Friday, January 14, 2022

The MacIntyre Range in Winter

The heart of the MacIntyre Range consists of Wright, Algonquin, Boundary, and Iroquois Peaks.  These are some of the tallest mountains in the Adirondacks with Algonquin ranking the 2nd highest in the state, Iroquois 8th, Wright 16th, and Boundary is unranked but just a few feet lower than Iroquois. All of these peaks rise above treeline with dramatic views. A couple years passed since I visited these peaks. Unfortunately the weather didn't cooperate the last time I climbed the MacIntyres (see Hiking the MacIntyre Range and Avalanche Pass). Clouds covered the alpine areas most of my time I was above treeline, leaving me with limited views on majority of my time.

Living pretty close to the High Peaks, I can cherry pick good weather days for the more scenic summits. That was my goal for this hike a couple days before the New Year. I checked several weather outlets and the worst case scenario had a clear day with clouds moving in by 4PM. As is very often the case in the Adirondacks, none of the four forecasts I looked at panned out. A beautiful drive to the trailhead looked promising with most of the mountains clear. The tiniest, thin cloud hovered on Algonquin's summit, but not enough to block it out. As I neared the summits, any hopes of a clear day vanished. 

I began hiking from the Adirondack Loj a few minutes before 8AM with fairly bright skies. As I moved along, the clear skies gave way to less bright conditions. At this point, I wasn't too concerned, the clouds seemed pretty high. After a tame snow year, the packed trail made for quick hiking and the first couple miles passed by quickly. Although I like to make a loop of this route with Avalanche Pass, today my plan was to hike over Algonquin to Iroquois and return the same route with the side trip to Wright.

Gentle trail not far from the Loj

Not enough snow to cover rockier areas

A frozen waterfall along the trail

As I gained elevation, icy patches became more frequent and I put microspikes on my shoes. A couple of short stretches were probably icy enough to warrant crampons, but I didn't feel the need to put them on for just a few steps.  

A steep section of icy trail

Wright Peak is encountered first. The summit stands .4 miles off the main trail on a side trail. Since the I passed by Wright and visibility looked good and headed to Algonquin. I have yet to see the view from Algonquin not socked in the clouds and wanted to climb it first in case the clouds moved in. As I neared Algonquin, I could see Wright's summit still open. Unfortunately, the clouds were dropping as I broke out into the alpine zone.

A glimpse of Wright before the clouds settled in 

Approaching the alpine zone

I didn't get too far above treeline when the clouds settled on Algonquin. By the time I traveled the short distance to the summit, it was completely socked in with near zero visibility. Although the temperature wasn't too bad, a fairly stiff wind made it that I didn't want to linger with nothing to see.

Now above treeline, and the clouds are taking over

Approaching Algonquin's summit

Rough visibility on Algonquin

I wasn't thrilled about the possibility of an alpine day and no visibility. I decided to make my way toward Iroquois, hoping the clouds would lift as quickly as came. The visibility became so limited that at times, I couldn't see the next cairn. Most of the snow above treeline had blown off and the surface was covered in a thin layer of rime covering the rock. 

Heading into the abyss leaving Algonquin

I reached the junction toward Boundary and Iroquois. The travel was a little easier on solid snow and the low trees blocked the wind. I quickly hiked over Boundary (really just a bump on the ridge) with continued low visibility. Out of the trees, on Iroquois's open summit, I was back in the wind. Again, I felt no desire to linger as it was obvious I wasn't going to get a view. After about a minute, I made my way back toward Algonquin.

Back in the shelter of the trees in the col between
Algonquin and Boundary

Typical scenery above treeline for the day

Cairn on Iroquois with very limited visibility

While still in the relative protection of the trees, I grabbed a bite to eat before reclimbing Algonquin. I don't know if it's possible, but I think the visibility was even worse back on Algonquin's summit. I happily descended back in the trees and hoped I would have better luck on Wright Peak.

Back on Algonquin

Dropping off Algonquin

I reached the junction for Wright Peak pretty quickly. The summit stands a short, but steep, .4 miles from the main trail. The beginning of the climb went pretty smoothly. The crux of the climb comes at a small ledge that's pretty straightforward in summer. In the winter, with care, you can get over this little ledge without too much difficulty. Above this ledge, the trail travels over open rock that is much more exposed to the weather. At this point I debated putting on my crampons after talking to another group at this spot. I stuck  with microspikes and had little difficulty on the exposed rock. Like Algonquin, the rock was mostly free of snow with a thin rime coating.

Junction for Wright

Wright's socked in summit

Just below Wright's summit

Now on my third summit of the day, I still had little to no views. I could see down the ridge of Wright but nothing beyond. With a pretty stiff wind and nothing to see, I made my descent after a couple minutes, realizing far reaching views weren't happening on this trip.

