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Ascent of Algonquin Peak on 2012-08-31

Climber: Drew Rawlings

Others in Party:Paul Gosse
Date:Friday, August 31, 2012
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Algonquin Peak
    Location:USA-New York
    Elevation:5115 ft / 1559 m

Ascent Trip Report

Second day of our Adirondack 46er hike. We had planned for a full week of hiking, but today killed us. Our hiking speed was much slower than anticipated and this hike ended up taking 21 hours from trailhead up to the four peaks and back to the trailhead via Avalanche Pass.

We camped out in the woods behind the campground at Heart Lake. Having gotten to the parking lot after dark, it was much more difficult than expected to find a decent area to camp that was 150' away from trails and water (as per New York regulations). We set up where we thought was 150' away from trails, but in the morning it became evident that we were only about 50' off the trail and about 125' behind the campground. Likely not a legitimate place to camp, so we won't do that again. From now on we will book a campsite in advance, instead of trying to find a good spot in the woods in order to save a few bucks.

We woke up at 05:00, had breakfast and tore down our hammocks. We were hoping to get started by 06:00, but it took us longer to eat, tear down camp, and prepare ourselves (get dressed, insert contacts, put on boots, etc) than anticipated. In hindsight, it took longer than it should have...hopefully we will get faster at this with practice. We ended up starting out on the trailhead at 07:15.

Paul was in a lot of pain by the time we got to the junction between Wright and Algonquin. We had gone 5.4km and ascended 1900' in 3 hours and 4 minutes. The theoretical estimate is 1 hour for every 2.4 km plus 30 minutes for every 1000' of elevation gain. This means that we were right on target up to this point. During the hike up to this point, I was consistently moving ahead of Paul and having to wait for him. He blamed it on being old, but I saw lots of older and younger people passing us on the climb up (some as old as 60ish, and others as young as 8). I think it is because he is so tall and has to exert more energy to move his body in an upwards direction. In any event, it was cardio issues slowing him down on the climb up.

I left him behind on the ascent to Wright Peak and got to the top about 30 minutes ahead of him. I had time to explore the remnants of the plane crash and read the plaque, snap some pictures with my phone, then head over to the peak and take off my boots to change my socks. I even had my lunch cooking when he finally arrived.

The path from the junction to the peak was quite barren (mostly bare rock face), had a few nasty scrambles, and was full of false summits. My hopes were dashed repeatedly as I thought I was approaching the summit, only to discover that it was yet another false summit. This part of the climb was much steeper than before. The distance was only 800m, but the elevation gain was 629'. We spent about 30 minutes at the top to change socks, heat up and eat lunch, and snap photos. We met a lady from Australia while we were up there, which was really cool.

The hike back down to the junction proved to be very painful for Paul. It turns out that he had been carrying the entire weight of his pack (his was 30lbs, mine was 25lbs) on his hips, because he dislocated his shoulder a few months earlier and it hadn't fully healed yet. From this point on, our pace slowed significantly. In fact, we almost turned back to the trailhead at the junction, but I gave Paul some Advil and Alieve and convinced him that the worst was over and that since we were so close it would be a shame to turn back now.

So we plodded on towards Algonquin Peak. The first part of the trail was much easier than the scramble up to Wright Peak. At one point there was about a 100' section of sheer rock face at roughly a 45 degree angle. This was a tough section, but we rested at the top and had a great view of Wright Peak and the people that looked like ants climbing on it. Aside from this section, the trail was fairly easy until we came out of the treeline. Then it was once again a series of false summits that took even longer to climb than the trail from the junction to Wright Peak.

Once again I got to the summit about 40 minutes before Paul. The wind was very intense at the top, so after a brief stroll around the top, I took shelter behind a large boulder and laid out for a nap in the sun. I was soon interrupted by the Ranger that was posted at the top. I had a good conversation with her about why she was there and about the re-vegetation program at the tops of the High Peaks. Evidently, a Ranger is posted at the top of Marcy and Algonquin throughout the peak hiking season (on weekends, anyways). She had a clicker to keep track of how many hikers visited the peak throughout the day; I was the 42nd visitor that day.

From the summit of Algonquin, there is a great view of the land slide paths on Mount Colden flowing into Avalanche Alley, and a nice view of Colden Lake far, far below. At this point I realized the true benefit of the rock cairns above the tree line. Coming up, it was easy to follow the yellow paint lines, and the rock cairns only served as a discouraging way to see how much farther to the next false summit. However, from the top, it is very difficult to determine the proper way back down to the treeline, even if you are planning on returning the way you came. The rock cairns make it possible to lead you to the proper path down.

I managed to get a nap in after all, as it took Paul a lot longer than me to make the summit (I left him at the treeline). From the Wright-Algonquin junction, the trail covers a distance of 1.5km with an elevation gain of 1165'. It took Paul (he had the GPSr) 1 hour and 45 minutes to reach the summit (moving time of 34 minutes, stopped time of 1 hour 10 minutes!!!). Estimates would have had us taking about 1 hour and 15 minutes.

