Conquering Algonquin Peak

Adventure Tuesday

Go North

When our friends sent us a wedding invitation to come to Montreal we did not hesitate to rsvp yes right away. It had been a different issue if we still lived in Madison. Money is always an issue and flying is (almost) always expensive. But living in New York, Montreal is actually really, really close. But we couldn’t just drive all the way up there and back again so we decided to make a stop in the Adirondacks on the way back to New York City. Driving north through the Adirondacks we were treated with the most eye catching fall colors I have ever seen. Red, orange, yellow and some greens from the coniferous trees. It was so beautiful and we knew we would see that again in a few days.

Heart Lake Campground

We hadn’t done enough research on where to camp or where to hike either to be honest. I found a hike on a website that looked pretty cool. They said it is moderately trafficked, because here in New York State there are many many people, and finding an empty trailhead is unheard of. The hiking itself was rated as hard! We chose the nearest campground to the trailhead, which is run by the Adirondacks mountain club. We arrived in the late afternoon and were a bit worried as we approached the campground and there were plenty of cars parked on the side of the road. We knew New York State is different from Wisconsin, Alaska, and Montana, but we were pretty shocked to see the amount of people that a trailhead like this apparently brought. There seemed to be plenty of open camping spots though, but it comes with a price. 40$. I was shocked, because you can literally get a large hotel room in Las vegas for 35$ (we actually did once) so paying 40$ to pitch a tent felt wrong. But since we hadn’t done any research and were tired since this was also the day after the wedding we sucked it up and payed, for one night. The next day we payed for a second night. We also bought firewood, because you have to have a fire if you are at a campground. We payed 7$ for a bundle. Started the fire and the wood was partially wet. This made me even more pissed but we sucked that up too. And we did have a nice evening at the smoky fire anyway, reminiscing about that time in Canada, where every campground provided free (and dry) firewood.

Not that prepared?

We hadn’t really checked our grab box with all the kitchen stuff so we also discovered essential pieces were missing. Like a can opener. The lighter was singing on it’s last song too…but we (barely) made it. (wouldn’t have been the whole world because you could buy lighters at the campground). I had saved important information about the hike on my phone, in my maps, but I closed te map app and with no cell service we could not access that again. Which didn’t really matter because the next morning my phone died anyway (my battery is also singing on it’s last song). The next morning when W went and payed for our second night he bought a map.

Avalanche Lake

The morning had shown some beautiful pink colors mixed with the existing fall colors. I went down to the lake and saw termination dust at the top of the nearest mountain, the air was cool, but I don’t know the temperature. Clouds were slowly coming in, and the weather forecast had said 70% chance of rain. We didn’t see anyone at the trailhead, and only a couple of parked cars. It was Monday after all, so we probably wouldn’t see that many other people. We met about three other pair of people coming back to the trailhead during the first three miles and those were the only people we saw until the very last bit of the hike. The hike starts through a beautiful forest dressed in yellow orange and green with some hints of red. You continue through that during a few miles at the same time as you are hiking up in elevation. Eventually you reach Avalanche lake. Low hanging clouds draped the lake and the surrounding mountains in this beautiful white veil that made the whole lake seem surrealistic and spooky. We continued hiking along the shoreline which included climbing boulders, ladders and hiking over the water on boardwalks. It was slow, because of all the obstacles and we started to get a little concerned about time. We had started around 9.30 am and this was suppose to be a 12 mile hike after all. You hit Avalanche lake after about 5 miles, so only a bit more than a third of the way (more or less), and I think it was starting to get close to noon as we approached the other side of the lake.

Up, Up, and Up

After the Avalanche lake we had some light rain in the air and could still see nothing (no view that is, which we never ever did during the rest of the hike either). But, even rainy days like this create a beautiful landscape. We hiked on a severely eroded trail, which looked like a stream bed, and from time to time I was unsure if we were actually hiking in a stream, because there was some water running through here too. Something I still wonder about, or the trail is just this heavily eroded that a stream bed has actually been formed due to the heavy traffic. The trail is hard on you because you basically traverse large boulders constantly, and no way to not hop from one boulder to another. We crossed streams, jumped stones and boulders, hiked through the forest up up and up. All of a sudden the trail took us up a waterfall. The hike went on to a completely covered bedrock layer, and then switched again to boulder hopping, stream crossings and continuing up and up and up. I started to get tired, and wondered how we could still be going up and up. Time got closer to 2pm and now we really started to stress about time. We passed a sign that warned about continuing without proper gear. I was thinking to myself what is proper gear, do we have proper gear, because now it was raining a little bit more and it was cooler. But we had more than enough, I knew because I had been carrying the backback about halfway, a backpack full with snacks, sandwiches for us, our down jackets, headlamps, first aid kit. I mean what could we possibly not have. Already after a few miles we had decided that only bringing one bag was a bad idea because, it’s heavy.

