Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Colvin and Blake 3/15/15 for #44-45: Dedicated to my boy Mills

Blake Peak.
Well this one didn't start out great. J and I went to a delicious dinner at her cousin Christine's house for Saint Paddy's: the traditions corned beef and cabbage. She gets a really nice corned beef from a butcher so it's extra special. I LOVE corned beef and was eager for this meal. I also had a dream of bringing a portion to eat on the hike. As it gets warmer, its easier for me to eat non-trail mix food on a hike. At the party I definitely had a few too many IPA's and about a plate and a half more corned beef and cabbage than I needed to eat. After an hour or two I felt terrible. On the drive home (J had to drive) around 8:00 I was still pretty bad off and realized I hadn't packed yet. I was ready to call off the hike. I was pretty irritated with myself for over-doing it and for wanting to quit. I got home a chugged a bunch of water which was probably the biggest factor as to why I felt bad: Dehydration. I sucked it up and packed, hoping I wouldn't forget anything. I pretty much just leave my bag packed all winter and my shell stuff in a pile so it didn't end up being all that tough.

I woke up after some decent sleep and felt a bit better. I looked at the leftover corned beef and cabbage and my stomach did a back flip. Nope, sticking to the usual trail food on this one. Halfway through the drive I started to feel better when a light snow started to fall. The spaceship-timewarp effect snow has coming towards the windshield got me feeling crappy all over again. I started to really second guess going on the hike. I was not my best to say the least and the conditions didn't really seem like they were going to be great: high summit forecast for Dix said summits obscured in clouds. I started wondering about sticky snow, post-holing, the Colvin Step etc. I was listening to 10/27/79 on the drive, a Grateful dead performance firmly in the "disco-dead" era. While I like dance-able jam band performances, I should've picked something more soothing. The combination of strobe-snow, unrelenting grooves and my Mchangover almost did me in completely.

I got to the trail head around 6 and remembered one of my headlamps was dead. I thought the other one was buried at the bottom of my pack so I dug around, pulled everything out and finally found it. The strobe-snow was now in my head lamp beam. Ugh. I signed in first for the day and checked the previous days climbs. No indication of anyone turning back so that was good.There was no snow on the road in and once past the gate it was snowmobile-ridged ice. I carried my snowshoes, not wanting to carry them on back. After about a mile I got sick of that and strapped them on the pack. I put on micros for the first time since November and wore them till the Gill Brook cut-off trail. At this point the snowshoes went on and stayed on until I got back to the road.

The sun rose during the lake road walk and I started to shake off some of the yuck. The sun coming up always seems to have a restorative effect. Getting off the road and getting the weight of my snowshoes off my back further pushed my mood toward the positive. When Bill and I climbed Dial and Nippletop a few weeks back I noted how pretty this stretch of trail was and looked forward to my return. Since I got the dog, I'm not up this way that much It's nice to spend time on I trail I don't know very well. New sights makes the walk more enjoyable. I got a bit more hopeful about the weather as I could see the flanks Nippletop over the deep Gill Brook Valley. Much better visibility than the Marcy Skylight climb. I bet there's some interesting exploring to be done in there. I heard my buddies the black cap chickadee's and spent a few minutes listening and watching them. On many high peaks hikes they are the only wildlife I see so I really appreciate when they come out and say hi.

I made what I felt was good time to the Elk Pass intersection and finally felt all the way ok. I was so glad I toughed it out and went. I was also glad to work consciously on turning my mood around and letting the things I love have their usual effect. The trees, fresh air, burbling streams (you can finally hear them again!) all brought my heart and soul back to the task at hand. There was a pretty steep pitch right away so I put up the televators on my new-to-me MSR Evo Ascent snowshoes. I'm still not used to the luxury and feel a bit like I'm cheating. Can't say it wasn't nice though....  Lots of fun twists and turns and not too much struggle to get up on the ridge. Now all that awaited me as far as question marks was the Colvin Step. In all the research I've done for this hike no one properly explained the moves of "the Colvin Step". Was it like the Charleston? The Electric Slide? The Harlem Shake? I got to one spot that seemed a bit steep so I did a little cabbage patch and a pitiful running man (that move is out of my league) and scampered up. That couldn't be it! Not bad at all. A fresh dusting of spring snow made climbing velcro-like. I got to another little steep bit, did a quick "the weed-whacker" (a dance of my own creation) and made my way up. I guess I must've danced right enough as I climbed without a smack-down from the mountain gods. There was one place where a steep spot had been totally bypassed with a well set snowshoe track. Maybe that was it?

