Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Porter from the Garden for my Winter 46 2/20/16

About the biggest thing in my universe going on right now is my son Hunter. He's three months old today and every day is a big, beautiful, crazy adventure. In some ways it resembles what's awesome about a high peaks hike: there's definitely some suffering but the pay off is so so so worth it. I took a month off from work at the end of my wife's maternity leave so we could delay daycare and to bond with my son. We play, dance to music, there's some napping and some crying. It's been more amazing than I could've hoped for.

So hiking hasn't exactly been at the forefront of my mind. Excitement did of course build in the days approaching. Sathi, Emily, Ben, Tara, Krissy and Koda my German Shepherd would be joining me to celebrate. Tara, Ben Sathi, Emily and I had shared many winter trails together. Krissy is a dear friend and was climbing her second high peak ever! Koda has been my loyal hiking companion for years and climbed around 33 of my winter high peaks with me.

 Another part of the celebration was exploring a new trail for me, the approach from the Garden trail head. The drive up started with warm rain in Albany which had turned to snow once sufficiently north. The final stretch from the High Peaks rest stop to the Garden it was snowing pretty good and the roads weren't in the greatest shape. The two groups hit the lot and got moving shortly after 7AM. We were only the second group to have signed in that day. The forecast was not the greatest and I think it kept some folks home.

We all started the day in microspikes which were perfect for the low elevation conditions. There was a few inches of fresh powder over ice. It was fun to start on new terrain as the route up Porter broke off from the trail which goes up the Brothers en route to Big Slide. We soon entered a forest of towering pines which lined the Slide Brook drainage. The crossing of Slide Brook was just the first of many unique and beautiful locations along this trail.

On the other side of the brook we worked our way out of the pine forest up moderately pitched terrain till we reached the old sugar shack and the dirt road. After we crossed the dirt road, the pitch got a bit steeper as the trail made it's way up the southern flank of Little Porter Mountain. Spirits were high, jokes were a plenty, brows were quite low. While the morning coffee was still pumping we were a pretty ridiculous crew. I've definitely had a blast on hikes but I can't say I've ever laughed as hard or as often as that first climb up Little Porter. We started having filtered views through the trees of the first Brother and beyond. I was getting more and more excited as we could see mountains to the south and east.

The final push up Little Porter followed along the base of some cliffs and rocky nubs, switchbacking up a weakness between features. I think a day hike just to explore some of this terrain would make for an excellent outing. Spirits were still high as we headed up onto the summit of Little Porter.

The direct approach onto the summit rock involved a little bit of a scramble up a crack with a climb of 10-12 ft. It was a bit icy so the majority of the group took an obvious workaround up there. Ben went right up the crack without any problems. Despite some strong winds crackling around us, the group was pretty stoked on the unique view from Little Porter. I was hard pressed to identify the surrounding summits which is rare for a nerd like me. It was nice to just take in the landscape. There was a mix of clouded in and clear summits which added further drama to the view.

We were still less than half way to the top so we started trekking on. From Little Porter the trail covered some very flat land along the eastern edge of Little Meadows. On the climb of Little Porter we had to do a bit of navigation work to stay on trail. Large sections are only sparsely blazed so care is needed, especially with a fresh coating of snow and no tracks to follow. On the Little Meadows plateau, navigation became even trickier. We spent a good amount of time trying to find the next blaze or other evidence of the trail like a cut branch or groove in the landscape.

Snow had been balling up under everyone's spikes. Now that we were higher and on a plateau, there was almost 6 inches of unbroken snow over semi-frozen bog/ marsh. We kept talking about switching to snowshoes but the scourge of winter hikers, gear lag had struck and we kept struggling on. After finding and losing the trail several times, we reached a point where we really couldn't find it. The area had really opened up due to a marshy area with a stream running through it. We stumbled around a bit, breaking through the ice into shallow water, looking up the hillside to see if the trail climbed and scratching our heads. Ben found an old style blaze going up the hillside but not any good evidence of trail. We knew that it had been rerouted in 2000 so didn't want to over-commit. Eventually Sathi found a modern blaze paralleling the creek/ marshy area. My spirits rose, knowing we were back on track and I trotted forward, breaking through several more times. This would typically be frozen this time of year but this freaky nino has made for a strange winter indeed.

