Friday, March 15, 2013

Cascade family hike

    I knew it was only a matter of time until I came back from a stunning high peaks hike and Jeanette's jealousy would send her up a peak with me soon after. After a perfect day on Dix, Jeanette had had enough!!! Time for a climb!! We threw around Avalanche Lake since we've made a winter pilgrimage there the past few years but she decided as it got closer that she wanted to climb Cascade.

    Well it just so happens that I hadn't been up Cascade in the winter so I could bag it and Porter for my W46!!! The drive up was very pretty with an average amount of Koda whining. It was evident that the snow pack was going rapidly. There was way less snow then even 2 days earlier. I was so beyond thrilled to be hiking with Jeanette again. As much as I enjoy solo hiking and my solitude (and lobbied for it pretty tirelessly) I deeply missed having my hiking partner and my true love with me to share the beauty. We fell in love in the woods and they never cease to make me think of her.

     Skies were overcast but very crisp which got me excited for Cascades epic views. This was our first (like many others) high peak and so we remember the least from it. I know that it was windy and we had almost zero visibility. Jeanette had taken girls from the grad department several time since but I hadn't returned. It was nice hiking "new again" trail and taking in unique perspectives from this northern peak.

     Jeanette set a fast pace that had me sweating within the first 15 minutes. She felt out of shape and had to take what she felt like were too many breaks but again, we were CRANKING up the trail hahaha. I tried to keep up while dodging the first trail rocks I had seen since November. Spring is definitely on the way. The last third of this hike, once on the ridgeline is very pretty. The pine forest festooned with runners of alpine moss. There are a few open points that offer tantalizing views of what's to come, with clear views through Avalanche Pass Flanked by the Mac's and Mount Colden.

     Once we broke through the tree line to the bare summit we could hear the winding roaring over the rock. We started the scramble and ditched our snowshoes once we realized the rest of the way was primarily bare rock. The gusts were very high. I don't really have a firm grasp on MPH estimations but it was the heaviest I've ever felt and would venture to say that it was up to around 40 MPH. Jeanette got out the nice new camera and took some stunning summit photos. The dog and I played around on the summit a little beit before we all decided it was a good idea to get off the exposure. We made a bee line back to one of the open spots along the trail and had a second, less windy, photo-shoot.

     This hike was a big deal for me for two reasons. The first, as I mentioned earlier, it was Jeanette's first hike back since her dad passed away this fall. She's been struggling to find the energy or the desire to do this sort of thing. Her planning this hike marks a major turning point and a definite indicator that, while things are still hard, she's emerging from the darkness. The second and less dramatic big deal is that I didn't "bag" Porter. Sometimes I feel like a hopeless peak-bagger. I've been trying to promise myself that I'm really going to savor my winter round and when possible, do single peaks instead of multi-peak outings. Once I'm out there though, i get excited and want to do bigger and bigger hikes. On the Dix hike I made a quick attempt at Hough but turned around very quickly when I couldn't immediately find the herd path. I was a little irritated with myself for pushing it and not being able to simply enjoy the good that I had.

       So on this trip, about halfway through, I decided not to "bag" Porter. I had a simply phenomenal hike this fall, climbing Porter and Cascade from Marcy field. I fell in love with the Porter Ridge. So rather than taking the quick jaunt over from Cascade as so many have half-hardheartedley done before, I saved it for another day. Maybe I'd repeat that beautiful hike up the ridge or try the trail from the Garden which I hadn't hiked before. Maybe I'd save it for my final hike so friends that don't hike a lot could come along! So I passed the intersection on the way up and down without another thought of hiking over. A small victory in the battle with list obsession.

     All in all it was a great hike with great company. It was the first time we all (Koda, Jeanette and I) climbed a high peak together and Jeanette's first big hike in a while. It left us both excited for spring and some of our coming hikes. I loved spending this lovely warm spring day with those I love (lots of love in this sentence!!!) the most and felt very present and in the moment. Life is good.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Dix Mountain from Round Pond 3/09/13

  This was my first time climbing a high peak with anyone since September. I was really excited to be hiking with Sathi and trying a very ambitious and unique plan: hike all night to be on the summit of Dix Mountain for sunrise. Well, the forecast was absolutely perfect and got better as we got closer so suffice is to say that I was frothing at the mouth. The Marshall and Santa's hike both were classic winter high peaks conditions: cold, snowy with little visibility. I was going to see views from up top this time!!!!

