Alpha Guide: Skiing the Whiteface Auto Road

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

A staple winter outing for cross-country and backcountry skiers in the Adirondacks, Whiteface’s Toll Road offers ease of access, a long route, and a large ascent, making it a great objective for those being introduced to backcountry skiing and for those looking to maintain their fitness for bigger objectives.

The Whiteface Veterans’ Memorial Highway is a five-mile stretch of paved road that ascends the opposite side of the mountain from the well-known ski resort. Every year, the Toll Road gates close for the winter season and re-open after all the snow melts in the spring, so winter access to the Toll Road is for non-motorized traffic only. This turns the five miles of eight-percent incline pavement into a long and flowing skiable trail.

As one advantage, the Toll Road doesn’t need much snow to be skiable. Because the base is smooth pavement instead of a rocky and lumpy trail, just a few inches of fluffy stuff transform the surface and make it one of the most reliable early-season ski tours. However, skiing to the top of Whiteface is only half the fun. From the end of the road, you have multiple options for descents, depending on conditions and ability.

NOTICE: There is work scheduled on the Whiteface summit elevator for the 2018/19 winter season. Because of this, the Toll Road will be plowed on weekdays. 

Quick Facts

Distance: 10.5 miles, out and back to the summit.
Time to Complete: Half-day for most
Difficulty: ★★
Scenery:★★★★


Season: November through April
Fees/Permits: None.
Contact: https://www.whiteface.com/activities/whiteface-veterans-memorial-highway

Download

Turn-By-Turn

From I-87 North, Take Exit 30 for 73W. Drive through Keene Valley and into Keene, bearing right onto 9N North. Take 9N into Jay and make a left onto 86, which will take you into Wilmington. At the main intersection of 86 and 431, follow 431 straight and up the hill to the toll house, following signs for the Whiteface Veterans’ Memorial Highway.

The parking area to ski the Toll Road is right at the Whiteface Memorial Highway toll booth (44.402276, -73.877192). In winter, the road is plowed up to this point. The toll booth will have its gate down and locked. Park to the side of the road, but be careful not to pull too far off the shoulder into the soft snow.

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

The Ascent

The Toll Road keeps a constant eight-percent grade for the entire 2,300 vertical feet, so the climbing begins immediately from the car and never lets off. Although the climb is consistent, however, it never feels steep. This lets you find a rhythm for efficient and consistent uphill skinning. It also helps those new to skinning get the basic motions down.

The road stretches and winds for a few miles. Along the way, the roadside picnic tables offer a few opportunities to take a break and enjoy the view. The higher you climb, the more the snow depth increases, and the trees become more and more buried. At 3.3 miles in, the road opens up to a northwest-facing view, with a picnic table. This spot also makes the base for the upper slides that run between the switchbacks (44.371359, -73.905634).

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

The Switchbacks

Here, you’ll spot the top of the mountain, so it might seem like you are just about finished, but you still have 1.7 miles of road and 700 feet of elevation to climb through the switchbacks. So, don’t get too excited yet. As you continue onto the switchbacks’ first turn—aptly names the Lake Placid Turn—you will find that the road opens up to a fantastic view of Lake Placid and the High Peaks. On a clear day, it’s easy to spend a lot of time here soaking in the sun and the views.

Past here, the road continues up, with a 0.8-mile stretch until the next switchback, which offers views of Lake Champlain, the Green Mountains, and beyond. Finishing the second switchback sends the road back west and into the final stretch to the Castle. This last section is just about at treeline, so expect high winds for the final stretch. The Castle (44.367348, -73.906213) is normally an operating cafe with warm drinks and food, but in the winter season, don’t expect to find any unlocked doors or hot meals waiting for you. As one benefit, it offers some shelter from the biting winds.

From the Castle, unclip your skis, and make the final ascent up the shoulder trail to Whiteface’s summit (44.365852, -73.903005). This section of the mountain is often windswept, so expect to find both bare ice or rock and deep snow drifts. Traction aids are highly recommended.

As is the case with any Adirondack summit, the top of Whiteface can offer spectacular 360-degree views on a clear day, or you could find yourself completely socked in with dense clouds. The summit may also be windswept and bitter cold; if you are trying to stay for more than just a few moments, the weather station, although locked, provides the only break from the biting winds. If you are fortunate enough to be up top on a clear day, the views of the surrounding High Peaks are crystal clear, and peering even farther to the east reveals the Green Mountains of Vermont and even New Hampshire’s Presidential Range beyond.

