Explore Follensby Clear Pond By Canoe

As the days grow longer, the temperature rises, and frozen lakes and ponds return to their liquid state, the serene waters of the Adirondack Mountains beckon the outdoor adventurer to stow away their snowshoes and skis and break out a canoe or kayak for long sunny days of aquatic exploration. Home to over 3,000 lakes and ponds (including classics like the Seven Carries), a paddling destination suited for every taste can be found in the vast Adirondack Park, but for a fine introduction to what backcountry canoe camping in the Adirondacks is all about, head to Follensby Clear Pond in the Saranac Lakes Wild Forest.

Credit: Joey Priola

Finding Camp

While small enough (roughly 1.5 miles from end to end) to explore in a day, the beautiful waterfront campsites, plentiful wildlife, and options for further exploration make Follensby Clear an ideal basecamp to call home for a few days. After launching from the parking area at the south end of Follensby Clear Pond on State Route 30 (where a dock facilitates the loading and unloading of boats), glide through the placid waters as you bid adieu to civilization. Trace the sinuous shoreline, keeping an eye out for herons hunting in the shallows, and scout out the numerous campsites that pepper the shore. Note: The DEC periodically closes campsites and builds new ones in popular locations such as Follensby Clear, so give the regional DEC office a call ahead of time to find out the most up to date status. Contact info and other details and regulations can be found at the Saranac Lakes Wild Forest DEC website.

While the closest campsites are a mere stone’s throw from the parking lot, press on to the quieter northern half of the lake to avoid most of the day-tripper traffic and to discover primo island campsites (including one of the only lean-tos in the area) as well as a large and beautiful campsite on a peninsula that extends from the western shore in the north end of the pond. All campsites are first come, first served and have an outhouse or open-air “thunderbox” as well as a fire ring, but no picnic table or food storage lockers. While bear canisters aren’t necessarily required in the Saranac Lakes Wild Forest, they’re highly recommended to avoid having pesky rodents and raccoons getting into your food bag, even if it has been expertly hung.

Credit: Joey Priola

Side Trips

Once camp is established, spend your days either lounging around camp or heading out to some of the enticing destinations that make for perfect daytrips from camp.

Horseshoe and Polliwog Pond

For a half-day loop that visits three additional ponds and has very short portages, find the portage trail on the west side of Follensby Clear, located about midway up the pond and just southwest of the island that has the lean-to campsite. Take the short portage trail down to the landing at the eastern corner of lovely Horseshoe Pond and explore the interesting peninsula (complete with a killer campsite) that can be seen across the pond from the landing. After enjoying the solitude of Horseshoe Pond, paddle to the northwest corner of the pond to make the short portage to small and boggy Little Polliwog Pond. The portage trail intersects with the Horseshoe Pond Trail, which makes for a nice leg stretcher and heads north to Polliwog Pond or south back to Horseshoe Pond. Once on Little Polliwog Pond, paddle northeast to the downhill portage trail to much larger Polliwog Pond and take your time exploring Polliwog as you work your way to the northeast corner of the pond and the short portage trail back to Follensby Clear Pond.

Fish Creek Ponds to Upper Saranac Lake

For a longer, seven-plus mile excursion from Follensby Clear that’s best saved for a calm day, paddle back towards the launch site at the southern end of Follensby Clear and carefully work your way along the shallow creek that’s just east of the launch site and parking area. This creek section of the paddle is short but in late summer may require a wet carry through some shallow sections, so dress accordingly. After entering the east side of Fish Creek Ponds, head south to the channel that leads east to Fish Creek Bay on Upper Saranac Lake (be aware of motorboat traffic, particularly on summer weekends). Continue paddling east out of the bay, and if the weather is calm, continue to Buck Island and its interesting shoreline dotted with campsites and perfect picnic spots on sunny rock slabs. Return the way you came to arrive back at Follensby Clear.

Credit: Joey Priola

Whether the day has been spent paddling to distant waters or relaxing at camp, there’s no finer way to end a wonderful day on the water than by taking a dip and laying out in the sun to dry. As night approaches, light up a campfire and listen to it crackle as the haunting call of loons echoes across the lake, quite possibly the most Adirondack way to cap off an exhilarating day of paddling in the vast Adirondack wilderness.


