The PlanGoing to the mountains in the winter is a new experience for me. When I'm there, I find that same feeling come over me as when I was a child playing in the snow in the backyard. I guess these days I realize that I just need a bigger backyard.
On this trip, the backyard was the Adirondacks. After a succesful ascent of Skylight and Marcy with nartreb in January and another summit of North Kearsarge in February, I was eager to get back out there. Maybe a little more challenge this time, I thought to myself... A challenge is just what I got!
My buddy Paul and I had been trying to get out on some mountain trips for a while. I gave Paul a call on a Wednesday night. Lets go! I told him. This was short notice. By Friday we had a plan. It was going to be the Dack's, either Dix or Whiteface. We'll figure it out on the trip up we decided.
We met up at a park and ride near Newburg New York at six am Saturday morning. It had taken me 45 minutes to get to this point and the trailhead was about three and one half hours away. On the way up we talked about the weather forecast for this weekend in our home towns, almost 50 degrees! A little warm for the beginning of March. Paul expressed his concern for the snow conditions on the mountain and I confidently assured him there would be plenty of snow. I couldn't have been more right.
We decided that it would be Whiteface from the south, 3 miles hike from the trailhead to camp, a place called Whiteface landing. This is an area right on the north shore of Lake Placid with a dock where people take small boats and kayaks from civilized areas to hike from there in the summer. From Whiteface landing it was 3 miles (so the book said) and 3000 Ft. elevation gain to the summit.
Day oneWe arrived at the trailhead happy to see the parking area covered with four inches of fresh snow from the night before, but it was beaming sun and about 45 degrees! Wow I thought, this is winter? We pondered what the conditions would be like. this was a popular trailhead and we saw many cross country ski'ers and a few snow shoer's like ourselves. A ranger was preparing his skis for a small juant and he asked us our plans. We told him and he informed us that the trail is seldom used beyond Whiteface Landing and that routefinding could be a problem. He also said that the mountain produces it's own weather and if the summit was socked in with snow to turn back, as whiteout conditions were not uncommon. This information got us excited and we thanked the ranger.
After about a half hour of getting our stuff together, we began our journey. The trail was well trodden and we quickly came upon Connery Pond. The view of Whiteface from here was truly impressive! This is a real mountain! I exclaimed and the anticipation built.
The rest of the hike to Whiteface Landing was uneventful. The forest was beautiful, covered with inches of fresh snow from the night before on top of the two feet received on Valentines day. Upon arrival at Whiteface Landing, we dumped our packs and headed straight out onto the frozen surface of Lake Placid. After walking out onto the lake for a while, we were blessed with more views of the mountain.
This gladdened us and we decided to go and find a place to setup camp and then return to try to cross the lake and reach Moose Island, as we had the afternoon to kill. As soon as we stepped off trail towards the clearing in the woods that would be our campsite, it became very apparent how deep the snow really was. This made us wonder what the trail conditions would be like. We peeked at the trail towards the mountain, no tracks whatsoever. I had assumed such a popular mountain would have been climbed recently but it turns out most people go the easy way, from the north. The rangers words rung in my head.
After stomping down a sufficient area in the snow with our snowshoes, we setup camp rather quickly and headed out for adventure on the lake.
Clouds were now moving in and the temperature had dropped considerably. We were ready though and actually welcomed the return of winter. Out on the lake the views of the mountain were gone. After a short while heading towards Moose Island we came upon a deep slushy area hidden by the fresh snow. This spooked us both, so we fell back to re-assess the situation. I was eager to go but Paul was a bit more cautious. We don't want to ruin our trip he said. This made sense to me but after chatting with a few locals who had skiid out to the landing we were confident that the ice was very thick under the slush, so off we went!
Flurries of snow began, ahh, it doesn't get any better than this I said to myself. About half way to the island the flurries turned into a full force snow squall! it was a whiteout, and for several minutes we couldn't figure out which way was what. As the snow dissapated, the island came into view, we were happy we were still on track.
We got to camp and proceeded to cook up some grub. I was in charge if melting snow and Paul cooked the food. I was very ill prepared food wise for this trip and was thankful that Paul had brought something other that Cliff bars. Thanks to Paul, dinner was a hit and I had melted plenty of water for tomorrows adventure. We noticed a small group moving in the direction of the mountain. It's too late to be summiting today I said. Paul mentioned that they were probably heading for the lean-to, a mile closer to the mountain. Paul and I had decided that 4:30 was the wakeup time as we needed to summit, break camp, and head home all in one day.
Summit dayI was up at 2:30, I had slept well since sunset and couldn't sleep no more. Paul on the other hand did not sleep so well and was diffcult to wake so I decided to start to pack up my sleeping bag and other things I was not going to need. Then I started up the oatmeal, this will get him I said to myself but all I heard was snoring. After finishing my breakfaast I decided to try and wake Paul again, he was more responsive this time so I warmed him some oatmeal and I melted some more snow while he ate.
By 5:15 we were off, it was 15 degrees and some fresh snow had fallen overnight. The trail was well broken from the group that had passed us the day before. We were happy about this and made it quikly to the Lean-to.
Once we reached the lean-to, one of the guys inside said Hey. It was still dark and we couldn't see inside the lean-to but we thanked him for breaking trail and told him it was our turn. He thanked us in advance and we continued.
A few more steps and there we were, faced with the trail. What trail? I said aloud, and it was clear that we had some work to do.
We both looked at each other with perplexed looks on our faces. It was obvious that nobody had been here since well before the Valentines day storm. luckily, I had brought my extensions for my MSR Denali snowshoes and they proved to really make a difference. As we pushed onward the snow grew deeper and there were many trees bent down over the trail from the weight of the snow. All around us was a pure, serine untouched winter wonderland. This ever-changing scenery is what kept me going. Paul was expressing his concern about the conditions with a few comments thrown in like "I have never in my life done so much work without pay!" I told him, We got all day Brotha! Little did I know, all day was what it was going to take.
