Winter Hiking – Let’s Start Slowly

So my hiking partner, Steph, and I decided to try winter hiking, because we’re apparently crazy.

Having never done winter hiking (her), or snowshoeing (me), we decided to start slowly, and climb Cascade and/or Porter, if it looked like we were doing ok and had time.  Cascade is a short hike, 4.8 mile round trip hike from Route 73.  Doing Porter would add another 1.4 miles, if we decided to tack it on.

We’ve climbed both peaks before, they were our first 46-ers, back in October of 2011.  I remember hating them on the way down – the hike is steep enough, and the rocks plentiful enough, to make you curse the day you said ‘yes, I’ll hike with you, why not?’

Am I doing this right?

The day of our hike, we layered well – I had on base layers on top and bottom, fleece pants with rain pants over top, as well as a warm Vik Wind Pro mid-layer jacket by 66° North. I had an extra, heavier fleece jacket in my bag, as well as a windproof/waterproof jacket, extra socks and an extra pair of long johns in my pack.  I also had a toque, two pairs of liner gloves, and a pair of thicker mittens.  I was wearing a balaclava style neck and head toque. The temp was forecast to be quite nice, but being prepared for anything is par for the game of hiking in the Adirondacks.

We arrived early – there were plenty of cars parked along the road, but not many on the trail (or summits) – I guess they were off doing Pitchoff, on the other side, or ice climbing.  At any rate, we got settled into our snowshoes and took off, flipping up our heel lifts soon after our start, as we hit the climbing part of our day.

At the lower elevations, the snow cover wasn’t too deep – there were sections where a few rock tops peeked out, but for the most part the rocks were hidden, and our trek undisturbed.  We played leap-frog with a group of women behind us – we were hiking at the same pace, but taking breaks at different times.

Lots of snow at the higher elevations

We had one minor  incident, when I tried to back up in snowshoes (do not back up in snowshoes, just turn around) and fell over, getting snow all down my pants.  A quick brush off with a dry toque, and a change of liner gloves and we were off again.

It took us about 2 hours to hit the junction between Cascade and Porter, so we quickly head out to Cascade, to get our first Winter 46-er.  We met two men coming down who warned us about the winds on the summit, so we took out of thicker fleeces and popped them on, put on our toques, changed out of snowshoes to microspikes, pull on a second pair of mitts, and started to climb the rocks.

There’s this one rock spot on Cascade that is a bit of a bear to get up over, apparently as much in winter as in the summer.  Thankfully, another group was coming down as we were going up, so one of the men braced himself, and stretched out his pole, allowing us to get a good grip and pull ourselves up and over.

Obligatiory shoe shot

The summit was indeed blustery, and cold!, so we snapped a few pictures, as well as an obligatory shoes at the summit photo, before heading down, desperately hoping not to be blown off.  (Ok, it wasn’t that windy, but it was quite strong.)  We made good time getting back to the junction, so we stopped for some food (thankfully not frozen), before heading over to Porter.

Not as bad on Porter

Shortly after the junction, we hit a patch that was a little icy, and a little steep, going down.  So we sat down, and pushed off, sliding our way over the patch.  The hike to Porter was quicker than I remember it being in the summer, and thankfully the summit wasn’t nearly as windy – the trees helping to block the worst of the wind.  We spent a bit mor time here, actually enjoying the view, before heading back to the junction, and down to the trailhead.  We made good time on the way down – it took us an hour from the junction – mostly due, I’m sure, to the fact that we slid down most of the way.

Contemplating the view, before re-snowshoeing

2 Summits. 4 Hours. 1 Bobsled. 1 Road-Trip.

Seeing as this will probably be the last nice long weekend before next spring, I went on a mini-road trip with my friend Steph on Saturday.  We drove down to Lake Placid, New York, to hike up to the summits of Mount Porter and Mount Cascade, two of the High Peaks in the Adirondacks.

