Adirondack Death March


The view from Algonquin, the second highest peak in the park

Wright Peak (4580 ft) (16th Highest Peak in ADKs)
Algonquin Peak (5114 ft) (2nd Highest Peak in ADKs)
Iroquois Peak (4810 ft) (8th Highest Peak in ADKs)

Difficulty: Steep and Strenuous, both up and down
Date of Summit: 8/14/2008
Total Distance Hiked: 13.6 miles
Trip Time: 10.5 hrs
Total Ascent from hiking 3 peaks: 3753 ft
Temperature: Low 70's

Never again. Don't get me wrong, it was an amazing experience, but I'll never go through agony like that again. The problem wasn't that I was attempting three high peaks in one day. It was attempting the three peaks plus both descending via the steepest trail in the park and conveniently running out of water halfway through the trip.

This guy sat next to me during my morning break

If I had been smart, I would have hiked up to the three peaks and returned back down the same way, thus lowering my total distance to a mere 11.6, two miles less than what I ended up hiking. Instead, I followed the exact route that Martin Heintzelman and I had planned to hike on our overnight trip a few months ago (we ended up hiking just Mt. Marshall, the other peak in the MacIntyre Range - see that post for details). This day hike was a big, grueling loop - I would summit the other three peaks in the MacIntyre Range (Wright, Algonquin, and Iroquois), then take the Algonquin-Lake Colden Trail, which sharply drops 2,000 vertical feet from the col near the backside of Algonquin. After reaching the valley near Lake Colden, I would take Avalanche Pass back to the parking area, via Marcy Dam. In my head it was an achievable goal, but by the end of the trip my legs were telling me otherwise.

The 13.6 Mile Death March

I started out at the trail head at 8am, fresh and ready for adventure. The first leg of the trip went by quickly, and before I knew it, I had reached the intersection of the Wright Peak side trail and the main Algonquin trail. I took the Wright Peak side trail, which proceeded to climb another 500 feet over the next half mile. The summit was well worth the last strenuous half mile, as the bald peak was adorned with large trail cairns and had wonderful views of the surrounding area.

Beautiful six-foot tall Cairns on the approach to Wright's summit

Wright Peak has a bit of history to it as well. It was named after Governor Silas Wright, but is also the site of a memorial to four US Air Force officers, who crashed their B-47 Bomber into the mountain in 1962. Supposedly, there is both a plaque memorializing their lives, as well as artifacts from the plane wreckage still atop the mountain. I was unable to find any evidence, so I guess that gives me a good excuse to return for another look sometime soon.

Atop Wright Peak

I noticed a few things while on Wright Peak. First, Algonquin is HUGE. Even standing atop Wright, it loomed another 1,000 feet higher as its head poked up above the clouds. I also realized how puny and pathetic Mt. Jo is from this peak. It looked like a small anthill from 4580 feet up, which makes sense since Jo is only about 2800 feet. I couldn't help but laugh, since I've made the Mt. Jo hike with family members on two different occasions, both in the summer and late fall. It was also amazing to see how far I had hiked from starting at Heart Lake, in just a couple of hours time.

I think I can see my car from here!


From Wright Peak - the mighty Algonquin waits to be conquered...

After a conversation with a fellow hiker and a quick snack, I was on my way again.
I quickly descended the side trail back down to where it meets up with the main Algonquin trail, and promptly rejoined the somewhat steady stream of commuters who were slowly making their way up the mountainside. I hiked for another steep mile, climbing 1,000 feet, and there I was - atop the second highest peak in the park.

Atop Algonquin, Looking down on the Flowed Lands

It was absolutely wonderful. I could see for miles in all directions, wishing that I had the patience to sit down with my map and locate every peak surrounding my position. It was quite chilly on the summit - perhaps high 50's with a decent wind, so one did not sit still for long without having to put on long sleeves. There were probably about 15-20 people on the top of the mountain at any given time, a crowd spanning all ages and hiking abilities.

The Slides of Mt. Colden from Algonquin (Marcy in the distance)

The summit steward was dutifully making his rounds, striking up conversation with as many people he could. Summit stewards are funded by the ADK Mtn Club, Nature Conservancy, and the DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation). The steward hikes up the mountain at sunrise, stays atop all day, and hikes down the mountain at sunset. They stay up there to educate the public on the fragility of the plants in the alpine zone, which is the area above the tree-line.

