Alpha Guide: Mount Marcy via the Van Hoevenberg Trail

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Towering over New York State at a cloud-splitting 5,344 feet, Mount Marcy is a breathtaking Northeast peak and an iconic wilderness hike.

Climbing Mount Marcy is a rite of passage for many area hikers, whether it’s a personal goal on its own or a small piece of the pursuit to become an Adirondack 46er. Beginning from the High Peaks Information Center (HPIC) at the serene Heart Lake, this moderate, 14.5-mile hike passes scenic areas, like the old Marcy Dam and Indian Falls, before climbing for a half-mile on the windswept, rocky slope above treeline to a summit with spectacular 360-degree views of the surrounding Adirondack landscape and adjacent mountains. Mount Marcy is a special place in the High Peaks Wilderness, more than five miles away from any road and a mile into the sky and reachable only by those on foot, thus making it a worthwhile journey into a wilderness as deep as you can find anywhere in the region.

 

Quick Facts

Distance: 14.5 miles, out-and-back
Time to Complete: 1 day
Difficulty: ★★★★
Scenery: ★★★★


Season: May through October
Fees/Permits: $10 parking at Heart Lake ($8 for ADK Members)
Contact: http://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/9164.html 

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Turn-By-Turn

Parking and the trailhead are located at the High Peaks Information Center (HPIC) at Heart Lake, about 15 minutes south of Lake Placid.

From the south (Albany or New York City), take I-87 north to Exit 30 and head west (left) on Route 73 towards Lake Placid for 26.5 miles, where you’ll take a left onto Adirondack Loj Road. The road is winding and becomes unpaved, however; you’ll reach the ticket booth after 4.8 miles. From the north (Plattsburgh or Montreal), take I-87 south to Exit 34 and head west (left) on Route 9N towards Lake Placid for 26 miles, where you will bear right (west) on Route 73. After approximately 11 miles on Route 73, take a left onto Adirondack Loj Road.

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Credit: Sarah Quandt

The Warmup

Begin by signing in at the trail register, located at the end of the parking area opposite the HPIC (44.18296, -73.96251). The trail is marked by blue discs, which you will follow the entire way to the summit. Almost immediately, you’ll encounter one of the various ski trail intersections. These are denoted by numbers, and by the well-worn path and markers, it is fairly obvious which is the main foot trail. At one mile from the trailhead, you will come to a signed intersection that leads toward the MacIntyre Range. Stay left on the blue trail, and climb gently towards Marcy.

14_Old-Marcy-Dam
Credit: Sarah Quandt

At 2.3 miles, you’ll emerge from the woods at the old Marcy Dam (44.15884, -73.95165). Here, stay left, and walk a short ways to the bridge to cross Marcy Brook. Marcy Dam previously impounded the brook, but Hurricane Irene damaged the wooden structure in 2011, and as a result, it’s in the process of being removed. Nonetheless, many hikers still refer to the crossroads and large opening in the trees where a small pond once sat as Marcy Dam. Upon crossing, turn right back towards the dam. Here, you’ll have your first peek at the MacIntyre Range and find a second register, which you should also sign (44.15866, -73.95094).

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

A Gentle Climb

Near the trail register, you’ll notice various paths leading to privies and designated campsites surrounding Marcy Dam, which are occupied on a first-come, first-serve basis. Bear left, following signage for the blue trail, and you’ll quickly reach an intersection at 2.4 miles. Bear left again, heading towards Marcy, and the terrain will become more rugged as the trail parallels Phelps Brook and begins to gain elevation more dramatically.

You’ll reach a high-water bridge at 2.6 miles (44.15719, -73.9474), where you will have the option to cross the brook now or continue about 500 feet farther upstream for a more natural water crossing via rock hopping (44.15616, -73.94622). If it’s early in the spring, if it’s been raining lately, or if you’re unsure about the water level, use the bridge, as it’s better to stay safe and dry this early in the hike. After some more uphill trekking, you’ll come to the intersection with the trail to Phelps Mountain (44.1516, -73.93561) at mile 3.3, a worthy day hike on its own.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Break with a View

Shortly after passing the turnoff to Phelps Mountain, the trail crosses Phelps Brook for the second and last time on your ascent. After the bridge, you’ll immediately begin to climb steeply. Next, you’ll come to the Marcy ski trail at 3.7 miles, where the hiking trail turns sharply right and begins to veer away from the brook. Following the blue trail markers uphill, you’ll eventually encounter the herd path to Tabletop Mountain at mile 4.4—the peak is commonly paired with Phelps for a full day.

Just past this intersection, you’ll cross a stream and reach the spur for Indian Falls at 4.5 miles (44.14051, -73.92827). Less than a minute from the main trail, the falls are a favorite spot for hikers to rest and soak their weary feet while taking in a picturesque view of the MacIntyre Range.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Still Climbing

Just beyond the spur to the falls is the intersection with the Lake Arnold Crossover Trail. Bear left, following the signs towards Mount Marcy and the blue trail markers. From here, you will enjoy a relatively flat walk before beginning to steadily climb again. The terrain begins to become rockier as you near 4,000 feet above sea level.

At 6.1 miles, you’ll reach the intersection with the Hopkins Trail, where the last pit toilet is available before you reach the summit. Stay right, following the signs and blue discs towards Marcy. After more steady climbing, you’ll reach the intersection with the Phelps Trail (44.11561, -73.91551)—not to be confused with the Phelps Mountain Trail, which you passed earlier. You may not notice the sign at this intersection, however, as it’s behind you, facing hikers as they descend from Marcy. There is no sign for ascending hikers, but you should still bear hikers’ right. Past the intersection, the trail will quickly climb above the treeline, so now is a good time to add a layer, secure your pack, and fuel up for the last leg.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Above the Treeline

From the Phelps Trail, switch to following the yellow blazes painted onto the rocks to stay on the trail. The blazes help you follow the trail immediately in front, and large cairns (rock piles) indicate the overall direction in which you are headed. These are especially helpful on cloudy days, which are frequent on Marcy due to its elevation.

Take care to stay on the trail and avoid damaging sensitive alpine vegetation, as marked by twine and rocks.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

In good weather, you will be treated to outstanding views, as you make the final push to the summit. Spruce trees stunted from harsh weather give way to gleaming rock slabs dotted with lichens. Massive rock outcroppings, towering cairns, and the adjacent High Peak summits and rock slides elicit feelings of awe and respect for Marcy and the Adirondacks. To the right (west) is Mount Colden and the MacIntyre range, and to the left (east) is Mount Haystack. As you crest the summit, you’ll see Mount Skylight ahead of you. Behind you, views of Basin and Saddleback Mountains introduce the rest of the Great Range.

With one last scramble, you’ll hoist yourself onto the summit rock, and be sitting on top of the world—or at least New York State! On most days, the summit steward there educates hikers on the alpine vegetation and helps with general questions.


Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

The Kit

  • The LifeStraw Water Filter is a lightweight and economical way to filter backcountry water in a pinch. The filter is good for up 1,000 liters and removes over 99.9 percent of waterborne protozoan parasites and bacteria. Use it in one of the brooks along the trek, but remember, Indian Falls is the last water source between the Loj and the summit.
  • Always carry a headlamp and extra batteries in your pack. It can make the difference between an easy walk out and being forced to spend an unplanned night in the woods. Try Petzl’s Actik headlamp, which delivers 300 lumens and offers both white light for visibility and red light for night vision.
  • A lightweight jacket to keep the wind at bay is an absolute must-have and the key to enjoying the summit. Don the Techwick Active Hybrid Wind Jacket for superior breeze protection, with better moisture control than a standard rain jacket.
  • The hike along Phelps Brook comes with pretty scenery and soothing sounds but typically also includes a wet trail. So, pack the Spindrift Gaiters to keep water, mud, and snow out of your boots.
  • Thatcher’s Mount Marcy Peak Finder is a fun tool to interpret the view from the summit and identify the adjacent mountains. It’s light, weather resistant, highly accurate, and very easy to use.
  • Pick up the Adirondack Mountain Club’s High Peaks topographical map. It shows all trails, campsites, and recreational features and offers relevant information on wildlife history, geology and archaeology.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Keys to the Trip

  • Check the weather. The last half-mile up is exposed and can feature conditions more severe than what’s happening in the parking lot or woods.
  • Pack some warmer clothes for the summit, where it’s often cooler. Even on the most beautifully sunny day in June, I’ve been thankful for my jacket and hat.
  • Keep up on the latest trail conditions at the DEC’s Backcountry Information for the High Peaks Region webpage, which is updated weekly.
  • Hikers may use the various designated camping sites near Marcy Dam and along the Van Ho trail, although they are first-come, first-served and fill up quickly. Aside from within the marked sites, campers can camp anywhere that is at least 150 feet from a water body, road, or trail, and below 3,500 feet in elevation, unless the area is posted as “Camping Prohibited.” Bear-resistant canisters are required in the eastern Adirondacks, which include the Mount Marcy area.
  • Lodging is also available at the Adirondak Loj on Heart Lake, in the form of private rooms, bunks, campsites, and lean-tos (all must be reserved). Meals are included, and kayak and paddleboard rentals are available.
  • When adding side trips, like Phelps or Tabletop Mountain, it’s best to attempt them on the way back. This will ensure you have enough time and energy for the day’s main prize—Marcy.
  • For strong, experienced hikers looking for a unique way up and a chance to bag other remote High Peaks, consider doing this trek as a long loop hike with Gray Peak and Mount Skylight. Or, opt to hike up in the dark, and watch the sunrise from the summit.
  • Filling a growler at the Adirondack Pub and Brewery, or noshing on some of Noon Mark Diner’s famous pie and milkshakes is a great way to treat yourself after your hike.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Current Conditions

Have you done the entire traverse or even a piece of it recently? Post your experience and the trail conditions (with the date of your hike) in the comments for others!


The Top 8 360-Degree Adirondack High Peak Views

You’ll see a lot of things from the top of an Adirondack High Peak—endless summits, gray slides scarring mountainsides, alpine lakes, and deep gouging passes. But, aside from the stray ski jump peaking up above the thick carpet of trees, one thing you won’t see much of is civilization. More than any other range in the Northeast, the Adirondacks are alone, set far away from the region’s cities and towns. As a result, this makes the views from these bare (or not) summits all that much better.

No two summits offer the same perspective, however, so which ones are the best? See them for yourselves below, and then, start planning your next hike to one of these high alpine islands.

1. Mount Colden

There’s no quick way to get to Mount Colden, but the longer hike definitely pays off. You’ll climb into the heart of the High Peaks Wilderness, an area completely surrounded by giant summits, including the state’s two highest—Marcy and Algonquin—directly east and west of you, respectively. Peer down into Avalanche Pass and Lake Colden, and then out to the Flowed Lands, located just north of the Hudson River’s beginning. The hike from the Adirondack Loj will take you past the former site of Marcy Dam, where a clearing offers views down Avalanche Pass as if it were a gunsight.

 

2. Mount Marcy

Not having anything above you definitely goes a long way to making a mountain’s views memorable. In New York, Mount Marcy is the place to do that. The summit is completely bare and rocky for a few hundred feet up, meaning absolutely nothing obstructs your view of just about all the other High Peaks. To the east, gaze 1,000 feet down into Panther Gorge and Mount Haystack beyond. Catch views of Lake Placid to the north, and the river valleys to the south. Plus, the hike via the Van Hoevenberg Trail offers a smattering of worthy views, like Marcy Dam and Indian Falls.

 

3. Gothics Mountain

The Great Range peaks make up a continuous line extending from Marcy and Haystack all the way into Keene Valley. Here, Gothics sits smack in the middle. The summit has the best views of the Upper Great Range, including Haystack, Basin, and Saddleback, all lining up and pointing to Marcy. The Dix Range dominates the southeast, and Big Slide’s bald face sits alone across the Johns Brook Valley. Hike it from the Ausable Club and past Beaver Meadow Falls.

 

4. Mount Skylight

Marcy’s next-door neighbor to the south, Skylight has similar panoramic views from its bald summit, with one notable addition—Marcy herself, rising from behind Lake Tear of the Clouds. For reference, this article’s header image was taken on Skylight at sunrise. You’re pretty close to the High Peaks’ southern edge, which means, as you’re looking out, the mountains slowly shrink away and give you great views of the Upper Hudson River Valley. Hike this one from Upper Works, tracing the Hudson River’s path to Lake Tear, the river’s highest source.

 

5. Cascade Mountain

Cascade is one of the Adirondacks’ most popular “first-timer” peaks, and for good reason. For starters, while it’s a relatively quick and easy hike up from Route 73, the views from the top are spectacular, making it one of the 46’s best bang-for-your-buck treks. The rocky summit lines up with the rest of the peaks to the south and Lake Placid and Whiteface just down the road to the north. Make it a two-fer by adding the less-impressive Porter Mountain to your itinerary.

 

6. Rocky Peak Ridge

In this area, Giant Mountain gets most of the attention. But, its smaller neighbor, Rocky Peak Ridge, has arguably better views. Unlike Giant, they’re nearly 360 degrees. Plus, the view of Giant itself is impressive. Look down toward Keene Valley with the Great Range beyond, or try to pick out the fire tower on Hurricane Mountain, located on the other side of Giant. The bummer is there’s no quick way to get here. So, climb over Giant and through the deep col between the two, or approach RPR from the ridge to the east—longer but with consistent views all the way to the top.

 

7. Algonquin Peak

From Algonquin, the state’s second-tallest mountain, the views of the Trap Dike and slides on Mount Colden dominate. Beneath that, Avalanche Pass and Lake Colden slice a deep gorge into the valley. Above Colden, Mount Marcy’s bare summit towers over everything, with the Great Range extending to the left. Algonquin is part of the four-peak chain known as the MacIntyre Range, and thus, you can also tag Wright and Algonquin in one long day, with views extending across all three summits. Keep in mind that the range’s final peak, Marshall, isn’t connected by the same ridgeline trail.

 

8. Whiteface Mountain

Far to the north, Whiteface offers a unique perspective of the region. Immediately south, scenic Lake Placid is laid out, surrounded by smaller mountains. Beyond that, the High Peaks’ center, a jumble of jagged summits, clusters together. The views here are so popular that a road goes up to the top. But, for a handful of viewpoints on the way up, hike it via Marble Mountain from the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center.


