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

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

11 Tips to Coexist with Bears in the Adirondacks and Elsewhere

Across the Northeast, black bear populations and encounters are on the rise. In fact, the number of bears has more than doubled in New England since the turn of the century. As a result, conflicts between people and bears are becoming more commonplace, especially when humans head into the bear’s environment: The woods.

While black bears get a bad rap from their interactions from humans, they are typically only in search of food, and tend to be solitary, shy creatures more afraid of humans than we are of them. So how do we limit our interactions with, keep ourselves safe, and keep the bears safe?

Courtesy: Eric Kilby
Courtesy: Eric Kilby

1. Take a Bear Canister

Erin Hanczyk of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) recommends taking a bear canister on your next backpacking or camping trip. “Bear hangs aren’t working like they used to,” she says. Hanczyk recommends canisters similar to the COUNTER ASSAULT Bear Resistant Food Keg as other models have been ineffective against bears, particularly in the High Peaks.

Bears have a powerful nose and are motivated by food, so any products with a strong scent, including food, toiletries, bug spray, garbage, food waste, and more should be kept in the canister. In order to fit everything in, minimize the food you’re bringing, remove extra packaging material when possible, and leave space for waste and garbage. Pack the canister ahead of time to assure it all fits and you know how it properly locks!

2. A Fed Bear is a Dead Bear

Don’t feed bears, intentionally or inadvertently. For one, intentional feeding of black bears is illegal. But bears are quick learners and have strong memory; Males will often travel dozens of miles to past feeding areas and they will repeat maneuvers that have led to food in the past (i.e., if people feed them). Don’t help them habituate to easily preventable behavior, because euthanasia is a dramatic last resort.

3. Know the Lay of the Land

A little research and preparation will go a long way as you plan for your trip. Just as you seek trail conditions for your destination, knowing whether there are bear advisories or bear-proof food storage lockers at the campsite is important information. The visitors center of the park or the state wildlife department (which generally is responsible for bear management) will often have the details you are looking for.

4. Consider the Bear’s Calendar

Bears will travel further and take bolder actions when food is sparser, such as in early spring, or in late summer and fall, particularly during years of poor berry and nut yields and during draughts.

Bears tend to arouse from a long slumber between March and April, and during their hibernation they lose between 20 and 40 percent of their weight, so you can imagine they are quite hungry at this time of year. Pay particular caution to newborn cubs around May as the highly protective (and hungry) mother is likely close by. Mating season typically occurs between mid-June and mid-July, when males can be more aggressive.

5. Hike During Daylight Hours

Bears are most active at dawn and dusk. They may be around during the daylight hours too, though they are rarely active at night (except during breeding season, between mid-June and mid-July). Take this into account as you come around bends in the sidelong light or greet the first rays of the day.

6. Cook Earlier in the Evening

For the same reason as above, you don’t want all those lovely dinner smells wafting in the air just as bears are rousing into their most active time of day. Hanczyk urges campers to cook between 4 or 5 p.m. and to be cleaned up before dark.

“We’ve had examples of bears circling campers while they are cooking [later in the evening],” notes Hanczyk.

7. Use the Camp Triangle

The idea is to keep a distance of at least 100 feet between the three points of your camp: the sleeping area, cooking site, and where you store your bear canister overnight. This will help separate those savory smells and drippings, as well as your food stores, from your sleepy bed head. Hanczyk recommends putting the bear canister behind the bathroom facility, which reduces visibility for a passing bear.

8. Cook Only What You Need

Be conservative with your ingredients so as to avoid leftovers, only take out the food you plan on cooking with, and keep everything else in your bear canister. Make sure not to leave your meal unattended as a watching bear may use that as an uninvited opening to steal your meal.

9. Keep a Clean Campsite

Again, bears are attracted to the scent of food, so you want to keep your sleeping area clean of smelly smells. Don’t keep food or scented items (such as toiletry products) in your tent and avoid wearing the clothing you prepared your meals in to bed. After cooking, clean your pots and pans, and strain your water to filter out food particles—Put the bits in your trash bag to be kept in your bear canister. Disperse the leftover waste water away from your cooking station. If you are at a campground, take all garbage and recyclables to on-site receptacles each evening. Lastly, don’t put grease, food scraps, garbage, or other refuse into the fireplace as the items will not properly burn and may attract bears with their odor.

