I finally got around to hiking Allen yesterday. Feared by some for its length and remoteness (20 miles round trip from the trailhead) and slippery red algae covering its rock surfaces, Allen was ranked as the most difficult high peak in my unofficial 46er survey from a few months ago. Despite the rumored challenges, I went into it expecting to fully enjoy the day, knowing that the first (and last) six miles were mostly a flat walk, and having been assured that by stepping carefully one can avoid the algae if hiking in dry conditions. Luckily the weather gods had blessed us with a stretch of sunny, dry days.
The flat walk in on the Hanging Spear Falls trail was reminiscent in parts of the Calamity Brook trail from Upper Works. It wove through various terrains spanning grasslands, forest, and dense thicket. We began the hike wearing water shoes, as about a tenth of a mile in from the trailhead is the first of two water crossings, the Hudson and Opalescent Rivers, both of which were about ankle deep. As I was lacing up my boots on the bank of the Opalescent, I recognized a fellow blogger making her way across the water. It was nice to meet her and her dad in person!
The trail passes by two lakes – Lake Jimmy and Lake Sally. The floating bridge over Lake Jimmy has yet to be repaired and the official trail now winds around the lake, adding a bit of mileage to the day. Pools of oil* are visible on the trail through this section; I’ve heard that many years ago oil drums were buried in the ground and have started to corrode, but I can’t seem to find any information about this.
There’s a second trail register at the start of the Allen herd path, and that’s when the climbing starts. It begins gradually until reaching the Allen Brook, at the base of which is a small waterfall. From there the climb becomes steeper, increasing in steepness all the way to the top. The slippery red algae is not only on the slide just below the summit, but on the rocks, wet from the brook, all the way up the trail. The guide book says to allow 4 hours to climb the 4.2 miles to the top, and it was indeed slow-going; careful foot placement was essential.
I found the climb to be difficult. I was quite nervous going up the steep slide, though the dry, sunny day did make it easier to avoid the algae, which is only slippery when wet. There had to be at least 25-30 people climbing Allen on Saturday, and when we finally reached the summit there were two people celebrating their 46er finishes with a pretty large group of hikers, and we were treated to a bit of champagne. We stayed for about 15-20 minutes and began the descent back down.
I was pretty nervous coming down the slide but made it to the bottom without incident. The algae on the rocks below the slide was much more treacherous and I slipped once, catching myself and mildly (re)spraining my right wrist in the process. A little while later, in the woods at the bottom of the herd path, I grabbed a tree branch with my left hand without noticing there was a bee on the branch. He was less than pleased, and stung me in the finger. That definitely got my mind off the wrist, and made my long walk down and out a bit less enjoyable. Two dysfunctional hands, but at least my legs worked!
Those water crossings were quite pleasant on the way out – it felt great on sore feet to walk through the ice-cold water. We finally came out of the woods just a few minutes past 8, a 13 1/2 hour day. It’s exciting to have gotten the longest hike behind me, and to have finally hit #40! Only six more to go!
*EDIT: The oily-looking pools are more likely caused by a bacteria which consumes iron and manganese, which is a great relief. Can’t say definitively either way, but there is a great deal of iron ore in Tahawus and at one time mining operations.