Thursday, July 31, 2014

Adirondack Backpacking 7/23-7/26/14

Working title: Does anyone have a nickel?

Since inadvertently (intentionally?) starting the Adirondack 46 last summer, I wondered when I would get back there. My curiosity was soon satisfied by an email invite from Michael, to do a backpack, hitting 17 peaks along the way. While it didn't exactly fit my schedule, worked it out so that I could join in for most of it, and hike out early to get back for work. Bonus!

The best laid plans, however, are sometimes foiled.

Day 1: Wednesday

Peaks: Phelps Mountain (4161'), Table Top Mountain (4427')

Mileage/gain: ~11.4 miles, ~4850' of gain

Day one for me, really started at 2pm on Tuesday, when I awoke to finish my trip preparations, and got ready to go into work for 5 hours. Somehow, I managed to make all my gear and supplies fit into my 45 liter pack, though there wasn't really room for anything else! At 11pm, I left work, and after getting gas and coffee, hit the road for upstate New York. The long drive was dark, with the sky only beginning to lighten as I pulled into the hiker lot at St. Huberts. Changing into hiking clothes, I donned what I've come to refer to as my "frankenshoes", for their different colored laces, replaced insoles, and inordinate amount of wear. Morning colors began lighting up the clouds streaming overhead.

Several cars turned into the lot, and of course, it was some of my companions, Michael, the other Monica (yes, there were two!), and Ricardo. Early morning greetings exchanged, we piled into Monica's tiny hatchback, and headed for the Loj, where the rest of our party was patiently awaiting our arrival. After a stop for coffee, we arrived and set about the business of getting on trail. Here I met the last unknown (to me) member of the group, Emily, and saw Monica for the second time in as many weeks. Before I knew it, we hit the trail, and right away the work began.

Heavy packs have never been my forte. Even with my gear being fairly light, it's really not light enough. I didn't weigh the pack, but if I were to wager a guess, with food and water, it was in the neighborhood of 40 to 45 pounds. It sure felt heavier.

The first miles of trail, were a relative highway, very well traveled, with easy grades. Under the yoke of our packs, most of us were sweating profusely in the moisture laden air. Reaching the site of Marcy Dam, we saw the damage caused by Irene, and the now empty pond behind it. Crossing downstream on a new bridge, we took in the views of the MacIntyre Range and Mt. Colden. Even with clouds hanging low, this is impressive stuff for not too much effort... especially if you have a day pack.

On the highway

A shrouded Mt. Colden and Avalanche Mountain from Marcy Dam

Slides on Wright Peak from Marcy Dam

Turning off the main highway, the trail took on a different character. It became more rocky, root-bound, and muddy. This was proper Adirondack hiking. I started to think, that my introduction to the area last year, hadn't properly prepared me for what was to come. Lack of sleep began to catch up with me, as we climbed toward the spur to Phelps Mountain. Here began a trend that would continue for the remainder of the trip, and would redefine my view of the area... the short (0.5-1.5 miles) spur trail or herd path (as 20 of the 46 High Peaks are officially trail-less). Very few ridge trails exist here, in stark contrast to the White Mountains, which offers a mix of valley and ridge trails, making many varied loops options available. Here, unless you want to be bushwhacking in the thickest of the thick, the steep up and back is your only recourse.

Coming to the spur for Phelps, we dropped packs, and headed up. The climb was not without sweat and lethargy, but the summit soon appeared. Clouds hung low, restricting views, but at least it wasn't socked in!

A cloudy Colden from Phelps

Wright from Phelps

Meadowsweet (Spiraea alba)

Leaving the summit

Descending the way we came, we shouldered the packs and continued along toward the spur for Table Top. Bonking a bit, I tried to keep up a steady pace, my mind swimming. The trip up to the peak was pretty much a blur for me, and once on top, the clouds continued to thicken and lower.

Back to the junction, we started climbing, again! Down to go up, up to go down, you'd think I'd be used to this kind of thing by now. Ascending past a few junctions, and passing close by Lake Arnold, we began to lose elevation, passing through some swampy areas, with questionable bog bridging. Running into a father and daughter, we spoke of the forecast of heavy rain between 1pm and 7pm, and they hoped to remain dry, as they were headed a long way out to their camp for the night. Reaching a spur trail with a bridge across the Opalescent River, this was where we would be staying... hope it isn't occupied! Good thing too, because it started to sprinkle, then rain in earnest, we made it into Feldspar Lean-to just as the heavens opened.

Setting up our sleeping arrangements, we began to wonder how to fit eight people in there, as the six of us were in pretty cramped quarters! I lay back, and like a wave, sleep took me, at least for a couple of hours. Of course, I woke back up when people started making dinner. Sleep through food? NOPE!

