First Winter Adirondack High Peaks Camping Trip

By Mike Radomski
@OutsideChronicl

Introduction

The Adirondacks have a pull on me during all seasons, but especially during winter. I am not sure if it is crisp air, the stillness, the challenge of the snow or the unpredictable nature of cold weather. In reality, it is the feeling of being a pseudo-mountaineer.

Of course, my answer was “Heck Yea!”

My friend Tom is attempting to complete the winter 46ers and usually includes me on any ADK plans. He called last season about climbing Dix Mountain in the winter. Of course, my answer was “Heck Yea!” Then reality hit. I do not have snowshoes or proper winter layers. Luckily, Tom had an extra pair of snowshoes and I scrambled to bundle up. Dix Mountain was my first winter summit. It was challenging in the fresh snow, but it was when I fell in love with winter summits.

This winter, between Christmas and New Year’s, a group of us climbed Mt. Marshall. I was more than prepared. I picked up a set of MSR Evo Ascents from Craigslist and a great Columbia jacket from ShopGoodWill.com. I was ready this year! However, Mt. Marshall proved a challenge due to the -21℉ temperatures at the trailhead and even lower temps on summit. I had to buy even more winter gear. I picked up gloves, mittens, glove liners and heavy thermals.

Crossing the stream at Marcy Dam

Wanting to get the most out of my new gear, Tom and I began planning a multi-day overnight trip for President’s Weekend during our Marshall hike. I had not camped in the winter since Boy Scouts. I felt confident in my winter and camping gear except for my sleeping bag. I only had one rated down to 30℉ that I knew would not cut it in the Adirondack winters. Tom brought two bags rated for 15℉ and we had planned on renting 0℉ bags from EMS in Lake Placid if necessary. The temperatures were expected to start in the mid-20’s and actually reach close to 50 while we were there. Definitely an unusual warm front.

Sounds like an opportunity, ketobackpacking.com some day?

The other curveball of the trip was my diet. My wife and I began experimenting with a Ketogenic diet right around Christmas time. I really did not know how to prepare my meals and there is not many resources on the Internet (Sounds like an opportunity, ketobackpacking.com some day?). I knew my food would be dense in calories and thus would lighter than a normal trip. But I could not get prepackaged meals like Tom. I opted for loads of nuts, bacon, cheese and tuna along with what I called my Sherpa Tea.

Majestic Overlook on the way to Redfield Mtn.

The keto diet proved to be awesome. I had solid energy for all of our hikes. I rarely got hungry and I did not even feel I needed dinner on the second night. It was amazing.

Burpee Test Motherfucker

On the trip to Lake Placid, Tom shared his audiobook to pass the time. The book was called Living with a SEAL. It is an inspirational and funny story about a rich guy who hired a tough as nails Navy SEAL to train him. “Burpee Test Motherfucker” We checked into the Hampton Inn on Tom’s travel points. We then made our way to our customary dinner at Lake Placid Brewery. I had a delicious Maple Cheddar Burger, no bun of course.

We gave our gear a final check and reduced any redundancy between us. Lights out at 10pm. We had breakfast at the hotel and arrived at our trailhead at the Adirondack Loj by 7am. I learned that you cannot shake a Nalgene while you have tea bags inside. The bags burst open and you are left with a mess.

Redfield Mtn. summit selfie.

Day 1 – Hike to Feldspar Lean-to, Summit Redfield Mtn. and Cliff Mtn.

The first part of Day 1 was a hike to the Feldspar Lean-To about 6 miles. The hike was relatively flat on well traveled frozen trails and only had to use our Katoola Micro-spikes. We arrived at the Lean-To around 11am and found it occupied. There was gear all over the place including dirty pots and pan. The place was a mess. We could not figure out how many people were staying there. It looked like 3-4 based on the gear. We were dumbfounded. The Lean-To’s can hold up to 8, so we dropped our packs and headed out for some summits.

Still no sign of the other inhabitants.