Lake Placid from the road. | Credit: Aaron Courain
Lake Placid from the road. | Credit: Aaron Courain

The Descent

Here is where skiers get more opportunities for backcountry fun. For skiers who are on Nordic setups or who are looking for a mellow descent, simply turn around and make your way back down the Toll Road. The mild pitch doesn’t make for fast skiing, but if you stay in your uphill skin track to build up momentum, you can shoot into the deeper snow to link a few turns before you slow down.

For backcountry skiers or snowboarders who are prepared and have the right abilities, and for when the conditions are good (having advanced avalanche knowledge is necessary), the top of the Whiteface Toll Road provides access to multiple slides. The previously mentioned slide that cuts through the Toll Road switchbacks is the obvious choice if you want to easily end up back at your car.

The slide begins at the top of the Toll Road near the Castle. However, entrance to the slide requires a careful hop over the stone wall into the snow. Be sure not to hop over at the wrong spot; otherwise, you will have a long fall. Once at the base of the Toll Road wall, clip or strap in, and make your way down the slide to the Toll Road’s first crossing. The slide’s upper portion is steeper than the lower portion, and may have an icy base obscured by a thin layer of snow.

When the slide reaches the Toll Road, cross and find a weakness in the trees on the other side of the road. The entrance to the slide’s lower half is steep, but it soon mellows out. Keep in mind that this section seems to collect snow more easily, due to having more vegetation and less wind exposure. When you get to the Toll Road again at the switchbacks’ bottom, you have reached the end of the slide. Now you can opt to head back up for another lap, or continue back to your car.


Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

The Kit

  • Every backcountry adventure requires a place to stash your layers, food, and extra gear. The Osprey Kamber 32 Ski Pack has all the durability, volume, and accessories you need to hold your skis and equipment for whatever tour or winter adventure you find yourself in.
  • Proper layering is key to a happy day of ski touring. The EMS Feather Pack Hooded Jacket is a lightweight, packable, and very warm down jacket, which itself is a crucial component of any layering system. You will be happy to have the low weight on the uphill and the extreme warmth on the downhill.
  • While a simple pair of sunglasses suffices on Whiteface’s summit in the summertime, in the winter, you will want the added protection of a pair of ski goggles, like the Native Eyewear Spindrift. These goggles have a wide field of vision and offer an easily interchangeable lens system, which lets you choose the right lens color for the conditions ahead.
  • While countless skis are appropriate for skiing the Toll Road and more routes, the Fischer S-Bound 112 finds a happy place between a Nordic touring ski and a true backcountry ski. The waxless base with a scaled mid section allows for plenty of grip on the uphill, and for steeper tours, the ski is also compatible with climbing skins for when more traction is needed. The shaped cut with a 78mm waist provides plenty of float and turning ability for the downhill in all but the deep powder days.
  • Collapsible trekking poles often have an advantage in the backcountry over a solid ski pole. But, any pole needs to have a set of powder baskets at the bottom, or else, it will basically be useless in deep, fluffy snow.

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

Keys to the Trip

  • It’s always a good idea to check the ski conditions and recent snowfall before a day of backcountry skiing. Too little snow means scraping your skis up and down pavement for miles. After a big dumping of snow, however, the Toll Road’s mellow grade may require just as much effort to go downhill as it does for uphill. The NERFC provides plenty of snow forecasting and data, so that you can make informed decisions on the best time to ski.
  • If you are venturing into Adirondack slide skiing, avalanche safety and preparedness are a must. Unlike Tuckerman Ravine, the Adirondacks have no avalanche forecasting. Nonetheless, having the proper knowledge is crucial for a safe day of backcountry skiing. Thankfully, the EMS Schools offer avalanche training for those who want to venture into the snowy backcountry.
  • When you come back down from the summit, head right back down the hill into Wilmington to stop at Pourman’s Taphouse. They have delicious, warm food with plenty of beers on tap to get the creative juices flowing for planning your next trip.
  • There is work scheduled on the summit elevator for the 2018/19 winter season. Because of this, the Toll Road will be plowed on weekdays. However, if a Friday or weekend snow fills in the Toll Road for the weekend, then, it’s game on!

