Posts Tagged ‘Whiteface’

Giant Mountain — 16 Sep 2012

Info

  • Map: National Geographic, Adirondack Park, Lake Placid/High Peaks
  • Reference: Lisa Densmore, Hiking the Adirondacks
  • Trails: Ridge
  • Type: Out and back
  • Distance:  6 miles
  • Time: 7 hours
  • Exertion: Strenuous

Getting There

The trailhead is on NY Route 73, a short ride off the Adirondack Northway, I87.  I approached it from Lake Placid, so it’s about a 30 minute ride SE out of that town, just past the so-called village of St. Huberts.  (The Gertrude Stein aphorism about Oakland applies in spades here: There is no there there.)  From the Placid approach the big clue that you’re close is Chapel Pond on your right.  If coming from I87, Chapel Pond on your left means you missed it.  Look for those nice yellow-letter-on-brown-background signs that will say Giant/Ridge.  You can park on either side of 73.  The trailhead is on the northeast side of the road.

The Hike

Despite its moniker, Giant Mountain is only the 12th highest peak in the Adirondacks:

Giant Mtn Tile in Lake Placid

Giant Mtn Tile in Lake Placid

Now the previous two excursions found me tackling #1 (Marcy) and #2 (Algonquin), so why did I skip over #3-#11?  No reason.  There’s no plan here.  Plus, I’ve been thumbing through the Densmore book (see References) for the last few years, and am subject to the filtering there.  Before you accuse me of taking the easy way out, let me just say that last year’s march was a 2969′ vertical gain over 3.6 miles, while Giant is 3050′ over about 3.0 miles.  So if you do yer guzintas, this is a steeper climb than last year.  So even though when you hit the top you’re still about 400′ shy of where I was last year, that’s because the trailhead for Giant is further down into a valley than the Algonquin trailhead which is also off 73 but after it’s humped up quite a bit out of the valley.

The start is indicated by the standard DEC sign:

Giant Trailhead

Giant Trailhead

The drive out of Placid takes about 30 minutes, so I did not get on the trail until about 9:45.  Once started it became a trudge through the usual dark, rocky morass I’ve grown used to up here.  I have to say that compared to the Algonquin and (especially) Marcy trails, this was much drier.  Admittedly, they’ve had a very dry summer up here, but there are parts of the Van Hovenberg Trail up to Marcy that are basically stream beds.

For such a steep trail, my hat is off to the maintainers, because there are for the most part excellent steps and switchbacks when it gets really nasty.  About 20 minutes in–all UP, UP, UP–there’s a nice view back down to 73, and you might even be able to see your car.

First Vista on Rigde Trail

First Vista on Ridge Trail

There's My Car--Somewhere Next to Chapel Pond

There's My Car--Somewhere Next to Chapel Pond

At 0.7 mi. you hit the pond known as the Giant’s Washbowl.  It’s an anomalous little body of water sitting here for no good reason:

Giant's Washbowl

Giant's Washbowl

with a precarious-looking footbridge across its one end:

Step Carefully!

Step Carefully!

At the end of the puncheon the Ridge Trail continues up very steeply, but the steps and switchbacks make it bearable.  Around the 1 1/4 hour mark you emerge out onto some rock ledges that afford nice views worth stopping for a look at.  The snap below is of the Great Range, which is a set seven of the 46 High Peaks: Lower Wolfjaw, Upper Wolfjaw, Armstrong, Gothics, Saddleback, Basin, and Haystack:

The Great Range

The Great Range

(And no, I can’t tell you which one is which.)  Looking up from this point you see what seems to be a summit, but of course it’s not, it’s merely a tease called The Bump:

Looking up at "The Bump"

Looking up at "The Bump"

When you get near it, there is a sign indicating a choice to go over the bump or around it.  The Densmore book advised to take the wussy way around it because the vistas don’t really improve all that much as payback for humping it over The Bump.  I found that to be wise counsel and opted for the left route:

Over or Around?

Over or Around?

Within minutes of your avoidance of said Bump, you’re back to climbing again, on the final assault to the summit.  Nearing the two-hour mark, you can turn around and be smug about your decision not to expend your precious energy on that silly Bump:

Looking Back at The Bump

Looking Back at The Bump

There’s still about 3/4 of a mile to go and plenty of vertical gain.  There are very few flat stretches to be had, and they are as short as my temper when I watch Fox News.

