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Archive for September, 2011

April 22-24, 2011

In true SUOC fashion, Allie, JT, and I planned to leave at 1pm or so on Friday and did not manage to leave Syracuse until about 2pm.  Allie had volunteered to drive which would give me a break from driving and came to pick us up after we ran to the eroom for a tent just in case a bunch of people showed up and took over the Bradley Pond Lean-to.

When we managed to get to the trailhead, we saw two cars: one from New Jersey and one from New York.  Worried we would have to carry the tent, we checked the register to see that four and a half people signed in, two from Jersey and two and a half from none other than “LPNY.”

“Maybe they have a kid with them?” Allie threw out there.

“Or a dog,” I suggested.

JT paused for a breath before he began his rant, “They’re from Lake Placid! Signing in as ‘LPNY’ — they’re just yuppies!  Really!  Who signs in as ‘LPNY’?”

We decided not to take the tent because technically they have to make room for up to eight people and with all of them and us, there would still be room for half of a person theoretically.

We had somewhere between 3.5 and 4.8 miles to go due to the fact that the DEC and Adirondack Journey.com cannot seem to get numbers right.  First we had to walk a ways on an old, closed road to get to the trailhead which shot obviously off to the left.

Upon hitting the actual trail, we put snow shoes on to prevent post holing white muttering about how the end of April should have meant the end of snowshoes.  But no.   All of us had stories of late March when no snow covered the High Peaks.

After about ten minutes we ran into the two from Jersey, a father-son pair.  With one old external frame pack between the two of them.  Without snowshoes.  Hmmm.  Something is fishy.

“Oh hey!” the older one said as we came closer.  “Are we almost out?”

“You’re almost to the road” Allie replied as she was leading.

“Good!  That was a very long day.”

“Did you do the Santanoni’s?” I asked.

“We did Panther.  It’s hard without any trails up there, you know”, the older one said while catching his breath a bit.  “We followed this local couple because we thought they would know where the best way up is, but they took us on an epic bushwhack!  It was harder for us, too, because we don’t have snowshoes; all the post holing makes me really tired.”

Moving on, we passed though annoying, small, muddy stretches where we tried desperately not to walk over the rocks with snowshoes on.  About twenty minutes after we passed Jersey we found the infamous “LPNY” party which seemed just to be a duo.

“Where is the half of a person?” I asked blatantly.

They smiled and the man turned so we could see a small stuffed animal attached to the outside of his pack.

“That’s Topo!  As in TMax and Topo’s Hostel in Lake Placid!” The man explained handing me a card.  Unfortunately, no nearby trash cans existed to dump it in as in a city.

“Did you guys get the Santanoni’s?” Allie asked.

“No, we just got Panther,” said the woman.

The man interrupted, “We found the start of the herd path and then we lost it, so we followed the GPS up taking the hypotenuse instead of the two legs.  So, when you get to the cliff, turn left.  We found the herd path going down, so there are two sets of tracks.”

“It was a four hour hike up, and a forty minute hike down.  Amazing,” the woman finished.

“Ok, thanks for the beta” JT replied as we continued up the trail.  In not too much time, we made it to Bradley Pond lean-to where we had first dibs on which side we wanted.  The sun had started to go down and the temperature began to drop below 60 degrees.  We set everything up, cooked dinner and talked for a bit about our plans for Saturday.  We knew that the weather report had dismal news for Saturday, but relatively good for Sunday.  As per usual, we fell asleep early because we were too lazy to pack in any beer for the extra weight.

We woke up to a few fresh inches of snow.  In April.  The snow began to change to sleet as we all peered out of our sleeping bags.  Shaking our heads, we went back to sleep.  Awhile later, we popped our heads out again.  Fairly heavy rain.  Needless to say, we went back to sleep.  The third time we checked the world outside of the lean-to, it had changed back to sleet.  At that point we crawled back in the sleeping bags to discuss what we wanted to do.  None of us particularly
wanted to go get all wet to not get any views.  Forty degree sleet is pretty miserable and undesirable.  After a small “debate,” we came to the unanimous decision to have a zero day and stay in the lean-to all day and hike all three mountains on Sunday, hike out, and drive back to Syracuse.  At the time, this seemed like a brilliant idea.  We were all still tired and wanted to sleep more, we didn’t want to get sleeted on all day, and we could see more if we waited until the next day.

After sleeping another few hours, we managed to sit up and watch it precipitate in multiple forms.  It shifted between rain, snow, and sleet as much as a mood ring.  We ate some lunch and talked about SUOC gossip, the Jersey people, and the self designated “LPNY” people.

With nothing else to do, JT began to devise a little fiction to add to the shelter log while Allie and I picked through it.  Unfortunately, the shelter upkeepers had just replaced the old log for a new one so we did not have any older information.  Then JT began writing, smirking and laughing out loud while he wrote, preventing Allie and I from reading any snippets until he finished.

Immediately after finishing the last word, he interrupted Allie and I by clearing his throat to read us the story.  It went from meeting people from New Jersey to finding the shelter to sacrificing them to Gaia for better weather in the fire pit (accurately described in front of the lean-to) to hiking the Santanoni’s.  A rather violent poem ended the fictional masterpiece.  Three pages added to the four pages existing in the log.  Not signed.

After more time killing conversations and activities, Allie fell back to sleep.  But then we heard voices.  JT and I woke Allie up and we sat up in anticipation.  Two people walked tiredly up to the lean-to; a man and a woman with quite a large amount of stuff shuffled over to the side that we did not occupy.

“Is it ok if we share with you guys?” The man asked with an accent.

Grrrrrrimper immediately went through all of our minds.  “Sure, we’ll consolidate a bit more for you,” I replied.

They moved their mammoth packs in and started changing out of sleet soaked clothes which made us all happy we had stayed in the lean-to and not gotten so wet.  They murmured things in French between themselves and then once they became a little more comfortable and not sleet soaked, they sat down and began talking with us…in English!  This is not the typical grimper way!  Something is happening…

“Did you do the Santanoni’s today?” the man asked.

Exchanging looks, Allie replied, “No, we stayed here because the weather is so terrible we didn’t feel like it this morning.”

“We’re going to do all three tomorrow,” JT added.

“We tried to do the Sewards yesterday, but the weather was too bad, so we came here,” the woman said.

“Oh wow, we did them in two weekends a few weeks ago and ran into between four and five feet of snow,” I replied.

“Yes, and the road was closed off as well,” the man added, seemingly annoyed.

JT and I laughed and he said, “We just walked three miles on the road to get to the trailhead, then hiked in.”

“Ah, well,” the man started, “we did make a new sign for Couchie because the old one is gone.”

“Nice, that will be helpful” we all said.

The grimpers took naps while we chatted for a bit until they woke up and we all began to make dinner.

“I wonder if our downstairs neighbor will make noise tonight,” Allie laughed.

Looking bewildered, JT and I asked what she meant.

