Friday, August 22, 2014

TR Mountain - wait!? where?

I opted for a hike this past weekend but wasn’t really sure what to do. My first thought was to “get” one of the ADK peaks off my summer list… but I haven’t been down to the peaks in a while so – as I arrived at the appropriate trailhead - the thought of a long (long) walk didn’t really appeal. So I chickened out and headed off to a backup plan! Unfortunately that got scratched as well when I found the car park overrun with cars at 9am. I could maybe have squeezed in but it was a shortish hike and I figured - with all the cars in the lot – the trail would be a complete traffic jam/zoo. So maybe on to Plan C?! A quick scramble through my head for ideas and I was quickly headed for the Loj. The lot at the Loj was also jammed but I was running out of ideas/options at this point so I squeezed into the lot anyway. A full parking lot was discouraging but at least – from the Loj – there are plenty of hiking options and the crowds will spread out somewhat as I got deeper into the woods. Add to that, a good number of people parked here could potentially be doing overnights (i.e. already a good ways out in the woods) and I felt better about my chances of having a slightly “wilderness” feel to my trek.
Marcy dam
Loaded up the pack and strapped on the boots but I still didn’t have an agenda. Decided to head up the van Hovenberg trail which would give me some options along the way. Soon enough I was at Marcy dam but I'd been lulled by the mellow path and still hadn’t made up my mind where I was going. Onward though and I harboured thoughts of perhaps hiking to Phelps – a nice open peak nearby. On the plus side it was a beautiful day so I wasn’t feeling too bad about not having a destination yet. Clear blue skies and the temperature had fallen significantly to pleasant temperatures which were more reminiscent of fall than mid-summer. As I passed a group of hikers below the Phelps junction my mind suddenly wandered to TR mountain (!). It’s a lonely peak in the center of a large cirque of higher (and thus more popular) peaks. All the summits are above 4000 feet and draw significant crowds whereas TR (named after Teddy Roosevelt in 1999) is a mere 3950 feet, has no trail and holds limited interest it seems. I had heard there was a little bit of a herd path if you can find it so that became the first item on the agenda for the day.
A little viewpoint
Arriving at the right area for a potential herd path and, sure enough, found clear signs of boot prints heading right where the van Hovenberg turned left. I followed it 10 steps into the woods…and it promptly petered out (more likely a turd path... so I trod lightly!). My GPS told me the summit was a mere 400m and 500 feet up so I decided to press on and try my luck with the bushwhack. The woods were pretty open here – so how hard could it be? Turns out bushwhacking in the high peaks can be pretty hard. The open woods were traded twice for thick fir waves which slowed me considerably as I swam through the pines. A few significant blow downs blocked my path in the more open areas and there were more than a few “femur eaters” covered (hidden) in delightfully deceptive moss. Even a couple of cliff bands had to be negotiated… but I pressed on (femurs intact fortunately). The summit was marked with a little piece of orange surveyors tape about 15 feet up in a tree. I had pushed to a little clearing at the base of said tree through a final thick spruce glade and was presented with views of more spruce and a tourist plane which flew overhead… inauspicious indeed.
Summit of TR
On the plus side, I found a wee trace of the herd path and followed it down. It made progress a little easier but it was often hard to follow through the spruce waves and care had to be taken to try and pick it up again on the other side. It also presented me with a couple of "near miss" view points as well - if you could stretch tall enough and contort your self to the right angle. Finally I could hear happy hikers strolling up the main trail just a few feet below me. With some more clambering through the thicket I exited onto the trail a mere 10 feet further up from where I had first pushed in to the woods. “Missed it by that much” but a good reminder of how thick the bush can be in these mountains.
Summer afternoon
Onwards to nearby Indian Falls to take in the view, have some food and take a break. Lots of folks here today and why not – outstanding spot to take a lunch break. I chatted with a few people - none of whom had even heard of TR mountain despite them currently sitting on its shoulder. Took the time after lunch to go below the falls and see the rare sight of the water cascade. Usually the visit to Indian Falls only includes the summit vista (above) but today it was too nice not to scramble downhill a bit and cool off in the sprays from the falls.
