Nippletop(13) and Dial(41) with Bear Den and W. Noonmark Shoulder

07/04/17

I had the day off of work, and decided that the day couldn’t be better spent than by climbing the two peaks that I left out when climbing Colvin and Blake. I left the house at 4am, thinking that the trails might be crowded despite being a Tuesday since it was Independence Day. I enjoyed the sights of dense fog lifting with the sunrise on the drive down.

Barnum Pond

I arrived at the trailhead at St. Huberts just before 6am, put my boots on, and set off toward lake road.

15 minutes later I arrived at the register, signed in, and started my long trek down Lake Rd. I had read mixed reports about whether to climb these mountains clockwise or counterclockwise; many people suggested climbing clockwise, going up Leach trail and coming down Elk Pass because Elk Pass is very steep despite being only 1.5 miles long. However, I would much rather climb up a steep path than down it, and I wanted to do the long lake rd walk early in the hike as a warm up, so I chose to go counterclockwise, anticipating a miserable climb up Elk.

I noticed two signs for “Flume” while I was walking, and decided to check out the latter. Without backtracking all the way, I walked just a few feet along the little spur trail to see some awesome waterfalls.

Usually the walk along lake is boooring, however this time, just as I was cresting a hill, a sweet little spotted fawn came galloping toward me from the other side! She skidded to a stop, as did I, and we stared at each other in shock for a few moments before she bolted into the brook alongside the road, and watched me while floating in a little pool. Hopefully that baby’s momma was close by!

I passed the first sign for Gill Brook, and continued until I saw the second sign for Gill Brook cutoff, while I reached at about 7am, an hour after leaving from the parking lot.

The trail climbed slowly but steadily from this point until reaching the junction with the Gill Brook Trail 20 minutes later.

I went right, up towards Colvin, and ruefully continued straight past the junction for Indian Head a few minutes later. Indian head is amazing, but I’d already been there a month before and wanted to see new things.

The trail climbed pretty steadily on the way up towards Colvin. I hadn’t been bothered by bugs yet, but it was still quite early. I had also expected a ton of mud due to the recent deluge, and though there were muddy areas, none of them were sloppy, boot-slurping mud. After climbing up some rock slabs and stone steps, my stomach started complaining loudly, so I decided to take a short break just before 8am and have a snack.

After a little over a mile of climbing, I reached a decrepit sign at the junction for Elk Pass, Colvin, and Lake Rd at 8:30am. Two of the signs had fallen (presumably recently, because I think they were intact when I was there before), and I spent a moment with a couple of other hikers to ensure we were all going the right way. I headed left from the direction I came to go towards Nippletop.

The trail picked up again, climbing steadily, and I started hearing sounds that seemed out of place for a mountain trail….Frogs. It didn’t make any sense to me, and definitely made me pause for a moment or two in confusion, until the trail took a downward turn and I found myself on a muddy, overgrown little path through a bog. I excitedly took a little spur in the trail to view the bog, and the lumber supplies that hopefully mean a bridge will be built in the future.

It was so beautiful here. After a very quiet morning, the birds were waking up and the frogs were certainly lively. More than once while walking I stepped in what I thought was shallow mud and nearly left my boot behind in foot-deep muck. I’d laugh to myself, remove my foot, and immediately do it again. I was pleasantly surprised moments later to see another small pond, on the right this time, and took the opportunity for a short break.

At this point, the trail was almost lower than the level of the ponds, and boy did it show. The mud was ridiculous, and much more along the lines of what I had expected. I passed through the absolutely worst of it by balancing precariously on a sodden, broken log, and made it to dry land. THEN I took out my pole to help with any future mud. Better late than never!

I had reached a nice dry clearing with views of another small pond, which I later saw was a campsite, and then headed up the trail again.

This is when the real ascent up Elk Pass starts. Honestly, I wasn’t even really convinced I was on Elk Pass until I was almost to the summit of Nippletop because it was so much easier than everyone made it seem. I was expecting some beast with giant rock slabs and slick slides all the way up. While it was indeed steep and constant, it wasn’t at all technically difficult. For reference, I always carry my camera around my neck while hiking and put it away during difficult sections; I never even had to put it away during this entire hike.