I hit the summit about 12:30–just under the 3 hour mark.  My previous two hikes up here gave me a little reference, so I was not too ashamed of only making 1.something miles per hour on the ascent.  Still, it’s nothing to brag about.  The top had a long ridge about 30′ wide with enough space for the 20-30 people that were up there with me.  As usual, I nestled into a little crag in the rocks and rested the weary bones.  Here’s the picture for which I did all of this climbing:

Atop Giant Mountain

Atop Giant Mountain

As best I can figure, you can identify the Great Range in this westerly view and the big bump behind the range is Mt. Marcy.  In my estimation that puts the almost-as-big bump on the right hand side as Algonquin.  I got into a conversation with a gentleman at the top about which peaks were which, and I think we agreed on at least these two.  Looking more northerly, you can clearly see Whiteface, easily identified by its observatory and ski runs.  (More about this later.)

Whiteface from Giant

Whiteface from Giant

A couple of younger fellows took this pic of me after I did them a similar favor.  (They took my ineptitude with their smartphone camera in stride, I must say.)

Me at the Top

Me at the Top

(I have no idea what the guy behind me was up to.)  I was actually happier than this picture might suggest.  Things were pretty OK–I was not real beat up, I ate a little bit, but not a lot–par for the course as I had learned from the past treks, and it was pretty early in the day with no rush to get back.  I did the usual 45 mins. at the top and then began the descent.

About 15-20 minutes from the top I look below me and saw what seemed to be a guy with a very big backpack coming up the trail.  As he got nearer I could see it was actually a kid seat, almost like a little sedan chair on his back with a toddler–not an infant–sitting astride Dad’s shoulders.  I made some amazed comments as we passed, and he continued to motor up the trail.  About 15 minutes later, a woman comes up with the same contraption on her back and a smaller child, dead asleep, within.  In our brief conversation I learned that the gentleman who had passed me earlier was her husband, and that she did not think she’d make it to the top.  I certainly could not blame her.  All I could advise is that when she and her husband were old and gray that they remind their kids they had done this for them.  Or maybe remind them sooner–like when they are teenagers.  I know I’m not exactly an Ironman, but I like to think if I have to get up a mountain, I can do it, no matter how long it takes.  But on my best day, even 20 years ago, I would never have entertained the notion of giving one of my kids a free ride on my back up a 3000′ mountain.  Even if I could have physically done so, still, I’d have still made their stubby little legs do the work for themselves.  And if they couldn’t make it, well then they’d just have to walk their sorry little asses back down the mountain.  I guess I really am a mean daddy.

The walk down was the usual rock dancing, but there were some calmer spots, and the views just made you take it slow and enjoy what was at your back on the way up.

Nice View on the Way Down

Nice View on the Way Down

I think it was about this spot where I took a little break, sitting on a boulder, that I realized that my watch had dropped off my wrist.  I recalled that at one point on the way down I had heard a clink sound and stopped and looked all around my feet, saw nothing, and figured my trekking poles had just hit a rock–although I had a nagging sense that that was not exactly the kind of clink I would have expected.  Now this was not a really expensive watch, but my wife had given it to me a few years back for Christmas, and I really liked it, and I get very picky about watches.  So after a little internal debate I decided to slowly walk back uphill to see if I could find it.  I had a visual image of the spot where I heard the clink, but I was not sure of where it was with regard to any way points.  My only memory was that it was after I’d gone past the woman with the sedan chair that I’d checked the time, and it was about 1:30.  Now it was about 30 minutes later.  (That was my guess, and the time stamp on the photo bears this out.)

I probably would have not searched to the extent I did had I not run into a group of four women coming down who said they had seen it.  Unfortunately, their English was not good and they could only give me semi-coherent descriptions of where and when they had seen it.  So off I went up the hill, merci beaucoup-ing them like an idiot.  I probably did over a half hour back up the hill, never quite got the feel for the place I thought I’d heard the clink, nor did I manage to decipher the fractured Franglais they had used to describe the place they supposedly encountered my timepiece.

This kind of drained the enjoyment out of the rest of the hike.  There are few things more discouraging than to climb back UP a mountain you’ve already come down, and then to backtrack a decent you’ve already descended.  I dislike the whole concept of an out-and-back hike to begin with because I don’t like doing something I’ve already done, even if it is in another direction.  Doing a mini out-and-back within an out-and-back gets me into a Sisyphean zone that makes me crazy.  And, I never did find my watch.

What should have been a tiring 2-hour descent turned into a 4-hour slog that left my legs feeling like they were made of Jello and my feet feeling like they had been run over by a car.  It was almost 5:00 by the time I was on my way back to Placid.

