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Monday, February 17, 2014

Where the World Ends

Mountains hold an unrivalled sense of majestic beauty in their own right, and in the three trips I have now taken to the Adirondack High Peaks region, the most recent was like nothing I have ever seen. Throughout the week leading up to the trip, over 20 inches of snow fell around sea level, with untold depths at the heights of the giant summits.

Snowshoeing is not something I have done before, least not in these conditions and altitude. As we drove up to the approach, I vividly remember what the landscape looked like in fairer weather, and the stark difference was a glimpse of the day to come.

We set out around 0430 on Saturday morning, waking up an hour earlier in the bitter chill of dusk for the nice two and a half hour drive to the lodge. By the time we reached the lot, the sun was just beginning to shed its light over the mountains.

Having never made a winter ascent, I had no idea how to dress. Standing in the cold, snow covered parking lot made me put on everything I brought, which as I quickly learned was largely unnecessary. By the time we reached the divide in the trail, I was wearing a t-shirt.

Along the way we were afforded views of the rising mountains clad in white. Everything, tree and rock and frozen mountain lake, was born in two shades that day, rich black and brilliant white.

Limbs of trees unfortunate to lose their needles stood clad in frost and a windswept covering of snow.

We set out to conquer Algonquin Peak, #2 in height and (if I remember right) the steepest ascent of the 46 high peaks. It surely lived up to its name. There were places where it was impossible to walk upright, and the snow was so fresh and deep that if you were to step off the footsteps left behind by another you would sink to your waist without ever touching the ground.

Near the treeline, although the tops were long buried, we came across a sign that had but one message hidden beneath its icy face, winter is coming.

Even in the fierce calm of winter the cairns guided our way, pillars in the abyss of a looming storm.

Here the wind blows fierce, if for us it gave us a reprieve. Snow and ice cling to the rocks, blown by the tempests and formed into claws reaching out of the stone.

Around noon we made it to the top of Algonquin, my 3rd high peak.

And as per tradition, I brought myself a meal to enjoy the view with. No steak this time, but half a calzone heated over a camp stove and hot tea brewed seven hours earlier.

Just as we broke the treeline (or where the snow finally covered the tops of the trees we walked upon), winter decided to once again begin brewing its white fury. The world closed off around us and everything faded to grey nothingness.

After a half mile descent jumping and sliding our way down, we came to the fork in the trail that led to Wright Peak. Downing our packs and taking off for the second summit, we saw a furry friend taking a hike of her own.

It was not long before the cairns sprouted out of the rock and beckoned us farther, Algonquin a giant's shadow across the valley.

And there comes my 4th of the 46, Wright Peak.

And so comes before us the world's end, a mountain wrapped in winter, ice and snow, lying there before us in shades of grey.

4 peaks down, 42 to go.

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