guided group hike: a winter day in The macintyre range

Saturday February 24. A day where the temperature was expected to be as low as -30° on the summits with windchill and 0° at the trailhead just to start the day. Oh yeah it was going to be a cold one. But that’s what winter hiking in the Adirondacks is all about. Cold and challenging.  You’re literally climbing mountains in the dead of winter; it’s not supposed to be easy and it’s not for everybody. A little cold air wasn’t going to stop us though because despite the cold temperature the sky was going to be blue as far as the eye can see with sun shining all day long. Those subzero, blue-sky days make for the best winter hiking conditions and views in my opinion. The glow of the snow on the mountains is crisp on those days and has a different feel to it. Today was also the launch of my new group guiding model so I wasn’t alone out there, instead I was guiding 4 other strangers to the summit. Strangers who would soon become friends- climbing mountains together has that effect on people. It was going to be a cold, beautiful sunny winter day in the Macintyre Range hiking Algonquin, Iroquois, and Wright. Let the type 2 fun begin.

Our plan for the day was to climb the Macintyre Range starting with Wright Peak, before heading up and over the mighty Algonquin to Iroquois and back again. A lighter mileage day in the High Peaks at just under 11 miles, but with 4400’ of elevation and subzero temperatures it was slated to be a full day in the High Peaks.

I didn’t know what to expect as I brought together four strangers to hike in the High Peaks. Would they be on time? Would they hike at similar paces? Would they mesh well? Only one way to find out, right? Since I was guiding a group of people traveling in from all over the state- from the southern Adirondacks, to New Jersey, Syracuse, and western NY, I didn’t want to force my 4:30am crew lifestyle on them…so instead I told them we’d start at 6am. I felt that was a fair compromise, right? It’s early but not too early. So, I pulled into the Adirondack Loj parking lot at 5:45am and parked right next to Matt from New Jersey. Ok, one person is here, excellent. Moments later Steve from Diamond Point walked over, checking off 2 of the 4. Minutes later Zach from Syracuse, and Sara from Corning each arrived. Fantastic, the whole gang was on time. Let’s hike.

Before we started, I handed each one of them a fresh Blue Line Bakery cookie for the hike- just one perk of hiking with me. Now I know most people said they were coming for the hiking, but I believe they were really coming for the free cookies.

We all clicked on our headlamps and signed in just after 6am. The temperature at the trailhead was 8° so it was already warmer than anticipated making it a good start to the day. The group immediately clicked, and the vibes were strong as we started hiking. The group consisted of 46’ers, multi-round 46’ers, aspiring 46’ers, and first time Adirondack High Peaks hikers. So, we had a wide range of experience levels which added to the camaraderie level that quickly formed.

We all had our snowshoes on our packs and microspikes on our boots. Due to minimal to no fresh snow this week it felt like a microspike kind of day would be upon us. The trail from the start was your classic snow-covered sidewalk trail. Perfectly packed, no rocks or roots to be seen, just a packed snowy trail. We all began chatting and engaging on conversation as I led the pack, down and over the wooden bridge crossing the Macintyre brook.

I had a feeling, based on the layers I saw the others wearing, that we’d probably make a pit stop sooner than later to take off some layers. I was hiking in an EMS long sleeve merino wool shirt with a moisture wicking shirt on top of it, non-insulated EMS ascent pants, and light merino wool base layer pants. I used to constantly worry about what pants and what base layers to wear when winter hiking since there’s so many combinations. I have insulated pants, I have fleece lined pants, non-insulated pants, light base layers, medium and heavy base layers- the options are endless. Over the years I found, for me, “less is more” when it comes to the proper pants/base layers for winter hiking. Today was going to be at least -20° on the summits and I hiked in a light base layer and non-insulated winter hiking ascent pants from EMS. Whether it’s 30° or -30° I rarely change this combo anymore and have found it to work best for me. The legs get warm when you’re hiking…funny how that happens, right?