6 Long Adirondack Day Hikes for the Solstice

The weeks surrounding the summer solstice, which starts on June 21st, let you take advantage of extended daylight hours to tackle a challenging hike. And, for people looking to get the most out of the longest days of the year, the Adirondacks are chock-full of demanding, full-day treks.

Getting any of these long hikes done in a single day is no small feat, so preparation is key. Train your body to be in good hiking condition, pack a headlamp just in case, and become extra familiar with your route. Also, most of these recommended hikes have a “bail out” option, in case you’re losing light or energy.

The hikes listed below all begin from different trailheads. So, if you’re feeling ambitious and complete a few of these, you’ll be covering new territory with each trek.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Gray Peak, Mount Skylight, and Mount Marcy

Distance: 17 miles
Elevation Gain: 5,200 feet
Trail Head: Adirondack Loj / Heart Lake
Route Type: Loop (recommended counterclockwise).

Aim for good weather during this hike. On a clear day, you’ll have plenty of opportunities for expansive views on Marcy’s and Skylight’s mighty bald summits. And, despite Gray having a wooded peak, a few lookouts offer good views of both Skylight and Marcy. To prepare, be sure to bring an extra pair of socks, because you’ll cross the infamous floating boards relatively early on. These are nearly impossible to walk over without soaking a boot.

From the Adirondack Loj, head south past Lake Arnold to Feldspar Brook, and then, climb to the three peaks. Perhaps the loop’s best part is the pleasure of hiking Marcy, New York’s highest point, via the southwestern approach. This breathtaking route is almost entirely above the treeline and is much less crowded than the northern approach on which you’ll descend. Other notable sights include the picturesque Lake Tear of the Clouds, which is the state’s highest pond and the Hudson River’s source.

As you return, follow the Van Hoevenberg Trail back to your car from Marcy and past Indian Falls, where the late-afternoon sunlight looks marvelous bouncing off the flowing water.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Mount Haystack, Basin Mountain, and Saddleback Mountain

Distance: 17.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 5,600 feet
Trail Head: Garden Parking Lot (Marcy Field when lot is full, serviced by shuttle)
Route Type: Loop (recommended counterclockwise).

Also known as the Upper Great Range and often shortened to “HaBaSa,” this hike bags three High Peaks, which of course means lots of climbing.

First, climb through the Johns Brook Valley to Haystack. As the trek’s most memorable part, the outstanding views of the surrounding mountains rival the notorious cliffs leading up to Saddleback. As you head north from Haystack, you’ll pass over Basin before summiting Saddleback via the cliffs. These have a reputation for being the High Peaks’ most difficult terrain, although much of it is a mental test. Hikers generally prefer ascending to descending them. After Saddleback, follow Ore Bed Brook back down to Johns Brook via a seemingly endless sets of stairs, which follow a striking slide formed by Hurricane Irene.

A perk of this hike is the availability of water via a spigot at Johns Brook Lodge, which is located 3.5 miles from the parking lot and gets passed both on your way in and out. It’s also a great place to rest your feet, relax on the deck, and make a few new friends.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Sawteeth Mountain, Gothics Mountain, Armstrong Mountain, Upper Wolfjaw Mountain, and Lower Wolfjaw Mountain

Distance: 17 miles
Elevation Gain: 6,500 feet
Trailhead: Adirondack Mountain Club at Ausable Club
Route Type: Loop (recommended clockwise).

You’ll definitely be earning your summit time with some serious climbing. But, if you end up feeling like you’ve taken on too much, a few trails along the way lead down from the range. Hike up the Lake Road and climb the Weld Trail to Sawteeth, the peak farthest out, to assess the day’s itinerary, as it affords an excellent view of the range you’ll be climbing. Beginning with the most remote peak also provides the mental boost of knowing you’re working your way back towards the trailhead for the rest of the day. Then, continue north to the remaining mountains before doubling back briefly on Lower Wolfjaw and descending along Wedge Brook to Lake Road.

As a tip, try to pick a day with clear skies, as you’ll be treated to panoramic views of adjacent peaks and spectacular slides. Be sure to carry enough water, too. Once you’re on the range, you’ll find few places to refill, and the continuous climbing and exposure can easily dehydrate you.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Macomb Mountain, South Dix, East Dix, Hough, and Dix Mountain

Distance: 16 miles
Elevation Gain: 5,700 feet
Trailhead: Elk Lake
Route: Loop (recommended counterclockwise).

The Dix Range is another loop that will bag you five High Peaks and set your quads on fire. Most of the trails are unmarked, so be sure to bring a map that shows all of the herd paths and to reference it at all intersections you encounter. Also, be sure to get to the trailhead early. If the parking lot is full, you’ll have to park back near Clear Pond, which will add 3.5 miles round-trip to an already-strenuous hike.

From Elk Lake, head north to climb the Macomb slide. Unlike most of the other Adirondack slides, which are hard rock slab, Macomb is loose rock and gravel. So, keep a safe distance between people in your group, and look up for falling debris. From there, keep climbing north, ticking off individual peaks in whichever order makes sense to you.

You’ll end the day on the range’s highest peak, Dix, which offers sweeping views of the rest of the range, other High Peaks to the north and west, and the serene Elk Lake. To return, descend over The Beckhorn back to the Elk Lake Trail.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Cliff Mountain and Mount Redfield 

Distance: 18.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 4,400 feet
Trailhead: Upper Works Trailhead
Route: Out and back.

Cliff and Redfield are relatively remote High Peaks. Thus, the hike is essentially a long walk to get to the base of the two mountains. If you’re an aspiring 46er, it’s strongly recommended to hike these peaks together.

From Upper Works, you’ll hike past the beautiful Flowed Lands and cross the Opalescent River via a suspension bridge—both peaceful places to rest or have a snack. The trails for each mountain begin close to the Uphill Lean-To. By foot, these are just a few seconds from one another, so hike them in whichever order you like. Redfield has a marked trail, which is longer and gains more elevation than Cliff. Living up to its name, Cliff has a few areas of rock scrambling, although nothing too technical, and can be quite fun after the uncomplicated walk-in.

On the hike out, pause at the Flowed Lands to refuel and rehydrate for the last leg, which can feel monotonous when you do it a second time after the long way up.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Santanoni Peak, Couchsachraga Peak, and Panther Peak 

Distance: 15.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 5,000 feet
Trailhead: Tahawus/Upper Works Road
Route: Part out-and-back, and part loop.

Although not quite as long in distance as the other hikes, the Santanoni Range takes some time due to unmarked and unmaintained trails, which can be rugged and rocky. This hike is a good alternative if the weather is going to be gloomy, because, although the various lookouts offer great views, all three summits are mostly wooded. But, as a perk of being in the woods for most of the day, your exposure will be limited.

Couchsachraga (or “Couchie”) is usually climbed only on the pursuit to become a 46er. So you’re aware, you’ll encounter a sizable bog on the way to the summit. And, due to the peak being initially surveyed incorrectly at over 4,000 feet, anyone wanting to become a 46er must hike through it.

