Trails/Route: Lake Road, Gill Brook, Elk Pass, Leach Trail

Hikers: Scotzman, Jsassojr, BorealChick, and 4 other fine companions

Equipment needed/used: Microspikes, crampons

Our group met up at the parking lot shortly after 6:30am, said our hellos and donned our gear and made for the gate. We signed in at 7:15 and were off down the lake road. The majority of us had our microspikes on right from the get-go and those who didn't start with them, had them on by the time we reached the little wooden bridge. The road is nothing but a layer of ice, or packed snow, so traction of some sort was needed. Just as we were approaching the junction of Gill Brook trail we passed hour guys who were headed up to Sawteeth, in full mountaineering gear. We chatted briefly and they were doing some training for their winter assault on Mt Washington in 25 days.
Snowscape from the top of Elk Pass

The Gill Brook trail was covered in a light snow, several inches of fresh snow at most and our microspikes worked just fine with the exception of one small icy pitch which we carefully navigated. We bumped into two parties of 2 who were headed up to Colvin and Blake that day. When we hit the junction where Elk Pass breaks off we took a couple minutes break to snack and fuel up for the impending climb. By the time we had reached the base of Elk Pass all those who had crampons put them on. We proceeded to wear them for the rest of the hike, all the way back to the Lake Road. Elk Pass was just as steep and I had remember it to be from the last time I had passed through, and there was plenty of hard ice underneath the snow that made crampons pretty much essential for safely traversing up the trail. Numerous times those who had crampons were helping those with just microspikes negotiate the rough pitches. As we climbed in elevation the fresh snow depth also increased, to 5-7" near the top of the pass. Snowshoes could have easily been worn, but were by no means necessary for flotation. Shortly before the top of the trail we met up with CPalmatier, the first of several times we would share the mountains with him.
View from Elk Pass to the Lower Great Range

Once at the junction we dropped our packs and made the short dash over to the summit of Nippletop, but not too fast so that we didn't miss the amazing views to the South of the Dixes. Our timing on the summit of Nippletop was great, the views were crystal clear and amazing, the wind was minimal and our primary goal for the day was done!
View over to the Dix Range

Group shot on the summit of Nippletop

Once we snapped a gratuitous amount of photos and video, we headed back to the junction to have a quick lunch, at just after 12pm. Our trail over to Dial was smooth sailing, as long as we stayed on the fluffy new snow that covered the hard-packed trail. If you side-stepped by much more than half a step you ended up in snow up to you knee. We also had the cool treat of spotting and chatting with some boreal chickadees, which are only found in alpine zones of the 'dacks in winter time. We put our crampons to good use on the western side of Dial and made the summit at approximately 1:45pm. The clear views we had enjoyed on top of Nippletop were now a bit blurred out do to some snow clouds moving in, and the remaining sunlight reflecting off them but we still enjoyed our expansive vista.
The crampon kickline, on the top of Dial

Off and going again...while we were dropping down off the very icy eastern side of Bear Den, Kensquest came charging up behind us. We said hello and waved quickly before he was off in a plume of snow and ice churned up by his wake. We had arrived at the col of Bear Den and the shoulder of Noonmark and began mumbling not so quietly about why we had to climb all that elevation only to descend it on the other side. Fortunate for us we did this while we were climbing up the shoulder or who knows what would have become of us! :razz: A good portion of the descent down off Noonmark was icy, including a fairly trickily 30' stretch, so we were very happy we still had our crampons on. By the time we had hit the road though we were more than happy to switch back to microspikes, and as we signed out at the gate, around 4:45pm, we were even more thrilled to be bare-booting it.

We all made it back to the cars, safe and sound, and jsassojr and I headed back to Tmax-n-Topo's to enjoy a much desired hot shower, change of clothes and then onto the Winter Gathering paatay!!

Link to full gallery: