March 16th, 2019
After jokingly talking about attempting a winter hike on Christmas, we decided to head to the Adirondacks for a short winter trip. We went from saying we would not winter hike, to we would try snowshoeing locally to saying we would hike a smaller non 46-er. Somehow in the span of 2 months we decided we would go all out and try an easier high peak. After rescheduling our trip 3 times due to weather and sickness we finally drove down on Friday the 15th. Our drive down was eventful and involved nearly hitting 2 giant deer in the middle of nowhere. It was eerie how deserted the drive was to Saranac Lake at night! We arrived around midnight and went straight to sleep.
We woke up at 5:30am to hail. The weather did not predict this so we were slightly annoyed but decided to drive to the Adriondak Loj as planned. When we turned down the road to the Loj we concluded that we would have no views on this hike, but that is to be expected in the winter. After driving the windy, bumpier than I remembered road we stopped at the parking booth. “Are we the only ones here?” I said in a slight panic that we would be in the wilderness alone. Upon turning the corner there were plenty of cars, thankfully. We parked and started to prepare ourselves for the conditions as it was still hailing. We took probably 45 minutes to get all of our crap ready and had minor panic attacks watching the super intense backcountry skiers gear up with their harnesses, ice axes and crampons. “Are we prepared for this?!” Heidi said. We will find out…
We strapped on our snowshoes and hustled our way down the trail across the bridge and onto the same trail we were on last time in the Adirondacks. It just looked very different this time! Soon after we came to the junction to the Van Hoevenberg trail and turned left to head towards Marcy Dam and Mount Marcy. At this point, we lost a bunch of the skiers and the trail was pretty quiet. It was peaceful but freezing and the snow was whipping us in the face. The trail to Marcy Dam is really gradual with only minor ups and downs so we arrived at the dam pretty quickly.
After about 2.2 miles we made it to Marcy Dam. When we arrived at the dam I felt like looking around a bit or taking a break in a lean-to. We decided it was just way too cold to stop, and we should just keep going. We signed in at the second register and you had to duck to sign it since the snow was so deep.
We crossed the high water bridge and turned to stay on the Van Hoevenberg trail. The trail was still pretty tame, but we were definitely starting to go up. After about a mile we reached the junction to the Phelps trail. We stopped here and chatted with a bunch of other hikers and skiers who were going to attempt Mount Marcy. (I wonder how they made out…?) At this point, we had a decision to make. Do we keep going to Tabletop or do we take the shorter, but steeper trail and do Phelps? We felt like we could keep going so we decided to head to Tabletop since it was further out and apparently it is a pretty muddy trail so a winter hike just made sense. Within what seemed like minutes the trail got way steeper! We tried the heel lifts on our snowshoes but my foot started cramping up immediately so we put them back down. Shortly after we reached the sign to Tabletop Mountain.
Although this is a herd path, it would be almost impossible to lose the trail. It mostly winds through trees and wasn’t too steep until about the last half mile. At this point if you look behind you, you can see pretty good views. Unfortunately it was just too cold to take off our gloves and the trail was super narrow making it harder to take breaks. The only problem with this hike in the winter was passing people. If you had to pull off, you would sometimes sink into the snow which was at least waist deep. Since the snow was so deep, there was also a lot of tree dodging to do. Don’t get too close to any other hikers unless you like getting whipped with tree branches!
After a short, but very steep final push we basically popped out at the summit! There were no views today but I think you could get a pretty decent view just past the trees.
The summit was pretty magical with all the icy trees but it was not a place to hang out! Moments after we arrived we met a nice guy who was working on his winter 46er. He gave us a few tips and took some pictures for us. We force fed ourselves some frozen PBNJ sandwiches and then started to head back down.
I was worried about descending on snowshoes since it was pretty steep but it was surprisingly pretty easy since there are no boulders or rock slabs to worry about! After the super steep part we stopped for some gatorade where I had a minor mishap. My snowshoe somehow decided to fall off, and I unknowingly stepped on the snow in my bare boot and sunk in to my waist. It was pretty funny but also scary because it was pretty hard to get out. I felt like a fish flopping around on the beach. After the incident we trudged along and passed the Tabletop sign pretty quickly. We were super tempted to try butt sliding down the mountain but after much discussion we decided we’d rather not die today. At this point, the snowshoes were getting slightly cumbersome and we wanted to ditch them in bush and forget about them. We reached the Phelps junction and sat down for a quick break. We decided to switch to our spikes which was a great decision. The trail was pretty hard packed here and we were basically racing our way back to Marcy Dam (for us.) We got to Marcy Dam about 1.5 hours after the summit. Of course the sun was coming out, so we took this opportunity to check out the area and take some pictures.
After leaving the dam I decided I HAD to pee. I just could not wait any longer, I used the outhouse right on the trail. The door was falling off, and it smelled like death. It was an experience. This energized me in a weird way, but the energy did not last long. After about 0.5 miles we both got super tired. Our packs were getting super heavy and we just wanted to be back at the trailhead! We passed all these people who looked like they were snowshoeing to Marcy Dam and back. They looked like they were enjoying themselves so much, meanwhile we looked like zombies walking back. After what felt like the longest 2.2. miles, we finally made it back to the trail register!
We got back to the car, I didn’t even bother to remove my spikes. Just ripped off my boots and into some weather appropriate keds (not.) We hobbled into the Loj to use a proper washroom and went back to the car to gorge on Pringles!
High peak 10/46 was a success! Until next time, ADK’S
Mileage: 11.5 miles
Elevation gain: 2438 feet