Looking down the trail near Wright's summit

The visibility slightly improved on the descent of Wright

I quickly rejoined the main trail and made my way down toward the Loj. The few miles to the Loj went by quickly. Once I left Algonquin, I passed quite a few people that were climbing toward the peaks. The last mile or so, a light snow started to fall. Since I didn't spend much time on any of the socked in summits, the hike only took just over 5 hours, reaching the Loj just after 1PM.

Snowy bridge not far from the Loj

I am determined to hike these peaks on a clear day. Despite decent forecasts, I have struck out for clear summits on my trips to these peaks. Mountains like to make their own weather. I have discovered that the Adirondacks seem even more disagreeable to forecast predictions. It's always a crap shoot when you venture into the mountains and you never know what you're in for until you get out there. Often the clouds enhance the scenery. Unfortunately on this day, they pretty much wiped out much of the scenery completely. Either way, it had been a while since I was in the mountains before this outing and it felt good to be out there.

Looking at the cairns marking the way on Wright

Even though I have struck out with the weather on these peaks, it is still one of the finest hikes in the Adirondacks, particularly when made into a loop with Avalanche Pass. I don't recommend the hike in winter unless you are experienced and properly equipped. Winter in the Adirondacks has its own set of risks that shouldn't be challenged if not prepared. For those comfortable with winter travel, this route visits three alpine peaks with panoramic view when clear. You can visit just Algonquin or Wright for a relatively short hike.

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Friday, January 7, 2022

The Lake Placid 9ers

Hiking challenges have gained popularity in recent years. With an abundance of mountains, the Adirondacks have their fair share of challenges. These range from the Adirondack 46ers requiring 46 summits to smaller local challenges like the Tupper Lake Triad with only three modest mountains. I have completed many of the hiking challenges close to my home in the Tupper Lake including the Tupper Lake Triad (see Tupper Lake Triad), the Saranac Lake 6ers (see Saranac Lake 6ers), and even the Adirondack 46 (see Climbing the Adirondack 46ers). 

Looking across Cascade Pass from a ledge on Pitchoff

With the popularity of Tupper Lake's and Saranac Lake's hiking challenges. Nearby Lake Placid decided to start their own hiking challenge called the Lake Placid 9ers (LP9). As the name implies, this challenge consists of nine local peaks. Collectively; Tupper Lake, Saranac Lake, and Lake Placid are called the Tri Lakes. Hiking all three of these hiking challenges is referred to as the Tri Lakes Trifecta.
I hiked the Tupper Lake Triad and Saranac Lake 6ers within a few months of moving to the region.

All the LP9 peaks offer views

I overlooked the Lake Placid 9ers until last winter. I found myself at the base of one of the 9ers while on another hike and decided to climb it. That was Mt. Jo. At less than 3,000' in elevation, Mt Jo was a far more interesting mountain than the two 46ers I climbed that day. I decided I would visit the rest of the LP9. Since most of the peaks are reached by short trails (the longest is in the six mile range and the shortest just over a mile), I usually hiked multiple LP9 peaks in one day, or added one to another hike. I didn't really start focusing on finishing the LP9 until this fall, after I finished the Adirondack 46ers. 

Ice along the trail to Mt. Jo

There is no specific order to hike the LP9. My list below is in the order I hiked the peaks. Feel free to hike them in any order you like. Some of the peaks have more than one way to access them, so you may hike the from a different approach than I describe. I climbed some of the peaks in conjunction with other peaks not related to the LP9. Feel free to hike them one at a time if you like. If I included the peak in a previous post on this website, you can click on the blue link to visit that post for a more photos and a more complete description.

View from the north summit of Pitchoff

Mt. Jo
December 23, 2020
Nye and Street Mountains Plus Mt. Jo (Mt Jo was part of a longer hike but is described at the end of this post in the link in further detail)

Heart Lake from Mt Jo on a dreary winter day

Mt Jo can be climbed as a modest 2.6 mile roundtrip hike from the Adirondack Loj. A second trail allows for a loop option as well. The most direct route travels over some rocky scrambles that may be a challenge for new hikers. Steep stairs help you negotiate the worst of the scrambles, but expect to use your hands in a few spots. The direct route travels under trailside cliffs. You are quickly rewarded for your effort with great scenery. Mt Jo's rocky ledges overlook Heart Lake some 700' below and into the nearby High Peaks, including the MacIntyres, Colden, and Indian Pass. The summit of Mt. Jo provides much better views than many of the much taller High Peaks.

