Monday, September 15, 2014

Macomb's 1947 Slide> the Dix Range without Grace

Brian and I met at the Vespers ceremony before the 46er banquet when Jeanette and I received our certificates. Actually it was about 10-15 minutes before Vespers.Let it not be said that the Sobik family isn't punctual. I was on the fence as to whether I wanted to go. My mother expressed interest so we went while my dad and Jeanette rested in the hotel room. He had just returned from a hike with some interesting weather and was updating his spreadsheet. The room was  empty since we were still early so we ended up chatting with him. He knew me immediately from my postings on the high peaks forum and I was very familiar with his name and reputation for being an amazing dude. He said some truly kind things about my writing that made me feel really good. I think my mom felt super proud of me too. Going into Vespers on quite a high, I was deeply moved by the ceremony. The whole day and weekend (spent with Jeanette in my parents in the high peaks doing the things we love) had me buzzing. There may have been some wine involved as well.

That fall he contact me to go on a hike. The plans fell apart due to other commitments on both ends but I vowed to make sure we did get out there one day. After seeing my posts inquiring about the old way 46ers used to climb Macomb (up a different slide to the south of the one climbed today) he invited me once again and I jumped at the chance. He invited his buddy Suvrat along and I'm glad he did because the 3 of us had a great time on this hike.

We left the already full trail head a little after six. I met a couple about my age heading in to climb Haystack into Blake. I thought that sounded like a really cool route but a big day for sure. It was already much darker in the morning then its been all summer as the seasons are changing. We made some standard chit chat that made the initial 2.3 miles go by in a wink. At the start of the Macomb herd path, we got out all the various navigation aids and hatched a plan. We'd follow the modern herd path for 10-15 and as it peels away to a ridge high above Slide Brook, we'd drop into the drainage and start looking for the first major tributary entering from the south.

Dropping down the bank, I unearthed the first of several archaeological finds: a blaze orange match safe. After evaluating the banks, we decided to rock hop right up the creek. The going was somewhere in between hard and easy. It seemed like we had gone a bit too far though. Brian checked his GPS and confirmed. Rather than backtrack down the brook, we headed pretty much due south up and out of the drainage and immediately heard the correct one burbling away through some pines.
typical conditions

with some nice open spaces

we navigated over and around downed trees.

 We followed this tributary until eventually we could see a break in the trees to our right. Figuring it was the slide base, we popped out to find deeply eroded creek bank. We got up on it to take a look around and got a good look at the slide track and rocky crag of the Macomb sub-summit, our destination. Views opened up over our shoulder to the Pinnacle Ridge and Allen. I found an old Reliance brand water bottle Brian said he'd had one of in the early 80's. A perfect artifact to date this old route. The eroded bank faded back into woods so we made our way back down to the stream and followed it until we reached another, very similar bank. More creek walking eventually led us to some preliminary slabs and some early views to Elk Lake.
we reached an erode slope where we could see our goal

an excited and hat-less Summithat

the guys decipher views and document

The creek eventually got slabbier as the peak got mistier
things open up on the initial rocky pitch
The first pitches were blocky and gradual, a nice warm up for the coming climbing. Eventually the view opened up even wider and we found ourselves at the base of a size-able slab with a lot of water pouring down it. We could also see the rubble slide angling down from the sub-summit crag to our left. We worked around the base of the slab and made our way up onto the rubble. While the pitch is a little less steep than the modern Macomb approach, it's a lot messier and we had to work really hard not to smash boulders down on each other. Eventually Brian found a line on the left which had some exposed slab and was easier walking.
the picture doesn't quite do the effect justice

nice view back to Elk Lake. Much closer than the modern route slide

I think this was Suvrat's favorite place on the hike

taking it all in

dome early color-changing eye candy


looking down on the transition from rock to rubble
We worked our way up gradually, getting closer and closer to the cloud ceiling which at this point was clinging to the crag. There was bright red on the rocks as we got higher. We debated whether it was iron or lichen. Or the old red blazes marking the route. Or the ink pack from a bag of bank-robbed money.  The rubble gave way to rock again and an imposing rock face greeted us out from the swirling mist.
the rubble peters out as you approach the final pitch