Overall, the range is fairly remote, and with less-crowded trails than those in the more popular High Peak areas, it makes a good option for those busy holiday weekends. And, since the first 1.75 miles is an easy trek on a dirt and gravel road, starting or finishing in the dark isn’t a major concern.


Putting Techwick to the Test on the Devil's Path

Growing up across the Hudson River from the Catskill Mountains, I often heard murmurings of an especially difficult and rugged trail called the Devil’s Path. It wasn’t until I was a bit older, flipping through an article in one of my favorite outdoor magazines, that I saw the Devil’s Path listed as one of the “Eight Most Challenging Hiking Trails in the Country.” In the country! I could hardly believe it—right here on the East Coast, just two hours north of the Big Apple’s relentless bustle. I had to go and check it out for myself.

Credit: Lucas Kelly
Credit: Lucas Kelly

What To Expect

Before hitting the trail, I did some research to get the lowdown on precisely what kind of punishment would be in store for me. The 22 mile-long trail features roughly 18,000 feet of elevation change and hits six Catskill summits, along with a number of tricky rock scrambles and unrelenting, rugged terrain to navigate. As a side note, five of the summits are above 3,500 feet, making it an enticing hike for would-be members of the Catskill 3500 Club. The adventurer in me felt ecstatic. The pessimist? Well, let’s just say that I expected it to be Type II fun.

Many people make short day hikes of one or two summits on the Devil’s Path. Others thru-hike it in two to three days. The most experienced and fit complete the entire thing in one long, leg-torching day. Due to work obligations, I had to break the hike up into consecutive spring weekends. The weather was very warm for spring, teetering on downright hot at some points in the middle of the day. The lack of a breeze meant two things: sweating and mosquitoes.

To prepare, my buddy and I chose to hike in the EMS Techwick Essentials Long-Sleeve Crew and the ¼ Zip, respectively. Putting in close to 10 miles in a single shot, we selected this type of top because we wanted something that felt super soft and lightweight. And, we needed something that would wick away sweat from our skin and keep us feeling cool and dry throughout the slog.

Credit: Lucas Kelly
Credit: Lucas Kelly

Roller Coaster Hike

We began the path at the Prediger Road trailhead. After a brief, flat introduction, the first of many uphill grinds greeted us: a steep, 1,345-foot climb up Indian Head, all the while scrambling up and over large rocks, gnarled roots, and boulders. Near the top of the mountain, we clambered our way up a near-vertical rock chute, where a fall likely would have meant a broken leg.

After making it through, however, we were rewarded with a stunning lookout of the Hudson River and surrounding Catskill Mountains. After snapping a few pictures, we followed the red trail markers descending down into a notch, only to encounter the next scramble up Twin Mountain.

In a sense, this first section of the Devil’s Path foreshadowed the rest: Hit a summit, hike down into a deep valley, and then claw our way back up to the top of another peak. The dense forest throughout gave the trail an aura of real wilderness. As well, uneven, jagged rocks litter the trail, so your ankles are going to take a beating. The amount of mobility the trail required surprised me: Reach up to grab a rock hold here, jump down from a boulder there, and make your way around a fallen tree.

Credit: Lucas Kelly
Credit: Lucas Kelly

Staying Comfortable

Luckily for us, our Techwick shirts’ mechanical stretch allowed for a greater range of movement, making all of these tasks much less difficult and cumbersome. On past long distance hikes that required a similar amount scrambling, I’ve had problems with chafing around my underarms and shoulders. This time, the flatlock seams of my Techwick top helped to prevent any such feeling. This made the uncomfortable task of hiking the Devil’s Path much more tolerable for me by comparison. I was also impressed with how quickly the shirt dried following the trek’s strenuous, sweaty sections.

As we came to the end, I decided that the Devil’s Path had lived up to the hype. If I could describe the trail in one word, it would be relentless. With the summits of Indian Head, Twin, Sugarloaf, Plateau, and West Kill under your belt, you’re definitely going to feel sore afterwards, which will be slightly alleviated by your sense of accomplishment.

What’s more, the beautiful vistas that you get near the mountaintops are some of the Catskills’ best. You’ll come away with a very true sense of what hiking here is all about. While the Devil’s Path may not have the altitude or grandeur of some of the hikes out west, it certainly stacks up as being just as rugged and demanding.

Credit: Lucas Kelly
Credit: Lucas Kelly

Explore Like a Local: Summertime Fun in Lake Placid, NY

The name Lake Placid immediately conjures images of winter sports, given that the Olympics have been held in this beautiful Adirondack town not once, but twice. Even today, it’s such a winter staple that numerous U.S. Olympic teams train regularly in the area. Summertime in the area can be overlooked, but the lack of snow and ice hardly diminishes Lake Placid as a destination, and you definitely don’t need to be an Olympian to take advantage of it all. With a plethora of hiking, climbing, paddling options, and more, Lake Placid is a true year-round outdoor destination.

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Warm-Weather Activities

Hiking & Trail Running

With 46 High Peaks, or peaks originally thought to be over 4,000 ft., along with numerous lakes, the Adirondacks have many different trail types to choose from, particularly near Lake Placid. One popular, family-friendly hike is Cobble Hill, which is visible from town and just across Mirror Lake. A family with kids can make the summit in under an hour and enjoy views of town and the High Peaks area.

If you’re up for a longer hike and are looking for a big payoff, set out for Indian Head, a low summit with truly amazing views of Lower Ausable Lake (pronounced awe•SAY•ble). The land is part of the privately owned Adirondack Mountain Reserve (AMR), but hikers are allowed to access the three-plus mile dirt road that leads to the trailhead. Allow for at least five hours round trip and bring plenty of water! Public parking is available in the St. Huberts parking area on Route 73, south of Lake Placid.

The Ausable Chasms are a natural wonder of the Adirondacks, and hiking the area’s trails is well worth the $17.95 admission price ($9.95 for kids).

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Rock Climbing

The Adirondacks have over 250 climbing areas, and Keene Valley, just south of town, serves as the epicenter, given its wide variety of climbs. Just a short drive away, the Beer Walls await both beginners and experts alike. Route 73 has convenient parking, and it’s a quick hike to the top of the climbing area. All the routes here can be led, but top-roping is the standard means of access. Climbing routes range in difficulty from 5.4 up to 5.13, and the views of Keene Valley are spectacular.

The EMS Climbing School guides lead climbing trips to all of the local spots and for all different levels of expertise. The school is located in the lower level of the town’s EMS store.

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Paddling

Let’s face it: This is Lake Placid. Whether you set out on Lake Placid proper or Mirror Lake, which abuts Main Street, this is one spectacular spot to hit the water. Surrounded by mountains in all directions and the town on one side, these lakes are remarkably beautiful. At dusk and dawn, prepare to be thrilled by the call of the loon and other indigenous creatures. Lake Placid allows motorized boats, while Mirror Lake is reserved for human-powered crafts (electric motors are allowed but rarely seen).

Our EMS store on Main Street backs up to Mirror Lake, and we rent kayaks, tandem kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards (SUPs) directly on the water. Seriously, you can launch a boat from the back of the store. How cool is that? Click here for more info.

