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.

July 5, 2014

Scenic Sawteeth

4,100 feet  |  ranked 35/46 in height  |  25th peak climbed

Knowing we would be driving to the trailhead that morning, and hence not arriving super early, Erin and I were even more worried than normal about finding available parking.  Hiking on holiday weekends is oft-espoused as something to be avoided, and while I can certainly understand that perspective, our opportunities are few enough that we have to seize them when they come, holiday or no.  We decided we'd have the best chance of finding parking at the AuSable Club trailhead, and Sawteeth has been on the short list for a long time.  I'd wanted to hike the Scenic Trail specifically since hiking a loop of the East and West River Trails in 2008, when I first saw the mountain's profile with the jagged teeth to clamber over.  Erin and I had even set a date to hike it in 2011, but in a case of very bad timing, were derailed by the destruction of Hurricane Irene. 

We got one of the last spots in the lot, and after donning our boots, set off along the familiar dirt road through the golf course.  The Lake Road passed quickly enough and we were soon crossing the bridge over the AuSable.  We joked at the junction of the Weld Trail, why would we go that way when we can take this much longer and harder approach?  And off we went...

I had read that the lower part of the Scenic Trail, which parallels the lake for awhile before steeply ascending, was quite rugged, but I didn't find it particularly troublesome.  The trail seemed little used and poorly marked, with multiple foot paths diverging and reconvening, but again, nothing too challenging.  Once we started the real climbing, it did become more difficult, of course, but the many overlooks forced frequent photos breaks.  The views of Lower AuSable Lake with the Colvin ridge rising steeply behind were truly magnificent.       

We read pretty obsessively about these hikes before we set out, so that we have an idea what to expect out there.  Everything thus far on this hike had been as expected.  So when we came to another sign post, with Marble Point painted in the same style as the numbered scenic view signs, we happily turned down the side trail expecting another viewpoint.  Except this path was long.  We kept seeing air through the trees and thinking we were almost there, only to have the trail twist around another boulder and continue winding along.  It just kept going and going.  Finally, we stopped to consult the map.  When we saw that the Marble Point side trail wasn't depicted, we decided it would be best to return to the marked trail and continue our ascent.  

The Marble Point diversion was pretty demoralizing for me, to be honest.  None of the trip reports or guides we'd read had mentioned Marble Point.  I am a planner, and this wasn't planned for.  And there was no pay off, no views.  By the time we got back to the main trail and started picking our way back up the steep ascent, we were getting hungry.  I am always prone to the faulty logic of wanting to eat lunch on the summit, even when it might be in my best interest to have a caloric boost in support of the final climb.  In this case it was hard not to grumble to myself about how we'd be munching away on the summit by now if we hadn't wasted all that time on the side trail to nowhere.  Grumble, grumble.  
We made the summit with no further incidents, and greatly enjoyed the close-up views of the Great Range.  It was amazing!  There were a handful of other people there, which made it a bit crowded, since there is only a very small clearing at the top.  All the other hikers that day had come up the easier Weld Trail.  Some left to descend via the Scenic Trail, while others were adding Sawteeth as a spur onto longer hikes that included Pyramid and Gothics, etc.  We were considering that option, too, and had signed into the register with additional summits as possibilities in parentheses.  However, taking the Scenic Trail was our priority for the day.  When we got down to the junction of the Weld Trail, we stopped and chatted with another group of hikers, and then decided to head down.  We didn't want to risk the super late arrival home we'd experienced after hiking of Colvin and Blake.  

The Weld Trail was a piece of cake after the rugged Scenic Trail.  The grade was easy, no scrambling, and we just motored right down.  Beautiful moss along a creek crossing, lovely firs and birches... we were in fine spirits.  Rainbow Falls was beautiful, as expected.  I will confess that after the debacle with the Marble Point trail to no where, we did not take the spur trail to the base of the falls.  We simply were not in the mood for exploring any more trails of indeterminate length on this day.  You have to know your limits -- and they're not always physical.  Obviously this trail is on the list for a future visit: we'll just hit it up when we return to check out Pyramid.  I'm smiling now just thinking about it!   

Read Erin's trip report here.

Crossing the AuSable
Scenic Trail markers
There's a reason it's called the Scenic Trail
At one of the many overlooks
Lower AuSable Lake with the Colvin ridge rising behind
One of five numbered lookout signs along the climb
Halfway up one of the ladders on the Scenic Trail
Happy at the summit!
View of Basin, Saddleback, and Gothics
Zoomed in view of Saddleback, Gothics, and Pyramid
The junction sign is essentially right AT the summit
The summit is small, but the view is breathtaking
Taking a break at Rainbow Falls
Don't be a dropout!
Rainbow Falls