Monday, March 11, 2013

Odyssey in White

March 9, 2013
Previous Link on LP: South Mt to Mine Kill Falls

Lansing Manner
My twin daughters learned I was going to hike again near Albany on Saturday and they asked if I could drop them off at Sienna college (North of Albany) and Bennington College (Southern VT) to visit some friends.  I decided the only way to accommodate this was to leave Friday evening and stay over somewhere reasonably close to this section.  I left Jersey in daylight, made my drops and I finally arrived alone in Cobleskill NY at the Super 8 motel after 6 hours of driving. For those interested in a motel in this area, the rate was a fair $72 incl tax and fees and a breakfast, good for a hiker budget.  

Lansing Manner Visitors center
As the sign says, the easy part of our day
Mine Kill Falls to West Kill Creek
I met Chris over on West Kill Road at 9am and he was waiting in an area about a mile short of where my section map told me to go to and he flagged me down.  It seems the LP crosses the West Kill rd a few times so it didn't seem to matter where you parked as long as you find the aqua blaze nearby. Because it snowed the two days before, we decided to shuttle twice this day, once back to Mine Kill Falls where we left off last time, and the second time around lunch to West Fulton near the end of this section. This gave us the chance to test the snow and see if we needed snowshoes or alternate exit plan in case it was deeper than we could handle. We planned on doing 6 miles in the valley to finish the section 29 (old section 27*, Mine Kill Park and Lansing Manor) and then re-position our cars to follow up with the harder ~10 mile Burnt-Rossman Hills of section 30 (previously section 28* Dooney Hollow (West Kill) to West Fulton). We only found about 4" to 5" of fresh snow on the valley section and it wasn't quite enough to use snowshoes, so I left them in the car.

We started hiking near Mine kill falls at 9:30 am and we made our way to the main park and 20 minutes later we signed in at the main park office. The snowfall was pleasant to walk in and soft to the feet. The day started cold, around 25 F, but by now it was warming into the low 40's and we packed our jackets away and mopped our brows.  The sun swept across the sky as we walked through the park and crossed over to the Lansing manner Power Authority property.  It was very well maintained and the rows of Arborvitae looked like large dark mushrooms from a distance as they were bigger on the top then the bottom, because the lower half was caged by a wire surround to keep the deer browse in check.  We tracked bobcat prints on the snow and then saw evidence of a fresh kill.  The blood signs were very similar to the splotches I saw in the snow near Wawayanda on the AT previously this year, so I guess this is what predators do: kill, eat, sleep, repeat.
Water Turbine at Lansing Manner
Note lack of snow here if zoom in
We saw a huge metal (brass?) water turbine on a display near Lansing Manner.  These turbines are at the core of hydroelectric power generation from the potential energy stored in a reservoir.  They are a great source of energy that is completely pollution free. They are not completely free of issues, but realistically, I'll take hydro electrics over smokestacks any day.  The barn at Lansing manner has an interpretive display that explains all this. After a brief walk along the lower Schoharie creek, we turned up to the access road and then passed by a very old cemetery on the right side hill. The trail led up hill around the cemetery and across a farmers field and then onto West Kill road. Many of the local buildings in Blenheim are more than a century old and most were in some state of disrepair, which constantly reminded me of the chronic economic distress many families are experiencing in rural NY. We diverted briefly back in the woods and soon made it to my car. We went back to Mine Kill Falls, and then shuttled around the Burnt - Rossman hills to West Fulton.  We left Chris's car there and returned to West Kill rd with my Jeep, pausing briefly to remove a small boulder on Bear Ladder rd that had recently dropped onto the road from the eroding cliffs above. 