The 6 Northeast Backpacking Classics that Should be on Your List This Summer

High, alpine summits, pristine waterways, and dense, impenetrable forests—for a region as densely populated as the Northeast, there is plenty of wilderness available to keep even the most avid hiker busy for a while. In the parks, preserves, and forests of New England and New York, it seems the trailheads are endless—and while the day hiking of these places are in their own right spectacular, the real gems are accessed with a couple of days, a solid pack, and a readiness to put in some work. Here are some must-do classic backpacking trips that you should put on your list this summer.

The view from Gothics looking toward the heart of the Great Range. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Great Range Traverse

Often described as one of the Northeast’s tougher routes, with more than 9,000 feet of elevation gain in over 20 miles, the Great Range Traverse in New York State’s Adirondack Mountains is as classic as it gets. Over its course, the Great Range Traverse climbs eight 4,000-plus-foot summits—including Mount Marcy, New York’s highest—and offers unrivaled, wide-open views of the vast High Peaks wilderness. Often attempted as a single day outing, the Great Range Traverse is dotted with campsites and is best approached as a multi-day outing, leaving time to savor the absolutely magnificent setting.

Looking back over the Lakes of the Clouds to Mount Washington. | Credit: John Lepak

Presidential Traverse

It’s hard to imagine a more revered or sought-after northeast backpacking trip than the Presidential Traverse. It’s 21.7 miles (thru-hike-style) follow the high ridge of New Hampshire’s Presidential Range through a sustained and airy alpine zone, summiting eight 4,000-foot mountains—including the inimitable Mount Washington, the Northeast’s highest—in the process. It’s not uncommon to do a Presi Traverse in a day, but the huts of the Randolph Mountain Club and the Appalachian Mountain Club provide plenty of options to stretch the trip or to wait out the range’s notoriously harsh weather, making it ideal as a 2 to 3 day trip.

A Catskills sunset as seen from Orchard Point on the Devil’s Path. | Credit: John Lepak

Devil’s Path

With an ominous moniker and a reputation to match, the Devil’s Path in New York’s Catskill Mountains, is as challenging as it is classic. Despite their relatively low elevation, the Catskills are known to be steep and rocky—in its 25 miles (as a loop), the Devil’s Path gains more than 8,000 feet in elevation. Add to that the absolute dearth of water in high summer, and you’ve got yourself a real task at hand. It’s not all hard times though—plentiful backcountry campsites, stellar views, and a genuine wilderness round this trip out as an definite must-do, again ideal for a weekend or long weekend.

A view deep into the Pemigewasset Wilderness. | Credit: John Lepak

Pemigewasset Loop

Affectionately known as “the Pemi Loop,” this circuit hike traces an incredible 28-mile loop around the western half of the Pemigewasset Wilderness, accessing some of the White Mountains’ highest, most coveted ridgelines, including the soaring, airy Franconia Ridge and the wild, remote Bonds. The gains are stiff but the payoff—at least 10 of the region’s 4,000-foot summits and the views that come along with them—is more than worth the effort. And though it can be done in a day as a burly trail run (not-so-affectionately known as the “Pemi Death March”), the Pemi Loop is best savored, as a 2- to 3-day backpacking trip, taking advantage of the numerous, well-spaced-out campsites and huts to enjoy everything the wilderness has to offer.

Sweeping views from the Monroe Skyline section of the Long Trail. | Credit: John Lepak

Monroe Skyline

Vermont’s Long Trail is doubtless on the bucket list of hikers all over the northeast, but it’s 272 rugged miles—following the high ridge of the Green Mountains from Massachusetts all the way up to the Canadian border—may be a bit ambitious for a long weekend. Fortunately, the best of the LT can be found in the Monroe Skyline, a 47.5 mile (one-way) segment that tops three 4,000-foot peaks and several lower ones that—like the open summit of Burnt Rock Mountain—offer some of Vermont’s finest vistas. Being a long-distance trail, the LT is dotted with well-spaced shelters—perfect for a couple days out in the woods. The route is best done in 4 or 5 days.

Courtesy: Haley Blevins

100 Mile Wilderness

In the Great North Woods of Maine, as the Appalachian Trail nears its northern terminus at Katahdin, there is a 100-mile stretch of trail undisturbed by paved or public roads. The 100 Mile Wilderness is as remote a backpacking experience as there is in New England and, should you find yourself there early or late in the season, may be one of the last places in the northeast to find true solitude in nature. This may be a bit heavy for a few-days’ hiking—despite the low elevation relative to others on this list, the hiking can be rugged and most folks complete this section in 10 days or so. The trail is crossed at points by logging roads, including the Kokadjo-B Pond Road near its midpoint, enabling time-pressed hikers to tackle a “half-a-wilderness.”


