Phelps Mountain

Winter hiking was never really on my radar until recently. I love being outdoors and pushing myself physically, and since I’m not marathon training now, I need goals! And hiking is a great way to test your limits. Most of the hikes I’ve done in the past few months have been more difficult, and more physically and mentally demanding than I thought. Getting to the top of a mountain is extremely rewarding and nothing can compare, even the finish line of a marathon. Both feelings are fantastic–but they are different.

Jona and I were planning on hiking up in the high peaks on Saturday. The weather report was…interesting. The high was 20 degrees, with 50-60 MPH winds on the summits and windchill of -45 degrees. I tossed and turned the night before, probably getting only a few hours of sleep due to nerves. Winter hiking makes me nervous. As it should, because it’s dangerous! Our plan was to drive to the Loj trailhead and hike to Phelps Mountain. I knew from the ADK website that there were group hikes going on the same day so I knew there would be people up there. But still–hiking in those conditions seemed daunting.

We got to the parking lot and paid our fee ($5 for ADK club members) and saw a large group of about 10 people strapping on their snowshoes getting ready to head up. We weren’t going to be alone this time! The sky was perfectly clear, but it was still around 4 below when we got out the car. The key for this was layers! I was worried about getting cold, but dressing appropriately prevented that. I didn’t get cold at all!

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I wore: wool socks, insulated boots, cold gear leggings, lined hiking pants, merino wool long sleeve base layer, thermal half zip, and my winter coat. I also had a fleece scarf, knit hat lined with fleece that had ear coverings, and knit fleece lined mittens. I also brought a set of handwarmers but I didn’t need them.

We wore our snowshoes initially but probably didn’t really need them either. The first three miles to the Phelps trail were beautiful. The sun was shining through the snow covered trees, which were creaking from the cold.

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It was windy but since we were in the trees we didn’t feel it. Walking with a ~20 lb pack on your back gets you warm pretty fast! My hands and feet never got cold.

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Once we saw the signs for Phelps, we stopped to eat and drink some water. Our water bladder tubes were starting to freeze up despite blowing back into them…my drink here would be the last until the way down when I opened up the bladder and drank from the top (a pretty difficult task…if you don’t want to spill water down your front). Next time I will bring an insulated water bottle!

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The hike to the summit from here was only a mile, but the longest mile of my life. Navigating the ice with snowshoes is kind of challenging, since I felt like they kept getting in the way of my steps. There was one spot where I was literally hanging off a ledge about to cry…but Jona helped pull me up and I got footing. Again, I was close to quitting. In my head I tell myself that I never want to do this again. But then you turn around and see this.

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We hit the summit after about 2 hours of slow climbing. The sun was shining so brightly, and I could have cried the view was so gorgeous. It had been since August since I saw a view this clear. Pictures don’t do it justice.

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The wind at the summit was around 50-60 MPH and had a -45 degree windchill. I had to brace myself next to a bush to not get blown off the mountain. We stayed there for less than three minutes, just enough time to take pictures and get back into the trees, away from the wind.

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On the way back down we saw a ton of people working their way up. It was a busy day on the trail despite the cold temperatures. With good reason!

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Jona and I changed from our snowshoes into microspikes and then worked our way down. We got back to the Loj parking area around 2:30.

After changing out of our gear, we drove a few minutes to the ADK Cafe. I love this place! My team ate here the morning after Ragnar Relay on our way back to Albany after the race. A hot cup of tea and a hot sandwich hit the spot after such a cold day. Jona and I both got the white bean spread panini, and it was amazing.

We had initially planned on doing a hike on Sunday, too (I decided not to) so we booked a room at the Roostercomb Inn 15 min from the Loj trailhead in Keene Valley. We stayed in the small room for two, and at $35 per person, it was a steal. This place was so homey and welcoming!

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There is a kitchen that guests have total access too, complete with coffee !

 

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There is also a sitting area downstairs, where the owner, Steve starts a fire for guests!

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Jona and I walked a block down the street to get a bottle of wine to share by the fire. Best decision ever!

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We got to meet some of the other guests, also ADK hikers and hear their stories from the trail, which was such a great ending to the day!

Phelps Mountain

8.2 Mi RT
Elevation: 4161′
Ascent: 2010′
High Peak Rank: 32

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6 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Wow! Again, I am so impressed that you are tackling these peaks in the winter! You rock! Those pictures are beautiful. I’m sure it was even more spectacular in person.

  2. All the camelbak-type water bladders are useless in winter, even the insulated models. If you want to make your own insulated water bottles, go to Walmart or some place with cheap camping supplies. Buy one of those rolled up foam sleeping bag pads. Cut it up and wrap it around a standard Nalgene bottle and fasten with duct tape. I pour hot tap water in mine before leaving my house in Albany. It will just start to get some ice crystal by the end of a high peaks hike.

  3. Thank you SOO much for this. I live 3.5 hrs south and my husband & I started our 46ers a few years ago. We haven’t done any in the last year & I really want to attempt Phelps before the snow goes & see how I can challenge myself. Your read was amazing. Thank you for sharing & congratulations!!

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