Sometimes, even the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. – adapted by John Steinbeck
Or in this case, of a one woman sans rodents.
Once again, the plan was to hike the Dix Range. And this time, it was Columbus Day. I am beginning to think the range is meant for my finish. But alas, sometimes the universe has other plans and most often, those other plans place you smack dab in the middle of one of the best things that could ever happen to you.
So, this past Columbus Day 2016, instead of the Elk Lake destination, I paid another visit to my friend, Lake Road. My change of direction was to hike Nippletop and Dial Mountains. The debate for this hike is a good one. Clockwise or counterclockwise? Gradual or steep first? There are solid points on both sides of the theory, so it does come down to personal preference.
However, a trip to Indian Head swirled through my mind as well. The ultimate decision was to climb Indian Head first, and then proceed up Elk Pass to Nippletop, following the ridgeline down, down, down back to Lake Road.
I have to say, that in addition to my Mount Colden and Miss Marcy climbs, I am most proud of this hike. Two weeks prior, I pulled my hamstring on mile 10 of the Adirondack Half Marathon…and kept running. Needlesstosay, my leg wasn’t completely healed. Moreover, apparently being 41 gives you a bum hip as well. But still, I rose.
Ok, back to the crusade (I was in need of a search for holy space)…at 6:40 a.m, I pulled into the St. Hubert’s parking lot and began the beloved walk up to Lake Road.
Yup…you again, my beautiful gated friend. Let’s do this, shall we?
I always take a picture of this bridge…and have yet to climb Lower Wolf Jaw from this approach. Someday soon, though.
At 7:30 a.m., I reached the Gill Brook Trail, For some reason, I decided to continue on to the last junction to Indian Head at the end of Lake Road.
This one! Here’s a good point to note about this particular trail…it’s not marked. At all. There was one more sign on a tree further down label “Colvin” with an arrow. So yes, it is true, that like Columbus, I lost the trail a few times. It appeared to be much less traveled. The one thing that DID help me was following the scrapings on the rocks, which were most likely left by previous “microspike-footed” hikers. #makeupyourownwordswhenneccesary
The lookouts, from this trail, however, were spectacular!!
Ya know, go this way…generally speaking.
More trail signs here and there, guided my steps forward. These helpers were much better!
Low and behold, look what there was?! My favorite…and so many of these quaint little stair-steppers right before you reach Indian Head. These were actually all right in a row. Discovered these tiny gems at 8:20 a.m.
By far, the most interesting and curious little stairs I have come across in the Adirondacks.
Finding these treaded treasures creates a mini-outdoor playground that I love to discover!
At 8:30 a.m., I was graced with Indian Head’s awe-inspiring scenery. “Whoa…” I whispered. Although the wind was present, I stayed for a bit to inhale the sky, the mountains, Upper Ausable Lake…every last inch of it.
BIG views for such a modest mountain…I must return here in the winter, I thought.
Around 8:45 a.m., I departed Indian Head and made my way back down to the next trail junction. The forest was alive with fall, everywhere you turned. Vibrant hues of golden yellows and scarlet reds so deep, your heart might as well have been written upon them.
Haha! Yessss…my favorite forest fungi.
Twenty minutes later, the next junction was crossed.
As I mentioned in my blog about Colvin and Blake…there are quite a few junction points on this hike. Certainly breaks the route down nicely for you and fosters motivation within.
I know I say this often, but this trail was much easier for me, covered in snow this past January than it was during this hike. Still, onward it was towards Elk Pass. I passed a few hikers camping at the sites along this portion of the trail. Their morning breakfast cooking smelled delicious compared to my “parking lot” oatmeal.
The narrow trail was exceptionally beautiful, yet challenging, as it followed Gill Brook. The sound of rushing water helped here and there, as the internal heart tugging began. Other than the campers I passed, I was alone on the trail, yet again. Seems to be a common theme for my solo hikes…truly solo. My heart had been dealing with some things that lingered and weighed on my mind.
Music and mountains often go hand-in-hand for me. So whenever I feel that tugging begin, usually a song lyric plays in my mind to counter it…
“Pick me up, oh, from the bottom Up to the top, love, everyday. Pay no mind to taunts or advances. I take my chances on everyday.”
Not sure where Dave came from, but I was thankful for the tune that instantly popped into my head. Pick me up love, everyday…
At 10:00 a.m., the next split was upon me! Blue would be my leader now! Remember the debate…clockwise or counter-clockwise? I knew the path I had chosen. Steep. Relentless. No reprieve. Apparently I thrive on self-inflicted pain? Haha!
More H2O and snacks and it was no turning back now.
Elk Pass would test every inch of my strength and soul.
However, after 20 minutes, my friend, the sun, graced the path with her illuminating presence. Gratefulness nudged me to exhale and remember that this day was a gift.
So Elk Pass…the closest trail that felt similar to it, was the Boundary trail up to Iroquois Peak. That climb had completely depleted every ounce of my being. This day was no different. My bum hip and hurting hammy argued a convincing plea begging me to stop. “Quit. Just sit down and wait to be saved by a DEC ranger. No point in continuing. Honestly, Jen, what were you thinking?!” they peristently persuaded.
“Left to right. Up and down, love. I push up love, love everyday. Jump in the mud, oh
Get your hands dirty with…Love it up on everyday.”
