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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