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Perils of the Adirondack Winter 46 by Carol White

Perils of the Adirondack Winter 46

My husband David and I climbed the 46 Adirondack High Peaks in winter from 1994 to 1997 and the 48 high peaks of the White Mountains in winter from 2000-2005. Adirondack challenges are different and more rigorous than those we experienced in the Whites, first, because twenty of the Adirondack High Peaks are trailless. Second, approaches to many Adirondack peaks are long because there are no roads going through the High Peaks, just around the periphery. Fifteen- to twenty-mile days are quite common, so we camped nine nights to complete the Winter 46, making the load much heavier; we hiked all Winter 48 as day trips (and often got out by dark) except for staying in the Zealand Hut. During our long treks out of the Adirondacks, one of our Winter 46 years was lighted by Hale-Bopp Comet! This post will focus on these differences and some Adirondack accidents and misadventures discussed in my four anthologies. Dave and I joke that the guidebooks we author are “what to do” and my anthologies are “what not to do!”

Falling Through Ice Hiking Up Mountain Brooks

People regularly climb up frozen brooks to the summits of several trailless peaks. A brook route avoids dense bushwhacking, post-holing, and the ever-present hazard of falling into seemingly bottomless spruce traps.

A notoriously dangerous place in the Adirondack High Peaks is remote Uphill Brook, eight miles from any trailhead, regularly climbed to approach 4,606-foot Mt. Redfield, the third-highest trailless peak near Mt. Marcy. An icefall well hidden underneath a blanket of snow is reached. I know several people who have broken through ice, four personally. Breaking through happens without warning, suddenly with a great CRACK! -and one finds oneself sinking into deep water. A strong young woman hiked to the base of a frozen waterfall and after the ominous crack-snapple-pop, she’s floating on a sheet of ice, slides off it, and goes down into the freezing water up to her waist, not touching bottom. One companion was with her—the other two were scouting for the best bushwhack. He gripped her coat at such an angle that he couldn’t pull her out, but only prevent her from going deeper—he feared also ending up in the water. The other two men heard her screams, scrambled down to the brook, and the three distributed their weight to avoid breaking through themselves. They got her back on firm ice and after changing, she tried to continue; but her extremely cold feet dictated retreat in zero temperature, breaking trail at a glacial pace. They stopped at Uphill Lean-to to put her frozen feet on their chests to warm up and tried unsuccessfully to start a fire. She suffered mild frostbite even after several changes of socks on that nine-mile retreat.

Igloo at Lake Colden, built by the University of Vermont Outing Club
Igloo at Lake Colden, built by the University of Vermont Outing Club

We know how cold that day was—it was Dave’s birthday, February 17th and he and I packed in 5 ½ miles to Lake Colden to climb Redfield and Cliff. It was below zero overnight and we decided not to cook breakfast but to work up some body heat by first climbing nearly two miles to Uphill Lean-to. That was surprisingly difficult on an empty stomach! We then climbed Uphill Brook and saw no hole in the ice from the day before; at such cold temperatures the surface had frozen over, but the ice would’ve been thin and one of us might have broken through, eight miles from our trailhead with a tent to break down. Could just one of us have helped the other get out? What if both of us had fallen in? Luckily we climbed out of the brook just before reaching this notorious spot, and we encountered broken trails where they’d scouted, each soon ending—when the men retraced to help. We created our own trail to the summit and the only other person who’d signed the canister on Redfield that winter had been legendary Wayne Ratowski, on Jan. 1st.

[We’ve been asked what a canister is—it’s a cylinder made of PVC affixed to a summit tree on all trailless peaks, with a notebook to sign and a pencil. No pen or pencil was on remote East Dix in winter, so I signed in with a chocolate bar! On several high peaks, these cans were often buried in up to two feet of snow, making 18-mile days unfruitful. The previous three names in the notebook were sent to the 46er club historian, Grace Hudowalski, who gave thousands of hiker stories to the New York State Library archives, from which I began my book, Women with Altitude. Canisters were removed in the Adirondacks in 2001, but 35 challenging peaks over 3500 feet are climbed for Catskill 3500 Club membership, and 13 peaks have canisters. Here, the hiker has a true route-finding experience! Also, four peaks must be climbed in winter for membership, which thankfully introduced us to winter climbing; we climbed the winter 35 in 1993-‘94 and learned a lot].

