Saturday, March 21, 2009

Hiking, Snowshoeing - Wright Peak

At 4587 feet, Wright Peak is the 16th highest of the Adirondack High Peaks. I had last visited Wright in 1991, so when my youngest brother Bob and his friends Peter and Matt suggested a winter ascent, I was more than ready to get up there again.

The total climb is about 7 round-trip miles and 2400 feet from the Adirondack Loj trailhead. When my friend Phil and I turned off NY73 onto the Loj road, we knew it was going to be a good day. The sun was just reaching the tops of the peaks and there was not a cloud in the sky. That's Algonquin covered in white, with Wright just below it and to the left.

The first mile or two of the heavily trodden trunk trail toward both Marcy Dam and Algonquin alternated between glare ice and bare ground, making snowshoes impossible. Phil and I had traction gear, but the others had to bare-boot it as best they could. The lesson was learned, and micro-spikes are now on their to-buy lists. Eventually, the snow depth increased, but with temps in the teens to low 20s, it was still very firm and snowshoes weren't necessary. One described it as being almost a "paved trail", and it was very easy walking, aside from the steepness.

Just before the junction with the side trail to Wright, there was a 20-foot-high rock covered with smooth flow ice, and at that point, everyone changed footgear. I went with full-boot crampons, and the others all added snowshoes with crampons underfoot. We bushwhacked around the obstacle and continued on to the Wright trail junction.

Up to this point, the climbing had been steep and relentless, and then the Wright side trail climbs 600 feet in less than a half mile. About halfway up, we reached treeline, and there was nothing but open rock the rest of the way. The footgear came off, and we began the steep climb up the summit rocks. As we followed the rock cairns marking the way, Algonquin seemed so close we could reach out and touch it, and we could see climbers ascending and descending its snow-covered slopes.

Soon we reached the summit, and were treated to a 360-degree view. Temps were around 30F with only a light wind, much more pleasant than we expected, and we took a leisurely lunch break while enjoying the views. Click here to embiggen the panorama below and see the labelled peaks in the distance.

Just below the summit, there is a plaque honoring the airmen killed when their B-47 crashed into Wright's summit in 1962. We found the plaque and some remnants of the aircraft that are still scattered all over the north side of the mountain.

Soon we started feeling chilled and reluctantly headed down. The descent, as always, went much more quickly, though we still had to be careful on the steep trail. We met numerous parties on their way in as we headed out, and it seemed a little late in the day for many of them to be getting started. Ah, youth - they were probably moving faster than we were. We got back to the parking area around 7 hours after we started, and that seemed plenty fast enough. Any time I can be home for dinner after climbing a High Peak is a pretty good day.

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