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Alternative High Peaks base camps to Marcy Dam, Lake Colden, Flowed Lands

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  • Alternative High Peaks base camps to Marcy Dam, Lake Colden, Flowed Lands

    Hi all!

    My first time in the forum and planning my first overnight trip. I've been hiking in the Adirondacks, Greens, and Whites for years but never overnighted.

    My plan(conditions permitting) is to hike in to the interior Sunday afternoon 6/20 setting up camp for a couple nights at Marcy Dam or Lake Colden and doing an Algonquin, Iroquois and Wright loop one day and Colden another with some exploring in between.

    Questions are:

    Will I have trouble finding a tent site?

    Is there another similar area with tent sites surrounded by peaks?

    Would it be better to come from AdkLoj due to mud/bugs over Upperworks this time of year?

    And I'd appreciate any tips on lower elevation trips as a backup plan if that's what happens.

    Thanks for any and all insights!!
    (I've read all camping regs and trying to educate myself as best as possible)

  • #2
    The John's Brook corridor is the other corridor with tent sites, that is surrounded by many peaks.

    There are some other areas that have tent sites and peaks, but not as many peaks in the Dix area and the Giant area.

    The tent sites in the Gill Brook area are surrounded by peaks, but are harder to get to now with the permit system at AMR.


    • #3
      Assuming that this year is more in line with pre-pandemic use levels, you shouldn't have much difficulty finding an open tent site at Marcy Dam or Lake Colden on a Sunday night. I wouldn't necessarily expect lean-to space, but there almost certainly should be open tent sites.

      (Last summer definitely bucked established trends... mid-week use levels were in line with weekend use levels in previous years, and weekends were a whole new level of craziness not really ever seen prior.)

      Other popular spots for combining camping with High Peaks peak bagging include:
      • Johns Brook for camping, with Big Slide and the Great Range in the vicinity.
      • Slide Brook (and to a lesser extent Lilian Brook) with the Dix Range
      • Bradley Pond with the Santanoni Range
      • Ward Brook with the Seward Range

      Less popular but still doable camping/peak combinations include:
      • The Opalescent River/Skylight Brook with Allen
      • Gill Brook with the Colvin/Blake range and/or Dial/Nippletop
      • Giant's Washbowl with Giant and Rocky Peak Ridge

      Colden is probably a slightly easier hike from Upper Works, but the hike through Avalanche Pass also offers tons of added scenic value. But with Upper Works there's also less of an issue with having to time your arrival to ensure that parking is available.

      And you're probably already on top of it since you mention having read the regulations, but the biggest things to be aware of for the Marcy Dam and Colden areas are the fire ban and the bear canister requirements. Fires were banned due to rampant illegal tree cutting- there literally is not enough dead and downed wood to sustain campfire use by all visitors to that area (and that was true even of use levels 20+ years ago, which are lower than use levels seen today).

      With regards to the bear canister, to fully be on the up and up in terms of proper food protocol requires some additional info you may not have gained from perusing the regs. Avoid BearVault brand canisters; they have failed repeatedly in the High Peaks. Ursacks are also not permitted due in part to the added challenges of ensuring compliance with Ursacks, which are much harder for rangers to ID at a glance from a distance than a bear canister.

      Carrying the canister is only half the battle; proper use of the canister is equally as important. All food, toiletries, and garbage must be stored in the canister at all times- this includes alcohol. Keep the lid on the canister at all times- obviously, you have to take food out at some point but when this is necessary, open the canister, remove the food needed for that specific meal only, and then immediately reseal the lid. This minimizes the amount of food that is accessible to a bear at any given time. Avoid leaving the canister open while unattended, and avoid spreading your food out on the ground in camp (this is a "bear buffet").

      I hope this is helpful. Good luck and enjoy!


      • #4
        How is Bradley Pond leanto? Stayed there probably 10+ years ago and it was a mess, especially the privy, which you got to stare at (and smell) from the front of the LT. Tent sites nearby (within the limits appropriate for LT areas, ie: not close to it) were also limited, but we found one for our overflow (me).

        Agreed on the assessment of Upper Works v. Loj, and I do hope things calm down this summer as far as usage overall in the HP. But, if Canada opens back up, there is plenty of pent-up demand...


        • #5
          Bradley Pond Lean-to is OK. I was just in there last week- I hauled out probably 10+ pounds of grills, and a beat up frying pan. My hiking partner carried out rolls of duct tape and several pounds of zip ties. We bagged all of the microtrash we could find, and we each also took one of the two 4 pound sheets of plastic someone had left behind "in case anyone needs it," as indicated by their entry in the lean-to log book. So the area was clean when we departed, at least.

