The Best Adirondack Peaks for a Winter Sunset

Encompassing six million acres and possessing a myriad of mountains ranging in size from mile-high Mount Marcy to short and wooded summits, the Adirondacks has a mountain for every schedule and ability. Few outdoor experiences are more memorable or enjoyable than watching the sunset in solitude from a mountain summit, and the experience is made even more memorable with the extra challenges and solitude present in the winter season. With that in mind, here is a collection of Adirondack peaks that are all excellent winter sunset destinations.

Credit: Joey Priola

Phelps Mountain

While not one of the tallest or the highest Adirondack High Peaks, Phelps Mountain is my personal favorite Adirondack peak for watching and photographing a winter sunset. Ringing in at a round-trip distance of 8.8 miles with almost 2,000 feet of elevation gain if departing from the Adirondack Loj (parking fee of $15/day, reduced to $7/day for Adirondack Mountain Club members), Phelps is in that sweet spot of providing enough of a challenge to make you feel like you’ve really accomplished something, while being short enough so that you won’t be hiking back in the dark for hours on end.

After a quick 2 mile jaunt to Marcy Dam and a little over a mile of gradual climbing along Phelps Brook, a classic steep and rugged Adirondack trail diverges from the Van Hoevenberg Trail to climb 1.2 miles to the summit of Phelps. Two characteristics of Phelps make this peak particularly amenable to winter sunsets. First, although the summit offers expansive views, it’s not completely exposed and hardy evergreens provide protection from the wind and make for interesting photo subjects when they’re caked with snow and ice. Second, Phelps offers wide-open views to the west, meaning that you’ll have a clear vantage point of the sun setting over the lofty summits of Mount Colden and Algonquin Peak, with Mount Marcy catching beautiful sidelight. While views from the summit proper are exceptional, ledges a couple hundred yards shy of the summit might provide an even better vantage point to watch the setting sun cast a warm glow on the snowy landscape.

Cascade Mountain

As one of the shortest and easiest of the 46 Adirondack High Peaks to climb, Cascade Mountain is a justly popular peak. While winter crowds are typically less than those found in summer and fall, the small parking lots on Rt. 73 can easily get overwhelmed on weekends. The late start that you’ll get to time it right to catch sunset from the summit typically makes this a moot point, but aim to do this one on a weekday if possible, just in case.

The vast majority of this hike is spent sheltered in the woods, and while the grade never gets too obnoxious, the climbing begins right from the parking lot and doesn’t let up much for the duration of the hike. A junction with the trail to Porter Mountain (another High Peak that’s often combined with a trek up Cascade) is reached at 2.1 miles, and then the final push to the exposed summit begins. Shortly after the trail junction is a good time to bundle up, as the wind is often much stronger on the exposed summit than the sheltered approach trail. Even though it only comes in as the 36th tallest peak in the High Peaks Region, Cascade offers a panoramic view that is likely a top 10 summit view in the Adirondacks.

Credit: Joey Priola

Coney Mountain

With a round-trip distance of only 2.2 miles and an elevation gain of about 550 feet, Coney Mountain is one of the best bang-for-your-buck mountains in all of New York. Located off of Route 30 between Long Lake and Tupper Lake, Coney is a great destination to enjoy your first mountaintop winter sunset. A sheltered trail climbs gradually from the small parking lot through a beautiful forest before reaching the mostly open summit. Part of Tupper Lake can be seen in the distance and nearby Goodman Mountain (which itself is another good sunset hike) adds visual interest to the view. If the sky is clear and weather calm, hanging around after sunset to watch the stars is an incredibly rewarding experience, and the short distance back to the trailhead makes the return hike in the dark a breeze.

Credit: Joey Priola

Mount Marcy

Standing as the highest mountain in New York at an elevation of 5,344 feet, Mount Marcy draws hikers from near and far. There’s just something about being at the highest point in a state that’s alluring, and from the icy winter summit of Marcy, all of the Adirondacks spreads out below your lofty perch. With a round-trip distance of nearly 15 miles coupled with over 3,000 feet of elevation gain, climbing Marcy makes for a long day, and catching the sunset from the summit means that you’ll have several hours of hiking in the dark back to the trailhead to look forward to. For those that have the requisite experience, fitness, and gear, though, it doesn’t get any better than this. After gradually ascending to treeline, the final half-mile push to the summit is on the wide-open and rocky summit block, with no protection from the elements. Once on the summit, a panoramic view of mountains and lakes spreads as far as the eye can see. As the sun sets over the distant horizon, take pride in the fact that no one in the state is higher than you, physically and maybe emotionally too, before readying for the long and dark sojourn home.

Credit: Joey Priola

Algonquin and Wright Peaks

Two of the more popular High Peaks to climb, Algonquin and Wright are neighbors that share the same route for the first 3.4 miles from the Adirondack Loj and are thus often climbed in tandem. Coming in at round-trip distances of 7.6 (with 2,400 feet of elevation gain) and 8.6 (with 2900 feet of elevation gain) miles respectively, Wright and Algonquin are both classic Adirondack climbs that make for excellent sunset destinations. Both of these summits are quite exposed, though, which means expansive views but also little to no protection from the elements. It’s thus best to get some safer sunset summits under your belt before aiming for Wright or Algonquin.

From the Wright-Algonquin trail junction reached 3.4 miles from the Adirondack Loj parking lot, a left turns leads 0.4 miles to the summit of Wright. Views abound in all directions, with Whiteface and the ski jumps of Lake Placid in the distance to the north. The best part of Wright’s vantage point, though, is its proximity to the summit block of Algonquin, which towers above you and the seemingly endless procession of snow-covered evergreens that fill the divide between Wright and Algonquin. If the wind is howling, descending a bit from the summit to treeline provides a more sheltered, and possibly more interesting vantage point from which to watch the sunset over the shoulder of Algonquin and light up the flanks of Wright in brilliantly glowing sunset hues.

If at the aforementioned trail junction you’re feeling up for some added distance and elevation, rather than taking the side trail up to Wright continue on 0.9 miles to the exposed alpine summit of Algonquin. Views from the rocky tundra are unfettered and include Colden with its many slides and Trap Dike. Due to its entirely exposed nature, Algonquin is a peak best saved for a calm day. Spend some time exploring the summit before sunset (while being careful not to trample the rare and delicate alpine plants that make the summit home) and marvel at how the raking winds have sculpted the snow into fanciful shapes. As the second highest peak in the Adirondacks, Algonquin has a “top of the world” feel to it, and lingering on the summit and watching the sunset sky transition from orange to magenta to the deepest blue-black imaginable is an experience that could never be forgotten.

Credit: Joey Priola

Escape the Leaf-Peeping Crowds by Boat and Boot at Indian Lake

Autumn is upon us, and the vast hardwood forests of the Northeast are putting on their annual show that rivals any natural spectacle in the world. While the fall season has always been a popular time for hikers and roadside tourists alike to get out and explore, larger crowds than usual are expected this fall due to COVID-19 and the fact that being outside is one of the safest ways to get away from home during these tough times. The Adirondack Mountains have long been a haven for stressed and overworked city dwellers to get back to nature, and unsurprisingly the ever-popular High Peaks region has been experiencing record visitation throughout the summer and early fall. Hoping to avoid the maddening crowds while simultaneously exploring a part of the Adirondacks that we had yet to properly experience, my wife, dog and I recently went on a canoe camping trip to Indian Lake that quickly became our all-time favorite camping trip.

Credit: Joey Priola

The Island Campground

Located in the Southern Adirondacks, approximately a 70-mile or 90-minute drive southwest from Lake Placid, Indian Lake is a 12-mile-long reservoir that runs southwest from the tiny town of Indian Lake. While not quite as wild (the west shore has some development) as some of the more remote ponds and lakes of the Adirondacks, Indian Lake still has a relatively remote feel to it, especially on the eastern shore which is largely Forest Preserve land. The lake is peppered with several rocky islands, ranging in size from nothing more than a few boulders to over 1,000 feet in length. The best thing about Indian Lake is that it possesses the Indian Lake Islands Campground, which consists of 55 campsites (each with a picnic table, an outhouse, and firepit) spread along the lakeshore and islands that can only be accessed via boat. Sites can be booked up to 9 months in advance, and while they’re incredibly popular during the summer, as the temperature begins to drop in the fall, so does the visitation.

Note: Due to COVID-19, the DEC and New York State Parks has temporarily lifted the 9-month reservation window restriction for camping at New York State Parks, including Indian Lake Islands, and bookings for 2021 are currently being accepted.

Credit: Joey Priola

Exploring Kirpens Island

While all of the campsites offer privacy and outstanding views, nothing can beat the experience of camping on your very own private island. Of the 55 campsites at Indian Lake, five of them are on an island with no other campsites. Of this handful of select sites, the most outstanding site might be campsite 2 on Kirpens Island, which offers several advantages compared to the other sites.

Situated due east from Indian Lake Marina, the campsite on Kirpens Island can be quickly accessed via a 20 to 30 minute, mile-long paddle if launching from the marina, as compared to the 8-mile-long paddle if starting from the access point and campground check-in center on the south end of the lake. Kirpens Island is also one of the largest islands on Indian Lake, with countless nooks and crannies along the shore to explore, as well as some informal trails that lead to the far reaches of the island from the camping area on the north side of the island. A number of smaller islands surround Kirpens and make interesting photography subjects, especially in the fall when the berry bushes, maples, and birches that are prevalent on the islands show off their fall colors.

The view from Baldface Mountain’s summit. | Credit: Joey Priola

Multi-Sport Adventure

What really sets Kirpens Island apart from the other sites at Indian Lake, though, is its proximity to the Baldface Mountain Trailhead. The trailhead is a quick five-minute paddle east from camp into a quiet bay and is only accessible by boat. This difficulty of access greatly minimizes the crowds, and on a beautiful Saturday with near-peak foliage conditions, we had the trail and summit all to ourselves. After beaching your boat on the shore near a large boulder marked with white paint, an easy 0.8-mile-long trail with red trail markers and 550 feet of elevation gain weaves through the forest before breaking out on a rocky ledge perched just above the treetops, with the long blue swath of Indian Lake and its islands spreading out in the distance. Fall views don’t get any better than this, as the predominantly hardwood forest that surrounds Indian Lake bursts with a vibrant array of red, orange, yellow, and purple in late September to early October. After enjoying the view from Baldface, head back down to the lake and explore the islands near Kirpens, marveling at the banded metamorphic bedrock that the islands consist of, which makes for fantastic photo opportunities.

Once back at camp, cap off a spectacular day of autumn exploration in complete solitude by watching the sun set over Indian Lake and Snowy Mountain from an open ledge high above the lake on the west side of the island, and perhaps raise a glass of your favorite beverage to toast your own private piece of autumn heaven.

Credit: Joey Priola

Level-Up Your Fall Photography at the Adirondacks' Heart Lake

With all due respect to the other seasons, there isn’t a more exciting time of year for wilderness exploration and photography than fall, and there’s no better place to be this time of year than the Eastern United States. Blessed with a variety of hardwood species like sugar maple and birch that turn practically every shade of color imaginable during the autumn season, there’s no shortage of fantastic foliage destinations in this part of the country. That said, there are some locations that stand out from the rest, such as the Heart Lake area in New York’s Adirondack Mountains.

Located south of Lake Placid in the High Peaks Region, Heart Lake is a perfect fall hiking and photography destination. While the main sights can be seen in just a daytrip, to truly appreciate this special area, nothing beats spending a few nights in a classic Adirondack lean-to, several of which pepper the lakeshore and surrounding forest. Or if camping isn’t your style, the charming and cozy Adirondack Loj is also near the lake and offers the weary hiker heated rooms and home-cooked meals.

Another big advantage of staying at Heart Lake is that some of the best fall photography imaginable is right at your doorstep. The following tips will help you make the most of a fall trip to Heart Lake and to take your fall photos to the next level. While this article is focused on the Heart Lake area, most of the photography tips can be applied to any locale.

Credit: Joey Priola
Credit: Joey Priola

Time it Right

The first consideration when planning a fall photography trip to Heart Lake or elsewhere is timing. While difficult to predict and variable from year to year, peak fall foliage in this part of New York typically arrives in the last week of September and lasts through the first week of October. Peak fall color at Heart Lake the past two years has been right around October 5th. Once September arrives and preparation for fall kicks into high gear, the Adirondack Mountain Club posts a weekly Heart Lake foliage report on their social media pages that is an incredibly useful resource for monitoring the color progression remotely. If looking to explore other areas in the Adirondacks or New York State, I Love New York posts a weekly foliage report for the entire state on their website and social media pages.

Even if you miss peak color, there can be advantages to being a little on the early or late side. In the days leading up to peak color, the prominence of some trees with green leaves that have yet to change color can make the ones that have changed pop even more. Post-peak when the leaves begin to fall is a great opportunity to experiment with detailed macro shots of freshly fallen leaves and can provide the opportunity to catch the first snow of the season as autumn color hangs on before succumbing to the white of winter.

Scout It Out

One of the best ways to get to know an area and to take the best photos possible is to get out and explore and scout out different compositions upon arrival, especially if never having been to the location before. Spending at least a couple days in an area is also advantageous as it provides more time to study weather patterns and to get a better understanding of how the light interacts with the landscape at different times of the day. Scouting is rather easy to do in the Heart Lake vicinity, but there are a few classic spots where photography is worthwhile:

Credit: Joey Priola
Credit: Joey Priola

Heart Lake

The lake itself offers a bounty of photo opportunities, and a hiking trail leads around the eastern half of it and provides several access points to the lake. Even better, snag one of the lakefront lean-tos, which can be reserved up to a year in advance, and your own slice of private lakefront will be just steps away. A sandy beach on the north side of the lake is an excellent spot to photograph mountain reflections or a canoe beached on the sandy shore with a background of colorful foliage.

Credit: Joey Priola
Credit: Joey Priola

Mount Jo

Rising above the north shore of Heart Lake, 2,876-foot Mount Jo provides one of the most phenomenal fall views and is one of the best bang-for the-buck hikes in all the Adirondacks. A typical rugged and steep Adirondack trail leads from the campground to the rocky summit ledges. Partway up the Mount Jo trail, the trail forks into the 1.1-mile “Short” Trail and the 1.3-mile “Long” Trail, both of which ultimately meet below the summit after a 700-foot climb. It takes roughly 45 minutes to get to the top, where a glorious view of mountains and fall foliage spreads out below. The opportunities for landscape shots with a wide-angle lens are endless, and since the view looks to the south, great sidelight can be had at both sunrise and sunset. While views from the official summit are nice, some open ledges below the summit provide an even more panoramic view with a clear perspective of Heart Lake surrounded by colorful autumn foliage with Algonquin and other High Peaks rising from the valley further to the south.

Credit: Joey Priola
Credit: Joey Priola

Heart Lake Campground

Spending the night camping at Heart Lake opens up additional photo opportunities. Campers by a crackling fire and tents or lean-tos nestled in the forest are great additions to any fall photography portfolio and help to fully paint the picture of what fall in the mountains is all about. Lean-tos, tent campsites, and bunks in the Loj can be reserved onlineat the Adirondack Mountain Club’s. Lean-tos and tent sites cost $40 to $45 per night, and Loj rooms range from $70 to $160. For all Heart Lake accommodations, Adirondack Mountain Club members receive a 10% discount.

