My partner and I decided to plan a spontaneous trip to the Adirondacks to ring in the new year with some hiking and snowboarding. We found an affordable last-minute hotel room in Lake Placid (thanks to the Maple Leaf Inn, again!) and set out first thing in the morning on New Year’s Eve.
Since we pre-purchased all day lift tickets for New Year’s Day at Whiteface Mountain, we decided that a short, non-strenuous hike would be best for New Year’s Eve. We both absolutely love the high peaks, but we knew we probably would be too sore to enjoy a full day of snowboarding after climbing one, so we chose a quick hike for that afternoon at Owl’s Head in Keene, NY.
Owl’s Head is a great short hike in the high peaks region. Located right off Route 73 in Keene, the hike begins at the trailhead on a dirt road in private property and goes a mere 0.6 mile up to the summit. The trail is mostly uphill, but not very challenging, and reaches a final elevation of 2120′.
The trail was snowy and icy on December 31st, but it was packed down enough that snowshoes weren’t necessary. I used my new Yaktrax and my partner wore a cheap, knock-off pair of Nanospikes that I use for flat, icy winter runs. This turned out to be plenty traction for our brief hike, although my Yaktrax fell off my boots TWICE and by the time we got back to the car we noticed most of the spikes had fallen off the running spikes my partner wore.
The trail has a few open areas that could be mistaken for false summits, but these spots offer some nice views on the way up. Just before reaching the actual summit, there is a very steep rocky ledge that hikers must traverse on left side. Here the trail gets quite narrow, with a steep drop off on one side which can be a little intimidating. This brief section can be a little tricky, but shouldn’t be a problem if you move slowly and step carefully.
After a steep scramble, the open rock summit offers extraordinary views of the surrounding high peaks. We stayed up at the summit for a while, enjoying the views and watching the clouds roll over the mountains. It’s an incredibly rewarding climb that requires relatively little work.
After a while at the summit, the wind started to pick up and our body temperatures began to cool so we made our way back down to the trailhead. Typically when hiking in the high peaks, the descent seems to take forever. On this hike, however, it feels like it took us no time at all to reach the trailhead.
We passed a group of three hikers who summited just before we began our descent, and then we passed another group just heading out as we got back to the car. There is very limited parking, mostly on the side of the road near the trailhead. When we arrived we were the only vehicle, but by the time we left the area was crowded with several more.
As someone who enjoys hiking the Adirondack High Peaks, I can’t emphasize enough just how easy and enjoyable this hike is. It is a great trek for someone who wants to experience the high peaks without putting in the work required to summit one of the tallest 46. This can be done in an afternoon, evening or even sunrise hike before exploring more of what the Adirondacks have to offer. It was the perfect hike for our trip, since we were not too sore or tired to enjoy several hours of snowboarding the next day.
What did you do to ring in the new year? Any exciting outdoor adventures planned? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
This is the thrilling follow up to last week’s Thowback Thursday post, First Girls’ ADK Adventure Part I – Giant Mountain. Part one left off after a grueling, cold and rainy hike up Giant Mountain. We were all freezing and soaked to the bone, so the idea of tent camping another night sounded absolutely awful to us. We knew that without a good night’s sleep, and without dry gear, there was a very slim chance that we would actually get to climb another peak or two the next day. Finding an affordable, vacant room in Lake Placid on a Saturday night in early October proved to be a daunting task. We lucked out, however, and ended up getting the last room available at the Maple Leaf Inn, which had two queen beds, a kitchenette and dining area, and most importantly – heat and a warm shower! We got ourselves cleaned up, in dry clothes, and laid out our wet gear to dry. It felt like heaven after the day we had!
After getting a good night’s sleep, we woke up refreshed and ready to tackle a couple more mountains – albeit a little sore from the previous day’s strenuous climb. We ate breakfast, packed up, and made our way to the Cascade and Porter Mountain trailheads. We selected Cascade and Porter mostly because they are often described as “starter peaks” due to their well-maintained trails and relatively easy climb. Cascade Mountain is number 36 of the 46 High Peaks with an elevation of 4098 feet. Porter Mountain is number 38 with an elevation of 4059 feet. I would agree that these trails are moderate, with only a couple of steep sections. However, after summiting Giant Mountain the day before, it felt a lot more difficult than it normally might!
