Snowshoeing Our Way to Saddleback

Thursday, December 29th, 2016: A long winding, slushy drive to the Adirondacks in a snowstorm.  Three women.  Enthusiastic, nervous and full of anticipation for the journey ahead come morning!  After checking into the RoosterComb Inn, in Keene Valley, upon arrival (finally!) they headed out to Placid for some window-shopping, meal-sharing, marshmallow-roasting, snowy sauntering fun.  In the morning…they would be off to their first winter peak of the season!

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After a groggy morning rise, we headed to the trailhead at the Garden for our climb up Saddleback Mountain.  Our route would be via Ore Bed, which would allow us to the avoid the Saddleback Cliffs for this trip.  But to be quite honest, Ore Bed was just as tough!

As soon as we arrived at the Garden, we signed the register and were on our way at 7:05 a.m. The sun rose at 7:34 a.m. that morning, so we headed off as the daylight began its greeting for the day!

“If your nerve deny you, go above your nerve.”- Emily Dickinson

And that is precisely what we ultimately did on this journey!

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The only other time I had been at the Garden was to climb Big Slide the year before, so this was a new trail for myself and both Jenny and Mallory!  We would be following the Phelps Trail (also known as Johns Brook Trail) for about 3 miles to the Johns Brook Lodge area.

This was a BEAUTIFUL trail! Tranquil and soothing with gentle, rolling hills. If you could even call them that.  It felt relatively flat to me, in comparison to the hike in to Marcy Dam.  If we could have dialed Mother Nature herself and requested the perfect amount of trail snow for today, this was it!

Time passes quickly when hiking with friends. I’ve grown accustom to climbing alone, so time seems longer at times.  But not today.  Jenny, Mallory and I discovered quickly that we had plenty to talk about on our trek to the JBL.  Taking turns leading the way, we paused often, amidst the laughter, to observe the subtleties in nature that surrounded us in the serene woods.

As the snow gently fell, there was an occasional gust of wind here or there, but nothing that would have prevented us from continuing.

Bridges! Almost as fun as finding ladders on an Adirondack hike. We reached these little bridges after about 45 minutes of walking.

I have a strange obsession with magical, artistic-looking trail mushrooms.

We only passed one group that was backpacking out that morning.  The trail was well-broken out all the way into the lodge area, as we trekked onward for the next hour.  Laughter, ease, happiness.  That was us! On the inside, however, I knew the journey would change drastically at some point, as it always does when climbing a 46er!  But until then, we embraced the snowshoeing adventure.

One of my favorite parts about hiking is that discovery and surprise are always present.  The trails transform as you travel, and you just never know what treasures are anxiously waiting your arrival.

Like this:

At 8:45 a.m., we stopped for a quick snack and to assess our route.  We had passed a few lean-tos at this point as well.  The trail leading off to the right towards Johns Brook Lodge was well-broken out.  So we, of course, chose to take the Range Trail leading left, which was untouched.

The snow was falling at a steady pace now and the wind gusts blew through often.

After just a few steps on the Range Trail, you arrive at the Interior Outpost: NYS DEC Headquarters, closed of course!  But it was the perfect spot to take cover from the elements and put on our snowshoes!

The porch of the outpost was donned with some very cool artifacts!

The wind chime was my favorite! It sang eerily to us, in a beautiful ghostly kind of way, as we finished repacking our gear. The temperature was still fairly tolerable…just bone-chilling at times when the wind whipped through the trees. Time? 9:20 a.m.

The trail from this point forward had not been broken out, hiked on, or even tiptoed upon! The quiet that falling snow brings helped our spirits as we trudged forward.  If you’ve never had the chance to break trail in snowshoes, I consider you lucky!

Since this was Jenny’s first high peak (Did I mention that yet??!) and Mallory’s first time climbing in snowshoes, I felt the need to lead the way at first.  My concern was that I did not have a visual for where we were headed, except for pictures I had seen on social media.  Whenever I hike a trail for the first time, I tend to err on the side of caution at first…finding my bearings, staying alert as not to lose the trail.  And..considering this trail had no trail to follow, I was extremely anxious on the inside.

