Winter Hiking in the High Peaks Wilderness, New York - Backpacker

Winter Hiking in the High Peaks Wilderness, New York

Leave the crowds behind: Tackle Mt. Marcy in winter, and it will be just you, the silent mountains, and a whole lot of snow.
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Mt Marcy

Winter in the high peaks

The wind whips up a flurry of snow from beyond the threshold of our three-walled shelter and deposits it onto my sleeping bag. I crack an eyelid to see the crystals catch in the moonlight, a sparkling pile of glitter on my cocoon. Then it’s still, the sort of deafening silence that only winter brings. The calm is hard to believe after the weather on 5,344-foot Mt. Marcy. Earlier in the day, I stood on the scalped summit, bracing myself against fierce gusts among the miniaturized balsams that poked out of the wind-scoured snow. But the view was one of a kind: Shellacked with sheets of ice, rows of blue-tinted Adirondack High Peaks outran my vision. That’s what I remember when I close my eyes at night—not the wind or the cold. A quick wiggle in my sleeping bag shakes off the snow and I return to my dreamland—and warm memories of Marcy’s wild summit. 

Turn-by-turn directions for hiking Mt. Marcy

From the High Peaks Information Center on Adirondack Loj Road

Follow the Van Hoevenberg Trail 2.4 miles south through rolling stands of pin-straight pines and snow-covered marshes to Marcy Dam .

Take the north approach to 5,344-foot Mt. Marcy by staying on the easy-to-follow, blazed Van Hoevenberg Trail, which leads 5.1 miles to the top of the peak at mile 7.5. (Expect to use traction devices on the final push.)

Retrace your steps to camp and the trailhead.

Campsite

Marcy Dam Lean-to (mile 2.4)

Stage your summit bid from any of five classic Adirondack shelters that rim the former pond. We like the one tucked at the foot of slide-scarred Wright Peak on the southwestern shore for its seclusion and view of Avalanche Pass, but all the lean-tos are likely to be empty come winter. Don’t forget a shovel: You may need to do some snow-removal housekeeping. Ambitious winter warriors can make a full-on snow camp .7 mile farther in a wind-protected spot below Phelps Mountain.

Winter flotation

The Van Hoevenberg Trail is Mt. Marcy’s thoroughfare for a reason: The 7.5-mile north approach never gets steeper than 30 degrees and never harder than class 2. Use basic flotation like snowshoes or skis below treeline, then switch to slip-on traction devices (like Kahtoola MICROspikes) at higher elevations when the snowpack thins out.

Bag more peaks

Good conditions up top? Keep going. Instead of retracing your steps off Marcy, downclimb its southwestern flank .7 mile on-trail to the saddle at 4,300 feet. From here, link the Mt. Marcy, Lake Arnold, Lake Arnold Crossover, and Avalanche Pass Trails on a clockwise circuit back to Marcy Dam, bagging 4,925-foot Mt. Skylight, 4,826-foot Gray Peak, and 3,944-foot Cliff Mountain en route. The whole detour is roughly 11 miles.

See an icefall

From camp, connect the Avalanche Pass and Lake Arnold Crossover Trails just over a mile to see 25-foot Indian Falls, a blue Popsicle come winter. Clamber up the slope to the top of the cascade for views of the ice-covered MacIntyre Range. (Note: Indian Falls is trailside near the tail end of the peakbagging mission described above.)

DO IT Trailhead 44.182815, -73.963703; 15 miles southwest of Keene at the end of Adirondack Loj Rd. Season November to April for winter conditions Permit None Custom map ($15) 

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