Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Haystack and Basin 2/28/15

This hike has loomed largely in my mind since committing to a winter round. How would the conditions be? Would I have to buy crampons and an ice ax? I obviously have to leave the dog at home. I hope I have good views etc. In many ways this was the crux of my winter round. I was a heady mix of worried and excited. A big factor in my favor was how the weather unfolded during February. Lots of snow and lots of cold days without thaw meant a solid snow pack, possible covering features that are normally icy. On Monday the 23rd, a check of the 10 day forecast showed near perfect conditions to climb these peaks on Saturday the 28th: clear blue skies and moderate temperatures. When I started planning this winters hikes I knew it would be the right choice to hike this one with people. I fished around on the high peaks forum and found Emily and Adam (Emily is ringpopsandmountaintops on the forum) were going for another try of Haystack>Basin>Saddleback after being thwarted early in the winter with extreme winds.

I got a very solid nights sleep before the hike which always gives me a confident feeling to start the day: I'd be at my best. The drive up was pretty uneventful aside from some police activity which is pretty rare for this time of the morning (4 AM-ish). I got set up in the High Peaks welcome center which was completely empty, a real contrast to the previous weeks Dial and Nippletop trip. I pulled into the Garden parking lot a little after 5:30, with Emily and Adam already getting set up. Yay for punctuality! We had called a meeting time of 5:45.

Quick hellos and off on the trail. We all remarked on how warm it was, already 14 f or so at 6 AM. Compared to the rest of the winter, a real heat wave! We moved quickly with Ringpops taking the lead. I got really warm fast with the brisk pace being set and my extra layers. Of course I wore more clothes on this trip than on last weeks where it was way colder hahaha. It seems like I never quite get the optimal set up. I like that though, always tuning up and striving, trying to find the best situation to stay warm but not overheat. Pretty amazing it's ever as comfortable as it gets. Modern clothes! I can't imagine doing this 50 years ago. I ditched layers, took off my hat and put on lighter gloves.

We all had a drink just before entering ADK property. We noted the location of the warming hut for the afternoon. I took the lead from there until Bushnell Falls and was finally able to stop sweating, hiking at Sobik pace. Emily and Adam are very strong hikers! I again recognized my place in the hiking strength hierarchy: on the stronger side of average. Not a bad place to be, I get to hike with more leisurely as well as faster hikers without too much hardship either way. The sun started shining in to the forest and I started snapping some photos.

The miles flowed by, moving through the easy terrain. Slant Rock snuck right up on me. We had a quick snack there.  Here begins more challenging hiking with steeper but rolling terrain. Views opened up behind us north over Big Slide to a Whiteface Mountain wearing a skirt of fluffy clouds. Point Balk and Little Marcy bulged high above the creek valley over our right shoulder. The trail to Marcy flew by, landmarks becoming a blur. The race was on. We could now see Marcy's summit and glimpses of Skylight. After you pass the Marcy trail you begin the really steep climbing up to the summit of maybe one of the more famous nameless bumps in the high peaks: the bump before Little Haystack.

Here the photography began in earnest. I got Sathi's Cannon 20D with the wide angle lens out and took some amazing shots from this famous locale. After my hands got cold, I put on my down jacket and got my point and shoot ready to document the ascent. I urged the speedy couple to go ahead as I was hiking pretty slow and intended to take a ton of pictures. They hiked ahead at their own pace but never out of sight. There was nothing too tricky climbing up Little Haystack. I was glad I waited until just the right day for this climb. There was hardly any wind and no exposed ice. I kept looking over at Basin, picturing us on that summit soon enough. The last time I was up on Little Haystack, with Koda in early summer of 2014, I was beat it was completely clouded in and Koda's pads were getting sore. What a different experience. I love returning to a peak and having a better hike. Mindset and conditions color a day in the woods so much.

Views in all directions were amazing: down the great range and past to Giant and Rocky, into Panther Gorge and across to Skylight and Marcy, south to the Dix Range. Coming off of Little Haystack is one of those well known often tricky spots. It's steep, exposed and ice builds up. For us on this day we had a combination of bare rock and grippy snow. Perfect! I couldn't help but slow down even more and focus on being as present as possible. Focusing by not focusing at all. One of those amazing paradox's of mindfullness. I wanted to etch every detail into my mind: how the rock looked, the wave-like drifting of snow, the color of the sky and the peaks around me. The world rang like a prayer bowl. All too soon the summit cone was before me with two celebrating hikers whooping it up on top. It must have been a great feeling for them, coming back to this peak after being so close (they had to turn around on Little Haystack due to intense horizontal winds) on their previous attempt. More pictures of course. It was nice to have someone to take a picture of me on this truly special peak. I'll cherish it forever.

