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A 15 hour six-pack of peaks in Hoffman Notch.

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  • A 15 hour six-pack of peaks in Hoffman Notch.

    Map of route.

    Have you ever been wanting to do a hike for a long time, turned it over and over in your mind and finally doing it? This was one of those hikes for me. Ever since Cory and I did Bailey Hill to Washburn (I had never heard of these peaks before that) and then a few years after that Gérald and I did a Bailey Hill to Texas Ridge traverse I thought about doing the six 3,000 footers of Hoffman Notch in a single day. I drew it out and on-paper it looked feasible. Two weeks ago I attempted it and after 4 peaks (Texas Ridge, Hoffman, Blue Ridge and B. Ridge West) I very wisely called it a day.

    Then on Friday, September 7 I went back with a better route plan and an earlier start and did all six. Beforehand though I had a lot of doubts about being strong enough to do all six.

    My new plan was more committing given that my bailout option came very early in the hike and I would most likely not entertain using use it. This would mean after Texas Ridge, if I kept going there was no turning back with the gnarliest peaks still in front of me: Hoffman, B. Ridge, B. Ridge West and getting over the ridge of Hornet Cobble (not a 3k peak). I was especially concerned about being benighted and having to do a lot of descending in the dark. I thought about it a lot, wondered about my fitness and the wisdom of trying it this late in the year. Then I said "f-it" and threw caution to the wind.

    One of the things I did for expediency was print up a table with compass bearings and elevations for a total of 25 direction changes. For example, at a water crossing between Washburn and Bailey at 645 meters dial in 240, on Blue Ridge, elev. 1060 meters dial in 265. This was a big time saver but didn't work 100% perfectly and on a few occasions I checked my GPS to get myself lined up just the way I wanted. I kept the GPS running and recording but kept is stowed in the top of my pack. I didn't want the distraction of checking it and went with the thinking that it was faster to just check my elevation on the wrist altimeter, dial in a new bearing and keep moving, follow the compass. I didn't even check my (5) printed maps very often. On the 3 or 4 occasions that I started to wonder about my position or line I immediately stopped, opened my pack and checked with the GPS and used it to re-establish if necessary my compass bearing.

    And now, the hike:

    At 6 am, with headlamp still on I had been on the Hoffman Notch trail for an hour already and at 480 meters elly, began the whack of Washburn on a 285 bearing and immediately encountered cliffs in the pre-dawn gloom. Something seemed off with respect to the relationship between my bearing and the direction of the slope but after 20 minutes everything seemed to line up. I kept going but I wound up on the summit ridge 3/8 of a mile to the south of the summit. Not a great start. My altimeter had the correct elevation so whatever it was that screwed up, I'll never know. Not to worry, I did a round trip to the summit and returned to the notch I wanted then followed 3 different compass bearings to the top of Bailey Hill, 2.2 miles and two hours away. Open woods the whole way and on Bailey I even hit a tote road which increased my rate of ascent for the same effort by a good 10 feet per minute while it lasted.

    I was front-ending my elevation gain. Total on the day was about 6000 feet and Wash-Bailey accounted for 2500'. Getting to Texas Ridge, 3 miles away, would add on another 1800 to the tally. After that there were 5 ascents of roughly 350 feet each and I would be done! Peanuts, except so far I only had one summit behind me and 5 coming.

    My main concern for most of the day was running out of daylight before my final two major descents: 1500 feet off of my final summit, Blue Ridge West and another 800 from Hornet Cobble to the trail. Already, going up Texas Ridge I was calculating: From Hoffman to Blue Ridge 90 mins, maybe only an hour to West etc. etc. It was going to be tight but I felt I could handle the 800 foot drop from Hornet in the dark, having done it 2 weeks prior. There was just this one pesky set of cliffs....

    Going up Texas Ridge, the heart of my day, elevation gain-wise, I was pacing myself very carefully, mindful of what was still to come. Suddenly, I felt an irresistible urge and had to drop trou right away. Worst diarrhea I've had in years, several episodes worth as I climbed. This did not bode well. It meant I was probably not absorbing any nutrients (home made protein drink with sugar, coffee and chocolate – the foundation of the day's nutrition, supplemented with tuna sandwiches). And, what if I became really ill? Or, whay if I bonked completely? If I turned around the trail was only 30 minutes away. If I went over Texas I was committed to the entire hike. However, I felt fine and was moving well. I decided to continue on.

