July 26, 2014

Phelps Redux

4,161 feet  |  ranked 32/46 in height  |  4th peak climbed (repeat)

With both our previous High Peaks hikes of the year out of the AuSable Club trailhead, Erin and I were ready to switch things up a bit.  On the hike out the Lake Road after Sawteeth, we'd discussed our next options and were tempted to take on something more challenging.  Luckily, there are many such options.  Possibly a return to the Sewards?  Or maybe knocking of the rest of the Dix Range?  However, as the middle of the week rolled around and I was drooling all over the weather forecast for the upcoming weekend, Erin expressed some hesitation due to a physical complication that had cropped up since our last hike.  After she consulted her doctor, who wasn't terribly concerned about her going hiking, we talked again.  We both really wanted to get back in the mountains, but weren't entirely sure her doctor fully understood what kind of hike we were contemplating.  The Seward Range is not your average stroll in the park. 

Ultimately, I decided to leave the ball entirely in Erin's court: her body, her call.  She suggested Phelps, and that seemed very reasonable.  At 8.4 miles round trip, the shorter distance would allow plenty of time for resting, as needed, and the bulk of those miles are relatively easy.  I've climbed Phelps before, but it was 19 years ago, I have zero photos of the hike, and I have forgotten much.  Plus, repeating hikes doesn't bother me in the least.  If you asked me if I wanted to climb Phelps again tomorrow, I'd be just as excited to do it again. 

So off we went.  Even though the hike is much shorter, we stuck with our standard 4:15 am meeting time because of the Ironman.  We figured some of the folks in Lake Placid for the event would venture into the woods, and the HPIC lot is known to fill up on summer weekends with nice weather.  We got a spot in Lot 4, but the pickings were definitely slimming rapidly; an employee was out tallying up the remainders and relaying that info to the booth attendant.  

Erin took point to manage our pace, and even trying to go slow, we were at the old Marcy Dam in less than an hour, about halfway to the summit mileage-wise.  The third mile is also mellow, with no steeps until you turn off the Van Ho onto the Phelps trail.  We'd heard this last mile described as "the longest Adirondack mile" but on this deliberately slow-paced and gorgeous summer day, we just couldn't agree.  We decided that people who've struggled here must have done so at the tail end of longer hikes (e.g., perhaps they'd already climbed Marcy and Tabletop and were exhausted by the time they started up Phelps) or maybe they were novice hikers with no context.  Because even in our limited experience, we've seen worse.  What about that mile between Colvin and Blake?

The summit is treed, but has a gorgeous view encompassing Big Slide, the Great Range, Colden, and the MacIntyre Range, with Marcy prominent front and center.  We spent over two hours there, just soaking it in.  And eating and taking pictures, too, of course.  Occasionally we had the summit ledge to ourselves, but Phelps is a popular and accessible destination, so we shared with many other groups.  I had a particularly lengthy conversation with Jim Gifford, a delightful charmer I recognized from the Forums.  I think he and I could have happily chatted for several more hours, but Erin finally nudged me towards packing up and we headed back down. 

There are definitely advantages to the short hikes: we were back down in time visit the gift shop, change into clean clothes, stop for photos and at the Big Mountain Deli in town (we might as well eat our way through the 46, too), then drive all the way home without nodding off behind the wheel.  A great day all around!

Read Erin's trip report here.

At the old Marcy Dam.
View toward Colden.
Trail sign just past Marcy Dam.
The High Water Bridge over Phelps Brook.
On the Van Ho at the junction with the spur trail up Phelps.
The summit of Phelps, looking towards Colden, Avalanche Pass, and the MacIntyre Range.
A friendly white-throated sparrow at the summit.
Unpacking for a few hours of summit time.
View towards Big Slide.
Lounging with a view of Tabletop, Marcy, Colden.
Was there a benchmark here once upon a time?
On the summit with Marcy behind us.
These views!
More lounging.
Packed back up and ready to head down.
Storm clouds on the descent made for a dramatic view of Colden and the Macs.
Looking back up the trail from whence we came.

The Van Ho highway.
Low water crossing of Phelps Brook on the way out.
One last look back.
Happy after our awesome hike.

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