I had climbed into the clouds so didn't spend long on Colvin. Just as well because this hike was all about Mills Blake. This peak gets very little love and I feel like it's truly unfair given the man himself is an oft neglected foot note in history (he doesn't even have his own wikipedia!). Blake, an orphan, was Colvin's neighbor and they became close friends in childhood. They shared a love for the outdoors and did a great deal of woods exploration together.  He was eventually hired on to the Colvin families law practice. He was the personal assistant to Verplanck Colvin during the Adirondack Survey and for the rest of Colvin's life. They lived together at "The Elms", the Colvin family estate in Albany. Coincidentally my last apartment in Albany before moving into our house was within the property line of the former estate, now deep in the affectionately named Albany neighborhood, the SUNY Ghetto. I feel like I channeled some of their spirit there which deepened my love for the peaks hahaha.  He lived on there for years after Colvin died and was able to provide Russel Carson with some research material and character sketches for his Peaks and People of the Adirondacks. While Colvin was obviously a bit of a glory hog, Mills was there to hold it down with the details. While most accounts paint Colvin as well....kind of a jerk, everyone thought Blake was a really nice guy, very deeply enamored and in awe of his life-long employer/ partner/ friend/ maybe more. 
Blake and Colvin at "The Elms"

So I wanted to dedicate my hike to Mills Blake. A lover of the Adirondacks, a man who shared many first ascents and a true friend to a very difficult man. I wanted also to pay homage to an equally glossed over peak. It's easy to disparage a peak with this sort of position in a hike: You've already climbed Colvin and you know you have to climb it again. There is no view from the summit proper. The trail in summer is best described as a hellacious mess. It's deeply eroded, very muddy and has several steep ladders up rocky pitches which seem permanently wet. I learned the softer side of Blake when Jeanette, my buddy Josh, Koda and I climbed it a few years ago for Koda's round. The trail along the Pinnacle Ridge is an Adirondack classic, there are many stunning overlooks and the trail, due to it's lack of use (peak-baggers stick to the standard routes leaving the real treats for the life-baggers) is one of the least eroded trails in the high peaks. I've loved Blake Peak ever since

I saved up some steam for the hike over to Blake. I really wanted to enjoy it. The Colvin ridge was pretty and as I descended I got below the cloud line and could see down to Upper Ausable Lake and Marcy swamp as well as some views of a cloud-capped Blake Peak. All the mud and erosion of the warmer months were buried under the winter's accumulation. Both ladders were easily navigable using my new technique: when I get to steep descents now I turn around as if I'm climbing down a ladder so I get the full benefit of snowshoe crampon bite. Not surprisingly it worked really well on actual ladders. I engaged the ole cheat-avators on the climb up Blake and continued to enjoy dramatic views of the landscape moving in and out of the clouds. Up the false summit of Blake and onto the true, the day caught up with me a little bit but I was still holding back some for the second climb of Colvin. I poked around in the snow until I found where Blake was carved into the tree. I had a lunch of leftover chocolate chip cookies from the party and a truly delicious salami my buddy made. I went to SUNY Albany with Justin. We both had a pretty epic fail of a first year. I decided to give it a second try and he decided college wasn't for him. He started cooking and eventually became a three star chef, opening his own restaurant, Hazelnut Kitchen, in Trumansburg, NY. Their food is amazing!!!!! He started doing a cured meat CSA and gave me an orange, fennel, walnut salami which was an absolutely perfect bite to share with my buddy Mills Blake.

I smiled my way off the summit now one peak away from becoming a winter 46er. It was a quick down to the col and I was soon climbing slowly back up Colvin. The ladders were again a non issue and in an hour I was back on Colvin. At the southern outlook I was delighted to see that the peak was now out of the clouds and the view had opened up a bit. I took a bunch of pictures with the DSLR for the first time in the day and had fun using the panorama function on my iphone. At the northern outlook, I was stunned by dramatic, swirling views down to Lower Ausable Lake and over to Sawteeth, often with a spotlight-like patch of sunny sky above it all. I got settled in by adding a layer and putting on some thin gloves so I could hang out for a bit and take pictures of the dramatic scene before me. After a few minutes I heard voices coming up the ridge. I decided to wait for the arrivals and take some shots of the group as they climbed up to the summit. It was CoryD, Gandalf and associates! Nice to meet some new folks from the forum and they were a really sweet, upbeat crew.

After chatting for a bit I scampered off the summit and made (for me) great time back down to the intersection. I had a second date for the day (sorry Mills, I double booked): Indian Head and Fish Hawk Cliffs. When Bill and I climbed Dial and Nippletop we had a bit of a debacle trying to get there and ended up following the AMR property line back to the trail. I was determined to reach my destination this time. The trail had seen much less traffic and was only occasionally blazed. When I got to the property line I understood my mistake. There was a tree broken and covering the path just past the blazed property line. It was tough to see in the unbroken snow where the trail went on. It was broken out this time and easy to follow. Fish Hawk cliffs was pretty and windy. There's a cool view framed in pines of Indian Head. I think there's more open views lower on the cliffs but I didn't want to risk poking around too much on the icy rocks.

