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Winter Wrap-up 2010: Algonquin and Iroquois

May 30, 2010

At the end of last winter Kellie told me she wanted to hike Algonquin Peak.  Most men I know don’t get requests from their wives to receive 3000 vertical feet worth of torturous hiking in sub-zero temperatures on the second highest peak in New York State–so as you can imagine I was happy to hear her request.  Keeping with tradition, 46er Eric Montz joined us on the first Winter 46 trip of the season (we did our first Winter 46 summits on New Years weekend last year), along with my Dad whom I skiied my first high peak with two seasons ago (our adhoc Mt. Marcy trip was in April, so technically not a Winter 46).  The four of us, with fully-loaded winter packs, crammed ourselves in the Vibe and started off for the Daks–all the while praying the suspension wouldn’t break on the car!

Now I’ve made some mistakes planning these types of trips in the past.  Usually I overestimate the mileage/vertical that we can handle and the trip simply becomes “too much.”  So, in an attempt to change my evil ways I planned this one as an overnight.  Basically we would hike two miles in with fully loaded packs and camp at a MacIntyre Brook Falls, a designated DEC campsite.  We could rise early the next morning with a much lighter load and have plenty of time to make the summit of Algonquin and hopefully Iroquois Peak, the second highest of the peaks in the MacIntyre Range.  The only problem with this plan was that we wasted too much energy getting full winter gear to MacIntyre Brook, only to get poor sleep as the overnight temperatures dipped below -10° F.  I got up three times during the night to reheat water bottles for all four hikers–Montz gave up his foot warmer inserts for Kellie to stuff into her down booties–it was a brutal night on the mountain.

The next morning we got up early as planned, cooked breakfast burritos (great time to experiment), and headed for the summit.  It was challenging for everyone, but we had great weather and made the summit by mid-day.  For me, making the short jaunt over to Iroquois Peak was not an option.  Hiking all 46 peaks in winter is hard enough–passing on easy peaks that are adjacent to ones you are already standing on just makes the feat harder.  So, after a short break at the summit I gave everyone the option of hanging out while I made the ~1.5-mile hike over and back–everyone wanted to go and so the group stayed together, eating Mountain House meals on Boundary Peak, Idahoans mashed potatoes on Iroquois, and drinking hot mint tea back on Algonquin before the descent.  It was a high mountain party and a great way to kick off the ADK Winter 46 season!

It should come as no surprise that we packed up camp and found a hotel room for the next night, not wanting to brave another sleepless night in sub-zero temps.  We found cheap accommodations at Shulte’s Family Lodge, owned and operated by Rolf Shulte an outstanding photographer of all thing Adirondacks!

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Winter Wrap-up 2010: The early season

May 30, 2010

This winter was one of the best on record.  No, there were no trips to the Sawtooths of Idaho, or the powder laden slopes of Utah’s Wasatch Range.  We didn’t make it to Vermont or the rugged, wind scoured Presidential Range in New Hampshire.  In fact, we never left the state of New York.  To top it all off, the snowfall across the state was well below average.  Wisp resort in Maryland recorded over 250″ of snowfall, while Holiday Valley–in the infamous Lake Erie lake effect band–received only 161″ by season’s end (the average annual snowfall totals for Wisp and Holiday Valley are 100″ and 180″, respectively).

So tell me why was it such a good winter?  Because we got out there–alot.  In December we did a low-key camp and hike at Oil Creek State Park, some kamikaze cross-country skiing at Chestnut Ridge Park near Buffalo, and a Christmas Eve ski and stay at Seven Springs.  Some decent early season snowfall provided us with great cross-country skiing on back-to-back weekends at Art Roscoe Ski Center in Allegany State Park.  All of this was unintentionally preparing us for the first ADK High Peaks trip of the season.

Backcountry skiing: Big Tupper

March 3, 2010

Big Tupper Ski Area in Tupper Lake had been closed for more than 10 years.  This year a grass-roots effort to bring back Big Tupper saw a large portion of the mountain up and running again!  The lifts only run on the weekends and $15 gets you on the mountain all day–quite a deal these days!

My Dad and I though were skiing Big Tupper on a Monday–the only way to the top was to skin up–which we did on the side of the mountain that is still not lift-served.

The tour up to the summit was strenuous as always, but the deep (albeit heavy) powder was great skiing!

Hell and Back: Street and Nye

February 26, 2010

So, if you do this stuff often enough you are bound to have  a bad trip on the mountain or a bad run down the river.  This past October I was in the Summersville, WV emergency room for a lacerated eyelid after a bad swim on the Upper Gauley River.  Well, Street and Nye didn’t put me in the hospital, but darn close!