          The outhouse is still in view of the lean-to but there's not really a whole lot of other options for placing it due to the terrain- steep hillside not far behind the lean-to, wetlands not far in front of the lean-to. I didn't notice any smell from the outhouse but my companion commented that the hole was pretty full.

          The nearby tent sites did get a new box toilet last year so now there is double the capacity for human waste so that probably helps some. Hopefully this cuts down on instances of campers pooping in and near the small creeks that flow through the area (which has been an ongoing problem there).

          The situation concerning the lean-to and tent sites there is kind of a "least worst case scenario" sort of deal. The lean-to wasn't built closer to the pond because the pond was privately owned until a few years ago. The herd path to Herald and Times Squares actually follows the old property line- you can see the occasional yellow blaze marking the former boundary along the lower stretches of the herd path. And the elevation of the area (just shy of 3,000 feet) means that the soils have a lot of organic content, which in turn makes it hard to find sustainable ground that can readily handle camping impacts- especially given the amount of use the area gets. A busy weekend can see upwards of 25 or even 30 people camped there.


          • #6
            Great info, many thanks for all replies! I have 2 more weeks to plan and check conditions. I may hike in from Upperworks, I have the time to add on avalanche pass one of the days.I'll post any observations etc.. afterwards


            • #7
              Just want to add something to D's advice. Store the canister AWAY from your camp.

              I have generally avoided the High Peaks area over the last 20 years, but have overnighted at Lake Colden a few times during that period. Out of maybe 10 trips in that timeframe, the only times the canister wasn't disturbed during the night were the winter trips. It's always possible it was a smaller animal, but we usually stick it in the crook of a tree or wedge it somewhere and the distance moved each time suggests a bear.

              One trip to Algonquin in the late fall (pics from trip say taken Nov 23) we thought for sure the bears would be hibernating. There was plenty of snow on the ground and a ranger told us the temps dropped below zero the first night. Despite that, during the night a couple of us woke up in the lean-to, and heard an awful lot of noise coming from where we stashed the canister. Was it a bear? Does it matter?


              • #8
                This is prudent wherever you are. Store your food as far away from where you sleep as possible.

                Same with washing dishes, ect... Just common sense. Also doesn't hurt to do some scent marking around the perimeter, although in places where bears (and other thieves) are habituated, that probably doesn't matter.

                Doing this sort of thing and securing my food properly I've NEVER had an incident with any animals in the night (during the day once I left something out and a red squirrel stole it). I could be incredibly lucky but I really don't think that's the case because I've been in exact areas where I've heard of other incidents occurring. I've definitely heard animals in the vicinity of my tent, but never close by, and I was never all that concerned about what they were or what they were doing as long as I wasn't sloppy or lazy.


                • #9
                  Also, I can share my experience on the Upper Works/Mud question with a caveat. When I used to go to the HP's more frequently before the turn of the century I was usually coming down from the North and never used the Upper Works entrance. After I moved south, I switched to almost exclusively to UW (maybe 2 trips from the garden). So I can't really compare UW to other entrances in modern times. Also, I can't say what UW used to be like, although that doesn't really matter.

                  My experience has been that Upper Works has always been a muddy mess for the earlier parts of the trip. The wide, flat sections of the trail encourage people to walk around it which just erodes the trail more and makes the mud worse. My advice is this:

                  Decide before you leave that you are OK with mud. Prepare for it. Short, close fitting gaiters and waterproof boots will be great. Then, just ignore the mud. Go right through the middle. Don't add to the widening of the trail. You will be happier and the trail will be happier.

                  If you haven't used gaiters before you will be surprised to find that there is a "time" component to their performance. Even though they don't seal to your boots, you can dunk your foot completely underwater (over the top of your boot) and the water won't get in if you get your foot out fast enough. The better the fit, the longer you have.

                  The mud advice applies to all areas of the ADKs. It's part of the deal, stay on the trail.


                  • #10
                    So this is speculative...

                    Indian Pass Trail available from either Upper Works or Heart Lake. I have only hiked a mile or so of this trail but found it pleasant enough. You are surrounded by mountains, Rocky Falls adds a nice feature, access to some High Peaks trails.

                    There are Scotts Lean to and Rocky Falls Lean to sites, but these are not the large capacity areas like Marcy Damn etc.

                    Also, as far as regulations go please note that the 150' rule for dispersed camping in High Peaks is changing a bit...

                    The main attraction for this, for me, is the path less travelled.

                    Similar alternate route is accessing the Johns Brook area from The Meadows via the Klondike Notch trail.
                    Eyes on the Forest, not on the Trees