The grade was certainly tiring, and I made myself stop for 5 minute breaks every hour (which really helped with muscle fatigue), but it was made so much better by the views I had almost every time I turned around.

While it wasn’t technically difficult, this trail seemed to go on FOREVER. Finally, at about 10:15am, I reached the crest in the ridge and the junction for Nippletop and Dial, and headed right.

20 minutes later and I was standing next to a big rock, asking a man standing nearby “Is this it?” It was indeed! Climbing out onto the rocks, I was blown away by the views of the Dix range.

I hung out at the top for about an hour, chatting with a few different people (shoutout to Doug from Delaware, the surgeon!–I’m trying really, really hard lately to remember things about people…like their names.) and enjoying my lunch and victory chocolate.

I took a photo for a pair of ladies, they returned the favor, and I convinced them to do the loop down elk pass to visit Indian Head. Seriously, the views from Indian Head are some of the best around.

Elk Lake just visible to the South (left)

Finally, at around 11:30, I decided I had to make the move to head towards Dial. Bugs had started to show their ugly stupid faces with the warming sun and mud, flies and sandflies and mosquitos and all, but they weren’t really a nuisance while I was moving, so off I went. I passed the junction with Elk Pass and marveled at the view of Giant Mtn to the NE.

Everyone I had previously spoken to had said that the trail was all downhill after leaving Nippletop heading toward Dial, Bear Den, and back to Lake Rd. This was totally not true, and I had gotten pretty frustrated at having expected it to be so much easier. It was more like, down then up, then down then up to Dial, then down then up to Bear Den, then down then up to Noonmark Shoulder, then down….Anyway, I passed several people travelling the other way while heading to Dial, and asked every one of them if I had accidentally passed over Dial without realizing it…I just kept going downhill, I thought for sure I had missed it!

Along the way, I spied a little spur trail off to the right just before noon, so of course I took it and found some beautiful views from a large boulder!

Finally, 2.1 miles and about an hour after leaving the summit of Nippletop, I reached the summit of Dial Mountain. For some reason, I was expecting the summit to have no views, however I was thrilled to see a huge boulder outcropping.

I hopped right up, and eagerly sat down to enjoy an apple, and snapped a few photos.

Unfortunately, within 5 minutes of being up there, I was SWARMED by sandflies! These things are awful! Despite having a cap coated in permethrin and being covered head to toe in deet, these things just did not care. One after another I was swatting them off of my hands, my neck, my face, and even from up under my cap. At one point, I took the deet out of my pack and literally sprayed it into the swarm, and they gave me one of these:

So I packed my stuff up and courageously ran like hell off of the summit, without even having my apple snack. After a hundred feet or so I slowed back down and lamented my short stay on the summit. The trail immediately went downhill for about a mile before climbing again up to the summit of Bear Den (1:30pm). There weren’t any views from Bear Den that I could see, and I didn’t even realize I had reached the summit until I saw the sign at Noonmark saying I had already passed Bear Den.

After a half mile descent from Bear Den, The trail again began climbing. While somewhat demoralizing to be climbing again (my knees were hurting from all of the ‘down’, and going up only means climbing right back down, and then some), the trail up to the W shoulder of Noonmark Mtn was stunning. A fire had ravaged the area in 1999, creating now-beautiful views from the summit of the shoulder and a unique young forest full of birch and aspen trees, with white bark and bright green leaves.

I climbed the slab up to the shoulder and plopped my butt down. The views were AMAAAAAZING. I wanted to sit there for so much longer than I did, but alas, bugs. Writing this the day after the hike, I have a number of itchy bites, where mosquitos had bitten THROUGH MY DEET-SOAKED PANTS. What even are these things?! How do I prevent this?! Grenades?! Ugh.

