Project 100: A Wild Winter for the Good of the Mountains

While most Northeast hikers have heard of the 46 Adirondack High Peaks, few are familiar with the Adirondack Hundred Highest (HH). This peakbagging list is made up of the 46 High Peaks and the next-highest 54 peaks, many of which are remote and trail-less. Anyone who has bushwhacked off-trail above 3,000 feet regularly in the Adirondack Mountains knows the challenges of backcountry navigation, treacherous terrain, and isolation.

Neil Luckhurst is a man who knows these realities better than most. Last winter, Luckhurst, 61, became just the second person ever to hike the ADK HH in a single winter season. The challenges of completing the list at any time of year are big enough. But, adding deep snow, icy cliffs, below-zero temperatures, and unplowed approach roads makes for an almost unfathomable task. Luckhurst was driven to accomplish this feat (which he dubbed “Project 100“) not only for himself but also as part of a massive fundraising effort for the nonprofit conservation organization he founded, the ADKHighpeaks Foundation. He raised over $6,500 dollars to support Adirondack conservation and other nonprofit groups.

goEast had a chance to ask him some questions about himself, the project, and the foundation.

Luckhurst finishing Project 100. | Courtesy: Neil Luckhurst
Luckhurst finishing Project 100. | Courtesy: Neil Luckhurst

goEast: How long have you been hiking?

Neil: I began hiking in my early 20s in the Canadian Rockies. I stopped hiking altogether while going to school and starting a chiropractic practice in Montreal and having children. I have hiked, snowshoed, skied, and winter-camped in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Northern Ontario, the French Alps, and, of course, very extensively in the Adirondacks.

goEast: That’s a lot of hiking! You say you’ve spent most of your time in the Adirondacks. How many peaks have you climbed there?

Neil: Approximately 150. I bushwhacked the entire Adirondack Hundred Highest list, including the 46. In addition to that, I have bushwhacked another 50 peaks from the 3,000-foot list, and friction-climbed about 50 Adirondack slides. Also, I have done the 46 in a single winter three times and, all in all, have completed approximately eight full rounds of the 46.

goEast: Impressive! What was the origin of Project 100?

Neil: In the winter of 2001 and 2002, Alain Chevrette and Tom Haskins basically went out and killed the list. Alain did the entire HH list, plus another 30-odd peaks from the 3,000-foot list. Tom did the Lower 54, plus most of the 46er list. In my opinion, this stands as one of the most monumental achievements ever done in the Adirondacks and has rolled around in the back of my mind for years. With Projects 46 [Luckhurst climbed all 46 Adirondack High Peaks in 10 days] and Full Deck [a single, continuous backpacking trip to climb 52 peaks] well behind me, I was mentally casting about for something else to do. Out of the blue, I realized the Adirondack Hundred Highest single winter season was just what I was looking for as a new challenge.

Luckhurst on Cheney Cobble. | Courtesy: Neil Luckhurst
Luckhurst on Cheney Cobble. | Courtesy: Neil Luckhurst

goEast: How many people have completed the Hundred Highest list in winter?

Neil: I only know of five people who have done them all over multiple winters, but there are probably more. However, in one single winter, as far as I know, only Chevrette has ever done this before. I have become the second.

goEast: So, what’s the ADKHighpeaks Foundation?

Neil: Originally, we were born from two internet message boards. One, Adkhighpeaks Forum was founded in 2003, and the other, ADKForum, was acquired in 2007. We started as a simple group of forest preserve hikers and recreational users that cared deeply about the wild places where we choose to spend our time. Over time, we came to realize that it is up to us to help improve the public lands that we enjoy, making them better for those that follow us. After all, we get so much joy and life-enriching rewards from these places that it seems only fitting that we do our part to return the favor any way we can.

Through our combined 5,000-plus membership, we began to look for ways to improve and have a positive impact on the forest preserve areas we use. In 2008, we began a grassroots, “pass the hat” effort, and with minimal effort, we were able to raise $5,000 to purchase needed equipment for the Keene Valley Fire Department’s Wilderness Response Team. The ADKHighpeaks Foundation was born from that effort.

We are now a major source of funding support for a number of endeavors, including the Summit Steward program, Fire Tower restoration programs, Search and Rescue team support, research grants, Adirondack Ski Touring Council purchases, and many, many more.

Courtesy: Neil Luckhurst
Courtesy: Neil Luckhurst

goEast: Why is it important to you to do these “projects” as fundraisers?

Courtesy: Neil Luckhurst
Courtesy: Neil Luckhurst

Neil: Over the years that I’ve been hiking in the Adirondacks, one thing that has struck me is how much work is done by volunteers. Trail work, lean-to reconstruction, SAR, public education, privy construction, and maintenance, etc. A lot of that hard work is done by volunteers. My way of giving something back for all the hiking I do is to raise money for the Foundation through these projects and via our web forum activities [by using projects as advertisements for the organization].

On a more personal level, my son Dominic and I did the 46 together as father and son. 10 years ago, he lost his life in an avalanche in the Canadian Rockies. The outpouring of sympathy from the Adirondack hiking community was incredibly supportive to my family and I. This made me decide, with Tim Dubois, to found the Foundation as a way of channeling this support into something concrete. These projects enable me to give back, as well as keep the memories of our hiking adventures alive.


7 Tips for Hiking With Your Dog in the Adirondacks

There is nothing like packing your backpack, grabbing a leash, and heading out into the great outdoors with your best friend. There is so much to sniff and see, and it’s fun and good exercise for both of you. However, before you hit the trails with your pup, think about how to lessen your impact on places you’re visiting, and to have a safe and fun experience.

You know your dog best. If your dog is nervous, anxious, or aggressive, or does not behave well in new situations, consider these factors when bringing them on adventures. The hike should be enjoyable for everyone: you, your pup, the people and pets sharing the spaces around you…and the wildlife that live here!

Credit: Mary Godnick
Credit: Mary Godnick

1. Follow Leave No Trace Tips for Dogs

It’s safe to say no hiker enjoys coming across a pile of dog poop when they step into the Adirondack backcountry. So, make sure to bring bags to collect and carry out your pet waste. As well, don’t allow your animal to chase wildlife, keep them on the trail and off vegetation, and follow other LNT principles concerning dogs.

2. Be considerate of everyone on the trails

The New York Department of Environmental Conservation asks dog owners to keep their pets under control on Forest Preserve lands, and other agencies have similar guidelines. The best way to do this is through proper training or simply keeping your dog on a leash 100 percent of the time. When a group approaches, leash your dog, and step to the side to let them pass. Ask other visitors on the trail if your dog can say hello before assuming it’s okay for them to approach. Not every human or dog on the trails loves dogs, so it’s always important to ask.

Courtesy: Ruffwear
Courtesy: Ruffwear

3. Know the rules for everywhere you go

Each activity in the Adirondacks has its own set of rules. For instance, the High Peaks Wilderness Area has certain leash rules. On some trails on private land, such as Indian Head and Rainbow Falls, dogs are not allowed at all. On other trails, dogs must be leashed at all times. Check online for rules and regulations before you go.

4. Think about your dog’s needs

Being outside is about having fun. When you’re heading out on an adventure, it’s important to put your dog’s comfort level first. Plan your trip around your dog’s interests, age, ability, and energy levels. Research activities beforehand, so there are no unexpected rock scrambles or water crossings. And, be fully ready to turn around if your dog isn’t having fun. During your journey, look for signs of dehydration, heat exhaustion, hypothermia, and pain…and take breaks often.

Credit: Mary Godnick
Credit: Mary Godnick

5. Wear the right gear

Especially during hunting season, many trails are shared by a variety of outdoor enthusiasts. In response, it’s important that your dog stays visible to other people and animals in the Adirondacks. Your dog should wear a reflective collar, bright bandana, or harness that can be spotted from afar. Some dog owners that hike deep into the Adirondacks also prefer their pet wear a bell on their collar, so they can be heard by humans and wildlife. Additionally, there are cooling vests, insulated warming “jackets,” booties, and life jackets made for dogs that may also be helpful.

6. Safety isn’t just for humans

Bring an extra water bottle and healthy treats for your dog. Use a portable water bowl or reuse a plastic container to give your dog water frequently. Carry a small first-aid kit that includes materials you can use to administer first aid if your pup gets injured. The Humane Society recommends a few essential items for pet first aid. Additionally, tick-borne diseases are a real threat in the Adirondacks, so talk with your vet about the best flea and tick prevention options for your pet.

7. Think about your post-adventure hangs

Many restaurants, shops, breweries, campgrounds, and lodging options in the Adirondacks are dog-friendly. Still, call ahead to make sure that any place where you’ll grab a bite to eat and rest your feet can also accommodate your dog. New York State law prohibits the confinement of an animal in a motor vehicle in extreme temperatures, so avoid leaving your pooch in the car.


10 Must-See Spots in the Adirondacks (That Aren't Above 4,000 Feet)

The views of the Adirondacks from one of the park’s tallest mountains are breathtaking. So, it’s no wonder everyone is flocking to the region’s 46 High Peaks. Hiking one—or all!—of the 4,000-footers is one of the Northeast’s greatest adventures. But, for those of us who get tired of the trailhead throngs, crowded or busy trails, erosion (be sure to Leave No Trace when you head out, even on these less-visited hikes), and noise pollution, or for those of us who just want a tranquil day to experience the ‘Daks alone, you may want to skip the most popular routes, and check out one of these quieter, lower-elevation options instead.

Courtesy: The Adirondack Council
Courtesy: The Adirondack Council

1. Hike Jay Mountain (Jay, NY)

The Jay Mountain Wilderness Area is a secret oasis between Lake Placid and Lake Champlain. If you’re looking for a solid hike to challenge yourself and experience the solitude of the Adirondack wilderness, this is for you. This moderate eight-mile round-trip trail is a good option for somewhat experienced hikers. For the last mile, be ready to hike along a rocky, open ridge, where you will have awesome views of the surrounding forests and mountains.

2. Paddle the North Branch Moose River (Old Forge, NY)

This quiet river is just behind the hustle and bustle of Old Forge’s main road. Rent or bring your own kayak or canoe to explore the remote waters of the river’s North Branch, itself slow moving and surrounded by lush forests at every twist and turn. Along the way, hop out on occasion to enjoy the sandy shores.

HopkinsMountain
Courtesy: The Adirondack Council

3. Hike Hopkins Mountain (Keene Valley, NY)

If you’re looking for a moderate, low-traffic hike right near the High Peaks, Hopkins is a good alternative. You will get an equally amazing view with a much quieter trip. This 6.4-mile round-trip hike follows a beautiful creek most of the way, making it a scenic walk, and features vibrant green moss along the trail. Here, stop to watch the quiet water flow over boulders.

Courtesy: The Adirondack Council
Courtesy: The Adirondack Council

 

4. Explore Moose River Plains (Inlet, NY)

Tons of trails and old dirt roads wind through the forest, beyond lakes, streams, and rivers. As a multi-sport hub, the Moose River Plains State Wild Forest area features 130 miles of marked trails and a network of old roads ideal for hiking and mountain biking. Since the forest is so big, you’re likely to have whatever section you choose to yourself. There are also over 100 primitive roadside campsites, motorboat-free lakes to paddle and fish, and trails to hike or horseback ride. And, if you’re lucky, you might spot the resident moose.

Courtesy: The Adirondack Council
Courtesy: The Adirondack Council

 

5. Hike Owls Head Lookout (Elizabethtown, NY)

This incredible peak is just down the road from some of the busiest trail heads, but is a much quieter climb. Owls Head Lookout (not to be confused with the very popular “Owl’s Head” in Keene) is an amazing five-mile round-trip hike. Following a stream most of the way, the route feels less like you’re on a trail and more like you’re exploring the wilderness on your own. When you get to the top, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views of the dramatic High Peaks, Green Mountains of Vermont, and the Champlain Valley.

6. Camp at Eighth Lake (Inlet, NY)

If your type of “off the beaten path” adventure still involves bathrooms and is accessible by car, this is the state campground for you. Visit during the week or in early summer, and you can probably snag a waterfront campsite along the lake’s shore. Here, spend your day hiking nearby trails, like Rondaxe or Rocky Mountain, or rent a canoe or kayak to paddle to the little island on the lake. Bring a cooler with lunch, relax on the sandy shore, and take a dip in the water.

Courtesy: The Adirondack Council
Courtesy: The Adirondack Council

 

7. Hike Coon Mountain (Westport, NY)

Turn down an unassuming dirt road to find this hidden gem. Tucked away in a quiet town, Coon sees fewer visitors than the ultra-popular peaks near Lake Placid. You’ll hike less than a mile to the summit, and there, views of Lake Champlain, the Green Mountains, the High Peaks, and beyond make it a local favorite.

Courtesy: The Adirondack Council
Courtesy: The Adirondack Council

8. Paddle the Essex Chain Lakes (Newcomb, NY)

The Essex Chain Lakes are a wild network of lakes, ponds, and streams nestled at the Adirondacks’ center. It’s a long yet easy and scenic drive to get to this remote destination. Here, you’ll want to paddle and portage your way through the wild waters. Later, camp at the numerous rustic sites along the lakes, all available on a first-come, first-serve basis. No motor boats are allowed, so it feels quiet and peaceful.

Courtesy: The Adirondack Council
Courtesy: The Adirondack Council

9. Hike Lyon Mountain (Dannemora, NY)

Involving a seven-mile, three-hour round-trip hike in the park’s northeastern portion, Lyon Mountain offers beautiful views from the summit fire tower. Look out at Champlain Valley, all the way to Montreal, and get a 360-degree view of forests, mountains, and lakes as far as the eye can see. Throughout the year, the trail is infrequently used, and makes a good challenge.

10. Hike Mount Severance (Schroon Lake, NY)

Near the Lake George area, this small-but-mighty mountain is not far off the beaten path. However, compared to other local hikes, it sees far less traffic. While not far from the main highway, this 2.4-mile round-trip hike is usually quiet and can be completed in about an hour. At the top, you’ll be rewarded with a great view of Schroon Lake and the surrounding mountains.


