January 19, 2020
It was exactly a year ago when Mount Marshall became my white whale. My friends John, Peter, Tim and I made it within .4 of the summit and had to bail. It was a brutal day starting from the loj, with deep snow, breaking trail and a snowstorm quickly approaching. We fought valiantly, but ultimately…made the right call to turn back. That’s the short, short version.
It was quite a day. But this time, this time would be different, I thought. Allison and I knew of at least 3 groups who had made it to the summit the day before. So we were certain this would be our day! In fact, that is exactly what Alli texted me that morning on the way to the trailhead. “This is our day!“
As I complied the photos to write this blog, the coolest thing happened. All of Alli’s photos, especially once we arrived at the herdpath for Mr. M, tell a very different story than my photos. I’ll do my best to showcase properly as the blog unravels.
Ok, back the story!
Pulling into Upper Works trailhead at a leisurely 7:30 and hit the Calamity Brook trail at 8 a.m. sharp! We estimated about 9 hours for the hike…because remember, the herdpath to Marshall was broken out the day before ;). The morning graced us with mild weather and pink clouds in the distance. The sun fought hard to break through.
The few mile or so was just wonderful. Flat, fast and well traveled. There were a few groups ahead of us: one to Cliff, one to Marshall/Colden. Snow had fallen throughout the night with about 5 inches or so on the ground. Fluffy and easy, nothing to terrible. Alli and I remained optimistic!
At 9:30 a.m., about 3 miles into the trek, the wooden bridge! This bridge was our return checkpoint. Our goal was to make it back to the trail register by dark. Sunset was at 4:50 p.m.
The next mile was a gradual, steady uphill climb. My legs performing their usual lead balloon tricks, it was a slog for me. I lost sight of Alli’s blue jacket a few times here and there as the trail wound its way along the brook. We caught up with the couple who were heading to Marshall/Colden. They chatted a second or two and let us hike through.
As we walked on, Alli and I recounted the posts we saw prior to attempting Marshall. The water crossings were doable but not easy, as it was still early in the winter season. One water crossing in particular stuck out in my mind…the groups that reported about their hike all said that one section was tricky to navigate. Of course, that little worry weighed on my mind.
At 10:10 a.m., we walked across Calamity Pond to the Henderson Monument. A quick photo of a spot I’ve visited twice already. All 3 times, today included, the air surrounding the pond was completely still. Eerily quiet.
The monument serves as another good benchmark because it means you are close to the Flowed Lands! Yay! After 15 more minutes of hiking, we reached one of my favorite places in the Adirondacks. You gain about 1000 feet in elevation after a 4.5 mile journey from the parking lot.
It was the perfect time to stop and enjoy a snack break. I should also mention that the pinkish clouds we gazed at early on only stuck around for a fleeting moment. The remainder of the morning flurried with occasional wind gusts.
After our munchies and bone broth, the discussion began about whether or not to cross the Flowed Lands. It would save some time and elevation gain/loss…but the whipping wind was blustery! As I pointed out Mount Colden in the clouds, the other group of 4 showed up. They had taken a break at the lean-to. After chatting for a bit, the team of 4, who were heading to Cliff, ventured across the frozen H2O, while Alli and I decided to following the tracks on the main trail. We figured we could return across it instead.
“Hmmm, it’s just so blustery!” So one last look, before heading back around.
Now that trail…the usual one that follows along and around the Flowed Lands…that trail is not flat. I remembered the section all too well. You lose elevation and then gain, then lose, then climb steeply up to the herdpath. Slow on the up, fast on the out. That’s how I roll. Also, my “roll” caused me to lose sight of Allison again, haha. However, the hike to the Herbert Brook herdpath was quite lovely to admire. Slender snow-covered pines, huddled so closely together as to create a meandering path leading the way.
Then, at 11:00 a.m., the junction for the Herbert Brook herdpath! Hmm, notice anything missing???
As I called out to Alli, my spirit quickly deflated. I expected to see her waiting for me at the junction. She also saw what was missing. She yelled back that she was at the lean-to. Walking around, I met her halfway.
“Alli…it’s not broken out.” I said half defeated, half shocked. There was a good 8 inches or so at the base of the path. My PTSD started kicking in from last winter’s attempt. We spent hours trying to make it to the summit through thigh deep snow then, losing the trail towards the higher elevation. Now, here we were again. Less snow to start, but still with the issue of trail finding on one of the most difficult mountains to hike in the winter for precisely that reason!
Gathering our thoughts, Alli and I took a quick break at the junction to refuel. We both knew what was ahead of us, and we needed to get our bodies fed and ready for it!
As we ate, the couple heading to Marshall/Colden caught back up with us. They didn’t say anything but smile and kept on keepin’ on by. Now, Alli and I scoped out the trail that leads down to Lake Colden. NOT a single track. Which also meant the back side of Colden was untouched, and typically is less traveled in winter. I guess we figured they would want to climb Marshall with us….power in numbers? We guessed wrong.
Allison and I. That was the team. Just a couple of girls taking on Marshall.
At 11:10 a.m., we began our ascent. The herdpath is about 1.5 miles to the summit. In the summer, no problem. In the winter, Marshall morphs into a completely different beast. For the first 30 minutes, the trail followed its typical path. The extremely tight spaces between drooping evergreens guided our way until we reached the wall. A tree or two aiding support as handholds, and onward we marched.
At 11:50 a.m., the brook was crossed. Alli proceeded first, carefully testing the ice below. Most of the steps were stable, but it was still best to tread carefully.