Atop Algonquin, Iroquois in the distance

I had lunch in my own little quiet corner of Algonquin's summit (it's a tabletop summit almost the size of a football field), with a million dollar view that costs absolutely nothing but a couple hours of exercise. I had already climbed two high peaks today - it was now on to my final peak for the day - Iroquois. I began the descent down the backside of Algonquin, towards Boundary Peak and Iroquois.

The backside of Algonquin, from Boundary Peak

Within 15 minutes of leaving Algonquin's summit, I had already reached Iroquois' summit! I couldn't believe how easy it was to reach this peak! Then I realized something - I was standing on Boundary Peak (this small peak was actually the boundary line between the Iroquois and Algonquin nations, hundreds of years ago) - Iroquois was still a great distance ahead of me! I once again set off for my destination, through a herd trail that was obviously well-used, but extremely narrow and claustrophobic. It was satisfying to reach the summit of Iroquois, because I could finally catch a glimpse of Mt. Marshall, which I climbed a few months earlier. Once again, a peak I had hiked earlier now looked extremely small, looking down from the eighth highest peak in the park.

Atop Iroquois, looking at Mt. Marshall (which Martin Heintzelman and I hiked in June)

After an extremely quick pause atop Iroquois, I backtracked to the col between Boundary and Algonquin. It was the next 1.7 mile stretch that completely broke me. It was 2,000 feet of nothing but vertical drops, consisting of rock face and boulders. Basically, I was hiking in a stream/waterfall bed, and with every step down, my joints and thighs would cringe.

Yep, that's the trail...dropping 2,000 vertical feet over just 1.7 miles

At about 1/3 of the way through this torturous descent, I ran into a couple from Canada. They were having trouble, mainly because the woman's boots had completely fallen apart. The rubber soles had worn away to nothing, exposing the steel shank in each boot as if it were a flapping tongue on its sole. They were planning to hike up to Algonquin and back down to the parking lot, but I convinced them otherwise, as I was really not sure how much further she would make it in those boots and it was starting to get a bit late. That's one thing that I have always taken seriously - your feet should be the one thing that you pamper more than anything else in hiking.

Another trail shot (it doesn't look it, but that is one steep grade...)

It was also about this time that I ran out of water. I had packed two liters of water, but just as I underestimated the size of this hike, I also underestimated my water supply. Luckily, I had potable aqua tablets (iodine tablets) that I used. After dropping one of those tablets into my bottle of fresh stream water, I was once again on my way. When one is that thirsty, they don't mind if the water tastes a bit like a swimming pool.

My emergency water source

I finally got to Avalanche Lake, but I was tired from head to toe and really beginning to worry. My legs (thighs) were so worn out that they would give way with too much weight (so I bore much of that weight on my poles), so I had no choice but to walk straight-legged like a robot for a good portion of the final five miles. To make things worse, I was also once again dehydrated. But this time I was not willing to try the potable aqua, for I just didn't trust the stagnate lake water (I imagined all the Giardia and Cryptosporidium Baddies meeting up down in the lake for a big party, just praying that some stupid hiker with those silly iodine tablets would be desperate enough...).

Beautiful Avalanche Lake (looks much different than two months ago!)

As I stumbled down the trail, weak and cottonmouthy, only one thing could keep me focused on my goal - the drinking water faucet back at the parking lot and the (now necessary) stop I would be making at McDonald's on the way home. I kicked it into high gear and played through the pain (my mom would be proud - I even struck into "I think I can, I think I can..." at one point in my final miles), finally arriving at my car (and that sweet, sweet water) exactly 10.5 hours after I began, at 6:30pm. Exhausted and barely able to walk, I thanked God that I made it back to my car in one piece. My wife thinks I'm crazy for doing that hike, and I'd have to agree with her - it's been over 24 hours since I completed the hike and I'm still barely making it up and down the stairs due to muscle soreness. But I just can't get the mantra out of my head: "6 peaks down, 40 more to go..."

2 comments:

Kathy Behuniak said...

So glad to hear you were just as tired as I was after this hike! We did not do Wright this day, but we did Algonquin and Iroquois and, rather than hike back over Algonquin, thought the Avalanche Pass route weould be good. I took a spill at the top of the rock just as we started and was actualy scared I would not stop sliding. So I left a bit of skin on the steep trail. My legs were feeling like yours. My friend's were too. My teenage son was putting us to shame. We were so tired when we finished, much later than we thought we would.

Kathy Behuniak said...

By the way - Wright is a great day hike by itself and you do need someone to point out the remnants of the plane crash. It's interesting to see.