Traverse SpecificsTraverse Distance: 12.5 miles
Duration: 9 Hours
Total Vertical: 3155 feet
Data below is based on route lines and ground distance calculated in topographical program.
Upper Works was named after the mining operation of this region this region. Remnants of the activities including stone structures, old houses and remnants scattered in various areas of the woods make it historic and interesting. Lakes and mountains are sometimes named after notable people or events such as David Henderson (Henderson Lake). He was key to the mining industry of the area and accidentally killed by his own gun after it dropped on a rock at a place subsequently named after the event (Calamity Pond and the adjacent Calamity Mountain).
The past several years have given rise to several modern changes. Sections of road that were once dirt are now paved; the most recent addition is the section from beyond the Santononi trailhead to the old town of Tahawus. Also, the furnace on the east side of the road has been restored and stone terraces have been cleared on the west. The furnace was previously in disrepair and overgrown with the local trees and vegetation. It was interesting to see the changes, but the feel of a forgotten era lost deep in the woods is now somewhat gone to me.
I’d planned a trek up MacNaughton for several years to alleviate my curiosity and to climb every peak equal to or above 4000’ feet in elevation. Past priorities and time didn’t allow it, however. Fellow friend and 46r, Mark emailed on the Friday prior to ask if I’d be interested in hiking my belated goal. I took him up on the offer. This was to be his fifth ascent and finished his 4 season climbing goal of the mountain. Our route down, however, would be new to both of us.
Upper Works to MacNaughton's SummitI woke up at 6:00 a.m. for the hour plus ride to the trailhead. A tropical disturbance was cycling off the coast, but the day was pristine as I made the drive while drinking coffee. A temperature in the 30’s kept the air crisp. I packed some warm clothes and a bivy sack for emergencies, but dressed in bergelene uppers and lowers with a light nylon shirt and hiking pants as the second layer. I also wore a pair of light fleece gloves to keep the chill out of my hands.
I waited about five minutes at the trailhead for Mark to arrive. The day was already cloudy and chilly. 8:00 a.m. found us taking our first steps on the old logging road along the Hudson River. I’d been on the road before to intersect the Calamity Trail, but the trip on this day veered more immediately to the north along what seemed a muddier route. I did my best to keep my feet dry. I was still cool and the mesh trail running sneakers were built to dry quickly not keep water out. Dry feet lasted for a few miles and consequently, I’d dunked them more than a few times by the end of the day. As WWBF might say, “You’re free after they’re wet since you have to worry about keeping them dry anymore.”
The terrain to the herd path of MacNaughton was a gradual ascent of 1600/1700 vertical feet over about 5.5 miles. Most books seem to say about 4.6 miles, but I don’t believe they take the ups and downs into account. My topo program does! The first left-hand turn led to Lake Henderson which was shortly followed by a right-hand fork leading to Calamity Pond and Flowed Lands. The signs were easy to follow and within about 2 miles we found ourselves at the left turn prior to both Henderson Lake Leanto and a rock hop across Indian Pass Brook. The bridge across the brook was in disrepair and blocked with surveyor’s tape. The path traversed around the north end of the lake and came to its edge in short order. This offered a great vantage point south over the lake as the overcast skies dumped some light sleet/snow on us. I looked at Mark while searching for the right comment to highlight the precipitation. Nothing came to me, but we both wondered what waited at elevation.
The walk was enjoyable and only moderately steep. Several notable memories of the trail come to mind upon reflection. Our sick hiker humor quickly took over as we saw an ancient maple with a 3 or 4 foot burl attached. Mark posed against the tree in an effort to demonstrate what elephantiasis of the right cheek might look like. The trail was littered regularly with posted sign which had obviously been there many years. The trees upon which they were nailed seemed to be hungry for metal and looked as if they were eating them…or someone had thrown them at high velocity! In reality, the bark had long ago grown around them in different and remarkable ways. In most instances, several inches of each sign were enveloped.
The flank of MacNaughton imposed itself from the east and views of Henderson Mountain’s flank dominated the western view. Eventually, the path funneled closely between the two. Henderson looked especially steep from this pass. We knew we were getting closer as we walked along the shores of Hunter’s Pond which is quite small when compared with either of the Preston Ponds (Upper Pond to the west or Lower Pond just to the northwest). Several small streams entered from the east until we came to a
The climb from the path involved navigation along the well defined herd-path near the brook or in the brook itself (my preference in normal circumstances). Blow-down was light for the most part, but the many of the rocks were covered in a quarter inch of ice which made rock hopping treacherous at several intervals. Large pristine pools, dammed by rock debris of ages past, were numerous and made for beautiful photos. The trek of about 1.5 miles and over 1650 feet took longer than I’d imagined…about 2.5 hours. The drainage narrowed as we approached the ridge and less water flowed as is normal. Finally, the herd path took a turn north-northeast from the brook toward the summit ridge.