Ladders enroute to Mt Jo

Big Crow Mountain
June 16, 2021

Foggy valley view from Big Crow

Big Crow can be climbed by itself as an out and back from the Crow Clearing trailhead in less than a mile and a half round trip. Although the climb is steep, the reward comes quickly. According the the Lake Placid 9er website, 28 High Peaks are visible from Big Crow as you look down the Ausable River Valley. If you are passing through Keene and short on time but want a quick mountain fix, Big Crow is a good option. 

Lots of High Peaks are visible from Big Crow

For a longer outing, continue to Little Crow Mountain. A longer loop option with a dirt road walk combining both Crows is possible. Big Crow shares a trailhead with the north approach to fellow LP9er peak Hurricane Mountain for a longer outing that visits two of the LP9ers in one trip. If you have the time and are comfortable following less traveled trails, combine Big Crow with the Nun-da-ga-o Ridge. This loop provides plentiful viewpoints with limited traffic and starts and end at Crow Clearing.

Not bad view for less than a mile of hiking

Hurricane Mountain
June 16, 2021

Looking into the Green Mountains over Lake
Champlain from Hurricane

Hurricane stands as the tallest peak on the LP9 and requires the longest approach to reach. The views on Hurricane are magnificent and far-reaching from its open summit. Its fire tower at the top provides even better views into the High Peaks and over Lake Champlain, well into Vermont. Outside Magazine even listed Hurricane as the best hike in New York a few years ago. Hikers have options as three different approaches provide access to the summit. Expect to travel 6-7 miles roundtrip on any of the routes. Its possible to combine a hike of Big Crow and Hurricane from Crow Clearing. For even more grand views, add Hurricane to a hike of the Nun-da-ga-o Ridge if you have the energy.

The High Peaks from Hurricane

Hurricane is on the left in this photo from
the Nun-da-ga-o Ridge

Pitchoff Mountain
September 20, 2021

Nearly nonstop vantage points are the reward
if traversing the full length of Pitchoff

Don't let the overflowing parking situation deter you from visiting Pitchoff Mountain. Most of the cars are there to climb the heavily trafficked ADK 46er Cascade Mountain across the road. You will see only a handful of hikers headed to Pitchoff. From the Cascade/Pitchoff Trailhead, you can reach Pitchoff in less than three miles. While Pitchoff's summit offers little in the way of views, you will pass several ledges that offer a peak across the pass toward Cascade Mountain and the Cascade Lakes below. Balanced Rocks, a short distance below the summit, provides grand views and shouldn't be missed.

Looking toward Marcy, Colden, and Algonquin

To fully appreciate Pitchoff, traverse the entire mountain. beyond the summit, the trail passes over numerous open ledges with much better views. After passing a handful of open ledges, you are rewarded with an open 360-degree vantage from the north summit. If you have a second vehicle, you can hike down to the second trailhead for a 5.2 mile hike. If you don't have a second car, I highly recommend hiking to the north summit and returning the same route. It's a fairly challenging eight mile trip, but you get to take in the scenery twice.

Balanced Rocks

Catamount Mountain
October 29, 2021

From the summit of Catamount

Catamount is the northern most of the LP9 and in possibly the most unique. Don't let the modest 3.6 mile roundtrip distance full you. After an easy start, the trail traverses several ledges with scrambling on its upper half. You will need to negotiate a small rock chimney that requires a more difficult scramble. While most experienced hikers shouldn't have too much difficulty with the chimney, children and dogs may find the chimney too much to negotiate. Most of the ledges offer some nice views. You may want to skip this one on a wet day. 

The chimney on Catamount

After making your way to the open summit, you are rewarded with more views. Several lakes sit below the mountain. You look at the north side of Whiteface. The Green Mountains of Vermont dominate the eastern horizon over Lake Champlain, including Mt. Mansfield and the Camel's Hump. Most experienced hikers will find Catamount to be a fun hike with nice scenery.

Overlooking lake at the base of Catamount

Bear Den Mountain
October 29,2021

Looking southeast from Bear Den

Bear Den was one of my least favorite of the LP9. I hiked Bear Den during the height of the autumn leaves falling to the ground. Much of the trail had deep leaf cover, often well above my ankles. This left the trail difficult to follow. It also hid the abundant mud, roots, and rocks. Footing was terrible since you couldn't see what you were about to step onto- it was rarely level ground. 

Looking at the lower summit of Bear Den from 
the upper summit

Although there are some nice views at the summit, Whiteface Mountain Ski Resort dominates the view. Since you are essentially at the ski area, I found the up close view to be not particularly attractive. A herd path leads higher up the mountain to open ledges that provide better views to the south. When not inundated by leaves, I'm sure the hike is a little more laid back. The roundtrip hike covers 4.5 miles and even with the leaves, the summit seemed to come quickly.

