I left for the Adirondacks at 5:30 am, Friday morning, meeting my two
partners, Rich and Ron, at 7:00 am. We arrived mid-day at the South Meadows trailhead
and setup our gear sleds, which carry the heavier gear. Our small backpacks
are intended only to carry supplies, climbing and emergency gear for a day's
outing. The three mile ski into Marcy Dam, towing the gear sleds, was
accomplished in about and hour and a half. Rich located a nice campsite near a lean-to
facing the lake which was frozen hard with about a foot of snow on it. Ron
brought along his new tent, the 'Great Pyramid of Cheops' model (very roomy!) and
I set up an a-frame tarp and bivy for myself. I am testing the eVENT emergency
bivy shelter for Integral Deigns and this was the perfect opportunity to try
it in extreme conditions. We then did a warm-up ski to the Avalanche Pass
Lean-to. Ski conditions were so-so. There was only about a foot of snow so there
were exposed rocks everywhere, and the cold conditions, about -8 F, seemed to
make the snow very slow. The jeep road in had the best ski conditions of the
We can usually obtain water from below the falls at the dam, but the recent
cold snap had frozen the usual holes. I had to use my climbing ice axe to chop
through the ice until we found unfrozen water. This would be our routine for
the next three days. We set up cooking facilities in the nearby lean-to after
dark (the Brasslite Turbo II-D and Yukon HL at -15 F!), and then socialized in
the Great Pyramid for a couple of hours before turning in. Temps dropped
during the night to about -17 F and we woke to -15 F on Saturday, which dawned
clear and windless. I slept well in the eVENT bivy. As a storm system had moved
out during the night and we expected another one by midnight, we did a quick
pack and headed for Marcy up the Phelps Trail, which proved to be a rock garden.
We decided to dump our skis, before we destroyed them, about a mile and a half
in and continued at the Phelps Bridge with snow shoes. Snow finally started
to accumulate after passing Indian Falls and we gained altitude, about 3500
feet. I 'hit the wall' at about this point. Apparently we started too early, as
in our rush to make the best of the weather window, I had skipped breakfast. I
took a water and candy bar break (a granola bar and a Cadbury Fruit and Nut
candy bar which Nancy slipped in my pack just before leaving-highly recommended
for quick energy!) while Rich and Ron did the same. Feeling refreshed, I
started climbing again, expecting my partners to catch up.
The snow continued to get deeper, but my snowshoes kept me above most of it,
at least were the thin crust would support my weight. Accumulations were
approaching four feet above 4500 feet. We were the first ones up this route since
the most recent snowstorm (three or four days prior) and I had to break trail
for the next mile and a half in deepening snow, occasionally post holing two or
thee feet in soft powder, even with the snowshoes. There is a small level
area just before the reaching the summit cone and I waited here for Rich and Ron
to catch up. I was a bit concerned, as I had expected them to catch me easily.
It turned out I was a good twenty minutes ahead of them. We took a quick
snack and water break and admired the spectacular day as they interrogated me as
to the contents of that candy bar! A trace of a breeze was starting to make
itself felt, so we continued our push for the summit before conditions had a
chance to deteriorate, as they had in prior years.
The day was spectacular, with a noticeable warming trend as we climbed. We
did our 'gear-up' for the final push in the same gully that we called it quits
in two years ago after getting slammed by a whiteout. The gully is right at
tree line and the breeze had graduated to a strong wind as we ascended, blowing a
pretty steady 30 mph. We pulled out our heavy insulating layers, wind shells
and heavy gloves, as they would be needed after we cleared the shelter offered
by the gully. Rich switched to crampons, Ron and I stayed in our MSR climbing
snow shoes. Ron led and hit an icy patch about a hundred feet or so above the
gully and also switched to crampons. I stayed in snowshoes the entire time,
as I spotted a 'switchback' route behind Ron which was perfectly suited to the
climbing snowshoes. Which footwear worked best depended on where you were
standing at the given moment, as there were several gale formed horizontal bands
of rock/ice/crusty snow/crusty snow over hard ice/deep snow, etc. as we went
up. I felt the snowshoes were best overall, as they provided good traction on
all but the steepest ice and floated over all the ice crusted snow bands. Rich
was wise to switch to crampons as his old Sherpas weren't up to the icy work.
Both Rich and Ron had to wade through the deeper snow bands, which slowed them
up a bit. Ron ended up wishing he had kept his MSR Ascents on.
We made the summit at about 2:00 pm. Conditions were extremely clear, with
spectacular views all around, very windy (about 30 mph, steady) and moderately
cold (hovering around zero F or a bit below?). The entire summit rock was
covered in rime ice, with only a few snow or icy patches and some rime ice
accumulation on the summit cairns. We stayed on the summit for about 30 minutes high
fiving, taking in the view and putting my digital camera to work. The skies
were clear except to the southeast, where we could see a storm front moving in. I
later learned this storm was dumping sleet and snow on Long Island while we
were looking at it, over 300 miles away!
We descended to the gully via a slightly different route which turned out to
have much more snow. Rich and Ron suffered for their lack of snowshoes here.
We reconnected with our original line and descended to the sheltered gully,
where we geared back down. The rest of the descent went quickly, as we maintained
a very strong pace and were back in camp in about 2.5 hours! Ten miles and
6400 feet of elevation change in nine hours, over rocks, ice and deep snow!
Definitely a good, albeit hard, day.
After we wolfed down some hot food, we spent a quiet night discussing ski
options with our friend Yukon Jack (100 proof!) until about 8:00 pm. The next
morning, as Rich was having boot/blister problems, and we were all pretty knocked
from a very big Saturday, and the ski conditions basically stunk (except for
the jeep road, which was excellent again!), and I had a brand new unopened
computer waiting at home, we decided to head back a day early. Of course, all
this free time now meant we could have lunch at Cascade Ski, linger at The
Mountaineer outfitters shop and stop at Ron's favorite new coffee spot (I highly
recommend the hazelnut brew!) and then have a leisurely drive home.
It was an excellent trip all around!
I'll post a couple of photos.
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