The sky brightened and we put away our headlamps. We took a look at the map and I guestimated our location, something I am usally very good at. About 45 minutes later, we reached that location, I just kept my mouth shut and continued to break trail. We were both experienced hikers, in good shape and I knew we had it in us although our confidence was being whiddled away.
We decided to take a break. Paul pulled out a fresh, home made tuna fish sandwich with carrots and apples. What did I have??? a cookies and cream power bar! The power bar felt kind of tough so I checked the expiration date, Feb, 06! Great, this meal is going to need some help. I thought of the ingenious idea of dipping the bar into my nalgene bottle which was filled with hot water. This worked excellent, it was delicious! But by the second dunk, my grip failed and I just hear PLOOP! as I watch the power bar fall to the bottom of my nalgene. I stare at this in wonder. How am I going to get this thing out without sacrificing my precious water? Paul is laughing. I decided to drink a bunch until I could hold the bottle at such an angle to retrieve it with my fingers. I finally got it out and continued my meal. I had to drink this cookies and cream flavored water for the rest of the trip, YUKK!!
The topic of the lean-to guys came up and we wondered, Where the hell are those guys!!!!!!!!!! as we broke trail for two hours this discussion turned into comments like,,, Those Pussies!,,, Yeah, who goes all the way to the lean-to and doesn't even climb the mountain????,,,,, Yeah, they're probably re-enacting scenes from brokeback mountain!!! Yeah!
We continued to take turns breaking trail. The trail became steeper and there were several areas where big trees had been blown down over the trail. At this point I had to go off trail from the knee deep snow and climb embankments on the side of the trail in waist deep snow, actually having to dig a path in front of me before stepping, and grabbing small tree trunks to pull myself up! For me this was a realization that the Northeast really does get true powder and winter conditions, this was a joyful discovery for me, knowing I could find such conditions.
Four hours after leaving camp, we stopped, I looked over at a large Birch and knew we were nowhere near the summit as these trees do not grow at the higher elevations. Paul expressed his concern for the situation but was willing to go on. I had misjudged our location several times now and we were both pretty tired. I said, (very unlike myself) Lets get outta here! You said it! Paul exclaimed and we reluctantly turned back.
We took a few steps, looked up, and there they were, THE LEAN-TO GUYS!!!!!!!!!!Where were you guys, I yelled. They told us of the gourmet breakfast they had cooked. Bacon, eggs, juice, and fresh brewed coffee. To top it off it had taken them an hour and a half to do what took us almost four hours!!!
It was great to see other people though. I stepped aside with a huge grin and simply said, your turn. I looked back at Paul and said, lets go. he gave me another perplexed look and said OK, lets do it!
The leader was strong, it was amazing how much easier the trail was with four other people up front. This was a big boost of confidence for us and the idea that we were gonna make it to the top was the fuel.
The trail soon became pretty steep and two of the other crew were having trouble with their Tubbs snowshoes. All of the rest of us had the Denali Ascent and the heel lifters proved themselves worthy. The traction was excellent. Soon the Birch trees were long gone and the Fir were getting smaller. The wind was picking up and the temperature was 10 degrees, snowing steady. At this point the two guys with the Tubbs turned back. The rest of us geared up for the summit!
We proceeded towards the rocky summit. The winds had picked up to about 25 MPH and in my mind I was thinking of what a dramatic change it was from the day before and the lower elevations.
It seemed like every step we took, the mountain got higher.
Nearing the summit, we notice a trail sign. Whiteface landing 3.8 miles. SON OF A BITCH! I say aloud, realizing it was almost a mile more than the book AND the sign at the landing had said. The lean-to guy's were not surprised, noting the many innacurate signs in the Dacks. I now realized partially how we could have misread our position and why it had taken longer to get here!
Cliff after cliff, we kept climbing until finally the summit came into view. SEVEN HOURS and almost four miles since we left camp, we were staring at the summit. The lean-to guys gave us the honors of being the first to summit.
We were all starving so we found a place near the summit buildings (closed) away from the wind. The Temperature was now hovering between 0 and five degrees. Paul had another gourmet tuna sandwich and I pulled out a, you guessed it, a cliff bar! the other two had bags and bags of stuff, one of them that looked like it was left over from halloween, candy pouring out. Both Paul and the lean-to guys were very generous to me and I stuffed my face gladly with free handouts. After pigging out we all made a mad dash for the lean-to, three miles away.
Both Paul and I were super surprised how everything had fallen into place!
The lean-to guys were just talking about all the food and coffee they were going to consume upon return to camp. This helped speed things up a bit.
As we approached the lean-to, I could hear the roar of three MSR Whisperlite stoves blaring. I am handed a hot cup of soup and a salami with cheese sandwich. You guys really know how to eat! i said. The lean-to guys told us they had been friends for many years and this was one of thier annual trips to the mountains in the spring, fall, and winter.
Paul and I expressed our greatest thanks and headed out for camp. We returned to find a few more inches of fresh snow on the tent. Camp broke down pretty quick and we were off for the last 3 miles of our foot journey.
The three miles went fast. We jumped in the truck and made a beeline for the Subway in the town of Lake Placid. It was snowing hard and we had a long drive ahead. Five hours, two cups of coffee and six chocolate chips cookies later I was home. It was 12:00 A.M. Monday morning and I had 8 hours to clean up, get to bed and get to work. I made it to work but had to leave early from exhaustion. Well I must say for those who think the North East is just a place with sissy mountains, I invite you to come up and have a go at it in winter. I'll see ya out there!