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Old 05-02-2012, 11:09 AM   #1
Crepuscular
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I am a 46er
Saving Grace: E. Town 4 via Boquet South Fork Tuesday May 1, 2012

Quick and dirty if you don't feel like reading the novel-length:
- attempted Grace (E. Dix) via the South Boquet herdpath/ bushwack ridge traverse
- bad weather and time constraints had us turn around at the first bump on E. Town 4

Trail conditions: Herd Path in great shape. Bushwack is bushwack. No trail that I could see. Easy enough to move through, probably more pleasant when dry.


Since the ski season ended, I hadn't taken any "sick days" for mountain therapy, so when a favorable forcast appeared for this Tuesday last week, Jeanette and I decided to give Grace (E. Dix) a try. Initially, I was interested in hiking from the north fork and camping but I figured the south approach would have significantly less ice than the great slide and less snow than the E. Dix herd path next to the slide.

Well the forcast took a definite turn about 24 hours after I saw that perfect day staring back at me from weather underground. The summit forcast for Dix indicated the summits would be obscured by clouds. Also, two days before the hike, we found out we were having cake for Jeanette's grandma's birthday (97 years young and sharp as hell ) at 6. We both were itching to get out in the mountains though and with just a handful of peaks left to complete the 46 it's hard not to shoot for exit 29 or 30 . The way I figured it, if we didn't get to the top, it would still be a pretty walk in the woods and the solitude/ mountain therapy would more than make up for the lack of sweet summit glory.

We left Albany at 6:30 and Arrived at the pull-off at around 8:45. We used a combination of the McMartin guide and some old trip reports to have a basic idea of the trailhead, trail begining and route up. The begining of the trail was fairly obvious but unassuming. My immediate and lasting impression of this herd path is very positive. The familiar rust colored pine needle carpet paved the way as the road noise faded imperceptably into river burble. The trail was plainly obvious yet unobtrusive with very little mud. A tree or two down here or there (less than 5 but more than 3?) but no major blown-down. Conversation was fairly lively and we reached the camp site around 10:30. I seem to remember a poster here maintains this trail and has a particular fondness for this spot. Thanks for your efforts, the trail and campsite were spotless and obviously well loved.

Here we had our second snafu. The first was our relatively late departure. If I had thought this trip out a bit more, based on the fact that we needed to be at the car by 4, getting on the trail at least 2 hours earlier would have put us in much better shape. The second was a nice little reality check about my extensive bushwacking abilities and experience. I have very little of either . We crossed what we thought was the tributary which needs to be crossed in order to start wacking up the hill. We tromped around for a bit trying to follow how I thought we should be breaking away from the water as well as a roughly due west declination. Nothing seemed right until we reached the shore of the Boquet again. We had crossed it instead of the trib! With the limited visibility, we couldn't see the rising slope of E Town 4 so we had no visual reference of how the landscape was unfolidng in front of us. Also, I'm unfamiliar with the area and have only bushwacked 2 or 3 times (sometimes the trip reports make it seem so easy!!! Y'all are rockstars) so each trip out involves the stumbling of learning a new skill-set.

Once that was all straightened out, things went pretty straightforward up the slope. We followed the natural contours, kept sighting due west and gave the ole GPS a check here and there to see if we were on the right track.
This was my 3rd or 4th time fully utilizing my GPS. I've had some reservations about fully integrating it as a tool (batterys die, over-relliance, less attention to landscape features etc). In this context, it was really nice to be able to take a look and know we were on the right track. I can totally see how this gets people into trouble though. Overdependence on technology coupled with a lack of experience and/ or woodsense can lead to disastrous results.

Despite the confidence in our course and ability to complete this hike, the time and weather factors were starting to weigh on us. Jeanette, the more cautious of the two of us, realized it first. We had reached the first rocky prominence on the ridge around noon after about an hour and a half of bushwacking which covered about a mile of terrain. From here, we should have been able to see the next bump, but with 20-50 ft of visibilty, no such luck. With 4 hours left and at least 5 more miles of bushwacking (there and back) Jeanette expressed her mounting concerns. She asked if I thought we could do it. Immediately and as I often do, I said yes. I looked from the fog to my map to her concerned face to my watch for about 5 minutes and finally said no.

J was a bit bummed that we didn't accomplish our goal, especially since I had taken the day off but I assured her that any day in the woods is better than a day at work and that it would be no hardship to explore more of this beautiful and peaceful area . Ultimately, we both knew we had made the right decision and it didn't take long for the bummer to fade into memory. We ate some lunch when we got back down to the campsite and J had the bright idea to check out Roaring Brook Falls before we headed home as it would likely be running pretty good. Indeed it was, we got some pictures at the base, soaked it in and drove to the overlook and took some shots there.

We are heading back up on Friday (lean to @ JBL fri night, hike sat) to do the UWJ Gothics loop with 3 friends who haven't yet and I'm VERY excited. If the forcast holds out for Sunday and we're feeling up to it we are considering camping at the north fork trailhead, camping out under the biggest moon of the year, and trying Grace nice and early from that approach. Who knows how it will unfol?! Once again, I'll just be grateful to be in the woods .

-namaste
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Old 05-02-2012, 11:40 AM   #2
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very cool. great attitude. ... enjoy full moon this weekend. hopefully skies will be clear for you and your party.
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Old 05-02-2012, 11:45 AM   #3
Gregory Karl
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Well Mr. Twilight, what you guys did yesterday was what I would describe as a very successful exploratory hike. You learned a new trail and several waterways that open routes for a number of great hikes in the future. And as for other bushwhackers making it look easy: I, at least, cannot count the number of times I have stopped short of a bushwhacking objective the first time out, usually, like you, while learning a new approach on unfamiliar terrain. Given the poor visibility, turning back was smart—not because of any danger or travel difficulties, but because you would have kicked yourself for missing the phenomenal views all the way up the ridge that one finds on a clear day.

Come to think of it, I would say you had pretty much an optimal outcome under the circumstances; a perfect use of a less than perfect day!
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Old 05-02-2012, 11:48 AM   #4
Dunbar
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Nice attempt!

Sounds like tough conditions to try and follow that ridge. With good visibility this trip is much easier - there are so many rocky openings that you can regularly get a visual on where you are going. But without visual bearings, it is much more difficult and you really have to depend on your instruments more to keep from getting disoriented.

Not sure how you are using your GPS, but I like to give myself a few waypoints along the planned route. I either select the waypoints on my computer and upload them to the GPS, or I (more often) just use the topo maps on the GPS to find the next important point like a bump or col. Then you can use the GPS to get a bearing to your next point, dial it into your compass, and then follow the compass to the waypoint.

If you're not using the GPS, it's best to do some pregame planning for the route. I'll sometimes draw on my map and write the compass bearings right there. Then during the hike I don't have to mess around trying to find the bearing.

Sounds like you did quite well in less than optimal conditions. "Failures" like this will greatly improve your navigation skills. And really, even if you had made it further, you'd still have to go back and do this hike on a nice day - the views are way to good!
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Old 05-02-2012, 01:28 PM   #5
Crepuscular
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Thanks for all the kind words guys and re-afirmation that this route (especially the ridge) is a hike worth pursuing. Dunbar: My "mastery" of the GPS involved setting up waypoints at critical junctures and landmarks and setting proximity alarms so it chimes as I get close to the next target, so yup, thats about where I'm at. So I used that in cunjunction with a printed out copy of the map with the route drawn in and bullet points from trip reports and guidebook sources on the back, in a gallon food storage bag (a trick I picked up on here). This, with the compass, I felt was a pretty solid tool kit for the job.
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