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Swimming

In addition to the lakes, the area has other wonderful places to swim. A particularly scenic spot is at the base of the Flume Falls on the Ausable River, north of town. Park in the Wildfire Flume Trailhead lot, and walk a short ways down the river to the base of the waterfall. There, you’ll find a bucolic swimming hole, surrounded by small cliffs from which to jump. Folks have been known to string up an illicit rope swing, and the Department of Environmental Conservation dutifully cuts it down a few times per season.

Mountain Biking

Whether you want to ride the Olympic Cross Country trails, bomb down Little Whiteface, or hit technical single-track trails, Lake Placid has it all for beginners and experts alike. You can access some trails right from town, so pick up a local trail map to find the course that best suits you.

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Camping Options

“Options” is the optimal word. The area surrounding Lake Placid offers traditional tent campsites, cabin rentals, canvas cabins, and lean-tos. As one convenient option close to town, the ADK Wilderness Campground sits alongside a lake and offers multiple camping options, along with restroom facilities, or hike into the wilderness itself for free camping with fewer facilities.

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Dining

There are plenty of good post-hike food and drink options in the area, but as soon as you arrive in Lake Placid, head straight to Smoke Signals (campsite set-up or hotel check-in can wait). Choose a spot in its exposed brick interior or on the patio overlooking Mirror Lake; then, order marbled Brisket and a side of Mac & Cheese. You may not be hungry for a day afterwards, but you’ll thank me. If, however, that looks like too much to handle, the barbecue Tacos Trio, the Hanger Steak, and the BBQ wings are all terrific. Other excellent dinner options are Lisa G’s and The Cottage.

Assuming that you’re hungry the next morning, The Breakfast Club, Etc. awaits just down the street. As the restaurant is known for its hearty fare and Bloody Marys, you may have to wait a bit for a seat on busy weekends. I recommend the BC Röstis (pronounced ROOST•ee—it’s Swiss!). Picture a cast iron skillet on a slab of wood, filled with hash browns covered with bacon, covered again with cheese, and topped off with two eggs. Side effects include loss of appetite, rapture, and, in rare cases, food coma (easily cured by a nap).

As one compelling reason to visit in the summer, Donnelly’s Soft Ice Cream is only open Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day. You pick the size and a cone or cup; they, however, pick the flavor. That’s because they make one flavor a day, always twisted with vanilla. There will be a line, but it moves fast. Donnelly’s is a bit of a drive (14 miles or 25 minutes) from Main Street in Lake Placid, but that gives you time to digest your lunch or dinner! Emma’s Ice Cream in town is also very good, and they allow you to choose your flavor.

Roundup

All that and nary a mention of the area’s winter activities? You’d be hard-pressed to find a better spot for a summertime mountain getaway. Swing by the EMS store while in town to get local beta, upgrade your gear, pick up camping supplies, rent a kayak or SUP, or take a climbing adventure through the school. We hope to see you soon.


Mud Season—Now What?

What are the two most dreaded words in the English language?

Mud season.

The scourge of hikers. The nemesis of backpackers. The evil overlord of fun in the spring. What is it about mud season that brings about these feelings?

Well, for starters, hiking any High Peak (mountains over 4,000 feet) in the Adirondacks is out. And, for a good reason, I’d say. According to our friends over at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), avoiding sensitive, high-elevation trails above 2,500 feet until they’re dried and hardened helps prevent irreparable damage.

But, what if you say, “To heck with it. I’m hiking. It’s only a little mud. What’s the big deal?”

It is a big deal—a pretty darn big deal, actually. So says Brendan Wiltse, and he should know: He’s spent the last seven years studying this kind of thing as the Science and Stewardship Director of the Ausable River Association.

“During mud season, trail conditions at high elevations often result in hikers deviating from the established trail or hiking along the sides, causing trail widening and erosion,” Wiltse says. “Soils at high elevations are often thin and prone to erosion. It only takes a few hikers walking on these thin, saturated soils to cause damage to the rare plants that live there.”

So, what can you do? You can embrace mud season. Realize that it will typically be you and very few other hikers out on the trails. Add in no bugs and warmer weather, and you have yourself a good time coming. And, during this season, please consider the following as alternatives until the Adirondack High Peaks have had the chance to dry out and get themselves ready for some boot-stompin’ summer hiking.

Credit: Kristi Brennan
Credit: Kristi Brennan

Baxter Mountain

How much summit fun can be packed into one tiny mountain? If your name is Baxter, apparently a whole bunch. The one-mile hike up is a pleasant stroll in the woods, with a 725-foot elevation gain before you pop up onto the summit. Make sure you find the path through the woods that will take you along the summit ridge line.

Hike: Hammond Pond Wild Forest, 2 miles RT, easy hike.

Credit: Kristi Brennan
Credit: Kristi Brennan

Hurricane Mountain from Route 9N

The best “Oh my God, no!” moment is when you step out for a view at 2.8 miles and see the fire tower still looks impossibly far away. Spoiler alert: It really isn’t that far—only 7/10ths of a mile to go! From here, it is a quick roller coaster of a hike through some pretty forest, before you get spit out onto the summit rock. Oh, and the views? They’re to die for. So, pack a lunch, and stay to enjoy the summit—in any season.

Hike: Hurricane Mountain Wilderness, 6.8 miles RT, moderate hike.

Credit: Kristi Brennan
Credit: Kristi Brennan

Jay Mountain

It ends in a 1.5-mile ridge hike. Need I say more? How about gentle switchbacks that your knees will thank you for, stellar views of Whiteface, and rock cairns taller than you? Still not enough? If a 1.5-mile ridge hike doesn’t make your heart go pitter-pat, then you probably should find a new outdoor hobby.

Hike: Jay Mountain Wilderness, 8 miles RT, moderate hike.

Credit: Kristi Brennan
Credit: Kristi Brennan

Mt. Jo

For a return on your investment, this is one of the best hikes out there. A mere 1.1 miles and 700 feet of elevation gain will get you some of the prettiest High Peak views from a non-High Peak summit. And, there are not one but TWO ways to reach the top: the Short Trail (steeper) or the Long Trail (less steep but longer).

Hike: High Peaks Wilderness Area, 2.2 miles RT for the Short Trail and 2.6 miles RT for the Long Trail, easy to moderate hike.

Credit: Kisti Brennan
Credit: Kisti Brennan

Ampersand Mountain

Which mountain do you summit when you want to feel as if you have worked for your hike AND you want 360-degree views? Ampersand. Not only are the sights gasp-worthy, but there is plenty of rock to pull up and sit a spell.

Hike: High Peaks Wilderness Area, 5.4 miles RT, moderate hike.

Credit: Kisti Brennan
Credit: Kisti Brennan

Haystack Mountain

No, not the High Peak. It’s mud season, remember? This one is just outside Saranac Lake and offers a mighty pleasant walk through the prettiest woods I’ve seen since the last time I hiked through trees and duff in the Adirondack Park. (Am I right? Isn’t every bit of the park absolutely gorgeous?) Don’t get too complacent, however, as the eventual elevation gain is serious enough to break a sweat, but the views from the open rock ledge are worth every droplet.

Hike: McKenzie Mountain Wilderness, 6.6 miles RT, easy to moderate hike.

 

Not sure what else is on the recommended “OK-to-hike-without-eroding-the-trails-further” list? Follow this link to a DEC page that will give you a full list of recommended mud season hikes, and make sure to also sign up for updates.


