About one week left until my Denali expedition officially begins (5/16). So I’m working though the final preparations for a three week excursion out in the snow and ice. Last night I went through all of my gear to confirm I had everything on Alpine Ascents’ required list.
I’ve been accumulating gear over the last year and a half for this trip and at this point I think I’m finally all set and have everything together to pull this off. Yes the gear list is huge but one of the biggest challenges with a trip like this is with taking too much. So I’ve separated out everything on the gear list into my required items and the nice to have items. I’ve got a few extras like a solar charger, extra batteries for the camera and memory cards and some liner gloves (I tend to trash them) but overall I don’t seem to be too excessive. We’ll see how it goes in the official gear check once I get to Alaska.
In addition to my own gear I’ll have to carry group gear as well as food and fuel. I expect the weight is going to fall somewhere between 100-130 lbs. In order to move these kinds of loads up the mountain we’ll have our backpacks, be pulling plastic sleds behind us as well as performing double carries. A double carry is when we transport a load up the mountain, bury it in the snow (cache) and then descend and repeat the next day with the rest of our belongings. This type of travel although tedious gives the added benefit of enough time to acclimatize to the altitude as we ascend the mountain.
In order to haul these loads of gear up a mountain I’ve been focusing my training. I still Crossfit 3-4 times a week but I’ve altered my weekend hiking and climbing to mimic what I’ll be doing on Denali as much as possible. Since there is not enough snow to haul a sled here in NY, I’ve been packing heavy weight on my back. For the past few months I’ve been increasing my pack weight on my weekend trips starting at 60lbs and have worked up to about 75lbs and climbing around 3000 Feet. If all goes well this is in excess of what I’ll be carrying and how much elevation I’ll gain in a single day with that kind of weight. I’ve been performing quite well with this; the standard goal is to be able to ascend 1000 feet in an hour with 60lbs.
To start out with my heavy load training I climbed Algonquin with 60lbs and did 3k feet over 3 miles in about 1 hour and 50 minutes on snow and a some slippery ice as well. This works out to be a rate of 1000 feet in about 37 minutes or 1636 feet per hour. As this benchmark was on ice I could have gone faster but the conditions slowed me down to remain safely upright, its no fun falling on your ass with a heavy backpack. This pace did not seem to be an issue and I’m well above the recommended pace of 1000 feet per hour. Since then I’ve increased the weight over several weekends up to 75lbs and have kept the pace similar on Cascade (65 lbs), Whiteface (70 lbs), Giant (75 lbs) and Big Slide (75 lbs). All shorter distance wise but have good elevation gains making them perfect climbs for this type of training. After each climb I expected to be sore but with the exception of Giant I felt great the next day, my training all winter is paying off. After Giant my hip flexors were a bit sore, this was the first trip with 75lbs total and I pushed it pretty hard. The next week on Big Slide I did the same weight and speed and had no soreness the next day.
In additon to carrying a heavy pack I’ve also put on about 15lbs of mostly muscle (at 170lbs right now) by stuffing myself on a fully paleo diet since January 1st. Iv’e gained the weight because while on Denali I expect to lose a significant amout of weight due to the cold, altitude, and increased metabolism it takes to keep warm in such an environment. At this point I feel great and ready to be put to the test and have the snot kicked out of me by the biggest mountain in North America.
In organizing the latest High Peak excursion The Legendary Jim Wallace put it perfectly:
“New York States greatest enduring mountaineering challenge!! 8 4000ft high peaks including Lower Wolfjaw, Upper Wolfjaw ,Armstrong, Gothics, Saddleback, Basin, Haystack and the King Marcy!! 21 miles, over 9000 feet of elevation gain. I.ve done it, but now it’s time to do it right with snow and ice. This takes serious planning and conditioning. If you have to ask any gear questions or difficulty standards than this probably isn’t for you, but if you’re familiar with the High peaks and have credited winter experience and gear than this is for you! It’s time to bring it to the next level. It’s going to be hard and we’ll have to dig deep, but will reign victorious!!”
How could I pass up a hike with a description like that! I’ve done the Great Range hike twice. Once in July on a beautifully sunny day solo following a route that was about 27 miles from the Roostercomb trailhead, to the Garden, Mt Marcy and Back to Roostercomb via the rest of the range. Again in November with NYM from the LOJ and finishing at the Ausable Club when I made my infamous Burpee video. Both times it was a rugged hike but still no challenging conditions. The idea of completing this hike in winter sounded like a great idea; wind and snow blowing above the tree line, crampons and ice axe my hand the whole time and finishing it off at the top of New York State. So when the forecast for March 17th came up as 68 degrees and sunny after a week of above freezing temperatures and some rain I knew my visions of a winter wonderland were out the door but still this hike is too fun to pass up on account of good weather!
