Ampersand Mountain is a wonderful peak that sits about 8 miles south of the village of Saranac Lake, off Route 3 going toward Tupper Lake.
While the trail is wildly popular in the summer, a wintertime excursion up Ampersand is likely to be both quiet and totally new. Snowshoeing up Ampersand is completely different from a summer hike, with new views opened up and new challenges on the trail.
Ampersand is located within the High Peaks Wilderness Area, but isn’t itself one of the 46 High Peaks. However, it is still a significant peak. The trail follows red state trail markers for 2.7 miles to the open summit, with the last mile being quite challenging, especially in winter.
Ampersand is a great winter peak for experienced and intermediate hikers. Due to some very steep and challenging sections near the top, this isn’t a good peak for a first-timer. But those with a little experience and the right equipment should have a good time. Also, while it’s in the High Peaks, it doesn’t require as much as time as most of the High Peaks, but you can still get killer views.
The trail starts off through mature woods, with open sight lines into the forest. The relatively flat trail is well marked and easy to follow, even in the snow. There are a few water crossings that require extra attention, as while a couple have small bridges there are a few where it’ll just be up to the hiker to get across without getting wet. It’s well worth bringing trekking poles on this hike, as they come in handy in several spots.
After a mile and a half, the trail begins to climb, and climbs steadily the rest of the way to the summit. Much of the elevation gain at this point is just going uphill, but shortly before the summit there are a couple of steep spots that will require some sure footing and squeezing through a couple of tight spaces.
Shortly before the summit, the evergreens start to open up again, and the trail emerges from the trees to a wide-open summit. While the views are expansive, the wind is also powerful, so if it’s cold you might want to don an extra layer in the protection of the trees.
The summit can be bare, icy, or filled with snowdrifts depending on the day. I carried microspikes the whole way in case it was icy, but the snow drifts were deep enough over most of the summit that I kept my snowshoes on with no problem.
From the top, there are views of the High Peaks, the Saranac Chain of Lakes, and more. Ampersand is nice because it kind of sits off by itself, which means there are no mountains nearby to block the views in one direction or another.
Even though I had taken off my hat and unzipped my jacket on the way to keep from sweating, I couldn’t spend more than about 10 minutes up there in the winds. I took off one glove to snap some photos, and my hand became very cold while the glove froze stiff along the cuff. After getting some beautiful pics despite the low clouds, I headed back down into the trees to have some water and a snack. The snowshoe out was fun, as there are numerous places along the trail where I could “ski” my snowshoes and move pretty quickly.
While Ampersand Mountain may not be one of the highest peaks in the Adirondacks, it’s still a beast - especially in winter. Snowshoes with good traction are a must, both legally and feasibly. Additionally, microspikes or crampons aren’t a bad idea to carry either, as there are some sections near the top that are steep and/or windswept.
Snowshoeing, skiing, and winter hiking all require extra care and attention. Be sure to bring the 10 essentials, as well as plenty of food and water. Shorter days require a flashlight or headlamp with extra batteries, and the extreme cold means that a cell phone should not be your primary source of navigation or light, so be sure to have a map and compass in your pack as well.
Winter activities also require more energy, which means you may get sweaty from the exertion so be sure to have a windbreaker, extra clothes, hat, and socks, and extra gloves. Hopefully you won’t need this stuff, but it’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.
Ampersand is a fantastic standalone snowshoe, but it’s also part of the Saranac Lake 6er hiking challenge. The 6er challenge includes Ampersand, St. Regis, Scarface, McKenzie, and Haystack in Ray Brook, and Baker Mountain right in town. People who climb all six peaks can be registered as an official 6er, and those who climb all six between Dec. 21 and March 21 each year can get a winter finisher’s patch.
For the ultra ambitious, there is also the 6er ultra challenge, where all six peaks need to be climbed in one 24-hour period, including travel time between the mountains.
Love Your ADK
While it may be tempting to toss that apple core or orange peel into the trees after having a well-earned snack, those items - yes, even biodegradable ones - can affect the beauty and nature of the Adirondacks, as well as ruin someone else’s experience (Ever step in dog poo? Even dog owners hate stepping in it, regardless of whether it’s biodegradable).
So be sure to follow Leave No Trace principles like packing out all of your waste, being respectful of other visitors, and planning ahead and preparing. You can also join the ever growing number of people who have pledged to do just that by signing the Love Your ADK pledge!