We arrived at the Algonquin trail split and as expected, the group needed to take off some layers. Be bold and start cold, friends. You’ll warm up in no time. Except your hands though. Don’t let your fingers get cold because they’re hard to warm up. The de-layering was done and it was time to begin our trek up the northeastern flanks of Wright Peak. From here it’s 2.3 miles to the trail split for the summit of Wright. We planned to summit Wright first to get an idea for how windy the summit will be. Given the nature of the temperatures and heavy winds we weren’t going to Algonquin if the conditions were dangerous above tree line on Wright. I figured Wright would give us a good glimpse into how windy it will be on Algonquin.

Onward and upward, we climbed as good conversation was had by all. We had varying hiking paces but thanks to the experienced nature of other group members we were able to make it work well. No one was ever hiking alone, and we would all periodically take breaks to regroup. The trail was absolutely flawless. Perfectly broken out, packed and hard, no roots or boulders, just as I hoped it would be. A trail that would be very fast coming back down later on.

The sun was up and the sky was bright blue. Snow lined the trees around us and the woods were quiet and still this morning. Not a sound other than our crunching footsteps, and no wind whatsoever. Speaking of crunching footsteps, it was a crunchy one, as it always is in the winter. It’s been a while since I’ve hiked with more than one person and I had almost forgotten about just how crunchy the woods get once you have four or five people walking directly behind one another. I remember thinking to myself “eventually I won’t notice the sound of our crunching footsteps anymore…hopefully”.

During our ascent up Wright I made the conscious decision to make sure we stop every so often for a quick swig and a snack. I know I have a tendency when I’m hiking in the winter to never stop, and therefore never drink water, which leads to dehydration and cramps. In the summer it works fine because I have a bladder hose next to my mouth but in the winter my water is in Nalgene bottles, so I have to be more conscious of it, especially in the bitter cold.

Everyone was doing well and feeling great. The order of the group switched periodically in a very organic way as we made our way up the mountain. The sun was shining and while clouds were above us, I knew most of the day was going to be filled with blue skies.  As we ascended we made a pit stop at the lone camp site on the mountain just before Macintyre Falls. The campsite sits around 3200’ elevation and would be a fun place on the mountain to set up shop for a night of camping. Minutes later we made it to the frozen waterfall known as Macintyre falls. What a glorious view it was too. I made the joke to Zach, who was hiking in the Adirondacks for the first time, that we had to scale the frozen waterfall…his face dropped…imagine if we did though? That would be a wild ride.

About a half mile passed the falls we had our first view of the day to the west when we arrived near the Wright Mountain climbing area, a popular rock-climbing cliff not far from the Wright trail split. At this point we ran into the first hiker of the day, a man with a frozen beard, as he was on his way back down the mountain. We said hello and chatted for a few minutes. He told us he went up Wright but decided to turn back because of heavy winds…hmmm…well…that’s unfortunate. The woods continued to be dead quiet without a spec of wind too. Not surprising to hear about the wind level above tree line. We said our goodbyes and carried on up the trail…

Minutes later, as we walked through the snow-covered evergreens lining both sides of the narrow trail, we landed at our first destination- the Wright trail split. Time for a break, to suit up for the final ascent up Wright, and more importantly, to enjoy our Blue Line Bakery cookies. If you aren’t familiar, Blue Line Bakery is my wife’s cookie business. It’s a self-serve bake stand in a lean-to, and she does an amazing job.  Give her a follow on social media or check out her website, bluelinebakeryadk.com.

After enjoying a cookie break we dressed for the windy final ascent above tree line to Wright. Mid layer on, puffy on, shell on, balaclava on, ski goggles on. Let’s do this thing.

We began the half a mile trek to Wright. Not long after it was time to leave the cover of the trees. It’s go time. So we began climbing. Matt and I led the way as we started walking on mostly bare rock with occasional patches of ice. The wind was howling but it wasn’t nearly as intense as I expected given the rundown from the bearded hiker we met earlier. The views however, were out of this world. Behind us Street, Nye, Mt Jo and the rest of the world filled the sky, and up to our right towered the mighty and always enjoyable Algonquin. Clouds we’re moving with large patches of blue as we continued our way along the rocks, following cairns towards the summit. The temperature was cold but at this point we were still moving so we didn’t feel much. Up we went walking along the mostly bare rock with the beautiful sun beating down on us. Turning around every few steps to take in the view. A view which had a pleasing single cloud hovering over the top of Mt Jo like an umbrella.

