Today we finally managed to execute on getting out to climb an Adirondack peak as a work team-building activity. A perfect weather day landed on a Friday (Thursday or Friday is generally the best for these types of work outings, as you're able to closely organize in advance on the days immediately before). And, I was able to convince enough of my work colleagues that hiking in the winter isn't actually crazy.
Like other recent hikes, today was an intro-class outing. Chris W, James, Sai and Ming had never been on a winter hiking outing, and it was important to ensure that we did something short and straightforward. And nice. And relatively close to the office. That basically boiled down to one peak... Ampersand: the best of the shorter/lower peaks on the western fringes of the Adirondack high peaks.
We had some difficulty getting everyone to the office and into Ming's 2005 Sienna minivan, but finally we did, and we drove out of town shortly before 8 a.m. Under crystal-clear skies and cool conditions, we arrived at the Ampersand Mountain trailhead on route 3/30 shortly after 10:30 a.m. I had cobbled together and rented a bunch of snowshoes and microspikes and axes and gloves and extra hats and shirts and .... well, you name it.
The trail was firm but covered in a fresh coat of new snow, and we started off straight away with snowshoes. The first 1+ mile of trail is basically flat, and I got a few statements and questions along the lines of "oh this hike is pretty easy and flat" and "doesn't seem like much of a steep hike". Well, for those people, the time would come to eat those words, for although short and straightforward, there is indeed a rather strenuous stretch of steep trail.
Fortunately, conditions were near optimal, with the fresh snow providing some extra bite for our climbing snowshoes and with the underlying base being not all that icy. Still, when we got to the really steep bits -- a climb up the shady north slopes of Ampersand itself -- it was a bit of an eye-opener for some of the new hikers in the group. Ottawa simply doesn't have long stretches of steep terrain like this.
With a generous helping of short breaks, we surmounted the main climb. Up here at 3000 feet or so, the fresh snow was thicker and fluffier, and everything was picture-perfect-wintery, in bright sun and under brilliant blue skies.
The day was rapidly warming up, in fact approaching the freezing point. A couple of other hikers coming down from the open summit warned us of some wind, so we stopped in the shelter of the trees to don some of the layers we had shed as we had sweated our way up.
Although short in stature (only just over 3,300 feet), Ampersand has a nice little patch of open terrain near the summit. The steep final slope that gives way to this open area is nicely arranged to greet your arrival with an ever-increasing panorama of the surrounding landscape.
There was still a coating of fresh snow on the summit bedrock (in the Adirondacks summit snows often melt off quite quickly), and that allowed us to get most of the final way to the summit without having to clank around on bedrock too much. There was indeed a chill breeze up here - not really windy in the strict sense of the term, but still requiring some warm clothes.
The air clarity today was superb -- I could see east to the highest of the High Peaks and they looked much closer than they usually did. The MacIntyre Range was especially beautiful, coated uniformly in clean white snow.