you can't really knock the smile off this guys face
When we got our first glimpse of the crag I joked that I was going to "Mudrat" right up it as it looked way too steep for my comfort. As we got closer, the quaility of rock, number of hand and footholds and it not being as steep as it seemed had us taking our initial steps up the face.  Brian and I made our way up the middle of the face while Suvrat chose to stick to the steeper, but more protected tree line. We all eventually met up top in a protected area under a siginificant overhang. Suvrat realized he was one pole short! We found a nice line down to the base of the slab (turns out there was a number of ways we could have worked up this section), climbed back up his line and found the pole half way. No trace left! From here we climbed steeply, sometimes on rock, sometimes in the trees until we broke out on the ridge line. A couple of spots felt very challenging for me, not so much because of the difficulty but more-so to do with the exposure. There was one spot where I had to move out of the protection of the trees and onto some rock with lots of exposure seemingly plummeting into a foggy abyss. A maybe slightly over-dramatic description. Call it poetic license. I  did my best to stay focused on my points of contact, what my next move was and to keep my heart rate down (Mudrat often mentions the heart rate thing in his trip reports. Thanks!). We all successfully made it up onto the ridge! At the ridge we noticed a bit of path leading right  to get out onto the open rock of the sub-summit. We stepped out onto what I'm sure is an impressive view of the Macomb ridge and the rest of the range. I was too elated from the climb up to have any irritation about the lack of views. The summits were obscured in clouds and would remain so for the rest of the day.
The initial pitch of the summit crag

Brian worked left at this point about halfway up to join Suvrat on his line

like a boss

so close to the top

The guys finding their way

this new line is called the treking pole rainbow

loved this spot under the overhang
The first stretch of ridge heading north was very thick with blow down. We zig-zigged our way north, with an occasional compass check to verify we were on track. The going got easier bit by bit until we started picking up patches of the old herd path. So cool to see! From that point on, it was the hunt for the lost herd path with the group at times fanned out along the ridge looking for it. Great fun and adventure. The woods were lovely with patches of fern and dangling moss.
fragrant and lush

moss, pines and ferns

my favorite little summit guys. I call the red trumpets haha

bits of the herd path
We eventually broke out onto the herd path about 75 ft from the summit. It felt odd to be able to walk unimpeded after carefully choosing each step for the past several hours. After a few pictures a group of five Clarkson Freshman gave us one of my favorite summit experiences of all time. They were from their college's outing group. After each weekend, everyone gets together and has a slideshow of their weekend adventure. Whoever has the best slide show gets their gas paid for! In order to amp up their slide show, these guys managed to hike up a Sesame Street-themed birthday cake in one piece to the top of Macomb. Everyone on the summit, including a group that arrived after them grabbed forks and dug in.



Still buzzing from cake high, we deliberated and decided to continue up the range. Now on trail, we were able to make good time to Carson.After the hike I looked back on a very interesting phenomenon I've noticed, hiked days when the visibility is less than 100-200 ft. All day, I felt like I was constantly in little rooms. Sometimes the room would have a creek running through it, sometimes you'd be clinging to the side of a mountain in the room. You'd turn a corner and there'd be a bunch of people in the next room. Always enclosed though. Almost like a video game. At the intersection with the Lillian Brook col, we met around 7-8 ladies who Brian gave expert advice and directions to. I think they found him quite charming. It was a fun climb up the Carson rocks. After climbing the slide I think we all felt good about our climbing chops and chose to go directly up some rock we really didn't have to.Cavalier is the word Brian used.
Always a fun climb up Carson

infectious enthusiasm
Another pair of women (lots of all women groups out on the range on Saturday!) were struggling to find the Carson summit so Brian helped them out. Such a gentleman! It's certainly not the easiest summit to locate. They had walked right past it. It had gone from merely misty to rainy on Macomb and this was to be the conditions for the rest of the day. On Carson there was some debate about Grace. As I had climbed it a few weeks before, I lobbied to skip it and continue own. Despite needing it for his September round, Brian agreed. Once again, quite the gentleman. We doubled back and continued along the bumpy ridge to base of Hough. At the intersection with the main branch of the Lillian Brook herd path, there was a small steak knife jammed into a tree stump. Brian didn't want to leave it up there so devised a devious plan to get it down the mountain without ripping his bag. He disassembled his treking pole and put the knife in the hollow center section! Watch out for Summithat on the trails now folks. He's carrying a concealed weapon.  Everyone still had energy and good spirits so we climbed Hough.

