Trip Report: Veterans Day VMO Trip to the Adirondacks, 11/8-11/11

Posted by Michael Martin on

The mountains are great teachers, and that was definitely true this weekend, as Darwin, Savage, Jimmy, Heavy D, Hang Glider, and I met up at Grosvenor for a long trip up to Lake Placid and the Adirondacks. Due to some confusion about the meet up time (my fault), we were all there early (!), and were on the road by 8am. We ran the gauntlet straight up the tollway, around NYC, and north past Albany. Together, we had quite a bit of ADK experience. Jimmy has been frequenting the 'dacks since his childhood, Darwin has been there many times; and I had the three routes I did with Booty-Less back in July. I was hungry for more, and I know Heavy D, Savage, and Hang Glider were eager for their first taste.

As we pulled in for fuel in Keene, NY, the ADKs gave us quite a greeting. The snow clouds sat down low over the valleys, obscuring the peaks. It was coming down thick as we drove the little road to the ADK Loj at Heart Lake. We pulled into the Loj, where a raucous party was underway. The woman at the desk queried us on our route, asking us if we had our crampons. We nodded our heads. At our campsite, we pitched in the blowing snow. Such a shock to be in winter conditions. I was still in my street clothes. Heavy D asked if it was still too late to change his RSVP!

We piled back into the cars and headed into Lake Placid for a delicious dinner at a steakhouse that Jimmy recommended. A rare text message came in from Booty-Less, wishing us good luck. Heavy D decided he'd have a healthy dessert:

Chocolate perversion, indeed. We lingered over beers, perhaps a little reluctant to plunge back into the winter weather.

But we had planned to start walking the next morning at dawn (6:30am), so we needed our beauty rest. The night passed easily enough, and right on schedule, we began the long climb up Marcy on the Van Hoevenberg Trail. Our ambitious goal for the day was to backpack over Marcy, bag Skylight and Gray, then descend to either the Up Hill or Feldspar Shelters for the night. We made great time on the climb, though our water was freezing and the trail was icy enough that we soon had to put our spikes on. We passed the trail descending to Johns Brook Loj, and at last could see the peak of Marcy, shrouded in white. The excitement was palpable as we left the treeline and became the steep, slabby climb to the summit, our spikes holding well in the ice (though I envied Jimmy and Darwin their more serious crampons).

We reached the summit in a tight group. The view was magnificent, but the winds came up high, about 50 mph or so, we thought. Jimmy said the temp was 15*. We calculated that it felt like it was -10*. "Get some photos and let's get down!" I shouted: everyone obliged. We had trouble finding the blazes off the mountain, as they were under ice and snow. We veered off trail, which caused some consternation. Communication was near impossible in the screaming wind. Several people fell and banged themselves up. But I could see Lake Tear of the Cloud, Skylight, and its trail, so I had a good idea where Four Corners was. We kept descending. At last, Savage and Jimmy spotted a cairn on our left, and we descended more rapidly. The temps felt like they went up 30 degrees when we reached the tree line again.

Hang Glider remarked that going up and over Marcy in these conditions was one of the most exhilerating things he'd done as a backpacker.

Michael Martin posted on

At Four Corners, we dropped packs and climbed for Skylight, reaching that beautiful and much friendlier summit after breaking trail through the snow. Just as we were leaving the intersection, a couple came up from the Feldspar area and remarked that we would be able to follow their footsteps up Gray. I was glad to hear that, as Gray would be the first off trail 46er I had attempted.

Somehow, as we passed Lake Tear of the Clouds (headwater of the Hudson), however, we passed the unmarked turn off for Gray. Determined to get that peak this time (Booty-Less and I skipped it in July), we doubled back and found the trail. After crossing the creek and dropping packs, we began the tough, off-trail ascent, which was much more vertical than Skylight. We reached the sign up top, and celebrated our third 46er of the day (my count now stood at 17). The descent down to Feldspar was cake.

We pitched shelters there, made dinner, and drank whisky before settling in to a long night's sleep. I forget how long these winter nights can get! It snowed all night, a heavy, wet, damp snow that loaded the tarps and tents. I kept knocking the snow from my Trailstar. It formed quite a skirt around the base of my shelter. But I slept snug, as did the others. Savage had no issues hammocking in these conditions.

Next morning, we had a leisurely start at 8am, as we were planning to base camp and work on Redfield, Cliff, and perhaps Colden. The snow, though, slowed us down. We found the unmarked herd paths for Redfield and Cliff, and worked together to break trail and route-find our way to Redfield's summit. Exhausting work in the conditions, bushwhacking through 4-5 inches of snow. It took us almost four hours to climb and then descend this 46er. But we got the summit (18 of 46 for me), though the view was entirely socked in. On the way down, day hikers were coming up, and we all thought, "You should really be thanking us."