The slides, an easy summer route, currently coated in nature’s fluffy precipitation. We crossed the brook a few more times.
We hit a slight bump in the road when the path led us back to the right of the brook. There appeared to be significant blowdown blocking the path. We stopped to check my track on my InReach to see if it could help. It did and did not. Straight ahead was, in fact, the trail. We were right on it. However after a few attempts of finding a way around the trail, we agreed that we must have to cross the brook...again. Non-conventional, but it was the only way. THIS must have been the tricky water crossing that previous hikers warned about. As long as we were able to cross back over the brook, all would be well. In the winter, it is imperative to stay to the right of Herbert Brook as much as possible…especially toward the height of the brook.
The crossing was a bit sketchy, even with the new snowfall. The trail dropped steeply onto the brook and we could hear running water under our feet as we steadily zigzagged over snow-covered boulders. Once back on the left of the brook (we knew we didn’t want to stay on this side too long) , we reached this warning. THANK YOU whoever left this “NOT this way” pole marking!! This detour correctly veered back across the brook!
However, at 1:35 p.m., we were still going…like the Energizer Bunny, but without the energy.
This was Alli’s view of the flawless trail ahead.
My view of Alli’s tracks…
Must be turtle oil (as the gang from https://www.footstuffpodcast.com/ call it!) in my thermos instead of bone broth. The blue jacket has disappeared from view.
Sporting my Winter Warrior hat from the January Half Marathon.👍
2:10 p.m.: The trail still doing its thing, winding and bending through the woods, as the incline steepened. Praying my second wind kicks in soon, with about 30 more minutes of climbing to go.
Allison headed up the sharp pitch, as the herdpath turned us around to the right and then back again.
At the height of the steep slope, short-lived views to the east (I think) were the only ones of the whole day. I paused to breathe it all in and love it all out There is something about being the only two on the mountain. All is quiet and peaceful, allowing your heart and mind to truly become one with abundance that Mother Nature shares with us. Almost makes you forget, for a moment, just how tired you are.
So close to the summit! The sky was a welcome friend!
Allison’s view, as she broke trail through the deep powder.
My view, as I truck along the path behind her.
And still higher we climb…
Just gonna rest for a quick second. My thighs were burning.
Phew! You know there’s a lot of snow when the short girl has to bend down to get under the trees! The final push to the summit of Mount Marshall in the winter time is so beautiful.
Another photo of Alli’s, as she waited patiently for me to get my butt in gear.
Guess who’s view this is?? Ha!
Seriously though, how incredible was this moment? To be the first one to arrive at the pure, smooth snowed-in summit. Allison definitely deserved to have this special view! She broke Mount Marshall the entire way.
There she is! Alli told Marshall where to eat his lunch!
Got ’em!! White Whale✔!!! 41W ✔! Time: 2:35 p.m.
2 hours, 25 minutes to break trail up 1.5 miles. I’m detecting a pattern here…
So thankful that we made it this time! But I also had some words for Marshall! Third round on this guy’s summit, not including the attempt #1.
A super quick summit break. Calories, bone broth, chocolate and we were off and running down this mountain. We flew down and made it back to the junction in an hour!
Our return benchmark was the wooden bridge. Remember our plan was to make it there by dark?
Keeping a steady pace, our snowshoes didn’t rest until we reached the bridge. It was still light out! We were graced with a few moments of blue skies and pink clouds at 4:30 p.m. The Universe graced us twice today…one for sunrise and now for sunset.
Daylight turned to dusk with about 2 miles to go on the home stretch straightaway section of Calamity Brook. Snow started to fall, as the temperature dropped, when darkness fell upon us around 5:10 p.m. As we sparked up the conversation to help the time pass quicker, the air was so cold we could see our breath. “Look, I can see my breath!” I exclaimed like a 8 year old kid. Amusement doesn’t require much for me, apparently.
We hadn’t seen another soul since the hike in. We discussed the probability of the other groups making it to summits. Skeptical, we remained. Just keep moving, every step counts…
Before we knew it, it was 6:00 p.m. and sight of the parking lot! Hallelujah! There was 1 car left besides ours. Allison checked the register. All of the groups turned back but one. A pair that was still out there for Mount Redfield, who signed in after us. I wondered if they were winter camping?
Alli and I had made it to Marshall!! Possibly the only 2 from Upper Works that summitted! (Unless the Redfield duo made it!) YAY us!!
10 hours. We began at 8 a.m. and finished at 6 p.m. Time to summit: 6.5 hours. Time back to parking lot: 3.5 hours. Mount Marshall felt equally as tough as the Sewards. It was fair to say that both Alli and I were relieved to have both the Sewards and Marshall behind us now.
Allison and Jay would get Big Slide the week after Mount Marshall. She had just a few more winter peaks than I, and it was pretty incredible we had so many left in common!
White whales come in waves. Marshall was just another whale on my journey. And he would’t be the last. Life is beautiful that way. It knows when we need those whales to surface on our ocean paths.
Mount Marshall. I’m not sure I’ll ever love you. But your views on a clear day are outstanding and quite breathtaking. It is your one redeeming quality.
To my Marshall crews: John, Peter and Tim- thank you for giving it your all last year! It was a hard-fought battle when Marshall stole our lunch money. You guys are the best!
Allison- Thanks for telling Marshall were to go eat his lunch and getting my money back! You are one of the best trail finders I know. Proud of us for getting it done! Heck Yeah! #justacoupleofgirlsbro
Next up, The Santanoni Range.
Recovering until then,
P.S. This is my 100th blog!! Thanks again, Marshall!