After resting at the top and taking some photos in the wind, we debated about whether to do Boundary and Iroquois or head back down. We decided that we did not ever want to have to climb up to Algonquin again (although I'm already thinking of taking the Venturers there in the winter of 2014), so we pushed onwards. The descent to the junction between Algonquin and Boundary only took us 14 minutes and was an easy walk.

We then took the herd path from the saddle over Boundary and on to Iroquois. It took 1 hour and 2 minutes to cover a distance of 1.6km with a descent of 580' and an ascent of 334'. It was a very easy segment and was really cool to be on a trail that was very obviously not used as much as the main trails. We didn't spend much time at all on Iroquois as the wind made it uncomfortably cold. There is a really nice view of a sheer cliff on an unknown mountain, but other than that, the views from Wright and Algonquin were much better.

It took 47 minutes to get back to the junction between Boundary and Algonquin, where we had to make a decision: Go back up and over Algonquin and head down the way we came, or take the back route down Algonquin and head over to Marcy Dam through Avalanche Alley. In hindsight, we made a VERY BAD DECISION!!!! The thought of climbing back up the 300'-400' to summit Algonquin was daunting, so we chose to take the rapid descent down the back of Algonquin then the easy 10km flat trail from there back to Adirondack Loj.

From the junction at the saddle between Boundary and Algonquin, it was 3km to Lake Colden. The descent was 2035' down the nastiest trail I have ever seen. Hopping down an average of 2' per step in most places and landing on the tops of boulders was intensely painful on the knees and feet, even with extensive use of my hiking poles. There was also another steep section about 75' long of rock face at 45 degrees with no trees. It was starting to get dark as we made the descent and so we were going as fast as possible, but Paul was in increasingly greater pain and was complaining about being dizzy and disoriented.

We stopped roughly half-way down to refill our water bottles at a stream. It took us about 25 minutes to purify and repack about 5L of water. I used my fancy new UV water purifier, which I had never tried before. Unfortunately, this type of purification left the water tasting funny. The only way I was able to drink it was by adding Mio flavouring, but even this was getting gross after a while. In hindsight, we should have also taken this opportunity to eat dinner. We didn't, however, because it was almost dark and we were really concerned about getting to the base of the mountain before it got fully dark. We decided we would stop after was got through Avalanche Alley.

We got to the base of Algonquin at around 8:30PM. It was fully dark and we were navigating with the use of our headlamps and the reflections off the trail blazes. We briefly got lost several times as the trail would enter the stream bed and we didn't know if we were supposed to head downstream and stay on the same side or cross over to the other side to pick up the trail again. The trail signpost at the junction between Lake Colden and Avalanche Alley showed only about 1 mile...no sweat!

Well...I was wrong. Evidently it is called Avalanche Alley for a reason. The trail from the base of Algonquin to the foot of Avalanche Lake was easy...really easy. But then you have to cross over to the other side of Avalanche Lake and follow the 'shoreline' up the lake. Well, the shoreline is ALL BOULDERS! BIG BOULDERS!!! Bigger than trucks! In fact, most of the boulders have freaking ladders that you need to climb and descend in order to get over them. Then there are the catwalks built into the side of the mountain 15' above the lake. I'm sure all of this is very beautiful if you haven't already been hiking for over 13 hours and it is pitch black out as the moon hasn't crested the mountain yet, and you have an irrational fear of lakes at night...yes, I am afraid of lake water after dark...so for me, this was pure horror!

The GPSr had shut itself off near the base of Algonquin, so I'm not sure how long it took us to get through Avalanche Alley...it was a while. We had to stop increasingly often as Paul's dizziness was getting worse...a surefire symptom of dehydration and lack of caloric intake...we hadn't eaten since we ascended Wright Peak, over 9 hours earlier. We literally had to stop every 10'-15' so Paul could re-orient himself. This improved once we passed through the dreaded Cliffs of Doom at the top of Avalanche Lake and no longer had to clamber over boulders to make forward progress. In case you are wondering, The Cliffs of Doom are towering cliffs hundreds of feet tall on either side of the trail with no more than 30' separating each cliff face!!! I have never before experienced such an overwhelming feeling of claustrophobia in my life. It was all I could do to not push Paul in front of me to get through this section as fast as possible. We ended up not stopping to eat dinner, as we felt we were close to the finish now and just wanted this hike to end.

From base of Algonquin to Marcy Dam it took us 5 hours and 20 minutes to cover a distance of 7.2km and an elevation descent of a measly 400'. The bouldering along Avalanche Alley made for insanely slow progress. Shortly before getting to Marcy Dam at 2:00AM, I noticed some floating lights up ahead and off to the left. I was sure I was getting delusional, as I could no longer stomach drinking the purified water and hadn't eaten anything significant in over 14 hours. As we got closer to the floating lights, a voice called out to us: "Have you seen the mother bear and her two cubs?" Oh, great! Just what I need to top off this epic hike from Hell...an encounter with a mother bear trying to protect her cubs. Apparently the campers had been woken by the bears' activity and were having difficulty going back to sleep...no kidding!

