The night before our trip to the Loj brought a rare wintertime snowy thunderstorm, coating the roads with a couple inches of fresh snow and some ice. We had hoped to get to the Loj around 8am, but the sloppy roads delayed us to an 8:30 arrival time in the parking lot.
We followed the Van Hoevenberg Trail to Marcy Dam, where we arrived at about 9:45. As we had expected, the trail had not been broken since the overnight snowstorm that had hit the northern Adirondacks as well. There were only a few inches of snow from the trail head to Marcy Dam but as we gained elevation, the snow became deeper and more difficult to move through.
We picked up a stray hiker and we took turns breaking trail past the trail to Phelps and to the junction of the ski trail. There is a cairn where the unmarked trail to Tabletop veers off the trail, and surely it is under several feet of snow. We left the Van Hoevenberg trail near the ski trail and continued a while in the southeast direction wondering if we were on the herd path to Tabletop. We had a High Peaks guide, map, and compass that indicated we were on the right path but the trail seemed too wide and and unfamiliar to both people I was with who had done Tabletop in the summer a few years ago. Turns out we were on the cross country ski trail, heading in the right direction, but not the trail we were supposed to be on. This was something we realized when our path crossed with the herd path that we were supposed to follow!
We continued on the now much narrower path, sticking to the center to avoid spruce traps. We estimated at one point that based on how far we could dig our trekking poles down that we were on about 5-6 feet of snow and our heads were near the tops of some of the trees.
There are elements of winter hiking that make it much more difficult than summer hiking, like breaking trail, dressing appropriately without overheating, spruce traps, and snow covered markers and cairns. There are so many great things about the sport, however, such as no bugs, no mud, and walking over frozen streams, rocks and fallen trees without even realizing it. My favorite part is how magical it seems, like a snow globe or winter wonderland. There is that comfortable silence in the air, much like the silence of a snowstorm before the roads are clear. The trees are completely covered with snow and everything is pure and white. The branches hang low, heavy with the weight of the snow and the ground is raised with layers of snow making you feel like a giant walking through the forest. The temperatures are so low that the snow even freezes to the bottom of the branches.
At the summit I dropped my thankfully not newest camera, naturally it was on. I watched helplessly as it did a nose dive, lens first, about a foot into the snow. I didn't get too many pictures of the winter wonderland or the summit. Fortunately, my camera dried out on the dashboard on the way home and appears to be fully functional.
The descent was a breeze; we had already broken the trail and we just had to follow our tracks out. At the trail to Phelps, around 1pm, we decided that it would be saved for another day.
The hike was roughly 10 miles and maybe 7 hours. I'd say it wasn't even that difficult, if we didn't have to break trail all the way to the summit.