Top 5 Memorial Day Hikes in the Adirondacks for Kids

If you are anything like me, the joy of a new child also means that hiking takes a backseat. Luckily, with some careful planning, hiking with young kids can become a wonderful, new way to enjoy the outdoors. I started bringing my daughter along on short hikes in a backpack-style carrier before she was a year old. To begin, here are some tips for bringing children along and some of the best kid-friendly locations throughout the Adirondacks:

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Getting Started

1. Be conservative with weather, gear, and time considerations

Plan to move slowly with little ones in tow. That being said, start early to avoid feeling like you have to rush. As well, pick a good weather day, and plan to reschedule if the forecast is poor. For gear, pack not only the essentials for safety but also extras for comfort and convenience. Hiking with kids is not the time to go ultralight!

2. Be sure to carry plenty of “fuel”

Be even more conscious of nutrition essentials. Choose food and drink items your kids already enjoy and are sure to get down. Incorporate snacks and fluids into frequent breaks.

3. Make it about the experience and the journey—not a goal or task to be completed

Plan to start with short and easy hikes, with options to cut them short if needed. Along the way, teach your kids to observe the wilderness and learn about nature and history, as their age allows. Add camping or a post-hike reward to create more memories and a love for the outdoors.

 

Where to Go

Here are just a few of my favorite short hikes for young children throughout the Adirondacks:

Courtesy: Bonnie Gross
Courtesy: Bonnie Gross

Mount Severance (Schroon Lake)

Starting off Rt. 9N just south of the intersection with Rt. 74, this hike starts with a fun walk through a tunnel-shaped culvert under the interstate. After a mild 2.4-mile round-trip, you’ll be rewarded with a summit of rocky ledges and views ranging from Schroon Lake to the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness and Paradox Lake.

Sawyer Mountain (Blue Mountain Lake)

You’ll find the trailhead between Indian Lake and Blue Mountain Lake on Rt. 28/30. This 2.1-mile hike takes you through picturesque woods and introduces some very basic but still fun scrambling to your toddlers toward the top. You’ll find the best views—covering the Cedar River Valley to Wakely Mountain—just 100 yards past the summit on a small ledge.

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Rattlesnake Mountain (Willsboro Bay)

This three-mile round-trip hike starts off Rt. 22, just across from Long Pond. With “bang for your buck” views, the open summit lets you look out to Lake Champlain and Willsboro Point on one side and Long Pond and Giant Mountain on the other. Don’t worry, though. Despite the name, Northern Timber Rattlers are rare this far north. Please note: This trek goes through private lands open to hiking, but camping and other off-trail activities aren’t allowed. 

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Sleeping Beauty Mountain (Lake George)

At about five miles round-trip, this hike is a bit longer than the others, but offers some wonderful views of Lake George and beyond. Save this one for a nice summer or fall day, as the trailhead (Dacy Clearing) is at the end of a long dirt road accessed toward the end of Buttermilk Falls Road from Rt. 149 outside Lake George, and can be hard to reach during mud or snow season. If you have to park at the Hogtown Lot, you will add an additional three miles round-trip. While you are here, take a side trip to nearby Shelving Rock Falls. As a tip, use caution when hiking near slippery falls with children.

Baxter Mountain (Keene)

Roughly 2.5 miles round-trip, this hike begins on Rt. 9N in Keene. It’s known for nice views, mixed terrain, and blueberry picking when they’re in season. Be aware that while the first lookout offers outstanding views, the actual summit is a bit farther along the ridge. Also, the trail continues past the summit and down to Beede Road, allowing for a thru-hike if you have a car spot available.


Alpha Guide: MacIntyre Range in Winter

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Get views for days on this three-peak traverse that includes the Adirondacks’ second-tallest.

The MacIntyre Range has it all: stiff climbs, a frozen waterfall, scrambling, and more than enough incredible views to keep you enjoying it from the second you step on the trail to the moment you return to the parking lot. While it’s certainly not the longest hike out there, the elevation gain you’ll have to tackle over this chain of three High Peaks makes you really feel like you’re earning the 360-degree views that await you on each exposed summit.

Winter daylight is fleeting, and temperatures on summits often reach well into the negatives. But, the sharp contrasts in the sights of the surrounding mountains and lakes make this a unique experience in the winter. Sunrises and sunsets in the spring, summer, and fall are always wonderful, but ones in winter tend to be a little more colorful due to the ice crystals in the air. Inversions, too, are more common, as clouds hang low over bodies of water after being heated from the day before. Summer rock-scrambling sections become a little easier with the packed-down snow. Overall, this route has an incredible amount of long, steep stretches that are practically designed for butt-sledding, thus making it the perfect winter day hike.

Quick Facts

Distance: 10.6 miles, out-and-back
Time to Complete: 1 day
Difficulty: ★★★★
Scenery: ★★★★


Season: November through April
Fees/Permits: $10 parking at Heart Lake ($5 for ADK Members)
Contact: http://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/9164.html 

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Turn-By-Turn

The trailhead for the MacIntyre Range is the same one you use for Marcy, Phelps, and Table Top, starting on the Van Hoevenberg Trail as it leaves the High Peaks Information Center (HPIC) parking lot on Adirondack Loj Road (44.183061, -73.963870).

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.

Credit: Francis Willis
Credit: Francis Willis

Stepping into Nature

After signing the trail register at the eastern end of the parking lot, follow the Van Hoevenberg Trail for approximately 1 mile. The Van Ho Trail, here, is unique, as it is well-marked with blue DEC trail markers and well-traveled by hikers. It also crosses many oft-traveled cross-country ski trails, identifiable by their wooden signs. A favorite trail you will cross is the Fangorn Forest Trail, named after a location in the Lord of the Rings series. After a mile, you will reach a junction (44.172403, -73.958979) where the Van Ho Trail connects with the Algonquin Trail. Here, the Van Hoevenberg Trail breaks left, but you should continue straight ahead, onto the Algonquin Trail.

Credit: Francis Willis
Credit: Francis Willis

The Thigh-Burning Begins

The real work begins after the junction. Continue to follow the Algonquin Trail, where you’ll steadily gain elevation as you twist and turn your way through the range’s foothills. Expect to slow down considerably here, as there are some notoriously steep parts. After approximately two miles of following the path through the trees, you’ll find yourself at MacIntyre Brook. Here, there is a beautiful waterfall to your left, called MacIntyre Falls (44.159344, -73.979633).

Continue along the trail as you gain more elevation. Between MacIntyre Falls and the next junction, a few treacherous sections ice over early in the winter season and stay that way until the spring thaw turns the ice to rivulets of water flowing through the rock. Be prepared to use your feet, hands, and wits in order to find the safest way to traverse these sections. Oftentimes, you will be able to see the path that hikers before you took and can get some insight into how to proceed safely.

After these sections, you will reach a small, unofficial junction. Here, some people branch off to the west to climb a small shoulder of Wright, affectionately nicknamed “Rong.” After this small junction, continue following the Algonquin Trail to reach the Algonquin/Wright junction (44.152531, -73.985754).

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

Heading the Wright Way

At this junction, many people will often leave their packs as they take the left fork and head up the 0.4-mile trail to Wright’s summit (44.151635, -73.979473), itself quick but steep (0.8 miles, 500′ elevation gain) and great for butt-sledding back down. However, only take this route if you are experienced and prepared enough to handle any accidents, should something happen between the junction and the summit. Wright’s summit is open and offers amazing views of the park, especially when you look toward the northeastern face of Algonquin. Also, be prepared for winds, as strong gusts often buffet the exposed summit, regardless of the season. You’ll have great views of Heart Lake down below, and if you look to the northeast, you’ll see Whiteface rising into the sky all by itself, creating an impressive silhouette.

