I had planned on climbing Mt. Marcy as my 46th High Peak in January, the same day as Storytime was to get his Winter 46. However, I had yet to climb Blake, and time was running out. MudRat said he was free on Christmas Eve, and (for some reason) wouldn’t mind climbing Blake again. After OK’ing with my wife, I jumped at the opportunity.
It rained all day Thursday. As I began driving home from work, I noticed Kevin had left a message on my cell phone. He said he had climbed Street and Nye earlier in the day, and that conditions were very wet. He also said the Lake Road from the Ausable Club was not skiable, as we had intended. Once home, I finished packing, but couldn’t find my glove liners, thermal head band, or in-step crampons.
I ended up leaving ½ hour late. As I began driving, the weather began to change. It was 60 degrees in Syracuse when I left, but by the time I reached Rome (40 minutes later) the weather resembled a North Atlantic storm. Thankfully, the worst of the weather ended in Speculator (1 hour from Rome). The weather really didn’t bother me, since I was zoned-out listening to audio books (Iroquois Stories and Eiger Dreams).
I was about to merge onto the Northway in Pottersville, but there was an accident, and I was detoured to Schroon Lake. Once entering the Northway, I noticed the skies had began clearing, and it was snowing on the higher summits.
After what seemed to be a very long drive, I reached MudRat’s grandma’s house. As I pulled into the driveway, I noticed that both were trying to fix her hot water heater, which had “blown out” in the high winds. After we got it fired again, MudRat and I drove to the house he was closing on.
After checking out the house, MudRat and I drove back to his grandma’s, and I waterproofed my boots with beeswax. By the time I was done, it was already 10:00, and we decided it was time for bed. We woke up at 5:00, and I was thankful that MudRat’s grandma had prepared scrambled eggs and oatmeal for breakfast.
After stopping at Stewart’s for bottled water, we arrived at the trailhead at 6:15. We began hiking 5 minutes later. We barebooted Lake Road, which was glazed ice. We began barebooting the trail to Fish Hawk Cliffs, but kept breaking through top layer of ice, so we soon changed into our snowshoes. I knew conditions would be icy, so instead of bringing my 36” Sherpa’s, I decided to bring my wife’s recreational-grade Atlas’… a mistake I would soon regret.
Soon after descending a steep but short hill, we reached Fish Hawk Cliffs. We spent a few minutes appreciating the nice views, taking photos, and listening to the wind howling on Great Range. We hoped the wind wasn’t as strong on top of these mountains.
The hike to the Gill Brook Trail seemed to pass quickly. However, from this point to Elk Pass seemed to take much longer than anticipated. I actually thought I had missed the intersection for the trail to Nippletop. The trail from Elk Pass to the summit consisted of alternating steep and flat sections with many false summits. Adding to the misery, my snowshoes weren’t gripping on steep sections. Since my snowshoes weren’t gripping, I would have to charge up the steep pitches until I reached a ledge, then charge up the next pitch.
We were relieved to see that the weather on the Colvin summit was good, with only a slight breeze. After taking a couple of photos, we were headed to Blake. The beginning of trail to Blake was a flat ridge walk with alternating views to either side. However, it was very steep from the ridge to the col, and I fell many times due to the icy conditions.
The ascent of Blake’s northern shoulder was steep. Then, after traversing across the shoulder at a minimal to moderate grade, we had a very steep ascent of the summit. I was getting very tired, especially with all the slipping, sliding, and falling. The final steep pitch looked like Everest to me, and I actually thought about giving up; but knew I was close to the summit and pushed on. Once on top of the summit ridge, we descended into minor saddle before reaching the true summit.
I spent about 30 seconds at the summit, and began walking back to the saddle to set up my stove for a warm lunch. Of course, my gas canister wouldn’t pressurize, so I had to repack everything without eating. My hands were cold from not wearing gloves, and now I had no hot food in me.
Sliding was only way down the very steep sections. At one steep section, I postholed with both legs and twisted as I fell downhill. Both thighs subsequently cramped. I got back up, but walking painful, and the sudden stops at the bottom of slides were excruciating.
My legs begin to loosen by the time I reached the col, but they were still stiff, and I had to negotiate a 700-foot ascent back up Colvin. At the col, I drank more water and changed into crampons. By this time, I would rather posthole than slip and slide with my snowshoes. Luckily, the trail was icy enough on steep pitches to support my weight. I stayed in the middle of the trail to avoid postholing on the flat sections on top of the ridge. Although I postholed about 15 times from col to summit with crampons, I had postholed about 10 times with snowshoes on the way to Blake… so the crampons weren’t tearing up the trail significantly more than the snowshoes.
I ate a snack and had more to drink on the Colvin summit. I laughed as MudRat’s facemask was frozen to goat-tee. I thought it was about 10 degrees, but MudRat was certain it was near or below zero. I was dressed in lightweight Gore-Tex pants, long-sleeve thermal shirt, and gloves. I would add a spring rain jacket and thermal headband on descents and summits. MudRat, however, was dressed in multiple layers including a parka, winter hat, half face mask. I was very comfortable, but in retrospect, think I may need more insulation for my legs to prevent cramps.
Sliding down the steep sections on descent of Colvin required care due to the hardened ice, but we made good progress to Elk Pass, where we rested for 5 minutes. We set a good pace from Elk Pass to Lake Road, and although we set a fast pace down Lake Road, it seemed to take forever to reach the sign-out. By the time we signed out at 5:15, the full moon was rising. The hike had taken us three hours longer than anticipated, mostly attributed to my weak cardiovascular system on the way up, and leg cramps on the way down.
I asked MudRat to call my wife so she wouldn’t worry about my late departure. The weather was good on the way home, as I finished listening to Eiger Dreams, and visualized finishing my “46” on Marcy in a couple of weeks.