Action in the Adirondacks

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Choosing what to write about next is always interesting when you’re catching up on stories. With the intention of keeping the current theme going, I’ve opted to write another little travel post. We are now going to fast-forward precisely one year forward from Iceland, where Deanna and I found ourselves in the heart of the Adirondacks and Lake Placid. What? Doesn’t seem very epic? Well, bear with me, there is a LOT of amazing hiking and running in the area to enjoy. While we love grand adventures in exotic locales, sometimes you gotta stick close to home to save up the pennies for the bigger adventures. And so I bring to you a little tale from our 4th wedding anniversary spent near our backyard.

Album of Photos from Adirondack Adventure

Start of Giant Mountain
Deanna at Blue Line
First roadside stop … priorities!

Getting to Lake Placid from home is less than a 3.5 hour trip, provided your border crossing is smooth. Say what you will about the political climate of the U.S., but in spite of everything, there are still great people down there, and great places to visit. Generally speaking, I’d say the Adirondacks qualifies. Lake Placid, and the surrounding areas is smack in the heart of the Adirondack 46ers club. This is a recognition for people who summit all 46(!) of the high peaks of the area. The 46 peaks area a collection of mountains that reach from 4,000′ up to the highest peak at 5,344′. Technically, there are four that have now been determined to be just under 4,000′, but not by much. Can you guess what our objective was for this anniversary? Yes, of course, Mount Marcy!

Although 4,000′ peaks really isn’t a significant climb by many metrics, weather is still a factor in the region. Given the density of peaks and valleys in the region, weather is a bit unpredictable and can change quickly. It is also possible to have completely different weather situations on different summits. Oh, and I should probably mention that winds can be pretty ferocious on certain summits!

First Panorama Viewpoint
First Panorama of weekend – climbing Giant Mountain
Giant Mountain Hike

We didn’t get started on our trip until Saturday morning, opting to save the cost of one night in a B&B. We got up on the crack of dawn and drove straight to a trailhead to get a good hike in on Saturday before the main event of Mount Marcy on Sunday. Well, when I say drove straight down, I of course mean a meandering drive to hit a couple breweries for craft beer samples! By the early afternoon though, we found ourselves at the trailhead for Giant Mountain (with a LOT of other people). Being early October, it was almost peak leaf season, so we wouldn’t have the trails to ourselves, but were undaunted.

The tail guide was suggesting you’d need over 7 hours to tackle this climb. However, given the round trip distance of just under 10k, and a difficult rating of 4 out of 7, I was pretty sure that was an overstatement. Plus, we intended to run at least some of if (although it was pretty much straight up and down. I was armed with both paper maps as well as offline GPS maps on my phone, should we decided to do some adventuring (which we ultimately did).

Lake Before the Real Climbing starts
Peaceful stop before the big climb.

Above is the first panorama of the hike, which was roughly at the first plateau you see on the trail profile, so roughly 700m up, and before the main climb. At this point in the trail we also had a lovely lakeside stop to catch our breath before tackling the biggest and roughest parts of the climb. The lake was appropriately called Giant Washbowl. Many day hikers would simply stop here because it actually makes for a nice little family hike. But for us, it’s always summit or bust!

As we continued up, the trail was a lot of fun. There were some rocky bits, but everything was well marked, clear and easy to follow. Certainly makes peak bagging easier. As we rose ever higher, we’d get good views out on occasion, and on one such spot, it seemed clouds were starting to blow in a little quicker. However, nothing to worry about, and we did have emergency gear if needed.

While the rain stayed away, the same cannot be said for the winds. When we finally hit the summit of Giant, it was HOWLING! It was the kind of wind that made things tricky for a little guy like me. I was literally leaning straight into it and it would hold me up! We got a great kick out of it and played for a while up there before realizing that we were getting pretty cold.

