Trip report: ADK's week - Sept 2017
Overall, the trip went well. We had good weather and enjoyed summitting a number of peaks.
Day 1: drive up
Other than being long, the drive up was uneventful. We had a tasty lunch at Sri Dosa place in NJ and popped into Ambrosa Dinner in Queensbury, NY for a dinner before camping near the trailhead for Santanoni. Surprisingly for being a less spectacular 4,000' peak, the trailhead at Santanoni probably had twenty cars at it already, so we parked on the shoulder of the road. It looks like some were doing mountain biking on the accessible gravel road from that trailhead. The next morning, probably 6-8 folks got started on the Santanoni range hike before sunrise.
During the drive up, Bryan remarked that he thought that the recent Canadian Rockies trip was a Candy A__ trip, while I thought it was strenuous but enjoyable. I made a note that I was going to need to set regroup points as he would likely be hiking far ahead of me.
Day 2: Santanoni range
Since we were camped near the trailhead, we doubled back to the car to store our camping gear, then hiked Santanoni, Couchsachraga and Panther with day packs. There was a helicopter that overflew each of the peaks, so the DEC was probably looking for a missing hiker. We ran into some Humboldt University students who were doing a semester in the ADK's, so got to hear about the summit stewards programs, etc. There's a decent view on Santanoni and near the summit of Couchsachraga, but the actual summits on Couchsachraga and Panther are treed in.
Based on seeing Bryan coming back from the summit on Couchsachraga when I was still 20 minutes to the summit, I figured he was hiking 50% faster than I was. The ADK's guidebook estimates budgeting for at least two hours each way for Couchsachraga. I seemed to completing it at about 75% of that time, while Bryan was doing it in 50%, so it was going to be a question of when to regroup with Bryan as I wasn't going to be able to sustain his pace. After the summit on Panther, I told Bryan that we could regroup at the shelter at the base if it's on the way, since the map showed it at the intersection. Or we could regroup back at the car. As he was in the lead it was his call. The shelter turned out to be 200m in the other direction when I got to the base, so I headed directly back to the car.
When I got back to the car, Bryan was nowhere to be seen, so I started cooking my dinner as I didn't think searching for him would help. Based on him waiting an hour for me at Panther, I figured he would have been back at the car for an hour and a half already. It turned out that he saw the sign for the shelter and turned to head further out to the shelter. Then he missed seeing the shelter and only realized the error after hiking downhill 50 minutes later. So he got in about 6 bonus miles on that outing, but turned up at the car without a problem as I was finishing up my desert. BTW, the map sold by adk.org is much better suited for hiking the 46ers than the Nat Geo map as the adk.org map shows the herd paths.
Day 3: Allen
The Upper Works trailhead for Allen is only a mile down the road from the trailhead for the Santanoni's, so we camped in the same spot and moved the car in the morning. While we started within 45 minutes of sunrise, I didn't finish until 30 minutes before sunset, so I probably should have gotten up earlier. Continuing the trend, we saw two other groups of people hiking Allen on a weekday, so doing the 46ers is becoming popular.
I found Allen to be a mixed bag. I liked the adventure of the peak. If it were a three hour drive from the DC area, I would probably have five laps on it by now. But it's surrounded by other very nice peaks, thus isn't at the top of the list for the ADK's.
One of the interesting features of Allen is the extended rock scramble up the stream gully. On one side, much of the slab is covered in algae. And it's wet to boot. So at one point, I ended up accidentally skating down 10' of algae covered rock when my feet didn't quite stick. While I was able to recover without falling as it's roughly like skateboarding, I can totally see how it's easy to get hurt on that peak. There's also a 10-15' traverse across the slab to get to the path through the forest that's pushing it for the angle for unroped slab climbing. However, rock scrambling is one of the reasons for doing ADK 46ers, so having some variety in the scrambling is good too. I prefer the slabs on the route to Colden from the lake though.
Hiking up the stream was pretty. The slab had open views looking out from it. The view from just past the summit of Allen is pretty good also.
One of the downsides of Allen is that there was extensive mud on the approach. At one point, a beaver dam had flooded the trail. And for the mud, one quickly accepts walking through some of it and just dealing with identifying the mud that will try to steal your shoes or you'll sink in up to your knees.
An alternative to using the Upper Works trailhead for Allen is to approach the herd path from the other side of the defined trail. This would put one past a 70' foot waterfall instead of a marsh, but adds some complexity in that one is no longer doing just a day hike. As is, from the Upper Works trailhead, Allen is something like 18mi and 4k ft or so of climbing.
