One week after checking off Sawteeth we were back at it going for another high peak. This week it was Iroquois on the top of the checklist, and for me my official halfway point to completing the Adirondack 46 high peaks. Our friend Dan was joining us for the hike as well, the last climb he went on with us was Phelps Mountain last year so he was pretty excited about going again. We got our breakfast and headed out to the Adirondack Loj. We got there a bit later than I had hoped but I was not too worried about it as the hike we planned didnt seem like it would take any longer than usual. We also had a solid week of 80 degree weather which we knew would have melted a lot of snow, but we had no real idea about the exact nature of the trail conditions. The route we ended up deciding on was to do a loop hike through Avalanche Pass and up to Boundary Peak. From there the plan was to head to Iroquois then go back over Boundary and over Algonquin, and from there back down to the Loj. Brace yourselves this was one hell of a day.
We got started at about 9am down the trail and began to head to Marcy Dam we were all doing pretty well on the flats making fairly easy work of the first 2.1 mile stretch up to Marcy Dam. The water level at the dam was pretty high which was the very likely result of the massive amounts of snow melt coupled with some very heavy rains from the last day or two. We crossed the water bridge and signed in at the 2nd register. From there we got on the trail for a few hundred feet until we got to a trail junction. From here we started our way down towards Avalanche Pass/Lake Colden. It was about 1.5 miles of straight forward gradual uphill muddy climbing until we decided to take five for a quick drink at a brook the name of which Im not sure of
After a brief rest we got going again toward Avalanche pass. The gradient got a little bit steeper from there but nothing too intense until we would eventually drop a little bit just before reaching Avalanche Lake. There were still some pretty large piles of snow left here even which I found to be surprising given the elevation we were at but in a bit we would find the potential culprit. Before getting to the lake at the base of one of the sheer cliffs were hundreds of downed birch trees which was the likely result of an avalanche from the winter. Fortunately these trees were cut to make the trail passable so we were able to get through it without any issues.
After making our way through the enormous area of blow down we made it to Avalanche Lake where we got off the trail to check out the water. Little did we know we would have to become one with said water later on in our day but for the time being we got back onto the trail and began all the boulder hopping that makes Avalanche Pass so much fun. As we were going through all the boulders we noticed how high the water was in the lake so it made a couple spots a little bit interesting. Nothing a few leaps of faith couldn’t fix though, that and supreme confidence in my swimming abilities. The snow melt was in full force as it was flowing steadily off the Avalanche Pass cliffs. We came to a bridge directly across Coldens Trap Dyke on Avalanche lake where the water was just pouring off. Naturally we decided to sprint this portion of trail since it made more sense to run through what was essentially a waterfall rather than walk. I began to sense that being wet was going to be a common theme throughout the day… We arrived to the end of the lake only to see a roadblock. At a location where there used to be a nice manmade bridge crossing there was nothing, washed away by melting snow and ice. So we were faced with a decision. Let this obstacle defeat us or find a way to cross this body of water. We had a couple different ways we could attack this. The first was to try and find a way across the fast moving brook at the end of the lake, or the other choice of crossing Avalanche Lake itself. After a good 15 minutes of trying to figure out a better way we decided to lose the boots (and for Dan lose his jeans) and cross the lake. To anyone looking to go this route it looks like the DEC is already at work repairing the plank bridge as there was quite the lumber bundle on the other side of the lake.
After a successful crossing in freezing cold water we kept going and the trail just kept getting wetter. We kept on weaving our way through saturated ground and submerged planks until we got to the trail junction. From here we took the Boundary Trail up towards Algonquin Peak. We got going for a little bit and crossed another brook via bridge, from there we headed down the trail until we saw the DEC outpost on Lake Colden. Problem here was that we went too far. I had Andrew pull out the map and see where we missed the junction and fortunately it was only about .1 miles back, right at that brook crossing to be exact. I don’t know how all three of us missed this rather obvious trail junction but I didn’t really dwell on it. As luck would have it the fun was only beginning for us. The trail had several spots of melting snow, and boy was it melting. We would walk on top of the snow and notice water rushing right under our feet. I was careful about what I was stepping on but the situation was a little less hairy than it was last week on Sawteeth. The trail we were on paralleled a brook for quite some time, it was quite the spectacle with several small waterfalls and rapids.
The trail got a little bit steeper but continued to parallel this brook. It also remained very wet to the point where we may as well have been walking in the brook itself for quite sometime. It wasn’t before too long where we encountered yet another roadblock. The trail crossed over the brook and the brook was much higher than it would be in the summer months. The water was moving way too fast to consider crossing like we did in the lake so we had to look for some alternatives. We walked up and down the banks and finally I noticed a tree that had fallen down. We went over to check it out and it crossed the entire brook and was definitely big enough to support our weight. Before I could get another word out Andrew got on the tree and butt-shuffled across the brook. Dan and I were hesitant to take the same approach so we tried to find a long stick to give us some stability. After no luck with that Dan decided to get on all fours and hug this tree and do what Im calling the Adirondack Tree Shimmy to the other side.
