As a reward for finishing a large scale home project I wanted to take a camping trip to the high peaks. With no current lists in progress, there were no limitations on what I could do. Hike an old hike I loved, check out a new place....heck, I didn't even have to climb a high peak (though I knew I probably would hahaha). While pondering possibilities, I decided a celebratory trip would certainly be more fun with friends so I invited frequent camping partners Josh and Caroline to come along and pitched 2 or 3 different hikes. Caroline was immediately interested in this one so I began research and planning in earnest.
As the weekend approached, the forecast got sketchier with thunderstorms predicted starting on Saturday afternoon and lasting well into Sunday. I originally suggested we camp in tents at the Scott's Clearing campsites (with the thought that if it was buggy, we'd be more comfortable in tents) but Josh and Caroline in their wisdom thought the lean to would be a better option with bad weather and I wholeheartedly agreed. Though Rocky Falls lean to is on the way in, I was concerned about the forecast rains making Indian Pass Brook uncrossable (the lean to is on the other side of the brook from the trail). So all our eggs were in the Scott Clearing lean to basket (well, we did have tents just in case obviously). I was a little nervous as I generally am when I'm shooting for one lean to and have no back up lean to if it's full. I was also cautiously optimistic though knowing this area gets far lighter use than the base camps just over the MacIntyre Range.
We left the ADK lot just before 8 and ran into Christina (moosebeware on the high peaks forum) on her way to climb Street and Nye. We chatted until the intersection and wished each other good luck with the weather. The day was breaking pretty gorgeous so far and it set the mood off right. We made good progress along the beautifully maintained (thanks 46ers!) trail, crossing the numerous tributaries flowing out of the MacIntyre Range and into Indian Pass Brook. My first attempt and climbing into Indian Pass this way was in 2008 or so and we were turned back as it had been raining for quite some time and these tributaries were too high and fast to cross. The second time, Jeanette and I were doing trail work with the 46ers on a sweep that was supposed to go as far as Scott Clearing. It was Memorial Day 2013 and we were in town for the 46er banquet to receive our certificates. A foot of snow had fallen in the days before and a slushy rain fell over the abbreviated trail work outing. Indian Pass developed a reputation with me for limiting access due to weather.
With bright sunshine and a long dry period leaving the trail in great shape, we were able to make very solid time to the vacant Scott Clearing lean to. With that worry out of the way I excitedly dropped off my camping pack and got together my day pack for the climb, including food, rain gear, headlamp and my water pump. We stopped at the breached dam in Scott Clearing and got a nice look upstream at the height of the pass. From here we scampered up the at times challenging and scrappy high water route. After climbing it I wanted to make sure we skipped that on the way back! (we did) The location of the intersection with the Cold Brook Pass trail was quite scenic and got me excited for the climb. It appeared that thus far the mountain gods were granting us passage into the heart of the wilderness and were keeping us stoked with perfect weather.
The DEC stopped maintaining the Cold Brook Pass trail after Hurricane Irene. While there were some trees down, the trail was still plenty obvious though only occasionally blazed. The route crosses the brook numerous times and takes you on a tour of some gorgeous and unique waterfalls. It's amazing how many high peaks have the same format (approach trail>hike up mountain creek/ valley> steep final ascent) but how each route can be so different. I wanted to compare this trail with others and found it definitely had a flavor all its own.
I would consider the pitch to be moderate in the context of the high peaks and views soon opened up back down to the valley and up to the rocky buttresses on the Southwest face of Iroquois Peak. There is a really cool falls pretty high up the pass with a Big Cedar framing a view across Indian Pass. I held back on sharing pictures of all the different falls because I want to encourage folks to go visit them themselves! Worth it. Shepherd's tooth, a rocky nub just down from the summit of Iroquois came in to view. As I have a 46er German Shepherd, I do plan on visiting one day and get the patch for Koda's vest. Not today though. While folks do climb it from Cold Brook Pass, the view was enough for me. That must be a really tough climb. At around 3,700 ft we were visited by a small bird with some yellow patches on it's wings (not a cedar waxwing) which I at first thought was a boreal chickadee. After some further research I am now not sure what we saw.
The cairn at the start of the herd path, just before the height of land, was large and obvious. We turned right onto the herd path and started climbing the first stretch of trail up to the sub-summit. There were a bunch of fun scrambles right off the bat to get the heart beating. The herd path was a bit tighter than many of the more frequently used ones but was still easy to follow. We soon reached the sub summit and after coming off the top, got a good look at Marshall's true summit. As so frequently happens, it looked much further away than it really was. After some more scrambles, some of which were tough for Koda who required a butt boost, we found ourselves dumped out on the Herbert Brook herd path. The last 500 ft of the herd path before this had gotten a bit faint and if you had to pick it out from the Herbert Brook herd Path without knowing where it was, I'd say you'd have a tough time. Caroline tied her handkerchief from a branch just to be sure we wouldn't miss it on the way down. We were less than a minute from the summit! The weather continued to hold out (we later learned the front had stalled, which was a bit of a miracle considering what we were expecting) so we had awesome blue sky and fluffy cloud views from the top of the peak.