It wasn't difficult to drift back off, after locking up our bear canisters and setting them out in the woods behind the shelter. I was out before the light was out of the sky, though I awoke several times during the night (mostly due to some more rain moving through), to the inky blackness that envelopes the depths of the Adirondack Park at night.

Day 2: Thursday

Peaks: Mt. Marshall (4360'), Mt. Redfield (4606'), Cliff Mountain (3944')

Mileage/gain: ~12.8 miles, ~4250' of gain

Waking with the light, it was chilly. I stayed in my sleeping bag for as long as possible, as everyone eventually got themselves up and milled about getting breakfast going, and preparing for the day. Daypacks on, we got headed out around 8, the sun shining in the blue skies above. Crossing Feldspar Brook, we undulated a half mile past Uphill Lean-to, our alternate site (had Feldspar been full), then began our descent alongside the Opalescent River, toward Lake Colden. Great scenery on this section of trail, a gorge, some waterfalls, and some views up to our first target, Mt. Marshall.

Gorge from above

Gorge from below


Mt. Marshall from some Opalescent River ledges

Crossing a very bouncy suspension bridge (with signage telling you not to bounce!), where two girls took a cold morning swim in the pool below, we shortly reached the dam at the outlet of Lake Colden. We took a few minutes to take a break, and bask in the sun and great view.

Lake Colden and Avalanche Pass

Mt. Colden

Climbing a ladder on the other side of the dam, we ascended some steep ledges, then meandered through some open woods before reaching a trailside cairn, our turn! Michael told me on our climb, that while the herd paths to these peaks aren't official (none of the ADK46 are true bushwhacks), they do have maintainers. They're only allowed to do so much, but it's still mind boggling to me. There were plenty of blowdowns to navigate, and there was much mud, and slick rock to navigate.

The path climbed alongside a small brook for a while, occasionally popping out onto what looked like a slide track. Turning away from the brook, the path climbed more steeply, with some views through the trees toward Iroquois Peak. The peak itself was uninspiring, densely wooded, though a couple of spur paths lead to great views in nearly all directions. I resisted the urge to downclimb to a ledge perch looking north... but it wasn't for lack of want!


These herd paths are gnarly!


Looking out to Henderson Lake and the Santanonis

Calamity Mountain in the foreground, I don't know what out back

Colden and Marcy

Skylight, Redfield, and Cliff

Returning the way we came (noticing a trend yet?), we passed by Lake Colden again, and filtered water from the Opalescent. Climbing back along the river, we reached another trailside cairn, nearly opposite the access to Uphill. This would be our route to the other two peaks for the day, Redfield and Cliff. Within a short distance, we reached another cairn, this one bedecked with rusted cookware, a split in the herd path. Taking a left, we climbed alongside Uphill Brook, with questionable footing at times, and ever-present mud.


Iroquois and Algonquin

Some of the group, before turning away from the brook

Climbing more steeply, we soon came to the (wooded, of course) summit of Redfield. There were fine views just before and just beyond.

Some of the Great Range from Redfield

What I believe is Allen from Redfield

Giant Mountain in the distance


Yet again, descending, all the way to the cookware, we headed toward the final peak of the day, Cliff. Immediately, it started out muddy, REAL muddy. It was all fairly easy to navigate, but you could tell it was deep, and not as bad as it could have been. What started out relatively flat, turned into an extremely steep climb, up what one could call, cliffs. More cliffy, steep sections followed, until we came over the top... then the unthinkable happened, the path descended, somewhat steeply! The summit ridge of Cliff is about a quarter mile long, but the summit is on its southwest end, and the path climbs up to the northeast end. A couple big ups and downs, and we were at the summit... in the woods.

Flat and sloppy


Our descent was quicker than the ascent, but only just. Interesting moves had to be made to descend some of the sections, but we soon were back through the mud and onto actual trails again. It had been a long one, and dinner was calling, as most of us ate through all the food we'd brought for the day. Arriving back at the lean-to, nearly 12 hours after leaving, we got to the business of food, then sleep quickly followed.

Due to unforeseen circumstances (related to gaiters, heat, and waterproof linings), parts of Michael's feet had turned to hamburger, and he was unsure about continuing with the itinerary as planned. We'd see how things were in the light of the new day.

Day 3: Friday

Peaks: Gray Peak (4840'), Mt. Skylight (4926'), Mt. Marcy (5344')

Mileage/gain: ~6.7 miles, ~3100' of gain

Up again with the sun, to a not as cold morning, and a member of the group that could not safely continue onward. Michael would be staying behind, feet rubbed raw, to hopefully hike out the next day. The rest of us donned daypacks again, and set off at 8 for a few more peaks. Almost immediately after turning at the junction, the trail began to climb, relentlessly. We soon de-layered, and kept up a decent pace up to Lake Tear of the Clouds, the highest source of the Hudson River. Its outflow into Feldspar Brook was meager on this day, and having no interest in going up the path to Gray, Emily and the other Monica stayed behind to filter water.