After Allen, we drove around to the ADK Loj trailhead after a stop at the Noonmark diner. It was after midnight by the time I was squared away for bed at Marcy Dam, which was too long of a day since we were planning on getting on the trail near dawn the next day.
FYI, a close reading of the trailhead signs indicates that the Eastern High Peaks is now using a permitting system for overnight use.
Day 4: Gray and Skylight
I packed up and moved camp to near Feldspar shelter then dayhiked Gray and Skylight. Bryan tagged Tabletop and Phelps with his backpacking gear, setup at Feldspar then also dayhiked Gray and Skylight.
There was a bit of a marsh to the East of Feldspar shelter. It was the first time that I had seen the supports for the planks floating in the marsh. In addition to the balance beam style planks where one of the planks is missing, a few moved when one steped on them due to the floating base. One was even also a balance beam in addition to moving. I was concerned that I might go in as I hadn't put my camera in the drybag, but made it across. Bryan went in, but found it refreshing to get waist deep in water during the heat of the day.
There's a 12' or so rock obstacle on the herd path to Gray that was interesting. There are some divots if one wants to try it as slab or butt-slide, but there's a great crack that cuts diagonally down it. One can either use the lip on the crack or foot / fist jam it. While I was excited about it, I recognize that when I'm starting to consider using foot jams, it's probably going to be a harder obstacle for some people. Luckily, this one isn't above an exposed cliff, etc.
One can see people on Marcy from the Alpine zone on Skylight, which is cool since they look so small from there. I was surprised at seeing the black biting flies on Skylight, as they seem to hurt when they bite, so only hung out for 20 minutes or so on the summit.
Day 5: Cliff, Redfield and Marshal
There's a bog on the way to Cliff. Redfield has some nice waterfalls and bathing spots on the initial portion of the ascent.
We setup at Lake Colden. The first campsite we looked at had a massive 50' ash tree that was dead, uprooted and overhanging the campsite, so we took the third campsite we looked at instead.
After setting up camp quickly, we took a shortcut by rock hopping the river and climbed up Marshal using the trail that follows the brook from the river. This is a very pretty trail with a number of moss covered rocks.
We cooked and ate dinner by the river instead of our campsite. The signs note a very high level of black bear activity. Marcy Dam has enough black bear activity that companies test their bear canisters there. Marcy Dam is just a few miles away down the valley and has a similar number of campsites, so it was definitely an area to secure everything smelly into the can so as to sleep well.
Day 6: Colden
Bryan did Colden in the morning, then backpacked over the McIntyre range. I decided for a more relaxed day with hiking Colden, then backpacking out up Avalanche Lake, as it's a very scenic walk too. The hike to Colden from the lake was probably my favorite 46er on the trip, as there's plenty of slab but it's not too steep. The views from the alpine zone near the summit are very good too.
After another drive-by of the Noonmark diner, we put in at the St Huberts trailhead to camp at Gil Brook for the night.
Day 7: Sawteeth
Bryan and I did the scenic route loop on Sawteeth. We went up the trail between Gothics and Sawteeth, then went to the summit of Sawteeth followed by the scenic route down Sawteeth. Since we saw what the rest of the scenic route looked like, we confirmed that we had made the right decision in January to turn back from attempting the summit, as we were probably only 60% of the way when we turned back.
I had heard that the climb to Sawteeth was "steep with poor footing". I didn't find it to be a big deal. Perhaps after six days of ADK's scrambling I was used to doing a lot of slab. In any case, I appreciated the advice of others, as I'm aware of an exposed slab move near the summit of Pyramid from last summer.
After dropping by Indian Head, grabbing our camping gear at Gil Brook and hiking out, it was 4pm by the time we were back at the car. I had been having some slight IT band issues the day before and they seemed to be worse during Sawteeth, which isn't surprising as it's an overuse injury. Stretching and a foam roller should take care of it. None-the-less, I felt it appropriate to cut the trip short by a day and drive directly back instead of risk further aggravating it. We got back to my place at 1:30 in the morning and I dropped Bryan off on the metro in the morning.
Random thoughts overall:
For me, doing the 46ers is a way to see new parts of the Adirondack's park. If Allen weren't on the list, I don't think I would have done it. Yet it was an amusing adventure. I might not go do Allen again, but enjoyed it while it was new to me. Yuna could easily finish off her 46 in a weekend if she wanted to, but views it as "what then" if she does.
Last fall, I backpacked over all of the peaks. This time I day-hiked and base camped. Day-hiking the peaks is preferable if it can be done without adding significant distance, but recognize it as personal preference. And I feel that I don't quite have the same margin of safety with day hiking gear vs my backpacking gear, but felt it was adequate for the conditions at hand.