After leaving the treeline and heading to the summit, be sure to keep your eyes out for any kind of debris. In 1962, a B-47 plane crashed on the mountain, and the impact threw its parts all over and around the summit. Today, much of it is still readily visible.

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

Short and Steep to the Summit

After returning to the Algonquin Trail junction, make a left and begin the final ascent to Algonquin’s summit (44.143693, -73.986437). This section is undoubtedly the toughest you will encounter all day. Particularly, slick, packed-down snow and ice make the hike’s 28-percent grade (0.7 miles, 1050′ elevation) far more difficult. After climbing steadily through the trees, leave the treeline, and follow the highly visible, human-sized cairns that mark the official path to the summit. Even in winter, you’ll want to stay on the trail, because any step on snow covering the fragile alpine vegetation can still do serious damage.

From Algonquin’s open summit, you get amazing views of nearly every High Peak, including everything from Whiteface to the Sewards, Santanonis, and especially Mount Marcy as it rises over Mt. Colden. Algonquin also offers a very unique view of Colden’s famous Trap Dike, a fun climb for those adventurous and prepared enough to tackle a High Peak in an unconventional manner.

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

Boundary, the Poor Peak That Doesn’t Count

After taking in the view, head over the other side of Algonquin toward your final High Peak of the day, Iroquois. After dropping down to the col between Algonquin and its neighbor, Boundary Peak, you will reach another intersection where the Algonquin Trail meets the Iroquois Trail (44.141591, -73.991251). Here, the Algonquin Trail becomes what is commonly referred to as the Boundary Peak Trail and begins a very steep descent toward the Lake Colden Trail. While not traveled nearly as often in winter, it forms a beautiful loop after descending Iroquois by heading back to your starting point through Avalanche Pass.

Just after this intersection, as you head along the Iroquois Trail, make a short climb to the summit of Boundary Peak (44.139831, -73.993863). This 4,800-foot mountain is unfortunately not counted as a High Peak due to its proximity and lack of prominence to both Algonquin and Iroquois. Boundary has some great views of its own, however. It offers a different perspective of both neighboring peaks that you won’t get from anywhere else while also offering a unique view of the wilderness to the range’s west. After dropping down the other side of Boundary’s summit, you will have a short and easy final push to Iroquois’ (44.136802, -73.998087). If you’ve been keeping track, there’s just an .85-mile distance from Algonquin’s summit to Iroquois’, with an elevation gain of 180 ft.

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

The Return Trip

After celebrating your third major summit of the day, it’s time to turn around and head back to your car! Retrace your steps, heading back the exact way you came. The only tedious portion lies in ascending Algonquin from the col between it and Boundary Peak. You will have to gain approximately 500 feet of elevation to reach the summit again, but then, you will have a completely downhill hike on the way out (a total of five miles).


Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

The Kit

  • When it comes to staying dry and warm during a winter hike, midweight base layers are usually the way to go, unless it’s an incredibly cold day. Midweight products will be more than sufficient on all but the very coldest winter days. You also want to be careful to not overheat, because you will be working hard throughout the hike. EMS’ Techwick Base Layers are perfect, because they’re inexpensive, comfortable, and work perfectly for winter hiking.
  • When hiking in the High Peaks region in the winter, you are legally required to have snowshoes or skis on your person when there is eight inches of snow or more on the ground. While there are a variety of brands and styles available, the MSR Evo line is a favorite choice of many seasoned winter 46ers for its durable deck that twists and flexes when it needs to. This feature can save your ankles and knees when you misstep or have an awkward landing.
  • When it comes to hard-packed trails, snowshoes are better left on your pack. Instead, you’ll want something that digs in and still allows you to step with confidence. Kahtoola MICROspikes are an oft-chosen option for such conditions, with a durable rubber frame that grips your boot snugly, and spikes that allow for a sense of security and safety as you trek along.
  • Even on mild and moderate days, you’ll want to make sure you have some kind of hard-shell jacket for when you leave the treeline. On warmer days, with dry base layers on, a heavier rain jacket, like the Marmot Minimalist, works wonders, but on colder days, when the wind chill may drag the temperature well below zero, you’ll want something with a little more insulation and protection – like the EMS Alpine Ascender Stretch.

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

Keys to the Trip

  • While this hike typically takes most of the day, you can move the start time around in order to catch a sunrise or sunset from any one of the three peaks. Sunsets on Algonquin never disappoint, and neither do sunrises. It’s a quick hike out afterwards if you time it to catch the sun setting there before you head back down. Just bring a headlamp.
  • Wright Peak is notoriously windy—more so than any other peak in the Adirondacks. Many first-time Wright summitters are unaware of the conditions, however, and it’s quite common to see or experience the feeling of having to crawl the last section to avoid being blown right off the summit. Because of the surrounding mountains and valleys’ shape, wind gets funneled over Wright’s summit and can easily reach gusts of 50 mph on any given day, so be prepared with warmer layers and traction.
  • Hungry after your hike? A favorite spot to grab food is the ‘Dack Shack in Lake Placid. They have a wonderful menu that consists of 46 unique sandwiches, all served on fresh homemade breads and named after the 46 High Peaks. The Blake sandwich on Asiago peppercorn bread is one that won’t disappoint!
  • If you’re feeling a bit parched, not far from the trailhead is the Big Slide Brewery. From IPAs to stouts and more, Big Slide Brewery is home to a delicious variety of microbrews, with a rotating selection of 10 on tap. For the perfect post-hike relaxation atmosphere, this brewery never disappoints.

Current Conditions

Have you been in the MacIntyres recently? Post your experience and the trail conditions (with the date of your hike) in the comments for others!


The Top 6 Splitboarding Locations in the Northeast

While splitboarding does have many similarities to backcountry skiing, there are some subtle but important differences in the locations where participants prefer to “earn their turns.” First, when in touring mode, one is essentially skiing on two very large, heavy, and awkwardly shaped “skis.” This is simply a snowboard cut down the middle into two halves. Also making an approach more challenging are snowboard-style bindings and boots and the fact that many snowboarders have never skied.

While backcountry skiers often have no issue with rolling up and down hills or navigating tight icy turns on the way to a climb, many splitboarders prefer an approach that is relatively flat or continuously uphill. Secondly, splitboarders desire the same consistency, albeit in reverse, on their descents. While backcountry skiers can climb a short stretch of flats or rise in the middle of their descent, for a snowboarder, this means getting off your board to skate or carry it. Or, worse, you convert back to touring mode before another conversion to descend again.

Whether you’re a beginner looking to learn to skin at the resort, or a die-hard extremist seeking out that adrenaline rush, the Northeast does have some fantastic places to splitboard.

Courtesy: Magic Mountain
Courtesy: Magic Mountain

Magic Mountain, Vermont

A great way to get the hang of skinning and transitions as a beginner, or to just get some laps in, is to tour on resort trails. More and more resorts that used to frown on uphill travel are introducing policies that allow for such use during certain times, on certain trails, or with the purchase of an uphill pass. Magic, however, takes it a step further. Not only do they encourage uphill travel and riding anytime, anywhere, but they also celebrate it.