Monica, Ricardo, and myself started up. The path is at times muddy, and very steep, with many ledge scrambles. Mercifully, it's a short trip to the top, about 500' of gain in less than half a mile. Reaching a disk nailed to a tree, marking the summit, we saw the grown in herd path that you could follow to Marcy, though we were told it's very overgrown. Decent views were had from the summit rock, though a persistent haze lay throughout the area, dulling everything.

Back down to the lake, we regrouped and set off for Skylight.

Colden with the MacIntyre Range behind


Skylight over Lake Tear of the Clouds

Lake Tear of the Clouds

The trail up Skylight, was thankfully that, an actual trail! It was steep, but the footing was good, and the slabby sections we encountered were dry and grippy. Sucking wind, I dropped back, and made it to the summit at my own, more leisurely pace. The summit is above treeline, and the views were great all around... except for that pesky haze. That's what we get for hiking in the summer!


A circular mica intrusion

Nearing the summit of Skylight

What I believe is Allen from Skylight

The MacIntyres and Colden

Marcy and the slides above Panther Gorge

Ridges marching into the haze

We all took a break here in the hazy sunshine, soaking in this great summit. Before long, it was time to leave, again descending all the way back to the bottom, only to climb again. Adirondack Park, you sure know how to turn a hiker into jelly!

The climb up Marcy was just that, a climb. I again dropped back, and took my time, legs and lungs burning. Breaking treeline, the trail is well cairned, and the only official paint blazes I saw on the trip appeared. The summit itself was fairly crowded, not Washington crowded, but a good 20 to 30 people milled about, arriving or leaving. The views would have been spectacular the day before, though today they were just so-so. Something tells me that I'll be back here in winter, for a ski tour.

Orange Hawkweed (Heiracium aurantiacum)

Mt. Haystack

Monica and Ricardo nearing the summit


View from the top

Looking down the John's Brook Valley

The Great Range

Other Monica and Ricardo headed out for Haystack, after a short break, and Monica, Emily and myself stuck around for a while longer, before becoming chilled and heading down. We made a leisurely descent, chatting most of the way, arriving back at Feldspar at 2:30, to find Michael entertaining himself by the bridge. He had slept until noon, figured out the scale of his caloric deficiency for the trip, played a game or two on his phone, and given a demonstration on how to take apart and reassemble your Jetboil in the field (no one showed up, and there are NO user serviceable parts contained within).

The afternoon turned out to be a good one, relaxing by (and in) the stream, snacking, and generally lazing around. I got bored, and seeing a cairn on a rock in the riverbed, I decided to add a couple more. I also found an old USGS benchmark, just above where Feldspar Brook dumps into the Opalescent River.

Three cairns, two of my building

Four mini-cairns

Around 5:30, Ricardo and Monica came rolling into camp, having had a great journey out to Haystack and back. We all hung around chatting, and a solo backpacker came in and occupied one of the tentsites. Not long after the sun was down, we all retired, as it was back to reality the next day.

Day 4: Saturday

Peaks: None

Mileage/gain: 6.2 miles, ~900' of gain

Waking up and packing up, that was the name of the game. The familiar call for a nickel resounded, to open up bear canisters. I checked out a big boulder behind the lean-to that held the promise of a view, though gave me nothing but the sky. Leaving, we didn't run into anyone until past Lake Arnold, and we then passed a veritable torrent of hikers heading toward Mt. Marcy for the day. This trail was indeed a highway. Our packs, while still heavy, were lighter than when we began, and that helped us moved fairly well. Michael's feet were sore, but able to be hiked on without much discomfort. Passing by Marcy Dam again, we then undulated along toward the Loj, the uphills sucking the fun out of it.

Where we ended up back at the Loj, there was only one car there, as opposed to the three we left at St. Huberts. To that end, Michael, Ricardo and I piled into Monica's hatchback, and left Emily and Monica waiting for Michael's return. Many bicyclists were clogging up the roadways, most preparing for the triathlon the following day, and the roadside trailheads were full to overflowing. Reaching the cars, we disembarked, changed clothing, and got out of the lot, as many people were there searching for parking. Monica, Ricardo and myself went into Keene Valley and snooped around The Mountaineer for a while, before heading over to the Noonmark Diner, where we waited for the other three to arrive.

Lunch was had, and we then parted ways. My drive was far more scenic than it had been the previous day, thanks to daylight, and I rolled into Portland around 9pm, exhausted. A good sleep in my own bed helped deal with that!

Thanks to Michael and Monica for planning this trip, it was a great one! Thanks also to other Monica, Emily, and Ricardo, for being very enjoyable company! I very much look forward to my next Adirondack trip.

Trip totals: ~37.1 miles, ~13100' of gain