Oddly enough, despite having spent 4 years in upstate NY during college I had never been to the Adirondacks for anything other than the odd ski trip to Whiteface. It was therefore with great personal excitement that U-Turn, Shuttle, Superman, and I rendezvoused at Grosvenor on Friday morning for a pilgrimage to some of the east's most storied peaks. We piled our gear into our rented minivan and were glad we had decided to rent such a large vehicle for a small group as our combined winter kits took over every square inch of the van from the middle seats back.
The drive north passed quickly with little traffic and we found ourselves in Lake Placid shortly after sunset. We checked in at the Crown Plaza (truly roughing it) before heading to the grocery store and dinner, all the while watching the temperature tick steadily downward. We spent some time studying maps in the lounge following dinner before retiring t our room for the night, where U-Turn modeled a lovely new mad bomber hat/base layer ensemble that he'd dreamed up before we turned in for the night.
We rose around 6, having proven far less ambitious than we had been the night before when we informed Savage that we hoped to be entering the woods at that time. We quickly ate some bagels, piled on the layers, stuffed our packs to the gills (with the exception of U-Turn who had brought his Dana Designs monstrosity) and ventured out into the subzero dawn.
We arrived at the trailhead just as Team 2 (Savage, B.A., Beast Mode and The Look) were circling the lot looking for us. We strapped on our snowshoes and heavy winter packs, reassured ourselves that the -17* temperature was nothing to worry about despite the icicles rapidly forming on several of our faces and began our trek towards Marcy Dam.
The 2 miles to the dam past relatively quickly, despite a snowshoe malfunction for Shuttle. At the dam we parted ways with Team 2 and continued on towards Phelps, the first of our 3 planned 46ers for the day. Unfortunately at this time it became apparent that Shuttle's fall following the snowshoe incident (or was it a tussle with an Arctic Marmot?) was having a serious effect on her hiking abilities. We made our way to the base of Phelps, mulled our options and decided we would do our darnedest to make sure Shuttle got at least one 46er out of the weekend. We made our way steadily up through beautiful snowy spruce woods, with occasional openings providing fantastic views to the west towards Colden, Algonquin, Iroquois, and Marshall. Before long we were at the summit enjoying fine views, but it was here that we made the decision that Superman and I would continue on with our planned itinerary while U-Turn and Shuttle would return to Lake Placid.
We parted ways at the base of Phelps and Kevin and I continued south, deciding that we would skip Tabletop and its purported closed in summit and head directly to Colden. A couple hours snowshoeing brought us to Lake Arnold, where we briefly discussed dropping packs and changing into crampons and then proceeded to snowshoe the ~3 mile round trip to the summit with our full packs. It was a difficult slog at times, complete with a false summit, and some very steep icy sections but we made steady progress and before long found ourselves basking in the glorious views to the west and south looking over Avalanche Lake, Lake Colden, and a sea of mountains beyond. We didn’t linger long as the low temperature, biting wind, and dropping sun forced us from the summit and back down to Lake Arnold. At the lake we stopped for a drink from our now slushy bottles and a snack before continuing on to the Feldspar shelter, making our way for the last half mile or so by headlamp. Once in camp we pitched our shelters and spent a leisurely evening eating and preparing hot water bottles before retiring for the night.
We woke at 0600 on Sunday, ate, boiled water for the day, and hit the trail around 0730 – deciding to head up to Tear Lake to and access the peaks there (Skylight, Marcy, and Gray) before circling back to attempt Redfield and Cliff in the afternoon. We kept a good pace throughout the 1,000 foot climb to Tear Lake and in an hour found ourselves at Four Corners the base of Skylight and Marcy. We made our way up and done Skylight rather quickly, not staying long on the summit as we were socked in and decided to summit Marcy as we were making such good time on the day and conditions seemed fairly calm…at 4300’ anyways.
We quickly progressed up Marcy, stopping to add layers at tree line and picked our way over ice and slab through increasing winds. The wind really picked up over the last 100’ to the summit and as I stepped up onto the summit slab I quickly dropped into a crouch to keep from being toppled over. We snapped a couple of quick pictures and retraced our steps down. It was Superman’s first taste of mountaineering and he purported himself admirably. Once down from Marcy we made our way back around Tear Lake to the herd path up Gray. The hike up Gray was short but quite steep in places; French technique proved useful on several occasions. Eventually we made our way to the summit with its limited views and contemplated continuing further along the ridge to some ledges we’d observed from the lakeshore but quickly abandoned that idea when Kevin discovered two hip deep spruce traps within a span of about 10 seconds.
After an uneventful descent of Gray we hoofed it back down to the Feldspar junction and took a short break before continuing on towards the Uphill lean-to and the herd paths for Cliff and Redfield. We followed some fresh snowshoe tracks to the point where the herd paths to the two peaks split and headed up Redfield as it was the longer climb of the two. We were treated to a long ramble along, and sometimes atop frozen Uphill Brook, with views of towering, icy ledges on the north side of the brook and the Colden slides to the west. We made our way to the socked in peak and 46er number 6 (4 for the day) had a snack and made quick work of the descent.
Once down from Redfield we decided we had enough energy and daylight left to tackle Cliff, which only required about 600’ of climbing and had been broken out earlier that day by the hiker whose tracks we had followed to the junction. We started up the path, negotiating an ominous number of deadfalls in the early going and scrambled up a steep section scraped mostly down to ice only to find the trail disappear at another deadfall at 3500’. It turned out the path didn’t, in fact, disappear but rather scrambled up a vertical, ice covered ledge into steep woods. We decided to continue up the ledge and later descend it in the growing dark would be the height of tomfoolery so we did an about face and started making our way back to camp. We had a nice, brief visit with Beast Mode, Savage, B.A., and The Look at the Feldspar junction and then made our way into camp just as the snow started falling. We fixed dinner and hot water bottles and went to bed at around 730PM following a long and successful day.
The morning came with about 4 inches of fresh snow. We broke camp, once again squeezed our full kits into our packs, strapped on the snowshoes and broke trail through a beautiful new blanket of snow past Lake Arnold and down to the Avalanche lean-to where we picked up the broken trail past Marcy Dam and back to the Loj and were greeted by U-Turn and Shuttle with coffee, doughnuts, and Oreos. We piled our gear in the back of the van, creating what we later determined to be a Class VI Gear Explosion and hopped in the van and made our way to the Noonmark, where we met up with Team 2 for a grand lunch before the long drive south.
All in all this was a great trip and introduction to backpacking in the ADKs, I know I’ll be coming back many times and look forward to tackling the Santanoni Range in March with this same team. Thanks to U-Turn and Shuttle for planning and organizing and hats off to Superman for a most impressive winter backpacking/peakbagging debut.