Knowing we would hit some show on the peaks, we strapped on our snowshoes and made our way to Redfield and Cliff. It was a clear day with beautiful views from the summits, a rarity in the Adirondacks. As we departed our second summit, Cliff, it began to rain. We hustled back to the Lean-To, arriving around 5pm. Still no sign of the other inhabitants.

Summit of Cliff Mtn.

We made dinner. Tom had a double portion of Mountain House Beef Stroganoff while I settled for a combo of tuna, bacon and mayo washed down by some Chai Tea. It was dark by 7pm and still no sign of the other campers. We settled into our bags excited about day 2, expecting to be woken up by the other tenants.

I cannot believe how awesome we are for finishing the 46ers!

It happened. The other campers rolled in about 9pm, loud and obnoxious, waking us up. They were all amped up because they finished their winter 46ers and made it known they needed to make dinner. Stephen and Dan, as we learned, were two very strange guys. We did not exactly know their relationship but were extremely cordial with each other, thanking one another profusely for simple things. “Oh thank you so much for getting water, you are the best, this is the most wonderful tea, I cannot believe how awesome we are for finishing the 46ers”

Our Lean-To mates Stephen and Dan.

We found out that they did the same hike we were doing the next day. They had left at 9am and it took them nearly 12 hours. We expected our hike to be several hours less.

They were odd to say the least.

We found out that Stephen was Dan’s science teacher at some point. Dan, now, refers to him as “Uncle Steve”. They were odd to say the least. They finally finish dinner and the clanking of pots. With stories are done, we tried to get back to sleep. Of course, the big guy, Stephen falls asleep first and snores like a bear. We slept maybe one hour.

Day 2 – Summit Gray Mtn., Skylight Mtn. and Mt. Marcy

At 6 or 7am, Dan and Stephen woke up and started clanking pots and talking at the top of their lungs. Needless to say, we are all awake! Good news, Dan and Stephen were hiking out. We ate breakfast, good helpings of bacon and Sherpa tea and prepared for the day’s hike.

Tom just had to get that text out.

We hiked to Lake Tear in the Cloud to the trailhead of Gray Mountain. Gray is considered an unmaintained trail. We crossed a frozen stream that feeds Lake Tear of the Cloud to get to the trailhead. There were some steep parts with ice where we had to really dig in. Gray’s peak sign was really short due to the now pack. I post holed at the peak and almost could not get out. There was no view from Gray due to clouds and mist. I did take the opportunity to give my wife a call from the summit to let her know all is well.

Gray Mtn. summit selfie.

 

Next peak we decided to tackle was Skylight. We started Skylight from Four Corners. Skylight has cool exposed summit, with a giant cairn making the top. The winds were picking up and we had no views due to rain and clouds. The peak looked like the surface of the moon, very barren, but very cool.

Summit of Skylight Mtn. on top of rock pile.
Deep snow pack, normally that sign is 1-2′ above your head.

Now on to Marcy, a really nice approach from Four Corners and only about .8 miles. It also has exposed, barren summit. There was loads of rock and ice with a fairly steep approach in 55+ MPH winds.

It was amazing how quickly the snow and ice was thawing out.

It was amazing how quickly the snow and ice was thawing out due to the unseasonably warm temperatures. What was a frozen stream to the trailhead of Gray was now a raging stream. Lake Tear in the Cloud was fully frozen in the morning and just a few hours later was only about 1/3 ice. We knew this might pose a problem for our hike out since there were several stream crossings.

Mt. Marcy summit, high winds, clouds and rain.

We arrived back at Lean-to around 3pm. The whole hike was about 5.5 hours. Tom and I were not sure why it took Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumb 12 hours! I was not hungry thanks to sherpa tea, snacks and keto diet and did not eat dinner. We went to bed fairly early due to lack of sleep the night before.

Day 3 – Summit Mt. Colden and Hike Out.

Day 3, our plan was to pack up camp and hike out, climbing Mt. Colden on the way. We were up early, we broke camp by 8am and started our hike to Lake Arnold and the Mt. Colden trailhead. Since the temperatures warmed, all of the creeks were flowing which made for some cold feet crossing them. One creek had a large log across it, however, it was twisted and was challenging to balance with a 40 lbs pack. Tom and I both made it without falling in.

