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Summiting Giant Mountain in the Adirondack High Peaks, NY

Submitted by John Runfeldt

About 20 minutes outside of Lake Placid, site of the 1980 Winter Olympics where Al Michaels asked the country "Do you believe in miracles?”, is the Giant Mountain Wilderness; part of the Adirondack High Peaks region in upstate New York.

Two weekends ago, I skipped out of work a little early and took the 4 hour drive up to the ADK's. I tried to get a bunk at the Keene Valley Hostel, but there were none available, so I ended up staying at a motel in Schroon Lake; a town consisting of mainly ice fisherman during the winter months. The next morning I set out to hike Giant Mountain (elevation 4,626’), the 12th highest peak of the 46 Adirondack high peaks (peaks over 4,000 feet in elevation). The route I took was only 6.8 miles, but is steep and challenging with a stretch that climbs over 3,000 feet in just 2.4 miles. The hike took about 7.5 hours despite a quick descent aided by several glissades (some on purpose, others not so much). The trail conditions were good and the trail was packed down well. My snowshoes remained on the entire trip.


The forecast called for abundant sunshine but cold temps. Driving to the trailhead my car read -12 degrees, and it got much colder as I climbed. The summit was brutally cold but unforgettably beautiful. I forgot to check my thermometer but I'm guessing it was easily colder than -30 at the summit. The tubes of my hydration bladder (despite being insulated) froze solid within the first few minutes of the trip, and at the summit, my balaclava, winter hat and gloves froze stiff within a minute. I quickly took some pictures and headed back down.


The climb starts out steep and remains steep for nearly the entire ascent. Notice that the trees below the alpine zone did not have any snow on them.


The trail contains countless views on the way up such as the one from this lookout.


A view of the Adirondack Great Range from where the alpine zone begins.


The trail was broken and packed pretty well. This made the trail easy to follow even though the blazes and cairns were covered by snow.


Further up the alpine zone the trees were all solid white. I felt like I was in a world of blue and white.


The rime ice on the ridge was a solid white ice, coating the alpine trees and krumholz.


Some views from the summit


The ridge continues along the other side of the summit

Overall this was a beautiful scenic hike on a gorgeous winter day. The climb was tough with several steep sections of ice that took several failed attempts before I could figure out a way to get up. The crampons in my pack would have helped, but I really didn’t want to switch back and forth because the cold seeps into your bones when you stop for more than a few seconds. I plan on doing a 3 day traverse of the Great Range this summer so it was nice to get a good look at it from afar.

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