I hunkered down in the little rocky crevice on the summit  out of the wind, had some trail mix and water. I watched the duo buckle down and get ready to climb down which I did as well, if somewhat reluctantly. I knew I had to leave at some point and climb another peak but I was pretty blown out from the ascent and pretty agog from the spectacular setting. I always return to that great anecdote about Old Mountain Phelps at times like this: Setting up camp with some folks he was guiding at Lower(?) Ausable Lake, one of the clients asked why they didn't set up camp facing Gothics. His reply was something to the effect of "a view that precious you don't just gobble down". You have to savor and not over indulge. Who wants the magic too thin? For the specialness to become ordinary? Certainly not me. 

I took my time on the way down and got some fun shots of them off in the distance. Back up Little Haystack with no problem and back to the intersection with the range trail down to Basin. It was a fast decent with the most loose snow we'd see all day. Everywhere else was hard packed snow gutter leading you through the woods. My quads were grateful for the descent but my brain was trying to rebel on me saying Basin was just too far and I was losing too much elevation. We hit the low point and started trucking uphill. Well they were trucking, I was moving. Though not particularly fast. At the Shorey shortcut intersection we met a dude very casually smoking a butt. It was an odd site. He was heading up Haystack first, Basin and Saddleback after.

The climb up Basin is way easier in the winter in my opinion. Lots of the ugly spots are smoothed out. The ladder was actually many rungs shorter and I had to laugh: with these conditions doing this hike would've been far easier than when we did it in June. Oh well, you never know! Knowing we were on the final section of trail together and that they'd be up chilling on the summit, I slowed my pace down a bit more to save up for the long trek out. The climb up from the col was a bit longer than I remembered but I'd say it had a lot to do with how I felt. There are many spectacular views along this stretch of trail and I used them as a welcome break from climbing.

On the summit of Basin Emily was sun-bathing and both wore ear to ear grins. Wow! The views! The conditions! Haystack and Basin climbed by lunch! It was great to eat a bunch and drink some green tea. Since I perspired a lot more than usual on this hike with the warmth and fast pace, I was a little dehydrated which I remedied with water and lemon lime Gatorade.  As we hung out and took pictures, Emily pointed towards the Saddleback cliffs and said they didn't look bad. I agreed but said, no those aren't them, that's still Basin, there they are further along the ridge. I was pointing to Gothics hahaha.We exchanged high fives, I shared some tea and after some more revery, the two headed on down the trail. After they left and I stared for a bit longer and realized my mistake. Oh well, they'd be amped to climb those and realize where they were.

I decided to stay up there. Maybe forever. It was just so beautiful. I dug in to the cookie I had brought from this amazing restaurant/ coffee house/ music venue called the Tramontane Cafe in Utica. It has delicious lunch and dinner food including homemade soup and awesome signature sandwiches. Their baked goods tho....Many of the staff there bake and have their own specialties so there's always something different. For this trip, I brought the classic giant chocolate cookie, knowing it would likely carry the most calorie/ sugar high bang for my buck. I buzzed around the summit riding that giddy wave of sugary delight, alternating between the DSLR and the point and shoot. The DSLR battery would eventually get cold and read dead so I'd put it back in my pocket to thaw. I knew it'd be slow going for me on the way down and I wanted to get back to Jeanette and Koda so I eventually got my stuff together and started the descent.

My legs were tired but my soul was totally rejuvenated. The day kept getting more gorgeous. I started running into solo dudes climbing up Basin. Everyone had very serious game faces on and did not want to chat. Several sections were steep on the way down. If you like suicidal butt slides, this would be the place for you. I gingerly lowered myself down, turning around and down-climbing as if on a ladder a few times which was really effective. Will def do more of that in the future.