The next day was my driving home day, but I was in no need of getting out of Dodge early, so I decided to do a very unnatural thing and drive up to the top of Whiteface Mountain.  I’ve mentioned this peak before in my previous Adirondack posts, and I’ve skied there a few times as well.  It is the 5th highest peak in NY:

Whiteface Tile in Lake Placid

Whiteface Tile in Lake Placid

There is a 5-mile road, built in the 1930′s, that meanders up the back of the mountain.  In my several previous visits to this area, I’d considered doing the drive, but it seemed like such a lazy, old fart thing to do that I always chosen something more athletic or historical instead.  My short time window on this day, not to mention my rubber legs from yesterday’s hike, had drained me of all ambition, so off I went.

I’m very glad I did for several reasons, which I will get into.  It’s about a 20-minute drive from Lake Placid, northeast on NY 86 to NY 431 that goes up the mountain.  A mile or so up 431, there’s a toll booth of sorts, more like an entrance gate, where you pays your fee ($10 for a solo car) and gets a little brochure and a ticket.  Then it’s a slow crawl up the 5 miles of very bumpy road to the parking lot.  The road is tough not because of cracked pavement, but the surface is riddled with bumps and divots that I presume are formed by the ground shifting underneath.  It’s a steep grade, so my car found it hard to do over 20 MPH, but there are lots of places to pull off and enjoy the views, which just keep getting better and betterer as you go up.

The parking lot is really just a strip of face-in spots along the return side of the road, so you have to go to the very end of the road, in front of what’s called The Castle, then loop back and find a spot on the way down.  I imagine on fall weekend days it gets very crowded.

The Castle

The Castle

Parking on Whiteface

Parking on Whiteface

If you look above the parked cars in the picture, you can see the weather observatory at the actual peak.  There are two ways to get up there.  You can take an elevator that is directly under the observatory, or walk back to the Castle and then take a quarter-mile walk up along the crest of the mountain.  Given that I was already wimping out today, I felt obliged to do the walk.  It is a great little hike, although in wet or icy conditions I would not recommend it to the faint of heart.  For me, it was a spectacular day–a little warmer than the day before, which contributed some haze, but the air was still very clear.  The path up from the Castle is slippery in parts even when dry, as there are many sections where you have to friction climb up the natural rock where the builders seem to have given up trying to pave a path or even stairs.  There is a metal railing on both sides, so it’s not precarious, but it does require some careful stepping along the way.  Take your time–there’s no rush and every stop is an opportunity to soak in the views.

The Walk up to Whiteface Peak

The Walk up to Whiteface Peak

You’ll know when you’ve hit the top:

At the Top

At the Top

There is much to behold up here.  First, you get a real view of the actual Lake Placid, the lake, not the village:

Lake Placid (the lake)

Lake Placid (the lake)

When you hang around the village, the focal point is actually Mirror Lake (very nice in its own way), which in this photo is the small bit in the upper left hand corner.  The real Lake Placid is much bigger, but somewhat invisible in the village.  You can have a look down at the ski runs of Whiteface which in a few months will be packed with skiers.

The End of the Gondola atop Little Whiteface

The End of the Gondola atop Little Whiteface

The crazy thing about this mountain is that the uppermost ski lift ends over 350′ below the summit, yet the mountain still has the biggest vertical drop in the East (3430′ if you believe their web site).  You can also look back down over the crazy switchbacks that got you up here:

How Did I Get up Here?

How Did I Get up Here?

There’s a great vista in each of the 360 degrees up here.  If it wasn’t for the wind and having to go to work the next day, I might be up there still.

If you read the brochure you get at the toll gate, it takes a little dig at the kind of USA we find ourselves living in today.  If I can take liberties with their POV, this road could probably not be built today because it would cost too much and it would probably be impeded by various environmental concerns.  But back in the 1930′s, in the Depression, NY State and then-governor (soon-to-be-president) Franklin Roosevelt just thought, Hey, this is a good idea, let’s just freakin’ do it. (I am taking liberties.)  Now, no doubt there was some environmental impact at the time, but in some ways it blends in nicely with the mountain, and it was done for $1.25M.  Yes, it was a big government job, but it got some folks working, and now there is actually a way for people with disabilities, or who no longer have the physical ability to hike up to this kind of a peak, the chance to enjoy a bit of natural beauty.  I’ve tended to be a snob and think, if you can’t do the hike, you don’t deserve the view, but being up at the top with a lot of people who clearly, if they tried to hike up, would be coming down in ambulances, made me feel good that there’s one out of the 46 Adirondack High Peaks that anyone can get to the top of and enjoy.  So it was a bit of a correction for me.

For fun, I took the elevator down–the real creepy part being that there’s about a 100-yard, 7-foot high, dark, soggy tunnel at the bottom you have to walk through to get back to the parking area.  My sister would love this!