There's a bit of a climb up to Indian Head and I was certainly feeling the cumulative  miles. The view more than made up for it. Conditions were similar to the summit of Colvin with patches of sunlight, swirling clouds and commanding views of the mountain-ringed lakes. I spent a good amount of time photographing, pondering and simply absorbing the view, eventually sitting down on the rocks. I was glad for the mild day so I could spend time there comfortably. The trickiest stretch of trail all day was the climb off Indian Head down  to the lake road. There were a couple small cliff bands which were pretty icy. Still nothing that really gave me pause.

Back to the infamous lake road. Lots of tired legs have pounded out this stretch of road in varying states of despair, dismay, giddy elation or begrudging acceptance. Since I had my phone with me I put on some marching music. I listened to First Aid Kit's Stay Gold. This album has sort of a classic country sound and the first track, My Silver Lining had a nearly perfect first verse to get me moving:

I don't want to wait anymore I'm tired of looking for answers
Take me some place where there's music and there's laughter
I don't know if I'm scared of dying but I'm scared of living too fast, too slow
Regret, remorse, hold on, oh no I've got to go
There’s no starting over, no new beginnings, time races on
And you've just gotta keep on keeping on
Gotta keep on going, looking straight out on the road
Can't worry 'bout what's behind you or what's coming for you further up the road
I try not to hold on to what is gone, I try to do right what is wrong
I try to keep on keeping on
Yeah I just keep on keeping on

Poof, I time-warped to the car. Only not at all. I trotted, I mumbled internal complaint, I overcame the urge to quit and become a forest creature and in time got out of the woods at around 2:30 making for an 8.5 hour day. Even this far into a winter round I'm still learning lessons about myself and about the dedication it takes to climb these mountains. The dedication it takes to appreciate and enjoy them and not just climb to the top, to not just muscle through a tough day but to turn one around. Mills Blake showed me what a special mountain his namesake can be and I hope I showed him how glad I was for this climb.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Seymour birthday climb 1/17/15

Our original plan was to climb Algonquin and Iroquois on Saturday. As the forecasted temperatures plummeted I got nervous about Koda above treeline. I consulted the dog-hiking guru Alan Via and was convinced we should either leave him at home or do a hike with less exposure. Seymour seemed like a good fit. We were taking Ben's Tundra with a contractor cab on the back. With temps in the negative the entire length of the drive I just couldn't have Koda back there. It was hard to think of leaving my buddy home but it was the right choice.

We got to the TH around 7 and quickly got on the trail. While temps were around -18 to start the hike, I felt sufficiently bundled and warmed up by movement that I wasn't suffering. Right from the start Seymour was being a little salty. Littlemissbrave punched through the ice of one of the bridge-less creek crossings. We were all VERY suprised after days on end with frigid temperatures. She had on Asolo's and gaiters and didn't suffer any soak through but banged her shin pretty good. A mile or so later we hit what could have been a hike-ender. The binding of her Tubbs snowshoe snapped to pieces!!! Without a second thought Ben offered up his Evo's and wore micro's for the rest of the day. It was fine down low (only about 3-5 inches of snow on the ground but was harder for him as we climbed. We kept him in the middle so the trail was packed down ahead of him and cleaned up any divots that he left.

After the turn off for Calkins Brook there was only one set of tracks ahead of us. When we picked Seymour, I thought it'd be a sure bet. With the gate open, I pictured an easy get. Nothing is ever easy in the mountains though. I wondered how I would do following the herd path if that one set of tracks went up Seward and not Seymour.

The miles went by pleasantly with some pretty pink peaks visible over the logged area and large glacial erratic's adding character to the woods-scape. The cairn for Seward was only a little visible out of the fresh snow but we caught our first break of the day there: the tracks continued on to Seymour. You could see the gap in the trees for Seward but no evident track. For me, with only two hikes on that path, I think it would've been hard for me to follow.

On to the Seymour herd path. I cleaned off the cairn a little bit for the next guy. We started chugging up the gradual at first but increasingly steep trail. I love the little creek valley this path follows and winter certainly improves things dramatically. Once it got steep folks were struggling a bit and acknowledging the Saltiness of the steep Seymour path. In planning the hike "I'm scared" became the catch phrase. It was uttered with varying levels of seriousness and with increasing frequency over the duration of the hike.

