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Almost first "winter" peak, McKenzie (again) 03-24-2019

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  • Almost first "winter" peak, McKenzie (again) 03-24-2019

    My friend Chris and I have both been looking to extend our hiking seasons into winter and have spent most of this one slowly acquiring and testing out gear, trying to figure out exactly what it is we're supposed to be doing. We've individually done some flat land and rolling hills. Chris has Mt. Greylock (MA) practically in his backyard. But neither of us had done an Adirondack Peak yet. This weekend, inspired by recent trip reports from Makwa and Learning The Trails , and with the promise of good weather, we decided to give McKenzie a shot.

    We knew there had been a fresh snowfall Friday, and weren't exactly sure what to expect, so we packed everything and headed up to Lake Placid, arriving at the Jack Rabbit Trailhead in late morning. There was just enough fresh snow on the trail that snowshoes made the most sense. It was a warm-ish, sunny day with a bit of a breeze, but very tolerable. Probably the best possible conditions for a first "winter" climb. It gave us a chance to try out gear and learn techniques, without severe danger of hypothermia or frostbite. The only real drawback was that the higher temps gradually melted and mushed up the snow over the course of the day.

    After an hour of "flat" snowshoeing along the Jack Rabbit trail, we reached the junction for McKenzie. Those who know, realize how steep this climb is. I thought, if anything, it would help recondition me for the 2019 hiking season. Hopefully this will be the last year I need to sit out winter. We did fairly well with the steepness though. There were patches of ice, covered with fresh snow that actually seem to help with traction, at least going up. There is one section maybe 3/4 of the way up the initial climb, that was severely iced over. Those who have been there recently know what I'm talking about. That... took some creativity and determination, but we managed to get past it. Then had regrets upon realizing we'd have to come back down eventually.

    90 minutes into our ascent, the broken out part of the trail ended abruptly at a ledge on the first false summit. I believe this is where Makwa took a photo of the true summit from. Almost all the snow was missing from the ledge, as if it had suddenly slid off, and maybe it did. We both peered over and determined that there was no way to continue down from there, and even if there was, we weren't equipped for it. So that was out of the question.

    I looked at my paper map and determined we were indeed on that first false summit. It appeared as though the trail continued along the ridge, not over a ledge (which no trip report mentioned descending from). For a second opinion, I did something I never do. I fished out my phone and pulled up the AllTrails app. It showed us on the trail, but again appeared as though we should back track from the ledge and continue on mostly east (and slightly north) towards the true summit, which was clearly visible. This would require us to find and break trail the rest of the way. Also, no. By this point it was mid-afternoon and we were really reaching the limits of our time, comfort, and abilities. We made a call I never make. We turned back. I have no desire to end up being the subject of a SAR.

    This part actually proved to be the most difficult part of the day. I'm really going to have to learn better techniques for descending that don't have me stumbling and wobbling all over the place. It didn't help that by now the snow was also extremely mushy and balling up under our snowshoes. We switched into Hillsound Trail Crampons before the ice patches, which definitely helped, but I feel like we could have used even more grip here as well. I actually used a 30ft length of rope to get us down the worst part. So that's an "area of improvement" for us.

    The rest of the hike out was quick and uneventful. Even though we didn't summit, we both felt like it was a good day out, where we learned a lot, didn't put ourselves in unnecessary danger, yet it was still enough of a climb where I felt we did something. I suppose Haystack probably would have been the easier option here, and we considered it, but I had more recent intel for McKenzie. So we went with that.

    The ledge where we turned around:

    20190324_134119 by akoszuta1, on Flickr

    Location on the map:

    mcsummit by akoszuta1, on Flickr

  • #2
    More pics:

    20190324_130641 by akoszuta1, on Flickr

    20190324_135521 by akoszuta1, on Flickr

    20190324_143231 by akoszuta1, on Flickr

    20190324_143240 by akoszuta1, on Flickr


    • #3
      Yes... that was the ledge where I took the picture of the true summit. I walked out to near the edge. Was less snow and more certainty of what I was stepping out onto when I was there.

      Seems our trail times were fairly similar to that point. I had you by 10 minutes on the Jackrabbit but gave it back to you on the climb. I'd guess it's a 20 min walk at a moderate pace to the summit from where you turned back. I took 30 but stopped multiple times.for pictures and soaking in the sights and I was extra slow/careful on the few icy spots remaining given I was hiking solo. Who knows what those spots would have been like with a little snow cover. It's never bad turning around. You never get in trouble or injured on a section of trail that you don't walk on, right? If you were uncomfortable and running low on time it was the right call. Now you have a bit more experience for the next time. Winter hiking is a process. I'm still a relative newbie with somewhere around 40 winter hikes and just this winter started feeling comfortable with all of my gear and how to get the most out of it.

      FWIW... the upper reaches of Haystack (from Rte 86) were pretty icy when I was there recently. Not sure if you would have been better off there over McKenzie. In fact, other than the one big icy spot on McKenzie I was more apprehensive getting up the steep icy section on Haystack.


      • Makwa
        Makwa commented
        Editing a comment
        You would be walking east when you see the ledge to your left. The edge of the ledge is less than 50 feet from the trail. The trail would continue east for maybe another 100 feet then start bending to the northeast. So... yes... if looking backwards from the ledge the trail is to the left. That is, if your back was to the view and you were facing the trail you'd walk about 40-50 feet forward and take a left.