So net, a great trip.  Yea, lost the watch, hurt my feet, had a pretty miserable climb down Giant, but as they say, A bad day fishing [or hiking] is better than a good day working.

just

Mt. Arab — 19 Sep 2011

Info

  • Map: Per the Densmore book, USGS Piercefield Quad (but you don’t really need it)
  • Trails: Mt. Arab
  • Type: Out and back
  • Distance: 2 miles
  • Time: About 2 hours, assuming you hang at the top for about an hour.
  • Exertion: Easy

Getting There

From Lake Placid Village, head east on NY 86 toward Saranac Lake. Once in that village, continue onto NY 3 East toward Tupper Lake.  NY 30 will merge with NY 3 on the way into Tupper Lake.  Mind the signs carefully and stay on 3E toward Piercefield.  Once through Piercefield watch for CR 62 (not 75 like Google Maps tells you) and make a left.  At 1.8 miles, make a left onto Mt. Arab road, and go 0.8 miles down that.  Park on the right, the trailhead is on the left.  (Depending on your speed, this will take about 45 mins.)

The Hike

So, this was my recovery hike from doing Algonquin the day before.  My left ankle was a bit angry with me. and I was feeling quite un-ambitious, so this hike, described in the Densmore book (see References) looked like the perfect alternative.  It’s one mile of a very easy ascent, to a summit with a refurbished fire tower that you can go up into, with panoramic views from there of the High Peaks plus lots of rolling hills, woods, and lakes.  You will not get the drama and majesty of a High Peaks’ climb, but it will be pretty damn good, without any of that pain business.  I was not expecting much from this hike, but at the risk of sounding a bit gushy, it turned out to be a real gem.

It was another grand day weather-wise, probably even better than the day before: cool, crisp, and clear.  I don’t mind two-thirds of the 3 H’s: the hot and humid I’m fine with, but the hazy bit always reduces the payback on a hike.  There’s a sign at the trailhead, telling you it’s only a mile to the top:

Mt. Arab Trailhead

Mt. Arab Trailhead

It’s a very easy ramble, albeit pretty constantly uphill.  There are few sights along the way, although a brochure available at the sign-in kiosk does provide numbered points along the route for some geologic or floral points of interest.  I must confess, these were a bit under my radar; I just wanted to get up to the top.

The summit is very nice, with the small ranger station and the aforementioned fire tower.  Although there are only hints of the views to come when climbing the tower, it is a nice place to sit down and have some lunch, which I did, sitting on the steps of the station:

Ranger Cabin, Mt. Arab

Ranger Cabin, Mt. Arab

Since this was post-Labor Day, the nominal end of summer, the cabin was locked up tight, with chicken wire covering the windows, and this plaintive sign on the padlocked door:

Please Do Not Break In

Please Do Not Break In

I found this somewhat quaint:  I mean there’s no reason I would ever need to break in here other than extremely dire circumstances, like being stranded naked atop the mountain in a blizzard in the middle of January, in which case I doubt this sign would provide much inducement for me not to break in.  Sadly however, I realize mutants live amongst us who would simply break off the latch on a late autumn evening after guzzling too many Genny Cream Ales, for the opportunity to relieve themselves on someone’s floor, thus the need for such a sign.  There was a persistent chirp every couple of minutes coming from the cabin that could only have been a smoke detector with a dying battery, unlikely to be replaced until well after this next winter has come through and silenced the chirp during some blustery, snow-driven night.

The special thing about this day, aside from the physical relief of not climbing 3000 vertical feet in 3.6 miles, was… There was no one here! There was no sound aside from the wind in the trees.  I was far enough away from any roads that no car noise could be heard.  A few turkey vultures could be seen soaring off the hill, some chipmunks rustled in the grass, some buzzing insects, but other than that, it was just me.

After lunch, I made the climb up the tower.  Fire towers are a neat feature of the Adirondacks.  Originally intended for forest fire detection, that task is now done by airplanes.  Some of them have been restored and are maintained by local volunteer groups, like this one, for the enjoyment of us all, and I feel a debt of gratitude toward these people and organizations.  For without the ability to get up into this tower, Mt. Arab is not much of a destination.  Yeah, it’s quiet and such, but there’s not much of a view due to the trees at the top–other than the nifty little bench I uncovered later.  So kudos to these people, because keeping this structure within compliance to be climbed by the public is no easy task, especially in this rugged climate.

