As we drove down the Adirondack Loj Road to start this hike, the sky looked very threatening over the High Peaks. It had those reddish, tan thunderstorms in it. I'll admit, I was a bit nervous. After we parked, we spoke to a guy who was going for his last peak and said, "The weather could be very interesting up there." That did not comfort me. And with that ominous start, Hiking Buddy, oldest son and I started off on our attempt to bag two peaks today. It was 7:30 a.m. when we left Loj parking lot. The walk when you first leave the Loj parking lot, whether on the trail to the Marcy Dam or the trail to Wright/Algonquin, is not challenging at all. Why then did I stumble right off the bat? Maybe it was another sign of things to come... I simply tripped on a root, which took a little skin off my knee but nothing serious. I felt more stupid than anything. We had only gone about a mile so far!
At 8:55 we reached the falls, which had a pretty good rush of water. I had been here before when it was virtually dry. We took a 15 minute break and grabbed a snack. Less than an hour later we came to the split for Wright or Algonquin. There were other hikers resting here, so we chatted with them and came up with the idea of possibly going down Avalanche Pass after climbing Iroquois, rather than coming back up and over Algonquin. More on that decision later... The funny part of this story is that the gentleman who offered this advice kept referring to Iroquois as "Ear - a- kwa", so later when we were cursing our decision, we kept laughing about the trip down from Ear-a-kwa.
We readied ourselves for the last 9/10 of a mile push up Algonquin. Hubby had warned that this part of the hike would be the toughest. It was a bit challenging. There was a lot of rock, and Hiking Buddy made it clear she was less than enthusiastic about the prospect of "sliding" back down this later. We had left the split at 10:15 and reached the summit at 11:20. Just over an hour to climb just under a mile is pretty much our standard pace for the tougher parts of the mountain. My legs were tired, but there was no way we could NOT do Iroquois. My son had previously hiked Algonquin and was only on this trip to bag Iroquois, not to spend time with his mother as I would have liked to believe! We were smack in the middle of a nice big cloud when we reached Algonquin's summit, but the wind was blowing pretty good and before long we had a view. We could see Wright, which looked so small from here! In the picture below, Wright is the rocky peak toward the lower right of the picture. Heart Lake is in the middle, to the left of Wright. It was hazy, but we had a view and more importantly, the storm that was threatening when we started appeared to have blown over.
We left for Iroquois at around noon. Between Algonquin and Iroquois is another peak called Boundary. This peak is technically over 4,000 feet as well, but because of its proximity to the other two, it is not counted in the 46 High Peaks. That's not to say it doesn't exist. We had to climb up and over this very real peak to get to Iroquois. Side note - Boundary was once the literal boundary line between the lands of the Algonquin and Iroqois Indians. So obviously you now know how those two peaks got their names as well. However, Algonquin was originally named Mt. McIntyre.
It took us 30 minutes to get from Algonquin's summit to that of Boundary. Another half hour of climbing brought us to Iroquois. This was a tougher 30 minutes. The path between the two was extremely narrow and muddy and we were bushwhacking through brush that was digging at our legs. The last push up Iroquois was a virtual rock climb. The summit was empty of hikers compared to that of Algonquin. In fact, we had to use the self-timer on my camera to take our picture. You can see from our expressions in the photo below that the wind was pretty strong. I think my son was afraid his contacts were going to blow right out of his eyes. I was afraid my camera was going to blow away! Because of the wind, we took in the view rather quickly and began the hike back within 15 minutes of reaching the summit.
Initially, when we left Iroquois we had to deal with the rock that we climbed on the way up. This was a bit more challenging going down. First of all, do you climb down facing the mountain or facing the view? Either way is tough. Then we came to a point where, my son and his crazy long legs had no problem navigating, but Hiking Buddy and I were stumped as to the path that would not send us hurtling into the great beyond. Ultimately, we had to use my son's crouched legs as steps, while "catching" each other before we went too quickly off a small ledge. A little nerve wracking, but we did it.
Next we came to decision time - in the col between the peaks was the beginning of the trail that would lead down via Avalanche Pass. Do we hike out this way or do we go back up and over Algonquin? Hiking Buddy and I outvoted my son, who wanted to just go up and over and thought it the better choice according to the map he was reading. We thought Avalanche Pass would be better, plus it was a route we had never explored. At 2 p.m. we started down this trail. I'm using the word "trail" loosely here. It was actually a very rocky and steep way to hike. After first, it was just sections of rock slide with scrub on both sides. And this is where I took my nasty spill of the day. I'm still not sure how it happened, but I fell on some smooth rock, apparently grabbed some scrub (because I ended up with a handful of it), landed on my right side and started to slide... I truly thought I was not going to stop. In fact, my calf cramped up as I attempted to dig in to something, anything. Eventually, I stopped and I was pretty shaken. My nail had ripped off and was bleeding and the skin on my right leg, from my knee to the top of my sock, was mostly gone. I was shaking and needed a minute to compose myself. I think I scared my fellow hikers a bit as well. I cleaned my wounds, applied some Bacitracin, collected myself and we marched on. What choice did I have? It was the first time I really realized how easily you could get hurt on these hikes.
After descending for over 2 hours, we saw a sign that said we were still 5.7 miles from the Loj! How demoralizing. We passed Lake Colden and next got to the end of Avalanche Lake. The trail at this point was a boulder-filled shoreline with lots of ladders and navigation over some big rock. There were also wooden walkways someone had affixed to the rockface along the water's edge. Thank God someone spent time and effort to do that, because other than swimming, there was no other way to get passed the sheer rock that dropped into the lake at this point. I wish I took a picture - it was really pretty - but by now I was so tired and not in the mood to pull out my camera. We definitely were not appreciating nature at this point.
We finally got to Marcy Dam at 6:25. My son was already there, took my car keys from me and started to jog. Hiking Buddy and I finished the last of our food and left the Dam at 6:40. Just as we reached the car at 7:25 it was starting to drizzle. We went to Subway in Lake Placid for the most delicious sandwiches ever, and by that time it was pouring, with terrific claps of thunder and bursts of lightning. We definitely lucked out with the weather and could now say we climbed #2 (Algonquin at 5,114 ft) and #8 (Ear-a-kwa at 4,840 ft) of the highest peaks in New York. My advice for hikers on this trip is, unless you're looking for adventure, skip the Avalanche Pass route and just make the trip back up and over Algonquin. You might keep all the skin on your legs that way. Also, I have to give praise to my son, who never once said, "I told you so".