The black flies finally found us on summit so we deeted up a bit before enjoying lunch. Koda got a pigs ear and Josh and Caroline shared their blueberries with me which was quite a treat. It was MUCH nicer to descend this trail and it was fun to have gravity aiding for the first time this trip. We made good time down to the intersection and had a pow-wow: we had a visit to the plane crash site (a Piper Cherokee which crashed in 1969, click here and scroll down for description of the incident) on the itinerary but had decided to keep plans flexible with the forecast. Since the skies were still bright, we continued through the pass, looking for the large glacial erratic on the right which marks the location of the crash . This part of the trip had a bit of a treasure hunt vibe, and we kept wondering which big rock was going to be the one. There were a few jokes about glacial erotics. When we finally reached it (looking for stuff like this, I always feel like I've gone to far before I get there) there was no question about the rock. You can also see the wreck through the trees a bit. It was a bit spooky to see up there so high in the mountains in such an isolated place. that must have been a seriously scary 32 hours in the woods, badly injured and alone. I'm so glad and a bit amazed he survived. A credit to his will to survive and the responders who treated him when his location was finally pinned down.
We left the crash site and made our way back through the pass until we found a good source of moving water to pump from. It was icy cold and delicious. I had run out near the top of Marshall and finished half a liter in one big sip. It was nice to feel water rich again. I read the Dune Series for the first time this winter and their extreme conservation of water on a desert planet often pops into my head at times like this. We are so lucky in this region to have so much water everywhere! The descent was VERY enjoyable. We now knew all the various creek crossing points and got to each waterfall landmark much quicker than the climb up . I was pretty shocked to see the intersection with the Indian Pass trail when we came upon it. Another option on our trip was the summit rock of Indian Pass. As "Peanut Butter and Jelly Legs" had set in, we decided to return to camp but to stop at the dam first for some refreshment. We dipped our toes into the clear cold water and Koda was allowed off leash briefly to enjoy his favorite activity in the world: swimming.
After the black flies found us again we headed back to camp. The sky had grown darker and we could see some dark clouds coming over the Lost Pond Peak/ Street/ Nye ridge. A few minutes before reaching our lean to thunder rumbled ominously. We put down our stuff and I quickly grabbed up our bear cans just as it started to rain. What amazing and lucky timing! Every minute of the hike in and climb was dry and gorgeous. When we got 'home' safe and sound, the skies opened up. We watched the rains fall mesmerized for an hour or two before getting to the dinner cooking. This was Josh and Caroline's first time camping in a lean to and right off the bat, they got one of my favorite experiences: watching the weather outside with no glass between you and it but still all warm and dry. We shared 3 backpackers meals (I tried the Mountain House biscuits and Gravy for the first time and would highly recommend it, especially for breakfast!) and a few nips of Fireball Cinnamon flavored whiskey thanks to Emily's (ringpopsandmountaintops on the high peaks forums) constant plugs. It was very tasty! Thanks!!! We had a lot of fun reading the log book and Josh wrote the entry for our trip. The lean to appears to go months at a time without a visitor or at least a visitor who records the trip. After his dinner of kibble and a 3 serving tuna packet, Koda settled in to sleep around 6 to make sure he could wake me up at day break. Thanks buddy! Who needs an alarm clock when you have an always stoked high energy dog.
The group was in their bags before 9 and slept until 7. Koda of course started waking me up every 20 minutes or so starting at 5 but after a walk or two to pee, settled back down and let me nod off a few more times. We had an odd hodgepodge of breakfast including those Folgers tea packets of coffee, oatmeal, candy corn and a backpackers pantry huevos rancheros. I've been lugging that damn packet around with me for years and since you have to use a skillet after rehydrating, I've always been too lazy to make it. Glad I finally did because it was pretty tasty! It had rained off and on all night and was steadily drizzling as we broke down camp. A tributary of Indian Pass Brook is about 100 ft from the front of the lean to and we had noticed how much it had risen with the new rains. While it was higher, I didn't think we had anything to worry about as far as getting out was concerned. We said our farewells to our home for the night, donned rain gear and began our soggy walk out.
We made our way out with limited conversation and dreams of a warm car and Stewart's in our (my) future. It's certainly easier to endure getting wet knowing in less than 2 hours you'll be safe, sound and out of the elements. Josh and Caroline have been great hiking/ camping accomplices through the years including Gray/ Marcy/ Skylight from Flowed Lands and Grace via the Great Slide with a night spent camping along the Boquet River. It was nice to add another great trip to our list.