I had Shorey shortcut all to myself :) I can't imagine why: a "shortcut" that's uphill both ways. I got an ear-full of black cap chickadees celebrating the warm and sunny day. I paused often to catch my breath and take still more pictures of the views to the northwest. On this hike there are many miles of views. It's truly incredible. Especially after spending so much time below treeline this winter hiding from the cold. Once over the height of land, I finally got my legs back under me and picked up speed, getting me down to the Phelps trail in a hurry. I chatted with a guy cutting through the ice of Johns Brook for camp water. He and his group were hoping to climb Haystack if they got their chores done quickly enough. I strongly encouraged him to give it a shot with how gorgeous it was.

Now the long walk to Johns Brook Lodge. The woods were full of pine trees and sunlight. The trail was mellow under foot. I was talking to myself hahaha. I thought of my wife and how she makes time pass: I created a sci-fi short story and narrated it out loud. Would've been a funny moment to run into someone. I eventually caught up with two campers around the confluence of Hogback Brook and Johns Brook. They were wearing microspikes and carrying MSR's. They mentioned as we chatted that someone told them they needed to be wearing snowshoes the day before. I let them know that indeed it was the rules and they could get a ticket. I did so in a way that conveyed the information but didn't sound like I was scolding them, just trying to help them avoid a ticket. I feel like this is a much more effective method of education rather than the scold I hear so often from other winter hikers. Once a person is on the defense, their ears and brain are closed.

JBL looked really pretty and all eco-cool with it's solar panels. I got to the warming hut and was warmly welcomed by Jay (like the letter). Her and the other woman (Caryn I believe?) were spending Friday-Sunday in the cozy little cabin, doling out hot chocolate and mocha's. I chose the mocha looking forward to a bit of a caffeine kick along with the sugar. I really love chatting with folks you meet along the trail and since no one wanted to chat coming of Basin I was glad to get my folksy fix. I hiked out. It went fairly quickly with the help of the warming hut staff. I got back to my car at 4:15, a 10.5 hour day covering around 19 miles. Certainly not my fastest day in the woods but maybe one of my favorites. While I have a few more peaks left to climb to finish my winter round, this was it. This was the big one. A day I'll never forget.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Dial and Nippletop 2/21/15

I met Bill at his house at 4AM, aiming for a 6AM start. We stopped at the high heaks rest area and chatted with two groups of hikers: three guys climbing Haystack and two gals climbing LWJ>Gothics (and maybe Sawteeth too? Can't remember). That was fun, reminding me of a part of ski culture I miss now that I don't do it much any more. Chatting with folks while we all gear up.

While it was technically warmer than our start the Jan 17th Seymour start and the Jan 31st climb of Gray, the wind was strong and I felt much colder than usual. We got moving in a hurry to try and warm up. The climb up to Dial involves a pretty good amount of elevation gain and some loss. You climb the shoulder of Noonmark first, then Bear Den Mountain before finally pushing up to the top of Dial after climbing around 3,000ft. It was not easy. I had kind of forgotten how tough this trail is after not climbing it since 2010.

There was a nice reward for climbing the first bump on the ridge: we had reached the views from the burned area on the shoulder of Noonmark Mountain. There was a forest fire in 1999 from an improperly extinguished camp fire during a remarkably dry summer. A well written account. We had already climbed around 1,500 ft and had another 1,500 ft and another bump between us and the summit of Dial. The climb to the wooded summit of Bear Den Mountain moved along nicely as we had warmed up and were now in hiking form. Bill set this pace occasionally taking 30 second to minute and a half breaks which I find to be the perfect amount to slow your heart rate out of the sweaty zone but not too long to get cold or lose the cardio flow.

As we climbed up and over Bear Den and on to the slopes of Dial, the roar of the wind grew louder and louder. Bill and I tried to figure out the point where we had come out on the trail after our climb of Dial and Nippletop last year. Once we got close to the summit, we knew conditions were going to be tough. The wind was quite loud and strong, surging through the woods all around us. Dial is mostly treed in with a summit rock you can step up and out on to to get a pretty phenomenal view of the great range to the north. The winds were blowing what felt like directly southeast right into our faces before we could even get up on the rock. We both stepped up for a quick picture but a serious gust almost pushed us right back down. Bill got a quick picture or two but I couldn't even get my camera to work.