After only a few minutes respite, I continued on up and over the shoulder and again headed downhill through the beautiful forest and some mud.

From here on out the trail was much easier. There was less mud and the decline was less rocky. At some point I passed this beautiful little mushroom, still somehow intact despite residing in the middle of the trail.

A mile and a half later I was back on Lake Rd, and at the parking lot at about 3:45pm, about 9hrs and 45 minutes after leaving.

I learned some valuable information on this trip:
1. Adirondack bugs don’t give a hoot whether you’re wearing deet or permethrin. If they’re hungry, you’re lunch.
2. Elk Pass wasn’t bad at all, and I would recommend any and everyone go up Elk and down Leach, for several reasons. First, you get the long walk down lake road out of the way early on, and it serves as a nice warm-up before any climbing. Second, you reach Nippletop for some awesome views faster than you would if coming from the Leach Trail. Third, it’s easier to climb up steep, slippery rocks than to climb down them.
3. The Fourth of July isn’t a crazy busy hiking day when it’s during the week (except maybe on a Monday or Friday). I only saw a handful of people all day. Good to know!

13 down, 33 to go! Happy Trails!

Nippletop Mountain: 4620′

Dial Mountain: 4020′

Bear Den: 3399′

Total Duration: 8.5 hours of hiking + 1.25 hours at summits

Round Trip Distance: ~14 miles

All images are property of adktrailtalesandtails and may only be used with express permission.

Colvin (39) and Blake (42) with Indian Head and Fish Hawk Cliffs

6/3/2017

Weather reports for this day had been spotty all week, with everything ranging from sun to clouds to rain to snow, but I had been set on hiking no matter what, and at least if weather wasn’t great, then the trails shouldn’t be very crowded. I got up at 4am, checked the weather again, and it looked promising! So I hopped in my car and headed to the St. Huberts parking lot off of Rt. 73 (technically on Ausable Club Rd.). I arrived at around 7am, the lot was already around half-full, and headed up the road alongside a very difficult looking golf course.

 photo DSC00012_zpshwz3y7wt 2_zpslni2ojpr.jpg
Ausable Club

I met and chatted with a friendly couple from Ottawa along the way, and 10 minutes later I signed in at the register by the gate with a pep in my step.

Surprisingly, there were no bugs out yet, but I fully expected o be swarmed later in the day. At any rate, the walk along Lake Rd was a nice warm up before starting any climbing, and it follows a scenic brook along the way.

My initial plan for the day was to hit Indian Head first, because people are always talking about how amazing it is and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about, then to hit Fish Hawk Cliffs, Colvin, Nippletop, then Dial, and I wanted to follow Gil Brook on the way up. So when I saw the first sign for Gil Brook, I followed that trail.

I absolutely have to recommend this trail to anyone and everyone looking to hike in this region, and I recommend going up it instead of down, because you can see all of the waterfalls as you come up to them. I spent soooo much time putzing around by the brook, but it was only 8am and I wanted to get to know my new camera (a mirrorless Sony a6000, much smaller and lighter than my big Canon, which was also in my pack of course)!

If at any point along a trail you encounter a sign with two arrows, one for an “easy” route and one for a “Scenic” route, take the scenic route!

There were two such signs along the path, and boy were they worth it. It wasn’t even a difficult traverse, and the waterfalls were stunning. What is it about waterfalls that makes me want to be standing under them?

Shortly after the last waterfall, I came upon a junction for Colvin/Indian Head/Elk Pass, and as I paused to snap a photo, another hiker approached from the trail I had just been on. We stopped to talk for a minute, and he suggested that I absolutely do not want to orphan out Blake Mountain, since the way to get to it is generally by climbing Colvin first.  So if I didn’t do it today, I’d have to come back and climb Colvin again to get it. So I said, Ok, this hike is getting really ambitious, but sure, I’ll add Blake to the list! He continued on, and I admired the Gil Brook for a moment more before continuing on.