Credit: Joey Priola
Credit: Joey Priola

Mornings are Magic

As difficult as it can be to crawl out of a toasty sleeping bag to feel the cold slap of predawn air, there’s no better time of day for fall photography than early morning. Winds at Heart Lake are typically calmest at dawn, better facilitating the reflection of colorful foliage and clouds in the lake. Fog rising from the lake on crisp autumn mornings is a common occurrence and provides some of the most dreamy and mystical photography conditions imaginable, whether photographed from the shore of the lake itself or from a higher vantage point up on Mount Jo. On especially cold mornings, frost might even coat the flora, adding a special touch to an already extraordinary time of year.

Look Beyond the Grand Landscape

When color is at its peak, the most obvious way to capture the beauty is to use a wide-angle lens to capture grand landscape photos. To create a more diverse portfolio and to truly capture the full essence of fall, though, it’s important to look beyond the landscape and find the subtle beauty of fall. One of the best ways to do this is to use other lenses besides a wide-angle. Utilizing a telephoto lens is a great way to isolate smaller sections of a landscape, and it can be a fun exercise in creativity to start with photographing the landscape using a wide-angle lens and then switch over to a telephoto to pick out different compositions from within the wider shot. From the shore of Heart Lake, use a telephoto lens to create a frame-filling shot of the most colorful group of trees, or a lone red maple amid a group of evergreens. From the summit of Mount Jo, hone in on morning fog floating over the top of the forest canopy, or a canoe on Heart Lake dwarfed by the immense scale of the Adirondack wilderness.

On the opposite end of the spectrum from an expansive landscape photo, macro photography can reveal an intimate and abstract side of fall that often goes unnoticed. With macro photography, a small section of a single leaf can be as beautiful and profound as a grand vista filled with millions of leaves.

Credit: Joey Priola
Credit: Joey Priola

Pack a Tripod and Polarizer

Two of the most useful accessories for fall photography not only at Heart Lake but in general are a tripod and polarizing filter. Unless intentionally blurring some or all of a photo for creative reasons, it’s typically desirable for a photo to be in sharp focus from front to back. A tripod is often necessary to stabilize the camera and facilitate a sharp photo, especially at dawn and dusk when there’s less light and longer exposure times are required. A polarizer comes in handy throughout the year but is especially useful in fall. Much like the polarized sunglasses that you might own, putting a polarizing filter on a camera lens helps to decrease glare and haze. Using one helps to make fall colors really pop, especially when the leaves are wet. A polarizer also helps to deepen the color of a blue sky, although care should be taken not to overdo it and end up with an unnatural polarization gradient in the sky. To avoid this, twist the polarizer back and forth until the most pleasing effect is achieved, especially when photographing at a 90-degree angle to the sun, at which the polarization effect is most prominent.

Credit: Joey Priola
Credit: Joey Priola

Get Out and Explore

While there are enough interesting photography subjects at Heart Lake to keep a photographer entertained for days on end, there are also several other nearby locations that can all be reached on foot that are worth investigating if on an extended stay in the area. About a mile up the road from the Heart Lake Campground, a trail to Mount Van Hoevenberg begins off South Meadows Road and leads to another short mountain with an open, rocky summit that provides a different perspective than Mount Jo. En-route to the summit, pass a beaver pond that provides an excellent view of Mount Van Hoevenberg to the north. For a less strenuous diversion from Heart Lake, continue to the end of South Meadows Road by foot or car to photograph pretty meadows complete with a babbling brook.

Heart Lake also provides easy access to hiking some of the most popular High Peaks, such as Algonquin, Marcy, and Phelps. It should be noted though that while the tundra of these peaks can sport pretty autumn alpine grasses, the best fall colors will be well below these lofty summits.

For a more secluded leg-stretcher than hitting a High Peak, loop around the north side of Heart Lake to connect with the Indian Pass Trail. Reach beautiful Rocky Falls in a little over two miles, with the option to continue on approximately three more miles to rugged and seldom-visited Indian Pass.

On the drive to and from Heart Lake on Adirondack Loj Road, several open meadows are passed that make for perfect photography or picnic spots, just be sure not to encroach on any private land.

 

Whether spending just an afternoon or an entire week, Heart Lake is a perfect destination for fall photography. With the tips outlined in this article and an open, creative mind, you’ll be sure to come away from your visit with the best fall photos possible.

Credit: Joey Priola
Credit: Joey Priola

Northeast Mountaineering Climbs for All Abilities

Each year, the onset of winter transforms the mountains of the northeast. With the shorter days and plummeting temperatures comes a brand new world of icy, wind-scoured summits and long, snowy approaches. The hiking trails and climbing routes of New York and New England, easily accessed in summer, become entirely different challenges, rife with logistical considerations and objective hazards. Meanwhile, terrain that is beyond reach in the summer opens up—the gullies fill with snow, the waterfalls freeze, and beautiful, blue ribbons of ice adorn the cracks and corners of cliff faces from the Catskills to Québec. Come wintertime, the mountains of the Northeast are a playground for those bold enough to brave the cold.

For the vertically-inclined, it’s winter that makes the Northeast an excellent, low-elevation training ground—what the high peaks of the Adirondacks and the Whites may lack in height, they more than make up for in heinous weather, high-quality routes, and a long history of daring ascents. This is the place to be for mountaineers of all abilities—from those who are just starting out, to more experienced alpinists seeking grander objectives, to the west or overseas.

Should you be among those looking to test their mettle in the east, the following five mountains—and these all-time classic routes—will most certainly oblige.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Easy Snow: Franconia Ridge

High and exposed, the Franconia Ridge—including two summits above 5,000 feet—stands at an important place in the heart of New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Its western slopes plummet into Franconia Notch, a hub of hiking and climbing in all seasons, while to the east, its flanks drop into the Pemigewasset Wilderness accounting for a sizable chunk of the Pemigewasset Loop, a top-notch classic backpacking trip. By many accounts, Franconia Ridge is the finest high route in the Whites.

While it doesn’t have as many noteworthy technical routes as, say, Cannon Cliff, its neighbor across the notch, it does have a few worthwhile moderate endeavours like Lincoln’s Throat (WI3) and Shining Rock (WI2). It’s Franconia Ridge’s merits as a winter hiking destination, however, that make it an ideal introduction to traveling the mountains of the Northeast in winter. A hike linking the Falling Waters, Franconia Ridge, and Old Bridle Path trails makes for a long, fun day in the mountains. As the trail breaks the treeline and gains the ridge, the exposure and weather combine to create an excellent, non-technical environment to try out some of the tools and techniques required of a true mountaineering objective.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

WI2/Easy Snow: Mount Colden’s Trap Dike 

At 4,714 feet, Mount Colden is the eleventh highest peak in the Adirondacks, a bonafide 46’er, and may appear as a somewhat diminutive selection for a catalogue of classic, Northeastern mountaineering routes. But for one striking feature, however, does Colden draw attention year round: the Trap Dike, a heavy cleft in its northwestern face.

In summer, the Trap Dike is one of the Adirondacks’ main attractions, bringing hikers from far and wide to its base at Avalanche Lake. The lengthy approach is made worth it by the steep, class 4 climbing, and the thrilling exposure of the upper slabs. At times, even in the best conditions, climbing Colden via the Trap Dike can feel like splitting the difference between a hike and a climb.

In winter, the combination of weather, shorter days, and frigid temperatures take hold, and the water that flows in the dike freezes, introducing in turn a new feature to negotiate: waterfall ice. The Trap Dike (WI2, Easy Snow) opens with two pitches of ice climbing, interspersed with some easy snow, before the route opens onto the exposed upper slabs. While not steep, the slabs are extremely exposed, and be downright terrifying in thin conditions. Easier options for descent abound, though none are short—a frozen Mount Colden is a day-long affair, at least, and a stout challenge for newer mountaineers.

WI2/Easy Snow: The North Face of Gothics

The Great Range, in the heart of the Adirondacks, is one of the most spectacular places in the Northeast. Rugged, remote, and wild, a full traverse covering its eight high peaks—over 20-plus miles—is an all-timer, and arguably one of the hardest hiking objectives in New York State.

