When my friend Ann (and fellow Mom on the Mountain) and I scope out hikes we want to do, we look at a "cheat sheet" we found on the Internet that summarizes all the High Peaks in order of height, difficulty and number of hours it should take to complete the trip. When we started this High Peak endeavor, we thought we could be pretty comfortable with anything under 10 miles and/or 10 hours. Phelps fit the bill.
Also, early in my quest, I did not take as detailed notes as I now try to do on each hike. So I really don't have much written about this hike regarding when we got on the trail and what time we emerged from the woods.
With that in mind, I will say I remember this to be a fairly easy Peak. In fact, a family who does not start with Cascade and Porter as their first High Peaks should really consider Phelps. At 4,161 feet, it's not much over the 4,000 ft threshhold for High Peak designation. It's almost 9 miles round trip, but the first 2.2 miles (so obviously the last 2.2 as well) are the fairly flat miles between the Adirondack Loj parking lot and the Marcy Dam. Once you knock off those 4.4 miles, you're really only talking about approximately 4.5 round trip miles of climbing.
This trip was my first time to Marcy Dam. The trail to Wright and Algonquin also leaves from the Adirondack Loj parking lot, but it splits after about a mile. To head to Wright/Algonquin, you take the Algonquin trail. To head to the Marcy Dam, you bear left on the Van Hoevenberg Trail. This was our course for Phelps.
We arrived at the Marcy Dam and decided to take a snack break and re-group. We didn't necessarily need a break already, but it is such a beautiful, peaceful spot that it was worth taking a few minutes to enjoy it. Also, we had a fairly large group (there were 14 of us, including Ann's daughter who was hiking her first High Peak) and it was a good place to make sure we were all still together.
It was still relatively early in the day and not a ton of hikers had reached the dam yet. Or, we were late by hiking standards and they had all already passed! Whichever the case may be, there wasn't a big crowd. We all wandered off to explore a little. I found a nest of snakes just under the far edge of the bridge over the dam. They were sunning themselves. The day was nice and clear, but the sky did not have much Adirondack blue. We did have a perfect view of Colden from the Dam. It's easy to pick out this peak due to the slides on its face.
In addition to signing in at the Loj parking lot trailhead, there's another sign in log at the Dam. This is probably because there are so many trails going in so many directions from this point and it makes the rangers' job that much easier if they had to retrace some lost soul's steps. The trail leading to Phelps started a mile after the Dam. It's a fairly easy ascent to this point. The last mile is really where there's some climbing to be done over rocks.
When I got to the top, I couldn't locate the open summit right away. Maybe I just expected it to be RIGHT THERE. I had to follow the voices of the rest of our group that had arrived before me. The summit is not a huge area of bare rock and our group took up most of it. It also does not have 360 degree views, but it does have some pretty nice views nonetheless. It was very warm - we were comfortable in tee shirts - and there was hardly any breeze. I don't know if we caught a mild day or if the summit is normally protected from the wind. There did seem to be an inordinate number of yellow jackets around while we were eating. One of them stung me on the arm. This is not a good time to find out whether you're allergic to bee stings. Fortunately, I am not.
From our vantage point on the summit, we could easily spot Mt. Marcy and Tabletop. Not a bad view to dine by! As we turned to take the trail back down, we were facing the MacIntyre Range of Iroquois, Algonquin and Wright.
I had now completed 4 High Peaks, Phelps being #32 in order of height. Also, for those of you keeping track - this mountain was named for Orson Schofield "Old Mountain" Phelps. He lived from 1817 to 1905 and cut the first trail up Marcy. Phelps was a Keene Valley guide who named several Adirondack peaks.