With burning quads we made it to the summit. Matt and I first, followed by Steve, and Sara and Zach came behind. What a view. The fast-moving fluffy cumulous clouds hovered below our feet to the east creating an inversion as the summits of Colden, Marcy, Phelps, and Tabletop poked out. Then to the south Algonquin filled the blue sky while Street and Nye looked as magnificent as ever behind us to the north. We all took a photo as we stood on Wright Peak, our first High Peak of the day, standing 4,587’ elevation in the cold, half clouded, half blue Adirondack sky.

The clouds were moving fast and the views were a perfect 10 out of 10 today. The wind was also what I’d describe as a “typical” wind you’d experience on Wright. It was blowing but nothing out of the ordinary. In fact it was so minimal that, had I known, I wouldn’t have suited up with extra layers until I got on the summit to hang out. So, we must have lucked out there. The sun was shining, everyone was excited and enjoyed the views for a good 20 minutes before beginning the trek back down. The temperature was just below 0° which I’d say was a win given what mountain-forecast called for.

Back down we went as Sara, Matt, and Steve led the way and Zach and I moved behind them. We made good time getting back to the trail split where we met up with several other hikers on the day. The low temperature wasn’t keeping many people away, and with today’s sunshine I certainly couldn’t blame them. That’s why I was there too.

We moved back down the slab following the cairns before dropping back into the tree line on trail. Minutes later we met back up with the group at the trail junction where multiple groups of hikers were passing in both directions. I’ve never seen that trail junction so busy.

We chatted with a handful of groups, delayered, and prepared for the big climb to Algonquin. From the junction to the summit is 0.75 miles with over 1,100’ of gain so it’s no picnic. Fortunately, the trail was smooth, packed, and perfect. We debated switching over to our snowshoes to take advantage of the heal lifts, but we all stayed in microspikes. Onward and upward, it was time for the heavy breathing to continue…

The trail up Algonquin is a long steady climb that never eases up. It’s consistent and we were all breathing heavy as we climbed one foot in front of the other. We did a little leap frogging with some other hikers a couple times, as they stopped for a rest, then they passed us while we stopped. You know the drill.

This group from Pennsylvania were hiking in the High Peaks for the first time. There were two men who were brothers, a woman, and a couple teenaged kids. One of the men didn’t have a backpack on, while the other man had a pack on so big and loaded it looked like he had everybody’s gear in it…and come to find out, he did. Now that’s the type of hiking partner we all need in our lives. If anyone listening wants to come hiking and carry all my gear in your pack, I’d love to go hiking with you.

They were in awe of the scenery, and what a perfect day it was to experience the Adirondack High Peaks in all their glory.  This stretch of the hike heading up to the tree line was slow moving due to elevation gain and as we climbed the temperature dropped and the wind grew stronger, giving us a good indication of what to expect above tree line. The trees around the trail were covered with fresh snow offering that always pleasing winter wonderland vibe. If you’ve only seen this sort of thing in pictures, I highly recommend taking up winter hiking so you can experience it in person. Those fluffy snow-covered trees create a magic all its own.

Matt, Steve, and I arrived at the tree line where we waited for Sara and Zach to meet up with us. We decided, based on our climb up Wright, that we didn’t need to fully layer up for the final ascent, rather we tossed on some wind protection only and prepared to climb. We waited for around five or ten minutes right at the base of the tree line, but had we walked another 10 steps up the trail, we could have enjoyed the monstrous views that were only feet away from us. But for some reason that thought didn’t compute in our minds.

Anyways, Zach and Sara caught up and it was time to climb. So up we went. Out of the tree line. Into the windy, other worldy section above tree line. The summit awaited us. We followed the cairns and turned around every five seconds or so to take in the view. It was like seeing the ends of the earth. Wright was down to our right, Street and Nye to our left, Colden, Marcy, Phelps, and Tabletop further to the right, the Sentinel Range directly in front of us and Lake Placid down in the valley below. Views that no camera can do justice. Snowcapped mountains with a bright blue sky above and sun shining down. Impossible to beat.