At its midpoint, miles from the nearest road, rises Gothics, a steep, dramatic mountain recognizable from afar by its steep, bare north face. Though it’s summit only measures 4,734 feet above sea level, Gothics punches above its weight—even the normal hiking routes are aided by fixed cables on the slabby upper reaches. From any direction, at any time of year, Gothics is a tall task.

Come winter, the North Face (WI2, East Snow) route up Gothics is one of the Adirondack’s premier mountaineering challenges—when it’s in. More often than not though, the season conspires to create sub-optimal conditions, ranging from verglass to bare rock, that can seriously have you questioning the validity of its WI2 grade.

When it’s right though the North Face is a thrilling, exposed climb up a sheer 1200-foot wall. The wide flow offers numerous lines of ascent, with varied difficulty and opportunity to place protection, so experience reading ice and snow is critical. Between that, the scenery, and the approach—a true haul—Gothics’ North Face is a legitimate, must-do objective.

Courtesy: Ryan Wichelns
Courtesy: Ryan Wichelns

WI3: Pinnacle Gully

Simply put, Mount Washington is the centerpiece of mountaineering in the Northeast, a hulking mass around which all other objectives in the region orbit. At 6,288 feet, it rises, literally, above everything around it for a thousand miles, and its remarkable features—from the deep ravines and soaring buttresses of its eastern slopes to its rugged summit cone—are host to some of the most spectacular hiking, climbing, and skiing to be found anywhere.

However, it’s Mount Washington’s “character and hostility,” as legendary climber and author Fred Beckey once put it, for which the mountain is probably best known. The unique topography of the White Mountains, and Mount Washington’s location at the confluence of two, ever-churning weather patterns can result in some famously horrendous conditions. Dangerously cold temperatures, heavy snow and high wind—with gusts reaching hurricane-force—are a regular occurrence in winter. As a direct impact, Mount Washington and the rest of the Presidential Range have a very low treeline (around 4,500 feet) and a ton of exposed, alpine terrain, over which many outstanding winter climbs can be found. One line up “the rockpile” stands out, however, making “best-of” lists left and right: it’s the über-classic ice climb, Pinnacle Gully (WI3).

Ice begins to form early in the north-facing gap between Pinnacle and Central Buttresses in Huntington Ravine. The flow it creates—three pitches of incredible, aesthetic, ice climbing over 600 feet—is about as good as it gets. At WI3 the grade is relatively moderate, making Pinnacle Gully an accessible and popular route in an alpine environment that is unique in this part of the country.

A day on Mount Washington should never be taken lightly, though—the weather is always a factor and even on a bluebird day, high traffic can mean a shower of falling ice. Bring a helmet and enjoy the best of what the northeast has to offer.

WI4: The Cilley-Barber Route on Katahdin

Rising some 4,288 feet from the forest floor, unchallenged, the Katahdin massif dominates the landscape of Baxter State Park, its bulk of rock and ice without rival against the backdrop of Maine’s Great North Woods. Katahdin is wild, remote, and unforgiving at any time of year but it is doubly so in winter, when an ascent by any means is a serious challenge—one that is perhaps unequaled in New England, including Mount Washington.

Already removed from the population hubs of the Northeast, Katahdin becomes significantly more remote come winter, when the seasonal closures of Baxter State Park’s access roads makes for a rigorous, committing, 16-mile approach. Further complicating matters—and adding to that expedition-like vibe—access to Baxter State Park is subject to strict regulations, and winter climbers must apply for permits. Factor in the extreme cold and harsh weather that you’re bound to encounter at some point on a trip to Katahdin, and you have a real-deal, multi-day, winter adventure. It’s fitting then, that its name comes from the Penobscot word for “the greatest mountain.”

The steep headwall of Katahdin’s South Basin, scarred over with dramatic, icy gullies, is the frozen jewel in the crown of New England mountaineering. Classic, technical climbs, have been put up here in all seasons since the early twentieth century. The routes are long and committing and objective hazards—like avalanches and icefall—are very real dangers, and moving fast is absolutely critical. This is as alpine as it gets in the Northeast.

Among these coveted lines is the Cilley–Barber (WI4), a dramatic, ice-and-snow-packed cleft in headwall that soars some 2,000 feet from the bottom of the cirque to the top of the Knife Edge arête. It is a long, sustained, and difficult ice climb—one that is often recognized as one of the best of its kind in the east. The approach, permitting, and weather may lend themselves to the feeling of an expedition, but they also thin the crowds out a bit, and cultivate a wild feel—one unique to the Northeast, that should have a place on everyone’s tick list.


Winter Off-Trail Hiking in the Adirondacks

Overuse on Adirondack trails—especially in places like the High Peaks—is a big problem. One solution to reduce your impact? Get off trail. As winter sets in and snow and ice blanket the park, the solitude of these beautiful and remote places gets even more intense. For those hearty and adventurous explorers who seek a challenge beyond the trail, and are well prepared, winter bushwhacking in the Adirondacks can be both challenging and rewarding. 

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

How to Prepare to Go Off-Trail

Preparing to venture off trail in the rugged terrain of the Adirondacks, especially in winter, requires some vital skills, proper gear, and careful risk management. 

One of the most obvious requirements is developing navigational skills. While modern GPS technology can be tremendously useful, it is important to have adequate map and compass skills before leaving the safety of marked trails. Start by taking an introductory course or practicing in an area like a local park or small trail network where the consequences of becoming “lost” are minimalized. 

Prepare as always for winter hiking with proper gear and clothing, snowshoes, and crampons or microspikes. Learn to read snow conditions and think about if you will be using crampons on an icy hardpack or breaking unconsolidated powder; when in doubt preparing for all possibilities. Realize that moving through tight snow filled woods results in you being constantly wet and snow covered, so often some extra layers, gloves, and even another shell are crucial. 

Trip planning and risk management also become even more vital when bushwhacking in winter months when an unexpected night or two in the woods can have dire consequences. Use traditional maps, online tools like CalTopo, and trip reports from others to carefully plan your route and consider timing of off trail hikes. 

Understand that winter bushwacking often involves breaking trail through deep snow, pushing through thick forests, and bypassing unexpected obstacles like blow down and icy cliff bands. This results in a much slower pace and greater energy use than trail hiking; consider this when planning for both timing and food and water supplies. 

Seeking assistance for an injury or other serious issues is typically a much harder task than on trails or in summer so be sure to prepare at all times for an evening in the cold, let others know a detailed itinerary, and consider use of a personal locator beacon. 

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Our Favorite Hikes

There’s a way to get away from the trail for every hiking ability level, in the Adirondacks. 

Beginner 

Morgan Mountain: This Wilmington hike is a short hop off an easy trail with a nearby pond, lean-to, and slide to explore if interested. Views are limited but the area is still beautiful.

Number 8 Mountain: Number 8 is one of many open summits with nice views of Brant Lake from ledges accessed by the relatively easy bushwacking of the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness area.

Advanced 

Elizabethtown #4: Herd paths approach this Keene subpeak, there are loads of open rock for views, and Spotted Mountain is a nearby add-on. Use caution near the beautiful but frigid waters of the South Fork of the Boquet River.

Wallface Mountain: An ADK 100 highest list peak and home to one of the largest cliffs in the Northeast, it’s a great hike on its own. A recent search and rescue left a massive clearing on the summit allowing for unique views. 

Credit: Neil Luckhurst
Credit: Neil Luckhurst

Expert

MacNaughton Mountain: Some hikers call MacNaughton the 47th high peak. There are many different approaches to this one and some are becoming faint herd paths, but it’s still a challenging and long day in winter. This summit has a sign and a pleasant summit ridge. 

