This will no doubt be one of if not the most interesting trip reports I’ve ever written. It was quite the day and evening!
The group at one point could have totaled 12 but due to injuries, skiing, dog sitting issue, etc. the number ended up being 5 including me. Four from VT met at the Starbuck’s on the Shelburne Road at 6:45 am, piled into my car and we headed to the Ausable Club lower lot to meet Richard who’d driven up twice in three weeks from New Jersey to join us. We signed in around 9:00 am at the ranger station at the gate, then up the Lake Road we headed with hard packed conditions, warm temps, two snowmobilers from the Club and the sun trying to peek through. At the Beaver Meadow Falls turn off, surprise of surprises, NO ONE had broken trail…oh boy!
From there to the Gothics summit, we encountered off and on ice, knee to thigh to waist deep snow (at least my waist!) and high winds with decreasing visibility. With five strong hikers taking turns breaking trail with almost no breaks, we hit the Gothics summit around 2:45 pm – six hours after we started from the Lake Road gate! Now things get interesting…as we’re descending to what we expect to be Pyramid, we encounter cables. There are no cables on the route from Gothics to Pyramid….hmmmm. With drifts and buried signage, we took a right rather than the left we should have taken and ended up on the Ore Bed Brook trail; at this point, realizing our mistake and with the tremendous amount of ice we’d encountered on the descent, we collectively and quickly agreed we were at the point of no return, so we continued down. Collecting at the Saddleback junction with quick food and drink in our bellies, DEC signage told us 2.8 miles to John’s Brook Lodge. As we headed down, we ran into the first people we’d seen since we left the Lake Road, a boarder and skier, headed up to descend the slide.
We hit JBL at 4:45 pm, where the caretaker told us there was a warming hut about 100 yards down the trail where we’d be greeted with hot chocolate by its caretaker…you didn’t have to ask any of us twice! We spent a bit of time there and then made record speed, 70 minutes, from JBL to The Garden. Headlamps came on about a mile or so into the trek, and then, The Garden parking lot…..with about a dozen dark cars and no voices to be heard but ours. I’d made a reservation at The Ausable Inn on Thursday for 5:30, so by the time we hit the lot at 6:30 and had reception, I called them and apologized profusely for our no show. The said they were booked up solid the rest of the night. Down the road we headed into Keene Valley….and lo and behold about 15 minutes into the walk, one of those cars from the lot had taken life occupied with two saints, Joe and Will, who’d just come off Big Slide. They were thankfully agreeable to take us to our cars…how fortunate were we! And they’re GMC CT members as well…very cool! I hopped in with them, then we picked up Richard who was quite a bit ahead of us and headed to our cars. $20 richer, we bade Joe and Will goodbye and then headed back to KV where Tom, Mark and Darren had been at The Ausable Inn for about 10 minutes, waiting for us outside.
I had a pretty good feeling that the Baxter Mountain Inn on top of Spruce Hill would have a table for five, an empty couch in front of their roaring fire and cold beer on tap; thankfully all of those things were true! We each made a toast around the fire as dinner was being made, ate heartily, left the restaurant at 9:00 pm sharp, light to heavy snow falling from there to Starbuck’s lot, arriving at just after 11:00 pm. A long, rewarding day! I am grateful my companions were level-headed, no one freaked out, the temps were warm, for the greeting of the warming hut caretakers and Joe and Will, our angels from the mountains!
In closing, Richard said it best at Baxter Mtn. “this hike kicked me in the head!” We all laughed but I think there was consensus in his comment! I will not soon forget this day and its memories.
Trip Participants: Richard Dabal, Mark McLane, Tom Smith, Darren Brault, Robynn Albert (leader)