     We left Albany around 11:30pm and were on the trail by 1:45am. The trailhead was nearly full which was a bit of a surprise for me. There was a college group camping at Round Pond and a bunch of guys at the lean to. The bright side of this was that the trail would likely be packed firm and easy to follow. I had some reservations about hiking certain segments of this trail at night as it isn't blazed as thoroughly as most trails in the eastern high peaks.

      This approach to Dix, maintained by the 46ers is one of my favorite trails in the high peaks. It is pure and wild with every aspect of the ADK experience to enjoy. Ponds, rivers, a slide cascading brooks and several different types of forest. Jeanette and I volunteered for post-Irene clean-up and cleared blow-down on the trail. Also, we hiked it and stayed in the lean to at the Boquet River with Mike and Crystal originally for our 46 so we have a lot of great memories of this hike.

     The stars were just beyond. So incredible and bright. We stopped many times along the way and turn out our headlamps to enjoy them. Though there was no moon the night was clear enough that we could see things very clearly. We got looks at Round Pond, Noonmark and the river. It was a pleasure to be able to stop. For my Mount Marshall hike the temperature stayed at zero for most of the day, eventually making it up to around 10 by the time I hiked out. This means less than a minute with your gloves off and no stopping for more than 2-3 minutes. I still enjoy it and am able to take in the landscape around both for pleasure and navigation but hey, stopping is pretty cool to hahaha.

In the middle of the night

     The initial ascent along the trail amounts to about 500 ft and is decently tough. From the height of land you begin to follow the Boquet River and the trail doesn't gain or lose more than 100 ft until you reach the lean to and river crossing about 4.3 miles in. The first pitch is pretty tough and we were sweating almost immediately. Along the river we crossed numerous tributaries and were able to see back towards Noonmark Mountain. We crossed numerous tributaries and walked along the massive base of a beaver dam shortly before we reached the lean to. The entirety of the river drainage was frozen over and the normal roar and babble was eerily silenced. The whole hike felt vast and still.

     As I mentioned before, a couple of guys were staying in the lean to. Shortly before we got there, the trail looked familiar and I felt like I caught a faint whiff of camp site....campfire and a slightly musty but pleasant smell that lean to's seem to emit. With these cues I was able to get Koda's leash on before he could charge the sleeping dudes. We tried to be quiet but the beam of our headlamps and loud clomp-clomping of snowshoes got at least one guy stirring. We quickly crossed the frozen river and got out of earshot.

      The next portion of the hike begins the climb up the flank of the mountain, alternately crossing and following tributaries while steadily gaining elevation. The trail was less packed here and Sathi switched to snowshoes at this point. He hadn't used them along with his new boots yet and was struggling to get them to fit securely. It matters so much to have your snowshoes on snug. If the bindings loosen, you exhaust very quickly. As this stretch went on the snowshoe situation was really dragging Sathi down. He briefly considered bagging the attempt but soon decided to push to the slide and see how he felt.

sunrise slide rave
     We reached the runout for the base of the slide as the first warm orange/ pink light began creeping over the horizon. We could now see Noonmark and Giant very clearly and the Vermont peaks became visible in the distance. We had a discussion about safety after which we both felt rejuvenated and ready to begin the climb. I think the sunrise lifted our spirits as much as the break. The sunrise has such powerful magic. I hike a lot at night. It often makes a hike the next day all that much easier and more calm if you can hike in the night before. It's still hard and not as pleasant as hiking in the day. It can feel claustrophobic and obviously the risk is higher for getting lost.

Noonmark and Giant at sunrise
     We wandered out on to the slide and my jaw dropped just as it has the times before. This spot is amazing. Under a few inches of fresh powder you could see long lazy S turns from backcountry skiers and snowboarders taking advantage of a perfect nature-made ski run. From here we re-entered the tree line and followed the slide up for much of the remaining ascent.