Sawtooth #2: The entire Sawtooth Range (not to be confused with Sawteeth Mountain) includes some of the most remote and wild land in the park. None of the peaks in this range come easily, especially in winter. The approach from the Averyville side is preferred. Viewpoints feature Lake Placid, the Sewards, MacNaughton, and beyond.


Alpha Guide: Climbing Little Finger on Lake George

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

With three moderate pitches of splitter granite hanging high above Lake George, Little Finger is one of the Northeast’s most enjoyable climbs.

How many climbs in the Northeast have a paddle approach? One of the most unique climbs in the Northeast, the approach to Little Finger begins with a short paddle approach across the clear, blue water of Lake George. Once situated at the base of the route, climbers are treated to three moderately rated, easy-to-protect pitches of splitter granite climbing 500+ feet above the lake. Be sure to style the climbing—you’re likely to have an audience of captivated boaters below.

Quick Facts

Length: 3 Pitches
Time to Complete: Half-day
Difficulty: ★★★
Scenery:★★★★


Season: May through November
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: https://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/24493.html

Download file: Little_Finger.gpx

Turn-By-Turn

Climbing Little Finger begins with a paddle approach from Rogers Rock Campground in Hague, New York. Located right off 9N, the campground is just six miles from Ticonderoga.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Canoe Approach

From the boat launch, paddle left away from the swimming area (43.792904, -73.480690). Almost immediately, there’s a large cliff along the shore to your left. That’s not the climb, but it’s a good clue you’re headed in the right direction. Continue hugging the lakeside as you head for a shallow break between the shore and Juniper Island. Round the bend. After a few more minutes of paddling, the face is visible on your left. Aim for the low spot dead ahead (43.797157, -73.466560). Overall, it’s about 25 minutes of paddling.

Pro Tip: The water is deep, it’s often windy, and the waves can be big. Wear a PFD. Also, pack your gear in dry bags and secure them to your canoe, kayak, or SUP.

 

The Scramble

Once you’ve lugged your boat out of the water, scramble up to a sort-of-flat spot just above. This is a great place to transition from paddling to climbing. Empty the dry bags, don your climbing gear, and get ready to scramble along the base of the ledge to the start of the climb.

The scramble across is about 30 yards. It goes across, then down to the water, then up a short blocky section that you’ll want to watch less experienced climbers on. From there, it’s an easy stroll to the base of the climb, which starts at a good platform by a boulder right at the base of a vertical crack running up the entire face (43.797398, -73.466385). On the platform, there’s plenty of room to flake your ropes.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The First Pitch

The first pitch follows the obvious vertical crack for about 200 feet to a depression by a small overlap. Anchor there using, among other things, two new-ish pitons. Although the pitons are awkwardly spaced, there are opportunities to use small and mid-sized gear to build a solid three-piece anchor.

The climbing to this point is fantastic. Right off the deck is a short blocky section leading into an awesome crack that pierces the slab. The crux of the pitch is early on, in the bottom half of the crack, but it is never very hard, maxing out at 5.5.

After the initial difficulties, the pitch is a low-angle calf burner. There’s protection everywhere, with the crack eating everything from nuts to mid-sized cams. Since the pitch is long, be sure to bring a lot of gear in that range to ensure you have enough to zip it up.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Second Pitch 

Leaving the first pitch’s belay (43.797676, -73.466774), step up and right into the crack, then charge up it to the bottom of a large roof and build a traditional anchor there. Although it doesn’t look it, the pitch is a long one, running almost 200 feet.

Again, the climbing is moderate and well protected, all in the 5.4-5.5 range. The crack eats mid-sized gear, so protecting it shouldn’t be a problem. Throughout this pitch, there’s also lots of feet, meaning there’s plenty of comfortable stances from which to place gear.

The trickiest part of the second pitch is building the anchor. Just below the roof are several hollow flakes that don’t inspire confidence and aren’t the spot to place a cam. Slightly above the flakes there’s a small slot in the crack for a mid-sized cam and a medium nut. Below the roof, at about 11 o’clock, there’s also room for another mid-sized cam and, with some finagling, a bigger nut. If all this doesn’t sound appealing, there’s a small depression just below the hollow flakes (15 feet before the roof) with lots of options in the crack for a gear anchor.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Third Pitch

From the anchor under the overlap (43.797886, -73.467148), step up so that you can reach above the roof, then traverse right for about 10 feet to rejoin the crack. From here, the climb follows a runnel for about 175 feet toward bolted anchors, one at the top of the crack and another, with rap rings, about 25 feet off to the right.

The third pitch is well protected except for the traverse, where there’s little gear. To protect your second from a big swing, make sure to set a solid piece at the first good spot at the roof’s right end.

If you’re looking for something slightly harder than 5.5, consider the 5.7 variation that follows a thin vertical crack straight up from the belay. After a couple of difficulties, you’ll end up at the anchor just above the runnel that pitch 3 finishes on.

Once you’re atop the third pitch (43.798054, -73.467148), take some time—if you haven’t already—to admire the view. The climb drops away in the foreground, replaced by the deep blue of Lake George and the dark green of the mountains in the distance. It’s a fantastic setting, one you’ll be reluctant to leave.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Raps

Whenever you can break away from the view, it’s three double-rope rappels with 60m ropes back down to the ground. Each of the anchors is bolted and very easy to spot while on rappel. With true 70m ropes, you can do it in 2 rappels, but the last rap to the ground is a rope stretcher.

The last rap will leave you on a ledge a little to climbers’ right of the climb. On the ledge, coil your ropes, then scramble back to your boat. Just before the base of Little Finger, there’s an open slab that drops down into the base of the water. It’s easy to traverse, but watch less experienced folks closely as they cross; any fall would be a long (and wet) one.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Paddle Back

Once you reach your boat, dump your gear in your dry bags, put your PFD back on, get the boat in the water, and retrace the paddle you did earlier in the day. The paddle back will likely be challenging, as it’s usually into the wind and waves. Wakes from passing motorboats can add a little spice as well.


Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Kit

  • Between the waves and deep water, it’s great to have dry bags to store your ropes, rack, and climbing shoes. A couple of 65L bags from Sea to Summit will hold everything with room to spare.
  • The boat landing at Little Finger is rocky and slippery. Send it in style with a water shoe from NRS such as the Kicker Remix (men’s/women’s) or a river sandal like the Teva Terra Fi 4 (men’s/women’s).
  • On summer days, the sun beats down on Rogers Rock until mid afternoon. Wear a sunshirt like the Black Diamond Alpenglow Hoodie (men’s/women’s) to avoid baking in the sun.
  • Multi-pitch climbers on low-angle routes such as Little Finger are at risk of something either falling or getting knocked down on them. With this in mind, pack a climbing helmet like the Black Diamond Vapor.
  • Two 70-meter ropes, like the Sterling Fusion Nano Dry 9.0 70m allow you to cut out a rappel.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Keys to the Trip

  • Motorboat traffic can sometimes make communication between climbers difficult. Before you leave the belay, have a plan so that your second will know what to do even if he/she can’t hear you.
  • You might think that climbing above the water is a great choice for sweltering summer days; However, Little Finger has a well-deserved reputation for scorching unsuspecting climbers thanks to the exposed slab and reflective water. Consequently, it’s best avoided on the sunniest summer days.
  • Climb in a bathing suit because there are lots of places to swim on the way back (including the Rogers Rock Campground swimming area).
  • A great way to cool off and replace the calories you burned is with soft-serve ice cream from the Wind-Chill Factory.
  • If you prefer craft beer to ice cream cones, take the 30-minute drive to Battle Hill Brewing in Fort Ann, New York.
  • If you loved Little Finger and are anxious for more climbing, Rogers Rock is home to a lot more routes. Get the beta for the rest of the climbs in Adirondack Rock, the routes around Lake George are found in Volume 2.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Current Conditions

Have you climbed Little Finger recently? Post your experience and the conditions (with the date of your climb) in the comments for others!