Of course, we still had plenty of climbing to do and the wind was indeed, whipping. At that point though the excitement every hiker feels as they climb above tree line and approach the summit takes over and the final quarter mile becomes a blur. Matt and I did end up passing a couple groups in front of us as we made our way up the crunchy, rime ice covered mountain slope. The rocks on Wright were mostly bare whereas the rock on Algonquin was all covered in snow, which made the climb more enjoyable in my opinion. We fought through the wind, rounded the final ledge, and stood atop the summit. We made it. Minutes later the rest of the group joined us on the summit as we took in the glorious winter High Peaks views. Algonquin, 5114’ elevation. The wind was whipping but the sun was shining, and the smiles were big as we stood atop the second tallest mountain in New York state. Hello Algonquin, it’s nice to see you again!

We made it to the summit and it was time to layer up…well, after I took about a million photos and videos because the 360° view deserved it. The summit of Algonquin offers, in my opinion, arguably the best view in the Adirondack High Peaks. Notice I said “arguably”. Words cannot do it justice. The summit could hold an entire neighborhood of houses, has 360° views of the High Peaks, and never disappoints.

While on the summit we enjoyed a nice snack break and chatted with a man with a very frozen beard who was about to become an Adirondack 46’er when he got to Iroquois. So, that was exciting. He started the hike with his brother to join in on the celebration, but his brother had enough after Wright. So, disappointingly, he went back and the man from Canada carried on to 46 solo. Another good reason to purposefully choose to finish your 46 on a mountain like Cascade or Big Slide- even your non-hiker friends or family can join you for the celebration. Or better yet, Whiteface because they can drive up. Then everybody wins.

After a good 25-minute summit stay it was time to move, next stop, Iroquois. Down the backside of Algonquin we went. It’s always fun hiking back down to the tree line and seeing the world laid out in front of you as you walk. Out west you get that often but here in the Adirondacks it’s a rare treat. We followed the cairns down and eventually made it back to the tree line.

If you’ve never hiked this range, once you arrive to the tree line you’ll see a brown sign with an arrow pointing left. This goes down to Lake Colden, not to Iroquois. Be mindful here. The trail to Iroquois is technically a herd path therefore the marked sign will naturally point hikers on the maintained trail. This, however, is not the right one for us today. So, if you’re trying to get to Iroquois and once you get back in the tree line go straight, not left. If you start rapidly losing elevation, you’ve gone the wrong way. Now you know…

The treetops were at elbow height as we hiked over to Boundary Peak on our way to Iroquois. Normally the trees are well overhead, so this is another fun and unique aspect of winter hiking. The sun continued to shine and the mountains were all around us as we made our way over to Boundary, and on to Iroquois. The trail was packed and pristine and a few other groups of hikers could be seen in front of us as we hiked the one mile from Algonquin’s summit to Iroquois summit. It feels like a hop skip and a jump because the elevation change is minimal once getting off Algonquin and into the col between Boundary. For all of you who quickly browse your map and may have missed it, you’ll go over Boundary Peak to get to Iroquois, so don’t stop too soon.

It was smooth sailing and warm as we hiked towards Iroquois. The sun was beating down on us so, that helped make the subzero temperature much more tolerable. Once we arrived in the col to climb up to Iroquois, we were only a quarter mile to the summit.

I love this hike from Algonquin to Iroquois because visibility is so far. You can see people climbing Algonquin and I could see Zach and Steve entering the tree line from Boundary, probably a quarter of a mile away. Fun times.

Sara and Matt finished the climb up to Iroquois first and I came in behind them where we greeted our new Canadian friend and wished him a congratulations on becoming an Adirondack 46’er as he enjoyed a celebratory summit beer. The wind was the lightest of the day on Iroquois and the temperature was even above 0° according to my thermometer, so we had that going for us. Shortly after Zach and Steve arrived and we were all there on top of Iroquois. Peak number 3 of 3 on the day, the 8th tallest mountain in the ADK standing 4840’ elevation with yet another magnificent 360° view high in the clear, blue Adirondack sky.