“Whatever animal was making noise underneath us last night!  You guys didn’t hear it?” she couldn’t believe it.

“No, we took a bunch of Benedril to sleep and we just passed out” I replied laughing.

In the morning, we woke up able to see Panther in front of the lean-to like we saw on Friday when we hiked in and patches of blue sky!  Yay!  As we began getting ready, we realized that we were playing a highly competitive game of who-leaves-the-lean-to-first game because neither we nor the grimpers wanted to break trail out on the herd path.

“I woke up last night when the animal came through and I saw it,” the man told us when he realized we had woken up.  “It was a pine martin.”

After waiting extra long, we decided we couldn’t wait any longer and we began hiking.  We almost immediately had to have a layer-peeling break as we searched for not-bog water where the grimpers suggested getting it from.  This meant hiking about half an hour until we crossed Panther Brook on a rather sketchy snow embankment stretching over the rushing spring stream.

I found myself fairly dehydrated from not drinking enough water during our zero day so we wouldn’t have to go get it in the sleet.  With water and food I felt a bit better, but felt slowed down.  While we broke half an hour after the we put iodine in the water, we took a break and the grimpers passed us and broke trail almost the rest of the day.  HA.  We won on that one.

We followed them over to Couchie and met them about 10 minutes from the summit.  The “Times Square” large rock was fairly obscured due to the few feet of snow still present, but we followed the grimpers’ tracks although sometimes we wondered if they had simply followed the GPS because they went through some places that obviously screamed “NOT TRAIL…BUSHWHACK!”

One good thing about all the snow did mean that the giant bog in the col between Times Square and Couchie virtually did not exist and we could walk straight over its mostly frozen-ness.  The whole time that we hiked over there, we bitched about how Times Square, which is the col between Panther and Santanoni, is 400 feet higher than the high peak Couchie.  Surveyed wrong, most 46ers still climb Couchie despite the fact that it doesn’t really have a good view and it looks like an arm of another mountain and not really a mountain in its own right.

On top, we admired the sign the grimpers hiked in and ate lunch.

Our lunch conversation consisted of something around the following:

“You know,” JT started while chewing his onion bagel with peanut butter and cheese, “Even thought they don’t pay taxes and they bring their yuppie culture into the High Peaks, it’s kinda cool that they took the time to make the sign and hike it in here.  I wouldn’t have done it.”

Afterwards, we moved onward, back up to Times Square where we realized that the grimpers had gone up Santanoni.  We decided to be a little nice and break the trail over to Panther since they had done all the other work.  Lucky for us, only a quarter-mile separated us from the summit of Panther.  It did not take long at all to get there and we actually had to take our snowshoes off in order to get to the summit.  The rock appeared through all the snow and we enjoyed greatly taking two pounds off of each foot and walking normally.  Panther turned out to be the best summit of the three of them.

On our way back down, we ran into the grimpers right before Times Square and we told them about the rocky summit as they told us to follow the way they had come back because they followed the GPS then found the trail going back.

As we headed out there, the walking was pretty easy and for the most part we found the trail over.  Then we hit four false summits before hitting the actual one where we took a snack break and to enjoy the view.  We realized the evening would set in soon and we had a long drive after the hike out.

It did not take us long to hike out and pack our other things up.  Hiking out did not take too long either except for the fact that a considerable amount of snow had melted at the lower elevations and we took our snowshoes off too early in anticipation.  Frustrated and too stubborn to put them back on, we postholed a bit in the last quarter-mile or so until we reached the road where we could walk bare booted.

Once we reached the trailhead, we found something a bit odd.  An old man from Colorado had himself a small fire right smack next to the parking lot next to his truck.  He began asking us questions about the skiing conditions.

Allie, the resident skier of the three of us gave him a bit of information as we managed to get everything into the car and head toward Long Lake for a phone.  Since we had planned on getting to JT’s parent’s house to pick up his car hours before we got back to the car, we figured we needed to let his mom know we were all ok.  Unfortunately, we missed the closing of Stewarts by a few minutes, but we asked the guy closing up and he let us use the landline.

After the long day, we got back to Syracuse a little before two a.m.

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Cliff/Redfield/Gray

A different Jake from other stories will appear here: to distinguish the two, the Jake here will be called Brosky.

This trip started out in a very typical SUOC fashion: some people showed up late, some super early, and one bailed at the last minute via text message, most likely due to a severe hangover from Thirsty Thursday night activities.

JT, Chris, Brosky, Abbe, and I all managed to get to our meeting place and piled into my car.  Five people.  Five winter backpacks.  One normal sized Toyota Matrix.  Oh yeah.

We set off later than we wanted while snow came softly down like it seemed to do every day in Syracuse.  Abbe found herself squished between Brosky and Chris in the backseat where they had their leg room restricted even more by five pairs of snowshoes under their feet while JT had shotgun and his pack between his legs.  This is the benefit of driving!  I only had the things I needed outside of my pack, conveniently in a small cloth grocery bag to the left and under my left leg.

Needless to say, we took four short stops at various gas stations, none of which included buying gas, to stretch, caffeine up, get our snack on, and buy dinner.  We had all decided to eat dinner on the way since we left late and none of us wanted to hike 4.7 miles without dinner late at night.  Dinner varied from my own beans, rice, and veggie combination that I had cooked the night before to gas station pizza, gas station junk food, to dinning hall meal plan food in a Styrofoam take-out container from lunch.  Yum yum!

And since wonderful winter had come at us full blast, we had to drive slower than normal the whole way to avoid skidding out on the freshly snow dusted roads over to the trailhead.   JT and I seemed to have deja vu the whole way over to  upper Works because that’s exactly where we ended up the weekend before but decided against the long trip due to cold weather.  This weekend, the temperature forecasts predicted highs in the high teens and low twenties!  Balmy!

By the time we reached the trailhead, everyone practically fell out of the car they seemed so rejoiced to get out and move.  I felt fine.  Hmm.  We packed our things up and headed down the familiar Calamity Brook trail to Lake Colden.  That trip solidified the fact that I much prefer that trail in the winter as opposed to the muddy, swampy, stream-spilling-over-into-the-path trail that I had previously experienced.

The five of us put on our head lamps and set out.  Abbe and Brosky set a rigorous pace ahead while JT, Chris, and I followed.  We had to stop at the bridges where the trail steadily rises about 600 feet to take a layer off.  At about 15 degrees, we found it too hot.  When that flattened out a bit more, we checked the map and noticed we should arrive at the Calamity of Calamity Brook very shortly; from there, we only had about a third of a mile to the first lean-to.

Descending slightly to the sharp right turn, we paused to let Chris, Abbe, and Brosky see the Calamity monument.  From what I remember, the guidebook tells the story of the early miners who worked in the area.  One of them went up toward Calamity Pond and accidentally shot himself dead, commemorated in a six-foot monument.

