Adirondack Series: Phelps Mountain: Hike with me Elmo?
Phelps Mountain was the first Adirondack High Peak that I attempted to hike after my traumatizing summit of Algonquin in college (read about that here!) Phelps is a great beginner peak for families, pets, and those that are not frequent hikers. If you are thinking about taking on an ADK peak this would be a good first choice. Even though it is an easier peak it is not exactly easy!
The Adirondack Loj:
In 2015 I had been dating my now husband, Steve, for about six months. Steve, it turns out is not overly fond of nature or hiking. It was early in our relationship and he was still trying to impress me. Lucky for me, Steve’s friends were very outdoorsy and they were stoked that his new girlfriend was dragging him away from his computer and out into nature!
We planned a camping/hiking trip to Heart Lake at the Adirondack Loj. This place is a mecca for all hiking enthusiasts. It has tent sites, lean-tos, rustic cabins, and a rustic lodge. The sites are well spaced and wooded. Most importantly, the trail heads to a number of high peaks start from the Loj.
After researching which peak to tackle I decided on Phelps Mountain. It was rated a 4/10 on most difficulty scales. The hike was only 8.4 miles and only one mile was very steep. It is not a bald peak but there were supposed to be good views at the top. Most of the people in our group had never climbed a high peak and I wanted it to be a good experience for them!
At the time I only had Maverick and Zante. I decided to only bring Mav camping and to the hike. Zante prefers the couch to camping! Maverick is a rescue border collie. I got him at a year old from a high volume spay and neuter rotation in veterinary school. He is tiny for a border, weighing in at 25 pounds. Maverick is also perfect! He loves everyone and every dog he meets. He is also very reliable off leash and like most border collies is very agile. An eight-mile climb would be easy for him.
The Adventure Begins:
We woke up early to get to the trailhead around 7 am. If you are not camping at the Loj make sure you get there early, as the parking lot for hikers fills up fast on a nice weekend day. We stopped by the shop and picked up a waterproof map of the area just in case! The trailhead is at the south end of the hikers’ parking lot. We signed the log book and headed out for adventure!
The hike starts out by taking the trail to Marcy Dam. This is a nice 2.3-mile hike with a slow incline. A great warm-up for the summit to come. Make sure you do not head for the Algonquin trail a mile in. Stay left at the trail junction at this point.
A Surprise Guest Appearance:
Every time I climb a peak I am impressed with the number of families on the trail. Especially when parents are hiking with their babies in a backpack carrier. Climbing a peak is hard enough, but add a moving child strapped to you and it probably doubles in difficulty. Early in the hike, we passed a man with a small child on his back heading to the Loj. The baby was crying and he asked us which trail we were taking. He perked up when we said Phelps and asked us to keep a lookout for his son’s Elmo toy. Apparently, the baby dropped it at some point on the trail and it was his favorite.
A few a miles later and there he was. Elmo. Just sitting in a tree enjoying the view! The baby must have gently placed that toy on the branch when his dad stopped for a break. There he remained, waiting to be rescued! The man and baby had probably already made it back to the Loj at this point. We decided to take Elmo with us to the Summit and bring him to the lost and found after.
We made it to Marcy Dam and Maverick enjoyed a cool down in the water.
From here we took the Van Hoevenburg trail along Phelps Brook until you come to a sign for Phelps trail that peels off to the left. If you continue straight you will get to Mount Marcy, the highest peak in NY! A lot of hikers will climb both of these peaks in one day and knock two peaks off of their “46ers” list. The “46ers” for those that do not know is a group of ADK peaks that are above 4,000 feet. People who climb all of them are in the “46ers: club. I would love to do this, but Steve may break up with me in the process!
At this point, the trail gets much steeper until the summit. You have wonderful views during this portion of the hike. This is also when I started to get ahead of the group. I am not sure why, but I love hiking uphill! Heart pounding and legs aching, I do not care! There is only one thought in my head: to get to the top ASAP. Apparently, this is not normal as I was a good 20 minutes ahead of the rest of the group. Maverick, however, was right with me.
I took him off leash (not really allowed but there was no one else around). We trudged through the conifers stopping to enjoy the various views of Mt. Marcy, Algonquin, and Colden. I love watching Mav climb, he is like a mountain goat skipping effortlessly from rock to rock.
We passed an older couple who were very impressed with Maverick’s mountain climbing skills. The husband was halfway through his second round of climbing all 46 peaks and his wife was on her first round!
Maverick and I reached the Summit and enjoyed a clear beautiful view of the high peaks. Being on top of a mountain is one of my favorite places in the world. We relaxed and waited for everyone else to catch up. Maverick made friends with all the hikers he could and I staked out a good lunch spot for the group.
About 20 minutes later the rest of my group trickled up to the summit. Steve and our friend Nate carrying Elmo were at the back of the pack. They were tired but looked happy to be done with the uphill portion of the hike. We had perfect weather at the top. A lot of peaks are windy or too cloudy for a good view, but not this day. We laid around on the top for a bit, eating lunch before we were recovered enough for the descent.
We made it back down to the Loj in good time and left Elmo at the lost a found. Hopefully, he found his way home! The best part of hiking at Heart Lake is jumping into the cool lake after a hot sweaty hike and then crashing at your campsite with good food, good friends, and a great dog!
Adventure on people!