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Calamity, Adams, Cheney, Wallface, and McNaughton Mtn's

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Figuring this project out as I go along is like trying to fit 100 mosaic pieces into a whole. The best fit is constantly shifting and as you go, there are less and less pieces left over. You are continuously faced with a brand new mosaic to create.


Day 1: Calamity and Adams.

01/19/2018 – Calamity Mountain – Start: 7:46 AM Finish: 1:34 PM


I chose Calamity to kick things off because I was interested in Cheney Cobble and North River, which are close by and which would have similar snow conditions. I was interested in CC-NR because I had very strong and enthusiastic partners lined up and the conditions were looking good.


Christina and Brian joined me for Calamity and it turned out to be a really easy, text-book whack. Of interest was the ¼ inch thick layer of blue ice on the snow-pack above 3200 feet. It was just right for a whack!


01/19/2018 – Mount Adams – Start: 1:54 PM Finish: 4:58 PM


Adams I chose because it was close by. I eschewed the whack across from Cal to Adams in order to save time and energy. I’ve done it by 5 different routes and four were very, very hard. The easiest was done on a 5-foot snow pack. The snow isn’t deep enough right now. The round-trip via the regular trail took 3 hours including a 20 minute stop on the summit. I was happy to note that I was ascending at 30 feet per minute, breathing comfortably through my nose and feeling no effort whatsoever.


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.


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.

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