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October 19, 2012

It's already winter in the High Peaks, so be prepared


“Do you have ice spikes or crampons?” he asked. “You’ll need clothes for severe winter as well. It’s going to be really dangerous on the backside of Marcy. There’s six inches of ice and snow on top and it’s only 17 degrees.”

It was only the 12th of October. Why was winter setting in so early?

We went on up the street to Eastern Mountain Sports and got the same story. In fact, one young, female clerk was ecstatic about skiing earlier that morning. She had driven up the toll road on Whiteface, parked and walked the last half-mile so she could ski back to her car in the six inches of new snow.

We quickly decided that we weren’t prepared for such conditions. We took some time to look over our options while eating an early lunch. Going into the high country was definitely out of the question. The local forecast for the night was for temperatures in the single digits with 30- to 60-mile-per-hour winds. It would not be a very pleasant time somewhere in the mountains in a tent. We were prepared for weather in the 20s – without the ice and snow.

We finally made a decision. We’d put off our High Peaks adventure until spring.

On our way out of town, we drove into Heart Lake, where many of the trails into the backcountry begin.

At the information center, we learned that two hikers were lost somewhere in the mountains the day before and had spent the night in the frigid woods. The rangers and rescue people were still looking for them. We talked to two other hikers who just came off Algonquin peak. They nearly froze. It was brutal.

Winter came early to the mountains this year. Many people climb those ancient summits in the winter, but they are prepared. We were not and made the right decision to head back home.

Maybe we’ll hike in the Catskills. It’s a lot warmer down there.

Rick Brockway writes a weekly outdoors column for The Daily Star. Email him at

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