"Far above the chilly waters of Lake Avalanche, at an elevation of 4,293 feet ... is a minute, unpretending tear of the clouds - as it were - a lonely pool shivering in the breezes of the mountains, and sending its limpid surplus through Feldspar Brook to the Opalescent River, the well-spring of the Hudson."
Having hiked in the Adirondacks in the past, we intended to hike something other than Mt. Marcy, so we agreed on Algonquin Peak, it being the second tallest in the range. Starting from the Marcy Dam, we hike to Lake Colden, via the Avalanche Lake Trail. Once at Colden Lake, we hitched onto the Algonquin Trail and continued up and over the mountains, staying one night at the MacIntyre Falls camping area, just pass the peak. The next day we continue down to the Adirondack Loj, and loop around to our parking spot.
This route is a round-about way to Algonquin, but offers beautiful passage through the valley by Avalanche Lake. This has become my favorite hike anywhere in the North East.
The High Peaks Wilderness
I have backpacked extensively all over the United States, and it seems that every other weekend I am out exploring some new wilderness area, park, or state forest. There being so much to see in the country, I very rarely revisit areas. There are a few special areas I revisit, such as Big Bend National Park each Thanksgiving, but Big Bend is an exception. Never have I revisited a park within a month of my first visit - that was until I discovered the Adirondacks.
Something about the area spoke to me, and after my first trip, I became enamored. I learned about the 46ers club, the hundreds of trails, the dozens of peaks, and yes, some rules I may have overlooked my first time around. I also found that Mt. Marcy, the tallest mountain in New York state, was not necessarily the hardest nor best trail in the park. Long story short, I wanted to go back, and see what else the park had to offer.
Sights were set on Algonquin, the second highest peak in the state. But we wanted to approach the mountain through the Avalanche Lake Pass, which we were told was a more exciting ascent than the traditional trail to the top - always listen to the locals, they know best.
Marcy Dam to Avalanche Lake
The we took to summit Algonquin was in the same area as the Mt. Marcy trail, along the Marcy Dam. Since it was Labor Day weekend, we knew how bad parking was going to be, so we raced to get there before the crowds.
Arriving near the trailhead around two in the morning, we found a lean-to and quickly fell asleep. The Marcy Dam area has various lean-to’s for hikers, but like parking, they fill up fast, and each shelter can only hold eight people.
Our trip started off a bit rough. We were woken up by a forest ranger who notice our bearvaults. Remember, it is against the law in the Adirondacks to overnight hike without a bearvault, as always we were prepared. Not even considering it, we took our clear blue vaults, the very vaults we have used countless times in grizzly country. Apparently, as the ranger so gently told us, those types of bearvaults don’t work in the Adirondacks. He told us that black bears can chew right through them. I began to protest, but stopped, there was no point in arguing. He left after that and thankfully no ticket was issued. That encounter marked only the second time I've ever even seen a park ranger in the backcountry. I’m glad he was doing his job.
With that out of the way, we could start hiking. Since it was a holiday weekend I was expecting to see hundreds of fellow hikers, but apparently everyone wants to hike the tallest, not second tallest. The entire day we ran into maybe a dozen fellow hikers, the trail, for the most part, gloriously to ourselves.
I immediately found myself enjoying the Avalanche Pass trail more than the trail up to Marcy. The Marcy Trail shoots straight up into the mountain, like an interstate, it was the fastest way to the top. Avalanche trail was more of a scenic byway, it meandered beautifully through the forest and around boulders and crevices.
The trail was also slightly better maintained than the Marcy trail. Later that night, I met a man who was hiking his last 46er and he described the Adirondack trails as such “muddy, rocky, and rooty.” That sums it up well.
It was a wonderful trail, especially in the cool morning mists. After maybe 500ft or so of easy elevation from the Marcy Dam we spotted Avalanche Lake. In the mist, it was indistinguishable from an alpine lake in Colorado. I was blown away at the beauty as we rested on boulders surrounding the bank.
Avalanche Lake to Lake Colden
From Avalanche Lake to the summit of Algonquin is, in my opinion, easily the best hiking you will find east of the Mississippi. That’s including climbing Mt. Washington, Katahdin, and anything in Acadia.
Getting around Avalanche Lake was a journey in itself. The path was recently outfitted with ladders, bridges, and walkways by volunteers. Some bravery was required, but we trusted the engineering of the forest services.
From Avalanche lake, you will follow the path to Lake Colden less than half a mile away. From Colden, the trail will dramatically increase with difficulty. Up to this point there was no serious elevation gain, from this point you will hike nearly a 70 degree angle until you reach the summit. A sign warns of over 2,300 feet of elevation, in about than two miles.
This part of the hike is simply awesome. You begin to pass waterfalls and water slides, as the path follows a stream flowing from the top of the mountain. At a few points the trail is the stream, which on a rainy day like our, requires some dexterity to navigate successfully.
In all honesty, this way up to Algonquin was not easy, and even rivaled the difficulty of many hikes out west. The traditionally summit from the Adirondack Lodge is much easier, and I recommend summiting that way if you aren’t comfortable with some difficult hiking.
Unfortunately, the day we chose to hike Algonquin happened to be an extremely misty day. I’ve hiked some foggy mornings, but it usually clears as the sun comes out. But the heat, the rain, and the elevation was the perfect combination for a completely view-less day.
So after about 10 hours of hiking, we had no views as a reward for our hard work. However, I was content with the outcome either way, the hike up was on the best I had ever done, and I’ve seen the view before from the other side of the valley on Mt. Marcy. I did feel bad for my friend who had not yet summited in the Adirondacks.
Getting late, we headed down the traditional side of the mountain towards the Adirondack Lodge. We were informed by one of the rangers at the top of a camping area not too far from the summit called Macketyre Falls campsite. We thought it would be a perfect place to set up for the night - after all, we had brought all of our gear up with us. On our way down the mist cleared for a few moments, and we were given a glimpse of the land from nearly 3,000 feet up.
The fog came back quickly, and wanting a better view my brother and I decided to try and climb up a large rocky hill that was above the tree-line, This hill was opposite of Wright Mountain and one hiker joking called it “Wrong Mountain” seeing as it was opposite of Wright.
Using a bit of scrambling and climbing we quickly found a way to the top. Once up there, the view was perfect, the wind was howling, and a smile stretched across my brother’s face. He said; “This isn’t just a highlight of the trip, this moment might be the highlight of my backpacking career.”
The campsite was a bit confusing. There was already one tent set up when we got there, and they told us the entire campsite was only for one group. I was under the impression the entire Adirondacks High Peaks Wilderness was in the campable wilderness area. They told us you couldn’t camp on the east side of the mountain unless you were in a designated camping area - which they had taken.
Not wanting to bother anyone trying to enjoy their hike, we conceited and left them alone. Luckily, not too far from the 'designated campsite' we found a place to set up for the night.
Back to the Loj
From Macintyre Falls the remainder of the hike early the next morning was easy compared to the day before, And not because it was all downhill. The trail was mostly normal dirt paths and big stones, no streams or waterfalls past our campsite.
I want to say we made it back to the Lodge in just a few hours. We were back on the road by 10 am. On the way out we witnessed just how packed the park got on the holiday weekend. Hundreds of cars were parked anywhere there was space for miles along the road. It was great to see so many enjoying such a wonderful park.