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.

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