Courtesy: NYSDEC
Courtesy: NYSDEC

10. Keep an Eye Out

While you hike, pay attention to bear signs such as tracks and prints, tree markings, and scat. Bears have broad footprints about 4 to 7 inches wide with all 5 toes and claws typically showing. Claw marks can be found on tree trunks with parallel lines that gouge the bark or look for saplings that are broken partway up the trunk. Their scat is typically dark brown, tubular, and contains seeds or grass.

11. Don’t Leave Packs Unattended

Want to check out that vista 0.3 miles down the side trail? You will want to think twice about leaving your pack behind if you do, and no, it’s not because humans might get to it. Bears have been known to take stashed packs. Easy pickings.

What To Do If You Encounter A Black Bear

Black bears may react aggressively if they feel threatened, so avoid startling, approaching or surrounding them. In an area with known encounters, make noise such as clapping or talking loudly as you hike to try and alert bears of your presence. If hiking in a group, stay together.

If you do encounter a bear don’t run. Running can trigger their predator instinct, and they can reach speeds up to 32 miles an hour. That is not a footrace you will win. If the bear doesn’t see you, slowly back away, keeping your eyes on the bear.

Bears tend to be more curious than aggressive so if a bear does see you, your first action should be to stop, stay composed, raise your arms to make yourself look bigger, speak in a loud and calm voice, then slowly back away. If a bear stands on its hind legs, it is most likely trying to get a better view, it is not typically a combative posture. If the bear approaches you, again, don’t run, and avoid throwing your backpack or food at an approaching bear. That may condition bears to approach future hikers in the hopes of acquiring food.

If a bear charges you, stand your ground and dispense bear spray if you have it. If the bear makes contact with you, your best bet is to fight back with whatever you have at hand. But, especially in the East, those situations are exceedingly rare and it’s easiest to try and avoid that situation in the first place.


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!


How to Hike During Mud Season in the 'Daks

The valleys and lower elevation mountains are starting to thaw, the grass is starting to appear again, and things are starting to warm up. All tell-tale signs that mud season is here.

In the Adirondacks, we know this also means that trails will soon be a lot more crowded. In the last few years, the number of people who want to get outside in the Adirondacks has steadily increased, and for good reason: It’s beautiful! Total visitors in the Adirondack Park has risen from 10 million in 2001 to more than 12.4 million in 2018. Of that, 88 percent of visitors come to the Adirondacks to hike, so we may see a record number of hikers this year.

But right now, just as hikers are awakening from winter hoping to get out and enjoy the trails, the trails are at the height of their vulnerability. Between mid-April and early June when the snow melts and the spring rain begins, the ground is still semi-frozen and it causes muddy conditions that cause irreparable damage to trails as people trek across them.

The good news is that there are a few things that you can do to stay on the trails this spring without damaging them.

EMS-Burlington-0820

Follow Leave No Trace

The best way you can help protect your public lands is to Leave No Trace. Following the first principle—Plan Ahead and Prepare—will help you follow the other six, keep you safe, and protect the wild place you’re visiting:

  • Research your trip ahead of time, overestimate the difficulty of a hike, consider the needs of everyone in your group
  • Know the rules and regulations of the land you are visiting. Lots of public lands and specific trails are seasonally closed to hikers to prevent damage.
  • Check the weather and trail conditions before you go so you can pack and dress accordingly.

Walk Through, Not Around Mud

Wearing waterproof shoes will make sure that you’re always comfortably able to walk through, not around mud, preventing trail damage.

When hikers step through flat areas with insufficient drainage, it makes a mud pit. Then hikers tend to step around a mud pit, making the mud pit even larger, and larger. Then hikers will step around the mud pit, and trample vegetation around the trail, creating “herd paths”. Then these herd paths become muddy themselves and the cycle continues. Make sure to stay on the trail to prevent trails from widening needlessly.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Choose Your Hikes Carefully

Steep trails with thin soils are the most at risk for damage during this time of year, so picking a trail at lower elevation is the best thing you can do to help reduce your impact. A south-facing trail is generally a good pick because the trails are drier.

Near the High Peaks Region, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation suggests a few alternatives that will give you a great experience, without compromising the trails. These other hikes would also make great springtime alternatives. Or, for a different, less crowded experience, try one of the many low elevation loop trails in the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness, Cranberry Lake Wild Forest, or West Canada Lake Wilderness.

 

In the Adirondacks, we generally use this time of year to let the trails rest and plan our adventures for the next season. But if you must itch the hiking scratch and enjoy the Adirondacks, please do so responsibly.  


Alpha Guide: Great Range Traverse

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

With eight high peaks and 10 summits overall, breathtaking views, and rugged mountain trails, the Great Range Traverse is one of the toughest, yet most rewarding hikes in the Northeast.