The Hough tree

Ear to ear grin all day
We couldn't get any wetter so decided to continue on to Dix. This was my first time going from Hough to Dix and I really liked the trail. I think it'll be well worth another visit in better weather to get the views from the numerous overlooks. There were several fun scrambles and the feeling of being in a small room with an ever-changing floor wouldn't leave me. It allowed a closer focus on the immediate surroundings. The moss, lichens, weather-wracked trees and rocky ledges. We went up and over the Beckhorn and stood on the summit of Dix. The wind was whipping across so after a minute with the Colvin bolt, we headed back to the Beckhorn trail. It was quite an interesting jungle gym style descent with horizontal rain into the abyss.

About half way down either the hike had caught up with me or the cake power had run out. I was pretty tired. The trail seemed to drag on a bit but we eventually found level ground and the intersection. From here on out we took turns leading and made great time. think everyone was ready to be out of the rain and in some dry clothes.Any time anyone up front found bad trail (up hill, muddy or rocky) there were scolded and sent to the back of the line.Things got much sillier in general in the late stages of the hike and eventually some Big Lebowski quotes got thrown around. The true mark of a successful hike. We made it out of the woods by around 6:10, making for a 12 hour day in the woods with about as varied as an experience as you can have: on trail hiking, off trail hiking, slide-climbing, route finding, trail re-discovering and 4 high peaks summits.

Despite no visibility, constant drizzle and high winds, I've rarely had more fun on a hike. Company makes all the difference in the world. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Dial and Nippletop double bushwhack 5/18/14 (Gravestone Brook and Noonmark Shoulder)

There are 3 specific hikes you have to do in order for your dog to become a 46er to avoid the Ausable Clubs no dogs allowed policy:
1) Sawteeth from the Garden
2) Colvin and Blake along the Pinnacle Ridge
3) Dial and Nippletop from Gravestone Brook

This would be the second of 3 with Sawteeth still to go. I guess technically you could access Dial and Nippletop from any number of points to the south but the Gravestone Brook route is kind of the default at this point. After several discussions and a few back and forth emails Bill Brizzell (BillB on the forum) and I decided on a day and a route: we'd go up Gravestone Brook and finish with a bushwhack to Noonmark Mountain.

I picked Bill up around 4 (Ok, I was pretty early, I'm a dork) and we headed up the Northway listening to the Newly remastered 8/27/72 Grateful Deal performance to benefit Kesey's failing dairy farm. The sun seemed to rise early over misty valleys and mountains. It was shaping up to be a beautiful day. We hit the Round Pond trail-head pretty much at 6 which was surprisingly full. I guess it always seems that way since it's a small lot on a trail to a popular mountain.

The trees were budding and hobblebush lined Rte. 73 and the lower elevations of the trail. I immediately saw several patches of purple and painted trillium which always makes me smile. I might have seen a few trout lilies but I think they weren't quite out yet. Koda was great on the drive up and quickly made up for that error by picking up the biggest stick he could find and gave us a few whacks. Round Pond looked lovely with the moon hanging over the far shore.


We made good time in the crisp morning air and before long, hit the intersection with the old Dix trail/ Noonmark trail. We kept chugging along and started catching glimpses of the Boquet River. As we peeled away from it we started watching for the crossing of Gravestone Brook. We had 2 false alarms before hitting the true brook. Like Telemark Mikes Report, it was the one with a set of stone steps on the other side. We started up the western shore which was sort of thick. After a while we made our way down and checked out the eastern shore which was more open and actually had a game trail/ faint herd path to follow for quite a while.

As we got higher, the stream braided in places and smaller tributaries drained in. Always we were surrounded with the sounds of moving water. We began making our way more along the shoulder of Dial rather than the col between Dial and Bear Den which is where most people have gone in the past. The woods were open and after realizing the trajectory we were on figured, why not? It's where we wanted to go anyway. As we got into some steeper territory there were some rock walls we had to skirt around. just as it was starting to get a little tough, Bill saw a trail blaze! I was pretty excited and did some cheering. Bill, whose done lots more of this than I have took it a bit more in stride haha. He knew we'd hit the trail eventually. I always have it in the back of my mind that I never will. I guess a bit more experience and I'll believe too.

It was a pleasure to be back on trail with the first major question mark of the day turned into a period. The trail was dry, firm under foot and ice free till about 3900 ft. Much better than expected. Within 15 minutes we reached the summit of Dial. First off, I always forget how low Dial is. It just made the cut! Secondly, the views from these two peaks are just phenomenal. It was a perfect day for it too. Since we started early and were hiking on a Sunday, we had the summit to ourselves. We enjoyed the views for what I would consider an average amount of time before heading off to Nippletop.


