The steep slope up to Porter's ridgecrest was horrible. There was yet more horrible blowdown (I'd seen enough so far this winter!). Basically the entire stretch of trail from the 3000 to 3700 foot level was a maze of huge fallen trees, weak crusty 'break-through' snow, and post-hole-ruined trail (the last people through here had left lots of huge annoying postholes in what was then soft snow, making things even more difficult). This tiring bit of trail started to wear down on Brian, Ewart, and Maureen, and our spirits were significantly lower as we finally crested Porter's ridge.
Up here on Porter's ridge, the temperatures were colder and the wind was brisk, even in the trees. Due to the slow pace up through the blowdown and the quite cold temps, my toes were quite cold, which is unusual for me even in the dead of winter. I started on a long course of toe-wiggling, which eventually did thaw them out.
Blueberry mountain from above
I was happy to be up on the ridge - I expected all of the trail difficulties would now be behind us. They were, fortunately, because as we were walking along towards Porter's summit, an awful thought struck Brian. He had forgotten the keys for his Accord in the CR-V, which was back at our start point!! Brian had managed to repeat his faux-pas of six years before on a hike up Haystack mountain. Gotta watch that Connell guy more closely in the future!!
As the realization of this sunk in, there were many different suggestions. Ewart wanted to head back down the way we came to the CR-V, aborting our hike. I thought it would be best to continue, since we'd come most of the distance and the way down consisted of much better trail and much less elevation loss. We also mused about skipping the Cascade mountain portion of the trip. It was getting fairly late, and it was cold, windy, and people were tired, and now we had no way to warm up at the end of the trail!
By the time we got to Porter's summit, a low cloud had enveloped us. The wind had increased to near gale force, and the temperature was below -20C (without the wind chill). I took a brief snap or two on Porter's summit, and then we quickly headed down into the cover of the trees. At the Porter-cascade junction, we decided to skip Cascade and instead head straight down to the trailhead. I went on ahead at a near-running pace, hoping to overtake some late-day hikers that I might convince to take me around to the other trailhead. Barring that, I'd have to hitchhike or walk the whole way around (not a pleasant prospect).
I encountered not a soul during my semi-run down to the trailhead. There were no cars at all, and dusk was fast approaching. I carefully went up to Brian's locked car, undid most of the stuff attached to my pack, including the snowshoes, crampons, and ice ax (didn't want to hitchhike with what might be considered weapons attached to me). I then took off my outer winter layers, which were coated in frost and snow, took off my balaclava, fixed my hair, and in general tried to make myself look less like a crazed grizzly adams and more like a mild-mannered highway hitchiker (or what I imagined a non-threatening highway hitchhiker might look like!)
Andrew and Jenn on Summit
After a deep breath, out went the thumb. To my amazement, the first vehicle by, a dark chevy/GMC pickup, drove by a few hundred feet, then slowed and stopped. I could not believe my good fortune. I quickly ran down the road and explained my predicament. The driver cheerily professed to understand. 'Sure, throw your stuff in the bed and climb in'.
The warm cab of the truck was a welcome change from the cold and rapidly darkening winter night. I introduced myself, and the driver introduced herself as Mary. She figured I was in a bit of a bind, and thought I looked 'pretty non-threating' (guess my little makeover worked!). As we drove around to Marcy field, I began to get the sense that she was a prominent and well-known local. In fact, she had done some hiking herself, knew lots about the goings-on of the area (she was from Upper Jay), and had even made an offer to buy a favourite motel of high peaks hikers: the Ark motel. She seemed like a well-liked and well-connected denizen of the high peaks region. And I was very grateful that I had stuck out my thumb at exactly the moment I did!
Mary dropped me off at the CR-V in short order, graciously refusing my offer to pay her for her trouble. Thank you, Mary Brandt!
I fired up the car and sped back to the Cascade trailhead, hoping to get back before the rest of the group had to stand around in the cold for too long. Fortunately, only Pu and Maureen had gotten back, and then only for a few minutes. I quickly located Brian's keys and ran up and fetched the car, hoping to warm it up before the rest arrived. Brian and Ewart made it back about 15 to 20 minutes later, and soon we were all sitting in the Subway at a Saranac Lake gas station having a well-earned bite of food to eat.
Interactive Trackmap with photo points - click map to expand
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain:
Total Elevation Loss:
* : +/- 75 feet
Elevation profile over distance