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

Current Conditions

Have you recently skied Whiteface’s Toll Road? What did you think? Post your experience in the comments for others!


7 Hacks for Cold Weather Camping

Camping in the winter can either be fun or a complete disaster. Among the cold, wet weather, and heavy gear, a lot can go wrong. Fortunately, if you know how to do it, winter can also be one of the most fun times to camp. To prepare, take a look at these tips to make your winter camping trip the highlight of your season.

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1. Bring extra water

It might seem like extra bottles of water are only necessary for those sweaty summer camping trips, but it’s all too easy to get dehydrated in the winter. Sweat evaporates more quickly in cold, dry air, and you could be left dangerously dehydrated, even if you don’t notice the moisture soaking into your shirt. So, bring extra water (or extra fuel to melt snow), and make sure to keep drinking, even if you don’t feel thirsty.

2. Use a foam pad

Sleep with two pads, including an extra foam one between your standard inflatable pad and the ground. Not only will this protect your inflatable pad, but R-values are additive, meaning you’re boosting the amount of insulation keeping you warm underneath. Don’t have a foam pad? A yoga mat will work, too.

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3. Do your research

This is no time to be stingy: Invest in high-quality gear before heading into the elements. You don’t want to be stuck in frigid temperatures when you discover your jacket isn’t as insulated as you thought. Instead, read reviews, try all of your gear on, ask for recommendations, and take things out for a test-spin before you head out for real.

4. Hand warmers are your best friend

Hand warmers are versatile: Use them for their intended purpose—on your hands—and you can even put them in your boots and in your sleeping bag. They help dry out damp shoes and also bring relief to sore muscles after a long day of hiking in the snow. To keep your drink liquid and warm, place them around the outside of a cup or bottle. And, since batteries get finicky in cold weather, this wintertime essential could help there, too.

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5. Pack a flint fire striker

It’s especially important to know how to start a fire in the snow. First, make sure the spot you choose is protected from the wind. Then, in case your matches or lighters get damp, pack a flint striker, too—they’re cheap and easy to bring along. Grab some tinder, and you’re good to go.

6. Keep your food warm

Use wooden utensils instead of metal ones, as the latter gets very cold. That chill could then get transferred to the food you’re cooking or into your hands every time you try to take a bite. To keep your coffee, hot chocolate, or beverage of choice warm, bring along a thermos. You can also store water bottles upside down. Ideally, they’ll freeze at the bottom first, so you can still drink from the top.

7. Eat fatty foods

Your body needs fuel to produce heat, and your metabolism processes fat more slowly than carbs. So, if the weather forecast is frigid, pack lots of fatty foods. Cheese, olive oil, and nuts are good options. Other good meals and snacks to fuel you through your winter camping trip include instant oatmeal, granola, dried fruit, instant soup, macaroni and cheese, and chili.

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Video: Jerry of the Day's Best of 2018

With ski season coming to a close, it’s time to look back at the best…err, worst…moments of the 2018 season, courtesy of everyone’s favorite snow fail aggregator, Jerry of the Day. Give it a look so you know what not to do next winter.


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 

Download

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!


New England's Top 3 Manmade Ice Crags

Anybody who’s slipped on black ice knows that it can form in the most unexpected places. When that ice starts to freeze vertically, we, as ice climbers, typically want to climb it. How that desire manifests is sometimes quite ironic, however. In the Northeast, you’re equally likely to find climbers swinging their way up a roadside culvert, an abandoned quarry, or the walls of an old railroad cut as you are an alpine classic, like Shoestring Gully.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Auburn Ice Canyon

When most people think of ice climbing, their minds turn to frozen waterfalls, alpine cliffs, and remote gullies. What they don’t think of is shopping plazas, busy roads, and concrete, much less Worcester, Massachusetts. However, that’s where they’ll discover one of Massachusetts’ most popular ice climbing destinations: Auburn Ice Canyon.

Located at the corner of Worcester, Millbury, and Auburn—just minutes from the Mass Pike and Route 290—Auburn Ice Canyon started as a flood diversion channel for the greater Worcester area. Later, some discovered that the channel’s steep walls and melting snow above consistently icing over created steep ice climbs. Although the entrance can be seen from the busy local road, Route 20, you’ll find the best climbing and longest routes by following the culvert to its end. Here, the rock walls turn to concrete and the channel into a tunnel.

