Colvin, Blake, Nippletop, and Dial

Well, it’s been a month since I’ve posted anything, and by now the snow that makes the Adirondack High Peaks so much fun is melting fast and trail conditions are rapidly deteriorating.  The snow that was likely in your front yard a month ago is also gone–replaced with greening grass, chirping birds, and temps exceeding 70°F.  You’ll have to bear with me then and use your imagination as I write about what ended up being the best conditions of my two-week trip in Lake Placid and the High Peaks.

This trip was the only overnight excursion I did during my two-weeks in Placid, and the timing couldn’t have been better.  It may be hard to believe but winter camping is easier and more comfortable when it is colder–provided you have the right gear.  When you are setting camp, cold and dry snow sluffs right off your gloves and pants as you setup your tent, unpack your bedding, and cook your evening meal.  When you are sleeping, the moisture from your breath freezes to the inside of the tent instead of creating a dripping rain forest of sorts that you encounter in warmer temps.  It might be a little frigid when you step outside for a midnight bathroom break, but the fact that you are staying dry means you will be warmer, more comfortable, and of course will sleep better.

This trip starts at the Ausable Mountain Club in St. Huberts, just south of Keene Valley.  The club sits on a huge swath of private land, the Adirondack Mountain Reserve (AMR) that extends more than 10 miles in to the interior High Peaks–the first four miles or so are accessible by a road that leads to the outlet of the Lower Ausable Lake and allows club members to recreate at the lakes year-round.  The rules while on AMR property are simple: 1. Foot traffic only  2. No pets  3.  No camping or fires.  Basically “pass through to your destination, and don’t do anything else until you are off our land!”  Nearly two years ago now my friend Eric decided to test the boundaries of these rules and ride mountain bikes on the road to more easily access the peaks–he and his girlfriend were quickly detained and cited for trespassing!

I, like Eric, hoped to use alternate means of transportation on the road to make my trip in and back out again easier–my method turned out to be more successful:-)  Starting about 10am (a little later than I liked) I cross-country skied 2.5 miles up the AMR Lake Road, picking up the trail to Elk Pass–a mountain pass with two ponds where I would end up camping.  My original plan was to head to Elk Pass and set camp, then ascend Colvin and Blake before sundown.  My late start though forced me to ditch my heavy pack and my skis and make a light-and-fast dash for the peaks.  I returned to my gear just before dark, hiked the 0.7 miles to Elk Pass, and set camp in the dark.

This was my first opportunity to use my new GoLite Utopia 2 floorless shelter.  Most tents have a floor, mesh walls, and a separate rain-fly with vestibules to keep out the elements and allow space for gear storage –all these components add up to a heavy tent–many times 5 lbs or more–and really aren’t necessary on a bare-bones solo trip.  Enter the Utopia.  This shelter has no floor or vestibules and has a single-wall design–that is there is no separate mesh wall coupled with a rain fly.  A plastic-sheet emergency blanket serves as the floor and because it’s a two-person shelter there’s plenty of room for me and my gear–best of all it weighs in just over 2.5 lbs and takes up very little room in my already overloaded winter pack.

After setting camp I pounded down a Cashew Chicken Backpacker’s Pantry freeze-dried meal, melted snow for drinking water, and laid down for a pretty restful night of sleep.  The temps dipped down to 10°F and the strong winds whipped overhead all night–nothing a -30° sleeping bad and complete exhaustion couldn’t handle!  The next morning I had my first freeze-dried “Scramled Eggs w/ Bacon” breakfast that Kellie bought me before my trip.  It was actually pretty good and helped me get a quick start on the day.  I was on the trail at 6:45am and was pushing through 40+ mph winds on Nippletop and hour later.  Although I had clear skies and great views from Nippletop, the biting winds kept my time at the summit short, as I started the long but easy round-trip ridge hike to Dial.  The winds died down after leaving Nippletop, the sun rose higher to better illuminate the Great Range, and the best views of the entire trip were before me when I reached Dial.

After taking in the views on Dial, I retraced my steps back to Elk Pass and broke down camp.  Back at the trail junction for Colvin and Blake, I picked up my cross-country skis which I had stashed on the way in and hiked down to the Lake Road.  Then came the part I had been waiting for–the part Eric envisioned when he fearlessly road his mountain bike on AMR property.  The 2.5 miles of road (600′ vertical) I had skied in on at the start of my trip took me nearly 1.5 hours to ascend–the descent back to the gate: 20 minutes!  The road was hard-packed, icy and fast from snowmobile tracks, and on several of the steeper stretches I had to slow down and approach with caution so as not to find myself face-down in Gill Brook with a 35-pound pack on my back!

This overnight trip was a great time for me to sharpen my winter camping skills, use some new gear that allowed me to be lighter and faster, and knock out my 17th-20th Adirondack Winter High Peaks.

Stats: 20 miles, 6000′ vertical

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