A humid mid-august day was the setting for another of our workplace's "above-the-clouds" hiking outings. After an initial spate of successful and easy intro-level outings, today we agreed to up the ante a little.
I chose Iroquois Peak. Iroquois is one of the more attractive members of the MacIntyre range in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State. Now, you might be wondering why the title of this report lists Algonquin when I've just referenced Iroquois. Chalk that up to a little mis-estimation on my part. Read on to understand why...
Not wanting to be turned away by a full-lot situation at the High Peaks Visitor Center, I dragged everyone out of their beds nice and early, starting our drive down from Ottawa at 5 a.m. We arrived at the visitor center parking lot just before 8:30 a.m., where we were happy to find that there was still room (although not much, mind you).
Much has changed at the high peaks visitor center since I last started off on a hike from here: some re-shaping and reducing of the drivable area in front of the visitor center, a new extension to the center itself, and even a whole new "Hungry Hiker" food stand. Major upgrades!
The morning felt very muggy and moist. We could see water vapor hanging in the air in shafts of sunlight coming down from between the low, puffy clouds.
We started off at about 8:40 a.m., and then made good time along the main arterial trail towards Marcy Dam.
We stopped at the junction with the MacIntyre Range trail (which was the start of the 'loop' portion of our hike) to make a decision. One way or another, this outing would include scenic Avalanche Pass. The question was... in which direction? head up the and along MacIntyre Range right way, and return afterwards via Avalanche Pass? Or do the pass first, and then up to the peaks afterwards...
Based on a combination of factors that included possible bad weather later in the day, we chose to head up to the peaks first, and so we turned right, and soon the trail started to gain altitude.
The MacIntyre Range trail, which leads hikers up to Wright, Algonquin, and Iroquois Peaks, is one of the most travelled in the Adirondacks. As a result, it is quite thoroughly eroded, revealing a jumble of big, awkward rocks and boulders along much of its initial ascent. Daniel and Katya -- first timers to the trails of the Adirondacks -- got a bit of a trial by fire.
The trail reaches a small notch at 3500 feet. Here, a distinct rocky bump sticks out from the general slope, and from this point onward, the trail is much less bouldery and tracks more along solid, continuous bedrock (i.e. easier upon which to hike). We took a small detour here and scrambled up the rocky bump (which I call "Wright's Nubble") for a scenic break.
After Wright's Nubble, we continued up the MacIntyre Range trail. We soon passed the turnoff to Wright Peak (an excellent summit, by the way), and continued on towards Algonquin. In order to get to Iroquois, we needed to go over the top of Algonquin itself.
The trail started to climb very steeply at this point, mostly up clean, solid, slabby bedrock. There was a lot of moisture about, and the rock was often damp or had a thin sheet of water coursing down it. Fortunately, it remained grippy, and we were able to friction up with little difficulty.
After a fair bit of huffing and puffing, we arrived at treeline. Given the day's forecast, I had feared that we'd have a summit in the clouds, but so far conditions remained a mix of sun and clouds, and there were good - if rather hazy - views to be had.
From treeline to the top of Algonquin's dome-shaped summit, the grade gradually lessened, and we were more easily able to enjoy the beautiful terrain. Fields of alpine grass rippled in the warmish breeze. We crossed over the summit and had a nice long relaxing lunch at the beginning of the descent down the other side.
From our lunch vantage point, we had a clear view down to the summit of Iroquois, which was just over half a mile away and at a slightly lower elevation than we were at. It wasn't actually on the loop portion of our route, but rather required a there-and-back detour from it. Our group was feeling a little tired and strung out from the steep tedious climb and while it was very nice to look at Iroquois from where we were sitting, there wasn't much appetite to actually go over and stand on it. We decided, therefore, to skip Iroquois, and just stick to the loop route itself.
The hike down to the mountain's southern treeline is a sublime bit of Adirondack hiking: open alpine terrain over nice solid, clean bedrock, and great views to much of the central High Peaks.
We arrived back at treeline all too soon, and began the next phase of our journey - the long descent down to the Lake Colden area, where we would intersect the main trail leading through Avalanche Pass.
I had advertised the descent trail to Colden as a shorter, easier variant of the long, bouldery climb we had made to get to the top of Algonquin. But, it didn't really feel that way. Tired after the long climb, and with a level of roughness that fully matched the worst of the ascent, we found the hike down to Lake Colden quite tedious and tiring. I often do many of these higher longer peaks in the winter, when stretches of trail like this are nicely buried under a thick layer of smoothing snow. I had forgotten how annoying a section of truly rough Adirondack trail can be!