Because Auburn Ice Canyon is a drainage, its floor may consist of varying levels of water. Thus, the best time to visit is after a long-enough cold stretch, which then freezes the canyon’s floor. Popular with beginners and experts alike, Auburn Ice Canyon delivers routes steep enough for strong climbers to get a workout, and top-rope friendly attitude that newbies will appreciate. Leaders, beware: Suspect rock and interesting top-outs may make straightforward-looking climbs spicier than anticipated.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Quincy Quarries

Although most people associate Quincy Quarries with rock climbing and graffiti, you’ll also find solid ice climbing at this close-to-Boston locale. Operating as a quarry from 1825 to 1963, Quincy Quarry earned the nickname “The Birthplace of the Granite Industry,” as places and businesses across the nation used its stone. More prominently, the Bunker Hill Monument features it to some degree.

For the best ice climbing at QQ, start with “A Wall,” the first wall on the left after you make the five-minute approach from the parking lot. Depending on conditions, QQ has as many as five distinct ice flows, each providing 35-foot vertical climbs with multiple variations. The climbing itself is Scottish-like, mixing sometimes quite-thin ice with rock moves and turf sticks. This is especially true at the starts of the routes, with the best ice usually found higher up.

Of course, the ice here can be ephemeral. As a good rule of thumb, hold off on visiting until after a heavy rain or snow followed by two to three nights of colder temperatures. Although the ice usually hangs around once it comes in, it doesn’t survive every thaw. So, before you set up your top-rope, it’s a good idea to scope out A Wall from across the “Cove.” And, if the ice has unexpectedly come down, you’ll find fantastic dry tooling on Layback Corner and M Crack on M Wall (both 5.8) and on Finger Flux (5.11) in the nearby Swingle’s Quarry.

As you work your way around QQ, you’ll easily notice remnants of the historic operation. Climbers regularly use the old “staples” for anchors, and even some “feathers”—shims used to help split the granite—are still in the rock. Particularly, you’ll see one at the base of a route on A Wall. And, if history is your thing, make sure to check out the Granite Railway on the Quarry’s backside. Established in 1826, it was the country’s first railroad and is now a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. Find it by walking down the path between J and K walls.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Keene Railroad Cut

Keene is known as a quiet college town located on the New Hampshire-Vermont border. However, long before Keene State was founded, the city, like many in New Hampshire, was based around manufacturing. In part, the Cheshire Railroad spurred this development, carrying goods to market and outdoor enthusiasts (including Henry David Thoreau) to Mount Monadnock and the surrounding region. Although the railroad hasn’t run since the 1960s, the send train runs all winter on the Keene Railroad Cut’s walls, provided it’s cold enough.

Approaching the climbing is easy, as it’s a short walk from an obvious pullout on Route 12 near the city limits. Even better, the approach is almost always packed down, thanks to the snowmobiles that frequent the Cheshire Rail Trail. This 42-mile long trail begins near the the Massachusetts border in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire and ends in North Walpole, New Hampshire.

You’ll know you’ve made it to the Keene Railroad Cut, or simply the Railroad Cut, when you get there. Here, the walls sharply rise above the old railroad bed, and numerous ice flows line its sides. Most routes stand between 20 and 30 feet tall, and while short in stature, they deliver steep climbing. And, convenience isn’t only found in the location and approach here. As well, sturdy trees, fixed anchors, and straightforward walk-arounds make top-roping a simple affair. Thus, it’s a popular destination for newer climbers and locals looking for a workout.

Pro Tip: Play nice with the snowmobilers, and keep your kit out of the middle of the trail. Their cooperation is key for access.

 

Although these three spots are not natural treasures, their local outdoor communities appreciate them for their easily accessible, close-to-home ice climbing. Have a manmade spot you’d like to share? Leave it in the comments, so we can check it out!


Alpha Guide: Mount Washington via the Lion Head Winter Route

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Take on a genuine mountaineering challenge by going for a winter ascent on the Northeast’s tallest peak. 

Mount Washington is the pinnacle of winter mountaineering in the Northeast, and the Lion Head Winter Route is the trail of choice for many looking to summit this iconic mountain. Although this is the least technical way to summit the “Rock Pile,” mountaineers will be challenged by everything from the route’s steep, icy terrain to the mountain’s notorious “worst weather in the world.” Depending on the day, you could find yourself huddling behind one of the summit’s buildings, trying to escape the wind, or proudly posing in front of the summit sign while taking in grand views of the Presidential Range.

