December 13, 2014

Snowshoeing at Clark

Clark Reservation is the closest park to my house, and as a result, long ago became my default spot for quick and easy local outdoor adventures.  Despite this, I'd never taken Frankie hiking there in the winter, simply because of the rugged, rocky terrain.  I just didn't want to risk it on unsteady little feet.  But Frankie is 4 years old now, and it seemed like he would be up to the task.  Still, when Erin and I planned the hike in advance, we carefully selected a route that avoided the cliffs and deep rock crevices we frequent in good weather.  Two feet of snow fell in the days prior, so we decided to snowshoe instead.  

And that's what we did... except it turned into a somewhat bigger adventure than we'd planned.  The chosen route, a loop perhaps 1.2 miles long, ended up taking close to 4 hours.  We all had appropriate gear and made it back to tell the tale with no lasting damage, but there were definitely some lessons learned.  [Hint: bring more snacks, and not just for Frankie.]

Everything started out reasonably well.  I got all three of us strapped in our snowshoes (Erin is pregnant enough so she can't readily access her feet/bindings).  We set out down the Dry Lake Trail, promising Frankie that he could play on the playground when we got back.  The trail was already broken out, making the whole notion seem quite reasonable.  And it was spectacularly gorgeous in the woods!  The heavy wet snow coated every branch, every twig.  It was magical.

Winter wonderland
Progress was slow, due to the antics of one small boy who couldn't resist flinging himself into the deep snow every few steps, but such things are to be expected, at least initially, anyway.  I will admit to some irritation on my part when the novelty of pretending to fall hadn't worn off after a few hours, but luckily Auntie was there to help keep things positive.  I had some little candies in my backpack that Frankie had got while visiting his grandmother at Thanksgiving, a mix of runts and jelly beans and such.  We doled those out as rewards for finding and progressing to the next "clue" (trail marker).  That helped with forward momentum for a while.

The real problem came when we got to the end of the Big Buck Trail.  We had already determined that we would take the shorter segment of the Mildred Faust Trail back, shaving some distance from our return route.  However, the snow was wet and heavy, and had completely crushed the buckthorn and other shrubby vegetation in this area, making an impenetrable wall of snow and thorns that obscured the trail as far forward as we could see.  We investigated the woods on both side but could find no passable way to bushwhack around. You'll poke your eye out

To complicate things, the trail we had originally selected as our return route was not broken out.  The hikers before us had turned right on the Long Trail, which as the name suggests, heads further and further away from the parking area.  We knew this was not a viable option for our little party.  The return route we'd planned follows an old service road, and is level, the easiest trail in the park.  We decided to move forward, breaking trail, rather than returning via the hillier route we'd come.

Venturing forward into unbroken snow was the crux of our mistake.  The snow was deep.  Frankie, understandably, quickly became frustrated as he floundered.  We experimented with different strategies.  I thought if we went single file (me first, then Erin, then Frankie) we would beat the snow down enough for him, but it just wasn't enough.  He was still struggling.  Did I mention the snow was DEEP?  We found the most success with Erin in the lead, and Frankie walking in her tracks, with me walking next to him (in unbroken snow) holding his hand.  We promised a rest at the next bench, and that helped.  From there I swung my backpack to the front and gave Frankie a piggyback ride.  This was exhausting for all of us, as the boy is 40 pounds naked, the poor pregnant lady was still breaking trail, and we had to crash through several extremely thorny sections.

When we finally fought back to the main stem of the Mildred Faust Trail, I had to put Frankie back down again.  I broke out the animal crackers and we slowly inched forward.  We were ridiculously relieved to find a single set of boots tracks to follow.  Somewhere in this area we found a tree with a sad face painted on it, and honestly, it felt a little too close to reality.

This about summed it up.
Eventually we reaction the junction with the connecting spur to the Dry Lake Trail, and from there, the trail was once again broken out.  It was amazing!  Not breaking trail felt like floating, like we were just flying along the smooth and obstacle-free trail.  We were all hungry and tired though, and the smallest among us utterly desperate to arrive at the playground, so even this short, easy section back to the parking lot dragged longer than expected.