Steph is an aspiring 46er – someone who has climbed the 46 High Peaks (that’s the 46 peaks over 4’000 feet) in the Adirondacks.  While she had (previously) climbed Cascade, she had never summited Mount Porter.  Not to mention that she hadn’t clocked herself on the Cascade climb, and the club needs your numbers.  For me, I was eager to get some hiking in as prep for my Kili trip next summer.  They recommend that you hike uphil/downhill as prep for you trip, and I thought that actual mountain hiking would be a great training session.

We left Ottawa at 6am.  The drive to Lake Placid takes about 3.5 hours, and knowing that we would end up spending a good chunk of time on the mountains, we wanted to make sure that we were there early.  The route to Lake Placid took us through the border crossing at Cornwall, and down through Malone, New York, and Saranac Lake.  The drive is incredibly pretty, especially at this time of year when the leaves are turning brilliant shades of orange and red.  The small colonial towns along the route were inviting – had we been going down for several days, I would have loved to have gotten out of the car and explore.

We arrived at the Mount Cascade trail head around 10:30.  We had made a pit stop at the Walmart in Malone so I could buy a pair of sandals.  (Note:  When hiking, always always always bring a change of shoes.)  The trail was busy enough with other groups going up, and the odd group coming down.  We took our time ascending – we were in no rush, and knew we needed to guard our energy as we planned to hit the summits of both Porter and Cascade.  The way going was marked by rocks, trees, branches and mud.

About a half mile from the summit of Cascade, the trail to Porter branches off.  We decided to summit Porter first as Steph hadn’t hit it yet, and it was farther off, an extra 2 kilometers (.7 miles) from the branch.  The trail winds downwards for a bit, before heading back up towards its summit.  This is not a maintained hiking path, it is a winding trail that is awash is mud and water, and just a few minutes from the summit sits a giant boulder that the trail skirts in a tight line, before opening up the reveal the rocky summit, that is lined with pine trees that block the wind.

We decided to lunch at the summit of Mount Porter, as we had now been climbing for nearly 2 hours.  Porter is not nearly as popular as Cascade, so for a time we were alone, enjoying the view of Cascade across the valley.

After lunch we climbed back down, then started the quick assault on Cascade.  The summit of Cascade is thankfully only a half kilometer from the branch, which is about the only thankful thing about it.  The face of Cascade is pure rock that hikers need to scramble up, and if you’re me, slide down on the seat of your pants (on purpose).

In all, it took us 4 hours to hit both summits and descend.  It seemed we would never get off the mountain, as we hiked down.  It seemed to take forever to reach the trail head, and often we were the only people on the trail.  It was such a change from the ascent, when we passed other groups, or had other people in front, behind us as we climbed.  But eventually we did reach the trail head, and signed out.  Taking off my shoes was bliss – my feet were ready for a little relief from the pounding over rocks and mud.

Our drive to Cascade had taken us past a sign that read “Bobsled Rides Today”.  There is no way I can pass a sign offering bobsled rides without participating, so after our hike we took the turn off to the Mt. Van Hoevenberg Olympic Bobsled Run.

Lake Placid hosted the Olympics in both 1932 and 1980.  The bobsled track from the 1980 Olympics is still in use, and occasionally they offer rides.  At $73 for an adult, it’s not cheap, but it is a once in a lifetime experience.  So I paid, and rode up the .5 miles to the start of the bobsled run.

There is nothing quite like hurtling down a mountain in a tin can, on wheels.  (Yes, in the summer, they put wheels on the bobsled.)  There’s a driver in front, and a brakeman in the back.  All I had to do, was hold on (and try to keep my head from bobbling around in the zigzagging curves)  We finished the .5 mile track in 42 seconds, which seemed to be about the standard times for the “tourist track” (as I’m calling it.)  It was certainly an experience, and one I’d recommend to anyone.

After the bobsled run, and a quick dinner in Lake Placid, we started off for home around 6:30.  The sunset was unbelievable as we exited the Adirondacks, an excellent end to a somewhat crazy sounding day.