Quick Facts

Distance: 8.2 miles, out-and-back
Time to Complete: 1 day
Difficulty: ★★★★
Scenery:★★★★★


Season: November through March
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/whitemountain/recarea?recid=78538

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Turn-By-Turn

Parking for the Lion Head Trail is at the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Pinkham Notch Visitor Center in Gorham, just north of Jackson on Route 16. It’s about a 25-minute drive from North Conway or Gorham.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Gearing Up

The Pinkham Notch Visitor Center (44.257320, -71.253052) is a great place to get ready. The gear room, in the basement, has tables and benches that are perfect for getting organized, tying your boots, and doing those last-minute gear checks. It also has bathrooms and a water fountain, and snacks and meals can be purchased upstairs.

Equally important, the AMC posts the Mount Washington Observatory’s daily Higher Summits Forecast and the Mount Washington Avalanche Center’s daily avalanche forecast on a cork board in the visitor center’s basement. Make sure to read both! And, while you’re there, sign the winter hiker register, too.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Starting Out

To get on the trail, leave the basement, and follow the sidewalk towards the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center’s main entrance. Continue past the entrance and around the back of the building to the large sign marking the beginning of the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, which you’ll take for the first 1.7 miles and more than 1,000 feet of elevation.

The easy-to-follow Tuckerman Ravine Trail begins as a very rocky dirt road and is wide enough to allow side-by-side hiking. Depending on the weather, trail conditions range from ice-covered rocks to packed snow. In most cases, starting out in MICROspikes is usually a good idea.

From the Visitor Center, the trail is moderate for the first few minutes, and then begins to climb consistently. As it climbs, an occasional path cuts off to the left, heading over to the Sherburne Ski Trail. A bit higher up, there is also a signed cutoff to the right for the Huntington Ravine Trail (44.261887, -71.269882). Hikers should ignore all of these cutoffs.

Trees protect this portion of the trail, keeping the wind and wind chill at bay. And, although the trees also limit the views—especially compared to the awesome ones you’ll get once you’re above treeline—the Tuckerman Ravine Trail does pass a few key scenic spots as it climbs out of the valley. The most notable are the two bridges that cross the Ellis River and the Cutler River and the waterfall—or icicle, in this case—Crystal Cascade. It might be tempting to dig the camera out, but don’t stop. You have a long way to go, and the days are short this time of year.

If the weather permits, you’ll also get a preview of the Lion Head as you move up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, giving you an appreciation for the route’s expansive scale and how much distance you have left to travel.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Cut Off

After about 1.7 miles, the junction with the Huntington Ravine fire road (44.263844, -71.277946) is on the right. The junction is well-marked, with a sign pointing toward the base of the Lion Head Winter Route. The wide, flat fire road makes for easy hiking. Take it a short distance to a junction (44.264603, -71.279106). Look for a rescue cache on the trail’s opposite side for confirmation.

The flat area at the Winter Route’s base is a great spot to grab some food and water and add a layer. Most people, too, put their crampons on here and get their ice axe out.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Rock Step

The steeps on the Lion Head Winter Route come pretty quickly. Climbing along a tree-lined trail, the route gains almost 1,800 feet in elevation.

While most of the climbing is on steep but easy snow, there is a short, 30-foot, rocky section near the beginning that has some exposure. Almost all the guided parties carry a short section of rope to use as a hand line, but it is probably unnecessary if you are comfortable climbing in crampons.

Pro Tip: The Lion Head Winter Route is the Whites’ most popular guided winter route, and there is sometimes a bottleneck at the rock step. So that you can maintain your pace, try to stay ahead of guided groups, if you see them gearing up at the base.

Above the rock step, the route continues up, staying in the trees until it eventually breaks treeline. Around treeline, you’ll find numerous spots along the side of the trail to take a break (44.264332, -71.286575) and enjoy the excellent view of the Wildcat Mountain Ski Area across the notch. Since you’ll be fully exposed to the wind from here on, now is a great time to don your above-treeline gear. On windy days, remember full-face protection, including goggles.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Lion Head

From treeline, the trail continues up over open, rocky terrain towards Lion Head proper (44.264.042, -71.291275). As you climb, you’ll probably feel the wind speed increasing. And, be on the lookout for another steep and exposed section just before the Lion Head. It’s easy, but you don’t want to fall.

