Lake George

Lake George
Lake George - from Tongue Mtn Range - 11/11/2011

Sunday, March 8, 2015

MacNaughton Mountain (4000') - High Peaks Wilderness - 3/7/15

 As many people know, MacNaughton Mountain has the dubious distinction of being the only 4000' mountain in the Adirondack Park that is not on the 46ers list of 4000' high peaks.  This is due to old survey data which calculated the elevation to be somewhat lower.  Data now shows MacNaughton to be 4000' exactly.  Additionally four peaks that were originally on the list have now been determined to fall short; therefore MacNaughton is the 43rd highest peak.  The list hasn't been changed, but MacNaughton gets an asterisk at the bottom and a note that 46ers don't have to climb it.

I had previously climbed MacNaughton in summer, but had not climbed it in winter.  Leesa had not done it at all and she wanted to climb it now.  She suggested we climb it on Saturday as part of the ADK High Peaks Forum annual winter gathering weekend.  I was willing, but I told her our chances of a successful summit were dependent on whether we could find an old track to follow, or if we had to climb in 3 feet of unconsolidated snow.  

I knew our best chance for success would be to start at the High Peaks Information Center (HPIC) on Adirondack Loj Road and take the Indian Pass trail to Scott Clearing, then follow the Wallface Ponds trail before the final bushwhack to the summit.  Just prior to the hike, I found out that MacNaughtin had been summited on 3/1 from from the same direction we were coming from.

This area is a mud quagmire in the summer.  No problem in winter.

We got a 6:45 AM start.  The weather was 20 degrees and mostly cloudy with snow flurries alternating with breaks of sun.  We were the first ones to sign the Indian Pass trail register for the morning.  I noted that someone had signed in the previous day for MacNaughton, but I didn't think to look and see if they had signed out.

I had thought about skiing the first 3.6 miles to Scott Clearing on the Indian Pass Trail and then switching to snowshoes, but Leesa was not going to ski it and it was easier for us both to use the same equipment.  For the record, it is a fine trail to ski on and we saw 3 people doing just that.

This poor little tree was shouldering more than its share of snow.

Between the HPIC and the Scott Clearing lean-to, the trail has a few small ups and downs, but the net elevation gain is only 100 feet.  In the early morning we saw one skier on his way out how appeared to have camped somewhere the night before.  He had some great ski equipment and looked like an expert skier.

Next we reached the Scott Clearing lean-to where we met two yound men named Tim and Brendan from the Rochester area.  They had spent the night at the lean-to and were also planning on hiking MacNaughton.  We knew they would catch up to us later and we continued on.

0.2 miles later we reached the split between the Indian Pass trail and the Wallface Ponds Trail.  There were no fresh tracks on the Wallface Ponds trail and about 6 inches of snow covered the previous track (most likely the 3/1 track).  Once on the Wallface Ponds trail, the ascent begins.  The trail climbs about 800 feet in 1.3 miles before leveling out for a distance.  As you approach Scott Pond there a descent of about 150'.

This trail has some really swampy areas in the summertime, but that is not evident in winter.  We easily crossed that area which was now frozen tundra.  Just before we reached the end of the marked trail, Tim and Brendan, whom we had met at the lean-to, caught up to us as expected.

We all crossed the Wallface Ponds and discussed ascent options.  I said the best plan would be to scot the shoreline on the MacNaughton side and try and find the old track from 3/1.  It would save us from breaking trail and give us a consolidated base to walk on under the 6 inches of new powder.

After crossing the pond, we fanned out in search of the phantom path.  I was the lucky one to find it. Tim and Brendan set off ahead of us.  I followed, then Leesa.  I set our dog Rev free from her leash since we were no longer on a marked path.  She went to the front of the pack.

We kept pace with Tim and Brendan for the most part.  I had to push Leesa up in a couple locations where she was taking 2 steps forward and sliding 2 steps backward in the snow.  Occasionally we lost the old track, but were always abel to relocate it.

This approach to MacNaughton is steep but the forest density is not thick.  We climbed 800 feet in 0.5 miles as headed for the middle part of the ridge.         

The col between the middle part of the ridge and the western end of the ridge (true summit) 

As expected, the snow depth increased as we climbed.  It was quite beautiful and al the snow was still clinging to the trees.  Once we topped out on the ridge, I knew we just had to follow the ridge to the western end and we would find the summit sign.

Leesa was quite exhausted from the uphill climb, but she plugged away at reaching the summit and we all made it!  Completion of this summit made me a Winter 47er and Leesa and Rev both became 47ers.  We were excited!

MacNaughton Mountain summit in winter!

Tim and Brendan were kind enough to take a summit picture of us.

Mike, Leesa and Rev on MacNaughton

The snowy view from the summit

One of the Wallface Ponds down below

Zoom view of one of the Wallface Ponds

It had taken us 6 hours to reach the summit, but I knew going down would be much easier as we retraced our steps.  We had some hot chocolate and some lunch at the top.  Tim and Brendan bid us farewell and they left the summit to head back.  We followed shortly afterwards.

Looking back across one of the Wallface Ponds as we headed out

I;m not tall, but the snow is...

I'm squished between deep snow

Scott Pond

Scott Clearing lean-to

a closer look

I got this zoom view from the lean-to of a mink or ermine?  Help me out folks

We marched back to the Scott Clearing lean-to then still had 3.6 miles to walk on the flat to get back to the HPIC.  Definitely a long day and a long winter hike, but very rewarding for us.  We got back to the car at 5:45 with a little daylight to spare.

Hike Stats:
Hike Distance:  15.5 miles
Hike Time:  11 hours
Total Vertical Gain:  ~ 3000'

The approximate route 

The approximate route as shown on the Nat Geo map


  1. Hard to tell for sure from the picture, but it is probably a marten ( They are quite common around ADK lean-tos and summits where hikers are a source of food. They are known to steal food out of packs that are left unattended.

    1. It looks like you are probably right. Thanks for the info.

  2. I was going to say marten as well (before I saw Anonymous's comment). It looks too light colored to be a mink. I just checked my field guide, and I'm even more convinced it's a marten. The ears, especially, are marten-like.

    1. Thanks Cumulus. I had also seen one of these while skiing into the Great Camp Santanoni. Wonderful looking animals.