Day 3 Wallface-McNaughton
01/21/2018 – MacNaughton & Wallface Mountains – Start: 7:09 AM Finish: 6:49 PM
Crossing Henderson Lake early in the morning was a special treat and I studied my previous (4!) routes up Henderson Mountain as we tramped along. I was feeling pretty tense after yesterday’s hike and inwardly fretted over how things would pan out once we got to the sharp end. I had “fresh horses” with me and both Luc La Barre and “autochromatica” are Clydesdales when it comes to pulling a heavy load. My legs were feeling heavy and I kept a medium pace as I warmed up.
While I had been toiling away in the North River Range Nancy Labaff and her team of 6 (en route to a successful ascent of McNaughton) had hiked up the drainage that runs down from Wallface Ponds. As in, right in the drainage! I would never have thought of that and without their tracks would not have had the guts, having broken through ice into cold water on several occasions in my time.
However, the 500-foot ascent was smoothly although there were three steep pitches up some blue-ish ice that I knew I would not be descending late in the day. Once at the vly at 800 meters elevation we made a decision we were very happy to have made. Remembering Tom Haskins’ advice, we chose the hardest peak first: Wallface. McNaughton is 300 feet higher but a team of six had gone up and down it so we could do it in the dark if need ever be.
If you look at a map you will notice this very steep band https://mapper.acme.com/?ll=44.13745,-74.04516&z=15&t=T&marker0=44.13745%2C-74.04516%2C3.0%20km%20WxNW%20of%20MacIntyre%20Mountains%20NY right here. Ascending that was a combination of sustained mental will spiced with masochism and when we finally got above it the woods were so thick we could barely move. But, we moved left and found the open woods I remembered from previous forays. The ascent, while steep and demanding was going very well until we experienced a major gear failure. One of Sean’s snowshoe pivots broke. I got out a handful of tie-wraps and we improvised a quick repair job that I thought would get him to the summit and back down. Tie wrap repair jobs have a tendency to be short-lived.
When we arrived at the summit we discovered that a 100 foot diameter clear-cut had been made. The summit rock was thus really easy to find. The clear-cut was made during a recent search for a missing hiker. I have to say, the views from the summit are such that before long Wallface will have a herd path going right up it.
The ascent took 2h30 mins and the return trip to the vly: 60 minutes including a lengthy stop to properly patch up Sean’s snowshoe harness with a 6 foot length of shoe-lace.
Next up: McNaughton.
We of course followed Team Nancy’s tracks from the day before and we positively marveled at the work they had done. Our appreciation was particularly acute given that we had just done the same thing on Wallface. We were thus able to read their thought processes and route-finding decisions all the way along. It must have been crushingly difficult but then again, so was Wallface! From vly to summit took us 1h45 and on the summit I put on a dry base-layer shirt and then I threw my puffy jacket and down parka on with fresh mittens! Whoa! Serious bliss right there! It was now 3pm.
I got the feeling that our outing was beginning to look like a study in gear depletion as I piled soaking wet clothing into my pack. I had hung my sopping shell up on the summit sign and when I put it back on it was glazed over with ice.
I was cold everywhere when we left the summit and I said to Luc, “we want to go down very carefully and safely”. He totally got that and the descent went very well, much better than we anticipated. We were back at the vly at 4 and all we had left to do was hike out for 3 hours. The smartest move of the exit was to make a rest stop at the Wallface Lean-to and swap out wet socks for dry. The “ice-fall” descent of the creek went well but we detoured two of the steep pitches. The detours in the open woods on firm snow were very easy.
Lake Henderson in the pitch black night (as verified by shutting off the headlamps) was an interesting experience in sensory deprivation where 30 minutes felt like 60. Getting to the car was fantastic but crawling into bed after a supper of bacon and eggs at Mercy Cabin was pure heaven. Sleep came quickly and was very deep.
With one month out of three gone 41 peaks are over my shoulder.