Another plunge into Uphill Brook occurred on a similar windy zero-degree day. The stream level had dropped during a hard freeze before creating a thick layer of ice, leaving two thin layers of ice over the pool at the bottom of the chute with air space below each. The hiker plunged into water above his knees without touching bottom, snowshoes under ice—he feared being drawn under! He threw his pack onto the ice, and holding onto the straps to spread his weight and lining up his snowshoes, he somehow propelled himself out. He put on heavy sock liners, Gore-tex boot liners, squeezed out his wool socks (wool stays “warm”), and thought Redfield would be worth toe-nails, but not a toe—so his painfully cold toes were the good news! Pain is information that nerves are still functioning and there’s still circulation. If feet became numb he would descend. His toes hurt, he did summit, and back at camp he removed ice from his wet woolen socks, but inside the Gore-tex and liner socks, his feet were dry—cold but not frozen.

Carol at Panther Brook
Carol at Panther Brook

One month later Dave broke through Panther Brook ice to ascend the three-peak trailless Santanoni Range. He never felt cold feet—the bad news, we know now. It was March 16th with only five more days to finish the Winter 46. After this range, we’d pack in to climb Hough and Dix—completing our Winter 46 in two years. But Dave didn’t change his socks and put on plastic bags to insulate them from wet boots. He thought he could hike rapidly enough to keep his feet warm, but learned the hard way that wet feet in winter cannot be protected by hiking fast. After hiking the three peaks, breaking camp, and hiking five miles down, he felt like he was getting blisters on the tops of all his toes during the last mile.

In the car he could not get his boots off—they were frozen to his feet. Frostbite! A doctor said that he’d be okay eventually, due to adequate blood circulation in the extremities. Dave wouldn’t let me see his feet. Two weeks later he let me watch him pull off his socks and his toes were black, resembling black cracked patent leather—such an alarming injury that taking a picture didn’t occur to me; I didn’t know I’d be writing books! We were manning an ADK chapter’s winter information table in late March and when kids came by, he’d pull off his socks, saying “See? Do what your mother says!” Memorable. He didn’t lose any toes and we later climbed the 48 Whites in winter, finishing on gorgeous Bondcliff in March 2006. His toes can get white and calloused, but with no pain.

Saddleback cliffs
Saddleback cliffs

Other Adirondack Hazards

Adirondack trails are steeper and often rougher than those in New Hampshire. (Thank you, pioneer trail-maker J. Rayner Edmands, one of my heroes!). On the Adirondack’s Great Range, for example, people fall off cliffs or tumble down extremely steep and exposed trails, as described especially in Women with Altitude.

On a February day, a woman fell 60 feet off the infamous Saddleback cliff, one of the most dangerous places in the Adirondack High Peaks, lacking good handholds and footholds. She and her single companion had hiked 11 miles to Haystack and Basin to the base of the Saddleback cliffs, where they met two hikers who were camping at this unlikely place and time—and she would have died if they hadn’t been there.

The whole story describes how this nun was taken care of overnight by two men from Poland (she thought her French had gotten away from her because they were talking in Polish), how her companion hiked out to get help and the alarming aspects of being helicoptered out the next day. They couldn’t drive to the parking lot due to ice and were advised at Johns Brook Lodge, 3 ½ miles up, of icy conditions on the peaks, yet they were attempting three of the most exposed, precipitous, and remote of the High Peaks. Knowing the especially precipitous section between Basin and Saddleback, I would’ve been satisfied to do Saddleback another day.

The first woman to complete the Winter 111 writes about one of the worst falls of her life, sliding headfirst on her stomach at full speed down a long, steep snowfield on Basin. Seeing a big tree, she remembered thinking Should I slide into it or continue all the way down? Either choice could have been fatal. A man ahead of her caught her; another friend “who is not particularly religious, said she prayed.” On this section of trail, one of our group fell 100 feet down this notorious slope, luckily without injury.

Upper Wolf Jaw
Upper Wolf Jaw

Novices tend to overreach on the Great Range; these peaks look close together. But Guy Waterman’s Lesson #1 is: Don’t count on moving rapidly in winter. Trail conditions can make half a mile per hour an exhausting speed. The AMC suggests, “Guidebook travel times should be doubled in winter.” Under some conditions, that advice is not nearly conservative enough.