The slide looked very pretty through the trees and since we are all skiers and snowboarders, speculated on the viability of some turns. We thought stretches would be do-able but you'd want to maybe hike up the length of it and mark the waterfalls with flagging tape to prevent calamity. During the steepest section Ben and I got a bit too far ahead of Sathi and littlemiss for my comfort. We waited at the sub-summit a bit nervously and I vowed not to let this sort of separation happen again. They soon joined us for some views of the eastern high peaks through the trees and awesome views of Whiteface from the trail behind us.

I loved the summit ridge and view of the false summit on the final approach. On Mountain wolf and I's first ascent in 2011 we had no views. For our ascent with Koda this past summer we were clouded in again. On this day, Horatio Seymour gave me a lovely birthday present. Glorious high pressure views to infinity in all directions. What a beautiful location. Very interesting perspective of the Adirondack Park.

The winds were whipping from the viewing spots but you could duck back into the treeline to warm up a bit. We took a bunch of pictures and enjoyed a summit IPA (Saranac's Legacy) which was beyond refreshing. Some sliding (some controlled, some not so much) on the way down and finally the joys of mellow even walking.

At Blueberry lean to a group of guys were setting up camp for the night. They were planning on Seward>the rest of the range the next day and I let them know it wasn't broken out. When one of them asked if they'd need snowshoes I got a bit concerned for their preparedness for a weekend in the Sewards in January. Hope their trip went well despite the frozen spicy brown mustard they were struggling with. We made it out in around 10.5 hours which I thought was pretty solid for this group considering the difficulties with equipment and some foot pain across the group.

I got home to a house full of people and a lovely spread prepared by my wolfy wife. I was fashionably late to my own b-day party but it was well worth it.

Seymour was my 35th winter high peak. I'm so happy to be where I'm at but don't want it to end. I'm definitely going to drag out the remaining hikes into next season.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Marcy and Skylight 3/7/15: winter high peaks 42 and 43

Becoming part of a hiking message board community has been an unexpected part of my life. I've learned a lot and met a bunch of people I probably wouldn't have ever gotten to know without it. It's led to a variety of rich experiences. I pledged to climb Mount Marcy for the message board's annual winter gathering event, where the group tries to get hikers on all 46 high peaks on the same day with each person pledging money to the foundation. At a hiker meet up in Albany, Bill, who I've hiked with a number of times in the past year or so asked if I wanted to add on Skylight to the day, knowing I needed it for my winter round. I was intrigued but didn't commit. This would be Jeanette's first gathering and I really wanted to hike with her. I'd also be hiking with Koda and didn't want to risk going over Marcy if conditions weren't safe for him. I suggested Bill claim Skylight and as the day got closer I'd make a decision.

In the days and weeks leading up to the Gathering weekend I had successful climbs of Gray Peak, Algonquin and Iroquois, Dial and Nippletop as well as Basin and Haystack, bringing my winter 46 total to 41. Jeanette was getting really excited to see me complete this goal and encouraged me to get out and hike whenever I could. She was planning on climbing Marcy with me but pushed me to hike on with Bill. She's been incredibly supportive throughout this process. I've headed up to the high peaks 2-3 times a month all winter for 3 winters while she holds things down at home. This year she's even been taking care of the dog since I've been climbing stuff he can't do with me. This would have been impossible without her love and support. Bill and I met up at the hotel where the Gathering "after party" is held and made plans for our morning start.

It was kind of nice to stay in the area of the hike for once so no big drive in the morning or at the end. We left the hotel around 5 and were hiking by 5:45. The temperatures were pretty mild and found all of us shedding layers. It snowed lightly with clouds of snow mingling with patches of sun. We stopped at Indian Falls and could just catch a glimpse of certain features of the Mac Range. Despite the limited visibility it was a really gorgeous day. The landscape above Indian Falls is not a place I know well (this was only my third trip on this stretch of trail) so it was cool to study it with fresh eyes and notice the winter differences.

We had a snack somewhere before the former site of the Plateau lean to. Jeanette and I had bacon and hard boiled eggs. Koda stole a bag of turkey slices out of my pack the first of two times hahaha. Koda was in really good form for this hike and wagged his tail contentedly the whole time. I would put this in the top 3 happiest I've seen on a hike. He was having a blast. The climb got a bit more serious after a long mellow stretch. J and I began to feel the effects of the long approach. It didn't appear Bill did though, he was revved up all day and ready to hike! The vegetation around us got shorter and more sparse until it completely disappeared, leaving us above tree line. The visibility was poor and the big open and multifaceted dome of Tahawaus looked pretty intimidating. After fretting over Haystack and Basin so much, I hadn't really given Marcy much thought and now the seriousness of the High Peak of Essex sank in deeply. . Once every season or two, inexperienced hikers get confused in white-out conditions and climb off the wrong side of Mount Marcy into Panther Gorge where the usually have to spend a night before getting rescued. I knew we weren't inexperienced or unprepared though and felt  confident we could take on the task.