The dix slides
     Though there is always much debate about things such as this, this portion of trail is widely considered the steepest in the high peaks. It goes from steep, to really frickin steep, too I can't believe you can call this a trail steep. The views were simply amazing though and all three of us stayed pretty inspired despite the backsliding and frequent breaks. We saw light shining from above and realized we would soon reach the ridge line. Looking at the map now it's pretty amusing to think about how far off from the summit we really were. The trail was much less steep though and we began having even more stunning views.

sunrise over the turquoise mountains
    The great range was visible in all it's glory and Nippletop looked quite massive close up. There were great views of Giant and Rocky Peak Ridge which seemed a little unique and different for me. I realized how much I'd learned about the high peaks since the last time on this summit in 2011. I could identify and appreciate the views of peaks so much more. Up and up we continued, with the morning sun shining bright.

move me brightly
Sara and Kyles land on the horizon
foreground Nippletop and the great range beyond
Summit Star!!!
effortless majesty
all smiles up top

   This is one of the prettiest summits in the high peaks in my opinion and there couldn't have been a better day for it. We each took turns standing on the summit rock and I uncovered the original Colvin survey benchmark. We found a nice spot that was protected from the constant winds coming off the sides of the peak. This was the longest I've spent on the summit of a high peak since either Marcy or Algonquin this summer and it was a pleasure. We dug a little hole so we could sit on a snowfa, enjoyed coffee, tea and snacks and took pictures.

my 15th winter high peak, Kodas eighth high peak.
Sathi Wagner
Verplanck Colvin
chillin on the snowfa
the Beckhorn and Macomb

     Well Koda was restless and then I got restless haha. I tried to stay put but wanted to see if I could head over to Hough. It was still really early. Here comes mistake time! I make mistakes on seemingly every hike I take and hope I learn from them. I hadn't researched the route to Hough and assumed since visibility was so high, I'd just follow the ridge and likely find the herd path. I reached the Beckhorn and climbed off the back of it. I could see tracks and snowshoe scrapes so I assumed I was on the right track. Pretty quickly I came to a tough spot where I hopped down off a large rock. Immediately Koda and I realized he couldn't make it. He began crying very loudly and looking for oother ways down to me. I looked around at my situation, shrugged it off and climbed back up, heading back to the trail. Hough would be there for me in the future and it seemed like it wasn't meant to be. Oh well, we had a little side adventure.

Dix from the Beckhorn
Giant and RPR and some slides on Dix

     I met up with Sathi just past the summit and we began our slippery trip down. We both lost our footing quite a bit at first. We were making phenomenal time though. Once back to the steepest of steep it was pure butt-sliding bliss. Since I knew we'd be running into people from around 10 or so on, Koda was on leash. We were able to slide together and the leash never got tight. It was really fun. Sathi decided my Indian name should be glissadeswithdog. About 3/4 of the way down the steep, we met up with Trailboss (Taras) and the rest of his crew. This was his winter 46er final hike! Knowing him from the message boards, I decided to make a little congratulatory sign and stick it in the snow on the summit. We chatted for a bit and made our way on. Nice guys.

Congrats Taras!!!
Elk Lake
the hike down
we rip it up
I dare you not to smile doing this

     We got back out to the slide again and chilled for a bit. What an amazing place. It was great trotting along in the beautiful sunshine From this point on, the trail was all "new" as we had hiked it in the dark. Lot's of pretty all around, we got pictures of trees, snow and trail (and dog). We met some skiers coming in to ski the slide and drooled a bit at the thought. We met a few more groups on the way out including the lean to occupiers and another group Koda and I had met in the Santanoni's. Lot's of smiles on a perfect day.

who wants to make some turns
trudge and smile

     The last portion of the day was hard. We were both (not Koda) tired and trudged along in occasionally interrupted silence. Once the high of a summit day like this wears off, there are still many miles to walk before the car. As we got closer to the end we started talking about possibilities for other hikes and camping trips. We saw an awesome spot on a rocky outcrop with views of Round Pond and Dix that looked phenomenal for at-large camping. The car was a welcome sight after around 12 hours in the woods.

3,382 ft ascent. that's a big day...

