Archive for the ‘ADK High Peaks’ Category

Colvin, Blake, Nippletop, and Dial

April 1, 2010

Well, it’s been a month since I’ve posted anything, and by now the snow that makes the Adirondack High Peaks so much fun is melting fast and trail conditions are rapidly deteriorating.  The snow that was likely in your front yard a month ago is also gone–replaced with greening grass, chirping birds, and temps exceeding 70°F.  You’ll have to bear with me then and use your imagination as I write about what ended up being the best conditions of my two-week trip in Lake Placid and the High Peaks.

This trip was the only overnight excursion I did during my two-weeks in Placid, and the timing couldn’t have been better.  It may be hard to believe but winter camping is easier and more comfortable when it is colder–provided you have the right gear.  When you are setting camp, cold and dry snow sluffs right off your gloves and pants as you setup your tent, unpack your bedding, and cook your evening meal.  When you are sleeping, the moisture from your breath freezes to the inside of the tent instead of creating a dripping rain forest of sorts that you encounter in warmer temps.  It might be a little frigid when you step outside for a midnight bathroom break, but the fact that you are staying dry means you will be warmer, more comfortable, and of course will sleep better.

This trip starts at the Ausable Mountain Club in St. Huberts, just south of Keene Valley.  The club sits on a huge swath of private land, the Adirondack Mountain Reserve (AMR) that extends more than 10 miles in to the interior High Peaks–the first four miles or so are accessible by a road that leads to the outlet of the Lower Ausable Lake and allows club members to recreate at the lakes year-round.  The rules while on AMR property are simple: 1. Foot traffic only  2. No pets  3.  No camping or fires.  Basically “pass through to your destination, and don’t do anything else until you are off our land!”  Nearly two years ago now my friend Eric decided to test the boundaries of these rules and ride mountain bikes on the road to more easily access the peaks–he and his girlfriend were quickly detained and cited for trespassing!

I, like Eric, hoped to use alternate means of transportation on the road to make my trip in and back out again easier–my method turned out to be more successful:-)  Starting about 10am (a little later than I liked) I cross-country skied 2.5 miles up the AMR Lake Road, picking up the trail to Elk Pass–a mountain pass with two ponds where I would end up camping.  My original plan was to head to Elk Pass and set camp, then ascend Colvin and Blake before sundown.  My late start though forced me to ditch my heavy pack and my skis and make a light-and-fast dash for the peaks.  I returned to my gear just before dark, hiked the 0.7 miles to Elk Pass, and set camp in the dark.

This was my first opportunity to use my new GoLite Utopia 2 floorless shelter.  Most tents have a floor, mesh walls, and a separate rain-fly with vestibules to keep out the elements and allow space for gear storage –all these components add up to a heavy tent–many times 5 lbs or more–and really aren’t necessary on a bare-bones solo trip.  Enter the Utopia.  This shelter has no floor or vestibules and has a single-wall design–that is there is no separate mesh wall coupled with a rain fly.  A plastic-sheet emergency blanket serves as the floor and because it’s a two-person shelter there’s plenty of room for me and my gear–best of all it weighs in just over 2.5 lbs and takes up very little room in my already overloaded winter pack.

After setting camp I pounded down a Cashew Chicken Backpacker’s Pantry freeze-dried meal, melted snow for drinking water, and laid down for a pretty restful night of sleep.  The temps dipped down to 10°F and the strong winds whipped overhead all night–nothing a -30° sleeping bad and complete exhaustion couldn’t handle!  The next morning I had my first freeze-dried “Scramled Eggs w/ Bacon” breakfast that Kellie bought me before my trip.  It was actually pretty good and helped me get a quick start on the day.  I was on the trail at 6:45am and was pushing through 40+ mph winds on Nippletop and hour later.  Although I had clear skies and great views from Nippletop, the biting winds kept my time at the summit short, as I started the long but easy round-trip ridge hike to Dial.  The winds died down after leaving Nippletop, the sun rose higher to better illuminate the Great Range, and the best views of the entire trip were before me when I reached Dial.

