Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013 – From the Gill Brook campsite it is 4.4 miles to Nippletop and Dial. Retrace that route or bushwhack a mile back to camp?
After a rainy night, the hikers at Gill Brook site #1 discussed our plans for the day. John and Ken were also heading for Nippletop and Dial and we agreed to hike together. All three of us preferred to hike at a slower, less-punishing pace, so we got on well. Setting off at 8:50, we shortly passed the little misty ponds at Elk Pass, and reached the summit of Nippletop at 11:25, which you reach via a spur trail marked 0.2 miles. Definitely mis-marked, must be at least 0.3.
It was a solidly white, socked-in day. Could not see a thing from Nippletop. But Anthony and his lovely wife were drinking wine, eating cheese and crackers, sharing strawberries (which I insisted we eat leaves and all), offering grapes, and generally enlivening an otherwise drab scene. We discussed the photographic requirement of the 46ers (two photos or two photos per peak) and “greenies” small, edible mushrooms that grow from the base of dead beech trees.
Then, as we headed for Dial, a group of six, attractive young women came up the trail. Not one male, just six young women. Wow! They sparked some more lively conversation on our part. “I wonder where they are camping.” .. “I have a two-person tent.” … “But there’s room for three!” Oh my!
More fun and games (and wine and cheese) on the equally grayed-out summit of Dial, which we hit at 1:30. I had some fun with GIMP, at Anthony’s request. We spent 15-20 minutes up there, conversing with another group of hikers.
Rather than re-trace our steps, 4.4 miles back to the Gill Brook campsite, Ken, John, and I decided to bushwhack back. Our route would be a little over a mile, starting from the Dial-Bear Den col, heading due west toward our campsite. At 2:30, after confirming that 285 magnetic equaled 270 true, we plunged off the DEC-marked trail, and into the unknown woods. It was a safe enough route for a beginner bushwhack, as the valley of Gill Brook and its trail ran across any downhill course we might follow. Impossible to miss.
We plunged down the slope, and it was easy enough going, to get a fix on some distinctive distant tree and head for it. Sometimes, the trees were not so distant, only 30-40 meters, and we had to repeatedly take bearings. We adamantly followed the compass, rather than our gut or sense of direction. Ken (or John?) accurately observed that the hillside curves and our sense of direction would tell us to maintain a constant angle of descent, rather than a true bearing. We slogged on, over rotten logs, around steep cliffs, through hobblebush and dense stand of evergreens (“Christmas tree farms”). All of us being new at bushwhacking, we quickly learned a couple of simple techniques. First, if we could spot the top of a tall tree as our bearing marker, and keep that tree in sight, then we could walk to it via the easiest, if roundabout, route. Secondly, we finally figured out that we did not have to make it precisely to a “bearing marker tree.” If we could get in front of it, so that it was exactly on our reverse bearing, that was just as good, and gave us even more flexibility about the terrain we went over.
We crossed one little drainage, possibly the first stream that the map showed we had to cross. Then a real stream, possibly the second, or more likely the first. I was acutely aware that all those little blue lines on the map would not be so precise and distinctive in the woods. Then we came across the second stream (or was it the third?). In fact it was the second stream, and very close to our camp, but we choose to stay with our bearing, rather than turn right, down towards the valley. Our conscious choice was to cheat left if we had to. To the right (of our bearing) the map showed a confusing confluence of streams. The AMR border (“No bushwhacking”) was over there, and the trail was not so close to Gill Brook. But, if we veered a little left, we were on NYS DEC land, the water courses were simpler, and most importantly, the trail ran right along the brook.
About 4:15, we arrived Gill Brook; unquestionably this was big enough and was running along the floor of the valley, so that it had to be Gill Brook. But we were only 85% percent certain that we were above (left) of camp. Happily, when we crossed the brook, scrambled up slope, there was a familiar section of trail. We were very near site #2. High fives all around! High tens a few minutes late back at our camp site.
Eight hours round trip from Gill Brook campsite to Nippletop and Dial, about 7 miles, including time at the peaks, 2300 feet of elevation gain, and a one-plus mile bushwhack.
That evening, we sat around the campfire, ate dinner, drank Red Stag, and laughed & talked. Just like real camping!