As the hike went on Jeanette indicated that she'd turn back when she wasn't feeling the climb any more. Several times at this point she wasn't sure whether she wanted to go on. We encouraged her to make the right choice for herself. If she wanted to go on, we knew she could do it but no sense in not having a good time! She went on while the trail was still obvious. Once it wasn't, she decided she didn't want to worry about the trail being difficult to follow and was going to head back down.

We'd talked about this separation quite a bit in the days leading up to this hike. I was definitely worried about the group splitting. Its something cautious hikers try to avoid, especially in the winter. She was confident in her ability to follow the trail and I've always been very confident of her abilities in the woods. Just the same though I was worried. We did a little basic map and compass navigation refreshing which was actually nice for me to reacquaint myself as well. We set the declination over her compass to follow the trail off Marcy's summit.

As the wind roared in our ears, continually enshrouding us in a gauzy blankets of snow, Jeanette was ready to be off the peak and walking towards her book and safety. I walked Jeanette back a few minutes down the trail to a place where we were both fairly confident she'd be able to follow a visible path back to treeline. The reality of parting ways with each other at around 5,100 ft with low visibility was an operation in total trust in each other and belief in ourselves.Later, we both laughed about the emotionally charged farewells we shared. We took turns worrying deeply about each other and reassuring each other that we'd be fine. There were several big "I love you's!" with intense eye contact and several serious kisses as if the Titanic was sinking.

Bill had kept climbing slowly and the only time where I felt things were a bit dangerous was this 5 or so minutes where we were all on our own. Bill had a paused in a spot relatively protected from the wind and we continued up to the summit. Winds were forecasted  to be betwen 25-30 mph on the summit of Marcy and on the final ascent and subsequent descent down the back of Mount Marcy we experienced those wind speeds. It was by no means the most insane winds or bitterest cold these mountains see but the force and roar of the wind in such a wide open, high place made for a pretty intense experience up top. Koda, Bill and I all acquired a powdered doughnut style coating of frost. Being on the highest point of New York State never ceases to blow my mind. You can't help but linger for just a moment thinking of what that means and the novelty of a journey to get there. I had just read in the 1970 46er history the section on high. peaks guides. In this section, the first ascent of Marcy is discussed and it was really cool to read all those familiar names on the plaque.

After taking our summit photos we started climbing down the back side of Mount Marcy down to a famous intersection known as Four Corners where the trails for Mount Marcy, Mount Skylight, Panther Gorge and Flowed Lands meet. Lots of adventure in every direction! This was the section of trail I had the most concerns about for Koda. If there were an large sections of unavoidable ice I would turn around. He doesn't have crampons. While there was strange bubbly looking ice coating everything on the summit, it had a grippy surface and was mostly covered with good solid snow. We followed tracks and patches of snow wherever we could, moving from cairn to cairn slowly off of Marcy. At times like this I feel completely in the moment. All inner dialog, memories of the past and thoughts for the future are put on a shelf. All focus is on safely undertaking the task at hand. An added bonus of this survival mode is achieving a state of awareness much sought after in the great spiritual disciplines of humanity: Pure Being. I find a great peace in this state and take in without judgement all I see and experience around me. The world almost seems to slow down and come into focus.

Cairn to cairn we moved, with snow blowing horizontal up over Lake Tear of the Clouds and out Panther Gorge. We saw filter views of the ridge from Marcy to Gray Peak, the outline of Lake Tear and the rounded summit of Skylight, our next destination. At Schofield Cobble we worked our way over this rocky protuberance following a snow-filled crack in its surface. Below it we picked up the trail into the forest again. Almost immediately the roar of the wind subsided and temperature seemed to raise 15 degrees. It was downright pleasant. There was anywhere from a dusting to a few inches of fresh and drifted snow which made the moderate descent quick and easy on the knees. We stopped at Four Corners and everyone, dog included, got a substantial snack in. We hadn't eaten since 2 miles before Marcy's summit and the food energized us. Well not Koda, his energy was consistently high throughout the hike. He certainly enjoyed his treats though.

Bill and I both started to slow a bit on the ascent of Skylight. We knew we still had to climb the 1000 ft back up Marcy after this. We managed to reach the summit of Marcy in almost exactly 4 hours so this put us in a good place for total hike duration. Skylight was the most drifted in of any stretch of trail that day. We slipped around a bit. Bill made sure we took note of the lay of the land around the trail where we emerged from the treeline onto the open dome of Skylight so we'd be able to find it on our return.

