Monday, March 31, 2014

Cliff 3/29/14 (Koda #38)

Jeanette and I climbed cliff and Redfield in March of 2012 in pretty ideal conditions. Well broken out trails, supportive snow pack and warm temps. We spent an awesome night in the Herbert Brook lean to. It was pretty obvious right away that this would be a little different March hike. On the drive up there was a good amount of standing water and some black ice on the road indicating the peaks had gotten a pretty good amount of rain.

I got geared up at Upper Works and  tried to keep the excitement explosion (Koda) quiet as some guys were sleeping in the car next to us. At the sign in you could see how the snowpack had been significantly affected by the rain. A layer of crunchy mush marked the snow/ rain interface and wave-like channels like sand on a beach gave visual clues to how it all drained and moved.

On the trail, there was about 3 inches of slushy snow in the "groove". I had all kinds of big dreams of rocking a good time on this hike. I crunched the numbers and figured I could do it in 8 hours. Best laid plans of mice and men eh? My goal shifted as the sun rose over the trail. Get pictures at Flowed Lands! Seeing Marshall from the first hill, I could see dramatic drifts of mist swirling around the Macs under bright blue skies.

Sunrise on the trail to Flowed Lands

We clomped along, revisiting favorite spots and soaking it all in. The Calamity Brook crossing felt quite solid. Before long I was in a big open area I couldn't ever remember being in. It was Calamity Pond! The trail was broken out along it's bank and I didn't even notice. As I looped back, the normal trail wasn't even broken out in that section, people had all just taken this 'winter route'.

Out on Calamity Pond

The view from the edge of Flowed Lands did not disappoint. Colden was wearing am ever-shifting skirt of mist. We signed in and I noticed the only recent activity was the Lake Colden caretaker. The trail around Flowed Lands wasn't broken out so I followed the caretakers tracks across. We followed the single snow shoe path across sometimes sinking almost a foot into rotten snow. It made for some uneasy feelings but I figured if the caretaker had felt comfortable crossing the day before, it was probably solid. The Ice deep under the snow turned out to be very solid from the long, cold winter.

Choose wisely young pup
Colden and the dance of the seven veils 
 We visited the Livingston Point lean to on the way and I remembered camping at the designated site there when a group of us climbed Marshall (on that climb we met procook and joecedar maintaining the trail). The first time I crossed Flowed Lands it was a direct line to Herbert Brook lean to. This time, I got what I had hoped for: the track went to the east shore, up through the designated camp sites and past the lean to. I got to skip the ladder down the dam! Koda was pleased. I think he takes getting carried down ladders as a personal insult.

To the far shore
Avalanche pokes her head out

Now for my favorite trail in the high peaks (Round Pond>Dix is a contender too)! The suspension bridge had about 2 feet of snow on it which was thankfully supportive. It made for an easier cross for Koda and I slightly more nerve-wracking cross for me. All safe across and we enjoyed bright sunshine pouring through the trees as we climbed along the dramatic and winter-stilled waterfalls and gorges of the Opalescent. All of the "trail-breaking" (I guess it's not true breaking if it's only a few inches over a solid track) had caught up with me and I was much more tired by the herd path start than I usually am at that point on the trail. As we had climbed higher, it had gotten less sunny and mistier. At the start of the herd path, we were completely in the mist with about 100ft of visibility.

I saw what I thought was a faint track (uh oh..doesn't look broken at all) and followed it into the woods.  I pushed through deep snow looking for any indication of the trail. No such luck... It looked like we may be shut out on this one. I tried to stay calm and not get disappointed. I decided to just keep going up the red trail a little further to make sure I hadn't broken into the woods too early. Sure enough, a much less faint trail was just another 100 or so feet up the trail. It was just about as broken out as what we had been on all day so I was grateful. It'd be a hard-fought summit but we didn't have to quit.

100% ADK: late winter edition.
"Chris, where are we?" "Koda, I have no idea." 

Off we went, hugging the shore of Uphill Brook. I thought the trail went too far up the brook and turned back thinking I missed the Cliff intersection. Nope, I hadn't gotten there yet. Back up I went. There was some nice open woods and clear trail until the hard right to start the climb.  Cliff. Here there was a tree down that semi obscured the trail. We ducked under but not before some floundering off trail.

 The climb was pretty straightforward: the usual cliffs had some grippy snow covering the sketchiest parts so while a bit precarious, I never felt dangerous. For the entire day my MSR Evo snowshoes were more than enough. Koda's built in snow shoes did fine too. He often took the lead that day which was a little different. Usually with deep snow he falls in and lets me break trail. Today he made a bee line up the peak and I was decently grateful for his paw prints which gave me purchase on steep slopes several times. Hero dog!!! CoryD got me thinking about his pads so I brought some vaseline just in case and checked them regularly. All good!

