Upper Works to Avalanche Pass to Adirondack Loj on Skis: February 15, 2014

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--M.

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Upper Works, Tahawus, or Massachusetts.
Every year, a particular trio of us skis or hikes something in the High Peaks. In a past trip, we had skied from the Upper Works lot in Tahawus to the height of land at Avalanche Lake. We said at the time that it would have been cool to push down the other side to the Adirondack Loj. This past weekend, we did; here are the notes.

First, there was a storm in the middle of our drive-time. Coming from either eastern Massachusetts (me), northeastern New Jersey or Syracuse on Thursday meant an extra hour and very challenging driving. Add spotting a car and it adds up to more than seven hundred miles for the whole trip (my odo). We commented often during the weekend what a lot of work it is to do this stuff. It's a very high-exertion itinerary. I also now have a new appreciation for the elevation gain in the Berkshires: it was the most difficult driving of the day and the road crews had the most trouble there keeping up with the storm. Also, you gotta get off the Northway in Warrensburg if you want last-minute anything, as Pottersville has not much. However, Warrensburg does have Oscar's Meats, which are worth the trip.

On Friday, we spotted the car at the Loj and skied a warm-up to Marcy Dam and back down the South Meadow Truck trail. We also cut through to the Loj on the Mr. Van trail. The ADK person at the info center remarked: "I can't recommend it because the bridges are all out," but we broke it out and were able to cross the two streams through there. It was beautiful, but slow, with deep unconsolidated powder, lots of it; and one could easily see how it would be 'impassible in high water.'

Despite best efforts, we didn't hit the trail 'til 8:50 Saturday morning, with two other parties at the Upper Works lot and another two or three vehicles from previous departers. The two other parties were either day-hiking or back-packing, both to Marshall. The trail to Indian Pass had only faint lines from previous treks; it was unbroken as we went by, but we enjoyed a nicely broken trail and perfect conditions.

As to the questions of what gear to bring: we all left our snowshoes behind and enjoyed losing the weight. I used long touring skis with full edges (Fischer 'Silent Spider'), three-pin bindings and Garmont Excursions. Both other guys had Alpina 1500-series boots with NNN-BC toes (I have the 1575 three-pin version). I shoulda used the Alpinas: I really enjoyed the control of the heavier Garmont boot, but had most unpleasant shin-bang on my upper ankles by the time we reached the last mile of the trip. I'm not sure if that's fixable, but I could have skied this route with the lighter boot.

I also had skins, but never resorted to them, even on the most difficult sections going up. Between slapping the skis and side-hilling, we got up without too much drama. I could even have made it to the top with touring skis, but not down the other side. It was, however, quite a workout! Lighter gear might also not work as well in other conditions.

We arrived at the Flowed Lands by 11:30 and were ready to tackle the last hump to the height-of-land above Avalanche Lake by around noon. We saw only one of the Marshall crews on the way up, but met an increasing horde by the time we got to Avalanche Lake, including a Paul Smith's crew in all matching 10th-Mountain skis and a pack of Boy Scouts on snowshoes. There were also climbers in the Trap Dike and the whole thing was incredibly beautiful. The only downside was the flat light, which rendered everything almost black-&-white. Whatever.

When we got to the beginning of the downhill run, we were presented an awesome gift: our own dedicated ski trail. The snowshoers had their own, and we began our drop. This was where all the added weight and shin-bang were made up for. The run was about twenty minutes of uninterrupted joy, with almost no other traffic for that segment. It was incredible. Conditions were absolutely perfect, which told us it might not be so easy if it were icy or bony. We cruised and whooped.

As we approached Marcy Dam, we again encountered the masses and swapped etiquette with various passers-by. We again opted for the truck road, and this is where I began to really feel the bruising on my upper ankles. The slog through the wetlands on the Mr. Van Trail was a persistence test and we made the parking area by about 3:00. In all, we skied about ten, maybe ten-and-a-half miles (it would be eleven, but we skied directly across waters instead of skirting shores). Upper Works elevation is about 1800'; Avalanche Pass is at about 3000'; The Loj is at about 2000'.

Dinner at the Lake Placid Pub & Brewery was perfect, with local beer, a little whiskey, and a turkey dinner. It was cool to see the cross-country skiers in Sochi on tv as we entered. Another party at the Pub said they had been slide-skiing, but I forget where.

It was an awesome ski, could be done on medium-weight gear, and no, no snowshoes were needed. Thanks again for the feedback!
 

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Nice! We had thoughts of this for Saturday 2/22, but the conditions will probably not be very nice after the Friday rainstorm and freeze...good job catching it just right!
 
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