Ambitious hikers end up bivouacking, such as the young couple who were winter novices and thought they’d go just another 1.9 miles over Upper Wolf Jaw to Armstrong from the Wolf Jaws col. The large ladder bolted to the cliff up Armstrong was buried in deep snow, as were trail signs, and they kept losing the trail in sometimes waist-deep snowdrifts. At four o’clock they finally reached Armstrong’s summit, but again lost the trail at the Gothics col. Bushwhacking steeply down icy brooks, by dusk they knew they weren’t going to make it out and they had not brought a flashlight—one of ten essentials for every pack in every season. According to newspaper accounts, the temperature was -20 overnight with -40 degree wind chills on nearby Lower Ausable Lake. He couldn’t get a fire going; she tossed her map over to him. “We won’t need that if we freeze to death, will we!”

A mild-weather survival technique was used by a man who bushwhacked along the bouldered shores of Lower Ausable Lake and finally could proceed no farther and would have to retrace over a mountain. Night had fallen; the autumn temperature had dropped. He spread a map underneath his shirt for a bit of insulation.

What goes into a rescue

There are many ladders in Adirondack peaks (and there should be a ladder, cable, or iron bars to grasp on Saddleback). A pair ascended 3,600-foot Crane Mt., which has a 25-foot ladder to the summit requiring a step up to the left onto a ledge with small footholds and no handhold—a bit daunting in any season. The open rock had little ice or snow in December, but her snowshoe slipped and she fell down the precipice and then skidded down another steep incline head first, miraculously injuring only a foot. This was near civilization and 22 men aided her and carried her down that night.

Helicopter Rescue
Helicopter Rescue

Many miles from the trailhead on a bushwhack out of the remote Dix Range in March, a woman crossed a brook with snowshoes on an icy log and fell off, rupturing her ACL and ripping her meniscus, requiring a helicopter rescue. It was ten degrees, night was falling, and one man hiked out some five miles through trackless forest for help. The GPS batteries went dead but he had spares; he had to make several stream crossings, down and back up steep banks.

The Adirondack’s most popular peak is its highest, 5,344-foot Mount Marcy. On a fine August day, Dave and I came across a young woman prone on the summit granite with her frightened boyfriend. Recounted in Peak Experiences, she was completely unable even to stand up, with a detached ligament—a serious disabling injury diagnosed later. Neither had warm clothes or a flashlight or provisions for any unexpected delay. Most people had descended; the trailhead is 7.4 miles distant; in mid-afternoon, the wind was cooler. I carry a DEC 24-hour emergency number and a ranger arranged for a helicopter rescue. We insisted that she take several of our warm clothes and a flashlight; she alone could be taken on the helicopter. We heard it fly over when we were three miles down at Indian Falls, and fly back to Lake Placid hospital when we were four miles down. She had her foot up having a glass of wine when we reached the Adirondak Loj campground!

Gray Peak Canister
Gray Peak Canister

Spruce traps

Twenty of the Adirondack High Peaks are trailless, and when you are off the beaten trail, frightening spruce traps suddenly open up beneath you with no warning—help is often required to get out of them. You never know how far down you’ll sink, and it can be 7 or 8 feet without touching the ground, suspended on a spruce branch with air below.

The reported depth of spruce holes apparently expands as temperatures approach freezing, or as time passes. A six-foot tall woman dropped completely out of sight en route to Gray Peak off Mt. Marcy, and then on the Skylight side of Gray, she suddenly fell into seemingly bottomless snow over her head. She could not reach her snowshoes and doesn’t know if she could have escaped, alone. She joked that her “geezer gang” would enforce the 70-pound rule—they’d come back when you were down to 70 pounds and could be carried out! This is nine miles from the trailhead.

The Hand of Old Man Winter
The Hand of Old Man Winter

Just north of the Panther-Santanoni col, two tough and resilient hikers were behind their husbands; one, five feet tall, disappeared into a horrendous spruce trap, sinking well below the level of the snow and finally stopping, suspended on numerous spruce branches. The heavier men had stepped here beforehand, yet they floated over! (The first two in a group can often cross a hidden hole without falling in, which is dubbed a law of nature—the “third person rule” of spruce traps!)

Calling unsuccessfully to the guys, her friend circled to find somewhere to help but not fall in, and offered a hand—and the snow caved in around her and she was eyeball to eyeball with her companion whose snowshoes were now re-buried, with her friend standing on them. Each time one kicked a step into the side of the hole hoping to work her way up, she’d discover only another spruce trap. Finally, the guys retraced and roared with laughter at the sight of their wives several feet below the snow surface—and there wasn’t much they could do, they said, as the entire area was a minefield of spruce traps. So they watched. The five-footer finally emerged, but it was nearly an hour after first seeing her friend disappear that she managed to get out—exhausted, exasperated, and discouraged—and only with a hand from her husband. A giant crater 30 feet across and seven-plus feet deep was created by this epic struggle. They wondered what the next party would think when they found this spot!