Fire Tower, Mt. Arab

Fire Tower, Mt. Arab

The inside of the tower is bare, with only a glass-covered map on a circular table that’s not all that useful.  The windows are plexiglass that has been so etched by the wind, rain, sleet, hail, and dust that you cannot really see much out of them.  Fortunately, they do open up, so you can get a clear view in all four directions.  The east view is the best, as you look back whence you came, from the High Peaks.  There is a panorama that lines the upper walls of the cabin to help you identify the mountains in the distance.  It’s a bit challenging, but I do believe that this is a picture (14x zoom) of where I was the day before, Algonquin:

Algonquin from Mt. Arab

Algonquin from Mt. Arab

Algonquin is not the mountain in the foreground, but rather the one behind it, in the center of the photo.

Looking a bit further north, you can identify Whiteface with its signature granite scar running from top to bottom:

Whiteface, with Tupper Lake in the Foreground

Whiteface, with Tupper Lake in the Foreground

The village of Tupper Lake appears in this 14x zoom shot to be sitting at the feet of Whitface, but there is about 30 miles between them.  The panorama in the tower did not call out Mt. Marcy, so I presume that it is blocked by some of the more proximate peaks, although I can’t quite fathom how that could be.

The southern view is next best with Mt. Arab and Eagle Crag Lakes as blue gems imbedded in the woods.  I experimented a bit with the photo-stitch feature on my camera to take a panorama of my own of this view:

Mt. Arab Panorama

Mt. Arab Panorama

It was striking how much wind was blowing against the tower, with almost nothing at ground level within the trees.  I hung out there for about 15 minutes or so, still totally alone, except for one elderly gent, the click-click of his trekking poles alerting me to his arrival.  For whatever reason, he quickly turned around and went back down to the parking lot without noticing me 50′ above him.

Once down out of the tower, I ambled around the summit a bit until my eyes caught sight of a little break in the bushes.  Sure enough, there was little path out to a rock ledge with a very nice rough bench.  I think I could have sat there all day, looking down at the lakes and the Adirondacks to the south:

Secluded Southern View from Mt. Arab

Secluded Southern View from Mt. Arab

Too bad this was not mentioned in the Densmore book, because it would have been a great place to eat lunch.  Oh well.  Before I’d found the spot, I’d heard some voices coming up the trail.  By now it was clear that they were at the summit, so I thought this would be a good time to move on.  Turned out it was an excellent time because just as I started downhill, more visitors arrived:  three twenty-somethings with a dog, one of the guys carrying a 16-oz can of Bud Lite, as an aid to hydration no doubt.  Funny, I usually think of beer as a post-hike beverage (and certainly never Bud Lite, Good Lord).  I had pulled off a solid hour of almost total isolation on a perfect day in the middle of the Adirondacks.  Yay, me!

It was a half hour scoot down the trail, my sore ankle not thrilled about it, but nothing compared to yesterday.  They’ve got a nice bit of beggary at the bottom:

Please Give!

Please Give!

I was in such a good mood that I slipped a fiver in the slot.  (Don’t tell anyone!)

On the ride back I stopped in Saranac Lake to stroll around.  It’s a very pretty town, clearly touting its quaintness as a tourist draw:

Downtown Saranac Lake

Downtown Saranac Lake

The lake itself is also quite picturesque:

Saranac Lake, Lake

Saranac Lake, Lake

All in all, a perfect hiking day.

Algonquin Peak — Sept 18th, 2011

Info

  • Map: National Geographic, Adirondack Park, Lake Placid/High Peaks
  • Reference: Lisa Densmore, Hiking the Adirondacks
  • Trails: Van Hovenberg, Algonquin branch
  • Type: Out and back
  • Distance: 7.2 miles
  • Time: About 8 hours
  • Exertion: Very strenuous

Getting There

From Lake Placid Village, take NY 73 East to Adirondack Loj Road.  Make a right and take the road to the kiosk at the end, about 4 miles.  Pay the $10 and park in the lots to the left.  (And don’t complain about the parking fee, for God’s sake it’s about what you spend for a glass of so-so wine at these overpriced restaurants in NYC these days.)

The Hike

OK, it’s my birthday month, and the air is cooling off, so it’s time to head off to the Adirondacks and try to hurt myself.  Last year around this time I trudged up Mt. Marcy, the highest peak in NY State (5344′), so this year I decided to deal with Algonquin, the second highest at 5114′.  It’s the only other peak in NYS above 5000′.  The good news about this hike is that the distance is about half that of Marcy.  The bad news is that, if you do the quick arithmetic, it’s only 230 fewer vertical feet (since you park in the same lot), so the climbing will be about twice as steep.  Some people consider this to be a more grueling climb than that to Marcy.  After this day, I’m not sure I’d agree, but they have a talking point.