Use your own power to climb to the summit for a run. Or, stop to see a summit lift attendant, and they will give you a token to take one lift-serviced run on the house! Doing three or four laps with the skins gets you three or four runs on the lift and spells a free day of riding on a neat little mountain. All they ask is you consider grabbing a burger or beer at the lodge as a thank you! Find Magic off VT 11 just down the road from Bromley Mountain, right outside of Londonderry.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Whiteface Veterans Memorial Highway, New York

If you’re looking to get laps on the resort trails, here, you will have to stick to dawn patrol—only permitted with an uphill pass and outside of operating hours. However, the toll road, which runs up the mountain’s backside, is a local favorite for touring. Whiteface Veterans Memorial Highway typically is the first “ski” of the early season and provides a gentle cruise down. For more advanced riders, the toll road can also provide access to the mountain’s many backcountry slides. Find the parking lot by the toll house a few miles from Wilmington, New York, just past the intersection with Gillespie Drive.

Courtesy: Jay Peak
Courtesy: Jay Peak

Jay Peak, Vermont

Offering what most consider some of the Northeast’s best snow and glades, Jay also has some backcountry attractions for splitboarders. Nearby Big Jay and Little Jay mountains offer some expert riding terrain, including the famous East Face of Big Jay. These glades and chutes are accessible via a ridge trail from the resort or a skin up starting on logging roads from Route 242. Be warned, though. This is a remote and challenging area, and you should be prepared, as always, for the unexpected. If you have the backcountry skills and the legendary Jay snow comes through, this can make for an epic tour.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Wright Peak, New York

One of the more popular locations for Adirondack backcountry, Wright Peak offers two primary options. The Wright Ski Trail offers a classic Northeast run linked with hiking trails and other backcountry ski runs. Alternatively, the Angel Slides offer some steeper and more challenging terrain, but must be approached with proper awareness of avalanche conditions and safety. Access to the Wright Ski Trail is off the trail to Algonquin Peak, starting from the Adirondack Loj. The Angel Slides involve a bushwhack approach, leaving trails from the camping areas around Marcy Dam.

Credit: Jim Kelly
Credit: Jim Kelly

Mount Washington, New Hampshire

The many ravines, gullies, and gulfs of the Northeast’s largest peak have long been a mecca for backcountry skiing and snowboarding. Certainly the East Coast’s most celebrated center of backcountry, the famous Tuckerman Ravine area sees hordes of visitors and offers dozens of possible lines. From Pinkham Notch, plan on climbing for two to three hours up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail to the main bowl. Most paths down the headwall are expert runs, which sometimes approach 45- to 50-degree angles and may include icefall, cliffs, and crevasses. For a slightly easier run, explore Left and Right Gullies. When you have had enough, the Shelburne Ski Trail offers a fun ride back down.

While the party at Tucks is certainly worth the hype, the “Rockpile” has countless other treasures. For another open bowl with that larger West Coast mountain feel, head to the nearby Gulf of Slides. Starting from the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, the Gulf of Slides Trail climbs moderately for 2.5 miles to the base of several large gullies up the ridge between Boott Spur and Slide Peak.

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Mount Greylock, Massachusetts

The highest point in Massachusetts is also home to the legendary Thunderbolt Ski Trail. Starting at a parking area on Thiel Road just outside of North Adams, the Thunderbolt climbs over 2,000 feet to get close to Mount Greylock’s summit. This trail was home to many classic downhill races, and in the present, local groups keep this backcountry must-do in great shape. It is steep in sections and definitely an expert run. On a cold day, climb the extra few hundred feet from the top of the ski trail, using the Appalachian Trail, to the summit, where you can warm up in a large stone hut equipped with a wood stove.


The Crux: The NE 115's Toughest Winter Climbs

Climbing all of the Northeast’s 115 4,000-footers is a serious challenge on its own, even for the region’s most experienced hikers. But, how can you take it to the extreme? Simple: Do them all in winter. Joining that elite (and very short) list of hardy hikers requires a special skill set, gear closet, and determination that many lack. Depending on the weather, trail conditions, and other factors, any of these peaks can be perilous to climb in winter. So, here are a few of the biggest challenges, and some tips to make it to the top.

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Katahdin

Baxter State Park, Maine

Katahdin is a steep granite cirque in Maine’s Baxter State Park that includes a few different summits, the highest of which is Baxter Peak. Tagging Maine’s highest peak in winter means slogging through a grueling two-day, 13-mile approach across the park’s closed access roads (typically with expedition sleds) to Roaring Brook, and then another 3.3 miles uphill to Chimney Pond. Be prepared for consistent sub-zero temperatures and frequent avalanche danger.

To increase your chance of success, plan early to obtain reservations at the bunkhouses in Roaring Brook and Chimney Pond, rather than tenting. Have a strong group, and give yourself enough time in the park to wait for a favorable weather window to attack the summit. Use the Saddle Trail or the more challenging Cathedral Trail to ascend from Chimney Pond. If your endurance and the weather allow you to summit, you will reach one of the East Coast’s most beautiful mountains.

Courtesy: Matt's Hikes
Courtesy: Matt’s Hikes

Mount Redington

Carrabassett Valley, Maine

Home to one of the least-traveled of the Northeast’s unmarked trails, Redington is a difficult enough climb in the summer. While not especially challenging in terms of bushwhacking, reaching the summit involves a few key unmarked turns and forks on old logging roads. In the winter, you should bring a GPS or a friend who has climbed it before.

The closure of Caribou Valley Road to cars in winter means you should either ski to the crossing of the Appalachian Trail or start where the AT meets Route 16. Either way, you will travel the AT to South Crocker Mountain before beginning the 1.2-mile unmarked trek off the AT to Redington’s summit. Read the stretch’s description carefully in the AMC’s Maine Mountain Guide. To make sure you have arrived, look for an old white canister strapped to a tree on the summit.

Trail signs on the top of Mount Adams. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Trail signs on the top of Mount Adams. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Mount Adams

White Mountains, New Hampshire

While Mount Washington is the King of the Presidential Range and home to some of the nation’s worst weather, its neighbor to the north, Mount Adams, is another worthy challenge. And, in winter, climbing the exposed summit requires the same precautions and gear. You will ascend nearly 4,500 feet, with almost 1,000 feet of that above treeline. Climb the steeper Air Line Trail from the AT in order to take in the majestic views of King Ravine. Then, descend using the easier Valley Way Trail.

Courtesy: Wayfarer
Courtesy: Wayfarer

Owl’s Head Mountain

White Mountains, New Hampshire

A trip to this peak involves over 18 miles of travel. This trek may include sometimes-dangerous water crossings, unmarked bushwhack approaches, and a slide climb, so make sure river conditions are good and you’re comfortable on steep and icy terrain. Many prefer to utilize the Black Pond bushwhack route on their approach. Be sure to proceed the additional 0.2 miles north from the old summit clearing to the new summit proper to make it official.

