October 2nd, 2019
Fall foliage has started to peak in the Adirondack High Peaks region. As visitors are drawn to the area to catch this seasonal wonder, it is important to remember that fall in the High Peaks region often means early winter conditions at higher elevations. Overnight temperatures at the Adirondak Loj and Heart Lake Program Center have already fallen below freezing several times this month. This means that summit conditions have fallen well below that mark. The rule of thumb is that, for every 1000 ft of elevation gain, you drop 5-8 °F in temperature. Given that the Adirondak Loj sits at about 2,200 ft, that means that overnight summit temperatures on Algonquin, which stands at 5,115 ft, would have been sitting around 8-17 °F. This does not account for wind chill, which can knock temperatures down even further depending on wind speed and general humidity.
We are unlikely to experience substantial snowfall for a while, but it is not uncommon for flurries, ice storms, and other inclement winter weather conditions to show up this time of year. Being prepared for a range of conditions, from warm, sunny weather at the trailhead, to below freezing temperatures on summits, is key to staying safe and enjoying your outdoor adventure. Here are some tips to help you prepare for shoulder season conditions:
Layers, layers, layers
Perhaps the most critical aspect of shoulder season preparedness is having a good layering system in place for your hike. It is imperative that your clothing is non-cotton. Unlike other fabrics, such as wool or polyester, cotton loses its ability to insulate when it gets wet, putting you at risk of becoming hypothermic. Here is a basic layering system that we recommend to help you stay safe. As temperatures become colder, you will want to add layers in order to maximize your warmth, especially when you are not moving.
- Head: Winter hat or balaclava
- Torso: Long-sleeve base layer; sweatshirt; wind/waterproof shell; Soft shell or down puffy coat (for colder situations)
- Hands: Gloves/mittens
- Legs: Long underwear (for colder situations); Long pants; gaiters (optional)
- Feet: Wool socks; waterproof boots
For safety reasons, it is best to stick to lower elevation trails once icy shoulder season conditions appear on higher summits. Ice traction devices, such as Microspikes, are helpful in these situations, but thin ice can still be dangerous, so exploring lower elevations is a great idea during this time.
If you decide to hike higher, please make sure to stick to bare rock surfaces and avoid stepping on alpine vegetation to get around icy spots. Alpine vegetation is sensitive to trampling year-round, but it is even more susceptible to damage during transitional seasons like fall and spring.
It’s okay to turn back
Sometimes conditions turn out differently than expected. Sometimes gear doesn’t work as well as planned. That is okay. If you find yourself in a situation where conditions have turned for the worse or you feel that someone could get injured, it is okay to turn back. As we like to say, the mountains aren’t going anywhere. Your safety comes first.