Monday, August 8, 2011
How I Survived Allen Mtn: 07/27/2011
It doesn't happen often, but on Wednesday, July 27, the stars fell into alignment for Beth and me to have an entire day for outdoor activity together, without our 2 kids. The weather looked great, I scheduled the day off from work, and most importantly the kids would be at Grandma & Grandpa's house in Bolton Landing all day.
Beth: Let's hike Allen!
Jeff: Ummm... Or we could do Nippletop, you need that peak too!
Beth: No, I really want to get Allen done.
Jeff: Or... We could go rock climbing.
Beth's enthusiasm and resolve to check another peak off her list of the 46 Adirondack four thousand foot peaks is common among asipiring 46ers. And I can only blame myself, having encouraged Beth to finish her 46. What's more, I've been through this before with friends, who got caught up in "46er fever" after I finished my first round of the 46, and dragged me back to peaks I figured I'd never re-visit.
For aspiring 46ers, Allen's reputation as one of the most demanding hikes of the 46 frequently conjures up images of a 15-hour death march. I'll tell you right up front though, this wasn't a "suffer through it" hike at all. It was certainly challenging, but it was also fun, rewarding and beautiful.
We left the house at 6am and signed in at the trailhead at 7:30. I felt pretty sure we could do the hike in less than 12 hours, though it's not uncommon for some parties to take 14 hours or longer on the 18 mile round trip. I have to admit that I was a bit nervous about route-finding, since about half the hike is an officially "trailless" route and it had been nearly 20 years since I last climbed Allen. Those concerns turned out to be unwarranted, as the route is well established and very distinct the entire way.
Eventually the route leads to Skylight Brook, at the base of the mountain. From that point, the hiking becomes significantly more challenging as the route climbs steeply, first along Skylight Brook and then along Allen Brook, gaining nearly 2000 vertical feet in a mile and a half.
Allen Brook is beautiful, with numerous cascades, small falls and areas of open bedrock. The route follows the brook quite closely, frequently crossing it and at times ascending directly up the stream bed. Typical of most “trailless” peaks, there are countless boulders and downed trees to be climbed over, under and around.
Eventually, the route tops out on Allen’s summit ridge, just a short distance from the true summit. We had wanted to make the summit in 6 hours of hiking, and we hit it in 5:45. The summit is wooded, but two short paths lead to dramatic views that offer a unique perspective of the surrounding peaks.
The northern viewpoint looks straight into Panther Gorge, one of the remotest spots in all of the High Peaks region. Surrounding Panther Gorge are Skylight, Marcy and Haystack, three out of the four highest peaks in the Adirondacks. Panther Gorge is visible from very few other locations, and to see it up close and dramatically framed by its surrounding peaks is a treat, a view that can't be duplicated from any other of the 46.
The second viewpoint, which looks out to the north and east, is almost just as nice. The peaks are more distant, with Giant and the Dix range forming the horizon line. Dial, Nippletop, Colvin and Blake are closer in, but hard to pick out against the backdrop of the other peaks. Below Allen is a broad valley containing the Boreas Ponds and Marcy Stillwater, another remote and rarely visited part of the High Peaks.
After maybe 40 minutes on the summit we began our descent, really too short of a time for a summit that I may not re-visit for another 20 years. It's hard to keep a fast pace on the steep herd path along Allen Brook, but eventually the route flattens out and our pace picked up. We arrived back at the trailhead a little more than 5 hours after leaving the summit, and nearly 12 hours after signing the trail register at the start of the hike.
In a way, it's too bad that Allen doesn't get more visitation - it's mostly just climbed by hikers seeking to become 46ers. The beautiful route up Allen Brook and the dramatic summit views from Allen's unique position in the High Peaks more than compensate the hiker for his effort. You can drag me back there anytime.
Allen Mountain, elevation 4347', order of height: 25. First ascent 1921, Bob and George Marshall and Herbert Clark. Approximate round-trip distance from Upper Works: 18 miles. Approximate vertical ascent: 3200'.