The Great Range Traverse (or GRT) is undoubtedly part of the conversation around the toughest (and most rewarding) hikes in the Northeast. With a substantial hiking distance, a very solid elevation gain of over 9,000 feet, and covering miles of trail that take you through a variety of landscapes, this line along one of the ‘Daks most picturesque and rugged ranges is a life list item equal to the Presidential Traverse or Katahdin’s Knife Edge. Only one summit that you’ll cover doesn’t offer a view, and when you bag eight 4,000-footers and a shorter mountain with gorgeous viewpoints for most of the hike, you’ll quickly and easily lose yourself further into nature with every step. From dirt and roots to wet rocks, ladders, and cable routes, this hike truly has it all.

Quick Facts

Distance: 21.3 miles, point-to-point thru-hike
Time to Complete: 1-3 days
Difficulty: ★★★★★
Scenery:★★★★★


Season: Year-round (Snow November through May)
Fees/Permits: $10 shuttle from the Marcy Field Parking Lot
Contact: http://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/5265.html

Download file: Great_Range_Traverse.gpx

Turn-By-Turn

Start from the Roostercomb Trailhead (44.185454, -73.786723), on route 73 in Keene Valley. From Exit 30 on the Northway, you will head west on 73 for approximately 10 miles, and the parking lot will be on your left. Arrive early, as parking spaces tend to fill up quick, and parking alongside the road can be dangerous to yourself and others and result in a ticket. Also, arriving early is important because this hike will most likely take at least 12 hours to complete. The earlier you start, the earlier you will finish!

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

Starting off climbing.

Even the beginning section of the GRT isn’t all that easy, with a very steady elevation gain (1,750 feet in total) from the parking lot to the summit of the Roostercomb. You’ll begin on the Roostercomb Trail, a nice trail that skirts the edge of a small, picturesque pond before you begin to climb. Around 1.9 miles in, you will reach a junction with the Flume Brook and Hedgehog Trails. To reach the summit, you’ll take a right at this junction and continue the last 0.3 miles along the Roostercomb Trail. This is a short and step climb at first, before leveling out and rewarding you with one or two fairly good viewpoints until you reach the fairly open and exposed summit at 2.2 miles (44.172718, -73.811523). The view here is a great start to the day, showing you multiple High peaks, including Giant of the Valley, Big Slide, and the beginnings of the Great Range with Lower and Upper Wolfjaw. 

After the fantastic views on Roostercomb, it’s time to continue on your way. You’ll descend that final stretch of the Roostercomb Trail, and after 0.3 miles, you’ll reach the Hedgehog/Flume Brook Trails junction again. This time, you will turn right and begin heading up the Hedgehog Trail. Similar to the Roostercomb trail, there are essentially no lookouts or viewpoints, even as you approach the summit at mile 3.6 (44.159313, -73.810786) This mountain is the only one you’ll reach all day that has no view. 

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

The first High Peaks.

After taking a brief rest on the summit of Hedgehog, it’s time to head over to your first official High Peak of the day. After about 0.4 miles along the Hedgehog trail heading towards LWJ, you’ll find yourself at an intersection with the W.A. White trail. You’ll continue ahead, but the W.A. White trail takes over for the Hedgehog Trail as you move towards Lower Wolfjaw. After another 1.1 miles or so, you’ll find an unobstructed lookout, giving you an great view of Lower Wolfjaw. A few moments later, and you’ll find yourself on your first 4,000 footer of the day, Lower Wolfjaw at mile 5.2(44.148090, -73.833092). 

After taking in the scenery, it’s time to head over to Lower Wolfjaw’s big brother, Upper Wolfjaw. You’ll begin with a short but steep descent along the W.A. White trail to the Wedge Brook Trail junction. You’ll continue with some small descents and ascents for a few minutes until you reach another junction, this time with the Wolf Jaws Notch Cutoff Trail. At this point, the W.A. White Trail turns into the Range Trail, as you’re now on the Great Range and not leaving it any time soon! Soon after leaving this junction, you’ll begin a fairly steep climb up to the northeastern shoulder of Upper Wolfjaw. After this, the trail becomes less severe, but still has moderate gain as you come closer to your second 46er of the day. Finally, you’ll reach another junction. To your right you’ll see a (very) short spur trail to the summit (44.140386, -73.845249) at mile 6.3, which offers great, underrated views, including some of your next two high peaks. This is a good spot to drop your pack, eat some food, and let your legs dangle for a bit as you take in the scenery, since you’ve now covered over half of your elevation gain for the day! 