Pressing on, we soon came upon the first of the Flowed Lands lean-to’s at the end of Lake Colden.  We saw one tent near the back and an assortment of gear on a sled to one side of the shelter.  We assumed it was just one or two people, but they had obviously already gone to sleep behind the lean-to, so we moved in and set up quickly and as quietly as we possibly could.  The five of us left as much room as possible for one or two people to sneak in if needed.

We woke up in the morning with a long day ahead of us.  The agenda began with hiking about two and a half miles to the Uphill Brook Lean-to at the base of the herd paths for Cliff and Redfield, then dropping the sleeping gear and hiking up both trail-less peaks.  Lucky for us, a bit of sun shone through and gave us a bit of motivation although it did pass in and out the whole day with an annoyingly thick cloud cover slowly moving in over the mountains.

Our tent neighbor woke up a bit after we did and came to see who came in after he fell asleep.  A pleasant older man, he had come in with a large pack and a sled full of gear to mainly go along aways in the valleys and possibly Mt. Colden.  After eating breakfast, we headed out, over the dam, and up to the second lean-to destination.  The ladders proved interesting in snowshoes, but we managed.

When we got to the lean-to, we ran into a boisterous group of middle-aged men who wanted to day hike up Cliff and Redfield as well and had already hiked in from none other than Adirondack Loj…where else.  They seemed nice enough and we mentioned that we were putting sleeping bags and whatnot in the lean-to and heading out to do the same thing.

After we unloaded the extra stuff, we put the sleeping pads down so other people could gage how many people would sleep there and if there was enough room for them.  None of us had summited any of the mountains we planned to hike, which made all of us anxious and excited to get started after the long approach to the inner peaks.

We looked at the snowshoe tracks and saw that the other group of middle-aged men had gone up to Redfield.   Neither path had been broken out, so we opted to break out Cliff so then each group of us would have an easier time finding the summit of the second mountain.  As there is no trail between the summit, we knew we would meet them again at some point.  Excited that we only had to locate one herd path that day, we charged forward.

Abbe and Brosky led both finding the path and knocking all the snow off the trees.  I kept edging Brosky on, “You know you get stronger by breaking trail?!”

“Yeah?” he looked back, “Sweet!”

JT, Chris, and I chuckled in the back and they leaped and bounded upward.  Cliff had some very interesting trail direction choices with a lot of the put-your-foot-to-something-higher-than-your-waist-and-lift-yourself-up numbers.  I found the ice beneath the snow to make those much more difficult, yet I did not particularly want to take the snowshoes off, put on the crampons, and strap the snowshoes to my backpack for them to knock snow off the trees and onto the back of my neck.  That did not seem appealing to me.

By the time we reached the summit, we couldn’t really see anything, but no more snow fell and Abbe and Browsky had arrived about five minutes or so before us and already wanted to descend to stay warm.  We took a short break and did just that.  As much as we could we just butt-slid one at a time so no one got snowshoe spikes in them and when we had almost reached the bottom, we came across the large group of middle-aged men seeming a little tired.

“You might need crampons in a bit,” Chris said.

“Yeahhhup, got ‘em,” one said, taking the moment to grab an extra few deep breaths.

Then we, once again, caught up to Abbe and Brosky at the bottom where I could feel my snow pants dig straight into my hips rubbing off nice swaths of skin.  I paused at the junction and quickly changed the dressing to new ointment soaked gauze pads and duct taped them back over my hips to prevent chaffing.

Onwards!  At that point, I had started to drag a bit more as we headed up Redfield which really was just a long uphill slog for a mile and a half.  It did not have any more weird body finagling moves, just walk uphill at about 1000 feet of elevation per mile.  As per the theme of this trip, Abbe and Brosky surged ahead, seeming to feed off of the other’s competitiveness to reach the goal as quickly as possible.  Chris went some pace between theirs and mine and JT’s.  When we reached the top, which had a small would be view if the clouds hadn’t completely taken over, Abbe and Brosky headed back to the lean-to while Chris, JT, and I had a snack, then headed back down.

“Outrageous!” screamed Brosky as we approached the lean-to after meandering down at a pace just fast enough to keep us warm.

“No,” Abbe started, “They wouldn’t have?  Would they?”

“I am going to punch someone!” Brosky angrily raised his voice, “If I see them, we’re getting them back!”

JT, Chris, and I exchanged glances before we rounded the corner to the lean-to.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“My cookies are gone!” Abbe said, still searching for them in our pile of extra gear.

“Those guys took them!” Brosky accused.

“Where did you leave them, Abbe?” Chris asked as we all began to take off our snowshoes to help look for them.

She pointed, “Right there by the tent fly.  The whole bag is gone!”

JT looked pensive, “Well, they were the only ones out here.  We could ask them if they haven’t already left.  To get back to Adirondack Loj, they have to pass by the lean-to.”

“They better give them back!” JT said pacing back and forth and swaying, his arms by his sides, occasionally balling his hands.

“The problem is,” Abbe said, pausing her search, “that those were nutritional cookies.  They were basically energy bars in the shape of cookies…and they were a good portion of my food.”

“Ohhh no,” I said, inventorying my own food in my head, “I’m sure we all have a bit of extra we could toss you if we can’t find them.”

“Maybe an animal took them, somewhere right around or under the lean-to?” JT thought out loud.  We all looked around the immediate area.  Nothing.

Then we realized that we all felt extremely cold and that the temperature had probably begun to drop since the sun should set in about an hour and the forecast predicted a high of 21 degrees fahrenheit that day.  Crawling into our sleeping bags, we listened, hoping the group of middle-aged men would come out boasting they stole cookies and we could confront them.  They never came.  If they did take them, they made the smart move of getting out faster than we did because Brosky still fumed for hours afterward.

“I feel like that’s hiker etiquette not to take other hiker’s food,” I said which made me think some animal smelled it and took them.

“I swear there were a few more tracks here than when we left,” Abbe replied, still in disbelief.

We cooked dinner from our sleeping bags and ate sitting in them, leaning our backs against the back of the lean-to.  Right as we finished, we heard snowshoes.  All of us went deathly quiet, waiting to hear boisterous voices, yet all we heard were snowshoes and a murmur which we could not understand.

Two people approached the lean-to and peered in at us.  Not middle-aged men.  A very fit, lean couple in matching gear stops.

“Hi,” I said, trying to be friendly.

“Hello,” the woman starts.  “We just wanted to see what shape the lean-to was in on our way out.”

The guy murmured something to the woman.  French.  Figures.  They’re both decked out in Arc’Teryx.

“Did you guys break out Cliff and Redfield?” the woman asked.

“Yes,” Abbe replied first, “We broke out Cliff and some other guys broke out Redfield.  Then we switched.”

“Nice,” she said thinking.

“Where did you guys come from today?” I followed up.

“Gray, Skylight, and Marcy,” she began, “we’re heading to the car now.”

Now that would be a very long day in the winter, with not that much daylight, and strenuous.  But, on the plus side, they broke out Gray for us, which means less work tomorrow!