A Rochester Winter Mountaineering Society expedition on this peak approached what looked like an open area, but was actually totally buried stunted spruce trees. A man third in line fell in up to his nose, and later at the back of the line he descended well over his head onto a tree branch over more air. A friend, after some minutes, saw a mitten poke out of a hole—from an eight-foot-deep spruce hole where the buried hiker was fighting for dear life to avoid falling down another four feet!

On the Great Range, a group failed to ascend the Saddleback cliffs, and rather than re-climb Basin miles out of the way, their descent route was a bushwhack from the col. A woman disappeared into a spruce trap and whenever she tried to step out of it, the snow wall would collapse and she’d sink deeper. Reminiscent of quicksand, the more she tried to extricate herself, the deeper she went, feeling true panic—do you always get out of these things? Her snowshoes would get caught under spruce branches above great pockets of air. Two people with her took her pack and started digging; eventually, the rest retraced and dug and pulled and cajoled, and eventually, she rolled onto solid snow.

After the canisters were removed, the 46ers closed off numerous herd paths to create one minimally-maintained, unmarked path to a trailless summit. This might ameliorate the spruce trap problem, creating more of a packed base, and more people are attempting the Winter 46. Dave and I climbed them in the mid-nineties with no obvious route; maybe just two of us escaped the third-person rule of spruce traps. We bushwhacked only once in the Whites to climb Owl’s Head and did not experience a spruce trap.

The Slides of Mt Colden
The Slides of Mt Colden


People become immobilized by fear and have to be rescued on the Trap Dike on Mt. Colden. Deaths are quite common here; on a recent college trip on a rainy autumn day, the leader went to help someone and fell twenty feet; he was instantly killed. The Trap Dike by Gloria Daly in Adirondack Peak Experiences describes in nerve-wracking detail the difficulty locating handholds and footholds and not-obvious maneuvers up steep, unforgiving pitches from which there’s no turning back; how any mistake would likely be fatal. They were guided by a friend who’d climbed the dike. An apparent opening through the dike wall above the third waterfall opens onto the precipitous Colden slide; the Discover the Adirondack High Peaks guidebook warns: “Do not get out of the Dike too soon!” People should emerge near the top of the main slide, but even here the slide’s pitch is not for those who have a fear of heights. Gloria’s party belly-crawled up on the sticky slide surface to the summit rock, which is 1700 extremely steep feet above Avalanche Lake.

Another story talks about a night climb to Wright and Algonquin, and hearing voices across to Mt. Colden; rangers were there because people had gone up the Trap Dike and gotten off too soon onto the open rock face; it is so steep here that some were too terrified to move. Someone went for help and rangers came with ropes to help them back into the dike, where they waited for morning. The author of this story had also gone out on the Colden face too soon, but didn’t want to be rescued—it would ruin their reputations! They took off their boots and socks, being sure that they didn’t roll down to Lake Colden, and went barefoot back to the dike; bare feet worked like flypaper on the steep rock face. In March 2007 an avalanche in the Trap Dike sent trees and rocks cascading down onto Avalanche Lake.

East Dix
East Dix

In the Dix Range on the Macomb Slide, Dave slid 1,000 feet all the way to the bottom at such speed that it kicked up vast quantities of snow—“rooster tails”— into his face and he could see nothing the entire way down. A hiker opines that by March the snow might be deep enough to slide a long way safely, but in early January you may acquire interesting bruises! When the snow IS deep, the first person sliding down gets so much snow piling up between the legs that it actually stops you; the next sliders have increasingly exhilarating slides—great fun as long as no body parts are left on the slide! I prudently bushwhacked down through incredibly dense and unyielding spruce, not easy on snowshoes.

Our first Macomb climb was with two men who wanted to climb the slide. We opted to avoid the tangled brook approach and instead bushwhack up the north ridge and meet them at the summit. Dick lost his footing on the icy slide and fell 100 feet before self-arresting with his ice ax. They then ascended steeply up through dense spruce and Tom lost a snowshoe, spending 15 minutes looking for it. We beat them to the summit by 1 ½ hours, wrote in the canister that we waited 45 minutes but finally had to descend. Their whole day was not fun—except following our excellent route down!

