5.08.2007

I fought the spruce, and the spruce won: In the cripplebush on the SW side of Iroquois Peak

A follow up to this post. I got on the road real early, picked up Ongyel in South Burlington, and drove over to Adirondack Loj. I had never been there despite having spent some time in the High Peaks because they charge $9/day for the privilege of parking.

We followed the trail to the summit of Algonquin which is the 2nd highest mountain in New York, it is really quite straightforward from the Loj, the distance isn't too great even though it is a long steady climb. As we started out a ADK Club staffer warned us of 6-8 feet of snow on the south face of the mountain and mentioned "spruce traps" as a hazard.

Starting out, it was a great day and there was still lots of snow cover at the higher elevations, but it was very warm and the wind wasn't too strong until we got to the summit. When we reached the summit it was still early so we ate lunch and discussed what to do next. The idea of doing the big descent off Algonquin and then going up and over Colden seemed kind of daunting so I suggested that we head over to Iroquois instead.

Jeff and Ongyel, heading off the summit of Agonquin, before our travails began...

Iroquois from Algonquin, it's only a mile from summit to summit. How hard could it be?


Ongyel in a spruce trap. This was when this was still amusing, and we still were carrying cameras.

There is no official trail from Algonquin to Iroquois -- just a herd path. The snow was very deep and covered the scraggly but thickly growing evergreens that eke out a meager living near the summits of the High Peaks. A "spruce trap" is when the branches of the evergreens create air pockets in the snow.... so that when someone attempts to walk over the area, the snow suddenly collapses. In deep snow, this can be like falling into hole that is 3, 4, or even 5 feet deep.

We made it over to the summit of Iroquois without too much trouble and it was a cool journey to a quite remote place, the evergreens weren't too thick, and we were able to navigate through the spruce traps; and when we did get into trouble it was more amusing than anything else.

Once at the summit of Iroquois, however, I had the brilliant idea of heading down the mountain off of the faint herd path into Cold Brook Pass. The distance isn't too great, there were visible cairns marking the supposed route, and it was a warm sunny day... what could happen?

Anyway to make a long story short, this was an extremely unwise thing to do, once off the rocky summit thick cripplebush blocked all routes, and the snow was very deep. We fell repeatedly into deep spruce traps and were soon exhausted, wet and beat up from flailing around in the deep snow. Even though the distance to the bottom the pass was only a matter of a 1/4 mile or so, we were too exhausted and intimidated to continue downwards.

We eventually decided to retreat back the way we had come, which involved more flailing around in the deep snow but eventually made back, first the summit of Iroquois, and then up to Algonquin. It was odd to be starting back from the summit of Algonquin at 5:30 pm, wet and tired, knowing that it was all downhill but still a good distance back to the car.

It was a very long day but we eventually made it. This qualifies as one of the dumber things I have done in the outdoors in a while, but no real harm was done I guess. On the drive back Ongyel and I had a debate of the meaning of the word "lost" because technically I knew exactly where I was (and had map, compass, and GPS to prove it) but we were certainly caught in an impenetrable wasteland that we could not pass through.

A couple of GPS plots of the trip.



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