We got signed in at the trailhead and made our way up a damp trail that felt significantly easier than Giant’s, though the once the trail got rocky it was tough on our aching muscles and joints. The weather this day was the completely opposite from the day before – blue sunny skies without a cloud in sight! Nonetheless we forged ahead at a comfortable pace. A friend had an extra set of trekking poles, which I had never used before. At first I didn’t like the idea of having to carry the poles and use my hands, but as my body succumbed to the soreness the poles became an invaluable tool to help distribute my body weight and reduce the impact on my legs, knees and ankles. After this hike I actually loved using trekking poles so much (see why!) that I knew I had to get a pair of my own!
As is common with my group of hiking friends, a couple ladies pulled ahead and a couple of us trailed behind a little ways. I was absolutely in no hurry that day, just enjoying the pleasant weather. This trail was a lot more populated than Giant, which is pretty typical. I’m sure it partially had to do with the nice weather, but also because this is a more popular hike for novice and recreational hikers – not just aspiring 46ers.
Pretty soon we reached a rocky overlook which offered spectacular fall views of the high peaks region. We stopped as a group to take in the scenery and snap some photos, of course! This was a popular rest area for hikers along the trail, and I can see how some folks might even confuse it with the summit.
Just a little ways past the open ledge is the junction where the trail splits off to Porter Mountain on the right. We stayed on the Cascade Mountain trail and opted to summit it first.
Cascade Mountain has a large, bald summit that requires some open rock scrambling to get to the top. There is one spot in particular that is the easiest to scramble up, and there was a short wait to get through it thanks to the number of people out hiking that day.
The summit offers incredible 360-degree views of the surrounding high peaks. These sweeping vistas are undoubtedly what makes Cascade such a wildly popular day hike.
We took a pretty long break at the summit to enjoy our accomplishment of successfully climbing two high peaks in one weekend. Since it was a gorgeous day and we were making good time, we decided to move ahead and summit Porter Mountain as well.
Survey marker at the summit of Cascade Mountain.
We wandered back down from the summit of Cascade to the junction where the trail branches off towards Porter Mountain. The hardest part of this stretch of trail was that it seemed as though we were going down in elevation for quite a while, knowing that we would only have to climb back up again to summit. Additionally, this section of trail was less rocky and mostly dirt trail, which meant a lot of mud after the long day of rain that came before.
It was a relatively short trip up to the summit of Porter Mountain. This summit does not have a survey marker, which was a little disheartening since I enjoyed spotting the markers on my first three high peaks.
At first we didn’t even know we had reached the summit, until we continued past the rocky opening to find that the trail descended on the other side. Since we were able to get a data connection up on the summits, we did a quick Google search to verify that we were, in fact, on the summit of Porter.
Oddly enough, I ran into yet another high school classmate on the summit who was hiking with a few friends as well. We chatted briefly and I asked them to take a photo of our entire group.
We made our way down from the summit, stopping a few time to scramble up some rocky ledges for even more beautiful views. On our way down, as it was getting to be about mid-to-late afternoon, we passed a couple of families and small groups hiking up the Cascade trail in street clothes – jeans, cardigans and Peds, even! We had a feeling that they might not reach the summit that day, but hopefully they had an enjoyable (though short, I would imagine) hike as well. This day was exactly what we needed to wrap up our first girls’ adventure weekend. I’m still pretty impressed that we bagged three peaks on our first trip together!
What was your first hiking getaway with friends like? Share your experiences in the comments below!
Today was a mild autumn day in Rochester, and as winter draws closer I can’t help but reflect on a wild weekend I had just last month, which provided the first taste of wintery weather this season. The girls planned another Adirondack adventure in an attempt to bag a couple more high peaks this fall. We booked a cabin in Wilmington, near Whiteface Mountain, and decided we would try to summit Street and Nye Mountains on a weekend in mid-October.