It was shortly after Marcy Dam that I finally ran out of energy. It had been 19 hours since we started this hike, and I was done. I shambled on like a zombie for the next 1 hour and 50 minutes, covering the last 3.8km back to the parking lot at Adirondack Lodge. We descended another 378', with 223' of ascent mixed in there just for shits and giggles. Amazingly, during this segment our moving time was 1 hour and 37 minutes, with only 13 minutes spent stopped. There's something to be said for your brain shutting down and being able to ignore the pain of each and every step you take. Add to that the sense of knowing that we were almost done this epic journey, and we practically flew along.

There was only one notable event during this portion of the hike. While blindly stumbling forward along the trail, we startled a bear only a few feet off the trail in the scrub. That's right...we were less 10' from a FREAKING BEAR!!! At 3AM!!! As soon as I heard its movement in the brush, I started clacking my hiking poles together and glanced behind me to see if Paul was being mauled by the bear. I saw him start backing up, which annoyed me greatly because I thought he was going to take off and leave me to die a horrible death at the hands of a hungry bear! After yelling at Paul to keep going forward, we made it past the startled bear...very much wide awake again!

It was at this point that I made the realization that ever since it had gotten dark I had been staring straight ahead down the path, or directly behind me to make sure Paul was still alive and moving. I was purposely avoiding looking into the woods on either side of the trail so that I would not see a yellow set of eyes staring back at me. Yes, I am afraid of being in the woods in the dark. There, I said it. Being with Paul helped me greatly, and I think that I finally overcame most of my fear. I have subsequently spent some time geocaching alone in the woods at night in Stony Swamp, but I was on my bike at that time and was still imagining things watching me from the woods. I am certainly no longer afraid of the woods at night when there is someone else with me.

The only other thing that stands out in my mind from this last segment is the hesitation that Paul had every time we had to take a step down. Any time we would come upon a part of the trail where you had to take more than a 1' step downwards, he would stop at the top of the step and pause for what seemed like a full minute. At the time, I was thinking that he had to steel himself up for the pain he was about to endure...as every step down was dreadfully painful on my knees also. It became very predictable: I would take the step down and about 30 seconds later I would hear Paul stop...then I would count out the seconds in my head until he started up again. We continued in this manner until the trail finally flattened out for the last kilometer or so back to the trailhead. We finally signed out at the trail register at 3:52 AM...almost 21 hours since we started out!

Many times during the hike I had to ignore the voices in my head telling me to leave Paul behind. Yes, I was having thoughts about how many hours earlier I would have been at the car if we had taken the other path back down the mountain, or if I had left him behind back on the summit of Algonquin. But what kind of friend would I have been if I abandoned him? Instead, I gave him words of encouragement and told him that he was doing a great job. This eventually changed to commands ordering him to keep moving, but that's only because he stopped grunting when I gave him encouraging words :D I will continue to hike the peaks of the Adirondack 46ers with Paul, even if it takes longer to do each hike with him. He is a true friend, and the only person I know who is crazy enough to keep torturing himself by joining me on these epic adventures.

Stats (not accurate due to GPSr data outage):

Total Distance: 25km
Total Time: 20 hours and 30 minutes
Moving Time: 7 hours and 19 minutes
Stopped Time: 13 hours and 10 minutes
Total Ascent: 4459'

Lessons Learned:

- Drink lots of water at regular intervals.
- Eat a full meal at the appropriate times...the time lost to eating will easily be made up by a faster pace later on.
- Snack regularly. Energy bars and chocolate bars are easy to eat with only a very short rest break.
- Change socks regularly (every 10km). Blisters will form easier if your socks are damp.
- Take the time to take pictures. They will help the memories last forever.
- Never hike without a headlamp and spare batteries.
- Always carry a water purifier.
- Dress in layers...the temperature and wind will vary greatly throughout the hike. Take the time to layer up and de-layer as often as necessary.
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:3615 ft / 1102 m
    Elevation Loss:3615 ft / 1102 m
    Distance:13 mi / 20.9 km
    Quality:8 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Scramble, Exposed Scramble
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles
    Weather:Cool, Very Windy, Clear
Good weather overall, but very windy and cold at the summit.
Ascent Statistics
    Elevation Gain:3615 ft / 1102 m
    Distance:4.3 mi / 6.9 km
    Route:Up trail past Wright Peak
    Trailhead:Adirondack Loj - Heart Lake  1500 ft / 457 m
    Time Up:4 Hours 50 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Elevation Loss:3615 ft / 1102 m
    Distance:8.7 mi / 14 km
    Route:Back side of Algonquin, through Avalanche Alley, p
    Trailhead:Adirondack Loj - Heart Lake  1500 ft / 457 m
    Time Down:10 Hours 35 Minutes
Ascent Part of Trip: MacIntyre Range (1 nights total away from roads)

Complete Trip Sequence:
OrderPeak/PointDate
1Wright Peak2012-08-31
2Algonquin Peak2012-08-31
3Boundary Peak2012-08-31
4Iroquois Peak2012-08-31



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