We were getting close - Four left to go! And this day's objective was ambitious - a long loop to try and summit three of the higher High Peaks summits - three that we had left to do - for our winter 46er quest: Gray, Skylight, and Marcy. 4, 3, 2, 1: if we finished all of these today, we'd have one peak left.
We had planned to do this itineray one week earlier - on February 9. February 9 of this year saw an organized attempt (I think it has been dubbed "Grace" day) to summit all 46 peaks on the same day. A great boon to those wanting to do a winter peak that is "broken out" and a great way to meet a lot of cool people.
Unfortunately, the weather didn't co-operate that weekend. It was scheduled to snow, and I had already resolved to myself that the final peaks of my winter 46er quest, for which I'd reserved the "good" peaks, would be done in weather where I could appreciate their scenic beauty. Anotherwords, when I could actually see them!
So, unfortunately, we didn't get to meet the winter gang on February 9. Next year, perhaps. Now back to our story.
Saturday, February 16 - unlike Saturday, February 9 - was forecast to be crisp, cold, and mostly sunny - the perfect opportunity to try and summit these excellent peaks (well, maybe not so much Gray, but we have Gray on our list, and so it has to get done).
Crystal-clear at the dam
We parked at the Loj parking area at 5:30am, and were ready to go at 6. The sky was a sapphire-studded black vault. Nice to see clear skies for a change this winter! It was cold - the temperature on my pack thermometer read minus twenty-five degrees celsius (minus thirteen fahrenheit). Fortunately, it was dead calm.
We knew it had the High Peaks had received several significant dumps of snow since last weekend's trail-breaking frenzy, and so we knew that we couldn't expect any of the broken-out trail from then to have survived. We were somewhat hopeful, though, that the main trails up to the Marcy area were broken out.
Good trail so far
With dawn twilight already upon us (the days are definitely getting longer!), we quickly hiked the rolling terrain from the Loj to Marcy Dam. From there, we continued up to Avalanche Junction. So far, the trails were well broken out.
At Avalanche Junction, we debated our choices: go up the Avalanche Pass way, and hike through the beautiful scenery around Avalanche Lake and Lake Colden, or go up the Lake Arnold way, which was significantly shorter but less scenic (and perhaps less broken-out). We chose the long, scenic way.
Continuing at an excellent pace, we soon hiked through Avalanche Pass to Avalanche Lake. A very brisk, gusty wind was blowing through the pass, and we wasted no time in crunching straight across the lake. The Trap Dike was much snowier than when we climbed it three weeks before - almost no ice was visible (at least from our vantage point down low).
Early morning at Avalanche Pass
Back into the trees, we rapidly made our way down to Lake Colden, and again enjoyed a very scenic but windy crossing of the Lake. All around us, the central High Peaks glowed a brilliant white.
From the Lake Colden camping area to the Uphill Lean-to, things got harder. There was only a narrow, deep ski track. As a result, I found that my snowshoes were always being torqued inwards - uncomfortable and awkward. Our pace slowed quite a bit on this section. Still, we were grateful we had a path to follow.
We stopped at the Uphill Lean-to for a much-needed refueling break. The depth of snow in front of the Lean-to was almost up to the roof - impressive!