Another hiker describes the ice flow above the rock face at the top of the slide; she lost her footing wearing instep crampons and stopped herself only by grabbing a death-hold on a small spruce to avoid a nasty fall over the ten-foot rock face, and on down—she was very cautious around ice after that. A hiker bare-booted up the Macomb slide with snow texture good for kicking in small steps, resisting crampons that didn’t go on easily and came off all too easily. Three-fourths of the way up she couldn’t move safely to get footgear on, or ascend or descend—hanging by toes, immobilized with shaking legs, waiting for companions to cross the slippery slide to steady her as she strapped on gear.

Winter 46 with Dave and 46 frozen shrimp at the Hough Canister
Winter 46 with Dave and 46 frozen shrimp at the Hough Canister

Bushwhack descents

Bushwhack descents, especially in the steep peaks in the Dix Range, can be hazardous—bouncing from tree to tree like a pinball, as Dave puts it. For our 46th winter peak, we were with a group to whom we’d given 46 frozen shrimp with cocktail sauce to celebrate the occasion.

Euphoria dissolved at the prospect of descending Hough’s precipitous mountainside; the terrain is so steep that it’s impossible to stay upright for long and we all had uncontrollable slides down the path we’d laboriously broken out through dense forest. Whizzing down, if an arm or a leg got caught in the thick evergreen, it could be broken. Elbows bruised, bumping against trees in desperate attempts to moderate the slide; branches nipped at clothes and threatened to yank off mittens; small stumps hurt the tailbone. I would grasp evergreen branches and wedge a snowshoe on stunted trees below, to brake, or inch down poking ski poles into snow. When our snow chute veered off, I tried to avoid falling straight down into unknown pitfalls we’d circumvented on the ascent, such as an icy slide on which any control would be impossible. Everyone struggled separately to descend without injury. This was one man’s first winter bushwhack; “I’ve got new respect for Winter 46ers,” he said, enjoying champagne around the fire. “It’ll take some time to assimilate all this…”


My post wouldn’t be complete without discussing hypothermia, one of the most serious dangers to hikers, and it often happens between 30 degrees and 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Defined as a drop in core body temperature to 95 degrees, just a one-degree drop from normal can lead to early hypothermia, and what’s insidious is that early hypothermia causes mental impairment. “To be blunt,” writes Peter Crane, “cold makes you stupid—and then all things fall apart quite quickly.” One loses good judgment and can become irrational.

Hypothermia is caused by insufficient eating or drinking; by being immobilized or otherwise in direct contact with cold ground; by wearing inadequate or wet clothing in windy, cold conditions—especially wearing cotton that doesn’t dry and clings to the body, drawing out vital heat. Symptoms include lack of coordination, disorientation, lethargy, irritability, and uncontrollable shivering. Remedies include removing wet clothes, providing insulation from the ground, putting the victim in a sleeping bag, covering the head and neck, getting shelter, and supplying quick-energy food and warm non-alcoholic drinks.

Don’t leave your pack even to make a final climb to a summit; a hiker did so on a zero-degree day, eight miles from the trailhead. They signed the canister logbook quickly, but a varmint had time to ransack her pack, stealing all her food. Carry a survival bag and/or space blanket. Hot packs placed around the neck, armpits, and groin may help, but prevention is key. If not treated, coma and death can occur rapidly.

A man had spent much time taking photos on three peaks in the Santanoni Range and had neglected to eat or hydrate sufficiently. He urged the other three to go on to the tent while he took pictures on Panther Mt., the 4th highest trailless peak. Having lost body heat tarrying, he shivered in the late afternoon wind. Nobody including him was aware that he was in trouble. On the steep descent, he had several head-downhill falls. It dawned on him that his uncharacteristic lack of coordination could be hypothermia. Soaked from the snow after many more slips and falls, thoroughly cold and exhausted, he was aware of advancing hypothermia but it was like observing himself from a distance. Could this be a symptom of hypothermia, the loss of mental acuity due literally to a chilled brain?

Even in moderate terrain, he kept falling, getting up, snowshoeing, and falling again; heavy fatigue set in and he sat and closed his eyes—dangerous! To go to sleep could mean death, although his friends would look for him up the broken path. Knowledge of hypothermia, remembering loved ones, and excellent physical conditioning are credited for keeping him moving. His friends stripped off wet clothes, redressed him warmly into his sleeping bag, and huddled close; shivering continued, and only hours later could he tolerate hot jello and tea. By midnight he could eat something; in the morning he ate ravenously and they hiked out. He felt the effects of hypothermia for a few days. This is an example of the HikeSafe principle of staying together, and ADK’s guidebook High Peaks Trails recommends a minimum group of four for winter climbing.

