Monday, October 4, 2010

Algonquin & Iroquois Peaks: 10/03/2010

Driving towards Lake Placid on Saturday afternoon, it seemed that virtually every trailhead parking lot we passed was overflowing with cars. With beautiful fall weather and near-peak foliage, it was no surprise. We had reservations for the night at Adirondack Loj, located just footsteps away from the popular Heart Lake trailhead, and planned to climb Algonquin and Iroquois Peaks on Sunday.

Crisp morning at Heart Lake

There had been more than 4 inches of rain during the week, but the skies cleared out on Friday and Saturday. Sunday morning dawned frosty and clear – perfect weather for our hike. After a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon, home fries, fresh fruit and lots of coffee served up by the Loj crew, we hit the trail by 8:45.

The trail up Algonquin ascends the cool north and northeast slopes of the mountain, and the air temperature never seemed to warm beyond the 30s despite the bright skies. Leaves at the lower elevations still had lots of color, but above 2500’ most of the leaves were already down. Somewhere above 4000’ in elevation we encountered the first ice on the trail, and as we climbed above that elevation the trail icing increased. We also encountered lots of mud at all elevations – essentially if you weren’t hiking on rock, you were in mud.

Birches along the Algonquin trail

Wright Peak (foreground) and Big Slide Mountain (the sharp peak on the right horizon line)

Trail cairn, Wright Peak, Heart Lake, and Whiteface emerging from the clouds

Approaching Algonquin's summit

The 4-mile hike to the 5,114’ summit of Algonquin, with 3,000 vertical feet of climbing, took us just under 3 hours, slightly longer than I had planned. After a quick lunch break on the summit, we started out for Iroquois at 12 noon, allowing ourselves two hours for the 2.2 mile round-trip traverse across the ridge.

Marcy and Mount Colden (with the slides) from Algonquin's summit

Iced cairn with Iroquois Peak beyond

Mount Marcy is also known as Cloudsplitter, appropriate today

Descending the southwest slope of Algonquin through extensive alpine terrain

The route descends the southwest slope of Algonquin’s summit cone through extensive, beautiful alpine terrain to the col between Algonquin and Boundary Peak (not considered a separate peak because it lacks the required .75 mile or 300’ vertical separation from Algonquin and Iroquois). At the col, an unmaintained herd path leaves the main trail and traverses the mostly open ridge over Boundary to Iroquois. Although route-finding is not an issue on the short herd path (it can be on some of the other 20 trailless high peaks), there’s plenty of mud, spruce thickets, and boulder scrambling.

Thick spruce along the herd path between Boundary and Iroquois Peaks

Scrambling on the final approach to Iroquois Peak with views of Colden, Marcy and the Great Range

Drinking in the vast wilderness view. The dramatic cliff is Wallface.

Algonquin Peak from Iroquois' summit

The reward on Iroquois: unsurpassed views of Indian Pass and Wallface, Avalanche Pass and Lake Colden, Flowed Lands, Mount Colden and Marcy. Algonquin’s summit towers above nearby. Solitude enhances the wilderness view from Iroquois and differentiates it from Algonquin’s summit. I would have loved to stay longer on Iroquois, but we knew we still had a significant effort ahead of us re-climbing to Algonquin’s summit and then returning to Heart Lake.

Beth's boots took a mud bath on the Iroquois herd path

Climbing back up Algonquin from Iroquois

Arriving back at Algonquin’s summit we encountered two Summit Stewards talking with some other hikers. The Summit Steward program is a partnership between the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK), the Adirondack Nature Conservancy and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Summit Stewards educate hikers to help preserve the rare alpine ecosystem found on Algonquin, Marcy and several other High Peaks. Many of the alpine plant species on these summits are rare or endangered, and all are susceptible to foot traffic. Leaving Algonquin’s summit for the final time, we began the long descent back to Heart Lake, arriving back at the trailhead at 4:30.

Alpine grasses below Algonquin's summit

For more information about the Adirondack Mountain Club, the Summit Stewards program and Adirondack Loj, visit the ADK’s website at:

If you’re interested in climbing the 46 Adirondack High Peaks, see the 46ers at: The 46ers' mission is to educate the public on responsible wilderness use and to encourage stewardship in the High Peaks Region.


  1. 9 Archived Comments:November 2, 2010 at 10:37 PM

    Steve said...
    Wow, sensational shots. The first is money. Great framing on the landscape shots with close up and far away subjects in great relationships to each other.
    October 6, 2010 7:22 PM

    Highpeaksdrifter said...
    Nice pics and TR. I did that hike a couple years ago abd it's probably my favorite. When you're up in an Artic Alpine Zone it feels like another world.
    October 7, 2010 8:07 AM

    Snowballs said...
    I read somewhere that the very summit of Algonquin was replanted a few years back and all the plants/soil etc was backpacked up to the summit. I believe one guy did most of it. Did sumpin' like a trip a day.

    For a while they had Summit Stewards there to keep folks off the new planted and fragile Alpine plants.

    It looks beautiful. Great pics.
    October 7, 2010 10:54 PM

  2. Jeff said...
    Snowballs, the revegetation of the Adirondack alpine summits is significantly more involved than what you describe. You might check out this link directly to the ADK's Summit Stewards program. The restoration of the summits has involved literally decades of work. The "one guy" you refer to is likely Ed Ketchledge who pioneered the work to rehabilitate the summits, but many other volunteers have been involved including the ADK, the NYS DEC and the 46ers.
    October 7, 2010 11:32 PM

    Harvey44 said...
    Jeff, I'm curious — how would you evaluate the progress of summit species restoration? How does the condition of the above treeline terrain compare to 10 or 20 years ago? Do you think there's enough compliance among hikers in the High Peaks for the alpine ecosystems to recover? It's a precious resource. Let's hope it survives.
    October 9, 2010 12:45 PM

    Jeff said...
    Yes: significant, noticeable progress has been made on summit protection and revegetation since I first started hiking in the High Peaks 25+ years ago. The restoration efforts have been very science-based, and I'm sure there are objective measurements that have been made of the progress. I know there are then-and-now photos that compare the condition of the alpine summits, perhaps I can track down a link for you. The Summit Stewards program has been a real success in educating hikers about the sensitivity of these areas and virtually all hikers now are aware and cooperative. In the past, a lot of damage was done due to casual ignorance.
    October 9, 2010 10:37 PM

    Jeff said...
    A couple links of interest. The first is a research paper published by Ed Ketchledge in the mid-80s for the U.S. Forest Service describing the revegetation efforts:

    Rehabilitation of Alpine Summits

    The second is a 2009 photo-point monitoring study that compares the condition of the alpine summits over several decades:

    Photopoint Monitoring of Adirondack Alpine Summits

    and the third is an obituary for Ed Ketchledge who passed away this summer at the age of 85:

    Ed Ketchledge obituary

    October 12, 2010 10:35 PM

    Harvey44 said...
    The images showing the side-by-side comparison on the summit of Marcy are really dramatic. It's really encouraging to see.
    October 15, 2010 10:59 AM

    Giấy dán tường đẹp said...
    I wish there was a time in my life come to this place.
    October 22, 2010 10:44 PM