We were chased off the summit within 30 seconds. This was my shortest summit stay on record as far as I can remember. Bill threw his camera in his pocket (or so he thought) and we headed down the trail towards Dial. It took about 10 minutes until we were far enough down to have some protection from the wind. We snacked up and I heard a "You gotta be kidding me" from Bill. His camera wasn't in his pocket. After making sure he didn't have it, we backtracked to the summit, looking for it on the trail the whole way. It didn't turn up. I bet it had fallen in loose snow and simply vanished, especially with a likely kick of snow from one or all of our snowshoes as we beat a hasty retreat off the summit. As a frequent loser of things I really hoped we'd find it but the mountains decided to take a tax. It would be some nice mountain magic if it turned up in the spring.

There are several more bumps along the ridge to the Nip, climbing steadily the whole time from the 41st highest peak to the 13th. The views were incredible, now including the Dix range to the south along the increasingly narrow ridge. We had originally planned to see how we felt at Elk Pass and if all was well, continue on to Colvin and Blake. Before we even hit Nippletop I was pretty sure I didn't want to climb on to Colvin and Blake unless Bill really wanted to. We had a trying climb up the series of bumps along the ridge. It was windy and cold as hell, Bill lost his camera, I kept getting poked in the face and scratched with branches and it was getting under my skin haha. The deep snow pack had raised the trail out of it's summer corridor and felt like a low-ceiling-ed crawl space. What sounded like a good day to me was to get to the summit of Nippletop, feel elated and relieved to have reached the summit of two winter high peaks, climb down and be warm in a car. and then a building. with a shower. and then drinking a beer. or 2. ish.

views along the ridge improved by the snow platform

Cool to see two faces of Dix at once

Giant, Rocky and beyond

 It was almost sunny by the time we hit the final 0.2 spur trail to the Nip. More and more patches of blue sky and sun on snow did much to warm my spirits. I've never been up there in winter and have to say it might be one of the surprise favorite summits of my winter round. There must've been at least 5 ft of snow on the ridge, lifting us well above the trees on this pointed little Nip of a summit. There was far less breeze so we could slowly climb, looking around and soaking it all in.Once again, my point and shoot wasn't working with the cold and neither of the batteries I brought for the Cannon 20D and kept in my inside pocket all hike worked. I could see the frost on the exposed metal of the batteries. Bill has a mustache and as everyone with facial hair knows, you get icicles in your beard if you're outdoors and active in the winter. It didn't strike me as much to worry about during the hike, seeing ice glint on his face. On the summit of Nip I noticed not only that there was actually an icicle coming off the tip of his nose but that there was a half inch by half inch square of perfectly white skin. The first case of frost nip I've ever seen. He quickly covered his face with a fleece neck gaiter and didn't end up with any lasting damage but it was certainly scary. In the picture of Bill at the intersection of the trail down to Elk Pass, you can see maybe only the faintest trace of white so it hadn't gone on for too long.

Most of my remaining winter peaks, shoulder to shoulder

Deep deep snow.

I did manage to grab a few shots on the way down after literally smacking my POS on a tree to get the lens cover unstuck and the thing firing away. Quick and fun descent down to Elk Pass with some butt slides and telemark style snowshoe glissading (the style advocated by randoomscooter). Without Koda, I'm able to use my poles and have really enjoyed developing this technique. Man I want to tele ski. We started running in to people at this point. The first was a guy climbing Nippletop  The second was a guy and gal (don't know what's up with the guy and gal thing but I'm just gonna go with it) climbing all four, having already climbed Colvin and Blake. They were really nice I got the impression they might've been forum folk. They mentioned they had broken out a  trail across Elk Pass Pond which was a nice little short cut and a cool unique perspective. Thanks folks! Nice to meet you.

I convinced Bill since we weren't going to climb the additional peaks to visit Fish Hawk Cliffs and Indian Head, some awesome overlooks over Lower Ausable Lake. We started hiking the not very broken out trail and I started sweating from the effort for the first time all day. We got to a point along the trail where the snowshoe tracks turned right and the trail forward petered out with no evidence of trail or blaze after only a quick look around on my part. The snowshoe tracks to the right followed the Ausable club/ state land property line which had tons of new no trespassing signs and a steady line orange spray paint blazes. As the marked trail had kind of petered out we sort of shrugged and followed the snowshoe tracks  along the property line. Quickly it became apparent we were not heading to the cliffs as we climbed well below the prominence of the cliffs to our left.

After realizing I probably just didn't notice the next blaze of the unbroken trail to Fish Hawk Cliffs we scrapped the plan and followed the wide swath of brush cleared along the property line and the single set of snowshoe tracks.I felt pretty dumb about the error but Bill didn't bust my chops too bad. I think it was him who had the idea to go to the cliffs anyway. Yeah, that's how I remember it now ;).

 After 15 or 20 minutes we hit the trail again. Down to the lake road with 2.5 miles to the car. We chatted and time passed. It started snowing over the last mile and the roads were pretty tough on the drive home. I was grateful not to be behind the wheel on this one. Thanks for the solid driving job Bill. All in all it was a classic day of hiking in the high peaks: a good amount of struggle, some minor calamities and a ton of intense beauty.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Touch of Grey 1/31/15

We've had a pretty busy schedule this January so Koda has been cooped up. He got boarded several times while we spent weekends seeing live music and etc. I also went on 2 hikes without him. He was getting more and more restless so I knew it was time for us to have a long day in the woods.

We left Albany a little before 3AM listening to the Grateful Dead's performance on 7/13/84 at the Greek Theater in Berkley, California. While this show is most famous for the (rare in the 80's) Dark Star encore, there were many highlights including my favorite Dead tune, loser and a lovely Stella Blue towards the end of the second set. Perhaps my favorite part of the show though was the Set two opening sequence of Scarlet Begonias>Touch of Grey>Fire on the Mountain. In that time period it was a true rarity to break up the standard Scarlet>Fire pairing. The band gave every indication at the end of Scarlet that they were going into Fire before they dropped hard into a spirited performance of Touch of Grey.

The drive flew by with the excellent soundtrack. The last spiraling chords of Dark Star echoed through the empty Adirondack Loj parking lot as we pulled in to our spot and got ready. We were moving down the trail at a brisk pace trying to get warmed up starting around 5:45. I knew that this was about the limit as far as temperature lows that I would take Koda out in for a hike. While he's been out on equivalent days and even some colder ones (the Dix range last winter started in the negative 20's) I've become a bit more of a worrier about his well being as he (and I) age. I decided to a dress a little lighter so I'd experience the cold more in order to know if it was ok to have him out.

I felt like we were making good time in. I expected to see the sun rise at Marcy Dam but it was still almost completely dark as we walked out onto the former pool. The stars were gorgeous both on the drive up and on the first leg of the hike. The trail in to Marcy Dam was hard packed and at times thin. I kicked a few rocks along the way. I had snow shoes on from the start because I prefer not to have to switch gear a lot (and also because it's the rules :D) but I think micro's would have been slightly easier there. Oh well, I was fine. After the dam snowshoes were the perfect tool for the rest of the day. For the next leg to Avalanche camp, there was an inch or two of fresh snow over a nice base track. The trail looked to be in great shape for skiing.

Little by little, the winter morning light crept in until I was able to remove my headlamp. I heard a weird buzzing noise that I had vague memories of from a previous hike. Turns out the cheap Timex I keep clipped to my backpack stopped working as it has on other equally cold days. It was an odd feeling but also kind of freeing to not keep checking where I was at time-wise. Knowing I had a super early start and a modest itinerary kept any concerns about the clock at bay.

Throughout the first leg of the hike, I kept a close watch on Koda's behavior and body temperature with the plan that if he acted funny or felt cold to the touch that we'd bail on the hike. So we'd stop often and I'd feel his side, his belly and his paws. In the first leg of the hike I managed to get 10 or so ounces of water into him. After that he refused the frosty drink but ate a ton of snow. He LOVES eating snow while we hike. I know from reading winter survival stories that eating snow doesn't work because it burns too many calories melting it down in your body. To remedy that, I kept pounding food into him. I knew that would help keeping him warm too. Just as it does for me. I also gave him 4 total servings of tuna (I'm sure his blood is now half mercury) over the course of the hike, which had a good amount of water in it too.

From Avalanche camp up to Lake Arnold we followed a solitary set of ski tracks in a few inches of light fresh powder. Man, that would be a fun little ski run! The snow was a bit looser than the first portion of the hike so I was burning a bit more energy. I made sure to stop at every intersection to get some water and a little nibble of food down. Koda and I both noticeably perked up after each snack. I loved seeing his tail wagging. I think we were both really happy to be out there together making our way through the winter landscape, totally in our element. At the Lake Arnold/ Colden intersection I was surprised to see a much more recent set of ski tracks coming around the bend from Colden to Feldspar trail. It was much easier going over the well packed ski tracks. This was my first time ever hiking this trail in this direction. The views from the height of land between the Opalescent/ Hudson drainage and the Marcy Brook/ Ausable drainage were stunning, rugged and unique. While it was a nice break going downhill for a while, I knew it was going to be....not the most pleasant....on the way back.

