Winter Ascent of Algonquin Peak
Yesterday, I bagged my first Adirondack High Peak. As New York's second tallest mountain, Algonquin Peak stands 5,115ft (1,559m) above sea level. Although thats nothing compared to what you're going to find in the Rockies or other places, the 3,000ft vertical ascent it takes to scale it is rather respectable.
The conditions for my climbing buddy Josh and I were rather favorable. It was in calm with temps in the lower thirties at the base and windy and in the low twenties at the peak. The transformation as we hiked up was quite moving. When we started it was overcast and grey, but as we approached the summit, we eventually came through the cloud layer and the tree line to a beautiful scenic vista. It was sea of clouds in which only the highest peaks pierced - it had a very top of the world feeling to it.
The approach itself had a majestic feel to it as well: 2 feet of powder all around with every tree branch loaded with snow. During the hike up, it looked like a winter wonderland off a post card. At the summit looking down, it was a different story. From the top, the wind blown snow and trees had an appearance of jagged rocks in a white, barren land landscape.
In all, it took us about six hours round trip. I made the mistake of taking way too much gear. Part of me wanted to be prepared for anything, part of me is a gear dork who wanted to bring everything. I brought snowshoes, crampons, ice axe, shovel, sleeping bag and bivy, my digital SLR, stove, pot, and fuel (on top of food, water, a down jacket, and a medkit). My day pack weighed a solid forty pounds and I was ready for a weekend camping trip if need be.
Snow shoes are required by the park when the snow is deeper than eight inches. However, I didn't wear mine since the trail was pretty well packed down by previous travelers. Crampon and microspikes are usually recommended as well, but we really didn't need these either (although I did wear my microspikes for the hike down for a bit of extra traction).
For those looking to do this same climb (which I highly recommend): Park at the ADK Loj and start at the trailhead located at the south-east finger of the parking lot. After signing in, which is required, follow the Mr. Van (Trail #61) trail towards Mt. Marcy. About a mile in, there is a trail intersection which clearly states the direct towards Algonquin and Wright Peaks (Trail #64). Continue on the Algonquin Peak trail to the summit. You are about a half-mile from the summit when you reach the fork for Wrights Peak. (We had actually intended to do Wrights peak also, but ran out of time).
As mentioned before, the trail for us was pretty well packed, so there was no question where to go. I could, however, see if you had to step out in fresh untouched powder, you could have some navigational challenges in your route selection. Just follow the ADK trail makers (little round disks placed on trees periodically) as best you can.