        The day I was there was warm. By time I got back to the car it was 45* out. Some of my tracks that I had just made less than an hour or two earlier had already melted / disappeared by time I got back to them. At least the ones directly in the sun. The rest of that Wednesday probably melted all evidence of me and the two other people I met on my descent who were wearing Yaktrax. And the dusting or few inches of new snow that you encountered would have erased all of our tracks - even the ones that hadn't melted between Wednesday and Sunday.

        From the false summit to true summit the rest of the trail is fairly evident. It's an avenue of trees the rest of the way. Very few if any opportunities to lose the trail. It's well marked and if you just follow the empty space between the trees you're 99.9% confident that you are on the trail. Figuring that trick out takes a few winter outings. That and if you lose the trail you're mostly likely stepping into deep snow within a step of two of where the packed down track was. Always a great indication you are going the wrong way.

        You got some experience on a very steep and somewhat tricky trail. That's good. They're not all like that. Your next outing could be a breeze.

      • Hear the Footsteps
        Hear the Footsteps commented
        Editing a comment
        Re the disappearing broken out route. There was to be high winds with the storm that rolled through that could have drifted in a previously obvious trench. At least that's what I found out today climbing Redfield.

      • ndru
        ndru commented
        Editing a comment
        Makwa - Thanks for the info, and the reassurance. We weren't too bummed out about it, but it was definitely a learning experience.

    • #4
      Sorry to hear you didn't nab your peak. But your photos are fantastic and it sounds like the two of you had a great day anyway. It sounds like our first winters were similar - sick of sitting out an entire season and dedicated to collecting and testing new gear. Here's hoping we bump in to each other next winter with more experience! Cheers
      16/46 - 4 Solo, 1 Winter
      ADK46er Journey Blog:


      • ndru
        ndru commented
        Editing a comment
        Thanks! It will definitely be good to add another 6 months to the hiking calendar!

    • #5
      ​​​​​​​Hey, nice TR & great pics. I'm bummed you didn't tag the summit... But, if you guys had fun, That's all that matters. McKenzie is no joke. I don't call it "my enemy" without reason. Last week, she broke my gear & left me feeling "banged up" more than any hike that I can remember.

      There was a little work around for the "McKenzie Icefall" just to the left of it. Squeezed through the trees.

      ​​​​​​​Makwa is correct on his description of how to get to the summit from the ledge that you described.
      The trail follows the center of the ridge. The trail is in the trees. A lot of ducking involved for that part of my trip. To get the views (like you did at the ledges) you take mini spur trails (AT & most maps only show a two/a few of them) There's actually multiple.
      I had to factor in time (picking up kid after school) & have been up this route before. My plan was to head straight for the summit & skip the overlooks until I made my descent. I actually only hit one ledge facing LP near the summit on my return. I was spiking it & enough snow drift had covered any potential tracks to the other ledges... Having avoided postholing thus far, I wasn't gonna take chances with the spur trails.

      McKenzie hits & feels like a 46... My opinion, hit this trail in Summer & get another feel for it. You will have the route down! Then come back & hit it in Winter!
      Confusion sucks. You guys made the right call. Props to both of you!


      • ndru
        ndru commented
        Editing a comment
        I'm definitely planning on coming back later in the year and sorting this one out, then obviously going for it again next winter. It's personal now!

        McKenzie definitely has a bit of a 46 feel to it. Maybe a little shorter (mileage-wise) though. On the way home I joked that we "should have just done Cascade instead", because at least I know that trail, despite it being a taller peak.

    • #6
      You got back safe, so +1 !

      You also discovered that descending can be harder than ascending.

      Real crampons are next on the gear wish list. You rarely need them, but when you do, you DO!
      Tom Rankin - 5444W "In the depths of Summer, I finally learned that there lay within me an invincible Winter"

      Proud Member #0003 of ADKHP Foundation
      Volunteer Balsam Lake Mountain
      Past President Catskill 3500 Club
      CEO Views And Brews!


      • ndru
        ndru commented
        Editing a comment
        I really gotta get that whole "descending" thing figured out. It's rough enough in summer. In winter it just leads to butt slides, which is all fun and games until you miss a turn, or find a "guard rail" missing!

        Crampons are definitely on my short list.

    • #7
      How to descend in snowshoes? Well if descending is a lot harder than ascending, you have to try to duplicate what you would do ascending, in reverse. In other words you back up, and keep your heel up which normally will make toe crampons dig in. If backing up feels awkward, then descending will be a problem, I suppose.
      I might be kidding...


      • Makwa
        Makwa commented
        Editing a comment
        There was one section on McKenzie that required exactly that. I also did it in a few spots on Ampersand this winter. Until you get used to it the feeling of not seeing exactly where you are going is a bit unsettling but that wears off with experience I guess. You do feel a hell of a lot safer and glued to the mountain that way though. I suspect most people buttslide in that situation but that scares me most of all. I hate being out of control and at the whim of how slippery or icy a section of trail is.

      • CatskillKev
        CatskillKev commented
        Editing a comment
        Me too, as far as actually being out of control. No one should be out of control on a mountain, especially alone.

    • #8
      McKenzie is one of the most difficult peaks my wife and I have done! We feel it rivals many of the High Peaks for vertical climbs and endurance. We made it on our second Fall attempt when it was a little warmer than the first attempt. That first attempt was in October but it might as well have been January for all the ice we encountered beyond half way up the steep stretch. we made it all the way past the third false summit and were looking at solid ice in the col to the actual summit. OCTOBER... no Hillsounds or crampons on board and we were not going down that icy col on microspikes. An awesome, surprisingly tough mountain!