Macs and Colden, 46er Finish and a Small Tribute

Much longer report is due. After having the pleasure of meeting Alpine Lamb on my walk up Esther and Whiteface three weeks ago, she said she looked forward to a report on my 46th, so here it is.

Just a little over two years ago a classmate of my children, who would have been 11 years old last week, was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor. Alex C. (whose family was originally from the Lake Placid area before they made their way to Rochester), at his then young age had already scaled 8 high peaks, and cross-country skiied more miles in the ADK’s than many of us have managed to hike. Among his goals was to complete his 46. Alex dealt with his illness as bravely and honorably as any person you could imagine, but he ultimately lost his battle in November 2012. His parents, while of course were devastated, used this as an opportunity to celebrate his life, his drive, his boundless optimism and his sweet and honorable character. Amazing for such a young boy.

I had casually started the 46 at about this time, but really was not familiar with “the list” and being so far from the High Peaks region have concentrated hiking whenever and wherever was convenient. When I learned of Alex’s desire to be a 46er, I committed myself to finishing. And so this past Saturday, on a day when many of you were surely out there and conclude might possibly rank as one of the most beautiful days you could hope for in the Adirondacks, we finished our 46er adventure together on Colden.

I apologize to the several nice people who were having conversations with me, including a dad and son who were celebrating his very first high peak (and he did it on the steep trail from Lake Colden, well done little man!), and a very nice woman from Vermont who was asking me about Tabletop. When I had a moment to think about Andrew, and about how grateful I am to have our own two children and to have the fortunate blessings to live a life where we can scale up thousands of feet of mountains over dozens of miles as a diversion and recreational activity, I was overcome a bit. Too embarrassed to have any of you seem me in my weepy state, I snuck off the peak and into some solitude.

As far as the trip, I woke up this day with 4 to go. After getting to the HPIC at the end of the day Friday, took a pretty stroll up Mt. Jo to get a nice look down at Heart Lake and a preview for what tomorrow’s stroll would bring. Incredibly, met a couple of people who know one of my students. It seems I meet more people in the High Peaks that know me than I do right here in Rochester. Made some dinner in the parking lot, and settled in for a snooze in my car by 9.

Had the alarm set by 4:15am, and boy what a pretty morning we arose to. Since there was only the ending of a slice of the moon, the stars were really out, with very clear views of the more familiar constellations but also an easy view of Milky Way too. Stopped at the HPIC to put in some contacts and saw at least a half dozen people scattered in Lots 1 and 2 with headlamps preparing for their day as well. After a quick talk with a gentleman headed for sunrise on Phelps and onto Marcy, I made my way to the trail register at about 4:45.

The plan for the day was sunrise on Wright, and then to really soak in the views from Algonquin, Iroquois, Lake Colden and then Colden. I’d saved what I guessed would be the prettiest hike for last and didn’t want to run through it like we end up doing with some others. I almost kept that promise.

Along the way to Wright, I was leapfrogging with a nice man from Canada the entire way up. One frustrating part of the walk was a tent that was placed quite literally on the edge of the trail. I wonder why you’d be compelled to do that? I had never walked in the dark for much longer than a mile or two of the flats on the way in, and I was a bit worried it would be tough. But it was quite pleasant aside from one or two times having to stop to stay on trail and regretting that I was surely missing some nice sites.

We made it to Wright before the sunrise – and while the day itself was warm, it sure was windy up there. My hiking friend from Canada was kind enough to take a shot of me, he had no camera except a video camera, and when he went off toward Algonquin (en route to Marcy) I stopped to take another summit photo with Andrew. I almost had a heart attack when the wind was blowing so hard it was nearly ripped out of my hand as I snapped a pic of the sun rising to the East with Colden and Marcy looming in the orange haze.

Once I had spend enough time up on Wright, hustled down, now with mittens and my ski hat on, to the bottom of the spur trail. Took off the winter gear and stripped nearly to a t-shirt which was all we needed for the rest of the day. Had the massive summit of Algonquin to myself by 725 wherein I almost had another heart attack when my phone decided to power down. I thought it was fully charged. I was able to snap a picture of the range to the West with Street in the center of my shot when the thing died. I started asking, “if a man hikes in the woods and no one sees it, did he really do it.” After being pretty upset that there would be no “proof” I would be in Iroquois or Colden, I went through the five stages of grief pretty quickly.

