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Phelps Mountain: a Beautiful Adirondack High Peak Winter Hike!

Phelps Mountain: a Beautiful Adirondack High Peak Winter Hike!

Throwback to one of my favorite hikes ever, Phelps Mountain, located in the High Peaks Wilderness area of Adirondack Park in New York.

Winter 2010 blessed us with tons of great snow and we got out as much as we could to play in it! We had an opportunity to get away for an overnight at the Adirondack Loj the day after Christmas, so we treated ourselves to one of their private rooms and planned our tenth Adirondack “46’r” High Peak ascent!

The best part?!?! It was the first and still the only time we got to see an undercast! Not an especially thick undercast but enough to get us giddy about looking down at the clouds and get some cool photos.

Phelps Mountain, High Peaks Wilderness, Adirondack Park, NY

About the Hike:

Phelps Mountain is the 32nd highest mountain of the 46 Adirondack high peaks. According to this Wikipedia page, the mountain was named after Orson Schofield “Old Mountain” Phelps (1817–1905), a Keene Valley mountain guide who first cut a trail up Mt. Marcy, New York’s highest peak.

Round Trip Mileage: 8.4 according to National Geographic’s Trails Illustrated map #742

Elevation Gain: About 2,300 feet, according to our GPS data.

Summit Elevation: 4,161 feet.

The amazing views from the summit ledge of Phelps Mountain and a mostly gradual, moderate ascent make it a popular suggestion as an early choice for those beginning, or thinking of beginning, a peak-bagging endeavor to become an Adirondack 46’r. An ascent of Phelps Mountain is often combined with an ascent of TableTop Mountain, another 46’r with a tree-covered summit and an unmarked trail or ‘herdpath’. Both trails are just a short distance apart, on the Van Hoevenberg trail from the Adirondack Loj.

Still a favorite stop with stunning views whenever we take this trail - even though Marcy Dam is gone. 12/26/2010: Winter Climb of Phelps Mountain in the Adirondacks!
Still a favorite stop with stunning views whenever we take this trail – even though Marcy Dam is gone. 12/26/2010: Winter Climb of Phelps Mountain in the Adirondacks!
HA! Our tenth 46'r! 12/26/2010: Winter Climb of Phelps Mountain in the Adirondacks!
HA! Our tenth 46’r! 12/26/2010: Winter Climb of Phelps Mountain in the Adirondacks!

Parking: 

You can park in the lot at ADK’s High Peaks Information Center for access to the Phelps mountain trail head. There is a fee for parking, $9 last I knew, but always half price for members of ADK. There is a small store with hiking and camping essentials, maps, and cool ADK stuff, bathrooms and pay showers available to the public, right there at parking.

The Adirondack Loj at Heart Lake and the Wilderness Campground are also there and open year-around should you opt to spend the night right there, as well, and we recommend it!

Find the Adirondack Loj and Phelps Mountain trail head directions in Google Maps here!

The Adirondack Loj at Heart Lake, an ADK property. 12/26/2010: Winter Climb of Phelps Mountain in the Adirondacks!
The Adirondack Loj at Heart Lake, an ADK property. 12/26/2010: Winter Climb of Phelps Mountain in the Adirondacks!

Trail Used:

From the Adirondack Loj, there is one route up Phelps Mountain, at least that I am aware of. You will sign in at the trail head at the end of the High Peaks Information center parking lot:

The trail register for MANy wonderful Adirondack hikes including several of New York State's highest mountains. 12/26/2010: Winter Climb of Phelps Mountain in the Adirondacks!
The trail register for Many wonderful Adirondack hikes including several of New York State’s highest mountains. 12/26/2010: Winter Climb of Phelps Mountain in the Adirondacks!

Our GPS track from our climb of Phelps Mountain overlaid on Google Earth.

Our GPS track overlaid on Google Earth. 12/26/10: winter climb of Phelps Mountain!
Our GPS track overlaid on Google Earth. 12/26/10: winter climb of Phelps Mountain!

Trail Details and Difficulty:

There are NO easy Adirondack High Peaks. With that said, I would rate Phelps as one of the easiest of the sixteen we have completed, and for experienced hikers looking to start their 46, I would highly recommend Phelps. It is fairly long, 8.4 miles (round trip). The Van Hoevenberg trail portion, which you will use for the first 3 of the 4.2 miles to the summit, is well marked, often used, and quite gradual in elevation gain. In fact, the first 2.3 miles to Marcy Dam are VERY easy miles, we took Dora to the Dam when she was probably 4 or 5.

