I find I take away something new many times on hikes. I had two today. One, charge your damned camera battery. Two, never, NEVER, go two months without hiking again.
So no pictures for this one, but it's not like we got great views in any case. The plan was for Jay Peak, Big Jay, and Gilpin just across the street. We arrived after a two and a half hour drive at the pass on Rt. 242 south of the ski area with only one other car in the lot, some skiers heading up to Big Jay, which I read is popular for its steeps off the east side. I tested the trail, and it was firmish, but not quite supportive everywhere, so snowshoes were the order of the day.
We caught up to the skiers ahead of us, and found they were following a single ski track on the track, so it was trail breaking time. Being in the lead, I went ahead, but the grade and my lack of fitness ruled this out for me pretty quick. My legs and stamina were crap, and seeing we only gained two or three hundred feet with about 1500 let me know I was in for a long slog, despite a measly 1.7 miles to the summit from the road.
We came to a place where the track diverged from the trail to the left, so we followed that figuring it'd meet back up with the trail. The woods were mostly open, but we'd occasionally be swiping some branches aside. We could see, however, that we were slowly moving away from the trail, but kept on the track for the easier breaking, hoping for a turn. This never happened, so we made the turn uphill. Urf. We (well, Greg and Brian) were busting through about 1.5 feet of powder, so even from behind it was lousy footing. We plodded upward, and after some time noticed the skiers, right on trail. Gurf.
So, we had easier going again, caught up to them again, and took the lead again, probably much to their relief. We then lost the trail yet again. Mind you, the trail corridor, due to the high snow depth, was only about 3 feet tall. Now add that the woods are largely hardwoods. Oh yes, and the blazes are of course white, on trees plastered with snow. Yeah, it wasn't obvious. We wandered back and forth to no avail, coming to thick pockets to be avoided, and just decided after much slow plodding to hit the ridge line. Greg and I both remembered a ski run near the bump, and as we were heading up, he came across the skier's tracks again. They must have thought us quite the newbs, but hey, it's not our fault we're comfortable being off trail. :)
Once again catching up, we took the lead yet again, but came to a ski run, and took that the remainder of the way. We came to our first Québécois, who was asking about the route to Big Jay. None of us having been there, we did the best we could to provide instructions, although him telling us we weren't going to Big Jay. We know, we say, we're going to Jay Peak first. Ah, says he, I'll see you on Big Jay, where men are real men. I had to snicker at that.
The peak was windy and cold, and it was now starting to snow steadily. We looked up to the stairs to the summit, we looked at the summit building, we decided on warmth first, peak second. Much to our delight, there was a deli. And warmth. And I became warm. Soggy but warm. Greg got a $13 burger and fries, I settled for the $5 beer, being the first person of the day to get one. Such a degenerate. We talked about Big Jay, and knowing a one mile herd path lay between us and it, and the questionable nature of it being broken out (especially considering even the Long Trail hadn't been broken), we pulled that peak out of the equation, which was fine by me. The snow for the long ride back was also weighing in our minds. The hike up took a lot out of me. I was still planning on Gilpin, given less than a mile and 800' of gain.
We left, tagged the peak in a totally expedient manner and heading back to the trail. Oh yeah, this was going to be a quick trip down until we met... THE HOARDS. Now there were lots of people heading up, and most groups we saw up top were asking if this led to the summit. We were confused at first, until we realized people must have been taking our tracks off the trail. Oops! I would've felt bad, but people have to fend for themselves, and pay attention. Besides, all tracks went to the summit. We assured everybody there were no more side paths. We came to one group of Québécois, clearly trying to figure out which way to go. It was a three way intersection, two ways coming from downhill, one way going up. Go up, says I. In front of me was a woman with her back to me talking with another who clearly wanted to go on the (ours, as it turns out) side track. This went on and on, and finally I said “could I get by you please?” Despite being a foot away, her back remained turned. I waited, and the guy now behind me is talking to them, but they won't budge. Finally I say a bit more loudly “excusez-moi” which did the trick, and pointed the way.
Given the proximity to the border (less than 10 miles), I can see the popularity of this area with the Québécois, and we more groups of them and others heading up, smiling and saying hello, occasionally answering questions as to how far, and advising on the track splits, which we noticed were many more than the two spots we veered off. Ah well, all this will be obliterated with the coming snowstorm.
Despite my muscles being way out of shape, I was in great spirits. It was such a relief to finally be hiking again, and as usual, we were laughing our asses off much of the way. We'd just take one thing, and keep piling on with funny comments. At one point I was laughing enough so I didn't see the branch that met my head.
There's some minor PUDs on the way down, and that's all I needed to know Gilpin was out of the question. Dang it. We hit the lot, now full, at around 12:30, and I insisted the guys go ahead and tag Gilpin, figuring it would only take 1.5 hours given what I saw as firm footing on the trail. So I hung at the car, and sure enough at 2:00 they were back. “You wouldn't have liked it,” Greg said. Turns out it was trail breaking the whole way, although they followed a more direct ski track instead of the completely unbroken trail. Yeah, I would've slowed that whole trip down, and I was impressed with the speed they still managed. An hour to get up, 20 minutes down.
The roads were sketchy most of the way, and I was glad I had Brian pick me up at the house to avoid trying to get up my hill in my crappy traction car, even though the hill wasn't bad by the time we got back. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to recharge my camera battery, and start planning next weekend. I need my stamina back!