Jenny and Mallory, however, maintained a relaxed, happy (and trusting) attitude, which helped to keep me calm!  I was also watching the time…I estimated it would take us 4 hours to reach the summit of Saddleback.  But that was before now, when we found an untrodden, newly-blanketed, snow-filled trail.

We reached the incredible high-water suspension bridge!

The powerfully rushing Johns Brook beneath us! I prayed I wouldn’t drop my phone off the bridge, as it bounced and Mallory called me “daring” for even taking my phone out at this point! #wobblyvideo

Hard to resist documenting this winter memory…

If your nerve deny you, go above your nerve.

So with that, onward!

A sign!  Only 3.1 Adirondack miles to go!(sigh) Still, even with the trail breaking slowing us down a bit, the fresh carpet of snow made the ascent feel much more gradual and MUCH easier on the legs.  Snowshoes are excellent hiking companions! (#heelliftsarelifesavers)

There definitely seemed to be some remnants of a trail to follow at one point here. So we went with it, hoping the previous hiker knew the way.

Little wonders were all around us…


After about another hour of snowshoeing, we reached the Ore Bed Lean-to, 3 1/2 hours after we began.  Here, we did notice fresh tracks leading down from the lean-to, possibly from the group we passed earlier in the morning?


So naturally, we rested here for a bit to refuel once more before the 2 mile ascent that remained. The air temperature continued to drop and just removing our gloves for a minute sent our fingers into a frosty pain.

I should mention at this point, that Mallory was still in great spirits! Her positive thoughts and laughter were needed. Jenny was so positive too! I was lucky to have such great hiking friends. 🙂

I think we climbed in silence for a while, before resting in the lean-to.  Jenny repeated over and over just how happy she was to be outside and snowshoeing up a mountain!  For our first time hiking together as a group, I would say that we balanced each other out very well.

I was definitely the most worried out of the group, continuing to keep an eye on the time.  Descending in the dark, while necessary at times, was something I was trying so hard to avoid!  Deep down, I am slightly (#verymuchactually) a big scaredy-cat of the dark.

If your nerve deny you, go above your nerve.

The terrain began to finally feel like it was increasing, so I had a sense that we would be reaching the slide in another hour or so.  And again, we were back to breaking trail and carefully skirting along the brook.

The little wonders continue…

Like I said, climbing in snowshoes is tough enough when the trail is beautifully packed down before you.  But the act of trail-breaking was beginning to take its toll on all three of us.  Our happy, joyful day in the woods began to transform into a grueling, upward battle in the wind and snow.

At 11:30 a.m., approximately 4 1/2 hours since the start, we took one last break before our final push up the Ore Bed Slide and to the summit of Saddleback.

Just a bit further…

And HERE WE GO!  Thank goodness for the 1 painted yellow rock marker I spotted and two more cairns further up the slide.

Still in shock that we were the only people who had been up this way, we pushed forward. Even when our minds were begging us to stop.  Even when our legs were on fire with pain. We became, “We didn’t come this far, to only come this far.

A blessed trail marker showed us that we would be heading back into the woods for the remainder of the climb! Phew!

Here comes Mallory, such a trooper and fighter!

I love finding older style trail markers…allowed me to rest and take my mind off of what was still waiting for us!

At 12:45 p.m…and all our hearts sank! .5 left..say it wasn’t so!!  At this point, I knew…I knew we would be returning in the dark.  Our spirits was slightly crushed.  Fatigue had set in and our strides slowed down even more, as the trail continued to climb and climb and climb.

The remaining .5 of the hike required alot of teamwork.  There were some steep rock slides to negotiate and some tricky footing challenges.  We had to pull each other up and over many twists and turns.

If your nerve deny you, go above your nerve.

We sure were trying to keep that vision in the forefront of our minds!

Below is Mallory’s mountain moss photograph, beautifully captured.

Powdered sugar beauty encompassing every way you turned…just so magnificent!

Gothics.  Impressive even now.