Windy Summit
Playing at the windy summit of Giant Mountain
Flight at Great Adirondack
Perfect end to day

We’d actually made really good time climbing up. As a result, we (or rather, I), to extend the hike by taking an alternative route down, along a trail called Roaring Falls. This was a less-trafficked trail, which made for a fun descent with the trail more or less to ourselves. Of course, less traffic also means more rugged, but that was part of the appeal. This trail dropped down a steep slope before skirting the main mountain back to Giant Washbowl, and rejoining the main trail for our final push. All told, our 12k hike only took about 3 hours, leaving us with plenty of time to enjoy downtown Lake Placid that evening.

Capping this off that day, we headed to the Great Adirondack Brewing Company for supper and drinks. We also wandered along the downtown waterfront. It was an absolutely gorgeous night with clearing skies and a bright moon. I held great hope for the prospects of clear weather the next morning, especially considering the red sunset we had. After all, “Red at night, Sailor’s Delight”, right?

Red at Night Sailors Delight
Promise of good weather?

Tackling Mount Marcy

Wet Start to Mount Marcy
Start of the Marcy March

The good weather hope may have been overly optimistic on our part. When we got up on Saturday morning (early), it was surprisingly chilly, and the sky was somewhat ominous. It was mostly fog though, and we had it in our minds that as the hours went by, the sun would burn off the fog, as is somewhat typical this time of year. With that hope, we set off and made our way to the trailhead near the Adirondack Loj at Heart Lake. For this day, the supposed time was said to be a 10 hour round trip, with a distance of just under 24km. We’d given ourselves all day, and an early start, so figured we were good for any eventualities we might face. Failure was not an option, as we had to get our ‘Anniversary Picture’ taken at the summit!

Mount Marcy Trail and Profile

The rain was already falling lightly when we set off, making the terrain a bit slicker in parts than we’d hoped. In turn, this was also likely to slow our progress slightly over what we’d hoped. Apparently a lot of these trails are actually cross-country trails in the winter. They looked like they would be pretty amazing. Sadly, we’ve not yet made it down in winter to test that theory.

Once again, the trails to follow were very well marked. As you’ll see from the profile, the first 4 km or so of the trek were quite flat and tame, giving us ample time to ‘warm up’ before tackling the bigger climbs ahead. As you wee from the profile, the final 1-2 km are a nice push with some quite punchy climbs along the way. I wouldn’t go so far as to say anything was particularly technical or difficult, but depending on weather conditions, there was a definite possibility that things could get dicey. I was keeping a nervous watch as the weather continued to deteriorate on our way up. I certainly didn’t think we were in any danger, but I also had to keep the happiness of everyone in our climbing party :-).

Ominous Warning
One of several warning signs (Increasingly dire…)

That being said, Deanna is always game to keep going when things get tough. She’s a strong hiker, and there’s no one I’d rather spend my trail hiking time with. Especially on big adventures with big goals. In particular, we had our eye on a self-supported hiking trip to Patagonia in the near-ish future, which would likely require some intestinal fortitude along the way. Trips like this one are good opportunities for us to test our gear, and our resolve, and see how each other handles with challenges. With big goals and dreams for future trips and expeditions, it’s important to know our limits and appetite for suffering. Mine is admittedly higher than many, but Deanna has always impressed me with her ability to ‘suck it up’ and seeing the big picture of short term pain when there is a payoff in the form of something like a spectacular peak and viewpoint awaiting.

Narrow Boards through Bog
Peak somewhere nearby…

Sucking it up did get a little tougher as the rain continued to assault us the higher we got. This was (of course) coupled with biting cold winds as well. While we were ‘prepared’, I wouldn’t say we’d brought a ton of warm layers with us. Thin rain shells and relatively lightweight base layers were all that were separating us from the deteriorating conditions. It also didn’t help that trail signs were getting increasingly dire in the warnings. My favourite just said: “Warning: Weather subject to severe change. Do not proceed beyond this point without proper gear.”. I kept thinking of the sandal-clad t-shirt and short brigades armed with a single disposable water bottle thinking they can bag Mount Marcy in an afternoon, only to put themselves in direct danger when they should turn around.

