After weeks of planning and the purchase of a not inconsiderable amount of gear, Henry, Ed, Steve and I were finally ready to make a winter ascent of Mt. Marcy, the tallest and most treacherous of the Adirondacks' high peaks, following in the footsteps of Lake View owner John Apperson, who summited, on skiis, in 1911(!!) So on Sunday Feb. 18th we got up at 4 am and made the hour plus drive to the base of Marcy. All went as planned, got there before dawn, strapped on our snowshoes and started the 8 miles up. We hit Marcy Dam in a blink and on we went. Passed one couple, then caught up to a couple of guys, and there was no one up the mountain today before them, so we started breaking trail from there in the fresh snow--3-4" with a few feet beneath it. Took a few breaks--chugged Gatorade, ate gorp and power bars--we realized later we never actually sat at any time during the entire hike! Conditions were decent on lower part of the mountain, maybe 0 - 10 degrees F., light snow showers but even some sun--it was truly a gorgeous winter wonderland with the hemlocks all socked in. At mile 7 we started getting out of the trees, ache-y but ready for the final assault. The summit is barren and famous for its miserably fickle and cold weather in the winter. It didn't disappoint. We jammed on more layers, masks and goggles and tried to keep moving--it was icy cold. But above the tree line there was no trail at all marked and it was cloudy and snowing now, with the wind whipping--40-50 mph, so even our tracks were covering up behind us. And in places, where the wind hadnt scoured rocks down to their ice layer, we were breaking 3-4 foot snowdrifts--heavy work!
We could make out the summit--only about 600 yards away, but couldn't figure out how to get there--it was straight up. Ed's GPS had failed, and the map was not detailed enough. We made a few false starts to find the trail and ended up sliding across rocks and ice. Our window was closing--we didn't want to be on the mountain after dark, and it just seemed un-doable, so we turned back. And that was that--Marcy won that day. Of course, we'll be back.
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Haystack II Ascent Fails, Again, But we Rally and Bag a Peak Apiece HAYSTACK I: On Dec. 6, 2007, Ed, Henry and I set out on our first winter attempt of Haystack, the third highest High Peak and a bear of a winter climb given its distance from the trailhead, 20+ miles RT, and obstacles along the way. ("Unremittingly steep" says the ADK trail guide.) Our first mistake came in the AM when we left LVH a little late, then missed a turn that cost us a half hour drive around the lake. We didn't set off from Adirondack Loj til nearly 8, well after dawn, and every moment of daylight counts for such a long hike when the days are so short.
Even before Marcy Dam, we were breaking some trail--there was one guy ahead of us. But he peeled off toward Phelps and from then on it was very heavy, slow slogging up the Marcy trail, with thick snow--a foot or two--to plow through. We were tired and behind schedule when we hit the turn off down Panther Gorge, a steep descent that takes you to the base of the Haystacks. And the trail down, unfortunately, was not well-marked. We had to traverse here and there to find it, taking precious time off our dwindling clock. We did get down eventually, and even found that someone appeared to have been headed up Haystack on the Johns Brook trail. But we were past the witching hour for turning around. Game over. We trudged back up Panther Gorge then descended Marcy, back to the loj dead-tired just past dusk.
HAYSTACK II: On March 15 the three of us got on the road by 5, and out of the Loj by around 6:30. Conditions were relatively easy with a well packed, well marked trail. Temperature was warm, 36 or so. Lots of people came behind us but we were first up the Marcy trail and it had rained at some point and frozen on the trees, encasing them in crystal--beautiful. We made Panther Gorge turnoff with plenty of time and headed down. Disaster struck. Beyond the first marker, we could not find another, and no one had come this way. We spread out and traversed, then tried to use compass and map to project a trail. We ended up bushwhacking a path for two hours through tightly packed ice covered pines, and never found a marker or the trail down. It was very heavy going given the big base--5-6 feet of snow, the lack of trail, and the ice layer just below the foot of fresh snow--lots of time crawling over and under limbs and creeks. We seemed to be at the bottom at one point but all the mountains were obscured by clouds so we didn't know which direction to strike out. And now we were running out of time again--imagine our chagrin!!
We made a group decision and bailed--took us an hour and a half just to follow our own footsteps on the return. Back up on Marcy's shoulder, we reconvened. The warm weather had made our down superfluous--in fact none of us had wicked very well and we all tried to peel off and switch to one layer of the driest stuff we could find. It was clearer out and we could see a half dozen folks up on Marcy, which seemed windless and relatively easy. Henry and Ed decided to do Marcy--Henry for the second time, Ed for first. But I had had it, or so I thought then. Tired, defeated, I took their iceaxes to lighten the load and we parted ways.
Ed and Henry made an easy ascent--well packed and visible trail. A little icy but no problem--and it turns out that a couple dozen people--mostly French Canadians, some with dogs-- were summiting. They powered down after, Henry insisted on some jogging, I am told, and that was that.
As I headed down I started thinking what a colossal waste to get all the way up here and not salvage something, which brings me to Phelps Mtn: about an hour and a half from the Loj off the Marcy trail the Phelps trail is a very steep ascent but just a mile long with beautiful views: as tired and ache-y as my legs and shoulders were, it seemed doable, so I did it. Dropped the axes at the bottom and got up there relatively quickly--I did groan at having to dip under some tree limbs here and there: the Panther Gorge had robbed me of energy for more of that! Nice clear view from the big rock on south side. Coming down was hard --calves and knees were at their limits, but no mishaps, and then loaded up and back to the Loj, another four-thousand footer under my belt. Given the day, we managed to spin a little gold from dross, and that was that.
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