While we couldn't see more than a couple hundred feet the summit of Skylight felt as special as it always does. It's our own fault we didn't have much of a view: we had forgotten to bring the ceremonial rock for the cairn there. Winds were slowing down a bit so we stayed a little longer than Marcy but not much. I led us off the summit, promptly in the wrong direction. We were making a bee-line for Redfield. It was only about 50 ft so we were pretty quickly back on track. Man the descent from Skylight flies! Especially on this daywith all that loose powder. We stopped for another snack at Four Corners and Koda got his tuna packet. I drank a big slug of Gatorade which felt great. Sugary and refreshing.

Back up through the forest, Bill and I both noticed how pretty the woods were through this section. We took it slow and steady back up Marcy, finding climbing the tricky spots much easier than going down them. Wind was slowing down a bit too, making for a less intense second ascent of Marcy. We met a solo guy in the middle of the cairn to cairn section who appeared a bit spooked and a little in over his head, asking about conditions on Skylight. He had talked to Jeanette below treeline so I got to finally exhale an inner breath I was holding. I figured she'd see folks on a busy Saturday in the peaks so at some point on our way back I'd know she was safe. I was glad to get this information earlier then I thought I would. We did our best to inform the guy about his questions. He was going on for both Skylight and Gray with a descent down Feldspar Brook and was unsure of conditions. I was glad the wind was dying down for his remaining climbs. He had a bit of a deer in headlights look we've all had in similar situations hahaha.

Coming up and over Marcy for our second time of the day the wind had now almost completely quieted and we took some pictures and kind of gawked at the winter mountain-scape around us. I got some cool shots of Bill off in the distance and we found a really fun butt slide that had us both grinning. At this point we really started to pick up momentum. I was looking forward to reuniting with the wife and didn't want her have to wait for us for too long. Landmarks flew by as we chugged down the knee-friendly rolling terrain. We both stumbled a bit from time to time with the effects of around 5,000 ft of elevation gain taking it's toll.

Between Indian Falls and the bridge over Phelps Brook we got to a patch of Coniferous forest that was bristling with chirping black capped chickadees. We stopped for a few minutes to watch and listen and while scanning the woods noticed a small owl! It was for lack of a more scientific description SUPER cute. Bill was able to get some pictures and after hanging with our new buddy for several minutes, started heading down the trail. It followed Bill and I's progress, looking down at us in a sort of cross-eyed manor that was absolutely hilarious. Since it didn't fly away as I approached, I got my camera out for a few pictures as well. It was a Saw Whet Owl and now one of my favorite critter sightings of all time!

At this point my steam was running a bit low and I probably should've had a good sized snack but didn't as I wanted to hit the Gathering spread fairly hard. I struggled to keep up with Bill but was driven to get out of the woods and start the relaxation phase of the day. We ran into more and more people including the very friendly VtlovesADK from the high peaks forum out to climb Tabletop and Phelps. Chatting was a nice rest. The dam was busy and the trail from it and out was full of skiers and a few late snowshoers. I continued to scramble to keep up and figured we were making some pretty good time even though I was ready to curl up in the snow. The parking lot came blessedly quick after about 9 hours in the woods . I scooped up Jeanette and we all drove contentedly back to the hotel to rest and shower before the festivities, sharing the tales of our time apart. Like my climb of Algonquin earlier in the season, the lack of far-reaching views made the closer details all the more interesting and in no way diminished the special-ness of the hike. I found this one just as memorable as climbing Basin and Haystack in bluebird conditions the weekend before.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Haystack and Basin 2/28/15

This hike has loomed largely in my mind since committing to a winter round. How would the conditions be? Would I have to buy crampons and an ice ax? I obviously have to leave the dog at home. I hope I have good views etc. In many ways this was the crux of my winter round. I was a heady mix of worried and excited. A big factor in my favor was how the weather unfolded during February. Lots of snow and lots of cold days without thaw meant a solid snow pack, possible covering features that are normally icy. On Monday the 23rd, a check of the 10 day forecast showed near perfect conditions to climb these peaks on Saturday the 28th: clear blue skies and moderate temperatures. When I started planning this winters hikes I knew it would be the right choice to hike this one with people. I fished around on the high peaks forum and found Emily and Adam (Emily is ringpopsandmountaintops on the forum) were going for another try of Haystack>Basin>Saddleback after being thwarted early in the winter with extreme winds.

I got a very solid nights sleep before the hike which always gives me a confident feeling to start the day: I'd be at my best. The drive up was pretty uneventful aside from some police activity which is pretty rare for this time of the morning (4 AM-ish). I got set up in the High Peaks welcome center which was completely empty, a real contrast to the previous weeks Dial and Nippletop trip. I pulled into the Garden parking lot a little after 5:30, with Emily and Adam already getting set up. Yay for punctuality! We had called a meeting time of 5:45.

