Adirondacks / Dial and Nippletop – Oct 15, 2011

On the usual weekend between weeks working in King of Prussia, I headed up Friday night so I could knock off another set of the Adirondack Forty-Sixers on Saturday.  I had hopped to stay at the Keene Valley Lodge just because the owner was so kind and informative the last time around, but a family reunion had the town booked and I ended up at the Ausable Inn — always a great alternative, and you can’t beat the price.  The next morning I woke at 5:30am, had breakfast at the Noon Mark Diner (quickly becoming a habit) and took off to the trailhead parking by St. Huberts.

The “plan,” such as it was, went something like this.  At a minimum, (A) I was going to hike Dial Mountain, Nippletop, Mount Colvin and Blake Peak.  Then, depending how I felt, I was (B)  going to “just” take in Sawteeth on the way back (for a total of 5 new peaks).  If I went crazy,  (C), this meant adding in Mount Haystack, Basin Mountain, Saddleback Mountain and a repeat of Gothics before coming back toward Sawteeth (for a total of 8 new peaks and 9 total).  This last loop meant a total of 30 miles or so, I think (it was not that carefully measured) and so I’d bought batteries for my headlamp and carried lots of food and water.

Whether C made any logical or logistical sense or not, it went out the door as soon as I realize it was going to rain all day and, it being fall, this meant rocky trails covered in water and slippery leaves.  I had also left my rain pants in San Diego.  So the only realistic question in my mind was whether I would do A or B.  As it turned out I did neither…

Parking Lot near St. Huberts (0 Miles & Approx. 1,400′ @ 7am)
I was the only one in the parking lot when I arrived, but was soon joined by a couple who were headed up to Lower Wolfjaw.  Other than that, it was completely quiet.  The sky was already light to the East, but the sun wasn’t up yet and it wasn’t raining.  So I started off with that usual hopeful and free feeling that comes from leaving the troubles of work and civilization behind.  Plus, I was amped on coffee and waffles.

Parking to Nippletop Trailhead (Approx. 7:30am)
I had dithered at this point on the last trip, drawn toward Nippletop for some inexplicable reason, so it was particularly gratifying to start up the trail this morning.  Nippletop, here I come.

Trailhead to Bear Den Mountain (3.4 Miles)
As a general comment, the trail to Nippletop from the Lake Road is an altogether pleasant climb — rarely as rocky as other Adirondack hikes — and under the right conditions would be a breeze.  Wasn’t quite that way today, but it’s by far the most moderate of climbs I’ve done in the Adirondacks so far.

The trail follows a ridgeline above a small creak for a ways.  Gorgeous in the fall leaves.  Unfortunately, the leaves also made the trail very hard to follow.  At two points where I wandered off trail and spent several minutes backtracking and looking for the Yellow trailmarkers to find the way.

After departing the stream, the trail turns into the woods and becomes a stream itself at times.  In several of the pictures, you can see how stream and trail and woods all become one.   And then it just got wetter.  In a section of of short willow (?) the trail was basically just a watercourse for about a quarter mile, and that was about when the wind picked up.  Gusts of cold wind dropped the temperature from the mid 50s to 40s and added a definite bite to the moist air.

About the same time, I got my first views of the opposite ridge and Upper and Lower Wolfjaw (See previous hike).  The storm clouds and soft light made for a beautiful if chilly view.  The view was even better a bit further on when the trail crests the ridgeline and a rocky outcrop provides an open view of Bear Den…or at least what I think was Bear Den.  Wasn’t really sure what to look for with the clouds.  But whatever it was, it was very nice.
Bear Den to Dial Mountain (4.7 Miles & 4,020′)
I don’t remember much of this trail for some reason.  I was doggin’ this morning and realized I would probably not have time to do B, let alone C, and in the cold rain I wasn’t sure I cared.

What struck me about this entire section of trail were all the fallen trees.  There were trees fallen next to the trail, across the trail, everywhere you looked.  In several cases groups of trees peeled their roots right of the underlying rock and toppled over in a clump.  I wondered if you could push them back upright and just weight them down to keep them in place.  A nice thought, if impractical.  What’s certain is that the rains have been hard on the Adirondacks this year…
Dial to Nippletop (6.8 Miles & 4,620′ @ 11:30am)
Nice trail.  Very rainy and cloudy.  At several points it spit snow and sleet.  Someday I’ll have to do this trail and see something other than the trail.  What I remember most about Nippletop was that it was cold, windy and socked in.  Still a cool name, though.

Nippletop to Mount Colvin Junction (7.8 Miles)
So at this point my plan was still to try for Colvin and Blake.  I started down from the pre-Nippletop junction pretty quickly and soon realized this might be a bad idea.  The trail down was almost as steep and rocky as the descent from Algonquin to Lake Colden, and on this day it was so wet and slippery I was just fighting not to fall on my butt half the time.  I mostly succeeded…mostly.

The trail levels off quickly at a nice lake and camping area in Elk Pass (?) and here I ran into the first people I’d seen all day.  I surprised the lead teenage boy who swore and jerked back loudly.  A woman I asume was his mother just smiled.  One of his female companions, wearing big drippy white gloves, asked me in a somewhat forelorn tone if it was windy uptop.  I don’t think she liked the answer.  A few minutes later I heard the boy yell F**K very loudly as, I assume, he slipped into the stream that I’d crossed just before.  Personally, I don’t think it made him any wetter — just cleaned off his shoes.

Junction to Lake Road along Gil Brook
The trail down form the junction to Colvin is a bit rocky but otherwise not that steep at all.  However, looking up at the trail to Colvin from the junction convinced me that I was done for the day.  Dial and Nippletop would have to do.  I was moving slowly, was tired, and just didn’t like the idea of another slippery descent on the way back down.

While this was a bit of a bummer, I have to say that the trail along Gil Brook back to the Lake Road was ridiculously beautiful.  Fall leaves covered the entire trail.  Every turn and descent brought me alongside another waterfall or cascade.  Gorgeous.  It would be great to come back this way on the way up to Colvin on the next hike…

Gil Brook Trailhead to Car (12.7 Miles @ 3:15pm)
Not much to say here other than to wax effusive on the fall leaves, blah, blah.  Well, they were very nice.  Everyone I passed on the way down the road looked (A) wet and (B) pleased to at least be seeing the amazing change in colors.  Definitely a reasonable compromise.

Roaring Falls Brook Waterfall
Just across the road from the St. Huberts lot is a beautiful waterfall.  Never noticed it before.  There’s a trail to the top of the falls along the way to Giant’s Nubble.  Be a nice hike someday.

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