After enjoying how hilarious it was watching my friends take this on it was now my turn to cross. I will admit the rushing water below me definitely got my heart pumping. I decided to go with Andrews method of side shuffling across the tree and it worked pretty well. The good news was only my boots got completely submerged in 40 degree water, and I made it to the other side without losing my life. The bad news was once we got going on the trail again it was only another 100 or so yards before we needed to cross this goddamned stream again. I couldn’t help but think the Adirondacks were extending its middle finger and laughing hysterically at us. So once again we were stuck trying to find a way across the brook. Since I didn’t really feel like it I took my boots off and waded across, which was absolutely freezing. Andrew and Dan managed to find another way across a little bit up the bank and it ended up working out for them. We kept going for a little bit until guess what…we had to cross this brook yet again. I was at the point where I no longer cared about my boots or pants being wet so I just went in knee deep. Andrew and Dan took a more calculated approach and hopped on some rocks which was probably the smart way to go. After this we had to cross the brook one final time before making our way to an extremely steep and wet stretch of trail which would lead us to Boundary Peak. However we had another crap our pants kind of moment. Before Dan crossed the brook we told him to stay there to see if we needed to cross again. Sure enough we did have to cross again so we told Dan to just walk up the bank for a little bit and meet us on the other side. What we couldn’t see was that the brook forked and went in a different direction right before the crossing. We got to the other side and I noticed the fork in the brook and kind of went “oh crap”…(I said something else but wont say what) I briefly panicked and was about to get out my whistle before Dan finally popped out of the woods. Turns out Dan was taking a picture of a red newt….Thanks for the heart attack! After learning that we in fact did not kill Dan we got back on the trail and headed up the Boundary trail toward Algonquin.
The way up was extremely taxing as the melting snow and very steep gradient made this very challenging. At one point we had to make our way up what was essentially a rock slide with running water, which was probably a lot more dangerous than we gave it credit for, one slip and it was to the bottom of a very steep rock face. We trudged on very carefully through streams, torrents, melting snow for another hour or so until we finally reached alpine elevations. It was so nice to be above tree line and have the sense of being almost there. We got to the top of Boundary Peak and headed off to take on Iroquois Peak first. As soon as we got to Boundary Peak we were hit with some of the windiest conditions I could ever recall in my hiking escapades.
We started our final push towards Iroquois which felt a lot like we were dragging a parachute with the windy conditions. I removed my hat in effort to not make it a permanent fixture of the Adirondacks and we pushed through. The way up proved to be a little challenging as there were several deep snow drifts remaining, but we were not post holing quite like we were up Sawteeth. After fighting through the wind and climbing up a few rock scrambles we made it to the summit of Iroquois Peak. For me it marked the halfway point to becoming an Adirondack 46er as my 23rd peak! Andrew checked off number 22 and Dan his 2nd.
We did not spend too much time up top because the 60 mph winds made it tough even to sit down. We got going again taking it slow as to make sure our momentum was not aided by the wind, as becoming a human-kebab on an evergreen or sharp rock was not my desired outcome for our hike. We made our way through the snow drifts and rocks and back to Boundary Peak. I had been feeling pretty good physically throughout the day but as soon as we got going up to Algonquin Peak I started to slow up. Algonquins last ascent is challenging enough as it is, throw in a debilitating cramp in your right quad which was pretty high up there on my pain threshold (I can handle pain) and you have a whole new ballgame. I couldn’t move my leg as I could feel the muscle tightening so Dan and Andrew had gone a bit of a way without me before realizing I was in a bit of distress.
I stopped for about 5-10 minutes massaging my leg and chugging water to try and fight the cramping. Eventually I got it to settle down enough where I could feasibly climb the rest of the mountain. My leg still wasn’t feeling very good, I was going much slower than Andrew and Dan but we finally made it to Algonquin Peak. This was the 3rd time I had been atop mighty Algonquin and Andrews 2nd time. For Dan it was his 3rd high peak ascended and he earned every single bit of it.
After getting some food in my stomach and chugging more water we dried off our shoes and made our incredibly windy descent down Algonquin Peak towards the Loj. I took my sweet time as my leg was still not at 100% yet and there was a lot of ice and snow on the trail, which was very steep. After a while the gradient became less steep which I expected as I had hiked this trail several times before and I was able to pick up my pace a little bit. We went pretty much non-stop on the way down until we made it to the car. The descent down Algonquin only took us about 2 hours even though we were spent and hungry. At the end of the day this was one of the most challenging hikes physically and mentally that I have ever had to endure. At the same time I can say I am now officially halfway to becoming a 46er!
Recommendation to hikers: This time of year hiking can be pretty tricky as the snow isn’t deep enough to really warrant snow shoes but the use of traction devices are probably a good idea for some of the icier spots on the trails. I think this loop hike would be much easier in the summer months after the water levels decline a bit more. The casual hiker may not be too motivated to climb Iroquois but it is definitely doable if you want to make a trip over Algonquin first. The more direct route over Algonquin would probably be the preferred route for you as the mileage is less. The aspiring 46er may want to tack on Wright Peak with Iroquois and Algonquin as its a very quick side trip and a beautiful hike in its own right. The easier route is probably to go directly over Algonquin to get to Iroquois but if you’re up for the challenge of going through Avalanche Pass it can still be done especially later in the year. The mileage is slightly longer and the difficulty as far as steep gradients and obstacles are a little bit more.
Iroquois: Views – 9 Difficulty – 9
Algonquin (Avalanche Pass/Boundary Trail): Views – 8 Difficulty – 9