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The following is a report about a snowshoeing and camping trip to the Adirondack High Peak region with my brother-in-law Luthell Bozeman, January 13-21, 2001.

Photos that go with this trip report are available here.

We knew from the outset that our relatively luxurious winter digs would be paid for with sweat and effort. My big McHale was loaded with full winter gear and six day's worth of food and fuel, plus a little cushion. And it was immediately evident when I picked him up at LaGuardia Airport that Luthell's pack would be no less cumbersome when he included the stove, fuel bottle, extra fuel and a BD Megamid tent I had brought for him to add to his load.

I felt that all that gear would make our rather long winter stay at our base camp more comfortable and enjoyable because we would have more spacious sleeping quarters (my Trango 2) and we would be able to dine and relax out of the wind and snow in the Megamid, which is basically a pyramid-shaped tarp. Shouldering our ponderous loads at The Garden parking lot gave us plenty of second thoughts, but we were fresh and the trail to John's Brook Ranger Outpost was relatively flat. Problem was, we would be continuing two miles past the ranger post to Bushnell Falls, of which about 1-1/4 miles was on a somewhat steeper ridge with a couple of mean little kickers along the way.

Snow conditions in the Adirondacks were better than I had ever seen them, and even the locals agreed enthusiastically. After several poor-to-mediocre winters that had cut into seasonal tourism activity, they were finally enjoying a return to robust winters of old. For us on the trail, that meant a full snow pack that filled in nearly all the rock gaps, making the trail as smooth as a sidewalk, and about four to five feet of unpacked depth off trail. Despite the trail's firm pack, we observed local etiquette and wore snowshoes all the way to preserve the trails for skiers and other users. And as it turned out, snowshoeing on hard pack proved more efficient than walking on plain boots because there were no little backslips on each step. Without even trying -- and, in fact, while trying *not* to -- we caught up with and passed several bare-booted winter travelers on our way to Bushnell Falls.

When we arrived at the camping area at Bushnell Falls we had to scout out an area that would accommodate both the Trango and the Megamid, and the Megamid site also had to meet the criterion that it be positioned between two trees where a suspension line could be strung. Although there were no flat areas, we found a not-too-steep area that would permit us to pack down some flat platforms. Knowing that we would have to live with our handiwork for several nights, we prepared the tent sites carefully and waited much longer than usual for the snow to consolidate before pitching the tents. While I put up and pinned down the Trango, Luthell planted deadmen for the Megamid's corners, strung it up from the loop at its peak and dug a pit entrance that sprouted into a "Y" inside the tent. The crook of the Y was in the middle of the tent, where we would set up the stove, which turned out to be a splendid arrangement that would permit us to sit comfortably and dine no matter what the weather.

And that was good, for barely an hour went by when there wasn't some snowfall. The temperatures were by Daks standards very mild, with night temperatures getting down only to the upper teens or low twenties and daytime highs around freezing. But the sky cleared completely only once, that being Wednesday night into Thursday morning, and the rest of the time it seemed that every slight wisp of cloud or overcast produced snow, so that we received about two to four inches of snow per day. Thus can a five-foot snowpack be achieved less than one month into winter.

Next day, we were both somewhat knackered from the previous day's efforts, Luthell's knee and foot were giving him some trouble and the low-hung clouds were peppering us with sleet and snow, so we decided to make it one of our rest days. We devoted it to tuning up our already fine campsite, scouting out the various trail heads at Bushnell Falls and enjoying hot drinks in the shelter of the cook tent. Our copious fuel supply permitted us to fire up one of the stoves just about any time the mood struck for a cup of coffee. Talk about luxury!

Tuesday was our first shot at Mt. Marcy. Although still overcast, the murk of the day before had lifted substantially and what snow there was was dry and light. The barometer had barely budged, but the brightening sky and occasional blue gap gave some hope that summit views might be in store later in the day. However, after snowshoeing 3.8 miles and 2,300 vertical feet -- and with about 0.2 mi and 200 feet to the top! -- we found ourselves in a total whiteout with all previous tracks to the summit erased by snow drifts and route-marking cairns totally invisible. Having no map reference points to help us derive a compass heading, we decided it best to retreat. After all, the most important goal is not the summit but getting back home.

