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Winter's Coda III -- one last winter challenge finish on Jay -- 3/19/20

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  • Winter's Coda III -- one last winter challenge finish on Jay -- 3/19/20

    In what has now become an end-of-winter ritual for me I am posting my "Winter's Coda" trip report - my last of the season. There are common themes among these reports I've written over the past three years: each was to a great mountain with incredible views and each finished off a winter round of a hiking challenge. In 2018 it was Adams for the Fire Tower Challenge, 2019 was McKenzie for the Saranac Lake 6er, and in 2020 it was Jay to complete the Adirondack Blue Challenge.

    The Adirondack Blue Challenge may be unknown to many of you. It's a 10-peak challenge with each of the ten possessing excellent views. And all are fun hikes to boot. In addition to Jay you have to hike Poke-O-Moonshine, Hurricane, Loon Lake, Ampersand, Silver Lake, St Regis, Azure, Catamount, and Lyon. Hard to pick the one that has the best view but Jay is certainly a top contender.

    So, Jay on a Thursday in winter. Not busy would be an understatement. It was me and a local couple with their dog on the mountain. They were traveling light and lapped me before I could even get to the final bump before the summit. I saw them all of ten seconds on the day. The rest of the time was me alone with my thoughts and the unbelievable views that unfold as you walk the exposed ridge to get to the summit. The first half of the ascent is rather ordinary. It's about a 1900-foot climb or so to get to where the ridge walk begins. There's not a lot of snow left down low. Or up high for that matter. I started in microspikes with snowshoes strapped to my pack. I never switched out of the spikes. The damn snowshoes were dead weight on my back all day and made the hike more strenuous than it had to be.

    I was last on Jay back in 2015 on a gorgeous July day. I guess that the stunning views of that day distracted me from the various complexities of the ridge walk. There are a crapload of ups and downs plus the remaining climb to the summit. Cumulative ele gain along the ridge to the summit is ~750 feet (and another ~400 feet of ups & downs on the way out). And there are lots and lots of places where you're climbing over and around small obstacles... and a few big ones. Not a big deal in summer but in winter with a heavier pack and wearing micros it was a tad more challenging. There were a few spots I honestly could not believe people were walking given the huge drop-offs just a foot or two away but I made it through all of them safely.

    The one area I was dreading for the entire ascent was dropping down into the col between the final bump and the summit cone. That was a bit pucker-inducing. Luckily there wasn't any ice or snow on this very steep section but it was a bit precarious wearing a heavy pack with snowshoes strapped to it that were scraping against everything. It was the last ten feet approaching the bottom that had me most concerned. It was a tricky little slide down bare rock at a steep angle. I managed just fine but as I was dropping down I had the horrible realization there was no way I could climb back up it. I hoped to god there was a workaround or another route to rescale this area or I'd be going on a helluva bushwhack to regain the ridge.

    Now in the col, the only thing left was the climb to the summit. That was a circuitous route to say the least. I don't recall the path from my summer hike but in winter it seemed rather helter-skelter. I was at the summit soon enough, snapped the obligatory photos, and got moving back downhill within three minutes. I got a later start to my day than I wanted and the climb took far longer than I had estimated so I wasn't about to dilly-dally. But having enjoyed all the spectacular views along the ridge I was not disappointed to be descending after such a short stay.

    I quickly arrived back at the col and stared up at the wall of rock. Yep... no way in the world I was getting back up that 10-foot section right at the bottom. Thankfully there was another route nearby that went approximately 50-60 left (west) of there that was manageable. You still had to use your hands to do it safely but I was back atop the bump in no time. Now the ups and downs of the ridge awaited me. And with the day warming the snow got really soft. I stayed in micros but post-holed my way through the sections where the snow was deep enough for me to sink in. In case you're curious, I couldn't have switched to snowshoes even though I had them with me. The trench that was the trail was too narrow, there was far too much open rock to be clip-clopping around in snowshoes on, and the sections with snow were through areas of brush where I don't think the trail actually is. Everything was a tangle and that would have been a nightmare to get through in snowshoes. So I labored back along the ridge. Finally made it to the end and began the remaining 1900-foot descent to the car.

    Seemed like forever to get back to the parking area though it didn't end up taking any longer than other descents of this length and ele loss that I have done. Cleaned up and got rolling home. That's when I snapped back into the real world. Many of the businesses through Keene Valley were shuttered. Strange to drive by the The Noon Mark Diner late in the afternoon and have it be closed. Not a lot of people out and about. Hardly any cars on the road. Barely saw anybody on the Northway other than truckers until just north of Saratoga. The big electronic signs along the highway added a creepy air to the ride... "STAY HOME. STOP THE SPREAD." Yikes... it was like something out of an apocalypse flick. Rather surreal. My usual post-hike routine of stopping for food was called off out of caution; and necessity as there wasn't much open. Instead I forced down a painfully dry peanut butter sandwich on the ride. A very weird day out though the hike and the scenery was great.

    Oh... almost forgot... I finally broke my Grivel Ran microspikes. Popped three chains on the ascent in the exact place JoeCedar and others have had their failures on this inferior product. I think I got seven hikes out of them. Junk... although to their credit they stayed on my boots and worked well enough for the rest of the day.

    And to sum up the winter... this was a great past three months for me. I managed to get out hiking seventeen times to mountains big and small. Twenty-six summits in total... about a dozen of which were of the half to full day variety. The others were smaller that could be finished in one to three hours but I packed two or three of those into each trip north to make it worth the drive. Those twenty-six summits helped polish off six different winter hiking challenges. I am now running low on winter challenges to work on. I have just one smaller one and the W46 to complete of the fifteen or so that offer winter patches. Not sure I'll ever finish the W46 but I'll give it a go in the coming winters.

    Alas, the "official" winter hiking season has but one day left. I have grown to enjoy winter more than the other seasons and am disappointed to see it go. And even more so with the world in a state of uncertainty and global emergency right now who knows what the rest of the hiking year will bring. This winter might be the last normal hiking season we see for the foreseeable future. I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did.

    Some pics from my day...
    link to album if can't you can't see them or want a larger view...

    Start here...

    Another Gregory Karl tree (though not as good as the original)...

    Trail and lack of snow at around 3000'...

    View of the ridge walk ahead...

    First view of Whiteface...

    The remaining walk ahead. The final bump to the left and summit to the right...

    One area that had me concerned. The path approximately follows the line I've drawn. Before you get to the open rock near the top you're walking
    on a foot-wide ledge with a 40-50 foot drop-off right next to it...

  • #2
    Looking back toward one of the bumps along the ridge and Whiteface...

    Full panorama looking northwest to north...

    View southwest toward the High Peaks. Hard to make out what's what with the clouds...

    Largest cairn along the ridge. Final bump to the left and summit obscured to the right...

    A look at the bump from the other side of the col on the climb to the summit...

    Summit cairn with Whiteface in the distance...

    One last haunting look at Jay as the clouds begin to roll in...


    • #3
      Nice pics. As for HP, I think Porter and Cascade are the only ones without heads in clouds in that shot.


      • Makwa
        Makwa commented
        Editing a comment
        I think you are right. They would be at about the center of the pic. Pitchoff is to their right and I think you can see most of Street & Nye behind it. As for the Great Range and others... clouds just chopping off their tops.

    • #4
      Really clear photos. Love seeing the old cairns.


      • Makwa
        Makwa commented
        Editing a comment
        A few decent ones in there. I always have problems in winter with the crummy point & shoot I carry hiking. Happy a few came out nicely.