This trip report comes after what is a very long gap for me -- more than three months -- since our last mountain outing. Why? Well, a combination of things: some family visiting, low snowpack, a bit of a focus on cross-country skiing, and a bit of basic laziness -- all are to blame.
In any case, we were here on a fabulous mid-February winter day, at the non-descript trailhead for one of the Adirondack's premiere 'non-46r' outings: Jay Peak. Not to be confused with its much more famous namesake in Vermont, Jay Peak is a mountain in the northeastern quadrant of the central high peaks, somewhat removed from the higher members of the Adirondacks. To its north and east, the land falls away to towards lowlands and the Lake Champlain valley, and off some ways to the west are the cluster of the highest peaks.
Along for today's outing: Jennifer, Andy and Arn.
The way up to Jay Peak is along a so-called 'herd path'. It is unofficial, meaning there is no official signage or maintainence. You have to know where to park and where to hike, although there are some minor blazings and flagging on the first section of the ascent.
There was little snowpack down at the trailhead. A recent bout of warm weather and rain had created a fairly hard base out of that minimal snowpack, so we weren't really sinking in at all. Still, there was enough snow to cover rocks and roots and the quality of it was such that the snowshoes' crampons bit positively. In other words, good conditions.
Tougher to find the route
The morning's weather was absolutely perfect for a winter day in the Adirondacks: crystal clear, not a breath of wind, and a very reasonable -10C of temperature. A couple of inches of fresh new snow made everything in the surrounding forest look pristine and clean.
Proceeding at a decent clip, we quickly ascended along the ruler-straight section of herdpath to a small forest knoll, stopping at the top for a de-layering break.
Beautiful morning continues
Descending briefly from the top of the knoll, the herdpath became a bit harder to follow. Being higher up, the depth of the fresh powder that had recently fallen was deeper; as a result, it more completely obscured the faint sign of previous snowshoers. I made a few mistakes here and there, but by and large my summer GPS tracklog and a faint memory of the right way kept us on course.
A four-person group from Quebec caught up to and passed us as we were huffing up towards the final steep bits to the first lookout. The lookout itself was as great as ever, giving us a sudden view out to the southwest, towards the Central High Peaks.
From the first lookout, it was only a few more minutes of steep climbing (through more open patches of terrain) to the first sub-summit. The sub-summit marks the westernmost end of the Jay Peak ridge, and from here we got an even better 360-degree view, along with a good overview of the line of the ridge we were about to follow, all the way to the actual highpoint of Jay Peak.
Perfect Winter Snowshoeing
Open ridge and the High Peaks
Continuing on from the first sub-summit, we started along the ridge. It is a fun and varied walk, with little dips and rises, bits of forest and small clearings. As you progress eastward, the forest bits become smaller and the open sections get bigger and bigger, until eventually there are long stretches of beautiful, open ridge-walking. In several places out in the open, there was no snowpack at all - probably a result of high winds and exposure to direct sun. In other places, the wind had blown the snow into a very firm, styrofoam like quality - hard enough that only the crampon points of our snowshoes bit in.
In places, thin snow cover
The day continued to be beautiful. It was still sunny and perfectly clear; on top of that, even though we were out in the open on an exposed ridge, there was nary a breath of wind. We stopped several times to de-layer, and there was no need for hats or gloves.
Starting descent to Grassy Notch