After taking in the views on Dial, I retraced my steps back to Elk Pass and broke down camp.  Back at the trail junction for Colvin and Blake, I picked up my cross-country skis which I had stashed on the way in and hiked down to the Lake Road.  Then came the part I had been waiting for–the part Eric envisioned when he fearlessly road his mountain bike on AMR property.  The 2.5 miles of road (600′ vertical) I had skied in on at the start of my trip took me nearly 1.5 hours to ascend–the descent back to the gate: 20 minutes!  The road was hard-packed, icy and fast from snowmobile tracks, and on several of the steeper stretches I had to slow down and approach with caution so as not to find myself face-down in Gill Brook with a 35-pound pack on my back!

This overnight trip was a great time for me to sharpen my winter camping skills, use some new gear that allowed me to be lighter and faster, and knock out my 17th-20th Adirondack Winter High Peaks.

Stats: 20 miles, 6000′ vertical

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Avalanche!

March 3, 2010

Nearly 10 years after a skiier was killed on these slides, and after a week that produced nearly two feet of new snow, the Angel Slides on Wright Peak avalanched taking two skiiers for a long, scary ride–both survived without major injuries.  Check out this link.

Avalanches are not common in the Adirondacks due to the amount and type of snowfall, and the inaccessability of many of the slides.  The reality remains though that there are slides between 25 and 40 degrees slope that recieve significant amounts of snow–if the conditions are right they can avalanche.

Due to the unprecedented nature of this event I decided to visit the Angel Slides and see the aftermath for myself.  The newspaper pictures don’t do it justice–this was a big one–the two skiiers are truly lucky to be alive.  I’m not sure how long this slide is, but I would estimate 1000′ or more, and probably 300′ across (very rough estimates).  The avalanche released at the top of the slope and was the width of the skiers right portion of the slide.  The skinnier, skiers left slide did not realease, but because it has the same slope and aspect the potential for avalanche is high.

I got to put my Avalanche I skills to action for the first time since leaving Idaho.  About 1/3 of the way up the slide I was able to dig a snowpit and assess what may have caused the slide.  The top 2/3 of the slide is steeper than the bottom 1/3–well in excess of 30 degrees–probably very close to the magic 34 degrees that most avalanches occur on.  The top section released all the way to the ground, and the debris washed over the bottom 1/3 without releasing the snowpack.  Basically this means that where I dug my pit the snowpack was preserved on a slope of 28 degrees.

A couple of standard tests were done to assess the layering of the snowpack and to see if the snowpack can fail.  The snow was 105 cm deep, and a weak layer of sugary snow was found 35 cm from the ground.  During the compression test an isolated column of snow failed (a clean sheer) at the same depth, 35 cm.  Early in the season, some sort of weather event created this thin weak layer that is most likely what caused the avalanche.

So that’s alot of avalanche jargon and stuff many people don’t care to understand.  The take home point is that there is a persistent weak layer near the ground that will not go away until snowmelt begins and water starts perculating through the snowpack.  If in a week from now people thing the danger has passed here in the Daks, they should think again.

This was a great day to see a unique event here in the Adirondacks, with a great ski tour and downhill finish to the car.

Whiteface and Esther Attempt II

March 3, 2010

With relatively good weather expected, and a beta from a forum post on ADK High Peaks Forums that the herdpath to Esther was broken out, I decided to take another shot at it.  Unlike the first attempt, the sun was shining, visibility was generally good, and the winds were calm–perfect conditions!  I reached the summit in 3.5 hours and spent nearly an hour basking in the sun, taking pictures, and making summit calls to a few family members.

What I didn’t realize is that the herdpath to Esther would still be obscure and challenging–the detour over to Esther and back to the main trail (less than 3 miles) was nearly 3 hours of hunched over hiking, breaking through branches,and getting wet from the snow that was falling off the trees.  Pretty much a nightmare.  The only consolation was a dry polypro shirt for the descent, an Almond Snickers, and the fact that I had finally bagged these two peaks.

If I forget about the trip to Esther…this was a fabulous day!

Stats:  11 miles, 3500′ vertical

Whiteface and Esther: Attempt I

March 3, 2010

Well, I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had much time to post stuff.  I’ll keep these short and let the pictures do the talking!

This weekend my Dad came up to join in the fun…or abuse…whatever it may be.  Our first day we attempted Whiteface and Esther.  When we arrived at the trailhead, it was obvious we were the first people there since the last big snow storm–which means we would we be breaking fresh trail in deep, wet snow.  Shortly after we started off, we were overtaken by some snowshoers, who despite the fact they had snowshoes on were sinking in 8-12 inches with every step–this made our ascent on skis even tougher.  As we continued to gain elevation the forest changed from wide-open deciduous to thick confierous.  Partly because the winter trail is 3-4′ off the ground (snow depth), and partly because of lousy trail maintenance, most of the remainder of the hike was spent crouched over, breaking through spruce branches.  At times we were on our hands and knees crawling under windfall, and always dealing with heavy, wet snow falling down from the branches above.