This trip started out bad.  I forgot my wallet about 10 minutes out of town and had to go back for it.  About a half mile down the trail I realized I didn’t pack the trip map–but luckily I had accidentally put it in the map sleeve two days prior.  I probably should have turned around then.

Street and Nye are trailless peaks–that is they do not have maintained and mapped trails, but rather herdpaths–narrow, vegetation congested trails that don’t always lead where you think or hope they will.  To exacerbate the situation, we had received more than a foot of wet, heavy snow since the last people were on the trail four days prior, concealing the tracks of those that had come before, and causing the branches of the trees to sag over the trail.  All day the accumulated snow fell from the branches of the trees, soaking my gear before I ever dreamed of reaching the summit.  I lost the trail within the first mile and had to bushwack (off trail travel, typically through thick vegetation and difficult terrain) to Indian Pass Brook.  Again, this trail is not marked and the proper place to cross and pick up the trail was not apparent–I skiied up and down the brook looking for an apparent crossing, but to no avail.  Another bushwack for a half-mile or more ended with me finding the trail as it followed a mountain brook to the summit.  Staying on the trail to the summit was difficult–basically looking for slight concavity in the snow that marked the prior packed path now covered in snow.  Staying dry was impossible–my gloves were literally sopping wet.

After 4 hours of bushwacking and closely following what seemed to be a trail, I popped out at Nye’s summit.  By this time the snow had started falling and visibility was less than a few hundred feet.  Since I couldn’t see Street’s summit from Nye, I needed to shoot a compass azimuth to Street and then try to find a trail that led in that direction.  I hiked up and down the trail I came in on looking for  a split that would lead me to Street, but no luck.  At this point I had to make a really tough decision–either bushwack to the  summit more than a half-mile away, or hike back down and fail to reach the summit–which means I would have to come back another day to finish the job.  Call it determined or call it stupid–it was both and I decided for the bushwack.

The snow depth on the north slope of Street was 4-6 feet in most places.  When this snow falls adjacent to spruces and pines, the branches create unsupported cavities–when you hike on or near these cavities, you fall in–DEEP!  I fell in to my chest probably a dozen times or more, and every step I would sink in up to my knees or deeper.  For a while I was moving about 1/10th of a mile per hour.  Do the math and you’ll see the trouble I was finding my self in.  Low visibility forced me to use map, compass, and GPS to navigate my way to the peak.  I was shooting azimuths to the peak and keeping track of my progress with a waypoint I put in my GPS while at the Nye summit–but according to the GPS I wasn’t getting any closer!  Frustrated, tired, and a bit concerned I stopped to eat and regroup.  I checked the waypoint a second time to ensure I hadn’t put it in wrong–sure enough I punched in the easting coordinate 700 meters off.  I fixed the coordinate and found myself 2/10ths of a mile from the summit.  At this point my best bet was to trudge on to the summit and find the right path off the top that would take me back down without a bushwack.

Nearly 3 hours after leaving Nye, I reached Street.  My average rate of travel was 2/10ths of  a mile an hour.  I was soaked to the bone but I still had daylight, so I donned my storm shell, and dry pair of gloves (that were soaked within 20 minutes) and found the trail back down.  After about a half hour I could breathe a sigh of relief when I rejoined my original tracks to the top–I just had to follow my tracks home at this point.  The split to Street seemed so apparent now!  Hindsight bias:-)

More than 10 hours after starting this hike, I was brushing snow off the car throwing sopping wet gear into the back of the Vibe–what a relief!

This was the toughest hike, both physically and mentally, that I have probably ever done.  Several mistakes were made as well as some questionable decisions, but in the end it worked out.  Below are some lessons learned.

1. Get out earlier.  I didn’t get on the trail until 8:30–two hours earlier and the situation would not have seemed so grave.
2. Don’t hike trailless peaks and don’t bushwack alone.  If I would have got injured finding me would have been difficult.  From now on, my solo trips will be on major, well marked and maintained trails.
3. Double check your coordinates, azimuths, and the datum your GPS is in.  Early on in the trip my GPS was set to NAD 83 but my maps were NAD 27 (because the USGS topo grid lines are NAD 27) which had me reading my map nearly 400 meters off!  I also managed to shoot some azimuths 180 degrees out–an easy mistake to make with dire consequences.
4.  If you can’t find the trail and it’s getting late–hike down–you will survive to hike it another day.

Sorry this post was so long but the length of what I write matches the intensity and uncertainty that characterized this hike.

These were my 13th and 14th winter high peaks.

Stats:  9 miles, 2700′ vertical