Throwback Thursday: Algonquin Peak

Survey marker at the summit of Algonquin Peak.
Survey marker at the summit of Algonquin Peak, June 2014.

For my first edition of “Throwback Thursday” I’d like to share an exciting first – my first Adirondack High Peak! For those who might be unfamiliar, the High Peaks are the 46 peaks in the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate NY which were originally believed to be higher than 4,000 feet in elevation.

My partner is an avid hiker and mountaineer and had climbed at least a dozen high peaks prior to our relationship, so he could not wait to share this experience with me. We planned our first Adirondack adventure together for Memorial Day weekend 2013 and set out to do Algonquin Peak, which offers spectacular views and is achievable in a day hike. Algonquin Peak is the second highest mountain in the Adirondacks (and New York state).  We took a long weekend, booked a hotel in nearby Lake Placid, and set off!

View of Mirror Lake and the High Peaks from our hotel room balcony.
View of Mirror Lake and the High Peaks from our hotel room balcony. Mountain in the distance is NOT Algonquin Peak.

We figured that since our trip was to take place the last weekend in May, that we would be in the clear weather-wise. Unfortunately for us, the mountains had other plans. It rained for a week-straight leading up to our trip, which translated into a ton of snow accumulation in the colder high elevations. Three feet of snow accumulation, as a matter of fact. Not to be deterred after traveling several hours and booking our hotel stay, we set out to see if we could still summit a mountain. Snow be damned!

Posing in the Adirondack Loj before starting our hike.
Posing in the Adirondack Loj before starting our hike.

We set out for Algonquin Peak from the Adirondack Loj, following a popular trail that leads to the summit. The trail was incredibly wet and muddy, and it didn’t take long before we encountered snow. After a short time we came upon Marcy Dam, where we took shelter from the cold rain/snow mix in a nearby lean-to. A little cinnamon whiskey helped warm us up! Before long, a forest ranger came by and asked us where we were heading. When we told her our plans to hike to the summit of Algonquin, she informed us that the trails were covered with a few feet of snowfall beyond where we were, and that summiting would require snowshoes or skis. We had neither. At this point, it was in our best interest to turn around and head back, accepting defeat.

This blurry lean-to selfie shows the mix of mud, snow and rain on the ground.
This blurry lean-to selfie shows the mix of mud, snow and rain on the ground. Conditions were not ideal.

Even though I did not get to summit a peak on my first Adirondack hike, it was a great experience to see the wild beauty of the mountain trails (for the few miles I did get to hike, anyway). I also learned how quickly conditions can change in the high peaks, and that preparedness is essential to a successful hike – though who would have thought to bring snowshoes a few days away from June?!

Standing in front of a field with mountains in the background.
Immediately after our hike the sun came out and gave us a nice view of the high peaks on our way back to Lake Placid.

Luckily, we are not the type to give up that easily and my almost-summit experience made me want to climb a high peak more than ever. So we scheduled our second attempt a little over a year later, in mid-June 2014. This date happened to put us in the heart of black fly season (ugh!), but certainly we had to eliminate the risk of another snow-fueled turnaround. We stayed at the same hotel in Lake Placid and made our way back to the Adirondack Loj to tackle Algonquin Peak – for real this time! The conditions were more favorable: a little overcast/cloudy and threatening rain. Because of the clouds, we weren’t sure if there would be much of a view at the summit. That didn’t matter, because nothing was going to stop us this time!

We lucked out and made our way up to the summit at a relatively easy pace. I even passed an old high school classmate who was on his way down from Wright Peak – how weird is that?! It’s not the last time I’d see an old familiar face out in the high peaks, strangely enough. The biggest obstacle we encountered that day was running out of bug spray before reaching the summit – I did mention it was black fly season, correct? The bugs were insane. Luckily, there was one other small group of hikers at the summit who generously let us use some of theirs, and they took a few pictures for us as well.

Standing on the summit of Algonquin Peak.
We summited Algonquin on our second trip and were rewarded with breathtaking views of the high peaks!

Summiting my first high peak is an experience that’s hard to describe. I think overwhelming comes close. Perhaps this experience was a little more dramatic, given our failed attempt one year earlier. One thing was certain, though: I WAS HOOKED. This cool experience was about to become an obsession. I’ve climbed 7 more high peaks in 14 months since this day, and though I don’t really define myself as an aspiring 46er yet (that’s someone who climbs all 46 high peaks), I am aching to bag as many peaks as possible!

A panoramic shot from the summit of Algonquin Peak.
A panoramic shot from the summit of Algonquin Peak.

Have you ever been unable to summit due to difficult weather or trail conditions? Share your experiences in the comments below!

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