For peaks that present multiple routes to the summit, one might get different experiences doing different routes. Specifically, I'm glad I climbed Colden from the lake as opposed to tagging it by running up the trail on the ridge when I was going through the pass to Feldspar. Doing a second lap on Mt Marcy might have been fun by approaching from Skylight instead of Armstrong.
With the food I currently pack, I seem to have a limit of about three days worth of food in the bear canister based on volume. I tend to pack 3,500-4,000 kCal per day which weights about 1 kg/day. So as to move from simple sugars to more complex carbohydrates, I've started packing ramen to supplement my dinner and thus reduce the amount of dried fruit and bars that I'm carrying. It's not a great sign when adding ramen is making your diet healthier though... perhaps with using couscous I can squeeze in a bit more food. But I'm scratching my head as to how to get 5 days of food in a bear can.
The club is only so big and there's only so many people doing VMO trips, so there's a non-trivial variation on what is viewed as an appropriate amount to pack in during a day. It's relevant to remind folks that we're doing this for recreation, so don't get too disappointed when we don't get everything in. Bryan was a good sport about this. For an extended trip, I find it relevant to try to get 8-9 hours of sleep a night.
I'll eventually post a link to some of my pictures or directly upload some to Meetup. I'm a bit behind on my photos and taking another 1,000 pictures puts more into the queue. Peeking at some of the pictures, it seems to me that the rubric of having a shutter speed >= 1/focal length isn't sufficiently fast to get non-blurry photos in these conditions. In addition to the sensitivity of the digital sensor vs film, I was aware of a number of times when I pulled out to take my camera while I my heart was going >= 130 BPM climbing uphill, so expecting my hands to be still wasn't practical. So it goes.
Due to all of the rock, hiking in the ADK is more dangerous than hiking in the mid-Atlantic. While I didn't have any falls on the trip, I figure I had about six near falls, three of which were on wet rock. One of the locations was under two feet from a sheer 10' drop followed by a 2.5' ledge followed by another 8' drop into a waterfall, so not a good place to potentially fall. There were some other instances where my foot slid but weren't serious enough to be a near-fall. I wound up with two minor scratches and Bryan got some minor scratches too. While none of this had serious consequences, it's relevant to remember that the accidents classification schemes have a pyramid shape to them. So if you're probably getting one fall for every 20 near falls, etc.
I'll like do another trip up there to finish out my 46, but I'm not in any hurry to schedule it. I have the following peaks left: Tabletop & Phelps, Whiteface & Esther, Street & Nye, Rocky and Seymour. But there will likely be adventures elsewhere before then...
Thanks for the speedy report. I would like to retract my comment about the Canadian Rockies being a "CA" trip; it is one of the most memorable experiences of my life. The context for that comment was more tongue-in-cheek, and based more on the hiking being less difficult than in the ADKs.
I found much of the path to Allen to be a very pleasant fall foliage hike. Colden and the MacIntyres had the best views - the MacIntyres reminded me of the hike up from Liberty Springs camp to Mt Lafayette and down Garfield Ridge. Cliff wins the award for best climbing and worst mud.
I uploaded some of my photo's to Google at: https://photos.app.goo.gl/LjFJdkUSSUHKHbdo2
Nice - You guys got quite a decent peaks done there.
When Kylie and I did some of the above peaks in July, it was really muddy. There was no point trying to walk around the mud. The bog before the final ascent to Couchsachraga was pretty deep. How was that for you guys?
We had a ton of flies back then too.
I didn't like the flat hiking to the base of Allen much, but really enjoyed the steep climb to the top. It was slippery and I remember falling at least once.
Did you guys go up Colden the same way as shown on this map: https://caltopo.com/m/4L34 ? (We did that route in Jul '14) That is one of the most steep ascents I've done (~1,600 ft climb in ~1 mile). The slabs were wet when we climbed this path, but they had solid grip somehow.
We did out and backs on Colden using the steeper trail from the lake, instead of backpacking over the mountain. It's definitely a full helping of slab.
The bog before the final ascent on Couchsachraga was still there. There were some logs to step on, but one still got their entire shoes muddy. Thankfully, it wasn't up deeper provided you were able to do the balance beams.
Supposedly, the black flies are supposed to be mainly a late spring problem and start clearing out around July 4 or so. So I was surprised to see some of them. They are a larger problem when camping near water, so it's not too surprising that the campsite by Lake Colden was the most problematic.