Backpack trip Oct. 17-20, 2013 – Cliff and Marshall
Was very excited to set new slow records for myself on this trip, going 7% slower than my previous personal worst.
Thursday drove to Upper Works and packed into Flowed Lands. Rainy Friday slogged up to Cliff, taking 9 hours to cover 7.2 miles. Cloudy Saturday hiked to Marshall, up via Herbert Brook and down via Cold Brook Pass trail, 5.7 miles in 7 hours. Sunday, the best weather of the four days, packed out to Upper Works. In sum, knocked off two peaks (now 31/46), met some very nice people, drank one beer, heard the medevac helicopter, and took some mediocre photographs.
I love getting an early start, leaving the house in the pre-dawn darkness. Yes, there are things in life worth getting up early for. Rolled out at 5:15, and made Pottersville by 9, where I got a Turkey Club to go, from the Black Bear Restaurant. It would be lunch, my last “real food” for three days. Drizzling rain at the Upper Works trailhead when my Camry crunched over the gravel lot about 10. Only a few cars, but two other guys were also just getting ready to pack in, like me, bound for the Flowed Lands/Lake Colden area. We fell in and began chatting. Inevitably, they lived in the same part of Eastern Connecticut as I grew up in, both worked at Pratt & Whitney, in the same department as my Dad, and knew a high school classmate of mine.
“Oh, damn, I left my precious Turkey club on the front seat. Gotta go back. I’ll look for you guys at one of the lean-tos.” Actually just as well, because after just 15 minutes on the Calamity Brook trail, they were already outpacing me. Now, I could drag my ass in peace, and still have company when I got to a campsite.
About two o’clock, I met my new friends, Mark and John, at the Calamity Brook lean-to; they had decided to use the first one they encountered, rather than push on to the Lake Colden area. We had great views of Mount Colden and Cliff Mountain.
I was delighted to find a nice flat tent site nearby, overlooking the lake (i.e. Flowed Lands).
That site is flatter than it looks in the picture; my tent was dead level. I pitched the tent, identified an appropriate “cathole area,” 150 feet from trail and lake, and then set off on a short walk, past the old dam, to Hanging Spear Falls.
Great views from the Flowed Lands dam:
Dinner with Mark and John. Mark had packed in ten beers and was generous enough to share one with me. Delicious! After going stoveless for the past 3 trips, this time I carried one, and considered hot coffee and hot Harvest Grains to be well worth it. I’m a caffeine addict, and when going stoveless had carried Energy Gel packets. They were okay, but Kevin at EMS pointed out that ten of those (at 1.2 oz. each) nearly weighed as much as a little backpacking stove. I’m now convinced.
Thursday night, a beautiful full moon rose over Mount Colden and Flowed Lands, through the last opening in the clouds for the next day and a half.
Friday, 10/18/13 – Cliff, aka “Puddle”
Did you know that at the very peak of Cliff, right underneath the summit sign is an eight-inch deep puddle? How is that even possible? But it is fitting. Eskimos reputedly have 100 words for snow; High Peak hikers should have as many for mud: “muck, mire, viscous organic ooze, slop, liquid leaves, Marcy soup, etc.”
Switched on my headlamp at 5AM; it was cold in the tent. Hit the trail at 7:20, with only Halle for company this day. Passed the Marshall cairn and the Herbert Book lean-to (Thanks, Mike), then up the trail along the Opalescent. Too much rain to photograph the Flume, or anything else that morning. At 10:20 I took a break at the Uphill LT. What with the rain, helping Hall occasionally, and exploring various campsites and lean-tos, I had taken three hours to go 2.8 miles. I sensed a possibility that there was an outside chance I’d be able to break my own slow record, as long as the weather remained lousy or worsened.
The Cliff herdpath was basically one continuous ascending puddle, as if gravity wasn’t keeping water level at zero degrees, but at twenty. At the steep cliffs, mid-way along the herd path, just below the false summit, I had to assist Halle several times. (She’s a good hiker, an agile, 35-lb, five year old dog, but can’t climb vertical bits.) There was really only one dicey scramble, where the handholds, footholds, and grabbing roots were all in the loose, eroding, slippery organic layer, that could fall away in chunks. Since one day on the Devils’ Path in the Catskills, I now always satisfy myself that I (or ‘we”) can get back down a challenging spot, as well as go up. Which we did without incident.
At 11:50 we were at the summit. When the drizzle briefly stopped, I broke out my camera and took the world’s worst summit selfie. (Hauling a 2.7 lb. DLSR on a backpacking trip? Yep; it’s all about setting priorities that are right for the person.) There’s not much to do on the summit of Cliff in the rain, so by 12:08 I headed back. The descent of the dicey spot, where I had left my poles, was not so bad.
Miracle at the Opalescent Lean-to
By 1:30, was back at Uphill LT, making it three hours to go up & down the Cliff herdpath, which is, I believe, 0.8 miles. Another personal slowest! Peak number 30.