    As I said above, the thing with the route I was following is that once you drop off of Texas Ridge (and especially Texas East) you are committed to doing the entire hike. There are no bailouts left and Hoffman, Blue Ridge and Blue Ridge West and Hornet Cobble make for a formidable bushwhack. So from now on I was committed to doing all 6 peaks plus going up and over Hornet Cobble. After Texas East I angled my way up onto the Hoffman ridge and trudged up to the summit. I was pretty much right on time, 10 minutes behind my calculated/hoped-for time. I stopped, switched maps, ate a few bights of sandwich, dialed in a new bearing and adjusted my altimeter (10 meters off only). It was around 3 pm and the light was becoming gorgeous but I hurried off. I dreaded the next section (long up and down traverse between Hoffman and Blue Ridge) and in spite of following a better line than 2 weeks ago I was now into the thickest and gnarliest bushwhacking of the day and constantly getting pinged by stiletto branches. They make a ping sound when they break off while stabbing you. The abuse had begun getting up and over the two Texasses but from here on in it intensified. The skin on my neck and wrists was getting raw and tender and torn up. The worst was when the spruce branches, like razor-wire, dragged across the exact same spot on my neck. I had been going non-stop now for almost 11 hours.

    Between Hoffman and Blue Ridge I was just about out of water, as planned. My 2nd refill of the day (2 liters- double treated) had been murky beaver dam water just before starting up Texas. I had filled between Hoffman and Blue Ridge 2 weeks ago and the flow then was meager. Now it had almost dried up completely. Had it been just a bit drier I'd have been required to wander downstream a ways to find water. Took a while but I got another 2 liters. One would have sufficed but I no longer trusted my final water source in Hornet Notch. The water was brown, coming from a swamp and I double treated it again. Blue Ridge, my 5th peak was only 330 feet above me. Getting pinged constantly by branches and feeling some pressure of the "mission" I made my way up slowly and steadily being ever so conscious of the need to pace myself. I had to wait 30 minutes before I could drink my water and my mouth and throat were like sandpaper.

    After Blue Ridge I decided to try a different line from 2 weeks ago into the Blue Ridge-B. Ridge West col and indeed it was wide open except I then had to traverse back over to line up with the col and this nullified the time saving and ate up more energy than saved. I wanted to be on West by 5:30 and in Hornet Notch by 6:30 so as to begin the final drop to the trail at 7. Then I made a tactical error by going up Blue West along a different line than 2 weeks ago. I got stuck in brutally thick blowdown and re-growth and besides losing precious time deployed energy like a drunken sailor traversing back to my previous route, which wasn't all that bad to begin with. The light seemed to be fading quickly but I was on the east side of the peak. I was feeling very vulnerable in the mess of hidden blowdown, unseen holes and interlocked spruce branches.

    Below the summit I made a second tactical error deciding to avoid a bit of rock climbing, thinking I was too fatigued for it to be safe. I zigged right and then had to fight and claw my way through evil blowdown making ridiculously slow progress with my chest pounding as if to burst open. Then I remembered that 2 weeks ago I had chosen to climb up the little rock face to avoid nightmare blowdown. I had clean forgot about that. I lost a good 30 minutes getting to the summit and was now hopelessly behind my hoped-for time. No matter how much I drank I was constantly thirsty.

    Once I crossed the summit I was back in full, late-afternoon daylight and my bearing was directly in line with sun. I broke out of the cover briefly and had stunning views. However, the woods refused to open up as quickly as two weeks ago (50 foot rule?) and my skin and now my quads were really getting torn up. The slope was extremely steep with many drop-offs, chunky rocks and hidden holes. Watching the time I couldn't imagine descending that in darkness. How would you see the drop-offs and the holes?

