Day Hike Notes – Avalanche Lake, Adirondacks

The heat had been building through the week. In Silver Lake Wilderness, Monday had been pleasant (60s). By the time I left the Wilderness on Wednesday, we were heading for the high 80s. Thursday was warm even atop the High Peaks. But thunderstorms came along in the evening, and Friday dawned cloudy and mild. There was still a chance of storms in the forecast, so I didn’t want to climb another mountain. I was anyway quite happy with the prospect of a valley-floor hike to end my Dacks trip. Here it is:

DATE: Friday, May 19th.
START & FINISH: Adirondack Loj, near Lake Placid, NY, Adirondack High Peaks region.
ROUTE: Trail to Marcy Dam, then trail to Avalanche Pass and Lake. Return by same route.
DISTANCE: About 8 miles roundtrip.
TIME: Hmm, 5 hours maybe? 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
TERRAIN: Under 700 feet of elevation gain on mostly good trails, so pretty easy.
MAP: Trails Illustrated Adirondack Park, 742.

WEATHER: Overcast and mild on out leg; rainy on back leg. Temperatures in lower 60s.
WILDLIFE: Nothing to note.

BREAKFAST: Oatmeal and coffee at Loj campground.
LUNCH: Trail food.
UPS: (1) Moody scenery in moody weather; (2) finding snow at 3,000 feet in May.
DOWNS: None.
KIT: I got to try my new rain jacket, and like it so far.
COMPANY: A few small groups. At Avalanche Lake, I chatted with two young backpackers from Montreal. They were on their way back to the Loj after a trek deeper into the High Peaks Wilderness.

Cliffs by Avalanche Lake, Adirondack High Peaks

Looking back to Avalanche Pass from Avalanche Lake


Day Hike Notes – Wright Peak, Adirondacks

You-know-who on Wright Peak

On Wright Peak, Algonquin Peak in the background

In Silver Lake Wilderness I met no one in two days and two nights. At times the trail had been hard to follow. The Adirondack High Peaks, which I drove to after leaving the Wilderness on Wednesday, was quite different. Even mid-week in May, there were lots of other hikers about, and the heavily used trails were clear as day. Most of the company was good, and I was pleased to have it.

I had thought I might climb Mount Marcy again, 15 years after my only previous ascent; but the Adirondack Mountain Club ranger at the information center at Adirondack Loj said there was still snow on the way to the summit. I could have rented microspikes from him, but didn’t feel like dealing with snow even with them. He listed off summits that were snow-free, and I chose Wright Peak (4,587 feet). Thunderstorms were forecast for the afternoon, and it looked like a trek I could be done with before the rumbling started.

DATE: Thursday, May 18th.
START & FINISH: Adirondack Loj, near Lake Placid, NY, Adirondack High Peaks region.
ROUTE: Trail toward Marcy Dam for 1 mile, then trail up Algonquin Peak for 2 miles to Wright Peak side-trail. Return by same route.
DISTANCE: 7 miles roundtrip
TIME: 6 hours (8:15 a.m. to 2:15 p.m.)
TERRAIN: A 2,400-foot climb that starts out easy and gentle, and becomes increasingly rough and steep, with some significant scrambling on the approach to the summit (butt-work on the way down).
MAP: Trails Illustrated Adirondack Park, 742.

WEATHER: Hot. Even on the windy summit, it was comfortably warm. Down below, it was in the 80s.
WILDLIFE: Nothing memorable.

BREAKFAST: Mountain House Spicy Southwest Breakfast Hash at Loj campground.
LUNCH: Trail food.
UPS: Lying back on the summit and watching the clouds swirl.
DOWNS: None.
KIT: My old, damaged trekking poles did not collapse down and stow in my pack. My new ones do, and this was extremely useful on the scrambles near the summit.
COMPANY: Ascent, none; summit, 2 couples; descent, plenty.

On Wright Peak, Adirondack High Peaks

On Wright Peak


Silver Lake Wilderness Backpack

Silver Lake, Silver Lake Wilderness, Adirondacks

Early morning on Silver Lake

Last July, I posted that I was going to backpack in Silver Lake Wilderness “at the drop of a hat” sometime in August, September, or October. I meant that I would go at short notice, when weather and free time aligned. It didn’t happen. It would not have happened last week either unless something else had fallen through. I was booked, you see, to spend the week of May 15th in Maine’s Baxter State Park. I had my hikes there all picked out.

Now, the people at Baxter State Park are helpful and friendly, and they did warn me that my part of the park might not open on time. It was, they said, all a question of how soon the snow on the park roads melted, and how soon after that the roads dried out. Four days before my planned departure, they called from Millinocket to say that the road to South Branch Pond would not be useable. Fortunately, I had a Plan B ready to dust off, and headed instead for the Adirondacks.

DATES: Monday-Wednesday, May 15-17.
START & FINISH: Godfrey Road, Upper Benson NY (43.252824, -74.345014).
ROUTE: Short side-trail (yellow-blazed) to Northville-Placid Trail (NPT, blue-blazed), then NPT to Whitehouse. Return by same route.
MONDAY: Godfrey Road to Mud Lake – 12.5 miles.
TUESDAY: Mud Lake to Whitehouse, then back to Silver Lake – 11.6 miles.
WEDNESDAY: Silver Lake to Godfrey Road – 7.0 miles.
TIME: Just over 48 hours (9:45 a.m. Monday to around 10:45 a.m. Wednesday).
TERRAIN: No big elevation changes (entire route between 1,300 and 2,100 feet up), but trail often rough, overgrown, and blocked by blowdowns and other obstacles.
MAP: The one that came with Adirondack Trails: Northville-Placid Trail guide.


Trailside sculpture

WEATHER: Mild and breezy on Monday; hot and sunny on Tuesday and Wednesday.
WILDLIFE: Standouts: moose scat, wailing loons, calling owls.

ACCOMMODATION: Mud Lake lean-to (Monday) and Silver Lake lean-to (Tuesday). At Silver Lake, to escape the evening bugs in the lean-to, I pitched my tent, but did not put on its fly (to catch a breeze and see the stars). About 10 p.m., I was woken by rain, and had to move everything quickly into the lean-to. It turned out to be a feeble shower, but I wasn’t to know that.
MEALS: Mountain House for dinner, otherwise cold fare (of which cheese and tortillas were the best).
UPS: Many, but I’ll settle for waking in the middle of the night to find the moon shining on Mud Lake and flooding the world with its light.
DOWNS: At times, bugs – no-see-ums? – were a nuisance. When combined with heat and fatigue, they made for a few no-fun stretches.
KIT: I need to lighten my load for future outings. I was weighed down with too much stuff I did not use.
COMPANY: None at all, and no cell coverage, for 48 hours. Two young women, trail-runners, passed me near the end (the sudden noise of them behind me had startled).

West Branch Sacandaga River, Silver Lake Wilderness, Adirondacks

West Branch Sacandaga River, my turnaround point

Lost in the Adirondacks

Morning on Brooktrout Lake, West Canada Lake Wilderness

Morning on Brooktrout Lake, West Canada Lake Wilderness

I have badly neglected the Hike List part of this site. In fact, I’m not sure that the list as it is currently conceived and structured is particularly interesting or useful. I am going to have to rethink it. But, in the meantime, I have added (under New York) notes for a 2010 backpack in the Dacks. It was in the company of my youngest daughter, then 10 years old. I don’t think she will ever forget it. I know I won’t.

It was the second afternoon of a three-day trek in the West Canada Lake Wilderness (nearest hamlet, Inlet). We had camped the previous night beside Brooktrout Lake, six miles into the wilderness from a trailhead at the end of miles of dirt road. That second day, we had hiked about ten miles and were on the Cedar Lakes Trail toward – most appropriately – Lost Pond. It was not a good trail, not wide or well-defined. In particular, its blazes were faded and erratic. There were blowdowns, fallen trunks that I suspect had taken blazes with them. We lost the trail once or twice, but soon found it again. This happens a lot when you hike in the woods, even in familiar places. Then, a few hours before sunset, we lost the trail and didn’t find it again.

A doomed young hiker, near Cedar Lakes before we were lost

A doomed young hiker, near Cedar Lakes before we were lost

Using the amount of time we had been hiking on Cedar Lakes Trail, I calculated we were on a particular half-mile section of it. If we bushwhacked north, we would – said the map – run into either Lost Pond or Otter Brook in no more than a quarter-mile, and from either of those features the Lost Pond spur trail would be easily found. Everything is simple on maps.

We followed the red needle of our compass into the woods. It was no easy procession even for a grown-up. The forest was a jumble of spiky blowdowns, ankle-snaring brush, and face-smacking twigs; but we did reach, and cross barefoot, a stream I took to be Otter Brook. The spur trail had to be just a short way ahead. When it didn’t show in the dusk, I was not too worried. We found a space in the forest’s clutter and made camp. We had planned to overnight at Lost Pond anyway. Snug in my sleeping bag, I studied the map by flashlight and fell asleep confident that we would find the trail quickly in the morning by walking north, uphill.

But the trail didn’t show in the morning either. We tried re-crossing the brook to search the south side again. We thought we saw blazes on trees, only to find they were natural stains. We crossed back to the north side, this time not bothering to take our boots off for Otter Brook. I did not fear for our lives. We had food, and shelter from the rain that was starting to fall. My wife knew our route and would raise the alarm when we did not call her that afternoon. But I did fear we would need help to get out, and for the first time in my life I blew my whistle and hollered. No answer. I knew I had to stay calm if I wanted Marjorie to do the same, and to her immense credit she held together, breaking down only once, and briefly, when she slipped on a streamside rock and hurt her tush.

Trail found!

Trail found!

Then, suddenly, it was over. Trying a northerly search again, we saw a vaguely linear thinning of the forest, and wondered if it might prove a trail. We followed it west, hoping. Its trail attributes grew – width, continuity, and eventually a rusty marker tacked to a tree. Four or five hours later, we were bombing down 1-90, and, boy, did it look good.