The one saving grace here is the flat and very well maintained (but rather boring) 2.6-mile section of the Lincoln Woods Trail. You’ll pass through when you start and finish your journey from the trailhead at the Lincoln Woods Visitor Information Center. Overall, Owl’s Head has a very remote wilderness feel to it that makes the long day worthwhile.

Courtesy: LakePlacid.com
Courtesy: LakePlacid.com

Allen Mountain

Adirondack Mountains, New York

Allen offers a little bit of everything. There are several river crossings, winding meadows, woods climbing opportunities, and a steep slide climb finale. Due to its roughly 18-mile round-trip distance, it’s sometimes confusing to approach. As well, because of the deep snow often faced on Allen Brook’s final, very steep slabs, this one can be challenging. Luckily, the DEC recently replaced a long-destroyed bridge over the Opalescent River, alleviating a fording concern.

In addition, the state purchased new lands surrounding the peak. So, future hikers should stay tuned to new routes potentially opening up. For now, start at a trailhead located a mile from the end of Upper Works Road, off Tahawus Road. Follow the trail to Flowed Lands via Hanging Spear Falls for just under four miles. Soon, break right onto the unmarked but well-traveled and obvious herd path to the base of the slide and straight up to the summit ridge. Enjoy the beautiful views of Panther Gorge and the High Peaks to the north from a lookout located just beyond the formal summit.

Courtesy: LakePlacid.com
Courtesy: LakePlacid.com

Seward Range

Adirondack Mountains, New York

Any time of the year, the Sewards are a challenging hike, but the closure of Corey’s Road adds 3.5 miles each way. Depending on conditions, consider skiing this long stretch in and out. Added to this are the Western Adirondacks’ deep snows and some sparsely marked trails, and these peaks, as a result, become a major challenge. You should plan an early start, use the Calkins Brook approach, and be sure to research the route.

The Calkins Brook approach will bring you to the ridge near Mount Donaldson. This path allows you to “T” the ridge, tagging Emmons to the right (south), and Seward to the left (north). The range’s isolation and remoteness have a wonderful feel in winter, but their rewards demand a long day of effort. Unless you are exceptionally fit or planning an overnight, avoid the temptation to add nearby Seymour Mountain.

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Basin Mountain

Adirondacks, New York

Basin lies deep in the Eastern High Peaks’ Great Range. This means there are only a few ways up, and all involve long approaches and very rugged terrain. In addition, several steep ledges, frozen ladders, and frequent ice bulges make this trek particularly difficult in winter. As with many of these peaks, it’s valuable to carry a general mountaineering ice axe to assist with some tricky sections.

For a greater challenge, consider adding Saddleback Mountain to create a larger loop hike. Or, for the expert HaBaSa route, include Haystack within your itinerary. Be aware, though, that this will add obstacles to an already-difficult trek up Basin Mountain: for instance, Saddleback’s cliffs and Little Haystack’s icy ledges. Typically, an approach starts from the Garden Trailhead, travels past Johns Brook Lodge, and then climbs past Slant Rock, and on up the Great Range Trail. If the skies are clear, some wonderful views of the likely-more-crowded Mount Haystack and Mount Marcy, along with many other High Peaks, are yours for the taking.

 

Do you have another peak that you think is even harder? Let us know in the comments!


Alpha Guide: Mount Colden's Trap Dike in Winter

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Mild technical climbing, remote and rugged terrain, and spectacular Adirondack High Peak views make the Trap Dike a classic Northeast winter ascent.

Climbing the Trap Dike in winter—a great route for climbers looking for an adventure in a more remote, alpine setting—makes for an unforgettable experience. The approach is mellow but long, and the climb is technically simple yet committing. Once you’re at the top of Mount Colden, the descent options are plentiful, from hiking the trail back to a backcountry ski descent. Conditions vary wildly, depending on the time of season or weather, and any party’s experience can be incredibly unique from another’s, which means you’ll always be able to come back for more.

 

Quick Facts

Distance: 11 miles, out-and-back
Time to Complete: 1 day
Difficulty:★★★★
Scenery:★★★★


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

Download

Turn-By-Turn

Start at the Adirondack Loj trailhead, located at the end of Adirondack Loj Road off Route 73 in Lake Placid. Try to arrive early, as the parking area often fills up on weekends. While a few ski trails weave throughout the immediate area, be sure not to use them for the approach, unless, of course, you are skiing in.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Marcy Dam

Travel south on the Van Hoevenberg Trail from the trailhead for 1.5 miles to a major trail intersection (44.1728, -73.9589). Continue southeast another 1.1 miles to Marcy Dam. Marcy Dam is the first landmark location for the approach to the Trap Dike, and is a destination for many day-hikers and skiers. Plus, with little elevation change between the trailhead and Marcy Dam, expect this section to have moderate to heavy traffic on weekends.

Marcy Dam offers views of the surrounding peaks and slides, as well as multiple lean-tos and campsites. For multi-day trips, this makes a great base camp location.

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

Into the Pass

From Marcy Dam, continue south, around the eastern side of the pond towards Avalanche Pass. The trail here will begin to climb slightly. After passing some additional lean-tos, the trail then becomes steeper for the final ascent to Avalanche Pass. Be extra careful on the trail’s beginning section; it serves as the end portion of the Avalanche Pass’ ski descent trail, so you might find people skiing down at you.

About one mile after Marcy Dam, the trail splits between the hiking and skiing paths. Always ascend the hiking trail, as skiers are not expecting anyone to be coming up. From this point, the trail climbs a final 400 feet in just over a half-mile, until it opens up to the picturesque Avalanche Lake.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Finding the Trap Dike

In the early or late season, Avalanche Lake may have little to no ice and may not be crossable. However, barring any strange warm spells, the lake freezes over and provides a direct finish to the approach for the majority of the winter season. But, regardless of the time of year, always use caution when crossing frozen lakes. The entrance to the Trap Dike (44.1318, -73.9678) is the obvious, massive cleft in Mount Colden that spills out onto Avalanche Lake’s eastern side. Here begins the route’s technical portion; so, the Trap Dike’s entrance makes for a good location to refuel, rehydrate, and reorganize gear before you begin the technical ascent.

If Avalanche Lake is not frozen, access takes a little bit longer. Remain on the hiker’s trail and follow it south, across the wooden “Hitch-Up Matildas” anchored into the cliffs alongside Avalanche Lake. At the lake’s south end, leave the hiker’s trail, and follow the lake shore north 250 yards to the Trap Dike’s entrance.

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

Climbing The Ice

The Trap Dike’s technical portion contains two single-pitch ice steps, with snow climbing in between. These pitches are generally rated at WI2, but early in the season, the ice steps can be thin and chandeliered, providing a challenge for climbers and offering few options for protection. Mid to late season, however, the ice becomes fat and reliable, offering greater protection and the choice to build screw anchors or snow anchors. Good rope management saves time, as the two steps are separated by a short snow field, which requires the anchor for pitch 1 to be broken down before you start pitch 2.

At the top of pitch 2, continue to hike up the Trap Dike while remembering to stop and check out the view behind you. Caution is required here. Even though the route has mellowed out to low-angle ice and snow, an unprotected slip could result in sliding out of control over the second ice pitch’s top edge. As you ascend the Trap Dike’s upper section, the large, wide upper slide will come down to meet you on climber’s right, providing an exit onto the exposed slab.

