Adirondacks: Winter Adventure in the Land of the Bark Eater

The Adirondack mountains in upstate New York are not to be underestimated. Sure they’re smaller than their western counterparts but like any mountain chain they deserve the utmost respect. The mountain chain derives it’s name from the native tribes that once called the area home. Other tribes from southern regions called them Adirondacks which translates to bark eater. A reference to the harsh winters the region experiences. The mountains have become a personal favourite for myself. They offer challenging winter hiking and world class ice climbing routes just a short drive from Ontario.

Winter hiking

My friends and I discovered the beauty of the High Peaks wilderness during a particularly snowy November a few years ago. We had just hiked the Rockies during shoulder season and were looking for a challenge close to Ontario. The guard at the border thought we were nuts when we told him we were going hiking in the Lake Placid region after a three foot dump of snow. We just laughed (foolishly) not knowing what we were in for. Our plan for the first day was a quick jaunt up the Whiteface highway in snowshoes to the summit. Several hours later we were forced off the mountain in the midst of a snowstorm. Still smug we planned to do Mt. Marcy the next morning. After sleeping in and sluggishly making our way to the trailhead, we were told by a guide that Marcy was definitely too far to manage from a mid-morning start and we should shoot for Wright Peak instead. Grumbling we thought to ourselves, how hard could 4,587 ft Wright Peak be? You see nobody had ever informed us that the creators of the trails were clearly sadomasochists. In the Rocky Mountains most hiking trails ascend mountains via switchbacks at relatively gentle grades. However, in the Adirondacks somebody clearly just said f*** it and went straight up the mountain. After several hours of slugging it through waist deep snow, we finally reached the alpine zone. We were completely gassed but the view was worth every burning muscle fibre in our body.

Alpine zone of Wright peak

We scrambled our way to the summit and then trekked back to the car. That evening, we enjoyed a pint at the Lake Placid brewing company and laughed about the day’s challenges. It’s true what they say about adventure being born through a degree of suffering. We already began planning the next fall’s trip.

View from Marcy Dam this past November

The shoulder season hiking has now become an annual trip for my friends and I. Each year we face some new challenge or adverse weather event. We love every second of it. The ability to begin your hike in the rain and finish in the snowy clouds is something to be cherished. We aim to complete all 46 High Peaks. I don’t know when we’ll complete them but I know the trip will be on again next year.

Winter mountaineering/Ice Climbing

At the foot of the Cascade slide

The Adirondack mountains offer world class ice climbing and winter mountaineering opportunities for climbers. They even offer their own special variety of mountaineering called slide climbing. Slides form on many mountains in the Adirondacks and they ice up in the winter providing alternative routes to summiting many peaks. The best way to get your feet wet in any of these sports is to check out Mountainfest which is held every January in the Adirondacks. Clinics are available for beginners to experts to those that just want to snowshoe. There is something to be found for everybody! My friend Matt and I had the opportunity to visit Mountainfest in 2018 for a beginner ice climbing clinic with Adirondack Rock and River guides. Their guide services are top notch and I would highly recommend them to everybody.

Climbing the farmed ice wall during the clinic

If you consider yourself a seasoned ice climber then bigger objectives are available like the climbs in the remote areas of Panther Gorge, the North Face of Gothics, or the Trap Dike on Mount Colden.

Things to check out

  • The Adirondacks are known for their amazing skiing. Whiteface is home to the largest vertical drop east of the Rockies.
  • Check out Lake Placid Brewing Company and Big Slide Brewing Company. Essential pints and food after a long day outside
  • Make sure to stop in at The Mountaineer for all your gear needs and conditions beta. One of the coolest stores you’ll ever go to.

Useful Links

  • Gear rentals, trail conditions, outdoor equipment shop, and more.

  • Extremely knowledgeable guide service with one of the coolest lodges around.

  • All your necessary resources for slide climbing in the Adirondacks.

Map of the High Peaks region

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