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Old 09-08-2018, 03:29 PM   #1
Neil's Avatar
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 6,034
Hoffman Notch 6-ter.

Hoffman Notch Wilderness. Never going back!

Have you ever been wanting to do a hike for a long time, turned it over and over in your mind and finally doing it? This was one of those hikes for me. After since Cory and I did Bailey Hill to Washburn and then Gérald and I did a Bailey to Texas Ridge traverse I thought about doing the six 3,000 footers in one day. I drew it out and on-paper it looked feasible. Two weeks ago I attempted it and after Texas-Hoffman, Blue Ridge and B. Ridge West before I (very wisely) called it a day.
Then on Friday, September 7 I went back with a better route plan and an earlier start and did all six.

One of the things I did, for expediency was print up a table with compass bearings and elevations for a total of 25 direction changes. For example, on Blue Ridge, elev. 1060 meters dial in 265. This was a time saver but didn't work perfectly and on a few occasions I checked my GPS to get myself lined up just the way I wanted. I kept the GPS running and recording but kept is stowed in the top of my pack. I didn't want the distraction of checking it thinking it was always faster to dial in a bearing and follow the compass. I didn't even check my (5) printed maps very often.

At 6 am, with headlamp still on I had been on the Hoffman Notch trail for an hour already and began the whack of Washburn and immediately encountered cliffs in the pre-dawn gloom. Something seemed off. I had gotten the elevation for where I would leave the trail from CalTopo and by following the compass bearings I wound up on the summit ridge 3/8 of a mile “past” the summit. My altimeter had the correct elevation so whatever it was that screwed up, I'll never know. I did a round trip to the summit and returned to the notch I wanted then followed 2 different compass bearings to the top of Bailey Hill, 2.2 miles and two hours away. Open woods the whole way.

I was front-ending my elevation gain. Total on the day was about 6000 feet and Wash-Bailey accounted for 2500'. Getting to Texas Ridge, 3 miles away, would add on another 1800 to the tally. After that there were 5 ascents of roughly 350 feet each and I would be done!

My main concern was running out of daylight before my final two major descents: 1500 feet off of my final summit, Blue Ridge West and another 800 from Hornet Cobble to the trail. Already, going up Texas Ridge I was adding up the hours: From Hoffman to Blue Ridge 90 mins, maybe only an hour to West etc. etc. It was going to be tight but I felt I could handle the 800 foot drop from Hornet in the dark, having done it 2 weeks prior. There was one set of cliffs....

Going up Texas Ridge, the heart of my day, elevation gain-wise, I was pacing myself very carefully, mindful of what was still to come. Suddenly I felt an irresistible urge and had to drop trou right away. Worst diarrhea I've had in years, several episodes worth. This did not bode well. It meant I was probably not absorbing any nutrients (home made protein drink with sugar, coffee and chocolate – the foundation of the day's nutrition, supplemented with tuna sandwiches). And, what if I became really ill? If I turned around the trail was only 30 minutes away. If I went over Texas I was commited to the entire hike. However, I felt fine and was moving well. I decided to continue on.

The thing with the route I was following is that once you drop off of Texas Ridge (and especially Texas East) you are committed to doing the entire hike. There are no bailouts left and Hoffman, Blue Ridge and Blue Ridge West and Hornet Cobble make for a formidable bushwhack. So from now on I was committed to doing all 6 peaks plus going up and over Hornet Cobble. After Texas East I angled my way up onto the Hoffman ridge and trudged up to the summit. I was pretty much right on time, 10 minutes behind my calculated/hoped-for time. I stopped, switched maps, ate a few bights of sandwich, dialed in a new bearing and adjusted my altimeter (10 meters off only). It was around 3 pm and the light was becoming gorgeous but I hurried off. I dreaded the next section (long up and down traverse between Hoffman and Blue Ridge) and in spite of following a better line than 2 weeks ago I was now into the thickest and gnarliest bushwhacking of the day and constantly getting pinged by stiletto branches. They make a ping sound when they break off while stabbing you. The abuse had begun getting up and over the two Texasses but from here on in it intensified. My skin was getting raw and tender and torn up. The worst was when the spruce branches, like razor-wire, dragged across the exact same spot on my neck. I had been going non-stop now for almost 11 hours.