At the unmarked intersection for Cliff, we discussed the time and the weather. A few wanted to go for Cliff. A few were feeling beat up. We all wanted to make sure that everyone saw some of the highlights of the ADKs. So we decided to break camp, descend the Opalescent River and spend our last night on Lake Colden. No one regretted this decision. The descent of the Opalescent was great, and Lake Colden was stunning in the snow. We passed a chilly night in the shelters, with snow blowing in on us. Savage actually hung inside the shelter, over several others. Jimmy reported much snoring.

Monday morning, we were up and walking at 6:30am, smelling the barn. We rounded Lake Colden, breaking trail through the snow, climbed for Avalanche Lake and enjoyed clambering over the hitch-up Matildas. Everyone relished this beautiful spot covered in snow. From Avalanche Pass, we picked up speed on the descent to Heart Lake, reaching the cars at about 9:45am.

From there, we headed to Noonmark Diner, for a huge breakfast celebration! And then the long drive home. I managed to get home in time for the kick off of Monday Night Football, so I can't complain. Though I had a lot of gear to dry out.

I'll let Savage and Jimmy speculate on our splits for this trip, as I didn't bother with my GPS. We didn't get as many 46ers as we had set out to get, but we got a lot more winter than we had bargained for. Nevertheless, we summited Marcy, Skylight, Gray, and Redfield in fine style, saw some of the best of the ADKs, and got a great early winter tune up. The pictures from Darwin's camera will blow you away.

Chapeau to such a fine group of winter backpackers. I know we're all plotting to go back for more!


PS This is the second time that I've not done the Algonquin ridge, due to the weather being uninviting. Next time, I'm going to prioritize it and not leave it for the last.

PPS A few reflections on gear. I hate bear canisters. Why did I not bring my down booties? (Seriously, what was I thinking?) My gear worked very well in the conditions (even the tarp plus bivy), but I do need a better pair of gloves. My fingers got very cold atop Marcy. Also, I had some trouble keeping my micro-spikes on in the wet snow Sunday, though they did perform well in the ice on Marcy. It was the balling effect of the snow that messed with them. I'll need to fix that problem.

Will posted on

After crunching the numbers through Garmin, looks like a total mileage of 26.75, with total elevation gain just under 10,000 feet! Probably all needs to be taken with a grain of salt but here is the link: - Here is a KMZ file for Google Earth:

So much eye candy on this trip, the views low and high were amazing. Climbing Marcy was without a doubt one of the most memorable experiences I've ever had. It would have been awesome to enjoy the views from the summit with clear weather, but the howling winds were more fitting!

[img]After crunching the numbers through Garmin, looks like a total mileage of 26.75, with total elevation gain just under 10,000 feet! Probably all needs to be taken with a grain of salt but here is the link: - Here is a KMZ file for Google Earth: So much eye candy on this trip, the views low and high were amazing. Climbing Marcy was without a doubt one of the most memorable experiences I've ever had. It would have been awesome to enjoy the views from the summit with clear weather, but the howling winds were more fitting!

<img src="" width=455 height=303>[/img]

Joffrey Peters posted on

Sounds like you guys had a blast! On the subject of balling snow in mirco-spikes/crampons, it seems like the anti-balling plates in my crampons work decently, but when the snow really gets bad, it doesn't matter, and you have to bang them off with each step, or simply take the damned things off (presumably there's enough snow covering any ice them to keep footing secure).

Algonquin is cool, and Marcy is great but I think my favorite ADK peaks so far have been Haystack and Colden, if you haven't ticked those off yet. Remember that there are two lists: a summer and a winter list. :)

Daniel posted on

Joffrey, the Adirondacks was one of the baddest, most impressive mountain worlds I've seen outside Norway. Perhaps you'd agree...the main difference being, perhaps, that more of the ADK can be walked up (and down) by man. Not including Spiderman.

Daniel posted on

Will, I know you're tall, but how did you manage to put 89 feet on Mt. Marcy?!


Elevation Gain: 9,991 ft

Elevation Loss: 10,029 ft

Min Elevation: 1,790 ft

[color=yellow]Max Elevation: 5,433 ft[/color]

This oughtta be extra credit...

A former member posted on

Way to go guys! Super jealous of your trip;) Stoked it all worked out.

Will posted on

Dan, I must have jumped! :)

Hard to believe just a few days ago we were in the wind whipped mountains in sub-freezing temps. Co-workers and friends have been suitable impressed by the photos!

jake lloyd posted on

Sounds like an awesome trip and great photos, guys. Love the Adirondacks.

Cesar posted on

Great pics...would like to do something like this.