Algonquin Slab in Lake Placid Village

Algonquin Slab in Lake Placid Village

Woke up to see this outside of my hotel window on Sunday morning:

Lake Placid Village

Lake Placid Village

Although the village is called Lake Placid, the lake it surrounds is Mirror Lake.  The high peak in the background is Whiteface Mt. (4867′), which can be hiked, although since there’s a road to the top, not to mention chair lifts as it’s a big skiing destination, its appeal is somewhat reduced.

Things got off to a late start, since I discovered after I parked the car that I’d left my CamelBak back in the hotel room, so I was not actually signed in at the trailhead until about 9:15am.  No biggie, I was not concerned about running out of daylight as I was last year.  The start was familiar territory for the first 20 minutes (0.9 mi) until the split for the trails to Marcy (blue) and Algonquin (yellow).  The next milestone was the Whale’s Tail Ski Trail junction (1.4 mi), nothing of note beyond mud and rocks.  There’s nothing else between here and the waterfall on the MacIntyre Brook at the 2.3 mile mark.  This I got to at about 10:45.  This was about 1.5 MPH, not exactly a great pace, but after the ski trail, things got steeper.  There were some nice stone steps in some spots, thank you very much trail maintainers, and I made a very naive note to myself that the descent might not be as painful as that from Marcy.  (Hah!)

Waterfall on MacIntyre Brook (trail to Algonquin)

Waterfall on MacIntyre Brook (trail to Algonquin)

The next milestone is the spur trail to Wright Peak at 2.9 miles.  While just over a half-mile from the waterfall, the pitch of the trail gets much steeper, with mud and water making things slippery.  (This was a couple of weeks after some big rainstorms, including Hurricane Irene, and some of these trails had recently been re-opened, so a lot of wet was not a surprise.)

Around 11:30, I started to see views of the mountains and valleys peek out from the trees, always a welcome site after being buried in the woods for over two hours.

Breaking out from the Dark Woods

Breaking out from the Dark Woods

Shortly after that, you reach the junction with the Wright Trail (blue) to the left. I stayed on the yellow of course, which more or less goes straight, but do be careful, as one trio of hikers that I ran into near the summit were convinced they were going up to Wright until I informed them, “Um, I think this is Algonquin.”  (Fortunately for me, it was.)

Junction: Trails to Wright and Algonquin

Junction: Trails to Wright and Algonquin

Now, in any kind of normal hike, the 0.9 miles to go to Algonquin Peak as seen above is a so-what, piece of cake, can-do-it-in-my-sleep kind of deal.  No big whoop.   But it would take me an hour and ten minutes to get up to that peak, about the slowest going I’ve ever done.  But there’s a reason.  OK, it’s steep, I mean like, STEEP.  I knew this going in, of course.  It’s wet, it’s rocky, in some spots you are walking across slabs of wet, sheer rock face for 50 feet or more.  I took a couple of embarrassing falls, at least they would have been embarrassing if anyone had been there to see it.  All the while going up, I heard this little voice in the back of my head going, “This is really gonna suck on the way back down!”  To ease your pain and make you feel that perhaps you’re not a total idiot for doing this, the views do start to improve:

A View of Lake Placid as We Crawl up Algonquin

A View of Lake Placid as We Crawl up Algonquin

As you approach the edge of the actual trees, and head into what they call the krumholtz region, with these gnarled little bush-like trees, you can see Wright Peak over your shoulder and wonder why you didn’t want to do that one today (4580′) instead.

Wright Peak on the Way to Algonquin

Wright Peak on the Way to Algonquin

There comes a point when you break completely out of the treeline, and you see the peak above you, and the pitch mellows a bit, and you say to yourself (silently), “OK, dude, like we did it!  We’re almost there!”  (Yes, there’s a fellow hiker in the picture, near the top in the very center.)

Almost at the Top--Or Are We?

Almost at the Top--Or Are We?

But when you get up there, this is what awaits you:

Oops, Sorry, This Is Really Algonquin Peak

Oops, Sorry, This Is Really Algonquin Peak

Yes, that first shot was a false summit, so you get up there to discover you ain’t done yet.  This is part of the joy and wonder of hiking:  having your hopes of some respite dashed by the real peak hiding behind a lower one.  I will say this, however:  the climbing at the end is not so bad compared to Marcy.  Perhaps that’s because with Marcy, you’ve walked over seven miles to get to the top, while here you’ve only done about three.  I just know that getting up the last quarter mile here was nowhere near as exhausting as last year’s final assault.