West Kill Creek
8.1 Miles between access points in Winter
After hiking the lower section, we decided there was no needl for snowshoes, so I again left  them in my car. In hind-sight I should have strapped them to my pack because this proved to be a big mistake. We set out hiking along the West Kill and wound our way steadily uphill, crossing on both sides of the road at times.  After a mile of tacking back and forth, we visited the creek for a spell and then with finality turned away up hill to the right and left Dooney Hollow. The slope was a steady grade at a gentle 20 degree angle.  We soon began to notice the snow added about an inch or more for every 1/4 mile we traveled, until near the 2000' mark we were actually pushing through at least a foot of very wet snow. This was not good at all.  The effort to move forward was about triple the normal hike. We took turns in the lead, but Chris spent far more time in the vanguard spot than me as the hill seemed to go on forever and I simply didn't have the conditioning required to lead him and keep up the pace we needed to complete this one on time. Chris went beyond the call of duty in this respect. I'll say this more than once as the story unfolds. We finally crested the summit and our jaws basically dropped as we were now in 18" of wet snow on this side. Oh crap! We had many more miles of this.  
We plowed on and the slope soon dropped steeply and we basically gained an advantage by running down the slope in big "moon walk" leaps, not caring where we landed and letting gravity pulls us down the hillside and allowing the deep snow to govern our speed. I think the GPS recorded our actual speed here and it shows us going down these steep points at over 5 mph.  This was an exhilarating drop in elevation!  That way of descent was really fun and it got our heads back in the game after the tough uphill trek. We soon crossed onto a lower snowmobile track along the Cole Hollow road and we were so very happy to find the snow broken up here by sled tracks.  It still wasn't easy, but we took any reprise we could get from the deeper snow. We later saw a dog print and foot prints and eventually spotted a landowner walking to his cabin.  No cars are allow here and he had to carry his provisions for a long distance in a heavy bag.  We saw him lay down on the trail ahead of us and we were concerned he was ill, but as it ended up he was just resting while he let us catch up as the snow also bogged him down.  We chatted and thanked him for letting the us cross his land.  He seemed surprised we were not on skis or in snowshoes.  "Yeah," we said, "we underestimated this one" was our honest answer. He advised us he heard the snow was "even deeper up Huckleberry Kingdom road" and added "I can git my snowmobile running once I git to my cabin. I'll give ya'll a ride out . "We thanked him and moved on thinking we could make it out on our own.  As predicted, we left the sled tracks below for unbroken deeper snow drifts and began a very long and laborious hike up Rossman Hill.  Little was said between us as we grunted forward like good soldiers. The next couple of hours can best be described as "soulful agony".  While it was great to be outside with a hiking buddy on a warm winter day, the level of challenge we both experienced was beginning to break us down physically and mentally.  Just when we begin wondering if we could go on, our spirits were lofted by a more gentle slope and by a cross country ski track that broke the snow on our trail near the summit of Rossman Hill.  It really wasn't much, but every little bit of help like that was a small miracle at this point. We finally made the Rossman Shelter at almost 12 miles into the day and we got out the map and started appraising our situation.  About then, neither of us were completely confident we had the energy to go on and get out before nightfall.  Chris commented about getting shaky and I admitted much the same.  He asked if I had a headlamp.  I replied  "yes".  We checked our water stock.  We had less than a pint between us.  That was our lowest point. It looked bleak and the sun was steadily dropping. But after ten minutes of rest and some Cliff bars and power gels, we began  thinking more clearly and plotted our attack.  I didn't say it, but I needed to lead more even if it hurt. Chris had done all he could in his extra time in the lead and it took him down a bit for the time being. We had to go 1.4 mile more in the deep stuff, and then we would hit a road walk.  We needed to get out of the snow. 
LP North Signage
LP North Bridges - We crossed like 5 of em.
Note depth of snow on bridge if you zoom in
We pushed on from the security of the shelter with me breaking trail and the next mile went by relatively fast, even though the snow was still deep. It's amazing how even 10 minutes of shelter time and some food and drink can recharge you. Chris was soon recharged and took the lead when I had to pause to put on my jacket and gloves to offset the rapidly dropping temperature. We crossed the edge of Looking Glass pond on the dam on the right side and the snow drifts here were even beyond the full depth of my hiking pole, like three foot deep.  We just broke up laughing.  Sounds completely crazy, but it was so ridiculously funny to us that the snow was this freaking deep.  I had tears in my eyes from laughing. I lifted my poles and yelled to the heavens "is this it? Is that all you can bring!"  The hardest moment of the day suddenly became the best moment of the day.  It was like living the children's book "The Little Engine That Could". Man, I had read this book over and over again as a child and never thought about it before like this, and here it was coming up into my psyche like I needed it most. It's the power of positive thinking..."I think I can - I think I can" soon turned into "I know I can - I know I can..."  Still pushing onward, we paralleled the stream out of the pond.  Whew, it stunk to high heaven.  An awful rotting sewage smell.  Fellow hikers, do not drink any water downstream, as the pond under the ice stinks, maybe it is a sulfur spring or worse, yuck. 
We pushed on holding our noses, and the slope dived down for the second time today and we again bounded down slope like laughing children in a low gravity theme park hitting about 6 mph downhill. We stopped briefly at a small waterfall that disappeared under a rim of ice.  Chris pointed toward the rim and shouted out "Look at that Big Icehole". I laughed and said "Hey, I've been called worse."  On the move again, we ran down slope until the snow thinned to only 5 inches once again. We slowed up our pace as the snow no longer held us back.
Elevation Profile and GPS tracks
By the time we got to the bottom, my legs were completely spent. I had nothing left to give. I silently limped about 20 yards behind Chris and eventually made it out to Sawyer Hill Rd (ccRT 20). I felt hammered and relieved at the same time. We joked about wanting to embrace the solid pavement of a plowed road.  We walked the remaining 2 miles along this road flanked by corn fields and sugar maples under sap harvest. The tapped maple collection buckets would have been a good photo but I didn't even have the energy to pause to take it. Our pace picked up as we recovered on the fly. Chris's car at the bottom of the hill after about 8 hrs of snow hiking was a welcome sight. Once there, he tried getting his boots off on his own, but his legs cramped up so badly that I had to pull them off for him. Small favor, he earned it ten times over.
I write this entry with great humility because we were pushed to our personal limits as we fought to compete it.  Putting it in a different perspective, we both has a few cold beers waiting for us in our cars when we finished and we were both too tired to even open a single one.  We all know the perfection of a cold brew after a tough hike, so me passing on one pretty much defines exhaustion!  I uploaded the GPS tracks into google earth and was actually surprised to see we walked 16.4 miles today with all the elevation changes and snow loads factored in. We clearly underestimated the snow and the mountain and learned, if there is even a small chance you will need snowshoes, take them. Lastly, always take a hiking partner when venturing into back country for long distances. There is no doubt that this hike and story would not have ended the same without a buddy to provide mutual support and leadership.
Google Earth Data for Mine Kill to West Fulton

Trail Stats:  16.4 by GPS and google earth. 

* many of the section numbers have been changed, see the NY/NJ trail conference site for more info. I link this next time.

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