Let it Snow, Let it Snow. But Only so Much.

After taking a two-week vacation to sunny South Carolina during the first half of January 2011 and then hiking easy farmland peaks in the Catskill Mountains during the second half of this month, February was the month to get to work.

On the first day of February I rendezvoused with my buddy Brian at his house in Saranac Lake, a small town set in the middle of the Adirondack High Peaks.  My plan was to snowshoe twelve trailless mountains within the week.

The morning of February 2 we followed a trail into a deep, long valley, and then left the path to bushwhack up Nye Mountain’s north peak and Peacock Mountain.  On top of Nye Mountain’s north peak under partly sunny skies I recorded in my journal, “Lots of snow, not very consolidated.”  There were 24 inches of snow, which isn’t a lot for that time of year, but my thirty-inch snowshoes sunk in a foot.  On Peacock Mountain the snow pack was similar but by the time we reached the top a snowstorm enveloped the entire mountain.

Brian searches for a way up Nye Mountain’s north peak.

Looking off Peacock Mountain towards our wetlands below.

With our two peaks done it was time to descend back to the trail through the storm.  Identifying a series of wetlands on my map, we headed straight for them.  The idea was to travel in the open and not through the thick forests.  By the time we got to the other end of the wetlands we were exhausted.  The wetlands were only half frozen and the snow was wet, heavy, and knee deep.  Once back at my buddy’s place that evening I wrote in my journal, “Deep snow on unfrozen streams and half-frozen swamps to get out.  I am smoked!”  My friend said it was the toughest day hike he had ever done.  That night it snowed five inches.

So sore on February 3 I decided to climb something easy: Scotts Cobble.  Since I would be hiking solo I would have to break trail on my own but the summit was only two miles from the nearest road.  Piece of cake.  When I got out of my car to begin the hike though, I realized I had forgotten my map.  So I winged the route from memory and went bushwhacking without a map.

View from “unknown peak” while on the search for Scotts Cobble.

After wandering around the wilderness for three hours in search of Scotts Cobble I finally reached the top.  But then, I looked at the altimeter on my watch.  It read 2,990 feet.  Scotts Cobble was only 2,580 feet high.  I had no idea where I was.  Though my unknown peak did have a nice view I still would have rather been on the peak I set out to hike.  Disappointed, I followed my tracks out.  My time in the Adirondacks was off to a rocky start.  The night of the “unknown peak” hike it snowed another five inches.

February 4 Brian and I set out for the east and west summits of Kate Mountain.  Less than a mile into the hike Brian broke his snowshoe nearly in half.  We repaired it with cord and zip ties and had to keep adjusting those repairs, and adding new repairs, for the rest of the day.  But, we got up our peaks.  This night it snowed another five inches.

Repairing a broken snowshoe on Kate Mountain.

Following a unique maze of openings across trailless Kate Mountain.

On the 5th we tackled another two mountains: Ampersand Mountain’s west peak and far west peak.  Now the snow was very deep.  Breaking trail uphill was particularly difficult.  It took us twenty minutes to ascend the final 100 vertical feet to the top of the west peak but then it took us only four minutes to descend the same section.  By the time we reached the top of the far west peak we were in a snowstorm.  We returned to Brian’s car at the trailhead through five inches of new snow.  Six more inches fell during the night.

Navigating up Ampersand Mountain’s west peak.

Nearing the top of Ampersand Mountain’s far west peak in a snowstorm.

On the 6th I went up Scotts Cobble (I remembered my map this time).  The peak offered a great view, rare for a trailless peak in the Adirondacks, and the sun shined all day long.  The snow pack was four feet deep yet still unconsolidated.  The ascent took me nearly three hours and the descent took only fifty minutes.  This four-hour hike felt more like an eight-hour hike.

View of Moose and McKenzie Mountains from Scotts Cobble.

A bushwhack up the east side of Boot Bay Mountain was the plan for the 7th and the hike was supposed to start with a snowmobile ride across Lower Saranac Lake to the mountain’s base.  The hike was to be done with a former professor of mine, Jack.  I showed up at Jack’s house only to learn he got his snowmobile stuck in a foot of slush on the lake the day before.  He enlisted me to help him get it unstuck.  But, we got his ATV stuck driving across the lake to get the snowmobile unstuck.  After wading through shin-deep slush and pushing and yanking his ATV back to shore, we gave up trying to reach his snowmobile and the east side of Boot Bay Mountain.

Instead, we took his truck to the north side of the mountain, donned our snowshoes, and headed towards the summit.  But, only one mile into the hike Jack’s hip hurt too badly for him to continue (he had surgery on this hip only a year earlier).  Jack hobbled out and we got in his truck, bound for his home where he could recuperate.  But then, he got his truck stuck!  After getting towed out we reached his home in the afternoon.  Only an incredible dinner cooked by Jack’s wife saved the day.

The last day of my trip to the Adirondacks dawned sunny.  Things were looking good.  I skied three miles to the base of Little McKenzie Mountain, part of the approach including a crossing of McKenzie Pond, which was blasted in sunlight.  Once on the far side of the pond I stashed my ski gear, put on my snowshoes, and headed for the top.  The snow was ridiculously deep on the mountain due to 26 inches of snow falling within the past six days.  The 0.6-mile ascent took ninety minutes but the descent took only twenty minutes.

Approach to Little McKenzie Mountain across McKenzie Pond.

I arrived back at the trailhead after covering the ski out in just thirty minutes.  I dumped my pack, snowshoes, and skis in the trunk of my car and looked at the snowbanks on the shoulders of the road.  They were eight feet tall and firm as rock.  The snow in the woods was only half as deep but more like marshmallow than rock.  My twelve peak goal was reduced to a measly seven but I found two things reassuring: My Darn Tough Mountaineering Extra Cushion socks didn’t fail me and snowshoeing on several feet of firm snow this April is going to be fun.

– Erik Schlimmer

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