The Gear You Need to Climb Mount Marcy in the Winter

For a winter adventure that’s equal parts unforgettable and challenging, it’s hard to beat a winter ascent of Mount Marcy in the Adirondack High Peaks. Checking in at an elevation of 5,344 feet, Mount Marcy is the highest peak in New York and offers commanding views of the surrounding mountains, lakes, and valleys in all directions. With over 3,000 feet of elevation gain and a round-trip distance of nearly 15 miles via the shortest route to the summit, Mount Marcy makes for a long and challenging hike any time of year, but especially in winter when the temperature drops, the wind howls, and the days are short. Along with possessing the necessary fitness and knowledge, having the proper gear is paramount to completing a winter summit bid not only successfully, but also safely. In addition to common essentials such as a winter hat, gloves/mittens, snowshoes, and waterproof (and possibly insulated) hiking boots, the following 10 gear items are critical for any winter climb of Marcy.

Traction: EMS Ice Talons

Proper traction in winter is absolutely essential, and it seems like every winter weekend an unprepared hiker in bare boots (or even tennis shoes) slips and gets hurt in the High Peaks. With the amount of snow and ice varying from week to week in the winter, as well as with elevation, it’s wise to be prepared for hiking in both deep powder and ice-coated rock slabs on any winter ascent of Marcy. Even when the trail leading to the final summit approach is covered in feet of fluffy snow, the exposed, wind-swept rock slabs that comprise the summit dome are often largely devoid of powdery snow and are instead coated in a thick layer of ice. Snowshoes are typically too clunky and don’t offer sufficient traction for such terrain, but this is where traction devices such as the EMS Ice Talons really shine. Lighter and much more user-friendly than classic crampons, the EMS Ice Talons will allow you to confidently and safely navigate the rime ice and crunchy snow that will almost certainly be encountered below Marcy’s summit.

Trekking Poles: Leki Makalu Lite Cor Tec

The use of trekking poles while hiking is largely a personal decision, but they can be especially handy on a winter ascent of Marcy. In addition to alleviating some lower body stress (especially on the knees while descending), trekking poles can provide critical stability on the exposed final summit push where the wind can be so strong it can throw off your balance and sometimes even knock you on your feet. For hiking in powdery snow, be sure to put some wider baskets at the end of the trekking poles. Similar in concept to snowshoes, broader winter baskets give trekking poles better flotation in deep snow.

Snow Goggles

Snow googles will serve two purposes on this hike. For one thing, they’ll keep your eyelids from freezing shut if the summit is windy (which it often is) and snow is blowing in the air. Secondly, most snow goggles also act as sunglasses to protect against snow blindness, which can occur when unprotected eyes are subjected to extended periods of bright sunshine reflecting off of white snow. While you might be able to get away with using typical sunglasses for eye protection on calm days, mountain weather is unpredictable and winds can whip up in an instant, making snow goggles a prudent accessory to toss in your pack for a winter climb of Marcy.

Wicking Base Layer: EMS Lightweight Synthetic Base Layer Tights and Crewneck Long Sleeve Shirt

Sweating too much while hiking in the winter is one sure-fire way to get into a dangerous, hypothermic situation. Dressing in layers is essential for regulating body temperature, and it all starts with the next-to-skin base layer. Choosing a base layer material that’s wicking and quick-drying is key, and the old adage “cotton kills” comes to mind here. Unlike cotton, which takes a long time to dry once it’s wet and will sap your body of heat, it’s best to utilize synthetic materials or merino wool when choosing a base layer. The EMS Lightweight Synthetic Base Layer tights and crewneck long sleeve, for example, are made of moisture-wicking and quick-drying 100% polyester, which will pull perspiration away from the body to better regulate body temperature and prevent a bone-chilling cold to set in, especially while stopping for a break.

More: How to Dress While Snowshoeing

Credit: Joey Priola

Outdoor Research Skyward II Pants and Outdoor Research Interstellar Jacket

Being at the highest elevation in the state comes with some of the harshest weather in the Northeast. For protection against wind, precipitation, and trudging through deep snow, a breathable outer layer that’s wind and water-proof is key. Pants such as the Skyward II, and a jacket such as the Interstellar (both from Outdoor Research) help form a protective barrier between you and the harsh winter elements, especially when in the exposed alpine zone.

