27 January 2013

Mts. Williams, Fitch and Greylock - 19 Jan 2013

There is a wealth of information on this hike available online.  I will point out two pieces of information that I wish I had known ahead of time: 1) There is a sign marking the summit of Mt. Fitch, and the summit is indeed off of the trail.  At least according to Wikipedia, there is.  2) The hike to Mount Williams, from the col where the Bernard Farm trail climbs up to the Appalachian Trail, is all of 0.2 miles.  It looks much farther on the map.

View from Above

Ken and I had originally planned on meeting up around 9:00 AM, but I overslept and we didn’t end up meeting up until a little after 9:45 AM.  We donned our winter gear, took in the landscape around us, and headed off.  Given the paucity of snow around my house I had only a faint hope of seeing any deep snow here, and despite my ever present worries of avalanches and dangerous ridges, there was nothing to worry about.  (I suppose that’s the side-effect of listening to stories of mountaineering while taking care of the house.)  The snow conditions at no point were dangerous, not even slightly.  Despite walking along a ridge for several miles, there was literally no danger.  The snow was also at no point deep enough for snowshoes.  We set out in microspikes, instead (dull-edged, very short crampons, held to the boot by rubber).

We had originally talked about taking the farmer’s route up to the col between Williams and Fitch, and instead opted for the Notch Road approach.  I figured it would be faster, and would also give us more time on the Appalachian Trail.  I had never set foot upon it, despite having dreamed about it and read about it for decades now.  We made quick time up to the point where the AT traverses the saddle between Mt. Prospect and Mt. Williams.  At that point we stopped to have a snack and take a few pictures before heading up to Mt. Williams.

Perhaps the most difficult thing about navigating the AT in the winter is that the blazes look just like patches of fungus on a tree, and that they don’t particularly stand out against the white snow.  Despite this, there was a clearly stamped trail, made by other hikers, and though we were keeping an eye out for blazes, the trail was true.  There were several small, frozen waterfalls to climb up, and I was thankful that we had both opted to wear the microspikes.  We made it up to the summit of Mt. Williams around 12:05, about 45 minutes after setting out along the AT.  The view was decent, and there was a small register, which I signed.  When I asked Ken how he wanted me to sign his name, he replied with a nickname that I won’t repeat here.  I suppose that’s his AT name, now?

We made our way along the ridge, and I took the time to tromp around the summit plateau of Mt. Fitch, in an effort to find the true summit.  It was completely flat, which is typical of Taconic peaks.  (I found out after the fact, via Wikipedia, that there is, in fact, a marker denoting the summit.  I’ll have to go back at some point.)

We arrived on the final push up to Mt. Greylock at 13:40, and topped out around 14:05.  This was, by far, the hardest section of the trail, simply due to the terrain.  The last 400’ of elevation gain (roughly) follows an old ski trail (the Thunderbolt trail), and the footing for hikers in the winter isn’t superb.  It was also on this push that we left behind the solitude of the AT.  We had seen one other party, the entire morning, and now we saw group after group after group.  On our way down from the summit, in fact, we passed a large party hanging out by the Thunderbolt shelter, and we saw several more groups as we headed down.

The summit itself is crowned by a memorial to soldiers who have fought in the defense of Massachusetts.  It’s also a bare summit, mostly flat, thanks to the erosion of the once great Acadian mountains that are now called theTaconic mountains.  Despite having been eroded down from peaks that once stood as tall as the Rockies, the Taconics are still tall compared to the surrounding landscape, and are a beautiful range in and of themselves.  In fact, the Taconics claim two of the state high points in the Northeast: Massachussets’ and Connecticut’s high points, Mt. Greylock, and the south shoulder of Mt. Frissell, respectively.  We didn’t spend much time on Massachussets’ high point, however, since the winds were ferocious. We admired the summit for a few minutes and then sought shelter before exploring some more.  Just off of the summit proper, there were enough buildings and trees to cut the wind.  We took in the sights around us, had a quick bite, and headed back down.  I had talked Ken in to taking the road back, since despite it being a longer trip, I knew we could follow it easily if we got caught out in the dark, which seemed like a possibility given how late it was.  He reluctantly agreed, and we headed off.

The rest of the trip was uneventful.  We stopped for a few minutes near the point where Notch Road and Rockwell Road meet, and chatted with a local farmer who had come up to check out the view.  We then set off on our way, and made it back to the cars, as dark was falling, at 16:50.  I honestly don’t know if we would have made better time by taking a different trail back, such as the Bellows Pipe, or heading back along the AT to the old farm trail.

