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. Since Fire on the Mountain debuted in 1977 (Scarlet debuted in 1974), the two were always played together. Starting in the 80's, stranger things might happen! 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.

(All Concert Photos courtesy of www.gdao.org)

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 microspikes 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 tasty. 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 tho....so 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 appreciate 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 with Stratton ski resort accross the Valley
Magic Mountain under clear blue skies

 I can't imagine a more perfect weekend.