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

The easiest peak of the day.

After a breather on UWJ, it’s time for your shortest section of the day, continuing along the Range Trail over to Armstrong. Although this is overall a fairly easy section of trail, there are a few spots that involve ladders, steep rockfaces, and roots that require your full attention when climbing. While there are not many viewpoints along this section, the trail itself offers some gorgeous sections of blowdown, serene woods, and a peaceful setting. After barely a half of a mile (at mile 7.0), you’ll step out onto a large ledge (44.134526, -73.849768), looking west towards Big Slide, Phelps, Tabletop, and more. 

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

A top view.

Begin to descend from Armstrong and head towards Gothics. The Range Trail between Armstrong and Gothics has some moderate descent, and moderate elevation gain, but in no time at all you’ll find yourself in a col between the two, in an area that is filled with blowdown, and gives a good view looking back towards Armstrong. You’ll continue along through this col and begin the short ascent to the summit, which offers multiple viewpoints along the way. After playing hide and seek with the treeline a few times, you’ll break out one final time and find yourself on the summit (44.127805, -73.857417) at mile 7.8. Often chosen as the best view out of all High Peaks, Gothics offers incredible 360-degree views that allow you to look back at where you’ve come from, ahead to where you’re going, and everywhere in between. This is a good spot to take a long break, as you’ve completed roughly two thirds of your elevation gain for the day, halfway through the high peaks of the hike, and you’ve got the biggest mountains coming up next!

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

Down the cables.

After a lunch break on Gothics, it’s time to keep pressing onwards. In what some may argue is either the most or least fun part of the day, as you continue towards Saddleback from Gothics, you’ll soon find yourself at the top of the Gothics cable route. This section of exposed rock face is very steep, so years ago metal bolts were installed, with a rubber-coated steel cable running through the bolts to allow hikers something to hold on to while they are ascending/descending this tricky section of trail. There are incredible views for a good portion of this trail, so although it is important to keep your eyes on the ground to pick your steps carefully, it is also advisable to take a break here and there and enjoy the scenery.

After taking yourself roughly 0.6 miles from the summit of Gothics, you will find yourself at a junction with the Orebed Brook Trail, in the col between Gothics and Saddleback. After continuing straight ahead at this junction, you’ll start climbing towards your next High Peak. This is a shorter, and fairly steep section of trail that offers limited views until you reach the summit. Around a mile of hiking from Gothics, you’ll break out from the trees and find yourself on a large, wide, exposed area of rock (44.126294, -73.875139) at mile 8.8. The view on Saddleback is fantastic, allowing you to look back at Armstrong and Gothics, as well as look ahead to Basin and Haystack.

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

The Saddleback Cliffs.

As you leave the summit of Saddleback, you’ll have to navigate the trail carefully, as it follows along a gradual cliff edge for a few minutes. Following the yellow paint blazes on the exposed rock, you will then see that the trail takes a sharp left, heading down the infamous Saddleback cliffs. These cliffs can prove difficult to even the strongest, most experienced hikers, especially when you need to downclimb. It is very important to pick your hand holds and footholds carefully, keeping three points of contact at all times. Once you are at the bottom of the cliffs, you can look back at what you just descended, and feel proud, for it is no easy feat.

You will now have a fairly flat section of trail for a little while before you begin the ascent to Basin. First, you will have a climb up the shoulder of Basin, before you have a relatively level section before the final push to the summit. The trail in these sections is easy to navigate usually fairly dry, and easy on the legs. After the final climb at mile 8.4, you’ll find yourself on an open summit (44.121236, -73.886480), with incredible views of your final two peaks of the day, Haystack and Marcy.

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

A worthy subpeak.

After leaving the summit of Basin, you’ll descend along the Range Trail until you find yourself in a col. You’ll have some fairly flat trail for a little while as you navigate the area between Basin and Haystack. At approximately mile 9.5, you will reach a junction with the Haystack Brook Trail (44.115188, -73.896464). This is a very important spot to remember, as it is your only definite water source for the entire trip until you are done with all of the ascent of the hike. Here at the junction, the Haystack Brook runs across the trail, and typically is flowing quite well year-round until it freezes over for the winter months. There is also a designated campsite in this area, if you decide to turn this into a 2 day trip!

