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Old 05-15-2020, 04:25 PM   #1
rbi99
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Hiking herd trails

I'm hoping things clear up by early September so I can hike into Colden again with my dogs. While there I want to climb Marshall (I've been on top of everything else there minus Cliff). My question is this: if many fewer people end up hiking Marshall this summer than normal, how much more difficult - if any - is finding your way up the herd trail?
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Old 05-15-2020, 04:58 PM   #2
Woodly
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Originally Posted by rbi99 View Post
I'm hoping things clear up by early September so I can hike into Colden again with my dogs. While there I want to climb Marshall (I've been on top of everything else there minus Cliff). My question is this: if many fewer people end up hiking Marshall this summer than normal, how much more difficult - if any - is finding your way up the herd trail?
My guess, it won't be any more difficult. I'd bet on plenty of foot traffic on all trails and paths.
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Old 05-15-2020, 05:20 PM   #3
DSettahr
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Nearly all of the herd paths do receive some level of official maintenance- even if it's just occasional blowdown cut out by authorized volunteers. However, it is probable that if we did get a major storm that caused a lot of blowdown, that the efforts to cut the herd paths (and even trails) back open again could be stymied by the COVID-19 situation. I think it's more or less a given that trail maintenance resources are going to be limited at best for the 2020 season (more limited than usual, anyways).

In the absence of a major blowdown event, though: All of the main herd paths on the "trail-less" High Peaks are so well beaten down that at this point I think it would take at least the better part of a decade's worth of low use levels for the paths to fade enough that navigating them is substantially more challenging. Assuming we don't get any major storms (and associated blowdown) I wouldn't be particularly concerned that any of the High Peaks herd paths (the main ones, at least) are going to become substantially more difficult to follow any time soon.

My observation has been that for most hikers these days, the majority of the navigational challenge really isn't in following the herd paths- while the herd paths do tend to be a bit brushier than the marked trails, the tread is nevertheless clear as day. Rather, it seems that unmarked junctions on the herd paths (especially the more "complex" herd path networks such as those seen in the Dix Range, the Santanoni Range, and even the Seward Range) are causing most of the navigational challenge for the typical High Peaks hiker. A lot of hikers are visibly struggling even with locating the start of the herd paths, as well as figuring out which way to go at the junctions encountered once they are on the herd paths. I think a lot of this is due to folks not researching the routes in advance.

As much as I hate to admit, though, I agree with Woody... I have very little faith in the hiking community at this point to practice social distancing. From what I've been observing elsewhere already, I think the 2020 season is shaping up to be one of the busiest seasons we've seen in the backcountry yet.

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Old 05-20-2020, 01:53 PM   #4
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If it *is* harder to find/navigate, you'll just have a more authentic 46er experience, rather than the more recent, well traveled & partly maintained, routes. And more solitude!
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Old 05-27-2020, 11:20 AM   #5
DSettahr
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If it *is* harder to find/navigate, you'll just have a more authentic 46er experience, rather than the more recent, well traveled & partly maintained, routes. And more solitude!
My first "trail-less" High Peak was Seward, in August of 2005. At the time, the braided network of herd paths on that peak hadn't yet been consolidated into a single, well-worn path (with side paths brushed in). I definitely remember that we lost a decent amount of time on the ascent due to being forced to use some measure of trial and error at every fork where the path split... not every fork eventually rejoined the main route, quite a few petered out. We'd planned to try to do the entire range that day, but due in part to lost time courtesy of our guess and check method of navigation, we only ended up summiting Seward.

In October of that same year, I climbed my second "trail-less" High Peak- Seymour. The herd path up that peak had already been consolidated into a single route by then. I distinctly remember going prepared for conditions similar to what I'd experienced on Seward a few months prior, and being pleasantly surprised at how much easier the navigation was than I'd anticipated.

My first attempt at Cliff and Redfield, in December of 2005 (so still the same year as above) was also cut short due to less than clear tread with no shortage of of false side routes. My group gave up and returned to our camp at Lake Colden without summiting either peak. When we returned a year later, in late Fall of 2006, the herd paths had been clarified and consolidated (including combining the start of both paths into a single point of origin near the Uphill Lean-to). On our return visit, we faced none of the navigational challenges that had plagued our first attempt the year prior.

So yeah, it's definitely gotten substantially easier to navigate the so called "trail-less" High Peaks than it was 20 or even 15 years ago. You can still find remnants of the old sucker holes on the "trail-less" High Peaks if you look for them. For example, at Herald square in the Santanoni Range, if you step over the copious piles of brush on the west side of the junction, you'll find a still-obvious path that, when followed, returns you right back to Herald Square after about 5-10 minutes of hiking. I would have to imagine that particular false path has caused no shortage of expletives over the years.

(Again, pertaining to not researching a route in advance: I would bet that particular example of a false route formed due to groups not realizing that there's two main junctions atop the Santanoni ridge- the 3 way junctions at Herald Square and Times Square. I think many expect a single 4-way junction- so they get to Herald Square and they start looking for the path west to Couch, not realizing that it's at a separate junction a short distance south.)
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