By late afternoon, I was pretty well soaked; my pants were muddy and wet all the way up to the pockets. Worst of all, water had seeped into my boots. I don’t mind getting wet, but like to start a day with dry stuff. Overnight in a cold tent, nothing was going to dry. Below Lake Colden, I detoured down to the Opalescent Lean-to (per Nat Geo map), which seems to lie near a summertime, low-water ford of the river. It was unoccupied. I sat down inside to shake off some of the mud and have a Clif bar. Checking out the LT, incredibly, lying there under the floor, dry and clean, was a large white bath towel. Wow! I still can’t believe it. I dried off my pants, gaiters, and boots. And then rinsed out the towel and hung it up inside the LT. The day was looking up. The rain let up and I took a few pictures at Lake Colden dam.
Returned to the Calamity tent site about 4:30, when the sun broke out for a while. While the campsite area got no direct sunlight, a stiff dry breeze blew over the open flats around the lake. I stretched out all my soggy gear on saplings and boulders to dry off a bit.
Dinner with Mark and John.
Saturday, 10/19/13 – Marshall
The Herbert Brook herd path (HBHP) was a beautiful as the Cliff path was ugly.
Up at 6:15, on the trail by 8:45, at the HBHP cairn by 9:05. Gorgeous hike up the brook. Lots of little pools, walkable open slabs, and cairns everywhere the path went into or out of the streambed. The trail was gradual at first, then got steeper, and then leveled off somewhat in the last third.
Following the HP was very easy: just follow the stream and the cairns until the water peters out. From there, there is just one way to the summit. I purified water near the top. As it happened I did so just below a little muddy waterhole; above that spot would have been better.
Arrived on top at 11:50, took a few out-of-focus summit selfies, and explored the short paths to view points.
The way to Cold Brook Pass was not hard to find. (Nor, if coming from there would it be hard to find the HBHP.) Around the summit, there are a few little beaten tracks, shortly leading to view points. The only two that extend for more than 30 meters are the two herd paths. That being said, the herdpath to Cold Brook could deceive you. From the summit, the path leads to a sheer cliff (and a decent view) and apparently curls back toward the summit. Upon more careful examination, over on the right side of the cliff, there was a short drop/scramble down. Also, you can see a path running along the base of the cliff (which at its highest might be 5 meters).
I left the summit at 12:08, ate lunch at the flat topped intermediate bump at 1:00. Met three hikers coming the other way: a French-Canadian couple and a young guy with his dog.
As I neared Cold Brook Pass, Iroquois peak and Shepherd’s Tooth dominated the view.
Below ST, running a few hundred meters on either side were these absolutely vertical, unscalable cliffs. And very very steep terrain all around. I’d read on the hiker’s forum of a bushwhack route around or through the cliffs (a “ramp?”). The route in question must run NNW of the cairn to Marshall, and then switch back to Shepherd’s Tooth. The sight was totally intimidating. No way. Certainly not solo with a dog. Possibly with a knowledgeable companion, no dog, good weather, and a minimal daypack.
Chad and his dog came down to the cairn while I was gaping at the cliffs. A 46er, he lives in Saranac Lake, where my family has vacationed for 15 years. We had a nice chat as we made our way down to Lake Colden. The trail has not been maintained by the DEC since 2011, but is still in fine condition; Chad said the other section (leading to Indian Pass) was comparable. We arrived at the blue-marked trail by 2:45. As I headed back to Flowed Lands, lots of people were streaming in, all with the anxious look of weekend backpackers in the late afternoon in search of a lean-to. Determined to out-do my snail-like pace, I stopped to explore the tent sites around Beaver Point LT; the one I saw, up on a rise, was not too great.
Back at my tent site by 3:45, I cleaned my boots and gaiters on a rock by the lake. From the ranger station at Lake Colden, I could hear a helicopter (medevac from Algonquin, I later found out). Boiled up a delicious dinner of Harvest Grains, with tuna, mayo, and salt. Then, without any campfire, sat to enjoy watching the twilight come over the landscape (as a forum member had recommended).
By 7, I was in my cozy tent, writing up the day’s notes, happy to have climbed up two peaks in two days, all that weather and my abilities permitted.
Sunday, 10/20/13 – Pack out
Was in no rush to get out. Packed up in the morning. Enjoyed the hike back down Calamity Brook trail, especially as my pack was six pounds lighter. Photographed the lonely Henderson Monument.
Chatted along the way with Martin, another solo backpacker accompanied by an Australian Cattle Dog.
At Upper Works by noon.
Backpacking Notes & Lessons
– Bring a third pair of socks in case first two get wet.
– Pile leaves and leaf litter under the tent ground cloth, to keep it away from the hard-packed and cold/wet earth, which prevails at any well-used legal campsite.
– The backpacking stove and hot food were worth the pack weight.
– DO NOT drink beer and coffee at dinner.
– Full gaiters might be better than my OR short gaiters.
– Homemade coffee packets worked well. One and a half scoops of coffee, in a regular filter, folded and stapled tight. You just have to boil it a few minutes and push it around with a spoon.
– Might remove the pack from Halle’s harness. While she does carry a pound or two on the way in, overall the bulky packs may not be worth it. The main feature is the lifting harness.
– Take the time to find a cathole site, per the 150 distance requirements, and mark the way to it with dead sticks stuck in the ground.