What I did this weekend on the Adirondack Coast……. Winter hike up Ampersand Mountain.

It’s hard to believe I haven’t hiked a mountain in two months! The short days, work schedule, and holiday festivities soaked up all of my time. My hiking partner and I were sitting comfortably in our warm office, staring out the window longing to be outside. The decision was easy. “want to hike?”, “Ampersand”, “sure”,”8:30?”, “yup”, was the extent of our hiking plans.

Sunday morning, 8:30 and we are on the snowy roads to Ampersand Mountain. Mother Nature graced us with two inches of fresh new snow that clung to the branches of the trees creating that perfect Adirondack winter scene. Never knowing what the conditions may be,  we have a tendency to over-pack the car. Winter hiking requires a lot more gear that summertime adventures, but brings with it the freedom of having the entire mountain to yourself, no mud, and no bugs, and expansive views from the summit that one can only get this time of year.

Ampersand summit

The weather report was a strange mixed bag of rain, snow, and a high wind advisory with gusts in excess of 50 miles per hour. Sounds like perfect hiking conditions, right? We started up carrying our snowshoes, uncertain of the snow totals in the higher elevations. Neither of us are strangers to this little 3,352 foot mountain. Ampersand Mountain serves as a great day hike. The hike will bring you along a 1.7 mile simple walk in the woods followed up by a mile of a much more strenuous 1,300 foot climb to the bald summit with unobstructed 360 degree views of the high peaks and the Saranac Lakes chain.

The ground was covered by the two fresh inches of snow atop 3 inches of older hard snow. The trees blocked us from most of the winds that were swirling through their leafless, snow-covered branches. Fortunately for us, the rain stayed at the lower elevations. We knew that our view from the summit was going to be limited with the low cloud cover and snow squalls. The first 1.7 miles of easy terrain was breathtaking in its beauty. The fresh snow was postcard perfect.

For the last steep mile we strapped on our microspikes. There never turned out to be enough snow to call for snowshoes on this outing, but it’s always best to be prepared. This last mile climbs 1,300 feet and can be considered difficult to anyone with less physical ability. The mile ends at a unique Glacial erratic that is almost like the gate to the summit. We climb up and between the two large boulders. Not far past the “gate” the summit opens up to the views.

"The summit gate"
“The summit gate”

These open views were partially obscured as we had expected. What was less expected was our inability to stand on our two feet. The treeless summit left us fully exposed to the winds. The sustained very strong wind managed to sweep me off my feet and toss me a distance on the summit. I managed three photos before we worked our way back into the trees and out of this extreme wind. It wasn’t the ideal summit experience, but incredible to experience the power of nature in such a way. We paused in the calm within the trees to take in some nourishment.

Ice near the summit
Ice near the summit

Great thing about winter hiking #54, you can slide back down! And slide we did. It’s hard to resist the urge to play a bit when your given a steep hill and some snow. We were motivated to move quickly by hunger. I had my mind firmly planted on my after-hike burger that I knew was waiting for me.

How to get to Ampersand Mountain? The trailhead is well-marked and located on Route 3 about 6 miles from the village of Saranac Lake. There is plenty of parking for winter visitors, but may be limited in the summer months because it also serves as access to the Middle Saranac Lake. The parking lot for Ampersand is on the right hand side. The trailhead is on the left.

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