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

After using a filter or purifier to replenish your water stores, you will begin heading up the shoulder of Haystack, called Little Haystack. Here you will reach a junction, with the Range Trail continuing to the right, towards Marcy, but before you head that way you have to hit your seventh High Peak of the day. Little Haystack is a fairly big, completely exposed “hill” that you have to cover in order to continue towards the summit of Haystack. Little Haystack is only 0.5 miles from Haystack, but you do have a fair amount of elevation gain during that stretch of trail. From the second you begin climbing Little Haystack, to the moment you reach the summit of Haystack, you will have incredible views all around you. To your right is a breathtaking landscape that consists of Marcy looming over Panther Gorge, and to your left is a staggering panorama of jagged peaks jutting out of the sky, showing you what you’ve had to cover so far in the day to get where you are. Finally at mile 11.2, you will reach the Haystack summit (44.105761, -73.900672), the third highest peak in the state. This is a great spot to kick back and relax for a bit, because the views are just incredible, and you still have a fairly hard section of trail in front of you before you reach your final summit of the day.

The high point.

Your final test of the day also leads you to the highest point in the entire state, Mount Marcy. Descend the 0.5 miles from Haystack to Little Haystack, which tends to go by fairly quickly. Once you go up and over Little Haystack, you’ll find yourself back at the junction with the Range Trail at mile 11.6. This stretch of trail goes between the Haystack Trail and the Phelps Trail, and can be difficult to navigate at times. It is technical, rocky, muddy, and has its fair share of ups and downs, so be careful during this time. After you reach the junction with the Van Hoevenberg Trail at mile 12.7, you’ll start to begin your final ascent towards Mount Marcy. This final half-mile of trail is moderately steep, but mostly exposed, with views to both sides of you as you make your final climb of the day.

Finally, after 13.2 miles and ~9,000’ of elevation gain on the day, you’ll reach your final summit (44.112781, -73.923694). Mount Marcy’s Native American name was Tahawus, meaning “cloud-splitter.” This beauty of a peak certainly lives up to that name, as at any point in the day you may have blue skies down low but find yourself in the clouds on the summit. I highly recommend you take a good, long break here at the summit (weather permitting), as the hardest parts of your day are done. Eat a snack, have some water, and enjoy the views of every other mountain within visible viewing distance.

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

Down and out.

Now all that’s left to do it hike the last 8.3 miles down and out, to the Garden Trailhead. Leaving the summit, you’ll spend half of a mile on the Van Hoevenberg Trail before reaching the Phelps Trail junction. At this point, you will turn onto your final trail of the day, back onto the Phelps Trail. As stated before, the Phelps trail at this point is narrow, rocky, covered with roots, running water, and is highly technical. You will need to pay attention and plan every step in order to navigate some of the trickier stretches of trail safely. The next few miles will most likely have you cursing under your breath as you inevitably trip, catch your feet on roots, and stumble down the trail, but after roughly 3 miles of this, the trail becomes your best friend. Wide, flat, and well maintained, the remainder of the Phelps Trail is probably the easiest part of your day. With virtually no elevation gain, and a very gradual descent, you will usually find another little bit of energy to help push through to the parking lot. Finally, you will pop back out into the Garden Parking Lot at mile 21.5 (44.188896, -73.816312).

Pro tip: A shuttle runs from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the spring, summer and fall months (check the Keene Valley website for more information<<Can we include a link? And does this go directly back to Rooster Comb or just to the airfield?))). If the day looks like it might take longer than expected, be prepared for an additional 2-mile road walk to the Roostercomb Trailhead.


Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

The Kit

  • Covering 20-plus miles with 9,000 feet or more of elevation is no easy feat, and regardless of how long such a trek can take you, you’ll need to make sure you are hydrated, but the longer day means you might need to carry along a water filter like the MSR Hyperflow to fill up along the way. This small, compact and lightweight filter can filter up to 3 liters of water per minute.
  • As is the case with most trails in the Adirondacks year-round, there are many sections of standing water and mud along this trail, including between summits and descending from Marcy along the Phelps trail (which can often be flowing with water). In order to help conserve the environment and follow LNT practices, it is always best to go through the mud than try to find a drier way around, and waterproof footwear, like the Oboz Sawtooth II Mid hiking boots will definitely be your friend!
  • The top trail runners in the world can do this traverse in just over five hours, but for most people out there, this trip will inevitably include a portion in the dark. As you should do every time you set out on a hike, make sure you have a headlamp like the Black Diamond Spot and extra batteries to make the trip safe!
  • No one ever wants to have to spend an unexpected night in the woods, but especially with bigger, tougher hikes like the GRT, accidents and unfortunate events do occur. If something happens, you need to be able to survive a night in the woods, and an emergency bivy sack like the SOL Thermal Bivy goes a long way towards backcountry survival.

