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October 19, 2012

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

The Daily Star

---- — Well the weather on the computer for Lake Placid didn’t look too bad, so we decided to attempt to climb Mount Marcy.

The rain last Friday should have been gone by mid-morning, and it was. By the time George and I reached Saratoga, the sky had cleared and the sun was shining.

Great! We’re going to get an Adirondack hike in at last.

Friday afternoon looked good and Saturday’s forecast called for lots of sun in the High Peaks. Sunday’s weather could have been a little wet, but we’d be hiking out and could change into dry clothes once at the car, if we had to.

As we drove north on Interstate-87 – somewhere in the area of Schroon Lake – we saw some white on one of the peaks in the distance.

“Could that be snow?” George asked.

“I don’t think so,” I replied. “It’s probably the sun reflecting off the rocks on one of the slides.”

It wasn’t a reflection, though. As we left the Northway and started up Route 73, there were snow flurries in the air. By the time we reached Chapel Pond, the trees were coated with frost and snow, and a layer of white stuff covered Giant Mountain. We had just driven into a different world.

Once at Lake Placid, we stopped at the High Peaks Cyclery. They seem to have lots of knowledge and some of the best hiking and climbing equipment available. George bought a High Peaks Trail Guide and the new map.

When the clerk rang it up, he asked, “Where you guys heading?”

I explained we were going as far as Marcy Dam on Friday night. We planned to hike over Mount Marcy and down to Lake Colden to spend the next night, then hike out Sunday.

“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