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Santanoni Range 2/23/13

      I woke up for this trip at 3AM to depart at 3:30. It was a different kind of morning considering Jeanette was out of town visiting my sister so I wouldn't have to slink quietly out. I'd also be hitting Warrensburg too early for Stewarts to be open so I actually spent some time readying myself and Koda at the house. Nothing too memorable about the drive. Koda was average as far as amount of whining and spazzing out. He's had better and he's had worse. A big improvement was my ability to not get bothered by it.

     We reached a full Santanoni Range parking lot at 5:30 and were hiking at 5:40. It was actually pretty bright already which was really nice. The snow also cranked up the first light of the morning and large segments of the road walk were done without headlamp. At the intersection with the hiking trail to Bradley Pond and Duck Hole beyond it, I met a group of people about my age just reaching their themselves. I got koda on leash successfully. We as a team have greatly improved the whole get on leash thing for people. There were several girls in the group and all in the group owned dogs so everyone had a very nice time.

     They were going to put on their snowshoes and I already had mine so I got right on the hike to the pond. It was immediately apparent that this approach is way better in the winter. All of the deeply eroded rock-hopping was paved over with a well traveled sidewalk of snow. I really wanted to set myself up to have a real chance of finishing all three so I went after it pretty hard. Somehow I had managed to reset my watch so time checks were less frequent after this but we made very good time to the beaver dam crossing reaching it around 7:40.

Walking on water: Bradley Pond beaver dam
     I wasn't hungry all morning after a huge dinner the night before, It's a rarity that I don't want food in the AM. I forced myself to water up, water Koda up and eat one of my hard-boiled eggs and some bacon. We continued making good time on the well-packed herd path. the upper 1/3 of the ascent truly dragged on. I kept remembering how when we climbed this in the summer, we had hiked in the night before and had fresh legs. I was already over 5 miles into the hike and had 3 ascents left!!!! Tough day.

Herd Path to Times Square

Loyal hiking companion

twisted trees and icy cliffs

Nearing the summit ridge
    Herald and Times Square were a welcome sight. We cruised right through making note of all the herd path branches for the return. I wanted to do the winter Santanoni's within a year of hiking them in the summer so I'd have a very fresh memory of them to follow. I was glad that I'd done so. We started hiking towards Couchsacraga. Down and down and down we went. After gaining around 2200 ft from the parking lot, you lose over 800 ft going down to Couchie. The winds were whipping on the ridge so it was nice to get into the protection of the trees.
looking back from the Couchie ridge
    Couchsacraga is a much reviled mountain. Largely due to the aforementioned down climb. There is also a large swamp just before the final ascent which doesn't help to win it any popularity contests. Basically, it's freaking hard to get to after pretty much summiting a high peak just to get to times square. That being said, both my first time and this time I truly enjoyed this mountain. The ridge walk has a lot of character. There are great views of some true and uninterrupted wilderness and lots of twists and turns to keep you engaged. I imagine that this is a much tamer place than it used to be though so I'm sure its earned it's rep.

    Along the final down-climb, I met John. Koda did too. Back on the leash he went but he caused quite a fuss anyway, barking and skittishly trying to lunge/ meet this very mild-mannered backpacker. John tried to charm him with a soft and soothing voice and gentle attitude but Koda was on the defense. We chatted for a bit anyway as Koda can suck it and he can't tell me how to live my life :). He was initially planning on staying at the Bradley Pond lean to but described it as "mot a place you'd want to be". No idea what that meant but pretty incredibly he hiked to the Couchie swamp and camped there for the night!!! I didn't really get the chance to tell him what an impressive hike/ camp that was.

peak #1!!!

magical yellow disc of joy
      We made our way to the summit and he began his climb back. It was great to see the summit rock and accompanying sign! We took a break and refueled, Koda getting a whole 3 serving tuna packet and some water-down Gatorade. There was no views and some decent wind so we didn't stay too long. Back on the herd path and after the initial boost from eating, my energy levels were pretty low. I got pretty grumbley too, muttering in my head about how hard it was and how I should just climb Panther and head out. As we got closer to Times Square I basically just wanted to hike out. I was shot. Couchie kicked my a#$!!!