Of course, people like that are the entire reason place like Mount Marcy has full-time mountain rangers stationed on and around these spots. Once we actually arrived at the summit, we met such a park ranger. On particularly nasty days (like this one), they will actually stay right at the summit in case help is needed. Pretty bold, as it was pretty terrible up at the top. We were soaked, and getting colder by the second. Originally, my plan had been to head down the opposite (steep) side of Marcy to hike a bigger loop and try to bag Iroquois and Algonquin peaks as well, but that wasn’t going to happen today. That was the ‘windy’ side, and just walking towards that trail was proof enough I should skip the idea. Truth be told, I think I was actually starting to get slightly hypothermic up there. So, after pausing for our photo, we decided to double back to head into the slightly more protected forest trails we’d emerged from.

Anniversary Shot at Summit
Mission Accomplished (credit to Ranger for snapping the pic!)
Smiling for the Sun
Warmer and happier!

After the slightly miserable Mount Marcy summit conditions, I was surprised how quickly things started improving on our descent. After about 10-15 minutes, my slight shivering went away. Within an hour, I was feeling much warmer and more comfortable (thanks merino wool!). I had been a little bummed about bailing on my dream of the big loop hike, but you always need to be ready to modify plans depending on conditions. Messing with weather in mountains is a bad idea! After a quick negotiation, we made a last minute decision to add one more peak to our day. Phelp’s Mountain is on the list of 46ers, at 4,161′, and was a spur off the trail we were already on. The skies weren’t ‘clear’ yet, but showed signs of improving, so we figured we’d roll the dice.

Arriving at Phelps Summit
Lucky views at Phelps

As it turns out, that turned out to be a SPECTACULAR decision! Although we had to set out yet again on a steep climb, we were well rewarded. At a few points along the trail, we were getting glimpses of increasingly blue skies and surrounding mountains. We could hardly believe that this was the same day where a mere 1.5 hours before we were shivering and borderline hypothermic! Regardless, by the time we hit the summit, it was glorious and sunny. So much so that we stripped down a bit, and I laid some of my stuff out to dry on warm rocks. What a difference! It was a huge morale booster. We stayed long enough to enjoy the views as well as a have a lovely picnic on the rocks and warming back up. I was smart enough to have put everything in dry bags for the hike. We grabbed a few other ‘anniversary’ pictures up there in the sun, but eventually decided that the rainy Mount Marcy picture was more reflective of the adventure.

Phelps Summit Panorama
The Panorama from Mount Phelps
Hiking Rewards at BSB
My Reward to Me

With our spirits lifted (and drier clothes), we headed back down the main trail to find our car and end the hiking part of our adventures. Today’s fun ended up being just under 27.5 km and taking us just under 7.5 hours. It’s also worth noting that our elevation gain total on the hike was 1,877m, which is pretty good for 28k. It was great to wrap things up on such a high, and lent itself well to another evening of enjoying craft beers of the region in dry warm clothes. Our two chosen destinations were Big Slide Brewery, where we had beers and supper, as well as the Lake Placid Pub and Brewery. We loved the location of Big Slide which was sort of on its own outside of downtown Lake Placid, and had a nice patio outside. Seemed to attract a good crowd, including the outdoor set including mountain bikers and hikers. The food and beer were both excellent and satisfying. Lake Placid Pub was more of a tourist magnet I’d say, located closer to downtown. The beers were tasty, and we made our way to the basement pub which felt a bit more homey and ‘divey’, which I liked.

The next morning, Monday, it was time to head home. Although we’d taken Monday off, we didn’t have big hiking plans, and opted to head home. The reason was two-fold. Firstly, weather was again pretty terrible. Secondly, and more pressing, I had to catch a flight to Winnipeg for work, so we had to get home so I could pack up. All in all though, even though it was a short ‘Anniversary’ trip, it was still awesome. Even 2 days spent with the person you love having adventures beats a full week doing it along, right? So ends the 4th Anniversary blog post. Up next in the stories? Who knows, there are so many! Maybe we’ll switch gears and tackle a race report. Stay tuned to find out!

Grilling Skeleton
Great Halloween decorations spotted on the drive home
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