- Apr 23, 2005
- Reaction score
Route Taken: Opalescent River trail to the Allen Mountain herd path, herd path to the summit
Snow Depth: Between 1 and 2 feet at Upper Works, 3 feet or more on the summit
Trail Condition: A well packed trail with several inches of fresh powder at lower elevations, higher up, the tracks from the previous weekend were harder to follow owing to fresh snow from wind and snowfall, I was pretty much breaking trail on the upper half of the mountain; there was lots of ice on the upper slopes hidden beneath the snow, I didn't need crampons but others might if enough of the snow blows off or is knocked off by hikers
Traction Devices Used: Skis until I was about half a mile down the herd path, snowshoes from there to the top and back, and skis back out to the trailhead
As is the case, I'm sure, with many other hikers, Allen Mountain has been a nagging thought on my mind for a while, now that I've started working on my winter 46 in ernest. Allen, of course, is one of those “epic” hikes, with it's reputation as being one of the more remote High Peaks, and to climb it in the winter is no less than a serious undertaking. I had thought about doing it as an overnight, but in the end decided that a day hike, on skis and snowshoes, would be my method of attempting this peak.
Early Friday morning, I got up and made the 2 hour drive from Saranac Lake to Upper Works through the falling snow. I arrived at the trailhead just before 7 in the morning, and donned my skis and pack, and set off through the darkness. Almost immediately, I had to take my skis off to cross the suspension bridge over the Hudson River, but once on the other side, I quickly made my way down the trail. The trail was well packed out, but with a few inches of fresh powder on top, making for a great base but with plenty of soft snow to provide control- nearly ideal skiing conditions!
It's been nearly four and a half years since I've been in on this trail, and my memories of the observer's cabin for the Mt Adams fire tower are of a ramshackle building falling apart in the woods and surrounded by young growth. It was therefore a pleasure after crossing Lake Jimmy to see that the cabin is well along in it's restoration, all of the hard work looks like it is starting to pay off. It was also nice to see that the junction with the Mt Adams trail itself is much better marked than it used to be.
A good portion of the hiker traffic quite obviously turned off the Opalescent River trail to climb Mt. Adams, but the trail ahead was still quite well packed out beneath the fresh powder. On skis, I made excellent time as I followed the old logging roads first south, then around Popple Hill to the east. Soon, I was following along the shore of the Opalescent River itself, and it wasn't long before I came to the crossing.
With the bridge out, hikers have been forced to ford the river. I knew, from reading trip reports, and from seeing the old tracks in the snow crossing the ice in front of me, that multiple groups had made safe crossings in the weeks prior to my trip, but of course one still feels a little bit nervous when they pause at the river's edge and can hear the gurgling flow of the river beneath the ice. I'd seen open flowing water in the river where the trail paralleled it before the crossing, and from where I was standing, could also see some open spots just downstream where Dudley Brook joined the river. Here, however, the ice seemed quite thick. It looked as though an ice jam has formed at the crossing and frozen solid, providing at pretty good platform across which to safely cross. I kept my skis on for the crossing, just in case, but quickly made it to the other side without incident. I would be wary about making the crossing come spring and warmer temperatures, however- that ice jam is almost assuredly going to break free without warning once we get some decent melting, potentially stranding wayward travelers on the other side.
Just beyond the crossing, the trail parallels along side the river for a little bit, meandering over some steep ups and downs that I elected to take my skis off for (no shame here in doing the “walk of shame” when I need to!). A short ways beyond, it took me back out to another old logging road, and here I was able to easily proceed on skis again.
It wasn't too long after I'd crossed the Opalescent that the shocking realization made itself apparent in my head: I'd forgotten my lunch. Dang. I paused for a moment to consider my options. I had plenty of water, a thermos of hot chocolate, and a large bag of granola bars in my pack. I always carry a healthy supply of granola bars on winter day hikes, enough to snack on constantly throughout the day to keep my energy up, and enough more to get me through an unexpected night in the woods if necessary. Reasoning that, with so many granola bars, I ought to be fine, I elected to continue on my way further into the woods.
By midmorning, I'd reached the junction with the herd path. Here, some old signs mark the various paths that continue on. A large sign that says “MARCY” and a DEC sign staked into the ground mark the trail to the left that continues up to flowed lands via Hanging Spear Falls, a beautiful but rarely used trail that takes you past a spectacular waterfall. Directly ahead, a posted sign marked the old Twin Brooks trail up through the pass between Cliff and Redfield, a trail that has been closed for years. A large sign up on a tree with the words “ALLEN” written upon it marked the start of the herd path, making this perhaps one of the easiest herd paths for the High Peaks to locate. All three paths had been broken out, and I'd noticed in the register that a group the previous weekend had signed in as proceeding up to Flowed Lands after climbing Allen. Presuming that they made it, the trail should be broken out still, and now would be a good time to take advantage to travel this remote trail in winter!
I wasn't sure how long I was going to be able to keep using my skis, but I proceeded down the herd path with them on. They worked great until about a half a mile in, where I encountered my first steep hill. I decided to take them off here and switch to snowshoes. I left the skis and my poles leaning against at tree next to the trail, where they were quite visible and would be easy to find on my way out.
This was the first hike that I was able to use my recently repaired snowshoes on. I must say that I greatly appreciate the speed with which MSR repairs my snowshoes and got them back to me. They'd replaced the bindings with the newer style, which I've heard mixed reviews about, and so I was curious to see how they'd work out for me. I must say that I was quite impressed as I strapped them on. The new buckles don't require you to thread the straps through slit anymore, as they are open on one side, allowing you to just slip the straps though. Additionally, after the strap is buckled, you no longer just slip the loose end of the strap into a clip- it now gets buckled back to itself on a small metal pin. Whether by design or accident, to buckle the strap back to itself requires you to tighten it just a little bit, so with two tight buckles, the stress on the strap is no longer all in one spot. This, combined with the fact that the straps seem bulkier and thicker than the old ones, should help to keep the straps from breaking (which was an issue that I had with my old bindings). Overall, definitely pretty impressed with the new binding system.
After the switch to snowshoes, I moved more slowly of course. There were a few spots that I'd thought I could've easily skied, but these were all punctuated with steep climbs and drops, and so I think I made the switch at the right time. I crossed Lower Twin Brook, and was soon making the climb up over the lowest shoulder of Mount Redfield. Every step up here was tempered with the knowledge that I would have to descend back down to Skylight Brook, and return back up and over this ridge on my way out as well. On the crest of the ridge, I noticed some old tracks leading north, which I followed a short distance to a clearing that was well packed down- obviously someone's campsite, presumably from the previous weekend. A short ways beyond, I crossed the boundary line onto state land, that got me wondering about the current state of the land ownership in the area. My understanding is that this land has not yet been transferred to New York State, and so it seemed that therefore, those who'd camped here had done so illegally, despite being only a very short distance from the boundary line. I pulled out the map and took a look at it though, and it seemed that if you followed the crest of the ridge north a short ways, you ought to be able to find flat ground on state land on which you can legally camp. This would probably be a preferable camping spot to the (illegal) campsite on Skylight Brook as well.