Climbing down into the Opalescent River Valley

Along the bottom of the river valley, in the beaver meadow, the trail was often completely blown in. Intriguingly, the ski trail peeled off into the woods at the base of the Southeast Slide on Colden. I've heard it's a nice ski. The top of the slide was all ice but I bet the lower pitch was nice. Bright sun was shining on the summit of Colden to gorgeous effect. It whited out and blended into the sky in pictures though. I'll just have to remember how pretty it was looking up at that amazing mountain along the shore of the Opalescent River.

Bright white Mount Colden and the winter-stilled Opalescent
At the Feldspar Brook trail intersection we had a much more significant snack. Koda got his second dose of tuna (he got the first one at Lake Arnold) and even managed to weasel some of my precious pepperoni. He was pretty perky at this point so my concerns about the cold were moved further back in my mind. I still kept checking in on his body temp and paw temps just for piece of mind.

So....I find the trail up Feldspar Brook to Lake Tear.....challenging. I have more strong words for it that I'll keep to myself. I think it wouldn't be so hard for me if every time I'm on it I hadn't already hiked six or seven miles. Hard for me every time. There was now a lot more snow on the trail with the occasional shin high drift. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and tried to catch some of Koda's enthusiasm. It kept getting brighter as we got closer to Lake Tear of the Clouds, climbing out of the valley and on to the plateau. All I could think of at the lake was the lands beyond the wall in The Song of Ice and Fire books. Cold, windswept, isolated, unforgiving, perfect.

Plotting and planning for this hike, I couldn't find any recent trip reports. I knew I'd be breaking out the herd path. I was at least hoping for a faint groove in the snow. What I saw at the outlet of the lake was a perfectly unbroken and windswept landscape. I tried to remember as best I could from my two previous ascents where the path started. It's a bit trickier than some other herd path starts because the woods are kind of open at first. No tunnel through the trees to site in to. The snow covering the brook and its banks was blessedly supportive as I walking around scoping out possibilities. I made one short false star before getting on track of something promising. In hindsight I should have dropped Koda's leash and let him find it for me. Once I saw a cut branch (not enough of these to guide me on this one haha, I rely on them to lead me up herd paths) I knew I was on the right track. under around 8-10 inches of snow, the well-packed herd path supported me.

I was an impediment to the dog on several occasions on the way up. The deep snow coupled with the at times steep ascent slowed me down so I let go of his leash and watched him bound up the trail, staying on track by smelling human traces under almost a foot of snow. Dogs are amazing. On steep pitches I back-slid in the deep powder and often had to push all the fresh snow off the herd path in order for my snow shoe crampons to bite. Coming upon several landmarks I remembered was a nice bit of reassurance that I was still on the herd path and getting close to the top. There is an open view on a steep section that I'm particularly fond of. I paused there and took a picture and more importantly soaked in and let register the truly spectacular place I was standing. I'm so grateful I'm able to go places like this. Never take for granted these mountains.

Dat spot good

Views opened up to include Skylight, Marcy and the Dix Mountain Wilderness to the southeast, Cliff and Redfield to the southwest. Once on the ridge, views opened up to include Colden, the MacIntyre Range and Whiteface way off to the north. I struggled on the ascent. I was running low on energy and all the sliding around was a challenge to the spirit. Suddenly it dawned on me: I will get by! I will survive! All I needed was a little Touch of Grey blasting through my head to get up Gray. With Jerry singing in my head I was all smiles on the final push.

Skylight and the Dix Mtn WA

My homegirl Tahawus

With a bit of floundering whenever I stepped off track on the ridge we made it to the frigid summit. I took a few pictures and called it a day. I knew it wasn't good for either of us to stay up there for very long. I think this was my shortest time ever spent on a summit. Less than a minute. It's all about the entire hike though. Touching the high point isn't the be-all end-all of what we're doing out here. So.....I don't generally take the culturally ubiquitous selfie on winter hikes very often because I generally look like I have the flu. A flushed, snot-faced, greasy-haired mess. Not a good look. I gave it a go just for funsies and had the usual outcome.