Dave to the rescue again. One foot in front of the other, Jen. Get your hands dirty with love. Push through with love. For some, this trail is probably a breeze. For me, it was not. It was Not, with a big ‘ol capital N.
My hamstring and hip hated me. My heart was weary and worn, as I was still in the process of bouncing back from my life sabbatical. As I sang the lyrics of “Everyday” over and over, the tears started flowing. I was done. There was a huge rock at the steepest section of the trail and I crawled up onto it, freezing as the air temperature suddenly changed. My pack landed with a thud upon the boulder, and I pulled my knees up and cried. Full out cried. On this beautiful, blessed day.
And then…among the ice forming and frigid winds, a fly buzzed by me. A fly! For crying out loud, it wasn’t even mud season! Resilient little suckers, they are. But that pesky fly caused me to lift my head and gazed out through the trees behind me and….
THIS. This. God’s Beauty was right there in front of me. In the midst of the battle, it was there. All along. If only I had turned around sooner, instead of typical “head down, plow forward” mode.
Shaking my head at myself, words I had recently told someone came to mind:
You have to love your life. Wrap a big bubble of love around it and love it. And if you don’t love the life you have, you have to be willing to train for it. Train like an underdog and fight like hell, down in the trenches, dirty, beat up, scared until you can find the richness of your life. Because it’s the tougher path. Because you deserve it.
Yea, I know this seems a bit dramatic. But it was my truth. And precisely the fire I needed to light my motivation again! So at 10:45 a.m., I jumped down from the resting rock, brushed myself off, had a talking-to with my hammy and hip, and pressed on.
At 11:30 a.m., the landscape transformed to ice-coated pines…but I had a feeling I was so close to that .2 split.
And I was! 5 minutes later, here I landed! A sign…yes, thank goodness. I broke out into my typical, Rocky fist-pumping dance and proceeded to run the .2 mile. Relieved, smiling, recharged.
Ten minutes later…
I reached my 22nd high peak!! Nippletop Mountain is the lucky number 13 highest peak out of the 46, standing at 4620 feet tall. The views from the summit were absolutely incredible!! The wind was crazy that day, though. I watched my tripod wobble while I snapped my summit photo, praying it didn’t take a skydive off the cliff!
“Marcy…” I whispered yet again. She takes my breath away every time. Every time.
Mountain gazing may, quite possibly, be my favorite pass time. Maybe second, only to watching ocean waves crash on the shore.
The Great Range looked powerful and regal.
Gorgeous… the familiar meeting place of fall and winter. Ice juxtaposed to radiant leaves.
After 10 minutes of refueling, it was time to depart this beautiful summit.
In another 10 minutes, I was back at the junction and now it was just down, down, down along the ridgeline.
The H.G. Leach trail from Nippletop to Dial Mountain was actually soft and easy underfoot. A welcomed change for this girl!
At 1:08 p.m. the arrival of Dial Mountain happened! This is the summit marker, ha!
Just when I thought the views at Nippletop couldn’t get any better, I was wrong! Dial has amazing views! It was much warmer and less windy at the summit as well.
So yes, at 1:10 p.m., I achieved my 23rd high peak! Halfway there in a year’s time!
Dial Mountain is the 41st highest peak out of the 46, standing at 4020 feet tall.
Lift me up love, from the bottom…yes Dave, you are so right. Love is. Period.
I did not linger long on Dial, as Time hung over my head as a gentler reminder. So back to the H.G. Leach trail towards Bear Den. This section of the ridgeline was so pretty. Golden birch leaves decorated their lovely white-barked bodies. Despite the exhaustion that was setting in, there was always a reason to smile from here on out.
I don’t even remember passing through Bear Den, honestly. Was there a trail distance sign somewhere? No clue. Because the next thing I knew, I reached Noonmark’s shoulder at 2:45 p.m., which was spectacular. The views just continued to get better and better. More and more like autumn on the descent.
Hard to believe I was just up there!!!
Hello, little cairn. Thank you for guiding my way.
Ok, just another 1.7 miles to Lake Road. I could do it! My hammy and hip could do it. Down, down, down…
Thankfully, the BEST sign of the day! At 3:30 p.m., these legs hit Lake Road again, where I met up with a fellow lone hiker, like myself. She was a solo camper as well. Brave! We chatted the entire way out, which joyfully passed the time.
And..at 3:42 p.m., I was done! Hooray! Smiling and trying not to think of the long drive home, I reflected on the day.
A serene, blissful Indian Head. A “down in the trenches” Elk Pass. Mountain beauty and summit love of 2 more High Peaks. A heavenly surprised of birch trees and sunshine. A heart crusade, it was.
“Pick me up, love, from the bottom. Up onto the top, love, everyday. Pay no mind to taunts or advances…I’m gonna take my chances on everyday.” #DMBwisdom
Total time: 9 hours, with summit stops
Total distance: 17 miles, with Indian Head
I drove into Keene to visit the infamous barn one last time before hitting the road. Thank goodness I did! They have since torn down the relic beauty. Broke my heart, and many other hearts I am sure.
Big bubble of love wins again. I am so proud of this multi-peak day. So very proud. Yes, sometimes in life, we win. Sometimes, we cry. But mostly, if we keep our hearts open and pick ourselves up from the bottom, with gentleness, grace and love, we will overcome. Every day.
Crusading on the love train,