We spent the week in the Adirondacks, with little more than a map and an RV full of backpacking gear. No plan at all, but as all hiking trips go, they come together regardless. Coincidentally, it was the first week with my new Sony a6500, so I put it through its paces (see video above).

We arrived on the scene Sunday and hit up some ribs in Sarnac Lake before camping for a night at the Meadowbrook Campground. This was the only night we paid for camping, opting for boondocking during the rest of the trip, but having arrived at dusk, we chose to get our bearings first. Meadowbrook treated us very well, with pleasantly separated sites, quiet and easy-going facilities, and a short walk to delicious ribs and live music on the street. Vacation, begin.

Meadowbrook Campground Quick Facts

Dates of Operation: See campground schedule

Camping Fee: $18 per night (out of state residents surcharge additional $5 per night)

Address: 1174 NYS Route 86, Ray Brook, NY 12977 (directions below)

GPS Info. (Latitude, Longitude): 44 17 52.54353N, 074 04 30.76656W

Campground Phone: (518) 891-4351

Regional Office Phone: (518) 897-1309

Make Your Camping Reservation: ReserveAmerica

The next morning, we executed a ‘shakedown hike’ to test out some new gear before we ventured deeper in the wilderness. We opted for a quick jaunt up the Haystack Mountain Trail. The radar was looking ominous so we hustled, but still spent plenty of time in a downpour. The trail itself crosses a few brooks with easy fording, and rewards all of the mud-wrestling with expansive views of Mount Colburn towards the top. We arrived at the summit just as the humid air was turning over and pushing clouds up the valley. This was our warm-up round and we kept it down to 6 miles, but with the deep mud on the trail, it felt like twice that distance.

Panorama from the top of Haystack

Panorama from the top of Haystack

Of course, we rewarded ourselves with some ice cream at the famous Emma’s Lake Placid Creamery afterwards. Famous for their local maple syrup soft serve, it was the perfect carb-loading for the following day. We rewarded ourselves further with some quiet boondocking at the nearby Point Park in Keene Valley, nextdoor to the Mountaineer Outfitters where we rented our bear canister for the following morning.

While we are talking about bear canisters,

Tip: Bear Canisters are required in the High Peaks

NYSDEC requires the use of Bear Resistant Canisters for overnight campers in the Eastern High Peaks Wilderness between April 1 And November 30. Rangers do check, and even if they didn’t, it’d still be the best practice. We rented ours from the Mountaineer, a charming local outfitter, though we learned later that canisters can be rented directly at the Adirondack Loj at our entry point to the Wilderness Area, which would have saved us a return trip.

When camping in areas with black bears (most of the eastern mountains and beyond):

  • Do not keep food, coolers, scented items with you in your tent. Treat toiltries as food items. Wrappers and trash too.
  • Cook >100′ from where you sleep, and store your food/canister >100′ from both.
  • Be clean, avoid leftovers, and try not to cook after dark.

For what it’s worth, black bears are more like big pesky raccoons than their west coast counterparts. They are usually foraging for scraps, and start to get pretty thorough when winter approaches, but during abundant seasons, they are less mischievous. Nevertheless, the DEC just euthanized a bear who couldn’t be deterred from interacting with humans.  So, if you encounter a bear while camping:

  • Never approach, surround, or corner the bear. Instead, stay calm, speak in a loud and calm voice, slowly back away and leave the area. Never run.
  • If a black bear* charges you, stand your ground, be loud and intimidating, but not threatening.
  • Don’t throw food scraps (or anything else, for that matter) at the bear. Just like… be cool, man.

Lots of great information can be found on the DEC’s ‘Reducing Human-Bear Conflicts’ site.

*This does not apply to grizzly, brown, or polar bears. Each type has its own protocol.

The next day, our big hike was upon us. We set off south from the Adirondack Loj with modest pack weights (I think Rachel’s was ~15 lbs, mine closer to 30 lbs, not ultralight by any standard, but manageable). Our hike began following Marcy Brook up to the dam, and we continued south through Avalanche Pass. The Pass is an interesting animal itself. Without much elevation change after the initial steep climb towards the lake, we expected to move swiftly, but Avalanche Pass had different intentions. The path takes you through miles of asynchronous short ladder climbs up and down big boulders, down to the water level, back up out, back down in, weaving and bobbing. It was more like an obstacle course than a trail, and extremely fun for any hiker, but with heavy packs and dwindling daylight, we hardly made it faster than 1 mph through it all. Either way, the view in the middle is worth it:

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View from the Northern tip of Avalanche Pass

After wrapping around Lake Colden, we settled for a campsite near Beaver Point, and made some friends to share a camp with. As night fell, we cooked by the Lake side where we were treated with a stunning view of the sun receding towards the tip of Mt. Colden, creating a pink precipice before dissolving in to night:

Mt. Colden - Just the tip.

Mt. Colden – Just the tip.

Back at camp, we had a visitor, when a small black bear sauntered up to our site trying to find scraps. With our new friends, the 5 of us made enough noise to send the bear towards greener pastures (and we heard a campsite crew in the distance yipping the bear away themselves).

The next morning, we set out for our big hike. We were originally gunning for Mt. Marcy, the tallest point in New York, but heavy packs and muddy trails really slowed our progress down. Advanced hikers can do Marcy in a day, but with heavy packs and inches of mud over most of the trail, we set our sites on the ostensibly more achievable hike and superior view of Mt. Colden. After-all, Colden is between Marcy and Algonquin, the two highest peaks in the range, and overlooks Avalanche Pass and Colden Lake. To the north, you can see straight in to Lake Placid and Saranac Lake. The Mt Colden trail, when approached from the south, is a 1.6 climb that quickly breaks in to rock face traverses that follow the path of a mountain runoff. At times, the climb was >25 degrees steep, and borderline-technical due to slippery, vertical terrain and lots of hard surfaces as fall hazards. We made the final decision to leave our packs at the base, at the expense of a through-hike back to the Loj, but by halfway up, we were supremely regret-free in our decision; it would have been nearly impossible with them. Regardless, My first 46’er in the bag.

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View near the top of Mt. Colden.

Our hike out was muddy and took us up until dusk, but went significantly faster than the hike in. Total trip was about 20 miles, with 8500′ of cumulative vertical (including 1956′ straight up on the Colden ascent, packs not recommended).

Piece of advice: I’d never let a friend try these hikes without a trusty pair of trekking poles. While balancing a heavy pack and navigating the obstacle course trails, the trekking poles saved me from a half dozen good tumbles, and provided stability the whole way. Maybe the best investment for a hiker on pre-technical trails would be a pair of good trekking poles.

On our last day, we awoke with a good ol’ fashioned Dr. Bronners bath in Johns Brook in Keene Valley near our trusty boondocking site, and we left the wilderness thereafter. This was my first time in the Adirondacks and most assuredly not the last. Beyond a chill mountain culture that is intoxicating in its own way (sincerely every ranger/cashier/townfolk we encountered had a ‘west coast vibe’ about them), the thousands of miles of trails, hundreds of peaks, and countless lakes and shorelines give it one of the greatest adventure/distance from Pittsburgh ratios available. We were hugely grateful for the experience.

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