We started out from AMR at 6:30 with headlamps and no snow on the groud. As we hiked in the road we turned off after a few minutes towards the Wolfjaws. After a half hour or so we reached a junction for Beaver Meadow Falls and Gothics… looks like we missed the turn in our excitement somewhere. It was time to backtrack or cross the river and cut back to the trail up the Wolfjaws. Jim and Rob started to take off their boots to wade across and as they stepped into the water a light clicked on it my head and I asked isn’t there a bridge at Beaver Meadow falls? Jim looked up and said yes and its right there, I leaned out over the water a bit and could see the bridge across a few hundred yards ahead. Once Natan finished laughing so hard I thought he was going to fall over we went over the bridge and crossed.
We quickly made up the ½ mile we lost and got back on the trail up to the Wolfjaws. As we began to gain elevation we started to see more snow on the trail and in the woods. The trail was still packed but starting to get a bit slushy. In spite of this I was climbing in a t-shirt… so much for winter mountaineering today! As we neared the Wofjaws Notch we were treated to some great under cast views with Dix Mountain in the background.
We reached the notch after a few minutes and took the branch off to Lower Wolfjaw. After a brief climb we were at the summit at 9:30AM one down and seven to go! We descended quickly, headed back the way we came to the notch and then began the ascent of Upper Wolfjaw reaching the summit at 10:20AM. We took a quick break for some food and a drink and headed off towards Armstrong. The climb up Armstrong had a few icy sections that required some careful steps but nothing too challenging and we reached the summit at 11AM. By then it was quite warm out bordering on hot and we were all wishing we were in shorts in spite of the several feet of snow still on the ground. With the lower range complete we approached Gothics, one of my favorite Adirondack Mountains. The approach from Armstrong requires an ascent up a slope that is scramble in the summer but in winter it is snow covered and becomes a long open snow ramp up to the summit reminding me of some of the ridge climbs I did in Alaska last May.
Now that we were out of the trees the sun was very intense and really started to heat things up, I had to don my Glacier Glasses to see it was so bright with all of the reflection off of the snow on the ground. We were able to successfully find several spruce traps as we neared the summit that were chest and even neck deep, the snow was really starting to soften up from the heat but there was still plenty of it up here. After a few extractions from the previously mentioned spruce traps we reached the summit right at Noon. We posed for a group photo of Jim, Rob and I and headed off along the ridge searching out a few more traps on the way.
We reached the face with the cables and it was mostly clear of snow and ice and the descent went quickly.
We took a quick food stop at the Ore Bed trail and then headed up towards Saddleback. Again we ran into some spruce trap and posthole troubles slowing down our pace. We decided that it was quite a bit easier to just not posthole anymore (why didn’t we think of that tin the first place?) Unfortunately the trail was not very cooperative in this and it kept falling apart on us. We progressed onward towards the summit and reached it at 1:20PM.
We decided to push on and down climb the cliffs and move on towards basin. I switched from my ski poles to my ice axe for the down climb and quickly climbed down the cliff section.
After successfully down climbing we pushed onward towards Basin. As we neared the summit the tracks seemed to veer off the trail and through the woods. I assumed it was to get around and icy or more technical section. The snow here was quite deep and we had to plow through in order to make headway. We progressed onward and reached the summit of Basin at 2:25PM. We ran into Krumholz from the ADK High Peaks Forum and he took a summit shot of the four of us.