Street Mountain is number 31 of the 46 High Peaks, with an elevation of 4166 feet. Nye Mountain is the second shortest of the 46 high peaks, with an elevation of 3895 feet. Nye Mountain and Street Mountain are often climbed together in a single day hike. An unmaintained trail leads hikers to the summits of both mountains from the Mount Jo Trail near Adirondack Loj.
We had the largest group of any hiking trip I’ve been on so far – this time with six ladies and one gentleman (a friend managed to sneak her boyfriend!) – all of varying hiking experience and backgrounds. We got an early start and arrived at the Adirondack Loj first thing in the morning. After parking, packing up our day packs and getting properly layered in outerwear, it was time to make our way to the trailhead.
We had trail maps of the area and the High Peaks Trails guidebook, but we decided to stop and ask someone at the Loj the best way to get up to the beginning of the Street & Nye trail. This proved to be a costly mistake, as the instructions she gave us actually led us almost all the way up Mount Jo in a large loop before finding the unmaintained trail. This added an extra hour-ish and almost 2 additional miles to our planned hike!
Things got interesting after we ventured out on the herd path leading up to Street and Nye Mountains. I imagine that following this herd path is usually pretty straightforward as it is the most popular route up these two “trail-less” high peaks, which are required for one to become an official 46er. However, the combination of leaf cover and light snowfall obscured much of trail for us, making it quite difficult to follow at times. Luckily there were a couple of groups heading up the same route ahead of us according to the trail register, and were able to find the herd path by following their footprints in the mud and snow.
Before long the path comes to the Indian Pass Brook which requires crossing to continue. From what I’ve read, Indian Pass Brook appears to be typically less deep than it was the day of our hike, though I’m sure it can be much deeper in the spring with heavy rain and snow melt. After assessing the situation for some time, we decided to just take off our socks and boots, roll up our pants, and “ford the river!”
This was my first stream crossing, and it was pretty tricky despite the relatively shallow depth. Parts of the stream where we crossed had a pretty strong current, and the rocks beneath the water were sharp and slippery. The water felt barely warmer than freezing. After all, it was cold enough to be snowing during our entire hike! The best part about the stream crossing was putting our wool socks and boots back on after reaching the other side. My feet were in heaven after fording the icy stream!
After a short distance there was another stream crossing, this one was narrower, shallower and had a large log that traversed it. I decided to “scoot” across the log while everyone else easily walked right across. My method worked well, until I tried to exit the log on the wrong side and my right leg slid into the stream up to my thigh. So much for dry feet!
The trail followed a brook most of the way up the mountain, crisscrossing it a few times. We continued on by following footprints of those ahead in the snow and mud. The trail was extremely muddy and wet from the constant snowfall, so after a while it didn’t even matter that my right foot was completely soaked from the stream crossing.
Eventually the fastest hiker of the bunch broke away from the rest and I tried my best to keep up with her. We stopped a few times to check in with the rest of the group behind us via two-way radio, and found out that three of the girls had turned around due to the weather conditions and difficulty of the hike.
We eventually came to a rocky ledge on the trail with a clearing in the trees. This spot probably offers a pretty nice view, but all we saw was a white out. We passed a couple of hikers who were on their way down from the summits, and they said the clearing with the trail junction for Street and Nye was impossible to miss.
Well that was a bit misleading, since we somehow managed to go straight past the junction without even noticing! I suppose it’s because of how closely we were following the tracks to make sure we stayed on the path, but eventually the trail just seemed to stop completely and we couldn’t tell for the life of us where to continue.
As we looked around in confusion, trying to figure out where or how we went wrong, I looked up and spotted the “Nye Mountain” sign above our heads. We had summited without even realizing it! We high-fived to another high peak conquered, and radioed to the other two who were behind us to see how far away they were.
Just as we were about to head down to the junction to wait for the others, they came climbing up to the summit area. We joined them back up at the summit of Nye, snapped a few pictures, and decided to forge ahead to Street Mountain. This time when we came to the junction, it was slightly more obvious but also pretty clear why we missed it on the way up. Coming down the summit of Nye, there was a clearly visible rock cairn marking the spot where the Street Mountain trail veers off that we hadn’t seen before.
The hike from the junction up to the summit of Street Mountain was pretty brutal. I’m not sure if it was the weather, the fact that I was out-of-shape or tried to keep up with a super speedy hiker, but this steep section of trail took a toll on me. I was so relieved when we finally reached the summit of Street Mountain after nearly an hour of hiking from the junction.
Just past the summit of Street Mountain the trail continues to a clearing that (supposedly) offers more of a scenic view. I don’t know about all that, since the only view we got all day was of snowy clouds. We snapped a few more pictures, stopped to eat sandwiches and relaxed at the summit until our body temperatures reminded us to keep moving.
The way down a mountain is always kind of boring during an out-and-back hike, and tends to be more rough on the joints than going up. This adventure proved to be no different, and thanks to my ambitious speed on the way up, I was moving more slowly than ever on the way down. We broke off into two groups, with two people leading the way and two of us following quite a ways behind. This turned out to be a good thing, however, because when we came to the rocky ledge beyond the junction, there was a break in the clouds moving across the mountains which offered an absolutely breathtaking view, completely unlike what we saw on the way up.
My friend stopped for a moment to take in the incredible sight, but she was eager to continue our descent. I had a hard time pulling myself away from the most rewarding part of the entire day’s hike! After I was done taking hundreds of photos and taking in the moment of beauty, we made our way back down the herd path the same way we came up.
When we reached the two stream crossings, we didn’t stop to spend any time considering our best option for crossing – we just forded through, boots on and all. We didn’t want to waste time taking our footwear off and finding the best spot to cross, since we were tired and running out of daylight. We may have underestimated how far the trailhead was from the Indian Pass Brook, and for that entire stretch my wet boots felt like cement blocks on my feet. Before long, however, we reached the end (or beginning?) of the herd path where it met the Mount Jo trail and found the exact point where our instructions steered us in the wrong direction that morning. We passed Heart Lake and came out at the trailhead near the Adirondack Loj, proud to have bagged two more high peaks and eager to get our hard-earned pumpkin pie milkshakes from Stewart’s!
Have you ever hiked an unmaintained trail? Share your experiences in the comments below!
For this edition of Throwback Thursday we’re taking it back to October 2014 for our first “Girls’ ADK Adventure Weekend”. You know what’s truly awesome? Having fantastic female friends who love trails, mountains and adventures as much as you do. I am lucky to have met some inspiring and fearless ladies in the past few years whose appetite for adventure is absolutely contagious.
After bagging my first high peak in the spring of 2014 with my partner, I was aching to get back to the mountains for some more adventures. When the idea for a ladies’ high peaks trip came up at the bar after a kickball game, I knew I had to go! After hearing about an easily accessible camping area close to the Giant Mountain/Roaring Brook Trailhead, we decided we would rough it for a fall weekend and attempt 3 High Peaks: Giant Mountain, Cascade Mountain and Porter Mountain. We decided to depart on a Friday evening after work, knowing we would be arriving to set up camp in the dark. We weren’t very worried because we had it on good authority that our camping spot would be easy to find and close to the parking lot. Off we went – four women and a Goldendoodle.
The drive went by quickly and uneventfully, but that’s probably because I slept a good part of the way there. However, once we got to Keene Valley things started to get challenging almost immediately. This too-good-to-be-true camping spot turned out to be impossible to find, likely because it was nothing like what was described to us. We followed the instructions from our trusted source to a T only to find the parking area completely surrounded by “No Camping” signs. It was late, dark, and we were following bad directions in an unfamiliar area. We were not at all prepared to venture out for a hike to find a designated camping spot, as we weren’t planning a backpacking trip. Car camping is more of what we had in mind. In our tired, frazzled daze we decided to park at the Giant Mountain/Roaring Brook Trailhead and wander in a short distance to find a place to set up camp. Every flat area that looked ideal was met with a nearby “No Camping” sign as well. We gave up, running out of time and energy, and decided to camp a little ways off trail and risk eviction if some night-prowling park ranger were to stumble upon us.
