Deb and I signed in at the register just before 8AM while Glenn decided to do a short hike around Heart Lake to get some movement in. Due to his foot re-injury, he needed to stay on flatter ground and hike at a slower pace to make sure his foot placements were solid so off we went in opposite directions. Unlike yesterday the trail was now covered in about an inch of snow which was just enough to provide us with traction to get up to the waterfall part way up to the Wright Mtn junction. There was one male party of 3 in front of us whom we caught up with part way up the trail. We yo-yoed with them and another couple with their dog on the ascent. We put on our traction devices and continue up watching our foot placements between rocks, on slushy ice puddles and snow covered ground. My traction devices got balled up with snow and ice once and I had to knock them off. We noticed that all the other parties seemed to be moving faster than us as they weren't carrying the extra 4lbs of snowshoes we were. We decided at the Wright Junction to leave the snowshoes behind and hid them behind a tree root. We appreciated the lighter pack weight and did not need them for this entire hike either. From this point on, we were the first group up the last steep ascent to Algonquin's summit. When we arrived at the tree line huffing and puffing after hours of uphill travel where we donned some warmer clothing and followed the cairns to the summit. The wind was fierce - between that and the new snow there was no footprints left in any exposed areas. The wind guts were over 40mph and frostbite was imminent. My sweaty body from the ascent was now dry thanks to quick drying clothing (like my OR Refuge air jacket) but the wind was cold and I could start to feel it hit my body. Debbie reminded me the summit was up on my right hand side at the top and I recognized two boulders that are in many Algonquin summit photos. The exposed summit rock was covered in rime ice, snow drifts and rock cairns. Just as we were about to take a summit selfie, one of the male hikers in the group we were yo-yoing with appeared out of no where. Deb risked frostbite and took a summit photo of him and he took one of us (above). It wasn't a place to linger so we told him he should quickly re-trace his vanishing footprints back down (it was his first ever summit and he left his buddies behind as they didn't make it). We turned quickly and headed down the back side of Algonquin. The cairns were visible but the wind was blasting so hard we could barely stay on our feet. The above zero temps in the morning had quickly dropped to -10C. Added to that the wind chill made it feel below -20C easily. On the decent, I felt the wind pummel my right cheek which was concerning for me with frostbite. I had have 2 previous incidents of bad frostbite on my right cheekbone and was worried I was in for a third. My hood wasn't covering the exposed skin well so I had to turn my head or cover the cheek with my mitt. When I got down into the alpine scrub between Algonquin and Boundary, I threw on my shell and a neck warmer that would cover the area from now on. There was no point stopping earlier to put on my shell jacket as opening the backpack would have meant that all the contents would have blow off the mountain.
We moved through the scrub forest and over another exposed bump called Boundary Mountain. We needed to keep moving to stay warm and lucky for both of us we had battery heated mitts on to keep our fingers from freezing. We descended the far side of Boundary and went through another scrub trail section where on two occasions I fell into shallow post holes that had been covered by recent snow. Luckily I only fell in about 10 inches and did not hurt myself. A fractured ankle up on that ridge in those conditions was not something I would have wanted. Survival would have been extreme. Luckily I had packed down clothing, a bivy bag and a Rab Silbothy and Deb had a sleeping bag but still, it would have been an awful place to wait for rescue.
We followed the cairns up to the summit of Iroquois deciphering where the trail might be in the drifted snow and rime ice. We got to the summit cairn and I quickly took out my phone and took 2 selfies before stuffing it back in my chest pocket. We didn't waste anytime being in a whiteout and returned back to the protection of the scrub forest for a quick water break. Being after 11:45 AM, my stomach was growling and was able to grab a pepperette to munch on as my usual lunchtime at work is 11AM. We passed two parties headed to Iroquois on the way back to Algonquin and Deb kept remarking that only the hard core hikers need apply on a day like this.
We returned to the backside of Algonquin to see blue sky peeking out every so often mixed with clouds. I really wished I could have had a video clip of the winds on this section. There was no way you could record this safely - Debbie was almost blown off her feet by the winds. If you could see clearly (the winds made your eyes water) you could get a 2 second view of the surrounding mountains only to be clouded in again a second later. The system was clearing out! Heading back up the mountain was just a brutal as the way down wishing I had brought ski goggles. I stayed along the cairn line and tried to say on the windblown rime ice as the traction was much better than the soupy snow drifts. When we got back to the summit of Algonquin, it was crowded! There were over a dozen hikers there lingering and waiting to pull out there cameras for the second or two there was a view. As it was the second time up Algonquin that day, we took a couple of snaps of the "view" and then bolted down to the tree line. We were chilled to the bone from the wind and the temperature was dropping that evening to -17C.
We returned to the Wright junction and ate our lunch at 1PM. We had time to go tag the summit of Wright Mountain but I decided to leave it for later as it's been a long term goal to ski it. We kept our layers on on the decent and our traction devices all the way to the parking lot. Another great adventure day on the Adirondacks.
Winter peaks #29 and #30 of 46
Elevation: 1351m or 4432ft
Time: 7 hours, 5 minutes