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.

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