When we reached the herdpath for Esther we were both pretty beat.  My Dad decided to continue on towards Whiteface while I would take the herdpath to Esther.  Unfortunately the new snow had completely concealed the correct herdpath.  I probed in several directions on herdpaths that either died out or went in what seemed to be the wrong direction–due to visibility navigation was again blindly following map, compass, and GPS.  After about an hour of trying to find the herdpath I abandoned the Esther summit attempt to join up with my Dad who was by now tired and probably pretty cold.

We made the last climb up to the Whiteface Auto Road (which briefly runs along side the hiking trail) and skiied up to a Castle like structure that is the terminus of the road and the beginning of a staircase to the summit.  With whiteout conditions, very little energy, frozen gear (gloves, packs, jackets–everything wet and frozen), and deep snow on the staircase to the summit, we decided to abandon the summit attempt and skiied back down via the auto road.  We had staged a car at the bottom of the road, and the descent was 30-45 minutes–a fun way to end an otherwise difficult and disheartening day.

About half-way down the auto road the clouds briefly parted and the sun shone through for the first time in several hours.  The great views down to Lake Placid and the easy glide back to the car melted away all the frustration and misery of the day.

Below are some shots from trip.

Stats:  11 miles, 3000′ vertical

Phelps and Tabletop

February 26, 2010

Well, the bluebird days left when Jon did and there is no end in sight.  The snow started falling on Tuesday and for the most part hasn’t stopped!  I was excited to do these two peaks because it would be my first High Peaks cross-country ski approach.  As you may know, the approach to many mountaineering objectives can be relatively flat and long, which makes for arduous hiking especially on the way out.  The solution to the never-ending walks back to the car: the cross-country ski approach.

This tour started from South Meadows road which you pass on the way to Adirondack Loj.  The parking is free and the gradually rolling terrain and wide trail are great for skiing, but you pay for it–the road is closed to traffic in winter so this route adds 3.4 miles round trip compared to leaving from the Loj.  From South Meadows you ski on to Marcy Dam and link up with the Van Hoevenburg Trail–the trail super-highway that eventually leads you to Mt. Marcy, the highest peak in New York State.  You summit Phelps and Tabletop from spur trails off the Van Hoevenburg, both of which are well marked, fairly wide, but steep as always.  Glissading was again in order for the descent of both peaks and saved time and fatigue.

I must say though the best part of the trip was the ski tour out.  Because of the steepness of the section of trail from Marcy Dam to Indian Falls, cross-country skiing can be a little treacherous, even for experienced skiiers.  After crashing several times, I decided to use kicker skins all the way back to Marcy Dam.  Kicker skins are short versions of climbing skins that you can affix to the center portion of the ski.  The kicker skins give you grip when you are climbing and slow you down considerably on the descent, transforming a kamikaze downhill run into a controlled and enjoyable ski out.

Although visibility was low, this was a great ski/hike for my 11th and 12th winter high peaks.

Stats: 14 miles, 3600′ vertical

Wright Peak

February 26, 2010

On the first day of the trip, Jon Luellen and I hiked to the Summit of Wright Peak.  Wright is the 16th highest peak in the ADK with an elevation of 4580′.  Jon is a friend from work who approached me earlier this winter after seeing a summit panorama from Dix Mountain on my cubicle wall.  He spent alot of time out west and hiked 23 of the more than 50 peaks over 14,000′ (there is some dispute over how many peaks actually qualify as fourteeners).  Well, long story short Jon was ready to get back out there so we set a date and made it happen.  Although the forecast was for mostly cloudy skies, we lucked out and had an absolute bluebird day with great views in all directions.

This hike was the first chance I had to use my new TSL Quicky Sled for a glissade descent.  I’ll write more about glissading in a later post, but basically this is a high-speed butt slide down the mountain that not only decreases your descent time, but saves energy and takes stress off your knees (provided you don’t crash into trees, rocks and other hazards).

This was my 10th winter high peak, and Jon’s first winter ascent.

Stats: 6 miles, 2600′ vertical