Mid-February is when many jurisdictions have a mid-winter vacation day - something to break up the winter blahs. In Ontario - my home province - we have something called "Family Day" weekend, where the Monday is a holiday. It rolled around this year shortly after a series of large snow dumps finally established a good solid snowpack throught the Adirondacks. I wanted to take advantage of the good snow conditions while they lasted, and suggested a snowshoe outing to both my work colleagues and friends. Chris, Gillian and Jenn responded in the affirmative.
Ridge Trail Start
Since everyone wasn't totally current on their long-distance hiking form, we chose something moderate (originally we had been thinking about Franconia ridge in NH, but Chris and Gillian thought that might be a bit too ambitious for them). Instead, we chose another nice ridge route - the "Ridge Route" up Giant Mountain in the Adirondacks. Scenic and reasonably strenuous, but short. And with lots of nice views.
As I said, it had been a snowy week, and plenty of fresh snow lay all around. However, the previous day or two had been exceptionally warm, far above freezing, and no snow was left on the trees. The trail itself, well-packed out, was quite hard in the morning coolness. We started off bare-booting along the trail.
For about the first half-hour of climbing we continued to bare-boot. The day was rapidly warming, though, and we could sense that we were about to start postholing in the softening snow, and so we strapped on our snowshoes. We continued up to the bench containing the Giant's Washbowl, and here the trail seemed off to me. Sure enough, we ended up bypassing the lower ledge lookout and we didn't reach the shore of the Washbowl. Someone had tracked off the signed route and made directly for the upper junction with the trail to the nubble. Slightly shorter for us, I suppose, but we didn't get the nice lower ledge lookout.
The ridge trail started climbing in earnest again, and soon we encountered our first real stretch of icy trail (thus far it had been all well-packed snow). We were able to skirt it / surmount with a little care, and continued on up past a few more icy patches and along the well-constructed set of switchbacks, which ended at the first of the open areas along the ridge. We emerged to a glorious view of puffy clouds and bright sun.
The forecast had been much more pessimistic than this, predicting a 90+% cloud cover and a 40% chance of showers or flurries. Combined with the very warm temperatures, it felt beautiful and springlike up here today. A beautiful state of affairs for our climb up the scenic open slabs of the Giant Ridge trail.
Up we went, winding around and up the small ledges and steps and slabs of the ridge trail. There was a substantial snowpack that had - for the most part - not melted off or changed to ice yet, and with our grippy snowshoes, it was a straightforward stairclimbing exercise to the sky.
At around the 3600-foot level, the trail begins to align with the crest of the ridgeline (and also into the trees). We began to get glimpses down into Giant's main west basin and the summit crest above. Then, after a final return to bit of nice open slab, we re-entered the trees for the final ascent up to the summit crest. Things got increasinbly cloudy as we neared the summit.
Good snow allowed a straightforward (if calf-busting) ascent of the final very steep pitch to the summit crest. From here we walked through the dense scrub to Giant's summit ledge (Giant's summit is not fully open).
The scene was dramatic. Although now mostly cloudy, there were enough holes in the clouds to occasionally light up a peak. That, combined with the generous dumping of snow on the higher summits, meant that lit-up peaks shone brilliantly, standing out from the darker surroundings. Marcy especially looked striking when a pool of sunlight hit it.