The walk over to Iroquois was awesome, and maybe my favorite ridge walk in the peaks. Watching the flat face of Wallface approach to the Southwest, and catching my first really good elevated glimpse of Flowed Lands and Lake Colden had me not watching my footing. Got over to Iroquois by 815 where I encountered two fellows descending. Had the summit to myself, again, which pleasantly surprised me as I suspected this would be the last solitude I’d have all day. So, as I slipped into my pack to have a snack I figured I’d try my camera … and whaddya know? It worked! So, I went quickly backward through the five stages of grief, yelled at myself for caring enough about it, especially since the colors and views were so nice I don’t see how they’d ever leave my head – which is sort of the point. I wandered south and west on the summit enjoying the great view of Wallface, and also chuckling at the thought of the many crazies on these boards who look at such a gaping valley and say to themselves, “what a great bushwhack!”

As I marched back over Boundary I took note of the stray 6×6 sitting on its summit – a nice little temporary, if unintended, bench. The trail guide had me all mental about the descent down to Lake Colden. So I sat on Boundary for a good while telling myself it would be the last fun I’d have on the day. I don’t know what to say, but that trail down (it was NOT wet on this day, which helps) was really spectacular. The many waterfalls (and awesome pool about halfway down) plus the views off to the West in selected places and the good footing, and for a walk I had planned two hours on, made it down in an hour. I sprawled out on the bridge by the trail intersection on the bottom, where I had a PB sandwich, an apple and filtered two liters of water. It was super pretty. Given the fortunate happenstance of that descent, I wandered slowly over to the NE side of Lake Colden and sat on the shores staring back up at the Macs for a good while.

Decided at about 10:40 to begin the walk up to Colden. Again, reading the guidebooks, you’d be led to believe that you are about to regret the choice of trails. This time, they were right, at least about the steepness. From Lake Colden, as you know, that trail starts a steady climb of 2000 feet in about a mile and a half. And it is steady. What’s particularly fun is that the climb is both up and sideways, I didn’t realize that until halfway up and I’m asking why I feel like my left foot is all goofy. But as many of you know, the way you get up it is to … just walk. Given the sharp ascent you quickly get some nice vantage points if you turn around from time to time, and get a nice close up of one of the slides. Again, I had budgeted 2 horrible hours for it. But this time, I made it up to the stacks of wood on the summit ridge by 1150, heard a lot of conversation on the nearby summit, and took a zillion pictures of the gaping chasm below and to the left as I wandered to the true summit by noon.

A very happy and nice group of people were enjoying the views on the two openings up there including an entire family that marched up the Trap Dike (with the daughters having fun at their (slower) parents’ expense!) and another nice guy I had been leapfrogging with over in the Macs who decided the Trap Dike was a swell way to get up Colden after that trek.

Lingered up there for a bit, snuck over to the actual summit rock in the trees, and wandered off around 1240. It was such a nice day that one didn’t really want to come down.

Now that the “list” is done there are all kinds of hikes that I actually wanted to do … and having had the good fortune of two trails taking far less time than I planned on, and having well over 90 minutes of leisure time in the peaks, it seemed to make sense to keep the day going.

So after a quick scramble down to Lake Arnold, I kept left at the Feldspar trail junction and instead went down to the cross-over trail and onto the Van Ho. Wanting to get back to Rochester before too late, I knew I couldn’t do all I wanted … so I practice what you might call “Tantric Hiking.” You hustle your way all the way up near a summit … and then turn around. I found this to be quite invigorating – especially after not allowing myself a wander, or a turnaround or anything like it in the 2+ years since we wanted to finish the 46. So, made it to about .7 miles before the Marcy summit, then turned right around. The little excursion added a little more than 2 hours to the day, but given the low-autumn glow through the brightly colored trees the entire way, and given the happy faces on just about every person you encounter along the way, it was an jaunt worth taking. It’s also nice to be able to time the walk for future trips. Tried to hustle back so I could make a stop at the Mountaineer (been wearing the same Merrell boots for 17 years) before it closes (I thought it closed by 5). Felt bad for the people who think I was rushing them, there really were a lot of folks out along the entire way back.

Happily made it back feeling a lot of different emotions. Managed to take a shower at the HPIC (75 cents, what a great deal) and was amazed as I drove out of the Loj road at how far the line of cars went – well past South Meadows. Made it to the Mountaineer where they were super helpful in getting me into two pairs of new shoes – there’s not quite a store like it, at least not that I am familiar with, here in Rochester.

Slapped in another book on tape (thank you Monroe County Library!, the 46 would have been much less enjoyable without your company in my car) and was home before the family was in bed.

Thanks for listening. As blessed as my life has been, I still wish that I lived closer to the ADKs and had more time to spend when there, but those are good problems to have. Looking forward to running into you guys on the trail, and happy hiking to all.