Iroquois Peak (4,840 ft.), Algonquin Peak, (5,114 ft.), Wright Peak (4,580 ft.)
16.7 miles, July 2, 2011
Nye Mt. (3,895 ft.), Street Mt. (4016 ft.)
9 miles, July 3, 2011
Adirondack Park Weekend, Where the Wild Things Are
A Tale of Climbing and Characters
A long weekend in July promises the ability to sneak away for some real hard core hiking, and this year the 4th fell on a Monday – perfect. I have recently been spending some time in the Adirondacks, and had my sights set on the High Peaks of Macintyre Ridge. These are some of the great hikes in the High Peaks, and the weather promised to be perfect for Saturday.
The High Peaks seen from Lake Champlain
I had been delayed in my departure planned for Friday evening, and didn’t get out until 7:30 Saturday morning. By the time that I arrived at 11:00, the scene at Adirondack Loj was mayhem; thousands of people new to the mountains out to take advantage of a beautiful day and a long weekend. We are talking about babies; chubby, pale white, video game playing adolescents; and big bellied dads in bad hats – a nightmare.
My experience is that crowds on hikes diminish by 50% for every 2 miles from the parking lot and 1,000 feet of altitude gain. My fervent hope was that time – and distance – were both on my side.
I walked in via South Meadows Lane, a 3.5 mile backdoor route to Marcy Dam. The Loj parking lot was full, cars were parked for miles along the road, and a steady stream of vacationers was headed in along the Van Hoevenberg Trail. I was trailed by a group of young and excited hikers from Ontario, wearing little in the way of clothing and speaking loudly in the still popular “Valley Girls” vernacular. They proved nettlesome companions all the way to Marcy Dam.
A Beautiful day at Marcy Dam
By Marcy Dam, the crowd was reduced by around 50%, and falling fast. I beat feet up to Avalanche Lake to get to the trail head up to Iroquois and Algonquin Peaks. Avalanche Lake is a cleft carved out between two massive and very steep mountains (over 60 degrees): Mt. Avalanche to the NW and Mt. Colden to the SE. Avalanche Pass lies at the NE end of the Lake, in the narrow slot between these mountains. The Pass fills up with vegetative detritus and rock sliding down into the Pass, and creates a barrier that requires constant work to remain open.
These are young growing mountains, composed of monolithic hunks of extremely hard, very old, highly metamorphosed rock (principally Anorthosite) pushed up from below. This Pass was created by a series of interrelated faults and dikes, which combined to create the spectacular terrain. One of the unmarked, but most popular trails up Mt. Colden is up a trap dike in the face up from the Lake, which gradually fades into the slide face near the top.
Piles of detritus at the base of Avalanche Pass
The water’s edge at Avalanche Lake
I arrived at Avalanche Lake, passing a family with a 2 year old baby and an old lady with so many pots and pans hanging off her pack that she rattled like a marching Hessian. As I sat down on a log at the beach, I started to talk with a couple of young women, and an old guy in a bad hat. It turned out that he was a professor of philosophy at one of the SUNY campuses, and had recently moved from Alaska where he also raised sled dogs. The women had a sled dog mixed with a Tibetan breed, forming the impetus or some innocuous conversation. The dog owner was young, incredibly fit and wearing a black mini-skirt and a “wife-beater” T-shirt. She had come to climb on the cliffs with some of the guys who were already on the rock. It turns out that she was a professor of physics at UVM, and felt strongly that string theory was a bunch of bull s—. Wow.
The Hanging Bridge on the Avalanche Lake Cliffs
The day was getting late, and I had a lot of climbing left to do. I headed up the trail to Iroquois and Algonquin, right straight up. The trails here can be very steep and run up slides and stream beds, which is fun, but tough on old knees. I passed a number of descending hikers who were really quite fearful and visibly tired. One young group told me that I had at least 3 hours to reach the top of Algonquin – less than .8 miles distant at that point. I hustled up to the top of Iroquois and Algonquin, to have a late second lunch and enjoy the view.
At the top I met a young lady from a western state, who was studying in NYC, and was out for a hike with her boyfriend – who was just barely holding on. She explained that she was studying ballet, which she was paying for by dancing around a pole at an exotic dancing venue in Queens, NY. I don’t know if it was true, but she looked the part, and the story earned her a place in the pantheon of characters from this weekend.
View from the top of Wright
Down and out I went, stopping at Wright Peak along the way, which had some surprising good views. I was famished and had to pass by the campgrounds by Marcy Dam on the way out to my truck. The young campers were settling in for the evening, and the clouds of marijuana smoke were rolling out of the Adirondack shelters and across the lake. The simple pleasures afforded the youth!
I ate at a local watering hole back in Lake Placid, and finally found shelter at a delightful hostel – the Tmax-n-Topo’s (trail names for the owners Terri and David) Jackrabbit Hostel, located just outside the entrance to the Park. The princely sum of $30.28 (including tax) bought me a bed for the evening, and some good advice for the next day – it’s going to rain, so climb Street and Nye, because they have no views anyway.
The Author on Algonquin, with Colden in the background
The hikes up Nye and Street were 9 miles of bad road. There is no maintained trail for most of the hike, although there is a pretty good herd path beaten out by generations of hikers climbing the 46, 4,000 footers in NY. The going was bad, and the views were non-existent, but I did bump into some fellow Pilgrims, who were really fit and hard at it.
Tough going in blow-downs on Nye
This weekend really captured the concept of “forever wild” that is the essential mandate of Adirondack Park. Once you escape the myriad regulations and Officials at the entrance to the Park, anything goes, and anyone can go there. These hills are tough and unforgiving, but gorgeous, and filled with some truly unforgettable characters. I am a fan.