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

Keys to the Trip

  • This hike will test even the most in-shape hikers, trail runners and backpackers, so it is vitally important to plan and be well prepared before you set out. If backpacking, make sure you have approved tent sites, with backups in case they are taken, chosen and marked on your map before you go. A good option that follows all DEC regulations regarding elevation and location is the Sno-Bird camping spot, located in the col between Basin and Haystack (44.115334, -73.895874).
  • While it is common hiking knowledge to plan ahead for weather and various conditions, another thing to remember is that this hike is limited in comparison in the Northeast. It is a good idea to have hiked all or most of the mountains and trails beforehand to get the best idea of what conditions may be like, and how stringing them all together in one big day can affect you! It is also important to make sure you are physically fit enough to successfully complete such an endeavor, and a good strategy is to build up your mileage and elevations during hikes leading up to the big day!
  • Be sure to fuel up before and/or after your hike! Depending on which direction you are coming from, the Old Mountain Coffee Company in Keene Valley is a great coffee spot, and is right across the road from Noonmark Diner. Other great options for post-hike eats are Big Slide Brewery and Wiseguys in Lake Placid. Of course, Stewart’s in Keene is always a great option both before and after a hike!

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

Current Conditions

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


goEast's Favorite Adirondack Weekend Adventures

Is there a better time to explore New York’s Adirondack Park than the fall? We can’t think of one. From the majestic rocky summits of the High Peaks to the low, loon-dotted, swinging lakes of the St. Regis Canoe Area, to a locally-brewed post-adventure beer in Lake Placid, a fall weekend in the Adirondacks has something for everyone. How much can you pack in between Friday night and Monday morning? Use these guides to our favorite ADK weekend adventures to plan your trip and soak up every last drop of that crisp Adirondack foliage.

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Our favorite hiking trip: Climb to the top of New York State

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

Honorable Mention: Test your navigational skills and climb 5 High Peaks via a series of herd paths.

Honorable Mention: Leave the 46ers to the crowds and get high on these less-than-4,000-footers.

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Our favorite paddling trip: Paddle a classic route through the St. Regis Canoe Area

The Adirondacks’ St. Regis Canoe Area includes some of the Northeast’s most pristine paddling opportunities. Enough waterways and canoe carries connect this massive expanse of lakes, letting paddlers explore and enjoy them for days on end. But, as one of the area’s most classic routes, Seven Carries takes you through a variety of wilderness ponds and wildlife habitats, giving you a great taste of everything this area has to offer.

The Seven Carries route was originally created as a transport route between the Saranac Inn, which has since burned down, and Paul Smith’s Hotel, now known as Paul Smith’s College. Now the route only has six carries and takes paddlers through three lakes and seven ponds. This one-way trip can be done in either direction and requires two cars. Although the route is a relatively short nine miles, some paddlers will want to turn it into an overnight trip to enjoy one of the many quiet, waterfront campsites on St. Regis Pond. Don’t put in without reading our Alpha Guide.

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Our favorite post-adventure activity: Rehydrate in Lake Placid

As with any big hike or paddle, it’s the trudge back to the parking lot that can get a little long. As winter daylight begins to fade on the back end of a long November trek, I’m sometimes cursing outselves for not trimming that one toenail that’s banging against my boot’s toe box or simply convincing myself that the hike down, with its steep icy sections, would be so much faster than the one up.

Then, my mind wanders to that first cold beer and hot bowl of chili awaiting me at one of the many Lake Placid eateries when we’re finally out of the mountains. Imagining the bartender topping off that big draft is the vision that keeps me going. Need suggestions? Read about the four best LP watering holes, here.

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Our favorite fall must-do: Check out the foliage, obviously

One of the things that the Northeast is known for is of course it’s extensive fall foliage. Fall is also a time when cool mornings and sunny weather draw many to the regions network of hiking trails. There is perhaps no better place to combine the beauty of Autumn and a passion for hiking than the Adirondack Mountains. The backdrop of the rugged Adirondack peaks, the reflections of its countless ponds and lakes, and the fiery colors of the regions hardwood forest create a spectacular scene around the month of October which is arguably unrivaled in the country.

While the massive Adirondack Park covering nearly one third of the state offers countless destinations, below are three of the finest places to combine great hiking and the warm glow of Autumn’s colors. Pick the best spots using our guide.