A quick snack break and we were off towards or final two, Haystack and Marcy the toughest two mountains of the day! The climb down Basin was quick as we were able to slide along the snow and use our momentum to carry us. We ran into Dave here (he had left a few hours ahead of us) and he continued on with us. Once we descended Basin we began the long climb up towards Haystack. It took us about an hour to reach the turnoff to Haystack. This was the toughest climb of the day and I was starving and quite thirsty by the time we reached this point. I took five minutes to eat and get something to drink and feeling re-energized I started up Little Haystack. As with the other summits of the day it was still quite warm out and I was able to stick to my t-shirt in spite of the wind. I’ve been on Haystack in July and it was colder than today! As we headed down Little Haystack we ran into George and Justin who were ahead of us from the point of our wrong turn in the morning. They were headed back down and off to Marcy, we wished them luck and continued on towards summit number seven. After what seemed to be a bit more of a climb than I remember we reached Haystack’s summit at 4:05PM
We were all feeling a bit tired at this point and took a break at the summit to gather our strength for the final ascent of the day. After a five minute break we headed down. We made good time and were back over little haystack and to the trail leading to Marcy in less than 40 minutes. We descended this section quickly using the same method of sliding down ski style since the snow was perfect for it (no butt sliding here!) We reached the sign marking 1.3 miles to Marcy with an ascent of 1244’ just after 5PM.
Jim guessed we’d be on the summit by 6:15 and I guessed 6:30 thinking we were all pretty beat up and tired at this point and once we got above tree line conditions would slow us down as they typically do on Marcy. The climb was tough after all we had been through this day but we still made great time. We reached the intersection with the Van Hoevenberg trail at 5:35PM. From here the route is all above the tree line. I decided I was still warm enough I could keep my jacket off and we continued on towards our final summit of the day. We progressed upward with our legs starting to burn a bit after almost 12 hour straight of climbing but we pushed through and gained the summit at 5:59PM 8 down and only the Van Hoevenberg highway to go!
We lingered on the summit for a few minutes it was a bit windy but still warm enough without a jacket. 8, 4000 foot mountains in the winter with a t-shirt on… what great but odd day for this time of year!
The conditions of the trail on the way down were perfect, we were able to ski/slide down on our boots and made great time. As we descended however we began to lose the snow. Around the turnoff for Phelps Mountain the snow was all but gone. As we approached Marcy Dam less than two hours after summiting Marcy there was nothing but mud left on the trail. We were able the easily cross just past the dam and continued our trek home through the thick mud. What a change from the rest of the day deep snow to mud, welcome to spring in the Adirondacks! We pushed hard and made it back to the car at 8:35PM a total of 14 hours and 10 minutes on the trail, not bad for a wrong turn, post holing and muddy conditions at the end. I felt pretty good at this point the hike down having reenergized me. We waited for several other members of our group to catch up, gave them a ride to their cars and headed back to the motel for some rest.
In spite of the unwinterlike conditions I had a great time and was very happy with another successful Great Range Traverse. I felt pretty good other than some sore feet at the end, a testament to my training… I think I may be ready for Denali in a couple of months but the training continues!!
Next time we’ll have to do a true winter Traverse in January or February.
Hough, Hough (again), South Dix and Macomb… 15 hours of breaking trail, route finding and bushwhacking in the dark.
Hough, Hough (again), South Dix and Macomb… 15 hours of breaking trail, route finding and bushwhacking in the dark.
This Sunday 3/5 it was a typical stroll through the woods to claim the summits of a few mountains in the Dix Range. The plan was to ascend Macomb then South and East Dix. If there was enough time Hough was a possibility as well. The day started off around 7:15 AM at the Elk Lake trailhead. It seems that most of the group decided to bail on the hike today and were not going to show up. I met Martin at the trailhead and we decided to head out after waiting for 15 minutes figuring we’d see everyone later if the decided to show up.
In the winter the road is closed to traffic so we had to hike into the summer trailhead. We made good time and were there before 8 AM. From there we took the trail into the lean-to and briefly spoke with two guys who had spent the night there. They mentioned there was a group in front of us headed up Macomb and that the turnoff was just ahead. We went on and must have missed the turnoff. I was about to ask Martin if he knew where the turnoff was but we ran into another group just turning onto a herd path. To my surprise it was a friend of mine Brian (Summithat) along with Skip, Marsha and Karen. We decided to join them in breaking trail up Hough. Not our original destination but we figured why not at this point.
We each took turns breaking trail and route finding up Hough. The trail was nonexistent and we had to make our way through deep snow the entire ascent. After a long ascent we finally reached a section of a resemblance to a trail with some cut trees but no broken snow. We continued to push through and made it up to the summit of Hough around 1PM. It was quite cloudy but we spent some time up there and eventually we got a few breaks in the clouds and some views. Brian took his trusty sharpie out and retraced the faded summit sign so Hough could now be read. Martin and I discussed things and we decided that we really didn’t want to break trail just the two of us over to South Dix so we would head down and out from here.