At any rate, it was a fun day out.  I hiked my first few miles along the Appalachian Trail, and hope to hike many more miles in the future.  There are several other state high points along it, including two that I’d like to visit in the near future: High Point, in New Jersey, and Mt. Katahdin, the northern terminus, in Maine.
For whatever reason, the Taconics seem to be my go-to range for winter hiking.  It isn’t a bad choice; during the summer I’ve heard that they can be quite crowded at times, and even during the winter I’ve never truly been alone on these trails.  The woods are beautiful, and the rocks are different.  The summits are often flat, almost plateaus.  Mt. Williams’ was actually slightly knolled, which was something I don’t recall seeing anywhere else.  The trails are also generally gentle, which has helped me ease into winter hiking.  I suspect I’ll be aiming for more difficult routes in the near future, but for now, these are fine.

Strangely enough, both Ken and I experienced something akin to a runner’s high afterwards.  I’ve never experienced this after a hike, but I hope I do again!  I couldn’t stop smiling.  In fact, I’m smiling now, as I write this, a week later.

13 January 2013

Olomana - 8 Nov 2003

I didn't get a chance to go for a run this weekend, due to the way things worked out.  Instead, here's a trip report that I wrote up a year ago, for a hike that happened almost ten years ago.  I was visiting my brother out in Hawai'i, where he was stationed.  He wanted to show me some of the local hikes, so we did Olomana and Rainbow Falls (on two separate days).  The latter was interesting because we hiked down to it almost the entire way, since we started at the Pali look out.  The former was interesting because it was my first and only real experience on an arĂȘte.  Both of the hikes were simply fantastic.  I'll do my best to get a picture or two scanned; the sunset peeking through the peaks across the valley was truly fantastic.  I've never seen anything like it.

Olomana.  To this day, the word still makes me smile.

Don and I got a late start (nothing new there!) and made our way over to the Golf Course / Country Club where the start of the Olomana trail is.  I remember stopping by the Marine Corps or Navy store, grabbing bottles of water and probably some snacks, and then driving along numerous back roads (Oahu seems to either be back roads or major highways) until getting to the country club.

We nodded to the guy at the gatehouse (who evidently was used to ragtag hikers walking through), and turned off at the Olomana trail.  We wound our way through the woods, stopping to check out a large hollowed out tree (banyan?) and eventually making our way to what I think was a large sand pit.

This marked the start of the ridge, and from this point on, we walked on an ever narrowing ridgeline.  It was literally like walking on the edge of a knife in some spots.  As we made our way up, we encountered a short rock face - roughly 15' high - with a few ropes tied on to assist with the ascent.  Don and I decided to forgo the ropes and just climb up with our hands.  I believe we even made a sport of it, but I don't recall who won.

We pushed onward, and eventually made our way to the first summit: a long, narrow strip of land with amazing views all around.  We stayed long enough to watch the sun set through the mountains to the west, sending out amazing rays of light.  I took some pictures, but none of them even come close to the sheer splendor of that moment.

We headed back down in the dusk and made our way back to the car.

The trip back was, for the most part, uneventful.  There was enough light for us to make our way, and we had made it past the worst of the elevation before the dark was complete.  As we were coming out of the woods, though, we heard a rustling on our right.  Something followed us almost the entire length of the road from the trailhead back to the gatehouse.  It stayed off to our right, and we could hear it walking in the underbrush as we walked.  Given the high number of feral cats this is the most likely suspect.  Tales of spirits abound on those islands, though, especially on the peaks.

I considered posting the Rainbow Falls report as well, but in reading it over, I think that there's more to the story than what I had written last year.  It'll have to wait until I can get the rest of it down.

06 January 2013

Hennig Preserve - 4 Jan 2013

The wind here has a name, an unpronounceable one, and it screams this name until you look up to try and see where it's coming from.  That's when you realize that there's a wall of snow moving swiftly towards you.  You have a precious moment to throw your hood over your head, before the snow does its best to creep down your shirt and chill you to the core.  Sometimes you're successful, sometimes you're not.  You could just leave your hood up, but the thumping, creaking, squeaking and screaming all around you makes you constantly look from side to side, just to confirm once again that the sound is yet one more tree grinding against another.  Such was my existence for two frozen hours on Friday, while I attempted to work out the gearing and layering that I would use for future training runs and hikes in this strange land of sugar icing.

I was testing out my new snowshoes at the Hennig Preserve, a large preserve in the town of Providence, NY, only a stone's throw from the Adirondack Park itself.  The preserve reminds me of the Adirondacks, though I can't get a good look at the ground to confirm that, because of the snow that covers it.  All of the trails on the south side, where I spent most of my time, were well-packed by other snowshoers.  I was pleased when I saw this; I didn't want to mess with ski tracks, since skiers apparently get upset when you do this, and I didn't want to cut new trail for the entire time, because I wasn't wearing snowshoes meant for that.  I was wearing snowshoes that were meant for running on groomed trails, because I'm in the middle of training for an upcoming snowshoe race, and I thought I might try some novel form of training, such as putting snowshoes on and running in them.