Looking across ski slopes into the High Peaks

Baxter Mountain
November 4, 2021

Keene Valley and the Great Range from
a ledge on Baxter

Baxter sits immediately to the south of Hurricane on the opposite side of the road. Given its lowly elevation and mile 2.4 mile roundtrip distance, I didn't expect too much from Baxter. I was pleasantly surprised when I reached the summit. Numerous open ledges around the summit provide great scenery. You look over Keene Valley into the much higher summits to the south. With the exception of some minor scrambling in the final 1/4 mile or so, the trail is pretty tame by Adirondack standards. I felt this was the easiest of the LP9 and actually hiked it when passing by after another more ambitious hike. If you are fairly new to hiking and want to tackle the LP9, Baxter would be a great place to ease into the challenge.

Dix and Dial from Baxter

Cobble Hill
November 24, 2021

Cobble Hill is the lowest, shortest hiking distance, least remote, and least wild of the LP9. The main access to Cobble Hill begins right in Lake Placid, along Mirror Lake Drive. Two trails access the summit. The first is short and steep, the second more gradual. I recommend climbing the steeper trail and descend the more gradual trail for a short 1.2 mile loop. A steepest section of trail passes over exposed rock with a rope in place as a hand rail. 

Lake Placid from Cobble

Although, the summit actually looks into several directions with some interesting views, I felt like I was hiking in a neighborhood at times. You pass behind several properties at the beginning of the hike. If you descend the longer trail, you pass Echo Pond, but it lacks a truly wild feel as a house sits right on it. Beyond Echo Pond, you come onto a driveway right at someone's house before passing within sight of more homes. 

Ski jumps and the High Peaks

From the summit you have a unique look at the Olympic ski jumps and Whiteface. At times you overlook the village on the ascent. You do look into the High Peaks, but you have to overlook civilization to see them. I found the best views to the east toward the Sentinel Range, which was one of the few places you look without seeing civilization. Cobble is a nice little hike if you're already in Lake Placid and want to escape for an hour or two, but I certainly wouldn't make it a destination by itself.

Sentinel Range

Mt. Van Hoevenberg
November 24, 2021

Van Hoevenberg vista

I didn't expect too much from Mt. Van Hoevenberg. I was pleasantly surprised when I reached the summit. Van Hoevenberg stands immediately north of the High Peaks. Several open ledges provide you with in your face, grandstand views of the High Peaks. Although Colden, the MacIntyre Range, and Indian Pass dominate the view; you see much of the Great Range, Marcy, and countless other peaks encompass the view. I found the views even better and less obstructed than nearby Mt. Jo. If you are seeking views, this is a good bang for your buck hike.

Colden, Indian Pass, and Algonquin

From South Meadow, a roundtrip hike clocks in at 4.4 miles and passes a boggy pond with a nice look at Van Hoevenberg's cliffs. You can also climb Van Hoevenberg from the north. There is a new trail from the Mt. Van Hoevenberg Olympic Sports Complex that runs slightly longer on a newly created trail. I never hiked this trail, but I am told it's extremely well manicured and out of place compared to most Adirondack hiking trails.

Looking into the High Peaks Wilderness

While the nearby 46ers get most of the attention in the Adirondacks, the peaks of the LP9 are worthy of their own attention. All the peaks on the LP9 offer summit views. This can't be said about the High Peaks. While many of the High Peaks make for a great destination, most require long days with significant climbing. The LP9 can be climbed with much less effort and time commitment with scenery on most of the summits that is arguably better than many of the loftier High Peaks.

One of the constant views along Pitchoff

Having climbed all the 46ers, I can honestly say I enjoyed many of the peaks on the LP9 than many of the 46ers. The views on Hurricane rival many of the views of the High Peaks. Catamount's rock scrambles are just as fun as any in the High Peaks. Big Crow and Mt. Jo provide awesome views with very little effort. Traveling the length of Pitchoff provides view after view with a fraction of the traffic of its higher neighbors across Cascade Pass. The grandstand views into the High Peaks from most of the LP9 offer a great vantage point of the taller summits.

Great Range from Baxter

Novice hikers will enjoy the shorter distances and climbs on a lot of the LP9 peaks. Several of the peaks make for a great introduction to the Adirondacks if you want to ease into hiking the region. Experienced and beginners alike will appreciate the great views from the LP9 mountains. Even if you have no interest in climbing all the summits on the LP9, I highly recommend any of these hikes if you are in the Lake Placid area and looking for a scenic outing.

Foggy valley from Catamount

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