Top 6 Places for Trail Running Around Saratoga Springs

Most people associate Saratoga Springs with horse racing, summer concerts at SPAC, or the bustling downtown with its many pedestrians, shops, and eateries. But, you don’t have to leave the city to find a piece of nature and hit the trails.

The Saratoga area is home to a myriad of off-pavement routes with varying terrain and scenery, offering excellent trail running for beginners, more advanced folks looking for a technical challenge, and everyone in between. As you’re already in the city, you can grab some hard-earned food or drink downtown or on picturesque Saratoga Lake after your run! Beforehand, stop by the EMS in Wilton to make sure you have everything you need!

 

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

1. Saratoga Spa State Park

~15 miles of trails
Terrain: Flat to rolling; a few short, moderate hills
Surface: Dirt, grass, pavement
Recommended Run: Five Mile Trail
Trailhead Parking: Plenty. You can easily access trails from almost anywhere in the park.

The Spa State Park may seem like an obvious place to enjoy the outdoors, but hidden beyond the towering pines are miles of dirt trails. With numerous trails, paths, and park roads, there’s something for everyone. As such, you can “choose your own adventure” based on your experience, mood, or the trail conditions.

The Five Mile Trail, designated by yellow markers, is a dirt loop with a few paved sections that doubles as an excellent tour of the park. You’ll often be in woods but also see the areas of the park that attract its many visitors: a natural geyser, mineral springs, the historic Hall of Springs, Geyser Creek, wetlands, and the reflecting pool, to name a few.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

For beginners or those who haven’t hit the trails in a while, the park is an ideal place to visit. Particularly, it offers many paved trails and roads providing options for shortening your route. Thus, it’s easy to jump off the trails if you need a break or if you encounter less-than-ideal conditions, such as ice or mud.

Bonus: Bathrooms (open in late spring through early fall) are present at the many picnic pavilions scattered throughout and have a few spigots to fill up your water supply. Make sure, however, it’s a spring and not a mineral water location.

 

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

2. Hemlock and Karner Blue Butterfly Areas

~1.7 miles of Hemlock Trails and ~2 miles of trails in the Karner Area
Terrain: Flat
Surface: Dirt, sand, grass
Recommended Run: Combine these areas for a longer route.
Trailhead Parking: Designated dirt area off Crescent Avenue for the Hemlock Trail and a paved parking lot off Crescent Street for the Karner Blue Butterfly Area.

Although technically part of Saratoga Spa State Park (view a map), both of these routes are slightly removed from the main area, providing a more secluded experience. As a result, they’re a great place to escape when SPAC has a major concert or event and also offer unique biodiversity worth exploring.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

The Hemlock area offers two trails, denoted by blue and green markers. While the former is easy to follow with four bridges traversing wet areas, the latter is less traveled and can become overgrown, so beware if you’re wearing shorts. As well, the Hemlock area is home to forested wetlands and the most expansive area of native forest in the State Park. Around you, you’ll see old-growth hemlock and rare perched swamp white oak trees.

To extend your time outdoors, combine either of these with the Karner Blue Butterfly Area trails. Keep your eyes peeled for wild blue lupine and the endangered Karner blue butterfly, as the area recently underwent habitat restoration to help preserve the species.

Aside from stumbling across the occasional exposed tree root, you’ll find that sandy soils mostly comprise this path. Here, they’re needed for the butterfly habitat and also make for a cushy run.

 

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

3. Daniel’s Road State Forest Trails

~15 miles of trails over 523 acres
Terrain: Rolling to hilly; some short, steep inclines
Surface: Dirt, rock, roots (can be rugged)
Recommended Trails: Bee, Here to There
Trailhead Parking: On the north side of Daniels Road, at the intersection with Clinton Street

This area is popular with mountain bikers and is ideal for anyone looking for a fun and technically challenging trail run. Due to the rugged terrain, extensive trail system, and shared use, however, this route is recommended for intermediate to advanced trail runners who are comfortable on varied surfaces and have decent wayfinding skills.

The Carriage Road loop, which begins from the parking area, is wide, well-established, and easy to follow, albeit often rocky. Use it to get your feet wet (literally) and access the many other trails, like Bee. Bee is an enjoyable route that will have you feeling like a mountain goat while zigzagging up and over large rock outcrops, around trees, and over roots.

Bee ends at a junction with the Main Trail (denoted by red markers). From here, take a right (north) to access more winding trails, such as Ridgeline or Here to There. Or, take a left (south) to get back to the Carriage Road, and you’ll get treated to a pleasant view of a calm, swamp-like pond.

Because the trails can be hard to follow in certain areas, carrying a map is highly recommended. Also, since you may encounter mountain bikers and narrow passages, be sure to stay alert while running here.

 

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

4. Skidmore North Woods Trails

~3.5 miles of trails over 150 acres
Terrain: Rolling to hilly; some moderate hills
Surface: Dirt, rocks, roots, boardwalks
Recommended Run: Hit all the trails, and then, cool down with a stroll around campus
Trailhead Parking: Falstaff’s Parking Lot on the Skidmore campus

Skidmore College, a small private liberal arts school, is just a mile north of downtown Saratoga and maintains 150 acres of ecologically interesting woods. The North Woods are home to unique flora and fauna, and the school offers over 30 college courses related to them.

For trail running, red, blue, or orange markers indicate primary routes and a handful of connector trails. Thanks to the North Woods’ steward program, these are well marked and maintained, although some can be quite rocky and root covered. In recent years, boardwalks have also been installed over chronically wet areas. As you move along, you’ll find a few moderate-to-steep hills that really get your heart pumping, and a small stream provides an attractive area to cool off.

If you’re looking to get into more challenging trail running, this is a good place to start. Compared to the State Park, the terrain here is more technical. But, the trails are wide and relatively short and feature stretches of easier ground and boardwalks.

 

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

5. Woods Hollow Nature Preserve

~3 miles of trails over 130 acres
Terrain: Flat to rolling; a few moderate-to-steep inclines
Surface: Dirt
Recommended Run: All of the trails! Get close to the lake on the red trail or overlook it from higher ground on a yellow trail.
Trailhead Parking: Off Northline Road, and various small, pull-off areas are along Rowland Street

Woods Hollow Nature Preserve is a wonderful hidden gem. Although it’s well trafficked, most likely haven’t heard of it.

Once you’re here, you’ll find wide, well-maintained primary trails based on old logging roads and narrower, more technical secondary loops. Out of both possibilities, the latter provides beginners and more advanced trail runners with appropriate ground.

As you go farther, you’ll come across a small, picturesque lake in the heart of the preserve that is a popular summertime fishing spot. Additionally adding to the diverse landscape are a smaller pond, meadows, lupine fields, a sand pit, wetlands, and new- and old-growth pines.

 

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

6. Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail

2 miles, end to end
Terrain: Flat
Surface: Dirt, old wooden railroad ties, boardwalk
Trailhead Parking: Route 29 (Lake Avenue) to access from the north, or Meadowbrook Road to access from the south

The Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail is a straightforward, two-mile route that runs along an abandoned railroad line. Given its linear design and long line of sight, the trail is easy to follow and offers many opportunities to take in the natural surroundings and let your mind wander.