About two minutes later, at 9am, I encountered the same hiker (shoutout to Josh) at another Junction sign. He was debating whether to climb Indian Head, but was hesitant because he hadn’t told anyone he would be going there. I said I was planning to climb it too, so together we set off up the path to Indian Head.

30 minutes later we arrived at the summit and our minds were blown. Honestly, I could have stayed there all day, it was so incredible. But, alas, I’m an aspiring 46er and didn’t want to miss the chance to bag some high peaks.

We stayed up there for almost 30 minutes enjoying the views and trying to figure out which mountains were around us. It was really nice having someone to hike with; not only did I have someone to talk to besides myself (I’d already caught myself mumbling to myself a few times that day, which was mildly concerning), but I had someone to take my picture! I had taken my tripod out of my pack that morning, so I wasn’t really planning on being in any photos.

 photo DSC00055_zpserxbadjp 2_zpskifjlb2v.jpg
The peaks behind me are Colvin and Blake

Having enjoyed our fill of the beautiful landscape, we next set off for Fish Hawk Cliffs, and arrived there 15 minutes later at 10:15am. NOW I KNOW WHY IT’S CALLED INDIAN HEAD! I was really wondering about that on the climb up, and it was so freaking cool to see Indian Head from another angle.

 photo DSC00059_zpsthods0up 2_zpslmoetjse.jpg
Indian Head, in the center

We didn’t linger long there, and began our descent down to the col between Colvin and Indian Head. Now, as I’ve mentioned before, I am SLOW when hiking steep terrain. I have very weak joints, and landing wrong could collapse my knees, so I go very slowly, using my arms a lot to lower myself down to avoid any injuries. My new hiking buddy, however, was much faster, so I encouraged him to go on at his own pace so I wouldn’t slow him down and, at some point along the way to Colvin, he did. This was fine with me, because now I could go exactly as slowly a I needed without feeling rushed. After reaching the col, the climb back up Colvin was a bit tricky and just never seemed to end. It was getting pretty muddy and slick, and more than once as I walked through a muddy patch I felt my boot sink in and schlurrrp as I pulled it back out. At least there were still, somehow, no bugs! At some point I started hearing people talking, and finally, 2 hours after leaving Fish Hawk Cliffs and about 5 hours from the trailhead, I made it to the summit!

The summit was a glorified rock with about 6 people already hanging out at the top. My hiking buddy and I reunited, and I immediately sat my butt down and ate food. And then ate some more food. And then a little more. I was really hungry, guys.

The summit was very windy, and it was about 52°F, which is probably why bugs weren’t an issue all day. While the views from the summit certainly weren’t 360°, it was incredible to be right in the middle of the Adirondacks and so close to the other high peaks.

 photo DSC00064_zpslofyrljv 2_zpszznlhd2a.jpg
Looking back toward Indian Head
 photo DSC00068_zpsb0canqtv 2_zpswjciaewi.jpg
Mt Marcy behind me, with snow still towards the summit

This was my 10th high peak, so I’m officially in double digits! Talking with the other people at the summit, it seemed the overall consensus was that Blake Mountain SUCKS. It’s a steep climb down from Colvin, and a steep climb  up to Blake, which has no views and isn’t even 4000ft, then back down Blake and up Colvin again. Now, on the climb up to Colvin, I had had my cap on and was looking down and completely missed BOTH junction signs just before the summit. Yikes. We left the summit at about 12:40pm and headed down towards Blake.

The descent didn’t start out too bad, albeit expectedly muddy, and 20 minutes later I had the first glimpse of Blake. Boy was that a demoralizing sight.

 photo DSC00077_zpsfxe52mqc 2_zpsubko1kzm.jpg
Blake Mtn

As we headed down, things got STEEP. The mud made things very tricky and slick, and it was a bit intimidating. Luckily there were a few ladders to help with the worst spots.