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

Up The Slide

Climbing up the steep slab towards Mount Colden’s summit is relatively straightforward. However, the slab’s conditions can vary greatly, depending on the weather and time of season. Early-season climbers should expect to find thin patches of unconsolidated snow, verglas ice, and bare rock. In these conditions, the push to the summit can be treacherous and difficult, requiring careful steps the entire way.

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

In mid to late season, the slab accumulates more snow, which allows for seemingly endless, leg-burning step-kicking to the summit. Lucky climbers may encounter perfect neve snow, which can help to conserve climbing energy. Regardless of conditions, however, the slog up can sometimes seem endless, so it is important to stop and take in the view of Algonquin and the surrounding mountains to help recharge the spirit. Before you reach the summit (44.1268, -73.9600) and subsequent hiking trail, you’ll pass through a short band of trees at the end of the slide.

Mount March through an undercast from Colden's summit. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Mount Marcy through an undercast from Colden’s summit. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Coming Back Down

One of the best parts about climbing the Trap Dike is the multiple options for returning back to the trailhead. Backcountry skiers can choose a ski descent, with a required rappel down the ice pitches, or one of Mt. Colden’s many other slides. Without skis, however, the quickest route back follows the summit trail, heading northeast for 3.6 miles past Lake Arnold and down to Marcy Dam. Once again, be wary of skiers descending the trail between Avalanche Pass and Marcy Dam. From Marcy Dam, follow the same Van Hoevenberg Trail for 2.6 miles back north to the Adirondack Loj to complete a long but rewarding adventure.


Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

The Kit

  • A technical mountaineering tool or axe, like the Petzl Sum’Tec, is ideal for the Trap Dike. The slightly curved shaft and aggressive pick allow you to climb ice pitches with ease, without impeding your ability to plunge the shaft into the snow for climbing on the upper slide or creating a snow anchor.
  • Much like the hybrid axe or tool, a crampon that can handle both vertical ice and snow steps, like the Black Diamond Snaggletooth Pro, will make your climbing more efficient. The Black Diamond Snaggletooth brings the best of both worlds together with its unique single-horizontal spike.
  • Hikers in the Adirondacks might not be used to wearing a helmet. But, climbing is dangerous, and dropping an ice axe on your partner’s head can make for a really bad day. The Petzl Sirocco will protect your noggin, and due to its lightweight design, you won’t even notice it’s there.
  • Winter travel through the High Peaks requires snowshoes or skis when there’s more than eight inches of snow on the ground. This helps prevent postholing and protects the trail conditions for everyone. The MSR Revo Explore 25 Snowshoes are lightweight and easy to take on or off, so you aren’t fumbling around when it’s time to change to your crampons.
  • Every year, there are reports of people getting lost or rescued during winter in the High Peaks. Everybody thinks it won’t happen to them, but it is important to be prepared if you are stuck overnight and need warmth. The SOL 2-Person Survival Blanket from Adventure Medical Kits will keep you and your climbing partner warm in case of an unexpected overnight.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Keys to the Trip

  • While, compared to other parts of the U.S., the East Coast sees fewer avalanches, they still do happen, and the risk is still real, especially on exposed slides like the Trap Dike’s upper portion. So, consider educating yourself on traveling through avalanche-prone terrain with the EMS Climbing School’s AIARE training. The Trap Dike, while usually considered safe, has all of the ingredients for avalanche danger.
  • Weather predictions in the Adirondacks can be very fickle. If you are planning the Trap Dike as a day trip, consider having a flexible window open to pick the best day. While poor weather poses greater challenges, the views on a nice day are second to none, and are a great way to pay yourself back for all the hard work.
  • This guide was written for a day trip, but the Adirondacks, and particularly the Marcy Dam area, offer many other hikes and climbing adventures. Consider planning for a longer journey and camping out. As such, your return hike back to base camp will be shorter, and you will be set up to head back out for a different hike or climb the next morning!
  • After your triumphant climb, you are sure to be hungry. Lake Placid is overflowing with great restaurants, but a dependable go-to is always the Lake Placid Pub and Brewery. The food is delicious and filling, and the Ubu Ale is as classic as the Trap Dike itself

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

Current Conditions

Have you climbed the Trap Dike recently? Post your experience and the trail conditions (with the date of your hike) in the comments for others!


'The 46ers' Doc Goes to the Small Screen: A Q&A with Director Blake Cortright

Prior to 2012, when he spent a weekend backpacking, 18-year-old Blake Cortright knew next to nothing about the Adirondack 46ers—the mountains and the people. But, if the peaks are good at anything, it’s inspiring those who journey into them. Before long, Blake became fixated and hiked them constantly, hoping to craft his exploration of the 46 High Peaks and the group of hikers that share their name into a documentary. Today, that film (sponsored in part by Eastern Mountain Sports) is headed to the big-time, scheduled to air on PBS stations across the country, including WCNY on Monday, November 13. We sat down to talk with Blake about his progression from novice to storyteller and the things he picked up along the way.

goEast: How were you first connected to the Adirondack High Peaks, and how did that develop into wanting to create this film?

Blake: I hiked my first High Peak in 2008 with my Boy Scout troop. We summited Giant Mountain on a perfect autumn day, and that was my first “awe” moment in the Adirondack High Peaks. It wasn’t until a 2012 camping trip with my dad and my brother that I really got inspired to film in the High Peaks. We set out over three days to summit Marcy, Tabletop, Phelps, Algonquin, Iroquois, and Wright. We left with Marcy, Tabletop, and Wright and felt a new sense of reverence for the mountains.

During this trip, I got a little side of Mount Marcy all to myself and took in the sweeping views of lakes, rivers, mountains, and wilderness. That’s where the vision for the film ultimately came from—sitting atop Mt. Marcy on a beautiful summer day, looking out at the wild places as far as the eye could see. Shortly after returning from this camping trip, the wheels started to turn and the core question which drove the project began to take shape: “What transforms ordinary men and women into the legendary 46ers?”

Blake directing hikers on Whiteface. | Courtesy: Blake Cortright
Blake directing hikers on Whiteface. | Courtesy: Blake Cortright

goEast: You must have done a ton of hiking while making this film!

Blake: We summited 14 High Peaks and several smaller mountains during production.

goEast: Do you have any memorable experiences from all of that?

Blake: Each trip held its own challenges and rewards, and I have fond memories from every day of filming. One of most memorable hiking experience was summiting Cascade around 5 a.m. We had set out to capture a crew finishing their 46th on Cascade with a beautiful sunrise. We carried a camera crane and counter weights for the crane to the summit along with all of our camera gear and our normal hiking gear. Unfortunately, shortly after we summited, we were wrapped up in clouds. The crew came up, and we filmed them with the crane, climbing up the rocky summit in thick clouds with a lot of wind.

It was a cold, dark morning, and we were thinking of calling it a day, but then, Adirondack photography legend Carl Heilman hiked up to us almost out of the clouds. I had been in touch with Carl and had invited him to this trip, which he said he might make depending on his schedule. His presence lifted our spirits, and he was optimistic that we might get a change in the weather. He was right. The clouds began to part and reveal an incredible undercast scene: a sea of clouds below us, stretching to the horizon, and the High Peaks rising up above those clouds, like islands in the sea. We all dashed around to get our gear ready and got tons of amazing shots that day. I’m very thankful for my patient crew, who waited out the weather with me on that day!