Indian Falls
After lunch I headed off towards Colden… but not too long after I developed a bit of a pain in my foot that seemed to be problematic. Not wanting to push it, I opted to turn downhill at the junction and head for home rather than start up Colden. Sure enough, ½ mile down the trail and my foot was once again fine so perhaps I was overcautious... but better safe than sorry. Another nice day in the woods. Even with no agenda there are new places to visit and a bit of an intro/refresher course to bushwhacking reminded me that staying on the trails isn’t always a bad idea.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Another May.... gone

Never seem to get my head around the month of May these days. The snow is gone, the cycling starts… and suddenly it’s June and summer has arrived. Well, summer doesn’t really arrive for another couple of weeks but it has certainly felt like summer for the last couple of days. Regardless, May seems to drift by in a flurry of activity. Not least of which is the prep for Race weekend each year which gets more involved as the number of participants grows from year to year. That 48,000 participants descend on the city for a spring time run boggles my mind. Actually seeing that many people thundering through the streets en mass is quite a sight. For my part I usually don’t get to see much of the actual races. There is too much going on, adjustments to be made, repositioning of police, finding missing volunteers and then hurriedly cleaning up behind the crowd so we can reopen the streets with minimal disruption… and then the team collapses in a local tavern for the post race drink and sharing of the war stories.
Race day crowdsOften my view of the "race" - crowds a plenty cheering the runners onwards
In spite of the chaos of Race weekend, I did manage to get one trip down to the hills in May. The fire tower on Adams is more or less complete but the group will manage some annual maintenance of both the tower and the trail over the next few years (probably longer). The “official” trail sweep day was scheduled for Race weekend so I obviously couldn’t make it but I talked with Jack and offered to do a pre hike inspection. That would allow me to spot all the big downed trees (if any) and determine what was needed on the tower in terms of repairs after another winter. I went down on a really nice day on the long weekend and enjoyed the climb to the top. Did a bit of trail clearing of the small stuff on my way up and found a few bigger items for the “crew” to handle. The tower itself was in pretty good shape with just some need to tie back some of the staircase fencing and maybe a bit of paint on the cab. Probably typical stuff after a hard winter. With my "report" sent off, the trail crew had a good day the next weekend and all tasks were accomplished.
The viewNo matter how many times I climb the tower, the view never gets old
New bypass bridgeThe bridge we built last summer seems to have survived the winter
After Race weekend I went down to the Adirondacks again for an early season hike up a “big” peak. I opted for Big Slide as it has some exceptional views and the trail is good fun with a variety of conditions along its length. I made an early start as the day started quite cool (about 7°C) but climbed quickly to almost 30°C (!) by the time I got back to the car. Springtime in the mountains I guess. The parking lot attendant joked with me that at least I got a cool morning start - in July it starts at 30°C - and stays there! The hike itself was a good slog. Always amazes me how much more difficult summer hiking is compared to the winter. Winter trails are (mostly) smooth treadways but in the summer all these rocks and roots appear and must be clambered over. Tough work but worth the effort - and at least the summer pack is significantly lighter.
For lack of a nail...The rocky treadway of summer
I was also hampered slightly by blackflies on the trip up. They were plentiful but uncoordinated… so the only real annoyance was the risk of swallowing them as I sucked wind on the steep climbs. They haven’t figured out “biting” yet but I’m sure that skill will come quickly so the peaks may not be too fun for the next little while.
Summit blockNice to be back in the hills
So May comes and goes and summer (at least in terms of temperature) has arrived. I’ll probably stay close to home for a little while to let the bugs back off from their early summer ferocity… but soon enough it will be time to ramble through the peaks again.
cooling watersAll that remains of the winter snows

Friday, May 09, 2014

Spring skiing

As often happens this time of year I fall behind as the switch from winter to summer activities transition quickly and there is a long list of to do items to be taken care of. To step back a few weeks… The spring ski season was really quite good this year. The season itself was long – starting in mid November and having decent snow until the 20th of April for me. That’s a pretty good stretch for sure and a rarity over the last few years.