Algonquin Peak

Finally we got to a sign that informed us that we were approaching alpine and arctic environment and that the plants here are fragile. A warning about staying on the bedrock to prevent harming the fragile landscape we were about to stumble upon. I could see bunchberry and labrador tea on the side of the trail, it made me smile because they remind me of home. Both Alaska and Sweden. We still continued up and up, the coniferous trees were at a majority now, and they got shorter and shorter until we finally broke out in the open, onto the bedrock tundra. We were at the top. We could see absolutely nothing. It was even hard to see where the trail was. Up on the top it was windy, very windy. We could see patches of snow, or sleet. The wind made us colder pretty much instantly. I got scared and kept thinking what are we doing here. We kept going, it was hard against the wind and I kept thinking about the warning sign about proper gear. I was tired and I was thinking that maybe I had gotten in way over my head. W was walking (or almost running) ahead and all I could think about was to keep following him so I didn’t loose him out of sight. I was so tired. All of a sudden he veered off to the left.

- What are you doing? I said
- That’s the metal plate in the bedrock showing that we are at the highest point

I felt like I couldn’t care less, but still walked up there and stood there for a moment, actually smiled. Then we continued again, faster. We finally seemed to be going down in elevation, now we got headwind. It was ripping in our face and I got cold, so cold. The bedrock seemed less appealing now because half of it was covered in ice, and we slid down on our bums for large parts of it. Finally I started seeing trees again, short, but as we dropped in elevation they grew taller. Until we finally hit the sign that showed Wright peak 0.4 miles. That is yet another peak you can climb, if you want to. We did not want to, actually we probably didn’t want to climb any mountain ever again at that moment. We were out of the wind a bit and could finally have our lunches. We ate, sandwiches, chips, cookies. I was so hungry.

W said: -that is the beauty of doing a loop, there is no return after you gotten halfway, might as well keep going.

Down, Down and Down

We ate pretty quickly, because right now it was really really cold. We started to walk again, down, down, and down. It was trickier being on this side, because the headwind caused a lot of ice on the bedrock. We crossed more streams, and started to decend into a birch forest. Now we ran into the only other people on this hike (except for the 4-5 people we met in the morning hiking out), they were also on their way down and back to camp. This couple was actually our tent neighbourhgs. They had tried to conqeur Wright Peak, but had turned around halfway to the top because of the wind. W said, that is the beauty of doing a loop, there is no return after you’ve gotten halfway, might as well keep going. We had finally started to get warm after hiking pretty fast, so we quickly continued down and said bye to the couple. We had been hiking for six hours now, and I started to feel my muscles in my thighs, they were tired. Now we started talking about a hot shower once we got back, because they do have hot running water at this camp, and showers. I guess that is one of the benefits for paying 40!!!!$ per night. Once we got to the sign that told us 1 mile back to camp I was so happy.

And then the Rain Came

Once we got back to the campsite it was already about 5 in the evening. We took a shower and after that the rain started. It was pouring down. We were sitting in the back of the car drinking beer and hoping for the rain to stop. But after a while I said, we better start cooking because I don’t think this will stop. It didn’t stop. We had already been wet, now we were dry so weren’t too excited about potentially getting wet again. We ate tortellini in tomato sauce and it was the best meal I’d had in days, well not really but at that moment that is how it felt. We went to bed pretty early that night again. On the way back I started googling about the peak and discovered that this was the second tallest peak in New York state, who would have known. We want to come back and conquer that mountain and see all those 360 degree views. We did a total of 12 miles and a net gain of about 4000 feet. We were beat but it was probably one of the best hikes we have ever done. AND on top of that we were literally the only people on the trail. As we were leaving the campground we could already see the distinct difference in the fall landscape. All that wind had literally blown all the leaves off the trees. And we have already started thinking about next years fall trips.