5 Mountains in the Northeast that Almost Anyone Can Enjoy

The most talked-about hikes in the Northeast share some common characteristics, namely big mileage, lots of elevation, and rough terrain. While mountains such as Washington, Mansfield, and Marcy get most of the glory, the Northeast is home to numerous hikes that might not match the classics in difficulty, but are their equals in history, views, and fun. If you’re looking for a five-star hike everyone in your party will like, look no further. Here are five mountains in the Northeast that anyone can enjoy.

Courtesy: Studio Sarah Lou
Courtesy: Studio Sarah Lou

Monument Mountain, Massachusetts

Packing fantastic views of the Housatonic River Valley, Mount Greylock, the Catskills, and Vermont into a roughly three-mile hike should be enough to put Monument Mountain in Great Barrington on any New England hiker’s tick list before even factoring in its fascinating history—it drew literary icons such as Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne, as well as William Cullen Bryant who wrote the famous poem, Monument Mountain. Bryant’s poem is based on the legend of a Mohican woman who chose to leap from the cliffs rather than marry a husband selected for her. A large pile of stones is piled on the mountain’s southern slope as a monument to her final resting place.

In spite of the grim story of the Mohican maiden, Monument Mountain is a fantastic trip for hikers of all abilities. Covering about three miles, hikers ascend the at-times-steep Hickey Trail, climbing a little over 700 feet through hemlock forests, past boulders, and gaining pale quartzite cliffs. For the best views, connect with the Squaw Peak Trail and follow it over steep cliffs and ledges to the 1,642-foot summit of Squaw Peak, then make the short five-minute walk to take in the view of Devil’s Pulpit, a unique rock formation. From the summit of Squaw Peak, hikers can take the Indian Monument Trail which follows an old carriage road for a mild descent, or continue on the Squaw Peak Trail to its connection further down with the Indian Monument Trail.

Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Bald Mountain and Artists Bluff, New Hampshire

Don’t let the relatively slight 2,340-foot elevation of Bald Mountain and Artists Bluff dissuade you from this must-do hike—the views are huge. Situated at the northern end of Franconia Notch, a hike to the summit of Bald Mountain and Artists Bluff treats hikers with two of the White’s best viewpoints, both offering incredible perspectives of Franconia Ridge and the towering Mount Lafayette, Eagle Cliff, Cannon Mountain Ski Area, and Echo Lake.

At just under three-miles roundtrip, Bald Mountain and Artists Bluff is a popular trip for hikers of all abilities. However, don’t let the moderate mileage lull you into thinking this hike is easy; like many classic White Mountain hikes, sections of the trail are direct and rocky. Leaving from the parking lot adjacent to Cannon Mountain’s base lodge, take Artists Bluff Trail for about a quarter-of-a-mile, follow a short spur trail to the summit of Bald Mountain. After soaking in Bald Mountain’s impressive views, backtrack to the Artists Bluff Trail, continuing along on it to an open ledge and more best-in-the-White’s views. Once you’ve had your fill of the spectacular scenery, continue hiking on the Artists Bluff Trail. As you near the road, look for the Loop Trail which will bring you back to your car.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Philo, Vermont

Standing at just 968 feet tall, Mount Philo is diminutive when compared to Green Mountain giants like Mount Mansfield and Camel’s Hump, but towers over the Champlain Valley. Like its bigger brethren, Mount Philo has been a popular recreational destination for over a century (Mount Philo State Park was Vermont’s first state park), and at one point, a carriage road wove its way to the top. Look closely and you’ll see traces of the old carriage road from today’s paved road to the summit. In fact, the paved road makes Mount Philo the perfect destination for groups of mixed ability; ambitious hikers can take the trail to the summit while non-hikers meet them on top by taking the road.

Hikers heading to the summit of Mount Philo should follow the blue blazes of the Mount Philo Trail. The twoish-mile round-trip hike gains approximately 600 feet in elevation as it winds through quintessential Vermont forest and exposed rocks. From the summit, hikers are treated to splendid views of Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks—including Mount Marcy—to the west while the peaks of the Mad River region (Mounts Abe and Ellen) dominate the view to the southeast. Fall is a favorite time to take a trip to Mount Philo, not only because it’s resplendent during foliage, but also to watch migrating raptors. Mount Philo holds the record for the most hawks seen in one day in Vermont (3,688).

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Hadley Mountain, New York

Take in the magnificent views of Sacandaga Lake, the Green Mountains, the Catskills, and the Adirondacks from the 2,675-foot summit of Hadley Mountain while ticking a tower off of your ADK Fire Tower Challenge. The 40-foot fire tower gracing Hadley Mountain’s summit was originally erected in 1917, but was closed in 1990 by the Department of Environmental Conservation. Shortly after the closure, the Hadley Mountain Fire Tower Committee was formed and began working on restoring the tower, as well as the observer’s cabin. Thanks to their efforts, hikers today can climb to the top of the fire tower and take in a view not all that different from the one had by the early observers 100 years ago.

Climbing roughly 1,500 feet while covering 3.6 miles, the trip to the summit of Hadley Mountain and back is short, but packs a punch. As straightforward as a trip gets, summit-bound hikers need only follow the red trail markers of the Hadley Mountain Trail to the summit and then return the way you came. The trail remains fairly steep for almost the entirety of the climb, but be sure to save some energy for climbing the stairs to the top of the tower—it’s worth it. If hiking Hadley Mountain in the summer, you’ll likely run into the summit steward who’s there to answer any questions you might have about the mountain and its history.

Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Mount Agamenticus, Maine 

The confluence of mountains and ocean has led generations of adventurers to explore the rugged Maine coastline. Used as a landmark by mariners to aid in navigation for centuries, Mount Agamenticus’ earliest explorers were indigenous people—the name Agamenticus is derived from the Abenaki name for the York River. Legend has it that Saint Aspinquid, a local Indian chief, either a MicMak or Penobscot leader, converted to Christianity and spent his life spreading Christianity to different tribes. A cairn on the top of Mount Agamenticus was constructed as a tribute to Saint Aspinquid—it’s said that anyone adding a stone to the cairn is blessed with good luck.

Unlike most mountains, the best trail on Mount Agamenticus doesn’t lead to its summit, rather it runs around the mountain. The Turtle Loop is a twoish-mile loop circling the base of the remnants of the 220 million-year-old volcano that is Mount Agamenticus. Featuring 15 interpretive stations, hikers are able to educate themselves on the area’s natural, geologic, and cultural history. If you simply must tag the top of Mount Agamenticus, the approximately quarter-mile-long Blueberry Bluff Trail leads from the Turtle Loop to the summit where you’ll enjoy views of Cape Elizabeth, the Isles of Shoals, and the White Mountains—including Mount Washington.

 

Do you have a favorite hike that is ideal for hikers of all abilities? If so, let us know in the comments below so we can check it out.


Beat the Heat: Top 5 Cooler Weather Summer Climbing Spots in the Northeast

Here in the Northeast we relish the prospect of summer after the long winter months, until we’re all salty and cursing the heatwave that just won’t dissipate. For climbers, heat is a minor nuisance, but sweat makes slick sending. Luckily, the Northeast is endowed with alpine terrain, miles of coastline and countless lakes and ponds, all of which offer cooler micro-climates. Read on for our recommendations of the best climbing areas to beat the heat this sun-drenched season.

Courtesy: Andrew Messick
Courtesy: Andrew Messick

Smuggler’s Notch, Vermont

Roadside Bouldering

The Notch, at a cool 2,165 feet above sea level, sits between Mount Mansfield and Spruce Peak in the Green Mountain state. This hobbit hole haven offers over 500 boulder problems as well as “alpine light” trad and sport routes. Trade winds blow through, dropping the ambient temperature to 10 to 20 degrees lower than the tourist town of Stowe, 1,200 feet below. “Bouldering inside the notch has this rather enchanting appeal to it. The cold air floats out from the ice deep within the granite & schist caverns creating these cool air pockets as you walk through,” says Nick Hernandez of Time to Climb.