Quick hellos and off on the trail. We all remarked on how warm it was, already 14 f or so at 6 AM. Compared to the rest of the winter, a real heat wave! We moved quickly with Ringpops taking the lead. I got really warm fast with the brisk pace being set and my extra layers. Of course I wore more clothes on this trip than on last weeks where it was way colder hahaha. It seems like I never quite get the optimal set up. I like that though, always tuning up and striving, trying to find the best situation to stay warm but not overheat. Pretty amazing it's ever as comfortable as it gets. Modern clothes! I can't imagine doing this 50 years ago. I ditched layers, took off my hat and put on lighter gloves.

We all had a drink just before entering ADK property. We noted the location of the warming hut for the afternoon. I took the lead from there until Bushnell Falls and was finally able to stop sweating, hiking at Sobik pace. Emily and Adam are very strong hikers! I again recognized my place in the hiking strength hierarchy: on the stronger side of average. Not a bad place to be, I get to hike with more leisurely as well as faster hikers without too much hardship either way. The sun started shining in to the forest and I started snapping some photos.

The miles flowed by, moving through the easy terrain. Slant Rock snuck right up on me. We had a quick snack there.  Here begins more challenging hiking with steeper but rolling terrain. Views opened up behind us north over Big Slide to a Whiteface Mountain wearing a skirt of fluffy clouds. Point Balk and Little Marcy bulged high above the creek valley over our right shoulder. The trail to Marcy flew by, landmarks becoming a blur. The race was on. We could now see Marcy's summit and glimpses of Skylight. After you pass the Marcy trail you begin the really steep climbing up to the summit of maybe one of the more famous nameless bumps in the high peaks: the bump before Little Haystack.

Here the photography began in earnest. I got Sathi's Cannon 20D with the wide angle lens out and took some amazing shots from this famous locale. After my hands got cold, I put on my down jacket and got my point and shoot ready to document the ascent. I urged the speedy couple to go ahead as I was hiking pretty slow and intended to take a ton of pictures. They hiked ahead at their own pace but never out of sight. There was nothing too tricky climbing up Little Haystack. I was glad I waited until just the right day for this climb. There was hardly any wind and no exposed ice. I kept looking over at Basin, picturing us on that summit soon enough. The last time I was up on Little Haystack, with Koda in early summer of 2014, I was beat it was completely clouded in and Koda's pads were getting sore. What a different experience. I love returning to a peak and having a better hike. Mindset and conditions color a day in the woods so much.

Views in all directions were amazing: down the great range and past to Giant and Rocky, into Panther Gorge and across to Skylight and Marcy, south to the Dix Range. Coming off of Little Haystack is one of those well known often tricky spots. It's steep, exposed and ice builds up. For us on this day we had a combination of bare rock and grippy snow. Perfect! I couldn't help but slow down even more and focus on being as present as possible. Focusing by not focusing at all. One of those amazing paradox's of mindfullness. I wanted to etch every detail into my mind: how the rock looked, the wave-like drifting of snow, the color of the sky and the peaks around me. The world rang like a prayer bowl. All too soon the summit cone was before me with two celebrating hikers whooping it up on top. It must have been a great feeling for them, coming back to this peak after being so close (they had to turn around on Little Haystack due to intense horizontal winds) on their previous attempt. More pictures of course. It was nice to have someone to take a picture of me on this truly special peak. I'll cherish it forever.

I hunkered down in the little rocky crevice on the summit  out of the wind, had some trail mix and water. I watched the duo buckle down and get ready to climb down which I did as well, if somewhat reluctantly. I knew I had to leave at some point and climb another peak but I was pretty blown out from the ascent and pretty agog from the spectacular setting. I always return to that great anecdote about Old Mountain Phelps at times like this: Setting up camp with some folks he was guiding at Lower(?) Ausable Lake, one of the clients asked why they didn't set up camp facing Gothics. His reply was something to the effect of "a view that precious you don't just gobble down". You have to savor and not over indulge. Who wants the magic too thin? For the specialness to become ordinary? Certainly not me. 

I took my time on the way down and got some fun shots of them off in the distance. Back up Little Haystack with no problem and back to the intersection with the range trail down to Basin. It was a fast decent with the most loose snow we'd see all day. Everywhere else was hard packed snow gutter leading you through the woods. My quads were grateful for the descent but my brain was trying to rebel on me saying Basin was just too far and I was losing too much elevation. We hit the low point and started trucking uphill. Well they were trucking, I was moving. Though not particularly fast. At the Shorey shortcut intersection we met a dude very casually smoking a butt. It was an odd site. He was heading up Haystack first, Basin and Saddleback after.

