Spring Hiking in the High Peaks
It’s not all about the mud and black flies
Isn’t it nice to hear the songbirds again? Feel the warm rays of the sun? See grass poking through the holes in the snow? Spring is a time where life comes back to those things that have been sleeping, hikers included. While yes many of you might not take the winter season off, many do take a seasonal hiatus. The black bears start shake off their cramped muscles and crawl out of their den, some with cubs, some with just hunger pains. The dozens of species of spring wildflowers will start pushing their way up through the top soil. Those pesky lady bugs and house flies you thought were dead trapped in your windows are once again everywhere. The blackflies you love to hate so much while hiking in the High Peaks are spawning a new generation of soldiers. Then finally, but surely not the last thing, the water that was once still is flowing and seeping in, producing some of the finest mud the world has ever seen.
Knowing this you should keep a few other things in mind before you head out this spring. It’s time to break out that sunscreen that you so carefully packed away for winter – not sure why, the sun shines in winter as well, you are just much less apt to see it. Be sure to check the expiration on your sunscreen, because if you are like me, you will have some vintage bottles packed away. Expired sunscreen does loose its effectiveness as it becomes older, it will still work, and it just may need to be applied more often than a fresh batch.
Also known as “bug dope” to some, is a must for late spring and early summer, but what kind should you buy? Well, that all depends on how much blood you want to donate to the cause. Some work better than others and that is not typically because one brand is more effective. A person’s body chemistry works with or against the repellant, kind of like cologne. Think of bug repellant as stinky cologne, you want it as a repellant that works with your chemistry to make you smell bad to the native insect population. Feel free to try household remedies like Skin So Soft or eating a household supply of garlic; this works for some people but also usually repels any future of having a hiking partner. There are other types that are all natural like lemon eucalyptus – which I find works great. Most of the natural types need to be applied more often. The repellants with deet work great, but should not be used on children, unless you want them to grow up with super-human powers (not true). Deet is a chemical that can irritate a child’s developing skin and eyes – as they get older you can start to introduce small amounts of deet based repellant if you wish.
Mud is good for you, it helps you get over the fact that you cannot be clean all the time, it soothes minor burns, it quiets the itch of stinging nettles, it coats pine pitch on your hands so it’s not so sticky. In all actuality, people pay for mud baths. It makes your skin glow and eventually more supple, I guess, never tried it, but I have to admit my lower leg is quite shinny. There isn’t much you can do about mud, but it is recommended and requested that you stay off heavily use trails in the High Peaks for a while and focus on less used and lower elevation trails. You could invest in a pair of gaiters; they work well for mud as well as snow. One thing we all ask, is that if you are on a muddy trail, go through it. It’s essentially a liquid mud-shake that will close back up. The erosion of walking through it is much less than that when one walks around it and widens the trail. Essentially, don’t worry about it, it can’t hurt you and it washes off. Heck, if a local eatery won’t turn you away due to a bit of browning, it can’t be all that bad. All kidding aside and to reiterate, mud is the largest factor in spring hiking, especially mid to late spring. You will see many warning about staying out of the High Peaks in spring, while it’s not required it is strongly recommended and requested. Mud and heavy traffic feeds the erosion process, making our trails much less attractive and injured as time goes on.
Water, while you don’t think about it being an issue unless it’s falling from above – which it will in the spring of the year in the Adirondacks. Water on the ground is what I am talking about and most importantly in the brooks, streams, and river. Water collects in these runoffs from the peaks, high above you and the further the water makes it downstream, the bigger the brook or stream becomes. There are many crossings in the park that are not aided by bridges but in a simpler nature in the form of logs or stepping stones, these could essentially be under water. Rushing water is very powerful and fording a moving body of water might not be an option. In cases like this, you may need to turn around and wait out drier weather. Case in point; Indian Pass Brook in route to Street and Nye; this brook can become un-crossable for an extended period of time leaving these two peaks for dryer times. Even smaller brooks that you could once jump over can be a battle to cross; care should be expressed at all crossings.
Temperatures are a huge misunderstanding in the spring. Many times I have seen hikers unprepared up high because it’s so warm down low. While it’s bare ground and 60 degrees at the trailhead, there can be 3-feet of snow at 4000 feet and 45 degrees with a wind chill below freezing, it’s not that uncommon. This is where those hiking shorts and sneakers end up not being the best idea. So what do you do? Plan for what could be, ask a local information center for details, and check trail conditions on local forums, the ADK, or the NYSDEC. Snow is the toughest object to tackle in early and mid-spring. While none may exist at the trailhead, you might need to carry snowshoes for higher elevations.
Snow in the High Peaks
Snow in spring is tough to estimate and even harder to battle. Snow in the High Peaks lingers around for much longer than it does at the trailhead. 3-feet on “rotten” snow is very hard to trudge through, heck, 12-inches is tough. While the trail was once stomped hard from all the traffic, the hard spine of the once packed trail is getting smaller and smaller, narrower and narrower. Fighting snow like this for long periods of time is exhausting and unsafe, carry the extra weight of the snowshoes and increase your odds of a successful and safe climb.
All in all have a great spring hiking season, I could probably go on and on and I will a bit more in future blogs – but for now happy and safe hiking. If you need some ideas on some great places to stay or good food, maybe a bit of night life, or you need a guide to lead you someplace awesome – Lake Placid has it all.