As we began to get ready for bed, Brosky smirks and laughs boyishly.  We turn to look at what he has up his sleeve.  A water bottle full of shitty vodka.

“How many shots do you guys think is in here?” he said staring at it.

The consensus ended up coming to five by eyeballing it.  Eyes gleaming, he knocked back all of it.  The smell of shitty vodka permeated the air just from exposure.

Buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuurp!

Shitty vodka now got its way into every air molecule for a mile.  Fantastic thing to fall asleep to.  Then, “Hey Mandy?” JT asked, “Can you check that bite I think I have but can’t see?”

I looked.  Yup.  That’s pretty infected.  We’re about 8 miles in, with full packs, and a solid drive from a hospital.  It definitely needs antibiotics.  After having one poisonous spider bite, an infected spider bite, and a tick bite, I could tell infection when I saw it.  We drug out the med kit and I drained a considerable amount of puss and nastiness out then bandaged it up.  He said it didn’t hurt too bad unless he put pressure on it or had the backpack come down on it.  We decided to see how he felt in the morning and how much the swelling had increased.  If he could stick it out to do Gray, we would.  If not, we’d hike out.

Waking up, we saw a glimmer of what could possibly turn into sun and Abbe got us motivated as she deals much better with mornings than the rest of us do, even in the cold weather.  The forecast had only predicted a high of 17 that day which made the rest of us want to sleep longer and not leave the warm and cozy sleeping bags.  Checking JT’s spider bite, we decided that since it had not swelled more than last night, we would try to hike Gray since the summit was so close and none of us wanted to hike all the way back in there for just one mountain that supposedly seemed more like an arm off Marcy.

We packed up as much as possible to make grabbing the extra stuff easier on the way out and we set off.  Before we knew it, we hit the half mile mark where we changed trail markers and made a sharp right turn to continue climbing toward Lake Tear of the Clouds, or the source of the Hudson River.  No surprise here, Abbe and Brosky ran ahead and promised to stop at the herd path off to Gray before the tiny lake, JT and I took up the rear because my hips chaffed and JT’s pain killers had not kicked in for the spider bite yet while Chris hiked up between us somewhere.

When we got to the herd path, Abbe and Brosky had their packs off and had started to jog in place, as much as one can in snowshoes.  Chris had sat own on his pants and had his boots off while he rubbed his feet.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I can’t get my feet warm.  They’re almost numb,” Chris replied.

“I gave him some hand warmers,” Brosky said jogging more, “but we’re getting cold and we hiked back to find him for a few minutes and then hiked back up.”

“Ah, gotcha,” I said.  “Sorry we’re slow.”

I knelt down and let Chris put his bare feet on my stomach to get them warmer faster since the hand warmers probably did not get as much oxygen exposure before ending up crammed into his socks.  JT began eating a bar of some sort.

“Why don’t Abbe and I go hike up Skylight, just right over there,” Brosky began, “while you guys take care of his feet and hike Gray, then we’ll meet you somewhere on Gray?”  Since he had twenty something peaks down, he wanted to catch the last one in the area that he didn’t have as well, Skylight, the summit of which lay only half a mile down the trail.  I had been up Skylight in September and felt fine with that and since the cone on top is so exposed, I felt like Gray would be  enough for today and they seemed so incredibly chipper about the idea.

They set off while Chris’ feet stayed on my stomach for a few more minutes until all of us began to get a bit chilly and decided that hiking up the rest of Gray would probably get our blood flowing enough to get warm.  It mostly worked.  JT and I hiked up just a bit, and Chris followed suit right after he put on his boots.  Mostly broken out from other people, the herd path did not prove hard to find, and we reached the summit in not too long.  We decided to take our time because Abbe and Brosky had to summit Skylight and run all the way back up there.  On the summit, we took a short snack break and headed back down.

Abbe and Brosky caught up with us part way up Gray and we decided to meet at the lean-to if they didn’t catch up with us before then since we went toodleling along trying not to irritate JT’s bite more.

They did manage to catch up right before we hit the lean-to and we all packed up and out.  This time, the 8 miles out seemed much less strenuous and Chris’ feet had warmed up in the downhill pounding.  We took lunch at the Marshall lean-to since no one occupied it, and then kept going out since the trail mostly went steadily downward.  We passed the same guy with the sled at the same lean-to we found him in.  As we passed we waved to him and trotted out the last four and a half miles to the car.  Part way through Chris asked me how much further we had to go downhill because he remembered when I mentioned that the last mile is a bit flatter and just slightly uphill.

I knew we didn’t have too much more, but as it was the first time I’d hiked up this way in the winter, I didn’t have all the landmarks as clear in my head.  When we hit the 1.6 mile bridge from the car a few moments later, I laughed and pointed.

“I think I’m getting blisters on my baby toes,” he said.  We paused.

“Do you want to fix them?  I have plenty of stuff in the med kit,” I offered.

He thought, “No, we’re not too far.”

“The snowshoes do that to me when I hike too long in them, we can wait if you want to take care of them,” I offered again.

“Nope, I’m good,” he said again.

We pressed on.  By the time we hit the 1.2 mile bridge, I gave Abbe and Brosky the keys and said they could go out to the car, just watch the last two left turns and follow the signs for “parking lot” since they seemed to want to walk faster.  Excited, they ran off, still with plenty of energy.

The three of us just went onward, and then, before we knew it, we reached the car and we examined Chris’ feet.  He did have blisters as they bled out into his socks.  Apparently, he lost three toenails from that trip.  Good carnage.  Way to go Chris!  Then all five of us managed to cram back into my Matrix and we set off for Syracuse.

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Where to next?

Hello super adventurous awesome readers!

I am currently in the South Island of New Zealand and will be here until the beginning of December on a NOLS course.  Despite the fact that I will not have internet access until then, the good news is: the blog will continue!  Before leaving, I wrote up tales of completing the 46 High Peaks in the Adirondacks, the Whites, and misc. other hikes that I did while in college.  Those will be posted weekly (by the dutiful trail Mom, Penguin who has already beaten me to the update and the Allen Mountain tale lies beneath this post…a nice wintery 7 degree day) until I get back into the states and write up New Zealand adventures. 

Feel free to comment and get some conversation going.  Don’t forget to get outside!

Cheers,

Mandy/Veggie

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Allen Mountain

On a snowy late January Friday afternoon, JT, Russell and I set out with plans to hike Grey, Redfield and Cliff.  We battled a snow storm on the way to the Upper Works parking lot and discussed our plans for the weekend.  Prepared for the cold, we had plenty of layers, but none of us looked forward to Saturday night or Sunday.  The online weather forecasts predicted Saturday night as negative 27 degrees and the high on Sunday as negative 3 degrees.  In Fahrenheit.  Fantastic.

As we drove into the trailhead, we suddenly thought that the trip definitely needed three days.  We wanted to get out before the cold set in on Saturday night because we had only gotten negative twenty degree sleeping bags out of the e-room.  When we stopped at the end of the road, we talked through our plans.  Then it dawned on us that we passed the Allen Mountain trailhead about a mile back.  Notorious as an 18 mile round trip hike for an outer peak with few views, we knew we could hike it and get back to the car with heat Saturday night.