Finally, we made it out of the woods, and after dropping the snowshoes in the car, headed for the playground.  Poor Frankie!!  It was such a bitter disappointment.  No one had set foot there since the storm, and the snow reached his waist.  He waded valiantly to the excavator, but the scoop was frozen in the snow.  This was a crushing blow.  I carried him to the slide and tossed him on, but even with the momentum from the high speed launch, he just lodged in the snow, and no amount of squirming and rocking could propel him downward.  The mushrooms and fallen logs and play structures and animals were virtually invisible in the landscape of white lumps.  We gave up and carried him back to the car among furious protests.

I felt so bad.  My poor little boy!  This is not how I want our outdoor adventures to end up.  I want him to enjoy himself, to have fun, to look forward to our hikes and explorations, to appreciate the beauty in nature.  I was so worried this experience would be traumatic, that we'd ruined the woods for him forever.  Imagine my relief when he asked to go back to Clark just a few short days later.  Hurray!  Now we just have to see what he says the next time I suggest snowshoeing....    

Frankie leading the way down the Dry Lake Trail
Cruising right along!
The dry lake.
At the first bench, looking for a snack already.
I'm stepping off the trail so Frankie can resume point.
Erin surrounded by snowy trees.
Frankie was thrilled with this "room" he found.
Sticks are always fun.
Frankie always wants to go down the Switchback Trail.
Knocking snow on himself.
A snow tunnel on the Big Buck Trail.
Resting on the bench along the unbroken section of the Mildred Faust Trail.
Our counter-clockwise route is highlighted in pink.

August 29, 2014

Mt. Jo

Mt. Jo 
2,876 feet

Frankie's favorite part of our frequent hikes at Clark Reservation is all the scrambling over rocks, so when it came time to select his next Adirondack hike, Mt. Jo seemed like a good choice: it's short and sweet with lots of rocks to climb.  Before leaving for the holiday weekend in Keene, Frankie and I sat down and looked at photos of his previous Adirondack adventures.  Erwin and I had already been talking up the hike for a few days, but I wanted the visual reminder that the mountains are different from our local hikes.  Looking at the old pictures from Owl's Head also reminded him of 'Murfy, so the smurf came along on this hike, too.  

The hike was slow going, of course.  Like most kids, Frankie is constantly finding treasures (rocks, sticks, leaves, nuts, etc.) that must be clutched in a grubby paw and brought along for the ride.  And having ones hands full certainly complicates the scrambling, so we endured a whole series of negotiations about putting things in pockets and backpacks.  Then there is the recurring need for snacks... it's almost Pavlovian, this boy's reaction to the woods.  Oh, we're hiking?  Let's find a good spot for a snack.  But at least the novelty of going to the bathroom in the woods has worn off, and he only stopped to pee twice, much more reasonable than on our venture up Bald Mountain this spring. 

We went up the Short Trail and came down the Long Trail.  He made it all the way up and back on his own two legs, no piggy back rides, no sitting on the shoulders.  Mt. Jo might only be 2.0 miles* round trip with 700 feet elevation gain, but that's a mighty big mountain for a three-year old.  Great job, Frankie!  We hung out on the summit for at least an hour and a half before heading back down, just lolling about enjoying the views and the beautiful day.  We'd thought about following up the hike with some splashing in Heart Lake or a meal in Placid, but the little guy was too exhausted by then, so after buying a patch, we headed back to the rental in Keene.  He crashed out before we even made it back to Route 73.

* Mileage varies by source.  The map at the High Peaks Information Center says 2.0 miles round trip, but the Adirondack Mountain Club website says 2.4 miles (this discrepancy is most boggling, since presumably both are produced by the same organization).  The National Geographic map depicts 2.1 miles round trip, but that doesn't appear to include the short walk from the parking lot.  Other sites list 2.6 miles round trip.  Apparently the precise distance is up for debate?     

And we're off...
Happy to see all the nice rocks
Returning to the trail after a pee
Not quite a walking stick, but any old stick will do
Notice the smurf in the mesh pocket of his backpack.
Site of the first snack break (orange pepper sticks)
Rejuvenated scamp
More snacks (pretzels)
Gorgeous section of trail

These bridges were a BIG hit
Trail marker
The last scramble up before the summit.
Snacking on a summit ledge (apple)
Playing with Smurf in "the sand trap"
Breathtaking views of Heart Lake, Colden, Wright, Algonquin, Iroquois, Indian Pass
Me and my boy... I'm so proud of this kid!! 
Summit kisses
'Murf on the summit
We three
Patch and map, all tuckered out

July 26, 2014

Phelps Redux

4,161 feet  |  ranked 32/46 in height  |  4th peak climbed (repeat)

With both our previous High Peaks hikes of the year out of the AuSable Club trailhead, Erin and I were ready to switch things up a bit.  On the hike out the Lake Road after Sawteeth, we'd discussed our next options and were tempted to take on something more challenging.  Luckily, there are many such options.  Possibly a return to the Sewards?  Or maybe knocking of the rest of the Dix Range?  However, as the middle of the week rolled around and I was drooling all over the weather forecast for the upcoming weekend, Erin expressed some hesitation due to a physical complication that had cropped up since our last hike.  After she consulted her doctor, who wasn't terribly concerned about her going hiking, we talked again.  We both really wanted to get back in the mountains, but weren't entirely sure her doctor fully understood what kind of hike we were contemplating.  The Seward Range is not your average stroll in the park. 

Ultimately, I decided to leave the ball entirely in Erin's court: her body, her call.  She suggested Phelps, and that seemed very reasonable.  At 8.4 miles round trip, the shorter distance would allow plenty of time for resting, as needed, and the bulk of those miles are relatively easy.  I've climbed Phelps before, but it was 19 years ago, I have zero photos of the hike, and I have forgotten much.  Plus, repeating hikes doesn't bother me in the least.  If you asked me if I wanted to climb Phelps again tomorrow, I'd be just as excited to do it again. 

So off we went.  Even though the hike is much shorter, we stuck with our standard 4:15 am meeting time because of the Ironman.  We figured some of the folks in Lake Placid for the event would venture into the woods, and the HPIC lot is known to fill up on summer weekends with nice weather.  We got a spot in Lot 4, but the pickings were definitely slimming rapidly; an employee was out tallying up the remainders and relaying that info to the booth attendant.  

Erin took point to manage our pace, and even trying to go slow, we were at the old Marcy Dam in less than an hour, about halfway to the summit mileage-wise.  The third mile is also mellow, with no steeps until you turn off the Van Ho onto the Phelps trail.  We'd heard this last mile described as "the longest Adirondack mile" but on this deliberately slow-paced and gorgeous summer day, we just couldn't agree.  We decided that people who've struggled here must have done so at the tail end of longer hikes (e.g., perhaps they'd already climbed Marcy and Tabletop and were exhausted by the time they started up Phelps) or maybe they were novice hikers with no context.  Because even in our limited experience, we've seen worse.  What about that mile between Colvin and Blake?

The summit is treed, but has a gorgeous view encompassing Big Slide, the Great Range, Colden, and the MacIntyre Range, with Marcy prominent front and center.  We spent over two hours there, just soaking it in.  And eating and taking pictures, too, of course.  Occasionally we had the summit ledge to ourselves, but Phelps is a popular and accessible destination, so we shared with many other groups.  I had a particularly lengthy conversation with Jim Gifford, a delightful charmer I recognized from the Forums.  I think he and I could have happily chatted for several more hours, but Erin finally nudged me towards packing up and we headed back down. 

There are definitely advantages to the short hikes: we were back down in time visit the gift shop, change into clean clothes, stop for photos and at the Big Mountain Deli in town (we might as well eat our way through the 46, too), then drive all the way home without nodding off behind the wheel.  A great day all around!  

Read Erin's trip report here.

At the old Marcy Dam.
View toward Colden.
Trail sign just past Marcy Dam.
The High Water Bridge over Phelps Brook.
On the Van Ho at the junction with the spur trail up Phelps.
The summit of Phelps, looking towards Colden, Avalanche Pass, and the MacIntyre Range.
A friendly white-throated sparrow at the summit.
Unpacking for a few hours of summit time.
View towards Big Slide.
Lounging with a view of Tabletop, Marcy, Colden.
Was there a benchmark here once upon a time?
On the summit with Marcy behind us.
These views!
More lounging.
Packed back up and ready to head down.
The section of trail right below the summit.
Storm clouds on the descent made for a dramatic view of Colden and the Macs.
Looking back up the trail from whence we came.

The Van Ho highway.
Low water crossing of Phelps Brook on the way out.
One last look back.
Happy after our awesome hike.