Gaiters: Outdoor Research Crocodile Gaiters

Wet, cold feet are likely the most common complaint among people new to winter hiking. In addition to hiking in sturdy and waterproof boots, gaiters are the best accessory to ensure that feet stay dry and toasty, and are worth their weight in gold on hikes through deep snow. Gaiters effectively cover boot tops and prevent snow from getting in, even when hiking through waist-deep snow. The Outdoor Research Crocodile gaiters are the classic, gold-standard gaiter for winter hiking, and come with a Gore-Tex membrane to ensure that the gaiters don’t wet-out even in slushy conditions.

Credit: Joey Priola

Socks: EMS X-Static Sock Liners and Smartwool Women’s PhD Pro Medium Crew Socks

Continuing with the keeping feet warm and dry theme, choosing the right socks can be the difference between a safe and comfortable hike and a painful and dangerous slog. Just as the aforementioned base layers for your upper and lower body help manage sweat and regulate body temperature, use a thin pair of synthetic liner socks like the EMS X-Static Sock Liners help to pull perspiration away from the foot to prevent cold and clammy feet. Following up the liner sock with a mid-weight sock such as the Smartwool PhD Pro adds extra insulation without overheating.

Down Jacket: EMS Men’s Feather Pack Hooded Jacket

As previously mentioned, layering clothing is critical in winter. A warm yet lightweight insulated jacket should always be in your pack in winter, and will come in handy while stopping to take a snack break and for braving the exposed alpine zone on the final approach to Marcy’s summit. Down offers an optimal warmth-to-weight ratio, and modern down jackets such as the EMS Feather Pack Hooded Jacket now offer water-repellent down which retains its insulation value even in wet conditions.

More: How to Choose the Right Jacket for Winter Adventures

Credit: Joey Priola

Headlamp: Petzl Tikka

Short winter days coupled with a nearly 15 mile round-trip hike means that part of your hike will likely be spent in the dark. Packing a headlamp (and spare batteries) such as the Petzl Tikka will help keep the trail illuminated and you safe when it’s dark out.

Insulated Water Bottle: Camelbak Carry Cap 32 oz Insulated Stainless Steel Bottle

Staying properly hydrated is always important while hiking, but no matter how much water you carry, it won’t do you any good if it’s frozen. Boiling water before the hike and keeping water bottles inside your backpack is typically good enough to keep water from freezing on a day hike, but an insulated water bottle or thermos such as the Camelbak Carry Cap 32 oz Insulated Stainless Steel Bottle will eliminate any doubt that your beverage of choice will be in a liquid state when you need it.


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

Why I Hike on Weekdays

I pulled into the trailhead at around 9 a.m. and I could hardly believe my eyes: The scene that opened up before me was not a sea of parked cars crammed into every last nook, as I had become so used to seeing here. It was an open expanse, dotted with only two other vehicles. 

This was the Garden Trailhead in the heart of the Adirondack High Peaks, after all, where arriving any time after 6 a.m. was usually a lost cause. But not today, because after years of trying to beat the weekend rush, I was doing something revolutionary: hiking on a Thursday.

Okay, so maybe revolutionary is too strong a word. But since I’ve started working for myself and making my own schedule, hiking on weekdays has totally transformed my adventure experience for the better. And I’m convinced that everyone should try to make weekday hiking a more frequent part of their rotation.

Reason 1: Hitting the Snooze Button

The most obvious benefit of hiking on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays—safely separated from weekenders—is the lack of traffic. This is no small thing, especially in the Adirondacks. The summer of Covid-19 brought a rush of hikers the likes of which northern New York state has never seen. It was a new high-water mark after years of suffocating crowds in the High Peaks region, which regularly leads to overflowing trailheads on weekends.

My tactic for avoiding this mess had always been a matter of timing: How early could I manage to roll out of bed and hit the road? It wasn’t uncommon for my alarm to go off at 4 or even 3 a.m. Keep in mind, I only live two hours from most trailheads in the Adirondacks.

While I did derive a certain amount of pride from my hardcore hiking schedule, shifting my outings to weekdays has been a complete delight. Now I often don’t even leave my apartment until 7:30 a.m., without a worry in the world about finding a parking spot. 

Reason 2: A Softer Step

Enough about traveling to the trailhead. Hiking on weekdays is much better when you’re on the trail, too.

For one, I often go entire days without encountering another person. That gives me a real sense of solitude and space to let my mind decompress, especially in constantly-stressful Covid times. I can listen to the snow crunch under my boots, and marvel at the drooping branches encased in snow and ice.

Being mostly alone on the trails also helps reduce the trampling effect of large crowds who increasingly swarm popular mountains on the weekend. (For reference, about 34,500 people hiked Cascade Mountain in 2016, compared to 12,000 in 2010.) That overuse has contributed to soil loss, erosion and damage to natural vegetation, and highlighted the need for many trails to be rebuilt to handle higher capacity.

It’s not that I haven’t contributed to this problem — I’ve done many a weekend group hike in peak season. But now that Covid has totally reshaped how and when I hike, I can be one less set of boots beating down on the trails during the busiest times, which means I have fewer people to get around (potentially widening trails), can spread out a little bit more at the popular overlooks, and without a pile of cars overflowing onto shoulders and unintended parking areas, there’s less erosion to worry about near the road. 

How You Can Hike on Weekdays

This is great and all, but I realize most people’s work schedule doesn’t allow for hiking on any day they desire. Still, I think there are opportunities to shift even a fraction of your outings away from the weekends. 

Here’s one simple way: Burn some of that vacation time you’ve been hoarding throughout the pandemic. There’s no certainty about when you might be able to hop on a plane again, or go visit your favorite city. But what’s stopping you from taking a day or two off in the middle of the week, jumping in the car and taking a hike?

You can also think about taking advantage of weekday holidays. Especially in the time of Covid, when traditional holiday gatherings are all but out of the question, why not celebrate in a new way by visiting your favorite mountain? I’m willing to bet experiencing it without the rush of weekend crowds will make you love it even more.

It may be harder to carve out room for a weekday hike, but the benefits are so worth it. Once you’re out there enjoying a trail practically to yourself, you’ll be determined to make it happen again.


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

10 Ways To Ease the Stress on Busy Trails

In recent months, more and more people have been turning to the outdoors for fun. While it’s great to see so many people hiking and trail running, it’s also stretching resources and threatening delicate landscapes across the Northeast, especially at popular destinations like the White Mountains and Adirondacks. Luckily, there are steps you can take to minimize your impact on these well-loved places. Here are 10 great ways to ease the stress on busy trails.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

1. Choose Less-Popular Objectives

The summits of New Hampshire’s 48 4,000-footers and the Adirondacks’ 46 High Peaks will always draw a crowd. However, lesser-known summits like those on the 52 With a View deliver spectacular scenery, often without the crowds and elevation gain. If you just have to bag a 4,000-footer, try tagging one that most people avoid or one that doesn’t count toward the NH48.

2. Pick Less-Popular Routes 

Trails like Franconia Ridge and the Crawford Path are always popular destinations, but there are plenty of excellent trails that the masses overlook—many of which take you to the same coveted summit. Get off the beaten path and take the trail less-traveled to popular summits, or open your mind to a new type of adventure with a trip like Guy’s Slide.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

3. Travel Farther  

There’s a reason some mountains are busier than others—it often has to due to their proximity to people and ease of summiting. Selecting destinations that are off the beaten path—whether it’s a parking lot or summit—is a great way to find some peace and quiet in the mountains.

4. Plan for Flexibility 

It’s tough to tell how busy the trails are from your home—after all, you’re a hiker, not a mind reader—so always have a Plan B in place. The great thing about places like the White Mountains is the abundance of trails and peaks close together, which allows you to consider multiple trips from the same general area so you can quickly pivot in the event of an unexpectedly busy trail.

5. Pass Responsibly 

The current climate is a delicate balance between the long-term health of the trails and the health of their users. Staying six feet apart isn’t easy on busy, narrow trails, but stepping off of them disrupts ecosystems and can lead to widening and erosion—especially in above-treeline alpine zones. Keep your eyes peeled for other users, both ahead of and behind you, and try to step aside when the trail widens, or onto rocks or more durable surfaces. If you need to step aside, simply step off and wait rather than hiking outside the boundary of the trail and potentially widening it.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

6. Let The Trails Dry 

Normally, a rainy-day hike is one of the greta joys of the late summer, but with more people getting out, it might be best for the trails to dry out and full recover before being pounded by boots. Wait a day or two after it rains to avoid creating deep footprints, ruts, or doing other damage to water-compromised trails. Look for more durable trails—either paved or rocky—for your wet-weather adventures.