Both of us decided to descend next to the ladder rather than actually using the rungs due to how steep and widely spaced the rungs were. Now, being the graceful moose that I am, I lost traction part of the way down, and slid down on my butt. On the way, my hiking pole got caught under my pack, which jammed the pole about a foot into the mud at the bottom of the slope. I had to laugh at myself, as Josh asked me “Is your pole stuck in the mud?” and I replied, “Sure is!”. I unearthed it, and we continued on down to the col.

 photo DSC00089_zpsbiuhjb6d_LI_zpscf51vifw.jpg
The hole from my pole, circled in red

As I’m writing this, I’m surprised because it felt like that descent took forever, but was apparently only 35 minutes. At 1:15pm, we reached the col between the mountains.

My hiking buddy went on ahead during the ascent up Blake, and another hiker or two passed me as well, looking tired and covered in mud, but still in good spirits. Everyone I met this day had been absolutely awesome, and I stopped to talk with many of them. I even met a group of students from my university coming down Blake, one of whom I’d actually taught before! Even though Blake is kind of a really awful mountain, the people I met along the way more than made up for it, probably because the only people who would be out there are people who just love hiking, like me. No matter how tough the hike, everyone is willing to meet one another and lend a hand.

As this climb was dragging on, I saw a man who had passed me earlier was now coming back down. When I asked him if the summit was anywhere close, I heard Josh yell up ahead “It’s right here! Keep going!” so with a last burst of energy, I scrambled up to the summit at 2:15pm, which was noted with a small pile of rocks and no view. Time from Colvin: 1.5hrs. Time from trailhead: 7hr 15min.

We both had some snacks and victory chocolate, and I gratefully let my heavy pack fall off of my shoulders.

While we were up there, another gentleman reached the summit with us, and the first word out of his mouth was an exasperated “F**k!”. We burst out laughing; that one expression completely summed up the hike to Blake. The three of us sat together for some time chatting and dreading the trip back to Colvin.

Nevertheless, at 2:45 we headed back the way we came. I was moving so incredibly slowly sown the steep, muddy rocky slopes, and was soon left behind by my hiking buddy, which was again fine with me. At least if I fell on my rear no one would be there to see it! Surprisingly, despite my lack of grace, I never did fall. I was so incredibly relieved when I made it back to the col to Colvin, because the worst of the descents for the whole trip were over. I made my way back up Colvin, and again the climb never seemed to end. Every time I though I must be close, it just kept going.

I sat once again upon the summit of Colvin at 3:50pm, alone this time, and enjoyed the most delicious fruit cup I’ve ever eaten in my life. At 4pm, I left my perch, now drained of any ambition to climb Nippletop and Dial. It was getting windier and the clouds were more forboding, and I didn’t want to be on a summit in the rain. As I headed down, I met another group of really fun people heading up for Colvin and Blake, and encouraged them to keep going because the summit was literally 2 minutes away. We talked for a few minutes, then parted ways. Climbing down from Colvin was tougher than I had anticipated, with lots of slick muddy rocks, steep descents, and rock hopping, and my knees soon started to ache and feel weak. I finally reached the junction after an hour of very careful descent.

The going was much easier after the junction, and I sped right along the Gil Brook trail, bypassing the scenic overlooks that I’d already seen. I made it back to Lake Rd at about 6pm. I hadn’t used a restroom since 7am, and the rushing water of Gil Brook alongside the road was not helping my bladder situation, so I really picked up my pace to make it back to the parking lot! Along the way, I rescued a small bright orange salamander from the middle of the road and chatted with a nice fellow from Montreal (shoutout to Maxim) while we walked back to the gate. I signed out, then practically ran back to the parking lot. I made it there at about 7pm, after 12 hours of hiking, and was SO HAPPY that I had a change of clothes, socks, and shoes waiting for me in the car.

I drove the two hours back home all with a stunning sunset in front of me. 11 down, 35 more to go! You’re next, Dial and Nippletop.

Colvin Mountain: 4057′

Blake Mountain: 3960′

Indian Head: 2700′

Fish Hawk Cliffs: 2600′

Total Duration: ~12 Hours

Round Trip Distance: ~15 miles

All images are property of adktrailtalesandtails and may only be used with express permission.