Friday, January 4, 2008

Mountain Visions New Years Day (almost) Sunrise On Rooster Comb

Leaving home at 3:30am and heading for Keene Valley for a 6:00am start, I thought I might sneak in a New Years sunrise before the weather turned snowy. Sometimes you just don't luck out. Despite the weather looking like it would cooperate and solid selection on the mountain, the sun never rose.

Well, obviously it rose, or you wouldn't be reading this, it just wasn't visible through the thick cloud cover.

After consulting my memory and then National Geographic Topo! Norteast I settled on a few possible options. The criteria were decent views, less than 3.5 miles and fairly easy to ascend. Afterall, I was hiking on 24 hours without sleep by the time I got back down. Rooster Comb, Hopkins, Noonmark, and Cascade all came to mind.

After checking out the azimuth of the sunrise and using the line of sight tool on the Topo! to make sure I had a clear view of the heading, I opted for Rooster Comb which was a fairly short 1:15 minute drive from home.

Rooster Comb is the traditional start of the Great Range Traverse and a mere 2700ft compared to the 4000ft height of the rest of the peaks beyond Hedgehog Mountain. It's about 3 miles from the trail head and a fairly nice hike with a lot of switch backs. The mountain has a nice open summit with 270* views, but the views are about average because the surrounding peaks block out any significant long range views. However, you peer right down Keene Valley, and the sun just happened to be rising behind the valley.

After putting on my boots and gaiters I was a little ahead of schedule but the weather wasn't looking like the 10am snow start that was predicted. After listening the the comedy channel on Sirius for a few minutes longer we started out at 5:50am. By the time we signed in at the register and I adjusted my poles and snowshoes it was 6am.

The issue wasn't getting to the summit early for me, but for Caney. He doesn't have a winter coat grown in yet and he gets cold easily when not moving, so getting there without too much standby time is key.

The weather was great, I hiked in my usual goretex bibs, and a thin base layer top under my goretex shell. Warm enough to unzip the pit zips and hike gloveless without a hat. When I left at 3:30a the temp in Lake Placid was about 18F so I'm guessing it was about 15-20F when we started, and windless.

After about 45minutes it was light enough to hike sans headlamp, but it was also snowing quite hard. Then just as I'd given up hope for a clean sunrise the snow stopped and it seemed to be getting clearer.

As we approached the summit, I could see some orange around the horizon but the sunrise was not to be. While it stopped snowing for about 45 minutes, it never cleared up and that faint orange glow behind the clouds was as good as it got.

We spent 25 minutes up there, of course the wind really picked up after sunrise (gusting to 25mph in Plattsburg at sea level), but nothing ever got photographically interesting. The trip down is fairly steep at the top, and well below the summit there are several chances to cut the switch backs and go cross country to link up with the trail. We really cut a few minutes off here and there and the deeper powder (about 3ft+) was more interesting then the well packed trail.

The hike out was very snowy with perhaps an inch falling. The poor weather was a great test for the weathproofness and usability in the cold of the K10D, as I looked to salvage the morning from a photographic standpoint . The camera and FA 28-70 f/4 lens handled the weather quite well, and even on digital this lens as been a workhorse for me since I bought it in 1998. (perhaps one of the best 28-70 zooms made from a performance to size standpoint, and only a stop slower but much lighter than most "pro" 2.8 zooms which I prefer not to carry while hiking).

The drive home was spoiled by flat landers and downstaters. Yep, I'm a geographic bigot and proud of it. If you can't handle the snow don't come to the North Country! My drive time doubled as people made their way home to their meager existence, in a life of expensive misery, in the sprawling metropolis of downstate NY and the equally crappy New Jersey.

So Happy New Year!!!

(Day 1 of 365...and I'm 1/1, solid 1.000 batting average, undefeated!!...if I could only keep this average till next Jan 1st I'd litterally be a happy camper).

Me 1-1-08 @ 7:30am on the summit of Rooster Comb Mtn.

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