This seemed to clearly be our best option.  We could hike in the first few miles on the old logging roads and stealth camp somewhere along the trail and day hike up Allen Saturday.  On the way back, we could pick up our stuff and hike out.
Brilliant!

We turned around and drove back to the Allen trailhead.  Populated by only one other car, we parked next to it and began putting on the boots, gaiters and gloves while we checked the temperature at a whopping 13 degrees Fahrenheit.

By the time we set out, darkness had set in.  The early sunsets in the winter drove me nuts.  When the sun disappears at 4:30pm, I use far more headlamp batteries because somehow with SUOC we always end up hiking in after dark.

Barely into the hike, we came across the owner of the other car: a bearded man on skis with a day pack.

“It’ll be a long hike guys” he said as he reached us.

“On the plus side, you’re almost out!” I said.

“Yeah, tell me about it” he replied.  “You’ll be able to find your way though.  I took the skis off when you get off of the first old logging road.”

With that, we headed off into the night with a sky full of stars above us.  The night was calm and peaceful, albeit cold, but that didn’t matter as long as we moved.

“I would trust a guy with that kind of beard,” JT said after he was out of earshot as we walked into an open area without trees.  Russell led, then me, the JT.

“Yeah, he seemed to know what he was…” Russell started, then CRUNCH!  Right in front of me, Russell was down and instantly and without hesitation trying to get his foot up and out.  Quickly, he got himself out.

We looked down.  Ice had broken into some insanely cold water.  “Are we on a low bridge right now?” JT asked.

I hit my hiking poles down in a few places, “Yep.”

“We should watch that a little more closely,” Russell said shaking his foot out.  “I don’t think I got too wet there.”

We trudged on, more carefully over the to the trees and kept going on the open, old logging road.  Soon, the old ranger cabin and the trail to Mt. Adams went off to the left.  The fire tower on top of Mt. Adams had closed a long time ago and the mountain did not reach too high so none of us felt the need to take the diversion, not that we could see at night anyway.

Onward we went, talking about mundane things to fill the time.  One of those included Russell fussing about his GPS and wondering if he had loaded the New York maps back onto it or if he had left the Florida ones on it from his canoeing trip over winter break.

Then, we came to a sharp right turn where the trail shot into the woods and a sign just further on the logging road said “NO TRESPASSING.”  At that point, all three of us wanted to go to sleep and we knew we had a flat piece of ground if we slept right around the sign on the logging road, but we had no idea if we would find a space big enough for the three-man tent we borrowed from SUOC.

After a little debate, we decided to camp there, just off to the side.  The problem with “stealth” camping in the winter is that it’s really not that stealthy because you can see the snowshoe tracks in the snow!  We figured it would be too cold for the hood sitters (rangers) to venture past their vehicles to check it, so we set up camp.

As we snuggled into our sleeping bags, Russell immediately began toying with his small GPS unit for about twenty minutes.

“AHA!” he said finally making JT and I jump slightly.  Well, as much as one can jump in a sleeping bag.  “I do have the New York maps on here!”

“That’s good Russell,” I said as I tried to relax.

As the crow flies we are about three miles from the car.  That probably means we’ve gone about four miles,” Russell talked to his GPS.  “I will set here as a way point for camp so we are off tomorrow morning!”

“Russell,” I said as I began to fall asleep, “We’re not good about getting up in the morning, you might have to help with motivating us.”

“Yeah,” JT said, “We tend to leave around 9am when we try to wake up at 6am.”

“Better than the SUOC average of 10am!” Russell said and that was the last thing I heard as I fell asleep.

Before I knew it, the small alarm on my watch began beeping at 6am.  I alerted the boys, but didn’t want to move.  I knew it was cold outside of the sleeping bag and continued to doze for a while.  Still dark out, I figured we could doze until
7am or so and then start making breakfast from our sleeping bags.  That might have worked except we ended up falling back to sleep completely until a little after seven.  Russell had actually listened to me at 6 am and began moving about, still in the sleeping bag, but he lay there completely awake.

“Damn, Russell,” I said groggily, slowly poking my head outside the sleeping bag.  I could see my breath and tried to mentally prepare myself for the cold.  I rolled over to one of the doors and began heating up water for oatmeal.  I knew I
wouldn’t get up without a hot breakfast that morning.  JT refused to move yet, claiming it takes him less time because he has a cold breakfast that he can eat while packing up or beginning walking.  While he continued to doze, Russell and I ate our hot oatmeal and savored the heat from the inside out while it lasted.

After a slow morning, we did manage to get up and packed by about 9am after we heard some talking pass by us, but without coming over to where we had our camp set up.  Russell, slightly impatiently, waited while JT and I got our shit in one sock and I hacked up a few lugies (right after that, the doctor would tell me I had bronchitis for the past month…oops).

Right off the bat, we took the sharp turn into the woods and after about a mile of easy rolling small bumps, we came to the junction of the herd path off to Allen.  Surprisingly, a huge hand painted sign saying, “Allen” in bright yellow paint pointed the path off to the right.  Russell plotted away in his GPS as we turned to be surprised a second time.  Trail markers!  Confused, all three of us followed them and the snowshoe tracks along until we saw an odd-shaped marker.

JT stopped to examine it, “It’s made from a yellow laundry detergent container!”  All of us burst out laughing.

“I guess a few people thought they would help mark it since it’s a widely used 46er herd path” Russell mused.

I hacked up a nice, gooey yellow blob.

We continued following them until they finally disappeared and we took a small break for water at the next large stream right a the base of Allen, finally.

Exited for fresh water, I looked over at Russell and said, “So, what does that GPS of yours say?”

“Well!” Russell started, “As the crow flies we are 1.4 miles and will inevitably need to do a few switchbacks and whatnot so I assume we are a little under two miles away from the summit.”

“That would make sense because this is the creek we hit two miles from the summit according to the guidebook,” JT said, seeming doubtful of the GPS.

Heading out, we almost immediately started climbing, slowly and steadily, along a fairly clear herd path following someone else’s steps.  Of course, we had the typical blowdowns to climb over or crawl under.  I found the more I went under downed trees, the more I would hack up.  Russell would get ahead of us because I kept stopping to cough my brains out, and wait for us rather patiently playing with his GPS.

“Are you sure you’re ok?” Russell asked me.

Hack. Spit. “Yeah,” I said, “I’m good.  Just putting one foot in front of the other.”  Then after a few steps I hear Russell chatting with someone besides JT, who had gotten ahead of me.  I ducked under a tree and then two women
stood there chatting away with Russell.

“Hi,” I started, trying not to hack anything up.  “How’s the trail look from here up?”

One began, “Not bad, you can follow our tracks up.”

