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Hiking Cliff and Colden Mountains in the Adirondack High Peaks

Avalanche Lake in the Adirondack High Peaks is one of those places in winter which is awe inspiring.

Avalanche Lake in the Adirondack High Peaks is one of those places in winter which is awe inspiring.

Adirondack Loj in the High Peaks

Climbing the Winter 46 High Peaks

Backpacking for a few days in January in the Adirondack High Peaks, what's the worse that could happen? I'm an experienced mountaineer, why would I allow something in the forecast like "a chance of snow melt" affect my plans when I've hiked in the worst of weather conditions - or so I thought.

Then again, my winter backpacking plans often go awry. Perhaps it is the uncertainty that makes my pulse quicken and reminds me to embrace life with a certain fullness.

Though, I have climbed all 46 of the Adirondack High Peaks over 4000', I went back yet again to climb in those same majestic mountains. It is an addiction, one I satisfy on my monthly forays to the 'Dacks. This time I was working toward my Winter 46 - climbing all 46 during the winter season. Yes, I've hiked through an ice storm in June, saw snow in August, and been in knee deep snow in April and November - but hiking in wintery conditions doesn't "count." For the 46rs, winter ascents only count between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.

So I had a plan, though the more astute of you out there can tell from my intro that I didn't follow it, for a relaxing four day sojourn.

The Plan:

Day 1: Drive to ADK Loj, park, and hike to Avalanche Camp lean-to and camp for the night

Day 2: Hike from Avalanche Camp to Uphill Brook lean-to and drop my pack. Climb Cliff and Redfield Mountains, and return to Uphill Brook to camp.

Day 3: Hike from Uphill Brook toward Four Corners. Climb Gray Peak and Mt. Skylight. Carry pack over Marcy - I didn't need Marcy for winter, but it is always an awesome mountain to climb. Descend down to Marcy dam area and camp.

Day 4: Have a lazy morning and hike out the two miles to the Loj and drive home.

A simple plan, right? It didn't seem too ambitious, all I needed was a little luck from the weather.

The Adirondack Loj

I parked at the Adirondack Mountain Club's Loj Heart Lake campground. For those spelling sticklers out there, you may notice the odd spelling of "lodge." That spelling is the result of former Lake Placid Club member (and inventor of the Dewey Decimal System) Melvil Dewey and his movement toward simplified spelling.

The Loj is a popular place to park for easy access to the Central High Peaks Region. However, a parking fee is charged for all users - discounted rates are available for ADK members.

The bridge over Marcy Dam was destroyed by the waters of Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.  A reroute of the trail lies to the North.

The bridge over Marcy Dam was destroyed by the waters of Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. A reroute of the trail lies to the North.

Day 1: Adirondack Loj to Avalanche Camp Lean-to

This is a short day, only about 4 miles with my wandering, but intentionally so. After the six-hour drive to the High Peaks from the Buffalo area, it's hard to motivate oneself to have a major mileage day. I didn't even get on the trail after gearing up and paying for parking till almost 3:15 PM, so I knew a nice relaxing short day was in order.

As usual, the trails around Loj were packed well with hard snow allowing for quick easy travel, almost everyone was wearing microspikes for traction underfoot. Though I started with crampons, my snowshoes hitching a ride on my backpack until needed later, I stowed the crampons after realizing it wasn't too slippery out. I bare booted the rest of the day, the lugs from my Keen Delta boots grab the ice well with a technology called "Keen.Grip."

Though, I knew the bridge at Marcy dam was obliterated by the force of water from Tropical Storm Irene, I honestly was expecting a more established reroute this close to the Loj. The trail now abruptly turns and crosses over a rocky area of Marcy Brook. In drier times, one could easily rock hop and stay dry - but this was a moment I was glad I had waterproof boots. I wonder if this brook crossing will keep more passive backcountry visitors at bay. After the crossing two strands of the Brook, the trail emerges out onto the South Meadow truck-trail, which leads you easily to Marcy Dam.

Even on the coldest winter day there is always a flurry of activity around Marcy Dam. At only 2-miles from the trailhead with plenty of camping, it is no wonder it is always so busy. Though they are hibernating now, this place is also a favorite haunt for hungry bears searching for campers careless with their chow. For such reasons DEC approved bear-resistant food containers are required between April 1st and November 30th in the Eastern High Peaks.

Being winter, you still have to keep your food safe though - especially from martens and mice. These little critters will chew a hole through your backpack to get to that granola bar inside.

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I took the gentle trail away from the dam, passing the occupied lean-to at Marcy Brook, opting instead for solitude at Avalanche Camp. The last time I camped here was on a very cold December weekend a few years ago, but today was in the 30's even as the sun set over the mountains.

The morning view out of Avalanche Camp lean-to.

The morning view out of Avalanche Camp lean-to.

GPS tracklog on Google Earth of my trip

I downloaded the tracks from this trip from my Gramin Map60 CSX GPS into Google Earth.