Not so much

This was quite possibly my quickest descent off a high peak ever. Conditions with the fresh powder were ideal for snowshoe glissading. At times I'd slide 10-15 ft on one snowshoe. Awesome wild ride with some caution needed to stay safe. Koda loved running with me and we egged each other on. I managed to keep some slack on the leash so felt good about keeping up with my hyper athletic GSD. Coming off the peak, the wind had picked up significantly. I feel pretty lucky for the window we had on the ascent and summit. During the brief time I spent on the summit, my tracks were pretty much all the way covered in down below in the fast blowing snow.

By the time we were back down to Lake Tear, wind was whipping across the plateau. We kept up our slide-step rapid pace and made quick work of the Feldspar Brook descent. I sure do prefer going down that trail as opposed to up!!! The brisk winds were an additional motivator to keep up the pace.
We snacked again at the intersection. That dog was eating me out of house and home. I knew it was helping though and gave him as much as I could. At this point my nalgene had a pretty good ice crust inside and required a good whack against a nearby tree any time I wanted a drink. I wasn't getting enough water down because of it. I remembered I had put one of my other bottles in the pocket where my water bladder goes in the summer. The heat from my back kept that one nice and liquid so I gulped half of it in a sip, feeling better than I had in an hour or two. Jeanette and I have had a cold trying to creep in for several days and the lack of sleep and exertion allowed it to gain entrance. I hiked myself into a winter cold!

Well the climb up wasn't as brutal as I had built it up to be. The fact that each step I took was one step closer to the comforts of the civilized world worked wonders on my spirit. I met a youngish couple, my first humans of the day, a bit before the ascent to Lake Arnold. Very friendly and heading to Gray themselves. At the intersection I caught a blur of red backpack with a 46er patch and winter rocker as he/she began that climb. A few more folks were on the trails now. I met a lovely woman named Michele who was a forum lurker and recognized Koda from my trip reports. We chatted for a while and I encouraged her to break out of anonymity and write a report!

Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot. The end was getting closer and I kept speculating on time. With the cold (the illness kind) having crept in, my return pace wasn't quite where I wanted it. I was hoping to finish the hike in 8 hours but figured it'd be more like 9. I thought about asking some of the folks at Marcy Dam what time it was but thought it'd be more fun if I waited till the car to find out.

Nice to see some daylight shining on Wright

The heart of the high peaks, Mount Colden.

I met high peaks forum newcomer Ringpopsandmountaintops and her hiking partner Adam and finally slowed them down enough to chat for a minute. Very nice folks and it's great to see some younger faces out there. One foot in front of the other continued and I met a VERY nice family of cross-country skiers who had a German shepherd of their own (not with them though) so we shared a bonding moment. As all the familiar landmarks on this often-traveled trail ticked by, my excitement for a comfortable seat and some Stewart's coffee mounted. There's a section of trail where you come up a hill and are surrounded by towering pines which filter crepuscular rays through. It's a favorite spot of mine and slowed down my mind enough to truly aprecciate the day I had and to enjoy fully my last few minutes in the woods. Soon enough the glint of metal from the parking lot shone through the forest.

I signed out and headed to my blessedly close car. One last check of Koda's paws and in the trunk of the Element he went. He was perky and warmer than me! I took off my boots, got into my sneakers and got the heat cranking. I was cold! It took an hour of blasting heat to finally warm up. I knew I could've dressed more warmly but didn't think it was fair with my hiking partner not being able to. I got by though. I survived though.

A big surprise when I sat down behind the wheel: it was 12:45. I had made the hike in 7 hours! Other than climbing the 3 Sewards from the gate in 10 hours, this was the most proud of a hike time I've ever been. I consider myself an average hiker but on the stronger end of the average spectrum. To make time like this I felt I got to rub elbows with the actually strong hikers. I paid for it a bit though haha. I was drained.  I've been planning on doing Dial>Nippletop>Colvin>Blake at the end of the season. I'm going to have to get a bit more serious about training if I'm going to do that hike with any grace at all.

It was so nice to get home at a decent hour. I showered, rested and went out for a delicious dinner with J at the City Beer Hall and went to bed super early. The next day I got up at 6, walked Koda, packed our ski gear into the car and headed to Bromley, our favorite little ski mountain in the area. We had a picture perfect day on our yearly ski date to this fun and friendly magical play land.

Mountain Wolf and Stratton

Magic Mountain under clear blue skies

 I can't imagine a more perfect weekend.