Just remember, in Winter everything takes more energy, and there is no room for error, even on an ‘easy’ trail.

Photos from Marcy Dam. The dam was actually washed away during Hurricane Irene in the Fall of 2011 and sadly, there are no plans to rebuild it. You can still enjoy the breathtaking views  from the dam area on your way by.

Still a favorite stop with stunning views whenever we take this trail - even though Marcy Dam is gone. 12/26/2010: Winter Climb of Phelps Mountain in the Adirondacks!
Still a favorite stop with stunning views whenever we take this trail – even though Marcy Dam is gone. 12/26/2010: Winter Climb of Phelps Mountain in the Adirondacks!
Still a favorite stop with stunning views whenever we take this trail - even though Marcy Dam is gone. 12/26/2010: Winter Climb of Phelps Mountain in the Adirondacks!
Still a favorite stop with stunning views whenever we take this trail – even though Marcy Dam is gone. 12/26/2010: Winter Climb of Phelps Mountain in the Adirondacks!
Still a favorite stop with stunning views whenever we take this trail - even though Marcy Dam is gone. 12/26/2010: Winter Climb of Phelps Mountain in the Adirondacks!
Still a favorite stop with stunning views whenever we take this trail – even though Marcy Dam is gone. 12/26/2010: Winter Climb of Phelps Mountain in the Adirondacks!

If you are Winter hiking in 6 inches or more of snow pack, and you haven’t yet, you will need to wear snowshoes to proceed past Marcy Dam per the law in the Eastern High Peaks region.

Once you pass Marcy Dam, you will hike another 0.7 miles on the “Van Ho” before reaching the trail junction for the Phelps trail. From the Junction, the terrain will get steeper and more rugged. It got quite narrow, with some roots and rocks in the trail and I tripped several times, so not far past the junction I removed my snowshoes to avoid injury. This can result in a ticket and fine by the Rangers – but I prefer to take my chances with that over an injury and rescue situation. I kept my Microspikes on for the remainder of the ascent without post holing or encountering any other problems. If you are post holing (punching through the snow pack) you MUST put your snowshoes on. This is dangerous for you (you can break your leg!) and the holes make the trails very dangerous for other hikers and skiers.

The Phelps trail junction. 12/26/2010: Winter Climb of Phelps Mountain in the Adirondacks!
The Phelps trail junction. 12/26/2010: Winter Climb of Phelps Mountain in the Adirondacks!
The Phelps trail. 12/26/2010: Winter Climb of Phelps Mountain in the Adirondacks!
The Phelps trail. 12/26/2010: Winter Climb of Phelps Mountain in the Adirondacks!

The summit of Phelps Mountain is 1.2 miles from the junction. Things got really pretty from here! The sun peeked out more and lit up the crystalized moisture in the air – I hope you can see it in the photos! It was so beautiful.

Sunlit crystals in the air. So amazing! 12/26/2010: Winter Climb of Phelps Mountain in the Adirondacks!
Sunlit crystals in the air. So amazing! 12/26/2010: Winter Climb of Phelps Mountain in the Adirondacks!

We started to get peeks of the peaks, and there was a cool undercast going on. I couldn’t wait to get to the summit!

I believe this is Mt. Marcy in the distance. Super cool undercast as we get our first glimpses of the surrounding high peaks! 12/26/2010: Winter Climb of Phelps Mountain in the Adirondacks!
I believe this is Mt. Colden in the distance. Super cool undercast as we get our first glimpses of the surrounding high peaks! 12/26/2010: Winter Climb of Phelps Mountain in the Adirondacks!
I believe this is Mt. Marcy in the distance. Super cool undercast as we get our first glimpses of the surrounding high peaks! 12/26/2010: Winter Climb of Phelps Mountain in the Adirondacks!
I believe this is Mt. Marcy in the distance, but it may be Algonquin. Super cool undercast as we get our first glimpses of the surrounding high peaks! 12/26/2010: Winter Climb of Phelps Mountain in the Adirondacks!

Near the summit, views REALLY open up!

Almost there! 12/26/2010: Winter Climb of Phelps Mountain in the Adirondacks!
Almost there! 12/26/2010: Winter Climb of Phelps Mountain in the Adirondacks!
Almost there! 12/26/2010: Winter Climb of Phelps Mountain in the Adirondacks!
Almost there! 12/26/2010: Winter Climb of Phelps Mountain in the Adirondacks!