At 1:30 p.m., after 6 1/2 hours of hiking, we finally reached the summit of Saddleback! WOOO HOOO!!

It is the 17th highest peak of the 46, standing at 4,528 feet tall.  The summit conditions filled us with negative wind chills, below freezing temperatures and knee-deep snow depths. Breaking trail, on an incline, in deep, deep snow…tough! Excruciatingly tough!

We took our pictures in a semi-shielded area instead because of the weather.  It was Jenny’s 1st high peak and Mallory’s 4th!  So proud of them both! This was NOT an easy adventure! “Ain’t no mountain high enough…

Saddleback marks my 25th high peak on my journey and boy, did we earn this one!!

We quickly changed out of our snowshoes and put on our microspikes instead for the descent.  Just having our hands exposed for a brief time was piercingly painful.  Handwarmers went into our gloves, (Poor Jenny…her package was a dud and never warmed up!) and off we went to get down that mountain as fast as we could!

Now the funny thing about climbing is, it could take you 2 difficult hours to ascend and on the return descent of the same exact trail, it could take half as long! Or even faster in our case…because we buttslid down as much as we could!

It took only 50 minutes to climb down to the spot where the slide started! That is really all I cared about…getting us back down the first 2 miles of the mountain from the summit. I did not want to be caught there if the weather took a turn for the worse.

You could hear Mallory, “WOOO HOOO!” all the way down the Ore Bed Slide! IT was the best sound we had heard in a few hours. Ha!

After 2 hours of descending, we reached the junction to either take the Range Trail back to the suspension bridge, or follow the yellow markers towards the JBL.  We chose to hike to the JBL, just in case we needed to warm up and refuel.

Plus, our trail was COMPLETELY covered from our ascent, so we had to break trail all over again on the way down! If we followed the trail towards the JBL, it was VERY packed down and provided a break for our “already tired” legs.

Here was the beautiful, frozen Johns Brook.  No rock hopping today! Just a straight walk across, still listening to the flowing water below the ice.

Johns Brook Lodge!

Which way to Albuquerque, again??  The JBL is seriously the junction to EVERYWHERE!

One last stop…on went the headlamps as we started to lose daylight.  Deep breath for our final 3.5 miles back to the Garden parking lot!

If your nerve deny you, go above your nerve.

Using a brisk pace, we hiked ourselves right out of Johns Brook Valley.  With a 1 1/2 miles to go, I stopped dead in my tracks. (I was leading again because of the whole scaredy-cat-in-the-dark thing!)

My headlamp had unfortunately caught a glimpse of 3 pairs of glowing eyes off to our right.  Jenny then stopped.  “There are 3 pairs of glowing eyes over there,” I whispered in a panic. Jenny did not concur (“I’m just not seeing them, Jen.”) until I shined my headlamp in the direction of the “things that go bump in the night!”

If your nerve deny you…ah forget that! Both of us were ready to run like h@%* out of there!  (haha!)

And then…our calming presence, Mallory, caught up to us and said they were just deer, as we did, in fact, shine our lights directly at the glowing eyes.  Deer. Three, cute deer.

EXHALE! 

Then this:

Not another “.5 left to go” sign!!! It was the fastest .5 we ever walked/ran!

At 5:30 p.m., after 4 hours, we signed out of the trail register and called this hike D.O.N.E.  No pictures because our phones had given us the “blank screen of death” at this point.

After changing out of our wet hiking clothes and refueling with some Gatorade, it was back into the car for the long drive home!

We.had.made.it! A snowshoeing adventure to Saddleback Mountain…

Total distance: 15 miles, according to my Garmin.

Total time: 10 1/2 hours, with plenty of stops

Energized, happy, joyful, thankful, determined, exasperated, exhausted, thrilled, resilient, happy again, frightened, relieved, proud. (Did I get them all?) This mountain ride was a rollercoaster of ALL those emotions.  I am SO proud of these two women!

If your nerve deny you…go above your nerve.

BUT always remember to find joy and laughter along the way. #stillwerise

Saddling up for next time,

J

 

 

2 thoughts on “Snowshoeing Our Way to Saddleback

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