We headed back down and as we neared the col between Hough and Puff we ran into some hikers from the group Martin and I were supposed to be hiking with. We talked for a bit and Mike (who I had hiked with on Katahdin a few weeks ago) was gung-ho about continuing on and hitting South Dix and Macomb after Hough. How could I say no to that? I figured why not go for it. I checked with Martin and he was ok returning to the parking lot with the other group and we had signed in separately so I said my goodbyes and headed back up Hough to stay with the new group.
The second ascent up Hough was nice and easy now that we had a broken defined trail to follow and we were on top around 2PM. After a quick bite to eat some trail mix we were on the move again down towards the col. I knew the challenge would be finding the path over to South Dix as it was not broken or even defined.
Once we got down to the col we looked for anything resembling a trail but were unable to find it. I took the lead from here and plowed my way up Puff through waist deep snow and one spruce trap after another. It was very slow going as it was very steep and the snow was so deep it almost felt like you were going backwards when you would step in and sink/slide down the way you came. Moving though tough conditions like this can be compared to quicksand, if you start to struggle you can find yourself buried up to you neck or worse.
As we mode progress Janine and I pulled ahead of Mike and his two friends (I never caught their names) we eventually reached to top of Puff and could see South Dix quite clearly. The conditions had cleared out by this point and we had some great views. We stopped for a quick water and food break and to wait for everyone else to catch up. It had taken over an hour to get here to Puff and it was around 3pm. Thinking of the time and the impending darkness I decided to get moving again and took the lead with Janine close behind. I found what looked like the herd path, it was unbroken but I followed it down into the col between Puff and South Dix. The path seemed to disappear after we reached the flat spot in the col and we were back at it bushwhacking again though some heavy brush. I lead us up the slope on South Dix, which was quite steep at times, had very deep snow over my head and was full of spruce traps. I could see quite easily so I knew we were headed in the right direction only slowly. Each step was a struggle for traction and an effort not to sink so much you would be stuck. I kept thinking the whole time it’ll be nice and easy once we get over there as the trial has to be broken out from South Dix to Macomb. After what seemed like an eternity Janine and I reached a rocky open section just below South Dix’s summit. We walked over to the summit and snapped a few pictures, I looked at my watch and it was 4:15 at this point.
While waiting for Mike and his friends I started to look for the path over to Macomb, I eventually found it but it was NOT broken like I was hoping for. We waited about 20 minutes for Mike and I finally got tired of standing around and backtracked to make sure they were ok. I met Mike not too far down and he gave me the thumbs up that all was ok. I told him we were going to push ahead and find/break the trail up Macomb before it got dark and we couldn’t make anything out. He agreed and said they would be behind us shortly.
Janine and I followed what seemed like a faint heard path down South Dix and into the col between Macomb. We traded the lead on and off as we broke trail up Macomb, we lost what path there seemed to be many times as we approached the summit. After a few twists and turns along the summit ridge we finally reached the marker and grabbed a quick picture. It was 6PM at this point and just about dark.
I began to search for anything resembling footprints heading down off the summit but right in line with the rest of the day there was no indication of anything resembling a herd path or footprints in the snow. We headed across the ridge and found what seemed to be the herd path. The path was quite defined and we started our decent. I was thinking to myself this will be nice, the path is quite wide here it’s almost a highway covered in nice soft fluffy snow allowing us to move very quickly on the decent. After a few minutes of following the highway it disappeared. I took some time to search and find where it went but couldn’t find anything at all.
At this point we donned our headlamps and ate a bit of food. The moon was out the air was clear so we had decent visibility. We continued down though some very thick brush and deep snow… pretty much what we’d been doing the entire day nothing new here. I knew we needed to head in a southeast direction and continued to make sure we were on course. As we headed down I thought I could see what looked like a slide just ahead of us. We had to go up and over a ridge to get to it but we were able to break out into a nice open slide. Easy going from here! The slide was snow-covered and there was no ice at all making our descent quick.
When we reached the bottom of the slide it turned into a brook. We were at the base of a large gully which the brook was running though. The snow was still quite deep here which made progress slow and we had to be careful not to break through the snow bridges that were over the water as we progressed. We attempted several times to go tough the woods but the sides of the gully made it too steep to make much progress. We continued on slowly making each step count to make sure we didn’t get wet. After what seemed like hours the land flattened out a bit and we broke off from the brook and headed southeast. I knew as long as we kept heading towards the lake we would eventually run into the actual marked trail. We crashed through the woods moving very slowly for a couple of hours, I broke one pole in the process when I was caught in a spruce trap. After securing what was left of it to my pack we pressed on, we were on the lookout for trail markers or any indication of a trail and we kept seeing things that “looked” like a trail marker and would turn out to be nothing. It’s surprising how much a broken off tree with some ice on the end looks like a yellow disc in the middle of the night when you’ve been off the trail for hours.
