The first week of spring 2010 saw Jenn and I tackle a traverse hike of the McKenzie Mountains. These mountains consist of a couple of just-under-4000 footers immediately adjacent to Lake Placid, on the northern fringes of the central high peaks region.
The incentive to do this hike came from a number of sources: First, the first weekend of spring is traditionally when the Adirondacks 46r organization holds its annual winter dinner. The organizer, Peggy MacKellar, had asked if I would put together a background slideshow showcasing scenes of winter 46r climbing. Second, Jenn and I were off to a 5-day backpack in the Grand Canyon the following week, and a reasonably decent training hike of some sort was in order. Finally, one of the peaks in the McKenzie range I had not yet done, and there's always a little attraction to something new.
The McKenzie Range consists of two peaks: Moose Mountain on the eastern end, and McKenzie Mountain on the western end. I'd already done McKenzie before, back in 2002 with Andree. I therefore had some idea of the logistics around our choice of the start/finish location, which was at the end of the Whiteface Inn Road near the shore of Lake Placid. This area is managed by the Shore Owners Association of Lake Placid (all of the land along the shore of the lake around here is privately owned).
Parking near Lake
We parked at the road's-end turnaround at the end of Chipmunk Lane and headed off eastward. We walked along a narrow access lane leading to several private residences, looking for a spot where we could reasonably cut over to the Lake Trail, which I knew ran right along the shore of the lake at this point. Eventually I found a reasonable-looking spot. I'd advise anyone coming this way to try and find a similarly decent spot. This is private land, and owners may not like hikers cutting willy-nilly across their property.
: the Chipmunk Lane access to the Lake Trail is now closed (and a sign now clearly states this). There is a new access point and short bypass in place on nearby Blodgett Road. Please read the 2015 trip report of the Mckenzie Range Loop
for detailed info.
Lane past Chimpmunk
It was a fairly cold morning for late March, with temps below the -10C (15F). Even so, the prior past two weeks' worth of warm weather meant that there was very little to no snow on the ground, here down near the lake. We walked past very upscale residences, complete with fancy docks and boathouses jutting out into Lake Placid. The cold, clear morning provided great views to the distant high peaks - most prominently Mount Marcy and the MacIntyre range.
Beautiful Lakeshore Housing
Lake Placid and the High Peaks
After a few short minutes, the Lake Trail starts to angle away from Lake Placid, and winds its way by a few smaller residences. The signage along the trail is a mixture of semi-official and homemade signs, but overall what you need to look for are signs indicating "Lake Trail" (most other paths are off-limits).
Lake Placid and the MacIntyres
Deeper into the woods there was a thin layer of rock-hard snow -- easy to walk on. We continued northeast, gradually leaving cottages and dwellings behind and walked through a more and more pristine forest. The trail itself is quite lightly followed, and it is important to keep an eye out for 'SOA' trail markers or 'Lake Trail' signs. Presently we came to the junction with the Bartlett Pond trail, which leads more or less directly up from here to the summit of McKenzie Mountain. We wanted to do an entire traverse of the range (i.e. including Moose Mountain), so we continued on along the Lake Trail, heading for the trail further on that leads up to that peak.
Some Markers are Like This
As mentioned before, this trail is obviously not well-used. There's not much of a discernable tread, and, given the open nature of the forest and the carpet of leaves over everything, it would be easy to wander off trail. The little white SOA markers (and, in places, rusted soup can tops and blank plastic discs) are your friend.
The trail soon reaches a signed turn, where it starts to ascend moderately steeply up the slopes of Moose Mountain. Up to this point, the trail has been roughly following the shore of the lake (albeit at some distance from it). Now the Lake Trail heads uphill, away from the lake, eventually reaching a four-way junction. The Lake Trail continues on ahead towards Whiteface Landing; our trail was the one leading left straight up the hill towards Moose Mountain.
Now climbing steeply (and on a hill directly facing the strong sun), we soon got quite sweaty (even though it was well below freezing). As we climbed, the snow gradually re-asserted itself, first in patches, and eventually in a thin, continuous layer. It was still very firm, and even though we had our snowshoes with us, there was no thought of putting them on. We weren't sinking in even a bit.