Hiking in the Adirondacks
The Adirondacks is a place I’ve been wanting to go to forever. It’s one of the largest forests in the entire United States, bigger than the Grand Canyons, Everglades, and Yellowstone all combined! So far my only experience in the Adirondacks was a winter hike to the top of Mt. Marcy, which is also the highest point in New York. The summit is over a mile in the sky at 5,344 feet (1,630 meters) and is normally a simple hike in the summer. Since we did this in early January and encountered abhorrent conditions, my friend and I had a much harder challenge than usual! The hike started off easy enough; after my friend registered our names into the park logbook we began on a trail covered by an inch or two of snow.
The of the beginnings of the trail started off with deciduous trees and had more evergreens the higher we hiked. The first five miles or so had a very gradual elevation gain of about 2,000 feet (600 meters).
This photo above shows an icy creek at the very beginning of our hike. The temperature was about 15F (-10C) when we first started at the trail head, but as we went higher and the sun began to set, the temperature continued to drop. The creeks higher up were still running but had a layer of frozen ice. Some of these you have to be careful because you can clearly step through them, like in the photo below. Most of the shallower creeks were frozen solid and sometimes you usually couldn’t tell that you had just walked over one.
We saw very few people on the trail; only two other groups that were headed back out of the woods. By coincidence, my friend had his sister staying at a cabin here along with her husband and some others. We made it to their cabin which was on the way but only found a letter on the door saying they had gone on a hike.
We only spent a few minutes here since no one was around, but we did at least take a peak inside out of curiosity. The cabin had no electricity, but did come with a propane based stove, kitchen, and bunk beds so it seemed pretty nice! We were only here for a few minutes before continuing on. We saw a couple of other cabins along the trails, and several lean-tos. I had never heard of a lean-to until I came to the Adirondacks, but they are essentially a three sided wooden structure with a roof over head that people can camp in. I’m not sure why they stopped short of finishing the fourth open wall and making it a normal enclosed cabin, but either the Adirondacks has hundreds of these things and they can be pretty convenient.
The hike was fun at first, but slowly started to get annoying as it started to snow. It started off light, but didn’t take long before coming in heavy. We had also started incredibly late at 2pm, so we only had about two hours of hiking before the darkness set in! We had to use headlamps of course, but all the light reflecting off the snow that was falling made it difficult to see in front of you.
The terrain now was also getting more aggressive. Instead of a relatively flat trail we were now moving through deep annoying snow on some steep terrain. I’d occasionally slip or my foot would punch through snow up to my knees and have to pull myself back out every 15 minutes or so!
Finally when we had had enough, we decided to pitch the tent. I was pretty wet from all the melted snow on me so I wasn’t feeling too great. The trees were so dense and the terrain was steep so we didn’t have many good options for our campsite. We considered hiking up higher to find a better spot, but since we weren’t confident we would find one we decided to pitch the tent where we were. By the time I got inside I was dangerously wet and cold. It took my body a while to warm up despite my -20F (-30C) sleeping bag. After we warmed up we had a serious loss of motivation to get out of the tent again and cook. Instead we ate on all the snacks we brought with us and tried to get some sleep. It was a long night!
Early in the night, our tent had essentially slid and collapsed because of the terrible location we had picked and from all the heavy snow on top. My friend was nearly on top of me, and without exaggerating I had a three foot drop in the tent from where my feet were to where my chest was. We woke up to our alarm at around 5:30am and after we got outside we found that our tent had literally slid down the hill we were on and was partially on the trail. Despite this, I had slept pretty well while my friend had hardly gotten any shuteye.
We both felt pretty disgusting because of the conditions outside, especially since most of my gear hadn’t dried out. After forcing ourselves to get ready, we started off towards the summit with our headlamps in darkness. Above and below are two shots showing the trail early in the morning. It didn’t take very long at all for the snow to start coming down hard again!
We had some more very steep terrain to conquer before the incline became more gradual. Within an hour we were above 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) in the alpine zone. Below shows a sign that warned us not to damage the unique plants that were in the area.
I found it pretty amazing that something can grow out here a mile high in the sky where they get covered in deep heavy snow for most of the year and often see temperatures of -20F (-30C). These surrounding two photos all show the alpine zone in the Adirondacks. The higher we got the smaller the trees were!
After only a few hundred more feet there were no more trees, but smaller plants best measured in inches or centimeters. The terrain was also a lot rockier and the snow wasn’t so deep. This actually made it much easier to travel on rather than sinking in the deeper snow at the lower elevations. I think the lack of trees here is more about the extreme winds that can be present rather than the temperature and elevation. At one point in this area we had gusts that almost knocked me down that were definitely over 50mph (80kph)!
Just around the corner is where we reached the top of New York! I had recorded most of summit day but somehow turned off my camera right before reaching the top! A plaque at 5,344 feet (1,630 meters) marked the summit that explained the name, the first ascent and other information. According to the sign the native American name for the mountain is Tahawus, which means Cloud Splitter. At the summit we were actually much less miserable than we had been first thing in the morning. I had brought with me gear to handle subzero temperatures, but on the day we reached the summit it was unnaturally warm. The summit itself was definitely cold; especially with the strong gusts of wind, but not as bad as we had expected. From here I had a very long day which required a nine mile hike to the parking lot, then a two hour drive to Albany to catch my flight home to Virginia. The descent was extremely miserable with light to moderate rain most of the time, and the snow was much deeper than it had been the day before. Our previous day’s tracks were completely snowed over and unrecognizable. It was difficult to descend the steep terrain while sliding and slipping and trying to balance our heavy packs. I reached the airport soaking wet and disgusting, but happy with our accomplishment. The forecast for the late afternoon on Mt. Marcy had said summit winds of 70mph, (115kph) and temperatures dropping to -25F (-32C) in the next few days! It was the beginning of a freak arctic storm that had headed south into the United States. My flight home that same day had some of the worst turbulence I had ever experienced in my life, and I assume it was part of the same weather pattern that brought high winds to the summit today!