The conversation did not last too long and we continued upward.  About fifteen minutes later, we came to a small, open slide where we turned around to have an amazing view of the inner peaks.

“Daaaaaaamn!” I started, until hack hack hack.

Russell seemed frustrated.   I turned to look at him as he tried to kick in steps up the slide with snow shoes on.  Very slowly he made upward progress.  Estimating the slide length at about 50 feet, Russell made it to the top eventually and gave the ok for me to go up.

Fiddling with the GPS he said, “We are only 0.3 miles from the summit as the crow flies!”

Rolling my eyes, I went next, trying hard not to stop and hack up anything but it seemed like every two steps forward, I went one step back.  A few times I slid down a few feet and had to find another route up because the snow wouldn’t stick  completely to the ice underneath on the rock.  I debated stopping and putting on crampons a few times throughout the short, very steep climb, but ended up getting up with just the snowshoes and hiking poles and waiting with Russell while JT climbed, just as frustrated as the two of us had seemed.  A few profanities flew relatively quickly and he stopped to put on crampons.

All three of us wanted food to satisfy our growing hunger that had multiplied with the frustration on the small slide.  Although we enjoyed the view from it, we wanted to reach the summit.  After a few more slightly annoying foot-to-the-waist jumps up, we did reach the summit of Allen Mountain.  There we all immediately opened our packs for lunch and began munching down.  That last 0.3 miles took us 45 minutes, probably exacerbated by hunger.

Of course, by that time, the clouds had moved in making any possible side views from the top nothing but whiteness.  I had to keep moving in order to stay warm.  Luckily, the puff coat helped tremendously, but my fingers hurt if I kept them out of the shells for too long.  I had wool gloves underneath the shells, but even with just those while I ate made my fingers hurt enough to put them in my armpits to warm them up.  At that point, I broke out a new pair of hand warmers to insert between the gloves and the shell mittens I wore.

We managed one summit picture, then headed down.  When we hit the slide, we encountered three grimpers, two men and a woman.  The woman did not have a pack with her and seemed fairly tired while the two men had day packs.  As they struggled up the slide, we slid down a little farther over on our butts having a fantastic ride one at a time.

“Are we alllllllmost there?” asked the woman.

“Yup!” I said as I sat down for the ride.  “This is the last hard part.”

“Goooooood,” she huffed in a French-Canadian accent, “I had to leave my pack right down there to get the rest of the way up!”

I slid down and JT followed.   Russell managed to stay more composed and not slide down the other parts of the trail while JT and I joyfully slid down as many parts as possible one at a time, making sure we had cleared the bottom before the other went.

In no time at all, we found ourselves back at the stream and meandering back to our campsite.  Occasionally, I would cough and cough and have to catch up a bit, but the sun had begun to set as we hit the marked trail of logging roads.  The logging roads had much lower undulations that made my tired-bronchitis body feel a little better.  Seven degree weather might not have helped bronchitis then or in the few other weekends that I’d had it before this trip.  Oops.

When we finally hit our campsite, I decided that we needed to cook dinner before we hiked the last four miles or so out so we had enough energy to get there.  The boys were not so fond of this energy until they realized that I would do all the work and all they had to do was begin to pack up their things.  As my typical backpacking meal, the couscous/TVP/dehydrated veggies combo only needed boiling water and then to sit for five minutes, it gave me time to pack up my things while it sat and cooked itself.  After eating, we all had a bit more energy and we listened as the grimpers passed us rather loudly on their way out.

In the dark, we headed out, following the well trodden path that we took, the two women took, and the grimpers took.  I still felt like I couldn’t breathe properly due to all the phlegm, but I made it.  We made sneering remarks at the private property signs as we passed them and then tried to decipher the writings by the grimpers in the snow next to the trail.  After reading a few of the words written with a hiking pole, we realized they had a fourth hiker that had turned back and had told them the times he or she was at certain places and that he or she was heading to McDonald’s.

Funny thing: if you undo the contractions and rearrange the letters in McDonald’s slogan “I’m Lovin’ It” to “I am loving it” it spells “Ailing vomit.”  A good testament to the food served there!  Maybe that’s why said person could not make it more than about two miles in on the trail.

When we got to the open area, all three of us made sure we stuck to whatever bridge structure that we seemed to walk on, feeling out our next move with the hiking poles.  We saw that other people had fallen partially in as well in several places and we tried to avoid that.  This time we made it across without wetness, although it wouldn’t have mattered too much because we had less than a mile to go to the car.

We made it to the car a late enough that all the nearest gas stations would be closed.  Packing everything into my car, we headed out and couldn’t manage to find desperately needed caffeine until Inlet where we found a small bar/video rental open.  Russell had snored almost the whole way there and JT mostly managed to stay awake, but I really needed caffeine badly to make it the next two and a half hours back to Syracuse.  The bartender directed me to the Coca-Cola on the other side of the bar and promptly charged two dollars for each small plastic bottle of it.  It wasn’t even a 20 oz!  Pissed, but not seeing other options, I grabbed one and kept driving.   Nothing was open.

We made it back to Syracuse ok, but very tired in the early hours of the a.m.

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The final segments!

I left Silverton around 10 am after getting a ride in a beat up, red pick up with an old geezer who answered everything I said with “Right on.”  His story goes like this: he got to Silverton 18 years ago on his motorcycle with just the clothes on his back and “not quite three dollars in my pocket.”  Now, he has twelve more motorcycles, owns a house and a kid.

I hiked from the road to Little Molas Lake and hit a trailhead (which was not in the guidebook) and read a sign warning about sheep dogs.  Fantastic.  Just what I need to worry about right now.  Moving slowly with a full food bag, I hiked awhile and stopped for lunch where I still had a good view, but past where all the day hikers went from Little Molas.  I went in very small ups and downs and near beautiful wild flower fields of yellows and pinks and reds and purples.  Passing far more water sources than mentioned in the guidebook, I got some when I needed it and only carried about a liter with me.

That evening, I stopped between a pond and a small stream which ran into a cave.  I could hear sheep not far off and I had no desire or patience to deal with them that night.  I figured 10 miles was enough for a day out of town anyway.  In the morning, I got moving in good time until I hit the sheep.  I passed the sheep dude sitting over on another hill in the distance.  We waved to each other, but were out of earshot.

The first sheep moved away with no problem when I walked through.  They didn’t want to deal with me and I didn’t want to deal with them.  Our agreement worked just fine until the sheep dogs discovered me and decided that I was not cool.  Thanks growling and barking dogs.  One in particular, would not leave me alone.  It ended up taking me an hour to get about a third of a mile because he growled and showed his rather sharp-looking teeth constantly.  After about 5-10 minutes, he would decide that I was ok, but lay about 10 feet in front of me in the middle of the trail.  I would walk around him in a semi-circle and he would be fine until I was 10 feet on the other side.  He would then begin barking and growling again and I would wait until he would lay ahead in the trail again.  Repeat process for 1 hour.  Fuuuuuuuuuuck.