Up on the ridge, things were a little less straightforward. Rain and drifts had all but eradicated evidence of the trail in many places. I kept losing the path and plunging waist deep into spruce traps. After wandering in what turned out to be a complete circle (I had double back on my own track!), I finally had the sense to take out my compass and get a bearing for the summit. After that, every time I lost the trail, I'd check the bearing again and use that to choose my path. I had been simply stumbling around the false summit. Quickly now we made our way off it and started climbing the true summit.

It was a challenging climb, which made it all the sweeter to see the sign and disc. Despite it being socked in, we spent a good 20 minutes up top, reflecting on the hike and looking back on our winter hiking season. Koda got his normal kibble and also a special treat: a pigs ear. He got a pigs ear on Redfield in November so it looks like we have a tradition for these two peaks.

The view from Cliff is actually pretty sick. I just sketched it in from memory.

 On this climb, I felt like I not only learned a lot (I still learn SO much every time I hike) but was able to use past experience to aid my way. Having confidence with the compass made it so I never panicked when we were "turned around" on the summit. I'd say one big lesson I took away from this one was not to be so casual with planning. I figured I knew the route pretty well so I didn't run through a few old trip reports or read the guide book for landmarks, mileage etc. Once on the herd path, I wouldn't have had to turn around and make sure I didn't miss the turn to Cliff if I had just spent a little more time preparing.

I wouldn't trade this hike in for an easier version of this hike though. It was a great experience. It felt good to put all of the endurance I had built up all winter and all the experience through the years and hike the hell out of a challenging hike. And still learn. The story goes on though. We made our way back across the summit ridge. Laughing at the floundering track that had caused so much strain not so long ago. I X'ed out all the bad tracks and worked to really lock in the right track for the next hiker (though with how much everything changes each day at this time of the year...who knows). I carefully picked my way down the steep descent. No deliberate but slides but definitely at least 2 accidental.

After summiting at 11, I crunched some numbers again. I could still make pretty good time despite the conditions! I shot to get out of the woods by 4, making for a 9 hour day (in the end, we got out at 3:40 so a little less than 8.5 hours of hiking time). Knowing I had a home-cooked meal waiting for me when I got home was a strong motivator as well. J was going to base her cooking plans around when I sent the out of the woods message on my SPOT. Awesome wife. I was tired and my muscles felt like overstretched rubber bands but it still felt good to move. There were ski tracks on the main trail when we got back there, they looked to be the only others up that way on Saturday.

We flowed like water along the bank of the river, sometimes trotting a little, sometimes pausing at a drop and wonder how far down to the water. Back over the river, through the camp sites and out onto Flowed Lands. What a sacred place. It draws me season after season, year after year. I didn't quite want it to end and hung out on the ice for a while with Koda, once again thinking about all the hikes this winter and through the years. He posed for some pictures.

Showing off our "mega-leash" system
Total goof ball
Slightly more majestic here
The views had changed dramatically over the course of the day. Colden had put her veil back up, so I guess it was time for us to go. Along the path and down the hills, crossing the brook one last time. The next time I see all this there will be flowers. and mud. and flowing water. and a lot of mud. Though once again, I wouldn't wish away this day for anything, I can't wait to see what's next!

Show's over boys. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Dix Range 3/1/14

Denise, her friend Joe and I met at the Clear Pond trail head at 5AM in negative temps. We quickly got moving to warm up a bit. The road walk went quick, with conversation passing the time well. At the summer trailhead, the snowshoes went on and we signed in. The sky was starting to get light as we began to move down the hard-packed trail. Through the trees, white domed summits glowed in pink light and the array of slides on Macomb were illuminated.

At the herd path start (well broken out and obvious), we met up with Mark, who was climbing Dix and Hough. At the end of the conversation, we realized we'd met at the end of our respective Seward range hikes (he had climbed Seymour, me the other 3). I think we were both tired then and actually hadn't taken a good look at each others faces.

We followed the herd path, which was interlaced with ski tracks which often disappeared into the woods. Looks like they were having fun. Before long, we were at the base of the slide. With all the avalanche danger warnings, I had some nerves about it, but from studying trip reports from the past and making some key consultations, I got the impression it'd more likely be windblown, with some of the rocks exposed than slabby and slidey (mad scientific right?).

The Macomb Slide

At the base of the slide, it shone like glass in the early morning sun. I was queasy, queasy, queasy. So was Denise who has no love for heights or exposure. Joe, who was soft-spoken and sweet, was the only one of us who appeared un-phased. We began making our way up, keeping a safe distance from each other, in case we dislodged anything or began to slide. The ice that covered it proved to be a thin sheet from the rain last week and easily punched through to grippy snow underneath. I followed the cairns and a vague trail left from the previous climbers. I had koda on leash so I'd worry less, and he let me know (by loudly whining) he'd handle it better on his own. he punch-stepped through the ice like the rest of us and I'm glad, in the end, to have had him close to me.
The beginning of the slide climb

Denise and Joe following our tracks

As we got further up, the familiar view of Elk Lake and the peaks to the north-west opened up in all it's dramatic splendor. When we climbed this for our regular round, I didn't know the peaks as well, and it was really cool to appreciate this unique perspective for me, of haystack especially). We made it to the steep headwall and the left cut-around without incident and celebrated with a deep breath. The trickiest part of the day was over! It was just walking from here on out.....or so we thought.

