Ascent of Fir Mountain on 2011-01-08

Climber: Debbie Melita

Others in Party:Jon Hartsel
Jim Bonadonna
David Lloyd
Date:Saturday, January 8, 2011
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Fir Mountain
    Location:USA-New York
    Elevation:3620 ft / 1103 m

Ascent Trip Report

I led an AMC group of 4 backpackers (Jon, Jim, David and myself), plus special guests peak-bagger day hikers niceguyted and FatVegan (who joined us for just Saturday) on a 2-day winter hike. The planned route of approx. 17 miles would take us over Fir, Big Indian, Eagle and Balsam. Early on Saturday, the roads were already clear of snow and we met at our end point at the Lost Clove Trail PA (plowed) where we left a car, then dropped the NGT/FV vehicle at McKinley Hollow (plowed) where they would finish, and then drove down to start at the Pine Hill West Branch (Biscuit Brook) Trail (PA plowed). Everyone was in a great mood and ready to go on a surprisingly sunny morning. We put on our snowshoes and didn’t take them off all day.

The first 2 miles up to the Biscuit Brook lean-to junction went quickly and smoothly as we hiked in approx. 6 – 8 inches of fresh snow. A few of us took turns breaking trail while others took some lovely winter photos (IMHO, just as important a task). We continued a short distance further until between the two branches of the brook and took a bearing towards Fir. From that point forward, niceguyted led and broke trail the ENTIRE day, acting as expert navigator (thanks again, Ted) . The climb up Fir was absolutely beautiful: covered in light, snowy powder that glistened everywhere. Most of us removed our outer layer and wore just a base layer, enjoying the warm sun and dry, windless day. It was only until we got near the summit that we put our shells back on, in order to avoid getting soaked by the occasional snow dump from large packs brushing branches overhead. Jon needed Fir for his Winter 35s, so I asked him to lead us to the canister. After a somewhat circuitous route, he found it and we stopped for a short lunch break. David was experiencing leg cramps, so I fed him some Miso soup and Ted shared some Nuun tablets, both of which seemed to help. After that, I struggled to warm up my hands and told the group I’d catch up, so Ted headed north while I tried to figure out a way to position my hand warmers inside my gloves so that my fingerTIPS would somehow benefit from their heat (solution: use mitten shells :-). I got going and started to follow their path when, oddly enough, I heard voices behind me. Turns out Ted unintentionally took a victory lap back to the canister. Let’s try this again, shall we?

The second attempt went much better. He headed north for a short distance, then turned west and nailed the Catskill Divide land bridge between the two peaks perfectly. After enjoying the open woods and fairly level terrain for a while, we started to climb up the side of Big Indian as snow flurries started to fall. Most of us had a few stumbles during the day and on the way up to Fir, my snowshoe had gotten caught under an unseen root and I went down; feeling my ankle twist slightly and pull a bit, but with no pain. As we ascended Big Indian, I was climbing up a large rock and dropped my heel to position my foot and felt an excruciating pain along the back of my ankle (Damn you Achilles!). Many curse words later, I popped up the Televator heel-lift on my MSR snowshoe, which seemed to help enough to get me moving again without pain. I slowed my pace and walked more carefully; once in a while it would give me a warning twinge but luckily, I was able to keep moving with only a little discomfort. However, this definitely concerned me. FatVegan played caboose to make sure that both David and I were doing okay (thanks again, Scott) . Over time, my ankle started to feel better and could move less tentatively.

After one last uphill push, we reached the canister at Big Indian and saw that Laurie Rankin and TFR had already been there (see TR), kindly breaking out the route back down to the PHWB trail (thanks!) Back on-trail, the light started to fade, so Ted and Scott wisely decided to start moving at their normal, faster pace and leave our group behind. We had only another 2 miles to get to the Shandaken lean-to, but they still had 6 miles left before reaching their car at McKinley Hollow (see Ted's short non-TR). Seeing that David was still feeling less than 100% and keeping my ankle in mind, they generously offered to take his key and bring his car up to the McKinley Hollow PA in case we needed an early bail-out the next day. This was just another in a series of kindnesses they provided (in addition to the expected jokes) throughout the day. I’d be hard-pressed to find two better humans. So off they ran like a couple of snowshoe hare ninjas and broke out the trail that we would follow the next day.

The remaining group of backpackers put on our headlamps and continued north to the junction with the Seager-Big Indian trail. Turning west, we saw that the trail was already broken out and realized we were still reaping the benefits of Tom and Laurie’s efforts. We walked the last mile downhill in the dark and set up our tents (though David decided just to sleep in the lean-to, despite carrying his tent all day). Warm clothes (down booties – yay!) and a hot meal soon followed, and we were all quite happy and comfortable. Jim’s back was bothering him, so he opted to go to bed early and missed brownies for dessert, so I saved his for breakfast (what better way to start the day?). The rest of us followed suit about an hour later and we all slept fairly well, with only an occasional stirring in reaction to the mounting wind.

Next morning dawned cold and windy, with evidence of a small amount of snow accumulation, but everyone was in good spirits. The climb back up to the PHWB trail is a great warm-up in the morning and we were feeling strong by the time we turned north again. Luckily, I felt no pain in my ankle and had only one warning twinge that said “take care of me today.”

The snowshoe tracks created the night before by NGT/FV were half-filled in again from the overnight snow, but still easy to follow. The next section of the trail, over Eagle and Haynes, is one of my favorites. No open views, but winter wonderland pine forests and a morning stillness that never fails to bring me peace: this is why I come here. I stepped off-trail to run a quick lap around the summit cairn on Eagle and waited for Jon to advise him to do the same. The wind started to pick up and we covered our faces to protect them from the cold gusts. When we reached the 4-way junction before Balsam, we considered the high winds and minor maladies, and all decided to take the early out and exit via the McKinley Hollow trail. So we only went 14 miles and climbed 3 out of 4 peaks, but it was still a wonderful winter weekend!
Summary Total Data
    Route Conditions:
Bushwhack, Snow on Ground
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles, Snowshoes, Tent Camp
Ascent Part of Trip: Central Catskills Winter Backpack (1 nights total away from roads)

Complete Trip Sequence:
1Fir Mountain2011-01-08 
3Eagle Mountain2011-01-09 

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