The climb up Basin is way easier in the winter in my opinion. Lots of the ugly spots are smoothed out. The ladder was actually many rungs shorter and I had to laugh: with these conditions doing this hike would've been far easier than when we did it in June. Oh well, you never know! Knowing we were on the final section of trail together and that they'd be up chilling on the summit, I slowed my pace down a bit more to save up for the long trek out. The climb up from the col was a bit longer than I remembered but I'd say it had a lot to do with how I felt. There are many spectacular views along this stretch of trail and I used them as a welcome break from climbing.

On the summit of Basin Emily was sun-bathing and both wore ear to ear grins. Wow! The views! The conditions! Haystack and Basin climbed by lunch! It was great to eat a bunch and drink some green tea. Since I perspired a lot more than usual on this hike with the warmth and fast pace, I was a little dehydrated which I remedied with water and lemon lime Gatorade.  As we hung out and took pictures, Emily pointed towards the Saddleback cliffs and said they didn't look bad. I agreed but said, no those aren't them, that's still Basin, there they are further along the ridge. I was pointing to Gothics hahaha.We exchanged high fives, I shared some tea and after some more revery, the two headed on down the trail. After they left and I stared for a bit longer and realized my mistake. Oh well, they'd be amped to climb those and realize where they were.

I decided to stay up there. Maybe forever. It was just so beautiful. I dug in to the cookie I had brought from this amazing restaurant/ coffee house/ music venue called the Tramontane Cafe in Utica. It has delicious lunch and dinner food including homemade soup and awesome signature sandwiches. Their baked goods tho....Many of the staff there bake and have their own specialties so there's always something different. For this trip, I brought the classic giant chocolate cookie, knowing it would likely carry the most calorie/ sugar high bang for my buck. I buzzed around the summit riding that giddy wave of sugary delight, alternating between the DSLR and the point and shoot. The DSLR battery would eventually get cold and read dead so I'd put it back in my pocket to thaw. I knew it'd be slow going for me on the way down and I wanted to get back to Jeanette and Koda so I eventually got my stuff together and started the descent.

My legs were tired but my soul was totally rejuvenated. The day kept getting more gorgeous. I started running into solo dudes climbing up Basin. Everyone had very serious game faces on and did not want to chat. Several sections were steep on the way down. If you like suicidal butt slides, this would be the place for you. I gingerly lowered myself down, turning around and down-climbing as if on a ladder a few times which was really effective. Will def do more of that in the future.

I had Shorey shortcut all to myself :) I can't imagine why: a "shortcut" that's uphill both ways. I got an ear-full of black cap chickadees celebrating the warm and sunny day. I paused often to catch my breath and take still more pictures of the views to the northwest. On this hike there are many miles of views. It's truly incredible. Especially after spending so much time below treeline this winter hiding from the cold. Once over the height of land, I finally got my legs back under me and picked up speed, getting me down to the Phelps trail in a hurry. I chatted with a guy cutting through the ice of Johns Brook for camp water. He and his group were hoping to climb Haystack if they got their chores done quickly enough. I strongly encouraged him to give it a shot with how gorgeous it was.

Now the long walk to Johns Brook Lodge. The woods were full of pine trees and sunlight. The trail was mellow under foot. I was talking to myself hahaha. I thought of my wife and how she makes time pass: I created a sci-fi short story and narrated it out loud. Would've been a funny moment to run into someone. I eventually caught up with two campers around the confluence of Hogback Brook and Johns Brook. They were wearing microspikes and carrying MSR's. They mentioned as we chatted that someone told them they needed to be wearing snowshoes the day before. I let them know that indeed it was the rules and they could get a ticket. I did so in a way that conveyed the information but didn't sound like I was scolding them, just trying to help them avoid a ticket. I feel like this is a much more effective method of education rather than the scold I hear so often from other winter hikers. Once a person is on the defense, their ears and brain are closed.

JBL looked really pretty and all eco-cool with it's solar panels. I got to the warming hut and was warmly welcomed by Jay (like the letter). Her and the other woman (Caryn I believe?) were spending Friday-Sunday in the cozy little cabin, doling out hot chocolate and mocha's. I chose the mocha looking forward to a bit of a caffeine kick along with the sugar. I really love chatting with folks you meet along the trail and since no one wanted to chat coming of Basin I was glad to get my folksy fix. I hiked out. It went fairly quickly with the help of the warming hut staff. I got back to my car at 4:15, a 10.5 hour day covering around 19 miles. Certainly not my fastest day in the woods but maybe one of my favorites. While I have a few more peaks left to climb to finish my winter round, this was it. This was the big one. A day I'll never forget.