After a mile or so of very enjoyable creekside hiking, the Gill Brook trail angled away from the watercourse, but still continuing up in a more or less straight line towards Elk Pass. Presently we started to encounter a series of trail junctions, where side trails led off to various points of interest: Indian Head, Fish-hawk Cliffs, and the trail leading up to Colvin and Blake. I had forgotten that this upper part of the Gill Brook trail gains quite a bit of altitude, and in quite a steep manner. Fortunately, even though there was now clearly a decent snowpack (which had gradually established itself as we ascended), the tread of the trail was a very firm hard-pack surface and footing with our microspikes was perfect.
Upper Fish Hawk Cliffs Jct
Gothics through the Trees
Not far beyond the junction to Colvin (we stayed left, heading for Elk Pass), the steepness of the trail finally relented, and we began a side traverse along a lower flank of Colvin towards Elk Pass. So far we were doing great - keeping a good pace, enjoying the beautiful sun and great trail conditions.
We arrived at Elk Pass shortly after 11:30 a.m. The small ponds here at the pass were solidly frozen over and the sun was out with some intensity. Shielded by some nearby trees, it was actually rather balmy out on the surface of the pond, and we dropped our packs here for lunch. Our new friend Robert happened by as we were eating (he had turned off to visit Indian Head and Fish Hawk Cliffs, but had now caught up to us).
After a relaxing lunch break at Elk Pass, we saddled up and prepared for the main challenge of the day - the steep ascent up from Elk Pass to the ridgecrest of Nippletop Mountain. I estimated a rougly one-thousand foot ascent.
The trail wound around, between and across the pond and marshes of Elk Pass, then passed a couple of backcountry camping spots, then immediately began up a steep pitch. Fortunately, the trail conditions continued as before, with a firm but not icy base. Microspikes continued to work perfectly.
We did our usual quarter-k ascent break methodology on the climb up towards Nippletop's ridgeline. Above 4,000 feet, we started to get glimpses of the broad expanse of the Great Range to our backs, and by 4,250 feet, there were frequent open areas where the majesty of the snow-covered Adirondacks was on full display.
Deep snowpack = in the brush
As we approached the Nippletop ridgeline, I realized that I had made a mistake with my blatherings down at Elk Pass. The summit of Nippletop is at 4620 feet (not 4460 as I had somehow misremembered). That meant our ascent up to the ridgeline from the pass was 1,250 feet of gain, not 1000 feet. My apologies, Brian. One more quarter-K break needed!
Final steps to the ridgecrest
A bit of extra effort soon brought us to the crest. Notably, the sign at the junction with Nippletop ridgeline trail was nearly buried - it was just barely poking above the snow. That meant that (unlike down in Keene Valley, where there was virtually no snow at all) there was a quite healthy five-to-six foot snowpack up here.
The initially-broad ridge that had started just beyond the gates of the AMR land down in St Huberts had up here narrowed down to - if not quite a knife's edge ridge - something still fairly narrow, as it neared its culmination at the summit of Nippletop. And we were now only 0.2 trail-signed miles of that narrow ridgeline away from that summit.
The thick snowpack elevated us up just enough to turn the normally mostly-treed-in walk to the summit into a much more open-air, scenery-filled journey. Frequently we could look left or right and see big vistas - right to the Great Range, and left to the hulking mass of Dix Mountain, barely more than a mile away to the south. A high haze that had muted things during our ascent was now clearing away, allowing the nearby peaks to be better delineated against a blue sky (or at least a less white sky).
A brief dip along the ridgeline into the trees was followed by an immediate rise back up to the pointed tip of Nippletop itself. Although treed on one side, the summit has a beautiful north-facing ledge that allows for a full 180-degree view towards the Great Range and the highest peaks of the Adirondacks. We set up a tripod for a summit shot and celebrated Brian's winter summit on Nippletop. This was his 23rd winter Adirondack 46R summit, and this meant he was now exactly halfway complete to his full winter 46.