7. Practice Responsible Behaviors 

With so many hikers and trail runners in the mountains, it’s more important than ever to practice responsible behaviors in the mountains—both to reduce your impact and to serve as a role model for newer hikers. Understand and follow seven principles of Leave No Trace:

  • Plan ahead and prepare
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces
  • Dispose of waste properly
  • Leave what you find
  • Minimize campfire impacts
  • Respect wildlife
  • Be considerate of other visitors
Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

8. Clean Up After Others

There are a lot of new hikers hitting the trails these days and they’re not all familiar with practices like Leave No Trace. While we can’t all become rangers, we can help minimize the impact of other hikers by picking up some of the trash that’s becoming an increasingly common sight on the trail. Pack a ziplock bag and collect wrappers, gel packets, and bottle caps that you come across. Picking up someone else’s trash with your hands sound gross? Try tucking a few rubber gloves in the hip pocket of your pack.

9. Bathroom Basics 

Hikers in the Whites have long benefited from the presence of the AMC’s huts for everything from refilling water bottles to a quick snack. The huts are also a convenient place to go to the bathroom. While they are closed, it’s always better to pack a wag bag and carry your waste out—the less we leave behind the better, especially as more and more people start digging cathodes. If that’s not an option, carry a toilet kit (trowel, TP, used TP bag, and hand sanitizer), make sure to “go” at least 200 feet from the trail and 200 feet from a water source, dig a hole at least six inches deep to go in, and cover the hole when you’re done.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

10. Give Back 

Many outdoor organizations are under-staffed and under-funded—leaving them stretched thin. From gifting your time by volunteering to work on a trail crew to making a monetary donation, every little bit helps. Additionally, while you’re out on the trails, be conscious of the little things you can do to help out, like removing downed branches that are blocking the path, keeping drainage ditches free of debris, and sticking to the main trail instead of the numerous side paths that have developed over the last several months.

With so many people discovering (or rediscovering) the outdoors, it’s an extremely exciting time for activities like hiking and trail running. By taking a few simple steps, we can help preserve these important spaces for the future.


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

It Can't Happen Here: 12 Myths About Northeast Avalanches

Many people believe that avalanches are a problem reserved for skiers and climbers recreating “out west.” However, unstable snowpacks and avy-prone slopes can be found throughout the East Coast’s mountain ranges. Read on for why you should be upping your avalanche awareness this winter.

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1. Myth: Avalanches Only Happen in the Presidentials

In 2018, Aaron Rice (the skier who famously climbed and skied 2.5 million vertical feet in 2016), triggered an avalanche in Vermont’s Smugglers’ Notch. Just days later, six soldiers in the Vermont National Guard were caught in a slide. In February of that same year, a skier was buried up to their waist in an avalanche on Wright Peak in the Adirondacks. Stories abound about recreationalists getting caught in avalanches in the Northeast, inside and out of the Whites. Here’s one about Trap Dike. And here’s another tidbit about two other avalanches in the ’Daks in February 2019. Just because you’re not in Tuckerman Ravine doesn’t mean you should let your guard down.

2. Myth: East Coast Avalanches Aren’t Fatal

The East Coast makes up only a small percentage of the fatalities caused by avalanches nationwide. With that said, even one death is too many. The past decade has seen two avalanche-caused fatalities in the East: one was a skier descending Raymond Cataract and the other was a climber in Pinnacle Gully. The right terrain (which the East has plenty of), plus the right snow conditions (which we also get), mixed with a lack of education and bad luck can definitely be fatal.

3. Myth: Eastern Avalanches are Only Deadly to Those Out Alone 

Although only solo travelers have been the victims of deadly avalanches on the East Coast in recent years, groups have not escaped fatalities resulting from avalanches. In 1996, two skiers were killed by an avalanche in Mount Washington’s Gulf of Slides. In 2000, one skier was killed and three others buried by an avalanche on Wright Peak in the Adirondacks. Groups are no less likely to cause avalanches, but if the members of a group are well-trained, they have the ability to rescue a buried friend. Soloists have no such luxury.

Credit: Jamie Walter
Credit: Jamie Walter

4. Myth: I’m With A Guide, It’s All Good 

According to the Utah Avalanche Center, avalanche professionals are far less likely to perish in an avalanche when compared to other users—less than 1 percent of all avalanche fatalities involve avalanche professionals. Having said that, a popular saying is that the avalanche does not know you are an expert! Last year, two AIARE certified Level 3s and one AIARE certified Pro 1 were caught in a slide in Oakes Gulf. Everyone makes mistakes and must practice the same good decision making.