Cruise up the scenic 108 for drive-in bouldering. Wind around hairpin turns and roadside rocks, park at one of the many pull outs and start climbing in mere seconds. When you’re ready to unwind, head back into town to enjoy a Heady Topper at the world renowned Alchemist brewery.

Courtesy: Michael Martineau
Courtesy: Michael Martineau

Lake Champlain Palisades, New York

Deep Water Soloing

Perhaps the tallest Deep Water Solo (DWS) routes in the Northeast, The Palisades feature 100+ feet of cliff jutting out from Lake Champlain. DWS means free solo climbing (without a rope) but over water; think Alex Honnold, except if one were to fall here they would land in a lake instead of on land.

The approach won’t be easy, nor will the climbing. Located at the easternmost edge of the Adirondacks, boat or paddle from the Westport Marina roughly 4.5 miles south. You will not have to worry about touching bottom (the lake has a depth of 140 feet), however a fall from up high can cause serious harm. Make sure you know how to properly hit the water (you want to enter in a pencil-like position). A gentle breeze will help dry some of your perspiration while climbing, though it won’t do anything for your Elvis leg.

Courtesy: Tim Peck
Courtesy: Tim Peck

White Mountains, New Hampshire

Easier Access Alpine Climbing

The White Mountains are among the highest peaks in the Northeast, which means cooler temperatures and some of the fastest recorded wind speeds on earth. The climbing options are diverse, from long multi-pitch on Cannon Cliff to daring high elevation (for the East Coast) trad on Huntington Ravine on Mount Washington to moderate notch climbing at places like Franconia and Crawford. Be highly vigilant of fast-changing and ornery weather, though the Whites can be a bit more forgiving than backcountry brethren out West due to quicker access to roads and huts.

Courtesy: Kevin MacKenzie
Courtesy: Kevin MacKenzie

Panther Gorge, Adirondacks, New York

Serious Backcountry Climbing

For a backcountry alpine adventure, Panther Gorge is a lesser visited remote locale with a strenuous approach. “It may be one of the most remote places in the Northeast,” suggests local legend, Kevin ‘MudRat’ MacKenzie, who has put up many FAs in the area.

The gorge, at 4,000 feet above sea level, lies between Mount Marcy and Mount Haystack, the tallest and third tallest mountains in New York, respectively. Just to get here requires an eight mile hike with 3,300 feet of elevation, followed by bushwhacking about to find the climbs. You will be rewarded with over 35 trad routes that range from 5.3 to 5.10a, with a mix of single and multi-pitch lines. These not-often-trafficked climbs can be chossy, mossy, and wet, and you’ll want to make sure you are well-equipped with backcountry skills from route-finding and wilderness first aid in order to be safe. You can find detailed descriptions of climbing routes in MacKenzie’s upcoming book, Panther Gorge, on his site adirondackmountaineering.com.

Courtesy: National Park Service
Courtesy: National Park Service

Acadia National Park, Maine

Coastal Climbing

Cooling sea breeze awaits climbers at Acadia. The ocean battered granite features some of the most classic climbs in the Northeast, from the salt-sprayed Adair by the Sea (5.10b/c) to the 3-pitch Story of O (5.6), among many others. America’s most easterly national park, Acadia is the first place the sun touches in the U.S. from October to March. In the summer, you will still want to arise early to capitalize on the daily changing low tide (otherwise your rope and belayer are liable to get caught in the waves at seaside areas like Otter Cliffs). Check out The Precipice for inland multi-pitch routes or Canada Cliff for some forested bouldering.


Alpha Guide: Hiking Hurricane Mountain

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

With a breathtaking trail and 360-degree views from the summit, this fire tower hike and sub-4,000-footer can rival any other peak in the Adirondacks.

With a moderately short hiking distance and elevation gain, and a trail that traverses various diverse ecosystems, you’ll be in awe nearly every step of the way up Hurricane Mountain’s southern access trail. While the summit itself only offers roughly a 180-degree view, a quick climb up the steps into the cab of the firetower will reward you with an unparalleled 360-degree view of the surrounding Keene Valley area, the nearby Adirondack High Peaks, the countless other mountains and valleys in the vicinity.

*NOTICE: Currently, it is considered mud season in the Adirondack park and the DEC is asking people to refrain from hiking anything above 2,500 feet in elevation. This mud season typically comes around in mid to late April, and can last a few weeks or more as the snow begins to melt and rainfall mixes with the soil, creating muddy conditions. If you do choose to hike during mud season, it is important to remember that it is better for the trail to walk directly through the mud, rather than around it to avoid trail widening and furthering human impact on the wilderness.

Quick Facts

Distance: 6.2 miles, out-and-back
Time to Complete: Half day
Difficulty: ★★★
Scenery: ★★★★★


Season: Year-round*
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: https://on.ny.gov/2ZSMwKs 

Download file: Hurricane_Mountain.gpx

Turn-By-Turn

Take Route 73 north (from I87) or south (from Lake Placid) into Keene and then head east on Route 9N at a fork with views of the MacIntyre Range. Stay in 9N for 3.5 miles looking for a pullout (44.21141, -73.72289) on the left (north) side of the road.

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

The Journey Begins

The red-blazed trail starts off with a steady, gentle climb from the trailhead towards the mountains. There isn’t a whole lot to see for the first half mile or so, but after .4 miles and 300 feet of elevation gain, you’ll find yourself looking south from the first viewpoint of the day (44.213516, -73.718133), with unobstructed views of Knob Lock, Green, and Tripod Mountains. Once you snap a few photos, you’ll move forward on the wooded trail, fairly straightforward for another half-mile and 100 feet of elevation gain. At this point, you’ll find yourself on the outskirts of the marshy area that the Spruce Hill Brook runs into, and you will have various planks and floating log bridges to cross.

The First View of the Fire Tower

Once you leave the marshy area, the true climbing of the hike begins. While traditional open viewpoints are mostly missing from this section of trail, be prepared to find yourself in awe of its wooded beauty. Although this is a mostly wooded section of trail, the variety of trees you’ll pass create a sort of natural rainbow; From the white bark of the birch trees to the dark gray, mossy bark of the elm tree and the multicolored hues of leaves, both alive and dead, mix together beautifully with a blue sky to create a peaceful scene. All at once, after climbing a total of 1700’ feet near mile 2.5, you’ll find yourself temporarily breaking out of the treeline, with an unexpected view of the 46ers Giant and Rocky Peak Ridge to the south (44.234019, -73.716460), and catching your first glimpse of the actual fire tower on the summit to the northeast.

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

The Final Push to the Fire Tower

After the brief glimpse you get of the tower, you will reenter the woods for approximately 0.4 miles, at which point you will reach the junction (44.235908, -73.713253) between the Hurricane Mountain Trail you have been on for nearly 2.9 miles, and the North Hurricane Trail which comes from the Crow Clearing/Nun-Da-Ga-O Ridge Trailhead on O’Toole Road in Keene. Now you’re in the home stretch, with just a tenth of a mile to go before you break the treeline and can begin taking in unobstructed views. Be wary and cautious, for Hurricane often has strong winds that embody its name. Once you’re all geared up, take those final steps and reach the summit (44.235327, -73.710605) after 3.1 miles and 2,000 feet of climbing. Make sure to head up and into the fire tower itself for an incredible 360-degree view of the Adirondacks, with High Peaks, lakes, and wild forests all available with just a turn of your head.

When you’re done, retrace your steps back down to the trailhead.


Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

The Kit

  • Make sure to have Microspikes or even crampons for this peak, even into the later spring months, as the weather in the Adirondacks in unpredictable and there will often still be snow and ice on trails and summits well into May.
  • There are many sources of water and mud along this trail, including floating log bridges in the marshy area of Spruce Hill Brook (which can often be underwater), so having a reliable pair of waterproof boots or shoes will make the difference in keeping you comfortable.
  • This mountain is great at any time of day, but we highly recommend making a trip up for both sunrise and sunset, for which carrying a good headlamp will be important. That being said, make sure you have a headlamp and extra batteries even if your plan isn’t to stay the night—you never know.
  • No matter what time of year you find yourself hiking Hurricane, the chance of rain and wind are always there, so you’ll want to make sure you’re protected from the elements with a good rain shell!
  • A small blanket or chair, like the Helinox Chair One, is a perfect thing to carry on a hike up Hurricane. If the weather is nice on the summit, you’ll want to sit and stay awhile. The openness of the summit, combined with the essentially flat summit rocks makes this a perfect mountaintop to hang out on, taking in the beauty of the surrounding landscape while you soak up the sun’s rays.

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

Keys to the Trip

  • Arrive early, as allotted parking spaces tend to fill up quick, and parking alongside the road can be dangerous to yourself and others. If you arrive late and parking is filled up, you can try to head to the Crow Clearing trailhead located on O’Toole Road in Keene, and hike Hurricane that way. Otherwise, you may have to settle for another small mountain nearby!
  • Since Hurricane isn’t an all-day trek, it’s a great idea to add in another nearby mountain or two to extend your hiking day. Some shorter hikes nearby that offer excellent views are Baxter Mountain (whose trailhead is located on the same stretch of Route 9N), and Big Crow Mountain (whose trailhead is located on O’Toole Road in Keene).
  • Bring friends and dogs to share in the beauty of this amazing hike! With a short, moderate distance and elevation gain, beginner and experienced hikers (and your four-legged friends) will have a great time on this trek. If you do bring along a hiking pup, make sure to be prepared with bags, a leash (and often a harness), as well as water and food to keep them as happy as you are!
  • Be sure to fuel up before and/or after your hike! Local hotspots (depending on your direction of travel) include the Stewart’s in Keene, and Noonmark Diner in Keene Valley. If you’re heading even further north, consider Big Slide Brewery and The ‘dack Shack for a delicious lunch or dinner!

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Current Conditions

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


What to Look for in an Early-Season Overnighter

The transition from winter is an awakening of the senses in the forest. The din of a pond teeming with newly-roused frogs, the impossibly clean aroma of snowmelt-swollen brooks mixed with budding flora, and the warmth of the sun on bare skin as it makes its way through the still leafless trees. These are the harbingers of spring, invigorating signs that we can go outside again.

Early season outings have their advantages and chief among them is the temperature: it’s not frigid, but not sweltering either. It’s warm enough to shed some of the heavier winter gear but it’s cool enough to keep the bugs and the crowds at bay. It’s also a time when water is plentiful, and a trail that might be dry as a bone in high summer will yield more than enough to keep that filter pumping.

On the flip side, being out in the spring in the northeast means you’re going to get wet. Wherever you’re going, bring rain gear, good (waterproof) footwear, and a change of clothes to stay dry in camp. Breaking out the hammock in lieu of a tent—and getting out of the mud—is also a smart move this time of year.

Any way you look at it though, it’s great to get back out there. Here are some tips on what to look for when selecting a spring backpacking trip.

The warmer lowlands and foothills can offer a reprieve from the snow and ice of the northeast’s mountains. | Credit: John Lepak
The warmer lowlands and foothills can offer a reprieve from the snow and ice of the northeast’s mountains. | Credit: John Lepak

Stay Low

For the high peaks of the Northeast, winter is a very long season where snow, ice, and some nasty chill can hang around until late. Ergo, if spring is what you’re looking for in a backpacking trip, it’s best to stick to lower elevations where the warmer temperatures creep in first. Fortunately, the Northeast boasts more than a few lowland backpacking routes, each with their own degree of natural splendor, rugged wilderness, and physical challenge. Spring will inevitably come for the mountains of the Adirondacks or the Whites, but in the meantime, the valleys are where you can find the change of season.

Cranberry Lake 50, Adirondacks

Located far in the northwestern corner of the Adirondack State Park, Cranberry Lake and its namesake hiking trail offer one of the top lowland wilderness experiences in the Northeast. Ample camping, arresting vistas, and real remoteness make this 50-mile loop hike a legitimate classic. Do it in early spring before the bugs wake up.

Lower Pemigewasset Loop, White Mountains

While the traditional Pemi Loop traverses the great ridges and summits of the Pemigewasset Wilderness, the lowland route—linking the Franconia Brook and Lincoln Brook Trails in an 18-mile loop around Owl’s Head with an overnight at Thirteen Falls Tentsite—is a wild, super remote alternative. Be prepared for a lot of water and know how to make a crossing safely.

Spring reaches the southern ranges like the Catskills, Taconics, and the Berkshires first. | Credit: John Lepak
Spring reaches the southern ranges like the Catskills, Taconics, and the Berkshires first. | Credit: John Lepak

Southern Exposure

Spring’s claim on the region moves from south to north, making landfall along Long Island Sound long before the snow starts to melt in the Great North Woods. This is great news for those hardy lovers of the cold among us, as the combination of elevation and location work to extend the ice climbing and skiing seasons well beyond the calendar’s winter. If that’s not your game, it’s best you turn your eyes to the south: friendlier climates make destinations like the Catskills, the Taconics, and the Poconos perfect for that first big trip of the season.

South Taconic Trail, Taconic Range

Stretching 16 miles along the New York–Massachusetts border, the South Taconic Trail is a gem of a hike all-too-often overlooked by the area’s backpackers. Steep climbs are rewarded with grassy summit balds and panoramic views atop Brace and Alander Mountains, and cool side trips—like the New York–Connecticut–Massachusetts boundary marker and Bash Bish Falls—make for a great weekend outing.

Burroughs Range Traverse, Catskills

Doable as a 10-mile shuttle or a 15-mile loop, the Burroughs Range is a Catskills classic that bags three peaks above 3,500 feet: Wittenberg, Cornell, and the tallest of them all, Slide. The opening climb is steep but gains what’s arguably the best summit view in the region. Beyond that is a rugged ridge walk that includes the Cornell Crack: a fun—and tricky—semi-technical rock obstacle.

Trailside shelters are great for shoulder season hiking when rain and mud tend to be at their worst. | Credit John Lepak
Trailside shelters are great for shoulder season hiking when rain and mud tend to be at their worst. | Credit John Lepak

Seek Shelter

Another excellent way to open the spring hiking season is by zeroing in on trails that have a good network of shelters. Backcountry shelters can vary greatly, from the full service huts of the Appalachian Mountain Club to the humble, trailside lean-to. Lean-tos are typically three-sided structures with a roof—just enough to keep you out of the temperamental early-spring weather and up off of the mud. Even on chillier nights, they can be down right cozy with a tarp lashed over the opening (though you should check with the land manager so make sure this is allowed—In the Adirondacks, closing off lean-tos is forbidden). Shelters are regular occurrences on long-distance trails, so Northeastern stand-bys like the AT is a good place to start.

AT–Mohawk Loop, Connecticut

This scenic hike in Connecticut’s rural Northwest Corner connects the Appalachian Trails of old and new—the blue-blazed Mohawk Trail actually follows the original path of the AT prior to being rerouted west of the Housatonic River in 1970’s—to make a 40-mile loop. The trip is replete with shelters, campsites and stellar views of the Litchfield Hills.

Harriman–Bear Mountain State Parks, Hudson Highlands

Despite being within an hour of New York City, Harriman and Bear Mountain State Parks offer wilderness, an extensive network of trails and abundant shelters fit for overnight trips of any size. Link the AT with the Ramapo–Dunderberg, Long Path, and Red Cross Trails for a 22-mile loop that takes in some of the park’s greatest hits including an incredibly tight scramble, aptly named the “Lemon Squeezer.”

What are your favorite early-season backpacking locations? Let us know in the comments!