The route includes just one intersection, a clearly labeled spur that climbs 0.2 miles steeply up to an adjacent residential neighborhood. As the trail traverses three distinct wetland systems, there’s much to observe, including an abundance of wild and plant life. To do so, various benches, interpretive signage, and handful of viewing platforms let you sit back and watch.


Guide's Pick: Best Adirondack Ice Climbing Destinations

Winter is finally in full swing here in the Northeast, with the mercury hanging well below that magical 32-degree line in many places. And, that can only mean one thing: ice! Whether you’re a seasoned ice climber or a beginner just looking to get that first taste of vertical water, Lake Placid and the Adirondacks are home to some of the United States’ best and most accessible ice climbing destinations. The area offers varied terrain—from shorter, low-angled waterfalls to longer, more difficult routes—making the Adirondacks inviting for all skill levels. What’s even better is, EMS offers a range of ice climbing and mountaineering courses out of Lake Placid, tailored to your skill level. We caught up with EMS Climbing School guide Will Roth to get you the low-down on climbing Adirondack ice.

Guide: WILL ROTH

School: LAKE PLACID

Specialty: ICE, ALPINE, TRAD, and SPORT CLIMBING

Roth started climbing while attending Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, and quickly fell in love with all of its aspects. Will’s passion is demonstrated through his impressive resume of ascents: He’s climbed all over the Northeast and American West, scaled the fabled big walls of Yosemite, completed high-altitude ascents in Peru and Bolivia, and winter-climbed in Scotland and Chamonix, just to name a few. “It’s impossible for me to get bored,” Roth said. “[Climbing] gives me a purpose. I’m always thinking about how I’m going to get things done, so I can climb more.”

With so much energy and passion for the sport, Will inevitably became a guide. Inspired by a great climbing mentor who was a guide himself, Will found his niche in the Adirondacks, running an ice climbing program for the Boy Scouts. He transitioned into his role as an EMS guide from there.

The Adirondacks offer the perfect backdrop for Will to teach his clients the fundamentals and beyond, and he’s quick to share the wisdom he’s accrued over the years: “Go with a guide service like the EMS climbing school that has high-quality gear for you to borrow. In ice climbing, quality gear can make a huge difference in your initial impression.”

If you do take an EMS course in the Adirondacks, rest assured that you will be outfitted with all of the proper technical gear to move on steep snow and ice, as well as expert instruction to give you a full understanding of what’s required to climb ice in the wintertime.

Before you depart, Will recommends bringing lots of easy-to-consume, high-calorie snacks. He also stresses the importance of staying hydrated by bringing along warm liquids: “Staying hydrated will make your day more enjoyable, and it’s easier to drink warm liquids. Cold fluids usually aren’t very appealing when it’s freezing out! Also, a warm belay jacket is important for comfort when not climbing.”

When you’re ready to go, use this list from Roth for some of the Adirondacks’ best routes:

Credit: Chris LaCour</a
Credit: Chris LaCour

Chouinard’s Gully (NEI 3 300′)

This is the route that Yvon Chouinard and his crew supposedly climbed during their historic 1969 visit. It’s three pitches of moderate ice, with the first being the steepest. Although you can rappel the entire route, walking off down a trail from the top keeps congestion on busy days to a minimum. This one is a classic and can get busy.

Pharaoh Mountain (NEI 3+)

If this route is in, get on it! It’s a long day, no matter how you do it. After a several-mile approach, three moderate pitches lead to the top. The first is the steepest, and after that, the higher you get, the easier the angle. Good map and compass skills and an overnight kit are a must on this excursion, especially if the weather is bad and visibility low. Most doing this climb for the first time significantly underestimate the time it takes to go from car to car, but it’s probably the Adirondacks’ best route of its grade.

Credit: molochmaster
Credit: molochmaster

Multiplication Gully (NEI 3+ 225′)

In the Adirondacks, we don’t have many climbs like this. It is a true gully, with steep walls on either side. Two pitches of moderate ice top out at a cliff that has vegetation so thick you better rap off. This climb truly is a gem, and being tucked back into a cliff with views out toward Whiteface Mountain really makes it stand out.

Credit: Bertrand Côté
Credit: Bertrand Côté

Positive Thinking (NEI 5- 400′)

This is the big, hard route. The initial long, just under vertical first pitch can be deceivingly thin, while the second pitch is short but steep! And, the last pitch is a fun romp to the trees. Topping this climb out is always satisfying!

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Roaring Brook Falls (NEI 3+ 350′)

On a below-zero degree day in the sun, this three-pitch moderate climb is where you want to be. Because you’re climbing a “live” feature, there are always interesting ice formations. More than other ice climbs, this one forms differently every year.

 

Whether you’re tackling Positive Thinking or taking EMS’s Introduction to Ice Climbing course, you’re going to have a good time in the Adirondacks. The rhythmic swing of the ice axes and the deliberate, precise nature of the task at hand all make for an experience that’s hard not to enjoy. And, what’s better than spending a winter day in the outdoors? For Will Roth, that’s what it’s all about: “The biggest thing climbing does for me [is], it allows me to focus on just one thing; my mind isn’t going in all different directions when I’m climbing. There is something very satisfying about that singular commitment.”

 


Post-Hike Food and Drink in Lake Placid

From the first day snow falls in the Adirondacks’ High Peaks, I begin dreaming of winter hiking: traversing snow-covered bogs, scaling icy rock slides, and trying to stay upright in the face of a 40 mile-an-hour snowstorm—who wouldn’t love all that? But as with any High Peaks hike, it’s the trudge back to the parking lot that can get a little long. As winter daylight begins to fade on the back end of a long November trek, I’m sometimes cursing myself for not trimming that one toenail that’s banging against my boot’s toe box or simply convincing myself that the hike down, with its steep icy sections, would be SO much faster than the one up.

Then, my mind wanders to that first cold beer and hot bowl of chili awaiting me at one of the many Lake Placid eateries when we’re finally out of the mountains. Imagining the bartender topping off that big draft is the vision that keeps me going.

If you’re undertaking a similar journey, here are a few of my favorites to help you make plans:

Credit: Stephen Pierce
Credit: Stephen Pierce

Lake Placid Pub & Brewery

This is a local’s joint boasting three levels for enjoying the brewery’s award-winning beers and surprisingly tasty pub food. On a clear day, the top two floors afford great views of Mirror Lake and Whiteface. The first floor is an Irish pub, known as P.J. O’Neill’s, and a local’s hangout, while the second level, with its stone fireplace, college atmosphere décor, and ample seating, might be better for enjoying a full meal. The third, the Hop Bar, is newer and offers additional seating and a kids’ room.

As far as beer goes, the pub’s Ubu Ale is their standard, and as you leave, you can buy more in cans for another hike’s peak celebration. I especially like their 46’er Pale Ale and new brew Shot in the Dark, a darker IPA sweetened with caramel flavors.

The food here ranges from standard pub grub to craft sandwiches and barbecue. Of special note are the smoked Gouda and roasted red pepper soup, the fried pickles, and the shepherd’s pie—all post-winter hike winners.