Finally I saw what looked like a nice broken trail stretching out in front of us. I didn’t say anything to Janine just in case it wasn’t but she called it out and it actually was the trail. We were both quite happy at this point and took a quick break to grab some water and food knowing we still had several miles to hike back out. It was about 9:15 pm at this point. We started off at a FAST pace and followed the nice marked broken tail back to the summer trailhead in no time and removed our snowshoes.
After plowing through the snow all day and dealing with spruce traps we all but sprinted down the road to my truck with Janine taking the lead and me struggling to keep pace with my mountaineering boots slowing me down. After 15 hours out we finally reached the car at 10:30pm.
I quickly got my cell phone out of the glove box and attempted to call my girlfriend knowing she would be worried if I was alive as she expected me about 5 hours earlier. No service on my phone of course, so I drove down the road until I picked up a signal. She was quite happy to hear from me and after explaining to her that I was still alive and just a bit tired I let her get back to sleep.
We still had to wait for Mike and his two friends to make it out. I knew Mike is a very strong hiker and would have no problems following our trail but it may be awhile before the showed up. It was almost two hours on the dot when Mike showed up at the trailhead and signed himself out. We had a brief discussion about the wonderful trip down and I headed home knowing I still had close to a two-hour drive and that I had to be at work in the AM.
For the conditions and the way things went I have to say this was a very successful hike. For less experienced people this could have very easily been a complete disaster, we had no trail, were in the dark, in the middle of the woods with very deep snow. But we had plenty supplies (food, water, layers) and we knew the terrain and the direction we needed to be. Above all though we remained calm and moving knowing we would reach the marked trail eventually as long as we kept going in the right direction. I really had no concern the entire time, with the exception being that my girlfriend was worried about me. I think next time I’m going to just have to take her with me so she won’t have to be concerned.
Winter Katahdin Traverse
Jon, Paul and I set out from Albany on Friday AM for our long journey northeast to the small town of Millinocket Maine. Millinocket is about 25 miles from our destination of Baxter State Park, home of the mountain known as Katahdin. Katahdin is the highpoint in Maine at 5,268 feet and the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.
Because of the remoteness of Katahdin and the lack of open roads in the winter our plan was to spend three days out, two consisting of travel days to get in an out from our approach site of the Roaring Brook Bunkhouse. After an early start from the Katahdin Inn and Suites in Millinocket we drove the 45 minutes into the Abol parking lot near Baxter Sate Park. While our group of 10 was organizing our gear and getting ready to head out we were approached by one of the park rangers on a snowmobile. He questioned us as to who we were and what our plans for the day were. In Baxter they take extra time to know who is going be in the park and what their plans are. We were required to obtain a permit to even be there in the first place and had to apply for it back in November. This is quite a contrast to the Adirondacks or White Mountains where you sign in and that’s about it. After a brief discussion with the ranger he sped off on his snowmobile.
After our chat with the ranger we took off for the 14 mile approach hike on the now closed road into Baxter State Park. In the summer this road leads right up to the bunkhouse where we would be staying, however in the winter it is only open to snowmobiles (for part of the way) and skiers/hikers to the end. For the trek in I was one of two people in our group that had brought a sled to haul some of my gear. I had about 30lbs on my back and another 30 or so in the sled. The sled I used is called a pulk and is designed with two poles that attach to your backpack or harness to pull it. The fiberglass poles provide more control than a typical sled with a rope attachment. A sled like this can be somewhat easily made and there are many homemade versions of it but I purchased mine online at: www.skipulk.com this system worked out great and my sled made it very easy to pull my gear in rather than haul all of it on my back for the 14 miles in. The trek in was long, uneventful and full of snowmobiles passing us on this busy Saturday. We were quite jealous of this and a few of us tried hitchhiking but there were no takers. After the initial six miles we made it to the “gatehouse” where the turnoff to Roaring Brook was. We had spread out quite on the approach and we waited a bit to group up for the final 8 miles in. From this point there are no snowmobiles allowed except for the rangers in the park. The trail is still a road and was quite packed down from the rangers snowmobiles and we were able to bare boot all the way into the bunkhouse.
Jon and I were the first to arrive at the bunkhouse in Roaring Brook. We were not sure what to expect of the bunkhouse but were quite surprised with what we found. There were three rooms; the main area had a woodstove, picnic table, some shelves for gear, clotheslines above the stove, hooks on the wall for gear, a bench, some lanterns and was stocked with quite a bit of firewood. The two bunk rooms were the same with 6 bunks each the bottom bunks being on the floor. Jon and I each claimed middle bunks in the back bunk room deciding these would be the nicest ones to have. Roaring Brook is where you can drive to in the summer and has several outhouses, lean-tos and a ranger’s cabin. The brook is close by for access to water, making it quite a nice setup. Most of our group arrived about an hour and a half after Jon and I and claimed their spots in the cabin.
We discussed our day tomorrow and various approaches we would make. Katahdin consists of the primary peak known as Baxter, a secondary known as Pamola but it is not officially a different peak and is not considered a separate mountain from Baxter. Nearby is Hamlin at 4756 feet, a traverse is possible across Hamlin, Baxter, and Pamola peaks. This traverse takes you over the infamous section known as the Knife’s Edge. This section traverses a ridge between Baxter and Pamola peak. For a section of 3/10 of a mile the trail is only three feet wide with a several thousand foot drop one either side. We had met several people on the way in and after describing our plans to traverse the Knife Edge they told us we were crazy to attempt in the winter. Despite this I still felt confident in my own skills and our group that we would be able to traverse it safely.
One of the group members Mike wanted to climb Hamlin as a well since it counts towards the Northeast 115, 4000 Footers. Jon and I decided to go along with him for this traverse figuring it was always good to add another mountain. Travel across this type of terrain is much easier\faster in a smaller group as well and I typically move quickly so I figured this was more my style. The route would take us up the Hamlin Ridge trail, to the summit of Hamlin, over to Baxter Peak, across the Knife Edge, up a section known as the Chimney, down the backside of Chimney, up PamolaPeak, down the Helon Taylor trail and back to camp at Roaring Brook the loop is about 10 miles in total.
We left Roaring Brook at 5AM on Sunday and moved quickly on the trail towards Chimney Pond. It was very windy and we knew that once we were above treeline we would be blasted for hours on end, it was going to be an exciting day. Our pace was quick and Jon and I took the lead from the beginning. We stopped briefly to snap a few pictures of the rising sun and of our first sight of the Hamlin our first objective.
We had been unable to see the mountain on our approach as it was covered in clouds but now it was not and it was beautiful. I couldn’t wait to begin climbing this beast. The sky was almost completely cloud free and it looked like we were in for some amazing views. After crossing a frozen lake we came to the junction with the Hamlin Ridge trail.
Jon, Mike and I departed from the main group and made our way up Hamlin Ridge. The ridge ascents steeply but is nothing technical. Just below tree line we added a layer and attached our crampons to our boots. We quickly lost any trace of the trail and were sucked into some nasty spruce traps and were post holing. We debated snowshoes which we had brought but decided not to deal with them at this point. The wind really started up at this point now that we were exposed above tree line. It was quite strong and some of the gusts had enough force to knock you off your feet if you weren’t balanced. After plowing though and slogging along waist deep snow we found some footprints and a somewhat broken trail. The going was much better at this point as we weren’t continually sinking in up to our waists. We followed the ridge towards Hamlin Peak. The trail was rocky in places and snow covered in others. The consistency of the snow made it similar to walking in sand so going was not as quick as would typically be. My glacier glasses were fogging up at this point and not offering enough protection for the wind so I donned my goggles and facemask which I would wear for the rest of the day. At this point I had no exposed skin and was protected from the wind almost completely. As we approached the summit of Hamlin the snow became more packed and supported us better and it was easier to move faster. We reached the summit around 9:50AM and took in the views. We could see the rest of our day laid out ahead of us. A large plateau was in front of which rose up to the main summit of Katahdin (Baxter). We could see the Knife Edge after that and it looked extremely windy from our vantage point on Hamlin.
We moved very quickly over the hard packed snow towards our next objective the summit of Katahdin. After crossing the junctions with the Saddle and Cathedral trails the ascent became a bit steeper. Here the wind all but completely died and it became very hot from the sun beating down in us. There wasn’t a single cloud in the sky. I stripped down quite a bit for this section to keep from sweating. As we approached the summit our short break from the wind ended and we were blasted again and had to suit up for the final approach. We reached the summit at 11:30 AM and took in the views. The summit of Katahdin is the northernmost point on the Appalachian Trail and the sign in front of us stated that it was 2184 miles to Georgia.
