Windswept World

Marcy and Colden from Iroquois windswept col“Marcy and Colden from Iroquois’s windswept col”

I had been planning a winter ascent of Algonquin (5,114ft) and Iroquois Peak (4,840ft) in the High Peaks Region of the Adirondacks for some time now, in hopes of getting some nice shots of the snow covered trees on and around the summits. I was afraid the mild temperatures combined with the wind and rain we’ve been having this last month of winter had stripped all the trees of their snow. As fate would have it I got my break two days before I was to attempt the climb, it came in the form of snow, but I did not know this at the time. While the southern Adirondacks were being targeted by heavy rains the higher elevations were actually getting snow. This turned out to be a wonderful blessing as it covered up much of the ice above treeline.

Plans were hashed out and my hiking partner and I decided on an 8am start. I reached the trailhead at approx. 7:45 and self registered at the Adirondack Loj. There I met up with Dan and we loaded up our gear and hit the trail shortly after 8. Trail conditions were great, the melting and freezing of the snow created nice hard pack conditions and we were able to make really good time. Iroquois would complete Dan’s 46th Winter High Peak (He has done them all in other seasons as well), so this was the main goal of the trip for him. On the trail he told me that this was his 3rd attempt this winter at Iroquois and one of those times he was less than 150 yards from the summit but was forced to turn back due to extreme whiteout conditions and the numerous spruce traps that he encountered along the way. I told him the weather forecast looked very promising, and although this can change in an instant, it called for clear skies and relatively calm winds on the summits. If there was ever a day to bag Iroquois, this would be it!

We continued onward, marching like ants up one snow covered slope after another, only stopping to catch our breath and take a few sips of water in between elevation gains. The tops of the trees were now starting to show a layer of ice that had built up from the extremely cold temperatures at this elevation. I was getting excited, knowing these were exactly the conditions I was after. An hour and a half later, at a little over 3 miles, we reached the junction to Wright Peak. The summit of Algonquin was now a little less than a mile away, though if we were to get Iroquois we would be looking at over 2 miles still to go.

Dan nearing Algonquin's windblown summit
“Dan nearing Algonquin’s windblown summit”

After a short breather we were off again. I was sporting a newer pair of Tubbs Flex Alps mountaineering snowshoes I picked up earlier this winter and Dan had on a pair of MSR Denali Ascents, we were ready and eager to tackle mountains! The ascent from the junction was grueling, with some extremely steep pitches that seemed to go on forever. Our aggressive snowshoe crampons did their job and before long we had views behind us of Wright Peak and Whiteface way off in the distance. Even the Green Mountains of Vermont made an appearance through the distant fog. The views seemed endless, I could only imagine what they must be like from the summit. The air was very clear and the wind was extremely calm by High Peaks standards. I soon asked Dan if he had seen a nicer day this winter while in the mountains, to which he quickly replied “No!”.

Algonquin's summit from just below treeline
“Algonquin’s summit from just below treeline”

Snowshoe Hare tracks below Algonquin's snowy summit“Snowshoe Hare tracks below Algonquin’s summit”

Surrounded by snow covered trees and distant views we continued for another fifteen minutes or so until we both agreed that we were now higher than Wright Peak, which stands at a lofty 4,587ft. With my camera in hand, I scrambled up some more steep pitches passing lots of snowshoe hare tracks along the way. The snow and ice encased summit of Algonquin was now coming into view. Winding our way through the scrub trees we finally reached treeline. A little further up the trail Dan yelled down and said “You’ve got to get a shot of this, this is really unique”. It was a small spruce tree completely covered in snow and ice, and intricately sculpted by the wind. I insisted Dan go ahead as I was going to take some pictures from here, and told him that I would catch up to him. With blue skies and fresh snow all around me, I was in a photographer’s paradise. I barely noticed the last section of steep pitches and before I know it I’m walking across the summit of Algonquin with incredible vistas in all directions. Dan was making good time and was already nearing the col between Algonquin and Boundary when I finally spotted him. I snapped a few photos of him and put my camera back in the bag.

Dan's unique find, a spruce tree sculpture!“Dan’s unique find, a spruce tree sculpture!”

Krumholtz Line on Algonquin“Krumholtz Line on Algonquin”

Cloud whisk over Algonquin“Cloud whisk over Algonquin”

I made a quick descent of Algonquin and decided to take my camera back out when I saw a puffy cloud whisk making its way towards Algonquin’s summit. High winds had ravaged this area, carving out unique patterns in the snow. I stopped for more pictures before ascending Boundary, the peak between Algonquin and Iroquois. When I reached the summit of Boundary I could see Dan making his way up Iroquois, I took some more photos of him and then hurried to catch up. I was on the summit not to long after and he congratulated me upon arriving, telling me that this is one of the harder peaks to get in the winter. I congratulated him on his 46th winter High Peak and we decided to have a snack. He checked his watch, it was 11:15, not bad considering the two mountains we climbed, well, technically three if you count Boundary. It was a bit windier on Iroquois than it was on Algonquin so I put on an extra layer. I took a couple of photos of Dan with Marcy and Algonquin in the background and then asked if he would take my picture.

Single cloud over Algonquin“Single cloud over Algonquin”

Marcy from windswept col“Mount Marcy from windswept col”

After refueling we geared back up and began slowly making our way back. Back down Iroquois, up Boundary, down Boundary, and back up Algonquin, phew! Now our legs are feeling the effects of all the paces we’ve put them through. We decide to take it easy on the way back up Algonquin, stopping every so often to give our legs a break. Just before we reach the summit a group of 5 climbers greet us on their way to Iroquois. We chat with them briefly and then make our way to the summit. We have a quick look around and then start our descent. The snow is nicely packed and still a bit icy so we take the opportunity to glissade on our bottoms down the extremely steep pitches that we had to climb while making our ascent. Our legs and knees thank us.

Another unique spruce tree sculpted by the wind“Another unique spruce tree sculpted by the wind”

Iroquois panorama“Iroquois panorama”

Upon reaching the junction we stop for lunch and a much needed break. We agree to talk it easy on the way out, as it was such a beautiful day there was no need to hurry. Back on the trail we talk about hikes we’ve done in the past and places we’ve been until finally reaching the parking lot a little after 3pm. Our total round trip was around 10.5 miles. All in all it was a great day to be in the woods, and a great way to spend a day.

I would like to send out a special thanks to Dan for accompanying me on this climb and congratulations again on your winter 46 buddy!

“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”
-John Muir


3 thoughts on “Windswept World

  1. Hey Zach… loved the pics and the story behind them. You might remember I shot with you last summer at Mark Bowie’s WS. In any case its good to see what you are up to.

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