We managed to set up camp pretty quickly and get settled in for some sleep. Three of us shared a tent, while another stayed in a separate tent with her dog. I must have been exhausted because even after my car nap I fell right asleep. The other ladies didn’t have as much luck and hardly slept. Of course it didn’t help that a short time later a large group of people came down the trail and set up camp all around us – loudly. I’m really surprised at how well I slept; I only woke up briefly once and fell right back asleep. The others hardly slept at all, partially due to the fact that the our new camp neighbors were up talking and laughing directly outside our tents for much of the night.
We wanted to get an early start for our Giant Mountain hike, but when our 6:30 am wake up time came none of us felt like moving. A reminder that we should pack up camp before it started to rain was enough to get us to all sit up in unison. We packed up even faster than we set up the night before. There were almost a dozen tents all around us, filled with hikers who had been asleep for only a couple of hours, or so it seemed. We loaded our gear into the car and used camp stoves to make (instant) coffee and oatmeal in the small parking lot. We packed our daypacks with water and supplies and ventured onto the trail just as it began to rain lightly.
The light rain eventually turned into a moderate rain which become a heavy rain for much of our hike. For two ladies it was their very first high peak, and for two of us it would be our second. None of us were willing to let the weather stand in our way. We made our way up toward the summit of Giant via the Roaring Brook Trail. A short ways into the trail there is a split where hikers can go straight to Roaring Brook Falls or left to continue up to Giant’s open rock summit. The falls didn’t appear to be much farther on the trail map, so we decided to check it out before continuing up Giant. Because we were still low enough in elevation to avoid complete cloud cover when we reached the top of Roaring Brook Falls, it offered the best view of the area we got all day. We rock-hopped across the brook and made our way to the top of the falls to take in the breathtaking sight.
After exploring Roaring Brook Falls we continued to follow the trail all the way up to the summit of Giant. The 3.4 mile trail ascends 3,375 feet from the Roaring Brook Trailhead to the summit, and has several steep sections that require scrambling – hand over hand climbing. The rain never let up and only became heavier as the day went on, turning the trail into a muddy stream for us to traverse during our several-hour climb. This was a pretty exciting trail, and it would have been a lot of fun to hike in more favorable conditions. However, we were soaked to our core, freezing, and growing more surly with each difficult step.
We finally reached a rocky clearing with a sign indicating we were 0.1 miles from the summit of Giant Mountain – our goal destination felt within reach! You heard it here first – that was the absolute longest one tenth of a mile in my entire life! Be warned – that sign is very deceiving, especially when you are cold, soaking wet, tired and eager to head back. We pressed on, nonetheless, eventually summiting the mountain with high winds, falling snow and complete cloud cover.
While it was difficult to enjoy the moment in the conditions we faced, we all still felt the significant sense of accomplishment that only comes with touching a survey marker after such adversity (admittedly, hikers and climbers all over the globe face much greater adversity than cold rain – this isn’t Everest, after all). A couple of us still managed to crack open a ceremonial summit beer and scarf down a sandwich before beginning our long, cold, wet descent back to the trailhead. The rain eventually let up, but not until well after each one of us was so uncomfortable that the thought of tenting another night was completely unbearable. I think most normal people would have cut their losses and headed home to relax and recover from such a grueling experience. We aren’t most people, though.
Read Part II of our “First Girls’ ADK Adventure Weekend”here!
Have you ever had a bad-weather adventure? Share your experiences in the comments below!
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!
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!
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.
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?!
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.
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!
Have you ever been unable to summit due to difficult weather or trail conditions? Share your experiences in the comments below!