When you reach a ledge with spectacular views, you have arrived!

Phelps summit pan: Views from the summit ledge of Phelps Mountain. 12/26/2010: Winter Climb of Phelps Mountain in the Adirondacks!
Phelps summit pan: Views from the summit ledge of Phelps Mountain. 12/26/2010: Winter Climb of Phelps Mountain in the Adirondacks!
Having some homemade Chex mix! Phelps summit pan: Views from the summit ledge of Phelps Mountain. 12/26/2010: Winter Climb of Phelps Mountain in the Adirondacks!
Having some homemade Chex mix! Mt Colden is the prominent peak behind me. Views from the summit ledge of Phelps Mountain. 12/26/2010: Winter Climb of Phelps Mountain in the Adirondacks!
Having some homemade Chex mix! Phelps summit pan: Views from the summit ledge of Phelps Mountain. 12/26/2010: Winter Climb of Phelps Mountain in the Adirondacks!
Mt. Marcy. Views from the summit ledge of Phelps Mountain. 12/26/2010: Winter Climb of Phelps Mountain in the Adirondacks!
Having some homemade Chex mix! Phelps summit pan: Views from the summit ledge of Phelps Mountain. 12/26/2010: Winter Climb of Phelps Mountain in the Adirondacks!
Views from the summit ledge of Phelps Mountain. 12/26/2010: Winter Climb of Phelps Mountain in the Adirondacks!
Having some homemade Chex mix! Phelps summit pan: Views from the summit ledge of Phelps Mountain. 12/26/2010: Winter Climb of Phelps Mountain in the Adirondacks!
I think the pointy peak is Big Slide. Views from the summit ledge of Phelps Mountain. 12/26/2010: Winter Climb of Phelps Mountain in the Adirondacks!
Having some homemade Chex mix! Phelps summit pan: Views from the summit ledge of Phelps Mountain. 12/26/2010: Winter Climb of Phelps Mountain in the Adirondacks!
Fantastic views of the Great Range from the summit ledge of Phelps Mountain. 12/26/2010: Winter Climb of Phelps Mountain in the Adirondacks!
Having some homemade Chex mix! Phelps summit pan: Views from the summit ledge of Phelps Mountain. 12/26/2010: Winter Climb of Phelps Mountain in the Adirondacks!
A beautiful sky over Colden and other high peaks. Views from the summit ledge of Phelps Mountain. 12/26/2010: Winter Climb of Phelps Mountain in the Adirondacks!
Views from the summit ledge of Phelps Mountain. 12/26/2010: Winter Climb of Phelps Mountain in the Adirondacks!
Views from the summit ledge of Phelps Mountain. 12/26/2010: Winter Climb of Phelps Mountain in the Adirondacks!

SAFETY CONSIDERATIONS:

This is a well used trail and should be broken out in the Winter unless of course there is a big storm just before your hike. Pack a full emergency kit any time you venture into the mountains, with extra clothing and a cook kit for a hot meal or drink, and as a way to make water should you get stuck and run out.

Bring snow shoes and traction any time you hike in Winter conditions. We use Tubbs Flex VRT snowshoes and Kathoola Microspikes and highly recommend both!

YESSSS ready for some Winter FUN! Our Tubbs Flex VRT snowshoes. Blue Mountain Winter Fire Tower Challenge Hike!
YESSSS ready for some Winter FUN! Our Tubbs Flex VRT snowshoes.
Getting SPIKED right at the trail register. Microspikes are a necessity in the Adirondacks from early fall into late Spring. 3/19/2016: Winter hike-Azure Mountain Fire Tower, Debar Mountain Wild Forest, Adirondacks
Getting SPIKED right at the trail register. Microspikes are a necessity in the Adirondacks from early fall into late Spring.

WILDLIFE

Black bears are always a possibility in the Adirondacks, of course less so in the middle of Winter but it can happen! Be aware and know what to do should you encounter a bear or any other wildlife.

STEWARDSHIP:

Please ALWAYS follow the seven principles of Leave No Trace, whenever you go outdoors, and wherever you go. We pack a trash bag and pick up what we find, within reason of course, whenever we go out.

Plan Ahead and Prepare
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Dispose of Waste Properly
Leave What You Find
Minimize Campfire Impacts
Respect Wildlife
Be Considerate of Other Visitors

The Leave No Trace Seven Principles have been reprinted with permission from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org

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~Amy, Chris, and Dora

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