Much of the area from the beginning of the herd-path (including the stream, but minus the herd path) reminded me of the whack up Redfield’s drainage from Cliff Slide. As the forest remained relatively open (by my standards), the similarity ended. Redfield was very dense and involved grueling upper body work to part the trees. The pitch was similar. We followed a faint herd path from the brook until it quickly faded into the multitude of pseudo-paths. We then navigated on a straight line through the conifer forest away from the sun which hung over the back our right shoulders. Mark made it a point to ascend as far eastward as possible (from our position) to avoid some small cliffs he’d encountered in the past. As a result, we only encountered a couple ledges, one of which was covered in small icicles. We took quick breaks as necessary and eventually walked onto a well defined herd-path that led us midway between the southern overlook and the northern summit overlook. Several people had already come and gone from the summit, which we reached at a quarter past noon.
From the summit and to my surprise, I was able to take some recon photos of Seward and Emmons’ slides. The Santononi Range sat to the southwest while the MacIntyre’s perched magnificently to our east. MacNaughton offered was a rare glimpse of their rocky west sides. After satisfying my photographic urges, we ducked into the brush to dine out of the wind and the icy chill. I hoped the food would ease the stomach pains that developed on the way up MacNaughton’s drainage. Consequently, it did not and I kept them until I had driven halfway home.
Bushwhack to Wallface Ponds Drainage and Out Via Indian Pass BrookI didn’t realize earlier, but Mark and I shared similar feelings regarding route. We don’t prefer treks that enter and exit the same way. We’d rather hike a loop if given a rational choice…and we had the choice. Our descent would be via a bushwhack to the drainage of Wallface Ponds (beautiful ponds worth exploring in the future) and would begin from the south end of the ridge. As the path descended from the south summit, it disappeared into what looked like heavy blow-down on the east side.
We intersected the drainage at a level area of grass where the stream lazily wound its way ever downward toward a beaver pond and crossed to the east side and its low scrub grasses. Retrospectively, this was a mistake that led to a wet exit from the area. Recent beaver slides and activity were frequent. Mark found a minimally wet and graceful option into the woods along the shore. It effectively kept us from wading. He wore waterproof boots to his advantage and I had mesh trail running shoes. As we trekked along the pond, Mark found a Winter Games pin. Amazing!
The south end of the pond marked the beginning of a ¾ mile/660 foot descent to Indian Pass Brook/Trail beginning with a 20 foot water cascade down a slab. The rush of water ended the placidity of the pond. The woods were open again and a mixture of deciduous and coniferous trees grew in the area. We remained in the woods though a rock hop (un-iced) was a possibility.
On a side note, I inevitably seem to find myself in at least one humorous predicament per hike. This was no different. I mis-stepped and found myself on my back after a fall onto my backpack…wedged between a log and the hillside. It felt like a hard fall, but I seemed no worse for wear. Mark watched and as he approached to help, I did a back roll to land on my feet, uttering a comment akin to, “I planned that…” The two large bruises on my butt, which Deb questioned the next day, proved that it was not intentional!
The stream continued to descend as did we. Large boulders littered an area about halfway down to Indian Pass Brook from the beaver meadow. Something of force happened at this point long ago. Regardless, it formed beautiful scenery and a large pool at the base where the water turned and ran down more slab rock. Our trek continued without incident until two sod holes ate my leg up to my knee. I wasn’t moving quickly so they didn’t hyperextend the joint. As we decreased elevation toward our destination, the forest suddenly became dominated by hardwoods. Several hundred yards later we intersected Indian Pass Trail at about 3:30 (2 miles from MacNaughton’s summit/9 miles into the trip).
We continued to follow Indian Pass Brook for some time at a semi-fast pace. Mark was bound and determined to not hike out in the dark…the reason being was that a hiker commented that we’d be doing a night hike when he learned of our route. “How slow do you think we are?” Mark voiced privately. We weren’t slow compared to the norm, I knew. We signed out in the daylight at 5:00 p.m. to end our 9 hour/12.5 mile hike. It was a hike that I would gladly do over and again.