That surprisingly drained a good deal of energy making sure it didn’t bite me.  My appetite began to rage!  It has rarely done this the whole trail.  Now, almost finished, it decides to be hungry?  Hmmmm.  I paced myself on meals and bars by distracting myself with the new geologic formations that surrounded me.  I wished Amanda was there to tell me what they all were, how they got there and the inevitable super sarcastically awesome comment.  I trucked down until crossing Cascade Creek, which was beautiful and did cascade, but it was also infested with bugs and I had to keep going to get away from them.

The sky looked like something might come in soon, but didn’t until about mile 3 of segment 26 where I found myself getting pelted with hail.  Hail hurts when you have just a tank top and running shorts on.  I dashed until a tree and hid while a hail storm moved and dropped an enormous amount of hail for half an hour.  It entertained me quite well and was much more pleasant than rain.  I watched it bounce as it hit the ground.  This time, it only got up to marble size though.

When enough of the sky turned blue again, I hiked on to get to the last water source before a 21 mile dry stretch, according to the guidebook.  It had a fantastic campsite right before treeline…literally.  I got in right as it got dark and cooked dinner, hung my food and almost fell fast asleep until I heard a mountain lion off in the distance.

The next morning took some motivating to get moving.  Once I did, I managed to bash my shin across a large blowdown which gave me a small surge of pain, which I ignored until I felt blood dipping down my shin and staining my socks.  Then, I took care of it and covered it up.  I think my lack of motivation came from the 3.5 liters of water I was carrying in case I didn’t feel like doing 21 miles (which I didn’t).  Right before hitting segment 27, I saw a large black bear running away.  Glad I hung my food…

The first 10 miles of segment 27 confused the hell out of me because they were a maze of logging roads, some still functioning.  It was so confusing that I ripped the instructions out of the guidebook and put them in the waistband pocket because I couldn’t keep the turns straight in my head.  Then I ran into a super cheery group of people with day packs.  I suspected that they had some caffeine in one of their two trucks that was there and lightly alluded to my desire in hopes of yogiing a soda to wake myself up and hike more motivated.  They did not have any there, but did five miles further in their camp and told me to meet them there.  Three of them were trail running the five miles and the other two were hiking it.  Apparently, after chatting with them, they were with an “expedition” group that had everything already figured out and set up camp and tents for them.  All they had to do was carry a day pack and hike together.  Sounded like a sweet deal to me.

I did end up having lunch with them because they were great company and I talked with them for a little over an hour, all those at the camp.  They generously did have some mountain dew there, a pb&j, and a beer they gave me to pack out.  I talked a great deal with Julia who seemed to be the only person under 40 there.  I did the sleeping bag trick to keep it cold.  After that hearty lunch, I hiked another 9 miles to the beginning of Indian Trail Ridge, the last above treeline 4 mile sha-bang.  There were a few clouds, but I did not expect them to turn into anything.  Yet, I just camped near the last trees anyway since I had the water and a beer!

The next morning, I noticed I had lost my knife and searched around my immediate area.  Nothing.  Bummer.  I hiked up and over all the bumps on Indian Trail Ridge and down to Taylor Lake (the next water) and got a liter.  After a snack, I went up to Kennebec Pass and went down the other side saying goodbye to the exposed hiking.  I saw a small dark cloud, but thought nothing of it because it was super small and the rest of the sky was pretty blue.  Then, a few miles later in the trees, as I was rocking out to some tunes, I felt a big rain drop on my head.  I looked around, glancing through the trees and noticed that very little blue was left in the sky.  Hmmm.  I found a good tree and sat under its protecting branches as it began to rain.  I ate lunch.  Then I read.  Then I read some more.  Still raining.  Still dark grey.  Then it paused.  I hiked about a quarter-mile before it began raining again.  This time harder.  I ducked under another tree.  Lightning and thunder started spinning out and the thunder had an eerie sound like a car racing through a tunnel and then crashing into a cement wall.  The lightning was only a mile or two away.  The rain was a bit too much to read.  An hour later it stopped raining and I hiked another quarter-mile before it downpoured again and I went under a third tree.  I looked around.  The whole area was super green with loads and loads of vegetation.  It must just get slammed with rain.

Eventually, it stopped raining, but as I hiked, the vegetation brushing against my legs got me all wet.  When I got to the bottom, I saw nice campsites near the creek and thought about staying, but decided to get a bit further to have a shorter last day.  I figured my legs were already wet, so it didn’t matter.  As I went up the last climb, I found a few small streams and got a liter out of one.  That allowed me to dry camp near the top of the climb.  Then I discovered that my pocket rocket did not work.  The rungs had been completely stripped out and it wouldn’t screw onto the canister.  I ate peanut butter for dinner.

On the menu for breakfast: cold oatmeal.  Disgusting.  The weather didn’t look too much better, yet I walked on passing a few large cow pies and cursing them because I thought I had left the damned cows behind.  Before long, I found myself having an early lunch at Gudy’s rest, four miles from the end.  I was joined by two mountain bikers, one of whom stopped just so he could talk on his cell phone for ten minutes.  Yup.  Back to civilization.  Fantastic.

The last four miles just went downhill past one parking lot and ended in the second.  It felt good to finish and even better to have a free Colorado Trail Nut Brown Ale from the Carver’s Brewery in my stomach when I got into Durango.  I figured if I texted all those I knew behind me and I drank beer long enough, someone would show up.  Then everybody showed up: Hop-A-Long, Cookie Monster, No Amp, Phil, Doug, John, and eventually Justin and Andy.

The next day, we continued the celebration after we managed to rent a minivan for the next day to drive back to Denver.  We might have celebrated a little too much and the scenic curvy route proved a little difficult.  All 7 of us fit with all our packs into a Kia minivan and road tripped back to where we started.  We made it back to Denver to visit Stick Man and then crash on Phil’s couch for a night.

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After the party in the yurt, a vibrating alarm clock woke everyone up at 6am.  Only Sandy got up.  She buzzed all around, packing up relatively quietly, boiling water,  trying not to trip on all the stuff strewn everywhere.  I managed to sit up at 6:30am and then she began talking to me, but I was still too tired to listen well, so I smiled and nodded.  She had made extra hot water, so I grabbed some for my oatmeal and sat watching the sunrise out the window.  It seemed like such a novel concept to have a window and very odd to be gazing through one at the red mountains in the distance.  Sandy amazed me when she gave away her “extra” water, so she would only carry half of a liter.  That would make me far too nervous going 7 or 8 miles with half a liter of water over several climbs including the high point of the whole trail (not including the five 14ers that I added on).  She left first, right as everyone was starting to wake up.  Justin and John who slept outside on the deck (to star gaze) came back in and then it was an interesting calm scramble to pick out everyone’s socks and belongings.

I left around 8:15, knowing that the others would catch up to me sooner or later since the rest of the segment seemed to gain far more elevation than it lost, until the very end of it.  I ran into two Germans who planned a nobo hike, but weren’t sure if they would make it the whole way due to time constraints.  They seemed very methodical and only asked pertinent questions…all about water sources.  Then they pressed on in some kind of hurry.

