Day 2: Cheney-North River.
01/20/2018 – Cheney Cobble – Start: 6:30 AM Finish: 5:49 PM
Jean, MJO and I were underway just before 7 and snowshoed on level ground for 3 hours prior to commencing the bushwhack up the north side of Cheney. As anticipated, the snow was firm (pretty much perfect) and up to about 900 meters elevation the woods were open. Then it got both very steep and very thick. As we homed in on the summit it grew extremely steep and we got cliffed out, back-tracked a bit and then Jean threaded the needle up through very steep terrain alongside cliffs that were plastered in yellow ice. The wind was ferocious and of course we were all soaking wet and the only way to keep warm was by exerting oneself very strenuously.
It was noon! Exactly the time I wanted to be there. More importantly, I wanted to be in the CC-NR col no later than 2pm. so off we went. We decided to try and take an easier route down but the only other one I knew (from a scouting trip with Trail Boss in May, ’17) had a steep crux that turned out to be filled with ice. Long story short: we got cliffed out and had to re-climb steep terrain and lost a full hour. North River now had a question mark hanging over it. All the while the wind cut at us and we were cold. Our mental energy was definitely taking a hit but with self-imposed discipline we calmly ignored the cold as best we could and continued to stop and check the map and compass and also, from time to time, MJO’s Gaia map on her phone. It wasn’t easy! My GPS went kaput earlier during the day and using map and compass was decidedly slower work than navigating by GPS. MJO’s Gaea map was a very welcome back-up even if there was no tracklog in it.
It was of paramount importance that we miss the cliffs that line the col by deviating north and this we managed to do. But, getting across the saddle to the SW shoulder of Cheney was a slow business and the wicked cold wind kept doing it’s work on us. Finally, we were lined up perfectly above the col and here the wind had died down. But, to our surprise the snow was completely unconsolidated on this side of the mountain. We fell continuously into spruce traps and when we didn’t the footing was treacherous and required tremendous muscle power. When Trail Boss and I ascended the same flank he said it was soul-destroying it was so thick.
I looked at the time: 2:30 and were were still well above the col and our physical and mental resources were dwindling rapidly, including the remaining daylight. We were at a critical juncture and but making the turn away from the col down towards our inbound track 600 vertical feet below us was easy to do even if I knew I had just burned an eleven hour day. Getting down those 600 feet turned out to be a major struggle through thick woods and deep snow. Had we done NR and departed the col at 4pm, say, the exit would have been very interesting. Earlier on, while dodging cliffs on CC, I had said, “if we do NR I’m not doing Wallface tomorrow”. Again, the shifting mosaic pieces where every hike influences every hike.
We got back to the car and between Lake Jimmy (gorgeous views!) and the Hudson I remarked that I felt pretty good, this was no death march. It was an eleven hour day and before parting ways we sat in my car and drank beer, ate chips and reveled in the heat and companionship of the trail. It had been a good fight.