    1500 feet of descent by bushwhack towards the end of a long day can seem to go on forever but I knew I would be down in an hour. I watched the time and kept myself pointed at the sinking sun, which disappeared behind Washburn and finally, I broke out into the clearing at Hornet Notch. No water, not a drop. And I was now fresh out. In the last of the daylight I keenly felt my alone-ness, having been going at it, pushing hard in this empty wilderness since 5am. I sat down and got ready with my headlamps and popped some Tylenol and Ibu (the skin around my shoulders and armpits was burning and red hot from being soaked in sweat all day). I used the GPS to double-check my bearing to a notch in Hornet Cobble and reluctantly got off my ass. The 350 climb (110 meters) up to Hornet Cobble is very, very steep, the steepest climbing of the day in fact. I was obviously tired so, checking the altimeter I stopped with every 20 meters of ascent and waited until my breathing and chest-pounding subsided. Time was no longer important. Nearing the top if I looked straight up the steep slope I could see some remaining light behind the canopy.

    I turned a headlamp on (I had two out, one for a backup) and began the drop. Part-way down I saw the cliffs and side-hilled around them. The descent turned out to be straightforward but I went extremely carefully and gingerly until I saw the brook. The trail was on the other side and after a 35 minute stroll I unlocked my car and pulled a cold beer out of the cooler, drank half while changing, poured out the rest and drove home.

    __________________
    Last edited by Neil; 09-10-2018, 09:06 AM.

  • #2
    Seems a tad brutal ....well, I did half of that in one day and I thought it was respectable !!! The beer must have tasted pretty sweet at the end...hehehe
    'As you go the way of life, you will see a great chasm. Jump. It is not as wide as you think'. From a Native American initiation rite
    'Following our will and wind we may just go where no one's been - Tool
    Lyon Mountain Trail Adopter

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    • #3
      Another good read of an obscure hike...... Way to tough it out alone...... How long of a ride home do you have after a long day like that?
      Catskills: 39/39, 26W/35W
      ADK: 46/46

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      • Neil
        Neil commented
        Editing a comment
        Two and a half hours. Drank coffee and listened to Friday Night Jazz on VPR to keep me awake.

    • #4
      Way to see your project through! Sounds like a beast. Did it feel like a win when done or were you too drained to enjoy it properly?

      Also I must say i am seeing a trend with the 100 highest group of people stringing together some really tough 4, 5, and 6 packs...more than the average trailed hiker would attempt in a day. Very impressive!

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      • #5
        Gnarly !!
        Laser focus and strong will to leave the hardest for last.
        Nice route planning on elie gain for the day.

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        • #6
          Originally posted by rbalbs View Post
          Way to see your project through! Sounds like a beast. Did it feel like a win when done or were you too drained to enjoy it properly?

          Also I must say i am seeing a trend with the 100 highest group of people stringing together some really tough 4, 5, and 6 packs...more than the average trailed hiker would attempt in a day. Very impressive!
          I definitely didn't do a fist pump on Blue Ridge West. I was pretty beat up and still had a long row to hoe and had gotten behind in my race against darkness. However once on the trail I did have a certain glow of satisfaction.

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          • #7
            Originally posted by mastergrasshopper View Post
            Gnarly !!
            Laser focus and strong will to leave the hardest for last.
            Nice route planning on elie gain for the day.
            I'm thinking of doing it again but CW. Stiff 2000' before the 1st peak. Next climbs are 300, 5-600, 350 (twice). Peaks 5 and 6 are bigger climbs but much easier woods and the slopes are not too steep. It's a trade-off: gnarly-ness vs. elevation gain. Also, the descent off Washburn in the dark would not be much a worry. Let me know when you're ready.

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            • #8
              Usually it would take 3 hikes to do those 6 peaks on three different days. I can't believe you did all 6 in a single day hike. That is heavy duty awesomeness! Way to go proving that this is even possible!!

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              • #9
                Originally posted by SpencerVT View Post
                Usually it would take 3 hikes to do those 6 peaks on three different days. I can't believe you did all 6 in a single day hike. That is heavy duty awesomeness! Way to go proving that this is even possible!!
                It was easy.....

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                • #10
                  Originally posted by neil View Post

                  it was easy.....
                  Nlas!!!!!!

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