It turns out that running in snowshoes isn't as difficult as I thought it would be, at least from a logistical standpoint.  I automatically increased my stride so that I wouldn't trip on my own shoes, and according to my recorded track, I was able to get up into the 15:00s.  Nothing to write home about, but pretty good, I thought, for a total beginner.  The major limiting factor, it turns out, was my heart.  After less than a minute I was reaching for the 170s and starting to shut down.  This was completely disheartening, since on snow-free routes I'm able to run a mile in the 12:00s, and my heart stays in the high 150s to low 160s.  Again, I know it's nothing to write home about, but my point is, running in snowshoes is significantly more difficult than I had anticipated.  Trying to make the best of the situation, I resolved to push on and just hike as far as I could for as long as I could.  I broke into a run a few times, but for the most part I hiked.

Personal problems aside, the trail and the woods were beautiful.  There was a trail labeled as "Esker Trail" on the map, and I was cautiously optimistic that it was a trail named because of an esker, and not because of a certain Mr. or Mrs. Esker.  As I slogged up a slight uphill that marked the start of the trail, I was pleasantly surprised to see that I was, in fact, standing upon an esker.  It wasn't very tall at first, but as the trail traversed the ridge, the ground below the deposition grew further and further away.  The esker itself does more undulating than it does winding, and it doesn't show up on any topo map that I've found, but it's most definitely there.  You can see it from Glenwild Road, as well, on your approach to the preserve, and you can see the road from the end of the esker.  From the map, it doesn't look like it goes any further; there's something that looks more like a kame on the other side of the road, with a gravel pit excavated from one end of it.

Traversing the Esker

I should also add that I loved being on top of the esker.  I had made it a goal of mine last year to visit one, after reading about the eskers in the Five Ponds Wilderness and seeing them laying there like serpents upon the topo maps of the region.  The experience itself was a bit surreal, both from the slopes falling away on either side and from the physical reminder that thousands of feet worth of moving ice once stood above this very spot.  I can't wait to check out the massive eskers at Five Ponds.

The wind made itself known while I was up there, as it had while I was gearing up on the road, but once I descended off of the esker, the valley on the other side was sufficiently sheltered for me to warm up and consider dropping a layer.  I didn't, mostly because I just wanted to keep moving and cover as much ground as I could.  It was late in the day, and I knew that I had to keep pushing on.

At one point I came across a barely frozen stream, with the loud rush of a small waterfall only barely hidden from sight.  In one spot a hole had opened up, and I could see the water rushing past.  I awkwardly forded the stream, following another soul's foot placements.  This was repeated several times on the hike, and it was always a bit nerve-wracking.

The other end of the blue trail meets up with the end of both the orange and the green trail, as well.  I contemplated going back on the orange trail, which would have led me back to my car by the most direct route, but I choose to go the long way instead.  It was on the green trail, on the back side of a small ridge (possibly the same esker line), that the wind started whipping through the trees, dumping snow on me and the forest ahead in a moving wall of snow.  It was also back here that I heard some of the strangest noises coming from the trees as they rubbed together.

The green trail travels through some lovely country, and I found myself wanting to linger on several occasions.  Twice along the green trail, I crossed over another trail (or road) without P.L.A.N. signs on it, and there were several other points where I thought I saw herd paths or old trails.  I also passed by a snow-covered, barely visible old stone wall that I only noticed when I glanced back at one point.

The only people I ran into were four seasoned gentlemen who were coming out as I was heading in.  We stopped to chat briefly, but in my haste to get moving, I forgot to thank them for breaking (or re-breaking, more likely) the trail for me.  If any of you happen to read this, thank you!

All in all, this was a fun trip.  My legs were sore afterwards, especially the outside of my thighs, so I'll count this as a decent workout even without being able to run very far.  The preserve is beautiful, and the Hennigs and now Saratoga P.L.A.N. have done a good job in keeping the land pristine.

The trip also convinced me that I'm not ready for this race.  My pace for the day was 27:56.  On the 2011 Camp Saratoga 8K Snowshoe results page, the slowest runner ran a 19:22 pace over the course.  If I were to perform like I did today, it would take me over 2:18 hours to complete the course.  I'm simply not ready for it, and I don't want to make some poor souls sit around in the cold waiting for me to prove that I'm not ready for it.  So, I'll skip this race, and start looking toward a race in the fall or late summer, as well as a snowshoe race next season.  In the meantime, I hope the snow sticks around so I can train some more in it!

For more information on the Hennig Preserve, please visit Saratoga P.L.A.N.'s website, here: http://www.saratogaplan.org/HennigPreserve.htm.