The third peak of the day. Even though this hike feels more like four since we still had to climb back up and over Algonquin. This summit has magnificent views of Lake Colden and Avalanche Lake where we could see hikers walking across them. We could see the flowed lands, Cliff, Redfield, Marshall, and an amazing view of Wallface to the west. Wallface is the tallest cliff in New York state towering over 800’ above Indian Pass. It’s worth a hike through Indian Pass if you want to get out without climbing a mountain. It’s a popular, albeit remote rock-climbing destination as well if you’re a climber.

I congratulated Zach for summiting his third High Peak of the day here on his first Adirondack hike and told him he’s now 3/46 on his way to becoming a Winter 46’er. He laughed. Also, a big shoutout to the podcast listeners I met and took a picture with on top of Iroquois. Thanks for listening to the podcast, especially all the way in Ohio. They were a group of men celebrating their 15th annual yearly get together in the Adirondacks they call, Degenfest. Since I’m willing to bet they’ll listen to this episode, thanks for listening and never let that tradition die. Getting together once a year with your friends for an Adirondack adventure is a tradition we should all have, let alone for 15 years running.

We still had a long way to go so after about 20 minutes on Iroquois it was time for the 5.5-mile trip home. So, we said our goodbyes to this amazing summit and headed home.  

As we backtracked towards Algonquin we passed a stretch of small rime ice covered trees with Colden and Marcy in the background. I told Zach to stop and look at the trees and absorb what he’s looking at. Most people in this world, and even listening to this podcast, will never experience nature doing what it does in the dead of winter. It’s easy to miss and walk passed those trees without giving them a thought, after all, everything is covered in snow up here. But I wanted him to make sure he stopped and enjoyed the scenery around him, not just the summit. As people we have no business being on top of a mountain in the dead of winter, yet there we were. It’s an amazing feeling and revelation once you stop and think about it. We snapped some photos and continued heading for the final big climb of the day back up Algonquin.

I will not lie to you, the climb back up Algonquin had me gassed for the day. I think we all moved slowly up that point, but once we were back on the summit a boost of energy arose within me. I knew the descent was going to be fast. So, without hesitation we scaled the peak, walked over the summit, and without stopping we continued down and we were cruising.

Our descent was fast and it included some fast legs, and decent sized butt slides. It was a fun time. And no, I don’t prescribe to some notion that butt sliding makes the trails worse. Speaking of butt slides. Brother Zach slid down one section and let’s say he picked up some speed and got going a bit faster than he anticipated. You do have to be careful and in control when sliding down a section of trail because you can absolutely get out of control. Fortunately for Zach there was no injury, unfortunately for Zach, he lost his cell phone on the ride…womp womp…now he had to walk back up the longest, steepest stretch of trail on the hike searching for his phone.

He eventually found it and we carried on down the mountain moving as quickly as we could, albeit slower and extra tired by this point in the day.  We eventually made it to the Wright trail junction, then back to Macintyre Falls, and back down to the Algonquin trail split with nothing too exciting to report other than perfect trail conditions, amazing magic hour sunlight, and good company. One mile to the car, here we go.

It’s so nice getting back to this trail from Algonquin and only having a mile as compared to the 2.3 miles from Marcy Dam. After good conversation by all we arrived back at the trailhead and signed out. What a perfect day in the High Peaks. A long day, clocking a good ten hours for the 11-mile day, but truly flawless. From a half inversion on Wright, to sunshine and blue skies on Algonquin and Iroquois, to a great group of strangers turned friends I couldn’t have asked for a better Adirondack adventure. If you want to join in on the group fun for the next hike just sign up for the email list at 46outdoors.com so you can join us. Many more to come. Shoutout to Sara, Zach, Steve, and Matt for a great winter day in the High Peaks, I look forward to doing it again.

It was a successful winter day in the woods on the Macintyre Range climbing Wright, Algonquin, Iroquois, a High Peaks hike that never disappoints. One that’s even better in the winter than the summer thanks to the snow. It was a perfect day from start to finish. Head over to 46outdoors.com to join in on the fun for our next guided group hike.

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