We took some pictures at the summit and quickly began to move towards the Knife Edge. We had a brief discussion and sanity check to see if we really wanted to do this. The main group had come this way after ascending Cathedral and we could see their tracks as well as one member lagging behind and bringing up the rear on one of the sections of the Knife Edge in front of us. We decided to go for it and continue the traverse at this point. The wind on the Knife Edge seemed to funnel through the chutes in the rock in certain sections and was strong enough to knock you over if you weren’t prepared for it. Every step had to be precise and you had to be sure that when the wind gusted you were prepared for it and wouldn’t get knocked off your feet. We made our way down and up over the ups and downs along the ridge. We reached several sections where it was only several feet wide and to safely cross you had to crawl on your hands and knees. Every move had to be deliberate and calculated in order to be sure we wouldn’t be blown away. The drop off on either side was around two thousand feet and covered in rocks and ice, a fall wouldn’t be pretty here.
The three of us moved over this section without any major missteps or events, our adrenaline was pumping and I loved every second of it. As we approached the end of the Knife Edge I spotted another person in front of me as well as the rest of our group further ahead of him approaching the summit of Pamola. I decided to attempt to catch up to them as they didnt look that far ahead. I moved pretty quickly over the final sections of the ridge and caught up to the person at the end of the main group who turned out to be the other Mike. We’ll call him D.C. Mike. He was stuck below a section of rock and was not sure how to get up it. I got the feeling he had be standing there for a while not sure what to do. I showed him how to use his ice axe to pull himself up and he quickly followed me up after that.
Next we approached a section known as the Chimney where we had to down climb a section of snow, rock and ice with a steep ramp down the mountain right behind it. I realized we wouldnt be catching the other group at this point. A fall here most likely wouldn’t be fatal like on the previous section but it would result in significant injury and a tumble down a large snowfield. We did not have a rope which would have made this a simple rappel or down climb with the added security, so we had to free climb down. I started off and took my time going down attempting to follow the footprints of the group ahead of us but they were not very distinct so I was on my own. I descended slowly facing into the mountain and had to rely on my ice axe a few times to hold me while I dropped my feet of a ledge or two in a leap of faith that my crampons would catch something. After a few minutes I was down without an issue. I proceeded to walk Mike from D.C. down the section, he was quite nervous about this (and rightfully so). D.C. Mike made it down without a problem and at this point the rest of my group Jon and Mike had reached the top of the Chimney and were descending as well. They made it down safely and after a few minutes to check our pants we were ready to start moving again. I would highly advise anyone attempting descend this section in the winter to have a rope for the extra security. This would have been an easy descent with a rope if we had one and it could have been done in a few stages using several of the rock outcroppings as anchors.
The ascent of the other side of the chimney and up to Pamolawas quick and we reached the summit of Pamolaat 1:30PM.
The descent down the Helon Taylor trail was a wide ramp of rock and snow and moved quickly now that we were off the ridge and back into safer territory after two hours on the Knife Edge. Once down below tree line we began to posthole a bit but as long as we stayed on the middle of the trail it wasn’t that bad and we continued on without snowshoes. The trip down and back to the cabin was a gradual descent and very uneventful compared to the hours spent on the ridge before.
We reached the cabin at Roaring Brook and swapped stories with the rest of our group who had made it back ahead of us. We talked with the Ranger who scolded us for signing in as one group and then splitting up into separate groups. They keep very close track of who was on the mountain at any given time and want to know as much as possible to keep us safe. The ranger also told us the proper way to get back to the parking lot which would cut off about two miles from the trip making it only 12 miles back to the cars. After our debriefing from the ranger several members of the group decided to pack up and hike the 12 miles back out however the majority of us stayed the second night.
Monday morning we packed up the cabin and left for the cars around 6am. We spread out a bit on the trail initially but all moved very fast. I reached the gatehouse which was 8 miles from the cabin in just over two hours. We regrouped there and hiked the final 6 miles out together. Once we reached the cars we packed our things up and stopped over at the small store by the trailhead for a bit. After that we said our goodbyes and headed out towards Albany for a nice 8 hour drive home. While the distance to Baxter is quite a bit it’s worth it as this was easily the best climb I’ve done in the Northeast and was right up there with some of the amazing view’s I saw in Alaska last May. I can’t wait to go back and do this all over again next year, who is in?