The first climb after a few miles was the steepest even with switchbacks over thick layers of fist to head sized rocks that all seemed to move slightly under my feet.  This is where Doug, Phil, Justin, and Andy began to catch up and pass me.  Eventually John would as well on the second climb, but we all ended up leap-frogging each other due to callous chaffing, blisters, or the good old trying to figure out where we were.  The high point at 13,271 ft near Coney Summit is now the highest that I’ve carried a full pack, but did not seem all too special although the views around were fantastic.  However, those same views, I had all morning.  I felt a little jaded to the sea of mountains floating in all directions in a blanket of light fog.

From there, the trail shot downward very steeply near, and eventually on, a jeep road.  Gudy dutifully reminded us in her “tips” section of the guidebook that if the treads on your boots are worn, you will slip and slide down this part.  Gee…NO SHIT SHERLOCK.  I was very displeased with bothering to read that and wondering why it was possibly worthy of putting in there.  It’s just like they waited until segment 12 to tell you that you could pitch your tent anywhere that it didn’t have a no camping sign.  Hmmmm.  Great job guidebook…

Anyway, Phil, Doug, John, Justin, Andy, and I took lunch by a small stream a little over a mile into segment 23 where we were apparently camping a few hundred yards above Sandy, who was further down in the valley near more flat ground.  From there we got to climb another 1,000 ft where I noted the trend of entering a new segment and then suddenly climbing a 1,000 ft.  It seemed a little suspicious.  This time, we climbed up the valley to an “unnamed saddle” and then dropped down the other side to a small pond and a lake where we camped that night around 12,200ft.

In the morning, the sun hit the mountains just right to make a large reflection in the pond and provided the opportunity to take some really crazy looking pictures.  I left early-ish after the sun warmed me up enough and headed out for another bumby day.  The segment did not have any drastic climbs, but rather a lot of smaller climbs from 300-600 feet up and down, up and down.  It crossed from one ridge line to another by shooting down a bit into the valleys and then right back up again.  Each valley looked different, all overflowing with water, some of which was still melt water.  There were various small steep sections in which I was surprised that I didn’t eat shit and fall on my face as the gravel-y footing tried to give way from under me.

At lunch, a mountain biker passed me and warned me of weather coming in that evening and all through the next day.  As usual, it seemed fine during lunch, just a few puffy clouds in the distance, but nothing super dark yet.  I trudged on and Justin and Andy caught up eventually, after I passed the super chill dude looking for mushrooms.  They caught me about two and a half miles into segment 24 where we all filled up at small stream and examined the impending dark clouds of doom that were creeping up from behind us rather steadily with soft thunder still in the distance.  It seemed to have mushroomed out in about half an hour to cover a fairly large portion of the sky behind us.  In front of us, the sky was also turning a darker shade of grey that didn’t look too inviting either, but we hadn’t seen any lightning or heard close thunder, so we kept going to get a better view.  We’d been above treeline for about 30 or 40 miles and we had about 4 more to go above treeline, so we kinda just had to play the wait-and-see game.  That is, until we got to a small pond at mile 3 and the dark clouds of impending doom in front of us got super dark and thunder boomed loudly.  There was no where really to go from where we were except to set up our tents and hope for the best, so that’s what we did.  Nothing like setting up a tent really quickly as two large thunderstorms began to darken the entire sky and they moved toward each other at 12,500ft.

About five minutes after jumping in the tent, boom boom boom! Flashes of light!  The storms seemed to crash together producing loud thunder.  Luckily, I had Kurt Vonnegut to read!  I found myself distracted by a story of when people had big brains a million years ago in 1986 while I hoped that lightning didn’t hit my tent.  I didn’t set everything up inside because I had the great idea of waiting the storm out, then hiking another few miles to make the hike into Silverton shorter the next day.  That is, until about 8:30pm when the sky was still really overcast and light showers came down sporadically.

As I pondered, I heard voices.  I poked my head out and John, Doug, and Phil came up in full rain gear and set up camp.  They had apparently been a little further out, waiting the storm out in a ditch.  Somehow, reading in my tent…dry…seemed more appealing.  I ended up setting up my stuff and going to bed early, ready for a 17 mile day into town with almost 4000 feet of elevation loss (in one go), followed directly by a 2,000 ft climb.

Beer motivated me to get my ass hiking at 6:15am the following day and not reset my alarm.  I stood and watched the beet red sunrise that faded before I had time to wake the others up to see it.  I knew the clouds, which oddly hadn’t gone away, wouldn’t at that point and I was in for more shitty weather.  Red at night, sailors delight; red in the morning, sailors take warning.  I wanted to get the last 3-4 miles of exposed, above treeline hiking out-of-the-way before I had nothing to hide in and a storm came through.  I did, just fine, and realized just how good of a campsite we had.

Dropping off the divide, we took a sharp right to hike down Elk Creek all the way to the Animas River.  The initial drop down amazed me at the switchback construction.  It had tight switchback after switchback like I had never seen before.  Yet, as I went down, I have no idea still how I did not eat shit.  They slopped so only one foot really had support and the other tended to slide off on the narrow…8-10 inch path.  Once through with those gnarly switchbacks, it just went straight down, east coast style on a mixture of loose gravel and large rocks.  A little after I reached treeline, I ran into the first group of people who asked questions about protection up on the divide which I assumed they meant as trees and I talked to them for a few.  Then I saw trees again and it started to drizzle/mist on me, which the branches caught most of and it ended in about twenty minutes.  The whole way down, I tried to take many breaks to give my knees resting time and they pulled through, right down to the bottom just fine.

I crossed the Silverton-Durango train tracks and had a chilling memory of the Mt. Washington cog road and it’s awful noise pollution.  This train not only made obnoxious noise pollution, it also ran on coal.  Yes, that’s right…coal.  I ate lunch near the bridge over the Animas River and then set out grumpy to climb 2000 ft…to a road.  The climbing part didn’t really bother me…except that I was climbing to a road.  One climbs away from roads…not to roads.  The concept just did not seem right in my head and it boggled my mind as I climbed.

The first two-thirds of it was actually quite pleasant, giving lofty views back of the Elk Creek Canyon, the river, and had a steady grade consisting of wide switchbacks.  I rocked out to some music, trying to forget about the absurdity of climbing to a road.  Then I came across a trailhead, which of course was not mentioned by the guidebook and I got confused.  A nice older woman named Linda was there and she set me straight.  She offered me a ride from there but I still had 1.2 miles left to the actual pass.  I thanked her, and continued.  Now, this mile was super pointless.  It went from being 50 ft from the road, to a quarter mile-ish away, back to near the road, away again, and then to the pass.  Before I could get annoyed at it, Linda pulled up and told me to hop in.

She drove me down into town where I found the hostel, laundry, and a bar.

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