After so much sloshing around and breaking through we all finally decided to get our snowshoes on. I found some flat terrain and the group all started moving forward to make the adjustment. Here comes the calamity cascade. Krissy broke through the ice into shin deep water. She got her boots and socks off and put on fresh socks with Stewart's bags over them. One boot was saturated and one was damp. Her feet got pretty cold during the dunk and swamp but she said she'd be fine once we got moving. Then Tara broke a snowshoe strap. Then I broke a snowshoe strap. The she broke 2 more snow shoe straps. We hadn't been out much in the past year, her with a knee injury and I with the little one. Our gear hadn't been tested lately and failed dramatically. I have MSR Evo Ascent which have 3 straps over the top of the foot so I just ran one diagonally. Tara decided to just use her spikes and we'd tamp down the trail before and after her. We were quite a hot mess for a bit but some bright patches of sunshine helped take some of the sting out of it.
the scene of the incident
With that out of our systems we began to climb up Porter following a northwestern trajectory up some mild and lovely terrain. Large sections of the trail followed open birch glades unlike anything I have hiked in the high peaks. I felt more like I was on a Vermont ski mountain than an Adirondack high peak. We all exclaimed about how beautiful it was and stopped a good amount for pictures. We made our way across a small gully drainage and continued up through open birch and more and more sections of coniferous forest. There was stunning views of the great range, Noonmark and the back of the Brothers/ Big Slide ridge. This approach quickly made it to the top of favorite high peak approaches. mild terrain, beautiful and unique forest and total solitude.

The roaring of wind on top of the ridge intensified as we got higher. We knew from the forecast that we were in for some breezy conditions up top but the mild temperatures should make it a bit more bearable. The group got together at the col/ intersection with the trail from Marcy Field and got out layers and protection for the final push. The ridge was stunning in it's winter splendor. Drifts of snow were more pretty than challenging with the shallow snow depth. The wind was whipping in some fresh snow and clouds which seemed kind of perfect for a final peak of a winter round. We broke out of the tree line one by one onto the summit of Porter. A few folks were already there being buffeted by the winds. We each stood on the highest rock for a moment, bracing against the 50 mph gusts. It was incredible and dramatic and just exactly perfect.

Koda got his pigs ear and we all got out our beers. We had a sixer of Anderson Valley Blood Orange Gose which was a super tasty sweet and sour summit celebratory brew. We also busted out our silly hats. That was the random summit celebration I could come up with hahaha. So we all had quite the photoshoot with Sathi's camera propped on his backpack and firing away. Another group summited while we mugged for the camera and were hopefully amused by our ridiculousness. After a quick snack we scurried off the summit and down the ridge a ways until getting out of the wind so Ben could whip up some noodles. We made really good time to a relatively flat and protected spot where we ate and relaxed. At this point a guy and his dog passed us in our nook about 20 ft off trail. They'd be the only others we'd see on this route all day. Koda didn't even notice the dog he was so tired. Once back on the trail he found the scent you could tell he was freaked he had missed the dog hahaha.

We had more and more snow falling as we got lower until we hit the Little Meadows section and it switched to rain. You could tell by the depleted snow pack it had been rainy and warm at the lower elevations for a while. Once we got to Little Porter there were large sections of mud and vegetation in the woods exposed that had been covered at the start of the day. It was pretty surreal. We switched back to spikes even with the intermittent dirt knowing it would be slick and messy.

We continued on downward. As the hours of daylight were running out my car load broke off from the other group and started chugging ahead a bit. I wanted to see Hunter before he went to bed and was glad for the group support in doing so. We made it out of the woods. We headed on down the road and got some Stewart's. I talked about Stewart's a lot. We listened to a lot of Grateful Dead music. I got to hang with Hunter before he went to bed. We had a small gathering and Jeanette gave me a small cake with a 4 and 6 candle on it. Ben and Tara made me an awesome woodcut and banner to commemorate. It was a perfect day.

1 comment:

  1. Ben went right up the crack without any problems. <--What else is new? Good recap, Nay!