Blake and the team using a boom to film on Whiteface. | Courtesy: Blake Cortright
Blake and the team using a boom to film on Whiteface. | Courtesy: Blake Cortright

goEast: You did a lot of hiking, but you also talked to a lot of people, some of whom are somewhat revered in local hiking circles. What did you get from that process?

Blake: What struck me early on in the interview process was how humble the 46ers are. I had set out to talk about “legendary hikers,” and most of them found that term amusing. They saw folks like the Marshall Brothers and Herbert Clark (the first 46ers) as the true legends. Their reverence extended not just to the people who literally blazed the trail, but also to the mountains themselves. I discovered a group of people who were not just thrill-seekers or checking off a list, but people who truly cared about the mountains and worked to conserve them. They all spoke of LNT principles, as well as safety and emergency preparedness. As an Eagle Scout, I knew many of the principles and safety precautions, but I learned even more from the amazing people I interviewed.

I was also inspired to learn of the Summit Steward Program and how multiple Adirondack organizations, including the 46ers, came together to address the erosion of the summits and the dangers to the rare alpine vegetation that lives there. The journey of the 46ers stretches far beyond adventure and into conservation and stewardship. It has been a privilege to learn from these folks and see them give back to a place that has given so much to them.

Blake interviewing one of the film's subjects. | Courtesy: Blake Cortright
Blake interviewing one of the film’s subjects. | Courtesy: Blake Cortright

goEast: Fun question: In all the hiking you did for the film, was there one piece of gear that you would say was critical? 

Blake: While hiking, we always needed good boots, wool socks, backpacks, various jackets and layers, gloves, hats, etc. One that was easy to forget, but thankfully we didn’t, was a headlamp and extra batteries! Many of our hikes started or ended in the dark. So, having a headlamp was essential. Also, for me personally, after a few knee injuries in the High Peaks Wilderness, I finally bought a pair of trekking poles, and now, I never hike without them. We also made use of MICROspikes and snowshoes in our winter shoots. Depending upon the trail conditions, we would use one or the other, but we usually carried both.

goEast: You’re well on your way to becoming an Adirondack 46er from your time making the film alone. Do you want to finish it?

Blake: The 46ers film was a three-year process for me, from the initial idea to our finished product. And now, two years later, it’s about to be shown to an ever-growing audience, thanks to WCNY partnering with us to take the film further than we could on our own. At the outset of the journey, I thought I would likely finish my 46 while making the movie, but in hindsight, I’m thankful I didn’t. I learned so much from the 46ers I interviewed, from being out in the mountains and from putting the movie together. I will become a 46er down the road, but now, I know it will be a longer journey, and I’m okay with that.

One thing I learned from my interviews is that whether you hike them in a few weeks or over decades, the mountains will wait for you. I would say making the movie broadened my perspective about hiking and helped me to value the journey as much as the destination.

Blake with his crew and guests on Cascade Mountain. | Courtesy: Blake Cortright
Blake with his crew and guests on Cascade Mountain. | Courtesy: Blake Cortright

goEast: You mentioned WCNY and other PBS stations picking the film up. Was that something you had in mind making it? Did you have an “end goal”?

Blake: When I had the initial inspiration for the project in 2012, I wanted it to be seen by a wide audience. We did a series of limited screenings in 2015 when we finalized the movie, and it was very well received by those audiences. I’m excited for the upcoming television release of The 46ers, as it will expand that audience far and wide around the U.S. There was something surreal about seeing a film I had made projected on the big screen and experiencing it with an audience. I’m very happy with how well the documentary has done and continues to do, and I’m hopeful that it will inspire more people to not only experience the outdoors, but also to take care to preserve and steward the wildernesses where they adventure.

goEast: It’s going to be seen now by a lot of people who don’t live in the Northeast, don’t know what the 46ers are, and may not even be familiar with the Adirondacks. What do you think they’re going to get from the film?

Blake: I think 46ers who see the film will take a trip down memory lane and hopefully feel joy watching the movie. I think those who love the Adirondacks will be awed by the beautiful cinematography my team captured, showcasing the mountains in a new and visually stunning way. I think those who are unfamiliar with the 46ers and the Adirondacks will be intrigued, inspired, and moved by the film. I hope the deep love for the wilderness comes across on screen and folks seeing this place for the first time will be better equipped to adventure in it after hearing not only the exciting stories, but also safety and LNT principles, which are so deeply connected to the culture of the Adirondacks and the 46ers.

Filming the remainder of the undercast on Cascade Mountain. | Courtesy: Blake Cortright
Filming the remainder of the undercast on Cascade Mountain. | Courtesy: Blake Cortright

Newsflash: Adirondack Peaks To See Temporary Trailheads for Columbus Day Weekend

In an effort to keep hikers safe in the face of increased traffic for Columbus Day Weekend, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation will be closing a section of Route 73 to parking that includes the trailheads for Cascade and Porter Mountains, and Pitchoff Mountain. Hikers for all three peaks will be able to park at the Mount Van Hoevenberg Sports Complex and use new trail connections to reach existing trails.

Beginning at dusk on Thursday, October 5 and stretching through dusk on Monday, October 9, pull-offs along State Route 73  west of the Cascade Lakes and east of the entrance to Mount Van Hovenburg will be closed, blocked off and patrolled by New York State Troopers.

Courtesy: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
Courtesy: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

Hikers planning to climb the summit of Cascade and/or Porter Mountains:

Hikers should park in parking lots at the Mount Van Hoevenberg Sports Complex at no cost. Volunteer stewards will direct hikers to a 2.0-mile marked route on the complex’s cross-country ski trail system. The route links to a newly constructed 0.4-mile connector trail between the ski trail and the Cascade Mountain Trail. The connector trail joins the Cascade Mountain Trail approximately 0.6 mile from the current trailhead. A roundtrip hike to the summit of Cascade Mountain will be 8.6 miles long—3.8 miles longer than the regular route from the Route 73 trailhead.

Hikers seeking to climb the summit of Pitchoff Mountain:

Hikers will also park at the Sports Complex and take the same route across the complex’s cross-country ski trail system. After 1.7 miles, the route to Pitchoff Mountain leaves the ski trail and traverses 0.3 miles across a private driveway to State Route 73. Hikers will then walk 0.15 miles and cross State Route 73 to the current trailhead for the Pitchoff Mountain Trail. A roundtrip hike to the summit of Pitchoff Mountain will be 8.4 miles long—4.4 miles longer than the regular route.

The current trailheads on Route 73 straddle a sharp narrow turn that has been known to be dangerous. “The Cascade Mountain trailhead is presently a parking hazard and nightmare,” said North Elba town Supervisor Roby Politi. “I’m pleased DEC is taking action to address this public safety need by relocating the trailhead.” The relatively short hike and high reward, particularly of Cascade Mountain, combine to make it a very popular hike and the small pullout quickly reaches capacity during busy weekends.

The trailhead at Mount Van Hovenburg will feature bathrooms and food or drink concession. The DEC notes than hikers not interested in the increased length of these hikes should look for shorter options outside of the High Peaks Wilderness.