Goodbye groomerWrapping up a successful season of grooming
As luck would have it I managed to get out a good number of spring days to enjoy the sunshine and the snow while it lasted. Often I get 1 good day of warm temperatures and sunny sky’s but this year there were lots of opportunities.
Sunny spot to toast the seasonA favourite spot to enjoy the sunshine
The crust cruising was somewhat short but I did manage one magical morning where the crust was just right. For the uninitiated, when the warm sun repeatedly melts the top layer of snow… and the cold nights refreeze that layer several times – the result is a solid crust that one can ski on anywhere the will takes you. While westerners have huge open slopes, we in the east get to zip through the bogs and open hardwood forests. It’s a remarkable feeling of freedom and takes you into some areas of the forest that are otherwise inaccessible the rest of the year. I got one such morning and I explored the back bogs and hopped from one remote pond to another. Its always interesting to stumble out of the woods onto a main trail and often takes a few minutes to figure out just where the heck you have arrived as the angles look suddenly different. Soon enough though I get reoriented and, zoom – back into another opening in the trees and off to find somewhere else unexplored. Like all good things though, as the sun gets high the crust starts to soften… and you have to work your way back to the trails as your skis start to break through lest you be stranded deep in the woods until the snow melts completely.
Crust cruising canvas The crust cruising canvas - any line you like!
Finally, after a number of good spring trips, the trails started to break up and the inevitable “portages” opened forcing me to walk sections. Once these portages open up its usually not long before the snow is gone completely. I skied on the 20th of April and then rode a lap of the parkway on my bike 4 days later (with a few short snow portages to contend with).
End of the roadSnow starting to get pretty dirty in the trees
Sunset skiingUh-oh... looks like the sun is setting on the season
So summer pursuits have begun and the sudden hum of blackflies is actually starting to lightly fill the forest. Mountainbike trails will open next week and the even the high peaks have started (more slowly) to release their grip on winter. Race Weekend is fast approaching and I have endless paperwork to catch up on before race day arrives. One side benefit to working the races is that I got invited to a first screening of tRANscend and a chance to meet and greet the right honourable Wesley Korir who will be running (very fast!) in Ottawa. The movie will be playing at the race expo this year but we - the "staff" - got a sneak peak. More details can be found here and it is a most excellent film indeed. Well worth checking out if you are a runner or into endurance sports in any way shape or form. If your not in Ottawa on the Race Weekend then a wider release will be held in the fall. Sometimes May goes too fast as a result but there should be lots of time to ride, hike and generally enjoy the summer approaching.
Sunny skiesHard to imagine I skied here just 2 weeks ago...

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Finishing Winter on Allen

It’s been a long winter. Snow first arrived in the middle of November and I’ve been able to ski almost continuously since. At times it’s hard to smile around the water cooler at work as people moan about this endless winter… don’t want to develop too many enemies. Despite the current cold, windy day outside I know that spring is actually coming. That was obvious on my last hike to Algonquin where – in spite of cold temperatures at the start of the day - once the sun cleared the horizon, the temperature shot up quickly. Even when it is still cold outside now – the suns warmth can be felt and you know spring is coming (but not soon enough for the folks at work). It's actually almost time for the wide boards to cruise the spring corn snow and portage from one stretch of snow to the next… and then finally the bike will come out.
Crossing Lake JimmyAltocummulus clouds overhead - sunny or cloudy day ahead?
While the folks at work continue to grumble about when IT will end, the 46r’s make the winter season easy to understand. They need to quantify winter in some consistent way from year to year so they can certify “winter 46r’s” (ie those that have hiked the 46 high peaks in winter). The turnover from fall to winter – and of course from winter to spring varies slightly as does our orbit around the sun. As such, spring’s official arrival moves around a bit from year to year. Equally difficult to define is the arrival (and departure) of snow. Sometimes it arrives early and sometimes (most times in the high peaks) it leaves quite late. All of this could be complicated when people are submitting their list of “winter” hikes so the 46’rs make it simple. "December 21 – March 21…. that is winter… period". That makes winter hiking season predictable in terms of the calendar. My hike last year to Giant – Mar 19th on a sunny 22°C day with almost no snow on the ground - was completed in winter, even if it felt far from it. And so, with the end of (certified) winter arriving, I decided to get one more winter hike in. This time it actually felt like winter as well which was a nice change from last year.
Trailhead Starting at the East River trailhead - a spot I know well
I had several options on my plate but a recent dump of snow finally opened the backcountry ski season (even if it will only last a few weeks). With that in mind I decided to head to Allen Mountain. Allen has a nice, long and quite flat approach hike before you even get to start climbing. It is somewhat dreaded by hikers for that long approach as it generally means a long day on foot. In winter however you can (if you are so inclined) ski the approach. I am, of course, so inclined so at a not too early hour of 8am I started off on my skis from the Allen trail head. The ski is quite pleasant although skiing in a snowshoe trench is a little different than the groomed (or even backcountry) trails I’m used to in Gatineau park. For a start the snowshoe trench is just a little bit too narrow to comfortably use the ski poles. As a result the poles stab away at the unconsolidated snow about a foot higher than your skis and are of limited use. The skis however are in a nice compacted track and its easy to get some good speed up going down even the slightest of down grades. That means, if the snowshoers let their line drift back and forth as they walk (and they often do) then you have to do some fancy footwork to stay in the track. If you jump out of the trench then you are in deep, soft unconsolidated snow… and you stop quite abruptly. In spite of the challenge, I skied happily through the woods, across the Opalescent river and on to a gravel pit which marks the end of the flat terrain.
Steep slide Climbing the steep Allen slide - tough going up but a speedy descent
From the pit I strapped on the snowshoes and started the uphill work. The initial climb is not too bad but soon enough you arrive at the Allen brook which marks the beginning of the Allen slide… which means its time to go up… rapidly! Added to the vertical challenge, this year there was a lot of blown down trees which had to be climbed over… or under. The extra effort to clamber over the trees wasn’t too high but it did seem to drain me mentally. Hurdle, after hurdle after hurdle, it never seemed to stop. Finally the steep open slide and then a short ridgeline walk to the summit proper. Beautiful sunshine and views greeted me but – with a long way back to the car – it was time to turn around and leave, too quickly to be sure.
Marcy and SkylightMarcy and Skylight through the treetops... so close yet so far..
A nice treat was the slide down the Allen slide. The steep pitch made for a perfect slide and I managed to drop about 1000ft in only a minute or two. Despite the rapid progress its actually quite safe as you are stuck in the snowshoe trench and its difficult to launch into uncharted terrain. The rapid descent and subsequent break on the body (knees particularly) meant the rest of the walk back to my skis went quickly. Also there was a significant mental lift at knowing I only had a short distance to the skis rather than a significant distance further to walk back to the car. Once on the skis the gliding was much easier on the body and the k’s clicked by. Add to that the warm sunshine which – while it played havoc with my wax choice by warming the snow surface to slush – was a still a treat to enjoy.
Sunny pit The gravel pit -time to swap over from shoes to skis... but maybe enjoy the sun a little bit too
In all I did the loop in 7.5 hours which is a fair bit faster than my summer time. Add the faster approach portion on skis and the speedy descent down the slide and I think it’s much easier to get to Allen in winter (assuming you don’t have to break trail all the way!). So that hike (ski/shoe if you will) closed off my “winter” hiking for the season. I posted a full set of pictures HERE. On to spring (looking very similar to winter out my window right now) which is about to change dramatically in a day or so. A fair bit of skiing ahead and maybe a hike or two as well as the snows slowly start to recede. I also have this race thingy coming up in a little while which has started to occupy my time a fair bit… and will do so a little more as the days and weeks move forward.
HomeSki day done at the Hudson river crossing - on to spring...

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Sunshine So Fine

Had this song humming through my head for most of the day last week. For the past couple of winters, despite my best efforts to “cherry pick” the good weather days, I often seem to get some sketchy weather. Not that I’m complaining – as yet I haven’t been trapped by a big dump of snow mid hike or been caught in a deluge of freezing rain. Just that the peak vistas are often inside of overcast weather. Sometimes overcast can be beautiful to be sure… inside of a cloud, umm, not so much. With that in mind, I cashed in some hiking "karma" that I had built up over the last few years and jumped all over the beautiful weather forecast for Thursday to hike the Macintyre's. The ridge is mostly above tree line with 360° views. It can be a bit of a crap shoot to get up here in winter with the exposure creating difficult conditions. Low visibility, ice or deep snow… and the potential for big winds. But that wasn’t supposed to be the case on Thursday so off I went for my predawn drive down to the Loj.
windblown trailThe trail has a little snow blown in but the day is looking UP!
It was indeed a beautiful day that started quite cold (-31°C) but pretty quickly warmed up and was -2°C by the end of my day. With the really cold temperatures I relaxed for a bit with breakfast in town, relying on the weatherman's prediction that it would start to warm noticeably and quickly. Sure enough by the time I ventured out it was -22°C and climbing fast. And climb fast is also appropriate for the climb up Algonquin which – after a brief approach hike starts to go up quickly. Passed a group of guys with full camping gear headed to lake Colden ( by the scenic route) and then another woman and found at that point I was “breaking” trail. Not a big deal at that point as there was only light snow in the track. Finally cleared tree line and was treated with endless blue sky and limitless views and only a light breeze in the open. As things opened up the track got a little blown in with a bit of ice here and there. Still lots of snow so the climb in snowshoes was pretty straightforward. Over the top I stopped for a snack and took a few dozen pics before heading down the down the south side of Algonquin which proved to be quite icy. Lots of warm sunshine and bitter cold nights had left a thick hard ice over most everything which was tricky to negotiate. I hiked down in snowshoes trying to link together the patches of snow that remained but still had a couple of (steeply sloped) "skating rinks" to cross. Crampons would have been a good choice but I didn’t bother to pull them out.
Heading back into the treesLooking back to Algonquin - with a few lumps and bumps to cross
Once down off Algonquin to the col over to Iroquois it was a lot of fun. The track from previous hikers had mostly blown in despite there being not much wind. In the trees I had no problems seeing the clues of where the previous hikers had walked and was able to stay on track. Getting into and out of the trees from more exposed locations was often a little more challenging. Without much clue to go on I backtracked a few times exploring options until I finally spotted something that looked obvious and most times it was right. Getting out of the trees at the final pitch up Iroquois took me the longest to find the track. I followed a few possibilities and found a few excellent spruce traps. Finally got some help as another hiker (a bit of an ADK legend no less!) caught up behind me and pointed at the most obvious route... which worked out perfectly . I had somehow decided that way looked “too good” and couldn’t possibly be right. I also never take the short line at the grocery store checkout... but maybe I should start .
one last push to the summitA hiker follows my line in the last push to the top of Iroquois
The walk back was also pretty nice as the day had warmed up considerably. With most of the uphill behind me it was a fast return to the Loj. So “karma” used up now I suppose but well spent and I look forward to returning to the murky days of winter (though I’ll take some sunshine if I can find it.
Getting back to treelineOne last look over the surrounding countryside
Posted a few pictures here.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Post Olympic Hangover

The last couple of weeks, I have been consumed with sports on TV. Owing to the time difference to central Asia, I found myself up most every morning at 4am glued to sports I seldom see other than once every 4 years. I would also wager I saw more cross country skiing - a sport which I more regularly view on the interweb at any time - than I saw when the Games were on in Vancouver. The west coast tended to have the skiing mid-day (when I'm at work!) but the Russians kindly scheduled the ski races at 4am which is a time I am generally free(sort of)... so it worked out well. In the end though the Games came to a close and with the blowing out of the flame I found myself at loose ends.