We lost the trail for about 5-10 minutes after crossing one creek. The trail actually followed the inside of the creek for a ways. In dryer conditions, the trail would have been evident. We had to backtrack to a known good point and picked up the trail fairly quickly after we realized. We used this knowledge to stay on the trail on future creek crossings.

What was ice 2 days before is now raging.

After snapping some pictures of Lake Arnold and we headed to Mt. Colden. The first part of the trail was a slight incline with nice wide meanders, we then came to a rocky exposed false summit. The summit of Colden looked to be miles away, though the whole trail was 1.4 miles. It took us about 15-20 minutes to reach the summit. Distances are deceptive in the mountains.

Mt. Colden did not disappoint for views. There were some clouds to the west, but sun and clear skies to the east. We could see Marcy Dam and the town of Lake Placid. After hiking to the end of the trail, we were on a rocky cliff with unbelievable views of Avalanche Pass, Avalanche Lake and Lake Colden. Definitely one of the best summits I have had in the Adirondacks.

View of Mt. Colden from the false summit.

On the way back, we timed how long it takes to get to the false summit, only 10 minutes!

We had some food, got our packs and headed out. Only 3 more creek crossings. I had my trail runners on which drained the water pretty well. Even though, my feet were wet, however they warmed up and dried out quickly with wool socks. We changed to micro-spikes after Marcy Dam, there was almost no snow. Tom commented that he thought he had two left foot micro-spikes until he realized the L meant Large.

Summit of Mt. Colden with Avalanche Lake and Lake Colden in the background.

We got back to our car by 2:30p, and went to the 46ers Club Ranger station to change and get cleaned up. After getting cleaned up, Tom and I shared a beer, I think it was an Imperial Stout from a brewery in Columbus, OH. The worker, Josh, joined us for some stories. He told us about rude people not taking their snowshoes and micro-spikes off in the station and how feminine products are a huge problem on the trails. He also shared some colorful stories about his travels overseas and to South America. The stories were sprinkled with women and drugs and even a couple of guns.

We headed home and stopped at our now “go to deli”, the Lakeview Deli, in Saranac Lake. I had a great Cuban (no-bun) with broccoli and cheese soup. A great end to a great trip!

 

Trip Recap

Lessons Learned:

  • The weather in the Adirondacks is always unpredictable.  It was amazing to do a winter hike where the temperatures ranged from 20°F to 50°F. It was astounding how quickly the landscaped changed over the course of 3 days. Frozen streams transformed into raging rivers.
  • I packed far too many nuts. I only ate about half what I brought because I got tired of chewing it.  Next time, more variety.

Frozen streams transformed into raging rivers.

Book Recommendation:

A fantastic book of summarizing Tim’s interviews with high performers. He uncovers the tactics, habits and routines of these high performers and boils down what practices each has in common.

Favorite Gear Used:

It’s not a glitzy piece of equipment but is required in the High Peaks region.   We were just getting into the end of hibernation season and the bears would have been HUNGRY!

Gear They Wished They Brought:

  • Ear plugs

Sharing a Lean-to or tent with snorers is not fun.

Favorite Meal or Snack:

  • Sherpa Tea (~500 calories of good Keto fats)
    • 32oz Nalgene bottle of hot water
    • 2-4 tea bags depending on your strength preference
      • I found that herbal, chai or spiced (cinnamon) are best
    • 2 tbsp coconut oil
    • 2 tbsp ghee
    • 1 tsp vanilla
    • I created a puck of coconut oil, ghee and vanilla by melting the ingredients and then pouring each portion into a muffin tin.  Then put individual portions in a bag and mixed it with the hot water.

Make sure you do not shake your bottle until you remove the tea bags.

Maps, Routes and GPS Information

Route Statistics: 24.19 miles, 9246 ft. elevation

Caltopo Map: https://caltopo.com/m/6HLL

GPS Route: GPX or KML

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