Frozen Elk Lake

The Eastern High Peapks
The slide head wall. Glad we didn't have to climb this!

After enjoying the cold, windy summit of Macomb, we began making our way towards Carson...sort of. We kept following paths that petered out. Like really obviously came to an unambiguous end. We did this for half an hour, taking compass bearings, checking and re-checking the map, going down each "path" again and again. We had finally given up and were going to bushwack a compass line to the visible and obvious rocky southwest end of Carson when we heard someone reach the summit. It felt great! I figured it was Tom and Laurie, who I knew were climbing Macomb that day, and had a lot experience in the mountains, might be able to help us.

Turns out it was this really nice guy Brad, who had stayed at Slide Brook lean to the night before and was going to spend the night at the Bivy site in the Pough/ Hough col . He immediately agreed to join or whack party but as he was enjoying the summit, shouted over to us: "I think it's right here!" Turns out the trail started really close to the summit, had blown in, and immediately dropped down and around a corner, making it sort of hard to see. We were elated to be back on track and quickly made our way down,  Several times on the way down, the trail was a bit ambiguous or blown in. After easy strolls (well lets not ever call them easy) through the Santa's and the Seward's, I finally got a bit of a taste as to how the trail-less ranges can really be.

We found our way up on the rocks and picked our way up, amazed at how little I remembered from my first time out. Some cairns and ocasional tracks marked the way. Not too long after the rocky climb, I thought I heard someone shout "Hey Chris!" I dismissed it as it didn't seem to make sense as another hiker emerged from the trees and asked to join the party. As he got closer, I realized it was Pete, who we had met coming off Wright several weekends before. Our party had now grown from 3 to 4 to 5! So cool!

Open rock on Carson

This range has amazing views!

Hough, Dix and beyond

We found our way back into the tree-line, noticing the trail over to Pough and Hough breaking left. One more navigational challenge knocked off the list. At this point any easy find was greatly appreciated after our early stumbling. A quick break on Carson and several pictures snapped, including Denise and I's poster shot. Off to Grace and the trail was at times blown in and hard to follow. it would come and go, but with some care, we could find it. We followed some snowshoe hare prints for much of the way. About 3/4 of the way over, we ran into Ben W and his buddy, who were re-tracing the project 46 traverse the other way around. Nice to meet you guys!

Peak #1 for the Gathering, Carson!

South Dix isn't much of a name. No wonder they're changing it!
snowshoe hare tracks along the herd path

Hough, our final peak, from Grace.

Now the trail was broken out and we eased into a nice steady pace full of gratitude. From this point on, navigation was no longer an issue...for the most part. We all refueled short of the ascent, Ben telling us it was super cold and windy on Grace. Up we went, noticing the herd path up from The Rte 73 approach was broken higher up from the usual spot, creating a short cut courtesy of Rik, Inge and company. The summit was windy as promised.
The re-climb of Carson was quieter (at least for me) as the accumulating miles took their toll. Another snack and Carson and a quick right not far past the summit. Up and over the bumps made for some needed variety in the hike. The overlooks are so cool from Pough. Down in the col, I was glad to see a very clearly broken out Lillian Brook herd path, which also appear to be broken out in a slightly different place than where it is in the summer, coming up a bit earlier from the Pough side. Brad was home for the night! He started to set up and we once again snacked. Koda got his main meal of the day, a 3 serving tuna packet, to fuel the final push. He wasn't thirsty much on this hike but finally had a big drink which made me happy.

Time for the last peak of the day and probably the steepest climb. Up and up, over a false summit and the tricky rock spot. It was tricky and very windy. We helped Koda up, and talked Denise up the spot, her fear of steep exposure reminding me of Jeanette's troubles too. This is real and scary stuff! Especially in the winter. I came down at one point to help and I slipped on the ice, my snow shoes flying towards Joe and Denise's face. Thankfully I didn't give anyone any puncture wounds.

Getting closer to Hough

Pete! Adopting folks along the way.  

The final summit of the day had more blue skies and more moderate temps to reward us for a long hard day. man the views are great! Someday, I'll just climb Hough, or climb Dix and Hough, to savor this unique peak.

Denise and I on summit #2 for the gathering, Hough.

Dix has three very distinct faces. From this view, the Beckhorn dominates.

He finally sat down after about 13 miles.

There's not much to say about the down. Lillian Brook is probably my favorite herd path in the peaks and it was lovely as ever in the winter. It dragged, as we were tired, but we did eventually hit the red trail. There was a jug handle breaking left at one point that was as well broken out was the main path. It got tight and scrubby, but eventually brought up back on track. The miles went and the sun sank in the sky, more pretty colors to bookend the morning approach. Some talking and some quiet time as we reached the cars close to dark. It was a great hike, and so awesome to pick up people along the way. Thanks so much for joining us Pete and Brad! It really added to the day.