I was just about out of water. My 2nd refill (2 liters- double treated) had been murky beaver dam water just before starting up Texas. I had filled between Hoffman and Blue Ridge 2 weeks ago and the flow had almost dried up completely. Had it been just a bit drier I'd have been required to wander downstream a ways to find water. Took a while but I got another 2 liters. One would have sufficed but now I didn't trust my final source in Hornet Notch. The water was brown, coming from a swamp and I double treated it again. Blue Ridge, my 5th peak was only 330 feet above me. Getting pinged by branches I made my way up slowly and steadily being ever so conscious of the need to pace myself. I had to wait 30 minutes before I could drink my water and my mouth and throat were like sandpaper.

I decided to try a different line into the Blue Ridge-B. Ridge West col and indeed it was wide open except I then had to traverse and bust a broad ridge which nullified the time saving and ate up more energy than saved. I wanted to be on West by 5:30 and in Hornet Notch by 6:30 so as to begin the final drop to the trail at 7. Then I made a tactical error by going up Blue West along a different line than 2 weeks ago. I got stuck in brutally thick blowdown and re-growth and besides losing precious time deployed energy like a drunken sailor traversing back to my previous track, which wasn't that bad to begin with. The light seemed to be fading quickly but I was on the east side of the peak. I felt very vulnerable.

Below the summit I made a second tactical error deciding to avoid a bit of rock climbing, thinking I was too fatigued for it to be safe. I zigged right and then had to fight and claw my way through evil blowdown making ridiculously slow progress with my chest pounding as if to burst open. Then I remembered that 2 weeks ago I had climbed up the little rock face to avoid nightmare blowdown. I had clean forgot about that. I lost a good 20 minutes getting to the summit and was behind my hoped-for time. No matter how much I drank I was constantly thirsty.

Once I crossed the summit I was back in full, late-afternoon daylight and my bearing was directly in line with sun. I broke out of the cover briefly and had views that were to die for. However, the woods refused to open up as quickly as two weeks ago and my skin and quads were really getting torn up. The slope was extremely steep with many drop-offs, chunky rocks and hidden holes. Watching the time I couldn't imagine descending that in darkness. How would you see the drop-offs and the holes?

1500 feet of descent by bushwhack towards the end of a long day can seem to go on forever but I knew I would be down in an hour. I watched the time and kept myself pointed at the sinking sun, which disappeared behind Washburn and finally, I broke out into the clearing at Hornet Notch. No water, not a drop. And I was now fresh out. In the last of the daylight I keenly felt my alone-ness, having been going at it in this empty wilderness since 5am. I sat down and got ready with my headlamps, popped some Tylenol and Ibu (the skin around my shoulders and armpits was burning and red hot from being soaked in sweat all day) used the GPS to double-check my bearing and reluctantly got off my ass. The 350 climb (110 meters) up to Hornet Cobble is very, very steep and I was obviously tired so with every 20 meters of ascent I stopped and waited until my breathing and chest-pounding subsided. Time was no longer important. Looking straight up I could see some remaining light behind the canopy.

I turned a headlamp on (I had two out, one for a backup) and began the drop. Part-way down I saw the cliffs and side-hilled around them. The descent turned out to be fairly straightforward but I went extremely carefully and gingerly until I saw the brook. The trail was on the other side and after a 35 minute stroll I unlocked my car and pulled a cold beer out of the cooler, drank half while changing, poured out the rest and drove home.
The best, the most successful adventurer, is the one having the most fun.

Last edited by Neil; 09-08-2018 at 03:41 PM..
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