Wednesday was like Monday. Socked in again with low clouds, except this time the overcast enveloped our camp in fog, and after the previous day's experience we were in no mood to set out for Marcy again. So we rested and sipped hot beverages, and in the afternoon hiked back down to the ranger outpost. On the way down we practiced plunge stepping and on the return trip we sharpened our step-kicking and -slicing skills on a couple of short, steep little sections with very safe run-outs.

The sky cleared dramatically late Wednesday afternoon, and we were set for a clear and relatively cool night (only down to around +8 deg F). The squeaky pitch of boots on snow and the twinkling stars in the cloudless sky made me practically giddy with the thought that we might, at last, arrive at Marcy's summit tomorrow with spectacular views all around. It all brought into focus the main reason I enjoy climbing: the views from the top. Gaining the summit is for me a distinctly hollow victory if there are no great views to be had.

But dreams of views were interrupted by sounds of a pine marten raiding our food hang bags. Luthell said he was sure he had heard the little bastards ripping at our plastic and mylar-packaged victuals, so I leapt from my bag and ran out in my boot liners which, fortuitously, were already on my feet because I had worn them to dry their slight dampness. I snarled and barked like a pissed-off, rabid Doberman, but even then the pine marten retreated only a few yards away where his beady little peepers shined right back at my little LED headlamp. We took the food into the tent, and next day carried enough in our day packs to see us through Thursday dinner, and Friday breakfast and lunch.

We were on the trail by 7:30 Thursday morning, but already there were clouds floating about the high peaks. This gave rise to anxiety that my highly prized views might be taken from us again, so we hastened our pace just a bit on the now-familiar (and well packed) trail to treeline.

Shortly after we stopped to eat and drink at the Van Hovenburg-Phelps trail junction, we were pleasantly surprised to find we had company on the mountain, a group of six or seven high schoolers from Vermont Common School led by guide Bruce Hennessey (, who had approached from Marcy Dam. They broke trail ahead as we finished consuming calories, and then we broke trail as they stopped for a break before the final push to the top.

By now, our doubts about fair weather winning the day were starting to be realized. The upper reaches of Marcy were cloaked in clouds about 70 percent of the time, but at least we got the occasional peek that would prove helpful in our orienteering efforts when we got there. Luthell took note of a small plateau indicated on the topo map, which would prove quite useful in the very near future.

Predictably, the clouds thickened more and more, so that by the time we reached the plateau we were marching into whiteout conditions, though they were not as bad as those we experienced Tuesday. At one point we stopped and consulted the map and compass, finally concluding that we needed to make a sharp turn to the left to travel a few degrees south of west. About that time, the high school group caught up with us, and we were relieved to see that Bruce Hennessey agreed with our choice of direction. Bruce, Luthell and I broke trail for a while, and we managed to stay on the proscribed route long enough to see two cairns and a bit farther on two rocks with paint markers on them, an abundance of ski tracks, and then a few minutes later we were at the top.

The temperature was in the high teens and there was a wind of about 20 mph -- very mild by winter standards in the Adirondacks! But we were in the clouds and there was water vapor galore, enough that we were all soon taking on a powdered-sugar coating of rime ice. Some quick congratulatory high-fives, photos, and we reversed our heading, a little north of east, and about a half-hour later the relief of treeline and the established trail.

Friday we packed up and made our way to the White Sled Motel's bunkhouse, where we commandeered a 6-bunk room and spread all our gear out to dry. Saturday was spent doing the tourist thing in lovely Lake Placid, and visiting the Winter Olympic venues for ski jumping and sledding, where competitions were taking place. I found that luge is the perfect sport for stocky, late-middle-aged guys who like to blast down icy chutes at 70 mph while sitting on their asses, so perhaps another career lies ahead for me.

-- Bob

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