Scramble for the frontGLoppet viewing is a nice distraction from Olympic viewing - more fresh air for a start!
Having been up for weeks before the sun it was no problem for me to load up my gear and head to the hills for a day. A chance to clear out the cobwebs and suck in some fresh air. To be fair, I had been skiing quite a bit during the Games (thanks to their early start times I had the rest of the day free (if I wasn’t working)!) but never strayed beyond the Parks trail network. I had managed to get out and enjoy some viewing of the Gatineau Loppet and that involves a fair bit of skiing (coupled with some strategic driving) so at least I was outside during the daylight hours. Monday saw the car loaded, the pack... umm, packed and the car rolling south well before the sun broke the skyline. My planned destination was a "ski-shoe” to Seymour mountain. Seymour has a long flat approach (even longer in winter with a seasonally closed access road) and then a short (steep) vertical pitch up the peak... before returning whence you came. I had prepped a set of skis and was ready for a day out but when I arrived at the car park it was clear it wasn't going to go as planned. The previous weekend’s rain and warm weather had turned the snowpack into a crusty mess. Add to that the access road – while plowed for a logging operation but still closed to the general public - was a clean sheet of ice. The fresh snow which the weatherman had predicted was all but non-existent and so I decided to shelve the idea of a ski for a better day when I could find good snow conditions.
Road walkGot to know this view quite well... hour in and an hour out!
As luck would have it the trail head has another good hike up to the neighbouring Seward range a cluster of 3 separate peaks. Still a long walk in but slightly less than to Seymour… and I was here already. So I changed plans, re-jigged my pack and headed off. The opening stanza includes the aforementioned closed access road. A 5 km stroll along the icy road to the summer trail head before the actual hike begins. That was quickly followed by 5 more km along an abandoned woods road before arriving at the start of the uphill travel on the range access trail. It quickly became clear I hadn’t anticipated all that the day would hold. Four short hours from the start I finally found myself on the Seward range and into winter in full force! While it had been quite pleasant down below (a warm -8C) the ridge was a few degrees cooler and a strong breeze was roaring overhead. For the most part the range trail is in the woods but occasionally it pops out to sweeping vistas of these remote mountains (and the full brunt of a winter wind!).
Glimpse of sunArriving on the range!
The access trail drops you essentially on the middle peak of the range - Donaldson - with two peaks at either end - Emmons to the south and Seward to the North. This necessitates an out and back hike to each end of the ridge. While it’s only a kilometer or so to either end of the range, the narrow twisted path is a tough test with ups and downs to negotiate and cripple brush to press through. Winter hiking on these high peaks is often a game of continuously hiking forward doubled over ducking under (through?!) pine branches as they try and resist your forward progress. The summer trail is usually 1 meter down in the snow pack so winter progress puts you up in the "canopy" of the trees... and the canopy is seldom trimmed back for winter travel! A great core workout to be sure. On the plus side the hikes to each peak are relatively short so I ditched my full pack at the mid-point and took only some essentials with me as I forged my way to either end of the ridge. A lighter load was much appreciated and made for speedier progress.
Emmons aheadEmmons always looks to be farther away... until you're finally there
The south end of the ridge was reached uneventfully and the return trip wasn’t too arduous. At that point the mental game creeps in and it can be tough to stay strong and go for the third peak… versus retreating downhill and coming back another day. “Just another km out (and back)” so I – perhaps foolishly – pressed on and made the much more technically tricky climb to Seward proper. The climb had a few more challenges including an icy chute to climb up (and back down later) and a few more feet of elevation to crest. As I approached the summit of Seward I found myself in a somewhat unexpected spot. The last few hundred meters, which I expected to be cut through the same cripple brush I’d been fighting all day(that's the way it was as I remembered it from summer travel) was suddenly above the tree tops thanks to a couple of meters of snow! This left me fully exposed to the artic wind which was raging at this point. Sweat soaked clothes quickly iced over and I dashed to and from the summit disk to get back to the relative protection of the trees. Seward made me earn the 3rd summit. For the next few minutes I ran up and down the last protected pitch to warm up and thereby thaw out my jacket which had become, in the brief moment in the wind, a frozen husk. Not a good spot to be some 5 hours from the car in a lonely part of the park. Still, I knew what had to be done and was soon thawed out. The trek back to the pack was no less tricky with that tough icy slope to down climb but soon enough I was ready to head back out.
Last views of the dayThe last look at the Range.... before the icy "chute" down
The walk out was pretty mindless though it had its own trials. The trail off the range descends moderately but seems to go on forever. At the bottom it was back onto the woods road and then the long road walk out to the winter car park. One foot in front of the other and ignore the ever louder voices in my head telling me "we've had enough fun, please stop walking!" Feet barking, body aching… and the car still “Just around the next bend”… which finally came true, but it took more than a few tries.
Sun through the treesKeep enjoying the little things - sunlight through the trees - and maybe you won't notice the aches and pains...
Usually one of the true joys of a long hike in the woods is getting to the car and changing into dry clothes for the ride home. I know that sounds a little like the joy of hitting your hand with a hammer is the delightful pleasure when you stop... but it’s not the only joy for the hike. Sadly, when I got to the car I was somewhat robbed of that joy. After stowing my gear in the back and changing into a dry shirt my hands had frozen into blocks of ice. The car was running and I didn't have the desire (or energy) to do any running on the spot so I bolted into the car and headed off down the road. The remaining tasks of changing and packing the gear were undertaken over 4 or 5 stops every 20 miles or so as I rewarmed in the hot car and drove north bound. Boot off, drive, other boot off, drive some more, pack wet clothes out of the back seat, drive a few more miles, find and put on jacket, drive, find passport and some bridge toll money, drive... not ideal but it did break up the ride home. Hot shower at home finally warmed the core and I slept 10 or 11 hours. Out of curiosity I ran a few numbers on the hike when I got home - 33km and just shy of 4000ft on a remote mountain track. More than I had bargained for when I started the day but my Olympic hangover is gone for at least 2 more years. A set of pictures can be found here.
Seward and SeymourThanks for the fun Seward... I'll be back one day to visit your brother Seymour(just over on the right)

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Halfway through winter?

Winter has been quite good this year. Lots of snow arrived early and stayed! Often those early snows are just a little too light to cover the roots and rocks... or a short melt brings everything back to square one. We've had neither drawback here in town and the skiing has been good.
No warmth from the sunLooks sunny but it was none too warm!
As in past years a few of us did a short one nighter at one of the yurts in Gatineau park before Christmas. It’s a good way to unwind before (or during) the hectic holiday season. This year we skied (we'll I did) into Richard yurt. It’s the most remote shelter in the park with a 13km ski... but there is a shortcut. A small snowshoe trail leads just a km from the Eardley escarpment road to the "back door" so to speak and is a well used trail to this yurt in particular. As it turns out we got a significant dump of snow on the day we were headed in so I was glad for the short cut. Hauling a sled of gear in 20 cm of soft wet snow - even for just 1k proved a tough task. The other guys snowshoed (pulling a sled) and it was no easier by any stretch. The payoff though is worth the effort as the Richard yurt sits on a remote lake deep in the park. The night we picked was in fact the winter solstice so moments after we arrived it got dark for the long night ahead. Still, with some good food, some good music and conversation it was overall an excellent retreat. And as always, Dave had the lightest sleeping bag and was first to get up to stoke the fire at 3am – so it all came together as per the plan.
P1060390A long evening ahead (photo borrowed from BVT)
Christmas skiing was a pretty cold affair as the temperature dropped down to the -20's. I skied a couple of nice loops on Christmas morning around P19 at Lac Phillipe which left me close enough to the car to bail out at almost any point if the digits lost all feeling. It was not necessary though as I was plenty warm throughout. From there the season continued with quite a bit of cold weather but good skiing to be had if you could warm up fast enough to enjoy it.
Crisp tracksFresh grooming was my Christmas present
In January I signed up to help out with the ADK "Winterfest” this year and took it as an opportunity to go down and do a bit of hiking. As it turned out "Winterfest" became "Waterfest" as the mercury climbed to +10°C and it rained (hard!) all day. The Adirondacks have had precious little snow all season and this rain managed to wash it away almost completely. Still, some folks came out and enjoyed the music in the big tent, food and festivities. The hikes in the woods were mostly canceled (as were the ski sessions) and the skating (and curling!) on Heart lake got scrubbed as it took on the more spring like appearance of a pond. Still, I executed my duties by waiting in the driving rain for the (big) crowds to arrive in the parking lot and direct them to the fun - but it was never more than a trickle (yes I get the pun). As a result my task was somewhat superfluous but they couldn't have predicted a light turnout (until a day or 2 out) so I was happy to be available. After my shift I made a hike up Mt Jo and the trail was a cascade of ice and water which was really quite beautiful. Fortunately the ┬Áspikes were quite good as the warm temperatures had made the ice quite soft.
"Waterfest"?The utter lack of snow should be the clue that things didn't go quite as planned...
Stepping stonesTrails of fast melting ice
I had been able to predict the weather and opted to drive down a day early to get a "somewhat" wintery hike (before the big melt) in on my own. I opted for a loop over Dial and Nippletop. It proved a nice day although the views were somewhat subpar. It was only barely a winter hike as there was mostly an icy track up to the ridgeline. Only as I got to the last 1/2 mile or so (above 4000ft) did I actually encounter some snow and then mostly only a few pesky drifts. Not enough to warrant the snowshoes though which I had left in the car anyway. The ┬Áspikes had served me well on the climb but the descent from Nippletop is a steep chute and I figured - with a little snow over the ice - that it was best to put on the crampons for more security. I haven't used my crampons in a while and they take a little getting used to but, in the end, I was happy to have them as the ice falls were pretty straightforward with them on. You can't move too fast in crampons but once you are comfortable with your foot plants... your feet stay put! Easy to stumble though if you lose focus and errantly catch a spike.
nonnmark panoThe best (and only) view of the day
Finally some winterSnowy up top but the views were non-exsistant
Back home we went through another cold week or so which turned the ski trails into "white concrete". Easy enough to ski the main groomers but not something you would want to venture off onto the steep and (in this case not so)deep side trails. Fortunately a fresh layer of powder fell on Monday and I took the opportunity to ski some of the backcountry trails. A lot of these trails got closed last Christmas (2012) when we had that significantly heavy wet dump of snow which brought down a lot of trees. The smaller trails never got cleared over the course of the winter (the NCC ran out of money for the work!) so I haven't had a chance to ski a lot of these trail in 2 years. Fortunately a group of volunteers helped to clear out the trails over the summer (many thanks!) and I finally got my chance to ski some old favourites again. I've been waiting most of the winter for a good powder day and Monday was certainly it! Add to it being a Monday and I had the park seemingly to myself. Of course the die hards had already been out and I found most of the good pistes had already been broken out but that didn't detract from my outing.
Fading lightGood day to tackle the "seamonster"
So with January now in the books and winter half over I'm looking forward to some good skiing in the "second half". More comfortable temperatures in the short term and some more snow falling as we speak. So much so that I'm not sure any groundhog around these parts will be able to dig himself out tomorrow morning to check for his shadow! That could mean - for me - a visit to "Frank", "Mr Sparks" and "Doug"... And a Scottish fling or two if time and stamina permit tomorrow morning. I’ll have to get the wide boards ready tonight. Its looking like it will be a "Super Sunday" indeed. With luck there will be some skiing in the Adirondacks soon enough as well. Snow levels are starting to rise down there but it still seems like there isn't enough yet to make it worth taking the "Pass" - at least not just yet.
Last lightSun is setting later now - Bring on February!