Full set of pictures here:
Having never hiked in Vt. I decided to join a group of friends and climb Mt. Mansfield (4393) on Saturday. Mansfield is the highest mountain in VT and while it is a shorter hike it has a large portion of trail above the tree line. We ascended quickly into the clouds so we didn’t have a great view but it was still great to be above tree line. The conditions were quite warm in the 20s for most of the day and the summit was easily reached. We climbed down in a nice powder and reached the car after only a few hours.
After the warm-up hike on Mansfield on Saturday I decided to head back over to the Adirondacks and climb Giant (4627) and Rocky Peak (4420). The climb started off extremely icy from the beginning and the temperatures were right around zero. We used crampons the entire way up and after a few quick lessons on using them Vicki got the hang of it and we made it up in a few hours to the summit of Giant. It was a bit windy but not too bad. My camera froze up and I wasn’t able to get any decent pictures on the summit. The trip over to Rocky was quite nice with the snow cover and nowhere near as rugged as it was last time I went this way. We didn’t need snowshoes as the trail was packed enough.
We snapped a few pictures on the summit of Rocky and descended into the trees to get out of the wind which was bringing subzero wind chills into effect. The hike out was uneventful and we made it back to the car before dark.
After a few days of recovery from WMS rather than do what is expected for Superbowl Sunday and sit on my ass and watch TV I decided to do something productive and climb Dix (4857). We started from the Round Pond trailhead and it was quite Icy. After gaining a few hundred feet of elevation the snow took over and the trail was hard packed which made going quite easy/quick. We reached the base of the slide quickly and began to climb. I ended up feeling a bit crappy on the climb and I could feel the lactic acid building up in my legs (I don’t normally feel that way) we pushed on and reached the summit after about 4 hours from leaving the trailhead. A bit slow for my tastes but it was a beautiful sunny day and there was almost NO wind at the summit.
We took some pictures had a bit to eat and decided to move on and attempt to tackle Hough (4400). We traversed the ridge over to the Beckhorn and had to put on snowshoes almost immediately as the trail was no longer hard backed. The heard path over to Hough was broken but only by one or two people and the trail was very tight, I kept catching my ice axe on branches and it was slowing us down considerably. After two hours of this we hadn’t reached Hough and it was starting to get late so we decided to call it off and turned around back towards Dix. Once again we summited Dix and the views were still amazing even though it was starting to cloud up. We descended down Dix slowly as it is quite steep and it was Vicki’s first time on snowshoes. Once down we hiked back to the car with an astonishingly bright full moon where we really didn’t even need our headlamps to see.
Just finished packing all my gear and food for my five night trip up in the Adirondacks with ADK’s Winter School. I’ll be attending the Advanced Backpack section. We’ll be spending five nights in the Seward range and planning several climbs during this time. I spent a good deal of time on my food for this trip and finally was able to get it all together and keep things 100% paleo. I’ll be surviving on the following: pemican, beef jerky, chicken jerky, paleo trailmix, laura bars, various dried fruit paleo krunch, and macadamia nuts. It all adds up to about 5000 calories per day. I haven’t been counting my calories lately but I think this will serve for a week in the backcountry during cold weather. I’m well over the standard for 2lbs of food per day and am close to 3.5 lbs but I’ll deal with the extra weight to keep things paleo. Due to my lack of planning ahead on the food setup I’ll be eating all “cold” meals and not cooking anything. I prefer this myself as it makes things easier and less prep time. I’m not sure how this will go over with the instructors so I’ll have a bit of backup food (non paleo though) if they are concerned about what I’ve brought during our gear check. I’ve got plenty of herbal teas so I’ll be getting plenty of warmth from drinking them.
The weather isn’t looking that great for the next week, it looks like it’ll be quite warm. Last year when I attended Winter School 2011 we had extremely cold temperatures in the -30F range, it was pretty bad ass to have experienced that and I wouldn’t mind that again. This year the low for all of next week right now is one day of 5 degrees but the rest of the week is in the high teens and twenties as the low. Hopefully it’ll stay cold and we’ll get some actual snow and NO RAIN. It’ll be plenty icy right now if the reports are accurate from this week. Either way I’m sure I’ll have a great time and I’ll post a report once I get back.