Lisa G’s

This locally famous eatery is situated just as you enter town on Rt. 73, and it is the place to go first to experience Lake Placid’s unique food and atmosphere. Lisa G’s website calls itself “a quirky place” offering “comfort food with a modern twist,” and that description is spot on. From their “best burgers in the Adirondacks” and famous Southern fried chicken sandwich to dishes as diverse as Greek style wings, a Thai curry noodle bowl, and a Moroccan burrito (which is awesome), Lisa G’s hits nearly every palate. They even offer spicy Korean shrimp.

Their specialty drink offerings are as inviting as the owner herself, who can often be seen meandering from table to table, joking with the patrons. For winter hikers looking to warm up quickly, the bar will throw down its own version of a hot toddy, or for something different, the Winter Sipper combines spiced vanilla whiskey, butterscotch schnapps, and pineapple juice, shaken and rimmed with cinnamon-sugar. You can taste it now, right?

Smoke Signals

This place rocks for three reasons: barbecue, drinks, and the view. Getting a table in the back along their wall-to-wall window view of Mirror Lake is a must, so it’s best to put in for one immediately, and then hang at the bar or do a little shopping nearby. They will call your cell phone when your table is ready.

Speaking of the bar, they offer many of New York’s best microbrewery beers, including their own and very good Ghost Pig Blonde Ale. However, their whisky list is extensive, and their signature cocktails offer seasonal wonders like a harvest sangria, a pumpkin Russian, rum coffee, and hot spiced cider. All will warm up those cold hands and feet.

Despite these glories, it’s all about the barbecue here: smoke BBQ wings, pulled pork, ADK BBQ Tacos, and killer baby back ribs. Eat up the BBQ and the front-row views of the skating and dog-sledding on Mirror Lake below you.

Credit: Stephen Pierce
Credit: Stephen Pierce

The Great Adirondack Steak and Seafood Brewery and Restaurant

This place may put a slightly bigger dent in your wallet, but it’s well worth it. Despite the first-rate food, with steaks custom-cut from local farms and seafood fresh from the Boston Fish Market, the Great Adirondack has a very homey, unpretentious feel about it. You can cozy up to the fireplace, relax in the casual bar area, or take a window seat to watch the snow fall.

The brewery is directly behind the restaurant, and it boasts some award-winning beers: Its house IPA is the John Brown Pale Ale, and the brewery’s many choices include an addicting Whiteface Stout, which tastes like a blend of chocolate and coffee, and a knock-you-on-your-butt Snoskred IPA (8% ABV). But, it’s the food that is king here: great ribs, tender steaks, melt-in-your-mouth scallops, and chunky clam chowder. The portions are big enough that my wife and I often split a starter and a meal and feel plenty full after.

 

There are too many great places to list here, but these all make a solid start to your Adirondacks’ post-hike food and drink adventures. Do you have any favorites we missed?


Making the Transition to Winter Hiking

Often, people treat autumn as a grieving period for their hiking season’s end. The early onset of freezing summit temperatures and the Northeast’s late spring snowpacks can mean that avoiding the trails costs you six months of the year. Instead, with a little planning, knowledge, and preparation, you can get comfortable conquering mountains year-round. Here are a few pointers to get you started.

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Gear

While much of the gear you have broken in on summer treks can be useful for winter hiking, you need to add some key weapons to your quiver to fully make the shift.

yNov_16_1_@jthomas_adkerTraction

One of the first gear concerns has to be traction, which is required to hike safely on snow and ice. For early season freezes or hard-packed trails, Kathoola’s Microspikes are perfect. Made with elastic rubber uppers that can easily stretch on and off nearly any shoe or boot and sturdy chains and spikes that dig into the crud to keep you from slipping, these are a must.

Microspikes will work for 90 percent of frozen trails, especially on beginner hikes, but some of the ice-covered routes above treeline and flows you will eventually encounter require a little more. Crampons provide a more substantial bite, but require more practice to use safely. Look for pairs like the Camp XLC 490 that are light, adaptable to nearly any boot, and are not designed for vertical ice—a condition rarely encountered in hiking and mountaineering.

Finally, you will need snowshoes to carry you over fresh powder and keep the trail packed safely for others. Even when the parking lot has no snow, carrying snowshoes is key for those high-elevation drifts, and in places like the Adirondacks’ High Peaks, they’re required by law. For years, MSR was the go-to brand for hiking, but now, others like Atlas and Tubbs offer great products, as well. I use the Tubbs Flex line, partly because I love the ease and fit of the boa enclosure binding system.

Hydration

Hydration is a second important consideration. While I love the convenience of a bladder in the summer, I avoid them in the winter months. Insulation for their tubes, blowing water out of the mouthpiece after each sip, and other tricks can keep bladders flowing in extreme cold, but for me, it’s not worth the risk or effort. The last thing you want in the middle of a below-zero, big-mileage day is your water freezing up.

Instead, get a few wide-mouth Nalgene bottles, as narrow-top designs freeze quicker. Keep the screw tops from freezing by storing them upside down, so the air/water interface freezes first, insulate them with a bottle cover or even a thick wool sock, and store them in your pack.

Boots and Gloves

Finally, you need to keep your hands and feet warm when facing extreme cold. Wicking layers, insulation, and exertion will protect your core most days, but feet and hands can freeze up quickly when the mercury drops and your hiking party stops.

So, look for waterproof and insulated boots like the Merrell Polarand 8. Additionally, bring several pairs of gloves and socks, as even the best will eventually “wet out” on long hikes, leaving hands and feet susceptible to frostbite.

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Tips and Tricks

As you hike more and more in the winter, you will surely find little tricks and tips that work for you. Here are just a few that have helped me out:

Remember, it’s almost as important to stay warm as it is to keep cool. It sounds crazy, but working up a sweat and soaking your layers can become, at best, uncomfortable or, at worst, can contribute to hypothermia. So, start the hike a little cold and be sure to remove layers as you heat up to regulate your temperature.

Protect your skin. Bright winter sun reflecting off snow cover can sunburn you as fast as the sunshine on the beach. Cold wind can also leave it windburned. To prepare, bring the sunscreen and facemask along as needed.

Choose your food wisely. Bring food that is easy to eat on the move and won’t become inedible if frozen. Long summit picnics are less common in winter conditions, and breaking teeth on frozen treats is not fun.

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Where to Go

To begin your adventure, start off small, get your gear dialed in, avoid winter hiking solo at first, and always carry a map and compass. But, in these conditions, things like route-finding skills and weather become even more important, and hiking with crampons or snowshoeing through deep powder can take some getting used to, as it utilizes different muscle groups. When you are ready to give it a go, here are a few easy hikes to tackle on a bluebird day that are sure to get you hooked and ready to tackle some bigger peaks.

Mount Jo, New York

A short round-trip loop hike of just 2.3 miles from the Adirondack Loj will provide you with upfront views of Heart Lake and many of the High Peaks, like Algonquin.

Mt. Tom, Vermont

From behind a covered bridge in Woodstock, VT, this easy trail of switchbacks climbs just under 1.5 miles one-way to the south summit for nice views of the town and surrounding mountains.

West Rattlesnake Mountain, New Hampshire

This two-mile round-trip hike through gorgeous oak forest rewards you with great views of Southern New Hampshire from its summit’s open ledges.

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre