The winter climbing season is upon us in the Adirondacks
The winter climbing season is a very exciting time of year and when the conditions are good, the climbing is exceptional. This goes for all of the mountains in the Adirondack Park, but for those aspiring to be winter 46ers, this is especially true. Saranac Lake makes for an excellent basecamp for the High Peaks and being so close to the mountains it’s an easy drive to most trailheads, the Great Range is no exception.
We started out a bit later than most of our winter hikes, mainly because this hike is roughly only 12-miles and the trail was well packed; we knew we could handle this distance at a later start. It is important that if you plan to do a High Peak in winter, that you also know your capabilities and the conditions before you set out.
Best get out your traction
We started our hike along the exciting road into the AMR and then continued our hike along the Lake Road to approach the foot trail we needed. Once we hit the Lake Road we put on our Microspikes as the ice was thick and without traction this was slowing our progress. We made excellent time to the Beaver Meadow Falls Trail, which is just over 2.5 miles from the parking lot. The trail was well packed, but just as slippery as the road, but with our traction on we were fine and quickly found ourselves looking up a gorgeous wall of ice statues on Beaver Meadow Falls.
On the left we eyeballed the 15-foot ladder we would need to climb and felt a bit of relief that it wasn’t iced over. Atop the ladder was the steepest section of the day, but it only lasted about a 1/10 of a mile or so, but a bigger “BUT” was the never ending layer of waterfall ice that was coating the ground; this was going to be tough to down climb at the end of the day under tired muscles. Our Microspikes were the bare minimum for this section and honestly, we wished we had full crampons just to be a bit more confident on these conditions. We surpassed this section with no issues, but it took a bit of time. We moved on much faster above this section, passing by the side trail to Lost Lookout, which didn’t look touched in quite some time. The steady climb that came next slowed us down a bit and the ice under the fresh couple inches of snow didn’t help our pace. The higher we got and the steeper the trail became, the more the ice began appearing and this made the precipitous steps a bit more of a challenge.
We soon could see Armstrong off in the distance and the new slide swath well below us. The trail however is very deceiving at this point and this is always the case, even after several trips up this way. I always think the high col is closer than it truly is. You would think that I would know better by now, oh well, it is what it is, but it’s always an adventure and a good one at that. We were finally up high, where the trail levels out and the ladders begin. There are four ladders in the section that we would have to contend with, I only hoped they would still be open and not snowed or iced into the side of the mountain. Ladder one actually was a bit tough to get onto, with ice above it. The second and third ladders were no issue and the fourth was just tall. Once down off from the fourth ladder it was a bit of scrambling over some small boulders and icy sections before we were at the col and on the Great Range Trail between Gothics, to our left, and Armstrong, to our right.
Do you have the right gear for the High Peaks?
We opted for Gothics first, keeping open the option of hiking over Armstrong and heading back out over Upper Wolf Jaw Mountain. The climb up Gothics was very easy from this point, in comparison to the approach trail we were just on. The trail was only slightly icy along this section with a nice coating of powder that was only slightly sloughed off from previous visitors. The wind was high and our cheeks felt the nip, a facemask was perfect for that type of protection. Once we visited the summit for a matter of 30-seconds, our descent back down to the col was fast. We didn’t stop too long in the col we just continued on toward Armstrong. The Great Range Trail over to Armstrong was very difficult in spots with steep drop-offs and very icy conditions on the steep rock lips, but with that being said it was a fast over-and-back, of just under 1-mile.
It was now time to descend back down to the Lake Road, which we figured would be very hard, remembering the icy conditions from earlier. The descent actually wasn’t too bad once we got past the ladders. We did end up butt sliding small sections just to keep our center of gravity down low and avoid the unplanned slide. Once we got off the major ice we traveled quickly, we wanted to be on the road before dusk. When we got to the final steep “icefest” near Beaver Meadow Falls, we opted to bushwhack through the trees around the icy trail and then back to the top of the ladder, which worked out well and actually made the descent safe and much easier. From the base of the ladder to the road and back to our car was an easy stroll and felt good under our feet; we even made it back to the parking lot before dark, barely.
If you are interested in conquering a High Peak in winter but don’t have the gear or experience and would like to have assistance?, check out a local guide service for details. You can also go to any local gear shop to find out rental rates on winter gear like snowshoes, ice axe, crampons, Microspikes, and poles, or maybe pick up a few essentials for a safe winter days travel, like a warm base layer, gloves, socks, boots, and energy foods. Need a place to crash after your hike, maybe to replenish some serious calories on some good food? Saranac Lake has you covered with numerous lodging choices and plenty of good fare.