly cold winter's day, with miles of breaking trail though deep untracked snow, still tops my list of 'humbling conditions'. However, I've learned that winter doesn't hold a monopoly on teaching one humility.

I'd like to extend my thanks to Neil and Tom who had hiked to Allen on Tuesday to explore the route, break trail, and increase my odds of success on Thursday. Thank you gentlemen! On Thursday, Tom and I were able to complete the hike in ten hours without undue difficulty.

Crossing the Hudson by head-lamp.
Tom and I left the trail-head at 6:20 AM by head-lamp. The morning was cool (-1 C, 30 F) and there was a very light snow-shower. Wearing snowshoes, we made good progress to the Opalescent river crossing which was as frozen as it had been reported two days earlier. Downstream, at the confluence of the Opalescent and Skylight Brook, the river was open. Upstream, the Opalescent was mostly but not completely frozen over. I had checked the USGS water-level for the Hudson river (the closest monitoring station) and learned that water-levels were in steady decline and approaching a seasonal low. The weather forecast predicted temperatures slightly below freezing but not anything (like heavy rain) that might cause the river ice to break-up; I felt reassured the ice would remain intact throughout the day.

Tom tests the Opalescent's frozen surface.
The recent snowfall and subsequent days of mild thawing had caused spruce trees to sag under their burden of snow. As a result, sections of the trail beyond the crossing were narrower than usual. Upon arriving at the herd-path junction, I noticed the unique, hand-carved "Allen" sign was gone. It has been replaced by a stock trail sign with "ALLEN" hand-written in marker. The tree bearing the old sign is also gone and I assume it fell over. The fate of the rustic sign is unknown to me.

This tree and sign no longer exist.
The new normal.
The herd-path was mostly hard-packed snow except for a few sections where, like at Lake Sally, running and standing water created soggy discontinuities. Skylight Brook was not frozen over but two stepping stones helped us cross without getting our boots wet. I consider Skylight Brook to be the end of the "approach" portion and the beginning of the "ascent" section. The stretch to Allen Brook passed uneventfully and we paused yet again to prepare ourselves for the steepest ascent of the day.

Skylight Brook. Two small stepping stones make all the difference.
The real work was about to begin and now we would truly benefit from the trail-breaking done by Tom and Neil two days earlier. Tom reported it had taken them 100 minutes to ascend to Allen on Tuesday and today we would cover the same distance a full half-hour faster. The most challenging portion was the open slide where it had received 4-6 inches of fresh powder snow. It gave way easily and one had to frequently step-kick into the slope to gain purchase. It was also breezier and made me very aware that I was wearing only a baselayer and T-shirt. I picked up my pace to get back into the relative calm, and warmth, of the sheltering woods but not before snapping a few photos of Tom ascending the slide.

Several inches of fresh snow on Allen's slide.
The route's steepness continues well past the slide and the effort of the ascent quickly had me warm again. The moment the grade decreased I smiled because I knew I was now close to the end of the ascent and the Four-Season Grid. After 5.5 hours of effort, Tom and I stood on Allen's summit. Tom congratulated me and I grinned from ear to ear. There were moments in the last few weeks where I doubted I'd be able to complete the Fall round this year but it all fell into place.

Tom and I celebrate another great day in the High Peaks.
We took a few moments for a snack and then bundled up for the steep and snowy descent. I took advantage of the fresh powder and glissaded wherever possible. We arrived at the base of Allen Brook 35 minutes later and, overheated by the descent, paused to peel off a few layers. The return to and crossing of Skylight Brook was uneventful. We chugged up from Skylight Book to the height of land and then settled in for the long descent to the Opalescent.

Appreciating whatever views we can get on a cloudy day.
The river crossing remained intact and we traversed without making any spooky creaks, cracks, or watery holes.  A half-hour from the crossing, we came across a set of tracks and drag marks that told the story of beavers who had crossed the road, cut down several saplings, and dragged them back to the river.

Beavers out for a snack.
The phrase "Trudging the road of happy destiny" played over and over in my mind during the road-walk to Lake Sally. I can't recall where I first heard it but learned it originated from Alcoholics Anonymous. I'm not sure how the AA interprets it but it seemed apropos to describe the road-walk. Beyond Lake Sally, the trudging continued on yet another road but one that now seemed like "the longish road of mostly happy destiny". Nevertheless, our pace was steady and we were pleased to discover we would exit before dark.

As predicted, we crossed the Hudson bridge under the failing light of dusk and signed out at 4:26 PM. In the parking lot, we met a group of hikers who had just returned from Adams. They were the only other hikers we saw all day. After cleaning up, we settled in for the drive back to Tom's home.

One chapter has ended and it's time to move on to the next. I have a three peaks remaining to complete my sixth 46er round and two peaks, in the Catskills, to complete the NE115. Beyond that, the Grid (12-month version) makes for a nice long-term distraction.

Newly minted Four-Season Gridiot. :-)


See all photos.

Hike Stats

  • Distance: 18 miles.
  • Ascent: 3850 feet.
  • Time: 10h 5m.

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