So I made the summit just around, 12:45, about 20 minutes later than I’d made Marcy last year with a 90 minute head start then.  I have to say, the summit was pretty much like Marcy.  Lots of bare rock, lots of grass patches that you are politely instructed not to sit or stand on by the NYS DEC Summit Steward.  (More about her later.)  The population at the summit I guessed at about two dozen, way less than at Marcy.  Perhaps this was due to it being a Sunday, vs. a Saturday then, or a bit later in the month, or it’s just that Algonquin is not #1.  In any case, you’re still about a mile above sea level and can see almost forever.

I reconnoitered the summit, and found a little spot to have a seat on the bare rock and eat my spartan lunch of cheese, Triscuits, grapes, and nuts.  It’s odd how after such an exertion, you’re hungry but not really able to wolf it down.  I just sort of nibbled on this very light fare and sipped some water.  Here’s my lunchroom view for the day:

Lunchtime on Algonquin

Lunchtime on Algonquin

Here I’m looking west at Iroquois Peak (4840′), the summit right in the middle of the picture.  One regret I have is that I did not consider taking a stroll over there after I relaxed.  A guy who had done so walked right by my while I was eating, saying he’d done this, and I didn’t even ask him how long it took.  It’s only bit over a mile one-way, and it did not look that steep at any point.  Even though, as we’ll see, by the end of the day I was pretty well shot, I think I could have bagged that peak for a song, as they say.  Oh well, live and learn.

So now about the Department of Environmental Conservation steward…  She was a perky, friendly, twenty-something dressed in a green DEC uniform, whose job it is to talk to each group of hikers reaching the summit and instruct them not to sit on the plants or grass.  Apparently in the awful ’80s before these stewards were around, the hiker traffic over these High Peaks denuded most of the popular summits, and a painstaking replanting effort had to be done to get them back to their natural, sub-arctic state.  I don’t want to bore you with the eco-orthodoxy about how there are only 87 acres of this kind of terrain in all of NYS.  Suffice it to say that I’m very aware that in my lifetime the Earth has been ruined by industry and population, so if someone in a green uniform tells me not to sit on a weed that I would normally not give a second notice to, I’m inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt.  I really do fear whether my grandchildren will ever be able to enjoy the natural wonders that I have; I wonder what will await them at the top of Algonquin when I’m gone.

I listened to her entreaties with other groups, and eventually she found her way over to me.  We talked about how I’d been on Marcy the previous year, and no, there hadn’t been a steward there that day, which she found a bit strange.  I asked her what time she would be going down the mountain and how long it would take her.  Answers: about 5:00, and about two and a half hours.  I asked exactly which peak was Marcy, and she pointed it out, then offered to take my picture with it in the background, so thanks to her, you get to look at this:

Me on Algonquin with Marcy in the Background

Me on Algonquin with Marcy in the Background

The peak in the foreground with bare rock slides is Mt. Colden.  As you can see, it was just a spectacular day.  Rather than a lot of stills, which I did take a ton of, I post this panoramic video I took from the summit.  It may not have as much details as the photos, but I think it really gives a better idea of the grandeur of the 360-degree view.

Video (about 40 MB)

I thought about this DEC steward a bit on the way down the mountain and afterwards.  I wish I’d remembered her name.  But here’s the horror of what she does for a living.  I don’t know how many days a week she works, but let’s be crazy and say it’s four.  Those days she starts up at dawn to climb one of these peaks (she told someone else that they do rotate peaks), and while I’m sure she’s in excellent physical condition, it is still a grind that takes her at least 2.5 hours to get up.  (On really steep terrain, going down is about the same time as going up.)  She then spends all day up there in all kinds of weather, hot, cold, wet, dry, windy, chatting to people about the same thing, over and over and over.  It can be 90 degrees at the base and 40 degrees at the summit–brutal weather in these peaks is a year-round reality.  The really awful thing is that there’s absolutely no place to go to the bathroom here.  No, they do not airlift Port-O-Pottys to these summits.  You have to descend several hundred feet to even get a modicum of privacy because the vegetation is so stunted.  Lord only knows what the very eco-pious consider acceptable ways to excrete in the wilderness.  (More about this later.)  Then she gets to go down the mountain as darkness moves in, which as we’ll see is just torture.  Whatever they’re (we’re) paying her, you could double it, and it wouldn’t be enough.

