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.