Trip Report: The Snow and Ice Clad Mountains of Adirondacks

I love going to the Adirondacks in the winter. The snow-scape one gets to see there is hard to find anywhere near DC.

As this trip grew closer, we had a few dropouts and eventually, it was down to Kyle and me. Our original plan had us camping Friday and Saturday night. When Friday night forecasts for Lake Placid showed to be near negative 15 degrees, we opted to start Saturday morning and spend the night out on Saturday (and Sunday if needed). Our plan – start at Garden trailhead, get Big Slide, stay overnight at Ore Bed Lean-to, get some of the Great Range Traverse peaks (Saddleback, Gothics, Armstrong, Upper Wolf Jaw, Lower Wolf Jaw), and potentially hike out on Sunday if we were not exhausted. We knew going in that it was an ambitious plan, and our success was going to be dependent on the trail conditions.

As we drove into Keene Valley on Saturday morning, our upper and lower jaws dropped as the car thermometer showed the temperature to be negative 18. First things first though – a sumptuous breakfast at Noonmark Diner. By the time we reached the Garden trailhead, the temperatures were much closer to 0 degrees. We snagged one of the few remaining parking spots and started the trip.

The day was clear, and as expected, was warming up fast as we made our way to the junction of Slide Mountain Brook trail. Near the NYSDEC ranger station, Kyle willed a privy into existence at the exact time he needed it. We stashed our overnight stuff off the trail, and began the climb up. The trail had already been broken, and we made steady progress. The snow clad pines were beautiful, and reminded me why I love going to the ‘Daks. The trail became steeper once we hit the ridgeline and headed towards the summit via Yard Mountain trail. Pretty soon we were at the top, and enjoyed stunning views of the Great Range mountains. Those were the mountains we would be tackling the next day. We took our summit pics, and then headed down. We passed a few day-hikers, some of whom only had microspikes on.

The rest of our hike to the bottom and then to the Ore-bed lean-to was uneventful. We had made good time, and were at camp by 3. Two day hikers – a father and his ten year old son – were hiking out and we talked to them briefly. They said they had hiked from Upper Wolf Jaw to Gothics and had to break the trail in between. We were impressed, and thanked them since we would hike that trail. Knowing that other day hikers had been to Saddleback, I was optimistic about the next day. The shelter was occupied by two nice fellows from Vermont (who had hiked in with beer and introduced a ‘skunk-like’ smell in the shelter), and just as we thought it was going to be roomy, two more people (ice-climbers) showed up in the dark. It turned out to be a tight fit overall.

Next morning, we performed our camp chores (mostly boiling water) and hit the Orebed Brook trail early. We made good progress until the trail opened up. Up until now, the trail had been packed. But on this steep, open section, without any tracks, and with tons of powder. It was hard work breaking the trail in this stretch. The trail ducked into the woods as it gained the ridge, which was relatively easier.  

Once at the junction on the ridgeline, there were no signs that the trails were broken. Again, we worked hard as we progressed towards Saddleback. The 0.5 mile hike definitely wasn’t easy, especially due to dense trees that we had to duck around/underneath. Finally, we reached the summit! While the peak was fully fogged in and we didn’t get any views, I loved the thick ice laced on the trees.

The ridge was windy so we didn’t stick around for long and made our way down. We hadn’t taken any breaks up until this point, and I started feeling the effects of partially breaking the trail. As soon as we took a stopped for a snack back at the junction, I realized that my clothes were wet from sweat or from falling onto the snow a few times while breaking the trail. I started feeling chilly, so put my extra layers on and decided to head back to the lean-to since I was concerned about getting hypothermic. Kyle ensured I was feeling okay to head down, and gave a shot at going onwards. I learned later that as he made his way up, he didn’t feel comfortable being on and breaking the trail by himself and decided to turn around too. We hadn’t seen a single soul on the ridge by this point.

On our way down, we encountered other day hikers on their way to Saddleback, who thanked us for doing the hard work. We reunited at the shelter, and re-iterated that we had both made the right decisions under the circumstances. Since this was our only remaining day of hiking, it made sense to hike out and so we did. Pretty soon, we were feasting on food again at Noonmark (and pies – Yes!). We made good time on the drive back and reached DC before midnight.

All in all, considering the conditions, we were happy with a) the peaks we got, and b) our decisions. We both got winter credit on two 46er’s. I have some new things on my gear wish list including gaiters (doh!), dryer/warmer socks, and potentially dryer/warmer boots. I am sure we will be back for more!

Photos from the trip are on this link: https://photos.app.goo.gl/UsQ3k1kXZFCX8tUR6

B.A.

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