It was finally time to tackle another peak in the Adirondacks. It had been a weird winter – first Steph and I were both away. After that I had my wisdom teeth out, then Steph got sick, and I followed two days later. Plus, the weather was all over the place, lots of snow, weeks of barely 0C temps, one week of below 20C, back up to plus temperatures, and then rain. We’d been checking trail conditions on the Aspiring Adirondack 46ers Facebook page to see what kind of traction might be needed. The two weeks before we headed down, temperatures were in the single plus digits, and snow had mostly disappeared from lower elevations, but was still thick enough up top for snowshoes to be needed. Then the rain hit about a week ago, and the Friday before we were to hike, the temperatures dropped and it snowed a couple of inches. Snowshoes wouldn’t be needed, but microspikes (or even crampons) would be.
Seeing as we’re about 4 hours north, we always drive down the night before. When we’re climbing anything from the Adirondack Loj trailhead, or the Lake Road, we stay at Tmax and Topo’s Hostel. It’s a great hiker hostel – people go to bed early and get up early to get on the trails early.
So Saturday we were up and on the road by 6:45, before turning around because we had both forgotten something, and then back on the road again. We were making good time – no traffic, no sun in our eyes, lovely scenery….when a deer suddenly jumped out onto the road, and ran across it right in front of us. Steph had been thankfully looking in that direction, and was on the breaks in a heartbeat (which I don’t think either of us had at that point, because holy crap this is what they warn you about) and…we stopped. We stopped an inch from the deer as it ran pell-mell across the road and into the woods on the other side. And then we just sat there for a second, before driving away and trying to get our breathing under control.
So it was with that drama that we arrived at the Lake Road parking area, and walked towards the register. As we neared both it and the gate, Steph grabbed my arm to get me to stop walking, and said “deer” in a soft whisper. (You see, last summer when we were heading back to the trailhead from Cliff, I was staring at the trail, and Steph gasped and grabbed me, causing me to panic because I thought “BEAR” while she saw “deer”, so this time she didn’t want to startle me.) I still jumped, though, because I thought (stupidly, I know, but it wasn’t even 7:30 yet on a Saturday) that I was about to walk into a deer….and it was essentially a replay from last year.
So we signed in around 7:20, with the idea of climbing Colvin, and if we had time, Blake. (We were willing, if somewhat reluctant, to orphan Blake, even if we needed to go back over Colvin to get it).
The road was well packed, well frozen, but had no snow cover. As we walked on, the cover became a dusting of snow, before finally the road was covered in about an inch of soft, white powder. There were very few tracks in front of us, and we ran into a few people, but for the most part it was quiet and still.
If you remember from my post on the first time we did Colvin and Blake, don’t take the first trail that says “Colvin.” If you do this, you’ll be one step ahead of us because we did take the first trail, and were way-laid by a small, but significant, water crossing. With the melt, and rain, from the previous weeks, the normally small crossing didn’t have what we considered a good fordable area. I’ve got balance issues when it comes to water crossing (I am not a rock hopper, I’m a rock-slipper-faller-on-my-knee-er). At this point we pulled out the map, realized that we should be on the other trail, and bushwhacked the 50 feet to the Lake Road.
Shortly down the road, we came to the junction that we had wanted all along. We followed the single set of footprints, before realizing that we shouldn’t just blindly follow someone else’s tracks because we have no idea where they were going. We were still on the trail, but we started paying attention to the trail itself, and to the markers along the route. We came to a normally small stream crossing, but again – the rocks were pretty icy, and the water covered the rocks just enough to make me hesitant to cross it.
We debated it a little bit, but decided not to risk it – especially seeing as it was only about 8:30, and we didn’t want to get stuck on the wrong side of the stream in the afternoon if there was any more melt.
From the junction of the Gill Brook trail and the short-cut, you can go up Colvin or you can go to Fish Hawk Cliffs, or Indian Head. Having never been to Indian Head, we decided to head in that direction. (When one door closes, another opens, and all). No one had been on the trail since the snowfall the day before – it was pure unblemished snow. “Hey,” we thought, “this will be good winter experience for finding a trail! With the safety of being on a marked trail, just in case.”
The trail was fairly gradual at first, and most snowed in, but just like the Lake Road, there was only an inch or two of snow. In a few spots, it had started to melt, and we tried to avoid getting our feet wet in the small puddles.
We had a few moments were we thought we had lost the trail (some blowdown from winter storms had fallen over the trail) but we quickly got back on track each time. We came to one section that had small rock faces that were covered in ice, but it was easily by-passable, although we did put our microspikes on. The snow had turned into an icy, concrete-like mass – and below that was a layer of pure ice. It was definitely not bareboot appropriate.
Near the top is a steeper section that required a bit of finagling, including a ladder that had ice on only one side of the steps (the cliff beside the ladder was casting a shadow on one side of the ladder, causing the ice there to remain, while the other side was getting full sun.) The trail leads to s short junction with a look-out 75 yards to the left, and the trail continuing on to Indian Head to the right. We passed an open rock face, and followed the path as it meandered up and down, until we came to the summit. We sat for a quick food break, before heading back to the sunny rocks for a true lunch (chili!)
The trip down was uneventful, although the snow and ice had started to melt more by this point. Where there had been small puddles of water previously, there were deeper puddles, and the snow had lost its icy crispness. We ran into a few more hikers on our way out – which we thought was unusual, until we looked at our watches and realized it was only noon. Our walk to the register was slow but smooth – we stopped a few places for photos, and just took it easy.