      I was saved by humanity though. I heard some murmuring and saw a face at a very odd, close to the snow level so back on the leash he went. It was the same group from earlier. They were sprawled out on the snow having a snack, hence the weird perspective. We chatted some more and the woman who was the sweetest on Koda gave him some PB+J after asking me if it was ok. She asked me (again, damned peer pressure!) if I was gonna try for all three and after my spirits had been sufficiently lifted, I replied truthfully that I was.

      Thankfully, we were just below Times Square so up and around the rock and south to Santanoni I went. Despite my spirits lifting, I was increasingly dopey and was stumbling quite a bit. In hindsight, I think I could have prevented this. As I mentioned earlier, I hadn't eaten much that morning. I had a huge dinner the night before and had overeaten a bit due to nerves about a very serious hike. Since my whole metabolism and hunger levels were off, I hadn't put in the appropriate fuel for a day like this. Often at this point in the day I would have eaten 2 eggs, some meat and veggies, possibly an energy bar or some trail mix and some baked goods.

      So at this point in the hike I'm very dopey and nauseous and the herd path isn't as clear cut. I felt like a not so prize fighter. I think it's at this point that a sharp branch ripped my shell. Getting slapped around a little bit in the ADK!!! It was a trudge up Santa. Still no views. It was again, a welcome relief to see the summit sign and there was an audible cheer. Koda wanted to keep going!!! On the way back down I stumbled and fell a lot, cursing as I struggled back to my feet and fell again. What a mess. Reaching Times Square for the third time in the day I was quite pleased to watch Koda immediately trot towards Panther. What a good peak-bagger! Little did I know he was about to make some friends...

a little beat on Santa
       He trotted out of sight and I heard some barking and a woman yelling "get away from here!". I immediately yelled Koda come and he reluctantly did after the woman yelled again "yeah, get out of here" or something like that. I was mortified and apologized profusely. She was around 60 as was her companion and was afraid of Shepherds as she had been bitten by one. Man did I feel bad. It's hard to find the balance with leash time. I really can't take him to the high peaks most popular trails during busy days. It's technically the law too in the Eastern High Peaks so I need to be careful there. I just don't want people to have a bad impression of me or my dog. I just wish he acted around people in the woods like he does people in the house: a little barking or excitement at first and then settles down.

     I was so flustered that I let the high peaks foundation hikers blow right by me soon after even though I wanted to chat them up. Well aside from some spots on Couchie, the exposed rock of Panther was one of the few places with limited views. I snapped a few pictures including one of Koda on the rocks above me which Jeanette fell in love with. We blew it up and framed it. Being on the final summit of the day, having some views and remembering our 46er finish here certainly cheered me up after some frustrating dog times. I was very happy! We took a little more time here, soaking it all in and getting peeks of Santa, Couchie and down towards Long Lake. After flurries all day and more heavy snow in the forecast for after 1, I knew it was time to get down off the ridge.
Fleeting glimpses from Panther towards Couch

regal pup

another magic disc
     I was glad to not have run into the women as I'm sure they were heading up Santa or down to Couch. We made great time down the herd path and slid around in the snow. This was Koda's strongest hike yet. I got the most water into him yet and it really kept him perky. When we got down to the open area that is the beaver pond at the bottom of the herd path I threw a stick out into the deep powder a few times for him to bound around in. Happy hiker and happy dog!

following our track back

a freshly dusted dog

lovely spot
getting deep
     I think I finally managed to get enough food into my body to reduce the nausea so the hike out was much more comfortable than the previous portions of the hike. Again, Koda had tons of energy still and managed to get some fetch out of me. I met a group of three skiers coming in and man did that look like a tough time. They were trying to get over a tree. They had a ton of gear for over-nighting and big packs plus ski's did not look fun to me.
new sign
     The hike lasted around 9 hours and was probably my hardest day to date. The food thing was a factor (I've honestly never gotten nauseous on a hike before) as well as lack of sleep but it's just a demanding day any way you slice it. It's really nice to have it out of the way though. I am greatly enjoying being much more selective with the order I'm doing the winter 46 in. Saving some special stuff for the end.