Sunday, October 14, 2012

High Peaks Weekend Wrapup - 2 out of 5 ain't bad

This past weekend, I'd be joining my brother Bob and his friends as they completed the Adirondack 46 on Mount Marcy.  So first, let me lay out the overall plan, which got a little complicated because they'd be camping and probably incommunicado, while I'd be driving up for a day hike and trying to time my arrival on Marcy with theirs.

The three of them would drive up on Wednesday, and spend the night at Adirondack Loj. The next morning, they planned an early start, backpacking to Feldspar leanto, setting up camp, and then climbing two trailless peaks from there, Cliff and Redfield, before retiring for the night.  On Friday morning, they would climb Gray and Skylight, followed by their arrival atop Marcy, where I'd be waiting with their ADK 46R patches to celebrate their accomplishment.  We would try to coordinate the timing by cell phone if possible, but otherwise we had a mutually agreed upon turnaround time, in case somebody got delayed for any reason. They would then return to their camp for the night, and I would return to the car and a motel in Lake Placid, and we would meet up for dinner after they packed out on Saturday.  On Sunday, we'd all drive home, they to Syracuse, and I back to Schenectady.  An ambitious plan on their part to say the least, even in good weather.

They drove up as planned on Wednesday, and I had no further communications with them before I arrived at the trailhead on Friday morning.  The view of the peaks shrouded in clouds was not encouraging as I started down the road from NY-73 to the Heart Lake parking area.  Oh, and was that snow on the ground and the peaks?

Indeed.  It had snowed overnight, and there were reports of several inches of new wet snow at higher elevations.  Hope the guys had a good night out there, and what would they decide to do now?

With Marcy itself 7.4 miles away, I started in on the trail to Marcy Dam, and even at these lower elevations, there was a dusting of snow all over everything, a real pre-winter wonderland.

The weather forecast for the day called for temperatures falling through the 20s in the afternoon, and the teens atop Marcy, with winds there gusting to near 40 mph.  And with the clouds, there would also be no view whatsoever, just cold wind-driven dampness.  The further I walked, the more this seemed like a really stupid idea.  A dangerous idea, considering I was heading up there alone.  I vowed to make a decision one way or the other when I arrived at Marcy Dam, 2 miles from the car and before the real climbing started.

What I found at Marcy Dam
When I arrived at Marcy Dam, it was snowing lightly, and the peaks were nowhere in sight.  The temperature was already below freezing, and would be dropping further, especially as the trail climbed higher.  All of the wet snow and mud on the ground would likely be iced up by the time of my return trip from the summit, if I even ever got there, making things pretty treacherous.  Being old enough to know better than to continue, I decided to call it quits here.  Since I had cell service here, I called Bob and left a message, letting him know I was heading back, and urging them not to do anything stupid.  I had a feeling that they'd be driven to continue despite the conditions, but really hoped they be smart about it and either bail out, or be extremely careful.  Then I headed back the way I'd come, got in the car and drove away, hoping for a phone call from them sometime soon. The helicopter heading toward the High Peaks did nothing to assuage my concerns.

It was still several hours before I could check into my motel, and I was dressed for hiking, so I thought about someplace else I could go.  I remembered Haystack Mountain between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake, so headed in that direction.  The sign at the trailhead proclaimed a hike of 3.3 miles and 1,238 feet of climbing to this summit, which I remembered having very good views.  Being much lower, it wouldn't be in the clouds, and they were starting to break up a little anyway.  What I didn't remember were any details of the trail, but my memory would soon be refreshed.

About a mile in, my phone rang, and it was Bob.  "Where are you?", he asked, so I explained.  He hadn't received my voice message, but told me they had also made a good choice, and were bailing out and not trying the other three peaks today.  They had managed to climb Redfield and Cliff the day before, as planned, getting back to camp after dark with headlamps just as the rains and snow arrived.  Heavy rain and snow, along with incredible winds overnight, had left much of their gear wet.  They'd be climbing the peaks with wet gear and returning to a wet campsite, with temperatures Friday night dropping well into the teens.  The only sane choice was to pack out on Friday instead of attempting those other three summits.  They were on their way out when he called me, and we arranged to all meet for dinner in Lake Placid.  Great news!

So, back to Haystack.  This trail had a significant amount of uphill immediately, followed by what seemed like an even greater amount of downhill.  After about 2 miles, I checked the GPS and I was lower than the elevation I had started at.

I parked at the left, and gave up at the right, with still 1,200 feet to climb.  Crazy trail!
And then I saw the summit in the distance, with still over 1,200 feet to climb in the final mile.  I'm not sure why I turned back, but I just lost interest at that point.  I ate lunch, checked into the motel, cleaned up, and looked forward to dinner.  The guys showed up a little later, and we all headed over to the Lake Placid Pub and Brewery for burgers and a few beers as we recounted our stories of the day.  Then it was an early night.

Saturday dawned clear and brisk, but with a warmup expected later on, I talked the guys into doing a couple of short local hikes with great views.  Our rooms were prepaid for Saturday night, so we had a day to kill anyway, and they agreed.  After a hearty breakfast at the Downtown Diner in Lake Placid, we geared up and headed off for a couple of short walks.

First on the list was Baxter Mountain, off of NY-9N south of Keene.  It's a popular 1.1-mile walk to the summit, which has great wide-open views of the High Peaks and the Johns Brook Valley.  Snow-covered Marcy is in the distance, a little left of center.  Fall colors were still abundant at the lower elevations.

We lingered here for a long time enjoying the spectacular scenery.  But then it was time to head to another local institution. the Noonmark Diner in Keene Valley, for a light lunch.  Over lunch, we talked about maybe adding on another short hike for the afternoon, since it was still pretty early in the day.  Just up the road, off of NY-73, tiny Owl's Head Mountain fit the bill perfectly.  This one is only 0.6 miles to the summit, though a somewhat steeper scramble than Baxter.  Once again, we were treated to wonderful views for only a small amount of effort.

After we spent a considerable amount of time here as well, the clouds began to roll in, and we needed to get back and get cleaned up for dinner, so headed back down to the car.

Dinner was at Jimmy's 21 on Main Street in Lake Placid.  The Italian food was excellent, but the same could not be said for the service, which involved delays, forgotten requests, and even one incorrect entree.  And all at a somewhat inflated price!

The rains came again Saturday night, and it was a wet drive home on Sunday.  As we all headed for home, the guys weren't 46rs yet as they'd hoped, but had managed to add two more tough peaks to their list, and we'd all had the opportunity to take in some very nice scenery on the one day that turned out well.

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