As you approach the Lion Head, you should evaluate the weather, the wind, and your group’s motivation. If the wind’s too strong, the weather’s getting worse, or it has taken longer to get here than anticipated, this is a good place to turn around without significant consequence.

Crossing the Alpine Garden

Above the Lion Head, the trail continues along the edge of Tuckerman Ravine, crossing the Alpine Garden. If it is a nice day, enjoy the view of the ravine in all its splendor. But, don’t get sucked too far left, especially if it’s windy. You don’t want to get blown in!

This section is also likely to be one of the hike’s windiest segments. Since the trail here is mostly flat, it’s a great idea to hustle across as quickly as possible. The prevailing wind is west to northwest; so, once you are in the shadow of the summit cone, you’ll likely get a brief reprieve.

After a short time, the trail intersects with the Alpine Garden Trail (44.265045, -71.295603). Some scrub here makes a passable wind break, but you’ll probably want to keep going. From the junction, continue straight on the Lion Head Trail.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Split Rock

The trail begins climbing again after the junction, crossing a couple of open snowfields on the way towards Split Rock (44.265850, -71.301437). Since there are few landmarks here, route finding is critical. Moreover, the consequences of a sliding fall on this section are significant, so make sure to have your crampons on and ice axe ready.

Split Rock is easily identifiable: As the name implies, it’s a large boulder that is split in half. Split Rock is also the last place that offers passable protection from the weather before you reach the summit. Many parties choose to take advantage of the flattish area and windbreak to grab a snack, make a final determination of the weather, and prepare for their summit push before following the trail through the boulder itself. Once you’re ready, the next junction (44.265980, -71.302155) is just a few minutes ahead.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Summit Cone

The Lion Head Trail traverses west for a short ways before connecting with the Tuckerman Ravine Trail at a large cairn. From here, turn right and follow the cairns uphill on the final 0.4 miles to the top. Frequently, this section provides a respite from the wind. Enjoy the break, as the wind will only increase as you near the top.

The Tuckerman Ravine Trail leads to the first sign of civilization—the Auto Road (44.269550, -71.302048). Shortly thereafter, you’ll pass the tracks for the Cog Railway, before you come to the final small hill leading to the summit (44.270424, -71.303375).

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Summit Pose

If it is a nice day, spend some time to enjoy the summit view of the Presidentials and the surrounding White Mountains. More likely though, ripping winds and cold temperatures will have you taking shelter by the buildings and putting on an extra layer before you make your way to the summit sign to get the requisite shot.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Getting Back in One Piece

To quote the world-famous mountaineer Ed Viesturs, “The summit is just a halfway point.” Although getting back to Pinkham Notch is as simple as reversing course, you have ample opportunities to get lost or disoriented above treeline, especially when the weather is at its worst. So, take the time at trail junctures to ensure you’re descending in the right direction, and look for memorable landmarks. Most notable are the large cairns marking the Tuckerman-Lion Head junction, Split Rock, the scrub at the Alpine Garden Trail junction, and the flat area on top of the Lion Head. As you make your way towards treeline, look for several sets of reflectors attached to the trees for descending at night or in deteriorating conditions.

The final crux for hikers will be reversing the rock step and the terrain just above it. Once again, many guided parties use a rope here, but those comfortable climbing in crampons should be fine simply downclimbing.


Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Kit

  • The Lion Head Winter Route is steep and often icy. Because of this, an ice axe and crampons are essential equipment. The Black Diamond Raven Ice Axe and Contact Crampons are great choices.
  • The combination of high winds, snow, and ice often necessitates the use of goggles, like the Smith I/O 7, to protect your eyes and maintain vision. We suggest bringing a second pair in the event one freezes.
  • Summiting Mount Washington in the winter is a long day even in the best conditions—not to mention, the days are shorter this time of year. A headlamp like the Black Diamond Revolt helps prevent getting caught in the dark and provides peace of mind if you fall behind schedule.
  • It’s easy to get disoriented or lost above treeline on Mount Washington, especially if it’s snowing and the wind is howling. A route plan, pre-set waypoints on a phone-based mapping app like GAIA GPS, and a map and compass as backup are all extremely valuable when you’re trying to stay on course no matter the weather.
  • A heavy puffy coat, like the Black Diamond Stance Parka (Men’s/Women’s), and summit mittens, such as the EMS Summit (Men’s/Women’s), are must-haves for extreme cold. Using chemical hand warmers is also a great way to keep your hands warm.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Keys to the Trip

