Saturday, February 27, 2016

Colvin and Blake. 2016-02-27

I had set out to add four peaks to my February Grid but the ol' bod suggested I keep it real. Something was amiss and my willing spirit had to battle reluctant flesh all morning long. After C&B, I turned towards Elk Pass and then my spirit capitulated as well; the whole package pivoted back to the Lake Road. There would be no 8.5 hour tour of CBND today. Nevertheless it still made for a better day than sitting at home. Six hours, gate-to-gate, plus I got to meet three new people. Hello Sporty Spice, Little Miss Brave, and sati!

I left home at 5:00 AM and was treated to a beautiful sunrise over the Green Mountains. Some folks from MOAC planned a moonlit walk up the auto-road to Whiteface's summit to watch sunrise. I think they got their money's worth!

I rolled into the Ausable Club's parking area shortly after 7:00 AM. It was a crisp morning (-11 C/ 12 F) under a clear blue sky. I signed it at 7:37 AM and optimistically indicated Colvin, Blake, Nippletop and Dial.

The Lake Road was paved in ice. I stopped at the Leach trail junction to put on Trail Crampons. A group of three, headed for Dial and Nippletop, did the same. Sweating had begun on cue and I stripped down a single baselayer.

The ice was very hard. My spikes filled the air with the din of a rock-crusher. No one would have a problem sneaking up behind me because I could hardly hear myself think.

The recent heavy rain had caused brooks and rivers to overflow their banks. I passed a section of road that looked like a skating rink. Later, on the trail, I'd see "blowouts" where water emerged from the icy surface and deposited a long stream of frozen earth.

Trail "blowout".
I turned into the woods at the Gill Brook Cutoff and the snowcrete effectively silenced the rock-crushers. Two of the three campsites along Gill Brook were occupied. I could hear stirring from the cluster of tents at the second site. I passed a group of four hikers taking pictures; I'd meet then again later.

I reached the Elk Pass junction and turned right to Colvin. The first icy patch was a little tricky in Trail Crampons but, fortunately, it proved to be the worst of the lot. Before ascending too far, I found a thick clump of firs and promptly deposited four pounds of ballast in the woods (I hid my snowshoes).

I felt something was "off" today. I didn't feel strong and had to keep adjusting my pace to avoid becoming winded. I thought my pace was at least as good as last month's trip yet I felt I was working harder. (Jan/Feb: 48m/42m)

Moments after arriving on Colvin, low clouds rushed in from the south and obscured the higher summits. It turned into a blustery snow squall with a biting wind and reduced visibility. I donned my hard-shell, took a long swig of water, stuffed my camera and a Clif bar into my pockets, then proceeded a few yards down the trail to hide my pack.

Snow squall passing through.
Unencumbered by paraphernalia, I felt light and agile. The wind-chill was noticeable and I battened down my hard-shell. For a moment I considered returning to retrieve overmitts but I figured a bit more effort would rewarm my hands (it did). I think I finally got the hang of the two ladders and can now descend facing forward like on a staircase. Practice makes perfect!

Once again, the ascent of Blake felt harder than it had in January despite the fact my time was the same (25m). I tagged the summit, wandered out into the snowy "clearing", discovered its views weren't any better, then returned to the col. The steep sections, now thoroughly paved in ice and snow, were a breeze to descend.

I returned to Colvin in about the same time I had in January (Jan/Feb: 35m/32m) but, even without a pack, it felt harder than it should have. I passed the four hikers I met earlier. When asked how were the views from Blake I sensed it was wry inquiry so I replied with a smile "Oh, you know, the usual."

I collected my pack, paused on Colvin for one last view, then down-climbed the Colvin Step. The crack is now filled with ice and snow thereby providing better footing for spikes. The ladder is not visible.

All clear on Nippletop.
About three-quarters of the way down, a hiker wearing crampons inquired if my Trail Crampons were adequate. She said I looked familiar and asked if "I was on the forum". The inquiry led to an exchange of real and forum names. Sporty Spice said she donned crampons at the first gnarly patch of ice but found they were overkill afterwards. I confirmed the first patch was the most challenging and the rest of route to Blake was achievable in Trail Crampons. We wished one another a great day and went our separate ways.

I retrieved my snowshoes and descended to the Elk Pass junction. After a bit of mental see-sawing, I tipped in favor of continuing to Nippletop. One small step at a time will get the job done. Less than five minutes into the decision, I stopped in my tracks. The muscles in my legs, normally stoic, grumbled. As sudden and unwelcome as the snow squall earlier, a gloomy mood clouded my mind. I decided this was definitely an off-day and it was best to end it on happy note. I turned around and began an easy-breezy descent to the Lake Road.

While downwind of the campsites, I caught a whiff of "humans". The cold clear air amplified the collective odor of campers. Nothing nasty but distinctively "not woodsy". I think "sleeping bag funk" would describe it best.

I remained on the Gill Brook trail to get the best view of the brook and its numerous icy cascades and pools. I greeted a pair of hikers and met Little Miss Brave and her companion Sati, friends of Crepuscular. They were heading to Nippletop and that led to a brief discussion of the day's trail conditions. They were using Trail Crampons and I said they probably wouldn't have too much difficulty ascending but the descent might require some care. I wished them well and we parted company.

I followed the "Scenic" option along Gill Brook and it led to the brook's flooded and frozen edge. There were an endless variety of natural ice sculptures. Several of the ice formations reminded me of the rippled pillars and mounds found deep in caves. The sky was blue and clear and I felt a touch of regret for cutting the trip short. Nevertheless, I knew it was for the better. I'd return on a day when body and mind worked as a team.

Flooding on Gill Brook trail.
The Lake Road remained as tough as boilerplate although the temperature was now a balmy -1 C/ 30 F. A half-hour's march brought me back to the AMR gate, six hours from departure. I only covered half of my intended itinerary but a wise man once said "Don't be greedy!"


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