The going from Dial to Nippletop was nice and easy. As we got a bit higher there was more ice spine left. At one flat spot on the summit ridge snow was piled 3 feet deep. We guess it probably piles up over 10 feet there in the winter and you'd have no idea as you walked over what you thought was flat terrain. With a bit more climbing we passed the Elk Pass intersection and reached the stunning summit of Nippletop. While views are similar to Dial, you're higher and have a slightly different perspective, seeing a bit more of the rock on the lower range and views ranging down the Pinnacle Ridge. Here we sat for quite some time feeling lucky to have it to ourselves. I felt very much alone in the woods. We ate and I fed a very muddy Koda. I had brought bacon and hard-boiled eggs for breakfast. Since my yogurt held me in the morning, I got to enjoy the nice burst of protein much later in the day.



After sopping it all up for quite some time (grateful to be able to do this after running off the summits all winter), we started making our way down. The hike had finally caught up with me a bit and I didn't have as much steam as before. By the time we hit Dial again, my knees and feet where feeling it. Here we saw our first people, a group of 3 guys on the summit. We chatted for a bit before making our way down. We passed several more pairs of people on the descent. While Noonmark looked very far away from Nippletop, we kept getting closer and closer. After a steep descent of Bear Den, we began climbing the burn area on Noonmark. Though we both took several pictures along the way, the overlook on the burn was too good to resist and we got a bunch more shots. We took our bearings and made our way into the woods.


The going was slow through thick thick pines. Thankfully they were bigger than the Alpine krummholz so we were able to push through. Both Bill and I donated some blood while Koda picked his way through. This was much harder work for him than anything he's used to. He general runs along trails and through open woods. I knew he was going to sleep well. Some faint deer trails and lots of deer pellets gave hints of the animal life there on the ridge. We encountered a little garter snake all curled up on a branch in a small clearing. We kept catching glimpses of the rocky crag of Noonmark through the trees when they occasionally thinned. At this point I felt pretty drained and was happy when Bill had the bright idea to stop for a snack. It was just what the doctor ordered.

As we began to encounter more significant rocky areas, we had to pick our way through some chutes and over some steps. A few times Koda led the way while we were trying to make a decision. He never steered us wrong. The vegetation didn't subside until we were right up against the crag. I was hoping to hit a wall that might have established climbing routes and therefore a herd path back to the main trail. No such luck. We side-sloped along some low (but not low enough to climb) walls looking for a way up. The terrain got steeper until we were walking along some wooded ledges.

We eventually reached a bit of a dead end where the only way was up some big stepped ledges. Koda tried his way up and slid back down a few times, getting pretty anxious in the process. Bill decided to go up top to check things out for us. If we got Koda up there and it was a dead end, getting him down would be a pretty big problem. Once up, things looked good for a clear line to the summit. I gave Koda a boost and Bill grabbed his collar/scruff and helped haul him up. It was a relief to have all of us safely up. In the end, this wasn't any trickier than other stuff we've done together but the isolation of the bushwhack and the uncertainty of the terrain had me worried.


Quickly we ascended the remaining slopes before coming out on the low ledges facing Dix I'd spent a long time on the first time we climbed this peak. Awesome! Second whack was a success and now to soak up some summit glory. There were a few groups milling around and taking in one of the best views in the high peaks. We relaxed, snacked some more and took a ton of pictures. A nice couple asked me to take pictures of them and they, in turn, took some pictures of us. I'm always glad to get pictures of Koda and I since we often hike entire days without seeing other people. I particularly liked the shot they got of the three of us. There is a permanent puddle on top of Noonmark and Koda was completely in his element, splashing around.


We hung out for a good long time before picking our way down the steep trail back towards Round Pond. I kept missing the soft snow and gliding snowshoes steps of winter hiking. My knees felt jarred and my feet hurt. In the winter I was able to travel many more miles before feeling that way. The creeks flowing in to Round Pond were pretty and one looked sort of like a water slide. I took several more pictures of trillium as we reached the end of the hike.

Bill's GPS said about 16 miles when we reached the trail-head. It was a great pleasure taking off my muddy boots and letting my feet breathe again. This was a very memorable hike with perfect weather conditions. It was Koda's 39th and 40th high peak. He celebrated by sleeping all the way home.