  • Mount Washington’s reputation for the “world’s worst weather” is well-deserved, and weather conditions play a huge role in any successful ascent via the Lion Head Winter Route. Before you head out, make sure to read the Mount Washington Observatory’s Higher Summits Forecast. If the conditions don’t look right (for instance, high winds are forecast or the temperatures at higher elevations are just too cold), consider a different trip for the day: A hike up to HoJo’s at the base of Tuckerman Ravine or skiing the Sherburne Trail is a nice alternative that never leaves the protection of the trees.
  • Similarly, if the weather starts to turn during your hike, bailing is a smart decision. After all, the weather rarely gets better the higher you go, and the “Rock Pile” isn’t going anywhere.
  • Before leaving the Visitor Center, take a moment to make sure the Lion Head Winter Route is actually open. Its opening depends on the amount of snow received, and in recent years—like the 2017-2018 winter season—it has not opened until late December.
  • Early starts on Mount Washington are par for the course. The AMC’s Joe Dodge Lodge is a great place to stay if you want to roll right from bed to the trail. Accommodation options include private and bunk rooms, with most options encompassing breakfast and dinner.
  • Not confident doing this journey yourself? Consider a guided ascent of Mount Washington with the Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School. EMS guides have climbed the “Rock Pile” hundreds of times each winter, and have the skills and knowledge to get you up and down the mountain safely. And, if you’re looking for more than just the up-and-back, consider combining a guided climb with an overnight at the Mount Washington Observatory.
  • Moat Mountain Smokehouse & Brewing Co., or simply The Moat, is the place for Conway-area climbers to eat, grab a pint, and brag about everything from their successful summits to just how bad the weather was above treeline.

Current Conditions

Have you hiked the Lion Head Winter Route on Mount Washington recently? Post your experience and the trail conditions (with the date of your hike) in the comments for others!


9 Tips for Staying Warm While Ice Climbing

A day of ice climbing in the winter is a day well spent. But, when you’re planning for hours of ice-cragging with a group of friends, it’s easy to underestimate how cold it can really get. To stay outside and happy for the whole day, and hopefully avoid the screaming barfies while you are at it, start with the following tips.

1. The puffier, the better

Bring a big, fat puffy belay jacket to wear when you aren’t climbing. It doesn’t have to be high tech, new, or even pretty. It just has to be warm. And, the bigger it is, the better. However, this isn’t a super-light alpine-style ascent we are talking about. If your jacket needs its own XL stuff sack for storage, then you can bet you won’t be cold while you’re wearing it.

2. Stay off the ground

At some point during the day, you might want to sit down. Camp chairs are nice, but they’re bulky and can get in the way at a crowded climbing area. Instead, bring a small foam or inflatable seat pad that you can sit on when you need to take a load off. Otherwise, you will be losing lots of heat through the seat of your pants.

Courtesy: Keith Moon
Courtesy: Keith Moon

3. Plan to get wet

It may be 10 degrees out, but the waterfall you are climbing will most likely still be spraying some liquid water. To anticipate this, a waterproof outer layer keeps you dry while you climb. If you are one of those people who prefers something more breathable, however, wearing high-quality, quick-drying fabrics makes the difference between climbing all day, and heading home early because your clothing has turned to ice.

In all cases, keep your down jackets away from the water. Most down loses its insulating properties once it gets wet.

4. Warm from the inside out

During a day of ice climbing, frozen granola bars just won’t cut it. So, grab a couple of insulated bottles to bring along some hot tea and broth-based soup. And, if you have enough to share, you are sure to make some new friends. Being warmed from the inside out is almost as good of a feeling as sending that lead.

Credit: Mark Meinrenken
Credit: Mark Meinrenken

5. Climb, climb, climb

This one is easy. Get on the ice, and get your blood flowing, as the more you climb, the warmer you will be. Just make sure that when you untie from the rope, you put some insulating layers back on. Heat loss happens quickly whenever you stand around.

6. Keep moving

If you are waiting for a free rope, and aren’t belaying your buddy, keep it moving! For a suggestion, hike around to check out the condition of a nearby flow, or even have a dance party. Ultimately, the more you move, the warmer you will be.

7. Carry multiple pairs of gloves

Bring a minimum of two pairs of gloves: a thinner set for climbing, and thicker ones for belaying. Don’t try to wear them at the same time, however. Rather, keep one pair inside your jacket, where they will stay warm. If they get wet, it is even more important to keep them from freezing and help them dry out.

Credit: Keith Moon
Credit: Keith Moon

8. Don’t wear too many socks

Socks are great, but if you wear too many pairs, you will squeeze the blood from your feet and get some awfully cold toes. Circulation does a great job at keeping your feet warm, so wear one pair of good socks and give your feet some room to let the blood flow.

9. Keep your head warm

When picking out what shirts and jackets to wear, opt for choices that have hoods. Lots of blood pumps into your head, and it all flows through the neck. As a result, keeping your head and neck seamlessly covered prevents warm air from escaping through the top of your shirt, and keeps those drops of ice-water from surprising you with a cold shock down your spine.


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 

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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!


8 Gifts for the Après-Ski All-Star

Après-ski is an integral part of any day spent sliding on snow. So, whether the skier or rider on your list will be cozying up to the slopeside bar or popping beers in the parking lot, here are some items that will take your ski bum from après zero to après hero.

1. Get the bottles popping

While smart skiers and riders always carry a small set of tools for those just-in-case moments, savvy après-skiers believe that motto applies off the hill, too. So, if that someone on your list is always fiddling with a lighter, trying to open that bottle of delicious craft beer, try the Leatherman Brewzer Multitool. It features a bottle opener, can be attached to a keychain, is both perfectly priced and sized for stuffing into any stocking, and, most importantly, will help them avoid a trip to the emergency room for stitches.

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2. Hydrate in bulk

Sometimes, bottles or cans aren’t enough. The Hydro Flask 32-ounce Beer Growler is designed to keep your cold ones…well, cold. This growler also features the Fresh Carry System, which allows beer to stay carbonated—perhaps the best advancement since rocker skis.

3. Cold on and off the slopes

Owners of more traditional glass growlers will want to make sure their beverage stays cool with the Outdoor Research Growler Parka. The OR Growler Parka protects precious après ales from the cold and cushions delicate 64-ounce glass containers from the shuffling of ski gear.

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4. Keep it quiet

Some après situations require discretion. Featuring a timeless look and insulating design, the Stanley Classic Vacuum Pint is ready for just those occasions. The skier on your list won’t raise suspicions, but they may raise the eyebrows of other après aficionados. As a side note, Stanley has been in business for over a century, making it slightly older than the oldest still-operational ski resort in the U.S.

5. Why wait?

Every now and again, skiers and riders start their après activities early. The Nalgene Flask, featuring a cap that doubles as a shot glass and a parka-friendly size, is perfect for just those occasions. To never miss the chance at a chairlift cheers or a toast in the trees, the skier on your list needs only to fill the flask with their favorite beverage.

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6. Look the part

Even the biggest ski bums can get classy from time to time. As such, the GSI Outdoors Stemless Wine Glass is a must-have accessory for days when Pinot Noir replaces PBR. With a low center of gravity for stability—like being balanced on a tailgate—and built for rugged use, these wine glasses can stand up to bigger drops and bumps than the skier-on-your-list’s knees.

7. Bring your treasure chest

Ideal for weekends at the ski house and for hardcore ski bums living the van life, the Yeti Tundra 50 is to coolers what Lindsey Vonn and Bode Miller are to Olympic skiers: the gold standard. With room to hold enough drinks for everyone, the Yeti will stand up to whatever the skier on your list can throw at it—whether it’s skiing a hundred days in a season, trying to ski all 12 months of the year, or just surviving the annual ski trip.

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8. On the rocks

If beer and wine aren’t your skier’s thing, the Hydro Flask Rocks Glass has you covered from cocktails to cocoa. It’s insulated to keep drinks hot and cold and comes with a lid to protect your beverage from the elements. And, the beveled bottom is glorious for your gloved-grip.

 

These are only some of the awesome après items EMS is stocking this year. Drop into your local store or search online for other amazing gifts for the ski bum on your list.