5. Myth: I’m Experienced, I’ve Planned Well, I’m Safe

John Steinbeck said, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” This is especially true with avalanches on the East Coast. You can take all the AIARE classes, read the avalanche reports, and have years of experience in avalanche terrain and still get caught just like the Ski The East team did on a trip to the Chic-Chocs. Vigilance is equally important at all experience levels.

6. Myth: Accidents Only Catch Unlucky Skiers and Climbers 

There are a lot of things in life outside of our control, but more often than not getting caught in an avalanche isn’t the result of bad luck. More than 90 percent of avalanche accidents are triggered either by the victim or someone in the victim’s party, and most could have been avoided by better decision making.

7. Myth: The East’s Comparatively Minute Snowpack Makes Avalanches Less Deadly

The East Coast may not have the dense snowpack of the west, but we do have an abundance of trees and rocks. While asphyxia is the primary cause of death of avalanche victims, trauma accounts for about a quarter of avalanche fatalities.

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8. Myth: Mount Washington Is Home to the Only Avalanche Center East of the Rockies

The Mount Washington Avalanche Center is the only US avalanche center east of the Rockies, but it’s not the only avalanche center in the Northeast. As anyone who’s visited the powder playground above the US border knows, Avalanche Quebec provides forecasts for the Chic-Chocs and has the distinction of being the only avalanche center east of the Rockies in Canada. But as we’ve seen, just because someplace like the Adirondacks or Green Mountains doesn’t have an avalanche center, doesn’t mean they are immune to avalanches. It just means you’re going to need to use your own judgement.

9. Myth: “Everything Will Be Fine, We’re On An Established Hiking Trail” 

Trails that seem simple in the summer, can be more complicated in the winter. Even if they don’t cross an avalanche path directly, they may sit below one, or travel in a gully or other terrain trap. Some trails, like the route up Lion Head on Mount Washington, transition to a winter route when the summer route is deemed to be too risky. But if you’re traveling the summer route before the switch is made, make good decisions.

That being said, as one university outing group recently found out the hard way, it’s easy to get off trail in the winter and stumble into avalanche terrain, even on the Lion Head Winter Route. Their adventures are touched on toward the end of these reports (1, 2) from the MWAC.

10. Myth: Avalanches Strike Without Warning 

The vast majority of avalanches provide warning signs well before they slide—cracks forming around your foot or ski as you move through the snow, a “whumping” sound coming from the snowpack, and signs of recent avvy activity all are indicators of avalanche potential (though you may only have seconds warning in some cases). So, too, are recent snowfall and visible plumes of blowing snow (which is a sign that the areas where the snow stops are loading up). Learn to recognize the signs by taking an American Institute of Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) class.

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11. Myth: Packing an Avalanche Beacon, Probe, and Shovel Makes You Safe

Avalanche tools such as a beacon, probe, and shovel go a long way toward increasing your safety in avalanche terrain; however, a tool is only as good as the person wielding it. Studies show that 93% of avalanche victims are recovered alive if they are dug out within the first 15 minutes of burial, but the likelihood of survival diminishes significantly after that. The safest bet is to avoid getting buried, but practicing and familiarizing yourself with your beacon, probe, and shovel can mean the difference between life and death. Again, taking an AIARE class includes education for using these tools.

12. Myth: Ice Climbers are Safe if They’re Not Climbing in the Ravines

Popular ice climbing destinations like Shoestring Gully, Willeys Slide, and Mount Willard’s South Face have all avalanched in the past. So have some of the longer gullies on Mount Webster. Looking for an example? Check out S. Peter Lewis’ and Dave Horowitz’s recounting of one such avalanche on Mount Willard’s Cinema Gully in their classic Selected Climbs in the Northeast. Fortunately for them, everything turned out okay.

 

Hopefully that busts a few East Coast myths for you. When you’re out in the field this winter, keep an eye out for red flags like recent snowfall, signs of snowpack instability (whumping, collapsing, and shooting cracks), rapid warming, wind loading, and signs of recent avalanches. And take an AIARE class from EMS Schools to get you up to speed on safe decision making in avalanche terrain. You may not have realized how much we have in the East.


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.