Forty-five minutes seems to be about the staying time on these summits.  That’s about how long I spent on Marcy, and other hiker writings seem to put the hang time between 30-45 mins.  For all of this work, it seems like we’re giving the view a short shrift.  There are a few reasons, that I suppose make sense.  First, you’ve got to face the fact that going down is probably going to suck, maybe worse than going up.  Second, a bare, rocky peak with vegetation you can’t sit on is not all that comfortable, and who wants to stand after all that walking?  Third, although not so much this day, it tends to get cold on these exposed peaks.  Fourth, there’s not much to do except gaze in wonder, and if you try to meditate on the scenery, one of the other three reasons keeps interrupting.  So I did a bit under an hour and then reluctantly headed back down.  (I should mention that from the map I was tempted to try to continue onto the Boundary Trail that would go down the other side and around some interesting lakes, but the word on the mountain was that the descent was very steep, and you would be taking your legs, if not your life, in your hands.  Plus, it adds three miles to the total trip.  So, no thanks.)

I took a very slow pace down to the treeline, stopping often to enjoy the views from a slightly different perspective.

Starting Down from Algonquin

Starting Down from Algonquin

My premonition on the way up, that going down was going to suck, held true.  Although on steep terrain the ascent is strenuous from a cardio POV, the descent punishes your legs, knees, feet, ankles, even your arms.  I’d taken a slow pace on the way up, and an even more deliberate pace on the way down.  My ETA at the parking lot was about 5:00PM, which I knew left me with a larger margin of error as daylight goes, so I felt no need to power down the hill.  As soon as I heard someone approach above me, I stopped and let them pass, not wanting to change my pace for external factors.  (OK, at the last mile or so, there we a couple of guys above me and I just refused to let them catch up to me.  Not sure why–pigheadedness, perhaps.)

Some random notes from the descent:

  • Near the treeline, had a guy walk past me with his left arm in a sling, not at all a slender gentleman, I must say.  God bless him on the way down.
  • Twisted my ankle really bad as it wedged between two rocks.  Also managed to give myself a golf-ball sized bruise on the my right shin dragging the leg over a boulder, in addition to some more extensive banging on that limb that resulted in a nasty iridescence up and down the  lower leg that continues to pain me as I write this.
  • Had a group of three walk by me on their way up, one guy trying to help his wife/sister/girlfriend up a particularly nasty bit of boilerplate, she in tears.
  • Some sliding on my tukos, just before the junction to Wright.  Got into one sitch where I was seriously sliding and not sure how to stop.
  • Took about an hour to get to that junction–par for the course.
  • Got to the cascade about 3:30–the worst part of the descent was done.
  • Hit the sign-in kiosk about 4:45–so about 3 hours from the peak, about 7.5 hours from the start, probably closer to 8.

Reflections

  1. Algonquin is not tougher than Marcy.  I mean the numbers just don’t add up: 7.2 mi vs. almost 15 mi, plus that extra 230 vertical feet.  I will say that the descent on Algonquin is more painful in some parts because of the pitch.
  2. I felt slightly less beaten-up on the return to the car than last year, and I think it’s mostly due to the distance.  No matter how you look at it, it’s twice as many steps to get up and down Marcy.
  3. This year I also went crazy and invested in a pair of those sissy trekking poles.  Overall, I think they helped, reducing the impact and strain on my legs and knees.  That said, on the downhill, they have a nasty habit of getting stuck in the mud or between rocks, and this slows you down, or worse, makes you fall.  Frankly, I can’t imagine coming down one of these peaks without at least one stick.  But people do it.
  4. At the Adirondack Loj, there’s a bulletin board where one of the posts is entitled, How to Poop in the Woods.   I felt this deserved a few moments of my time after I got back to the car.  It’s a basic set of steps, like… walk away from the trail and any water for some distance (I forget how much), with a spade (unlikely) or a conveniently found stick dig a hole, do thine business, and finally either bury or pack out the toilet paper.  It makes one wonder who opts for the latter alternative.  And who is the guy who even suggested this?  I don’t think I want to meet him.
  5. If I’d done this a week or two later, the fall foliage would have been at peak.  As it was, things were just beginning to turn, as you can see in some of the pictures.  But I can’t even begin to whine about this because this day, and the next, were two of the best late summer days, weather-wise, one could ever hope for.  And it’s always a crap-shoot on these mountains.  You can get rain or hail any day of the year, so take what you get, and be happy.

Coda

Drove back to Lake Placid Village feeling OK, but not great.  Spent a quiet night in my room, with some chills, but not as bad as the previous year.  Lots of weird dreams.  My ankle was very sore, the knot on my shin was rather large, but it went down overnight.  The next day I went to the opposite end of the spectrum and took a kiddie hike up to a place called Mt. Arab, which I will write up in a subsequent post because it was another spectacular day, especially for someone as beaten up as I.

Tuesday, I woke up to rain, took my time packing up and headed out of town for home.  I wonder if next year I’ll want to do this goofy thing again.  Who knows?