Plaque on Wright Peak
Plaque on Wright Peak

October can be very cold with snow and ice on the High Peaks. This was the 20th high peak for a man who for the first time was hiking alone. He’d climbed Algonquin and Iroquois and back again—an arduous trip for a majority of people—and the weather was deteriorating with high winds, sleet, and fog. But Wright’s summit is less than half a mile off the Algonquin Trail! On the large exposed summit, he became exhausted, dizzy, and disoriented with a strong headache. He couldn’t move his extremities, drink or eat feeling nauseated, and was violently shivering. “Thanks to the knowledge I had about hypothermia, I am alive today,” he wrote in Adirondack Peak Experiences.

He never thought he’d become one of its victims! Only yards away from a B-47 bomber wreckage, he curled in a rock crevice to protect himself from the elements, trying to regain enough strength to descend. He was determined not to sleep, which would likely end in death. After this, he read about the outdoors experiences of others and how they handle difficult situations (or avoid them), and how to be fully prepared, and stresses that one should never give up, but evaluate the situation calmly and logically and not panic (but early hypothermia causes mental confusion).

Our search route to Boundary between Algonquin and Iroquois
Our search route to Boundary between Algonquin and Iroquois


A man lost in October between the MacIntyre Range and Duck Hole did not survive, or at least he was never found. My husband and I were part of the rescue teams, which I describe in detail in Peak Experiences: Danger, Death, and Daring in the Mountains of the Northeast. We were helicoptered to the Lake Colden Interior Outpost and studied maps to search the region. He could have become sick, as a man did backpacking on the 160-mile Northville-Placid Trail who bailed out on the seven-mile Sucker Brook Trail to safety on Route 30. He found himself on a poorly maintained, wet western section of trail that had ten brook crossings, sometimes flooded, and he’d climbed above it at a marshy area. It ascended over a pass between two mountains and he struggled to proceed in a weakened condition. He hunkered down hoping he’d be rescued, but he was off the Northville-Placid trail where searchers would have looked. Like the unforgettable Into the Wild, he hung on for weeks, but succumbed before being found. The man lost near Duck Hole could have experienced what Bill Ingersoll imagined in his sinister story in Adirondack Peak Experiences, “The Pitcher Plant.” The unsuspecting victim, lured into an enticing environment, cannot easily get out—or get out at all in the woods, if a leg is broken.

An intrepid hiker, who gets to the high peaks only four times a year, started his three-peak bushwhack of the Santanoni Range from Duck Hole, a popular campsite before Hurricane Irene obliterated it. The four-mile trail from Duck Hole to Bradley Pond was poorly maintained at best, with many brook crossings, beaver activity, and blowdown. It rained heavily, clouding the crystal in his watch, so he didn’t know the time. After bushwhacking the three peaks, the hike back to Duck Hole was even wetter now and stormy weather darkened the sky. Incredibly, he’d forgotten to take even one of his two flashlights, back in his tent.

The wet trail was so overgrown in places that bushes had to be pushed aside to verify that there was a trail. Still a good mile from Duck Hole, it was now too dark to see. Here, our hiker showed his outdoor savvy—if he continued, he could lose the trail and become lost. He knew that his only safe choice was to stop, stay on the trail, and spend the night. Soaked and cold, with no tent, no flashlight, only trail mix for food, he lay down on the trail. The rain had stopped but the still-strong wind was blowing water off the trees and there were short showers during the night. Lying down and still, he would become cold and begin to shiver. He discovered that if he bent his knees and waved them back and forth, he increased his circulation enough to warm up and fall asleep. All night he cycled between being asleep and getting cold, and waking up and moving his legs.

He survived.

Carol White
Carol White

About Carol White


Carol’s latest book, Peak Experiences: Danger, Death, and Daring in the Mountains of the Northeast, was published in November 2012 by the University Press of New England. She edited Adirondack Peak Experiences: Mountaineering Adventures, Misadventures, and the Pursuit of The 46, and Catskill Peak Experiences: Mountaineering Tales of Endurance, Survival, Exploration and Adventure from the Catskill 3500 Club (2008), both published by Black Dome Press. She edited Women with Altitude: Challenging the Adirondack High Peaks in Winter (2005), published by North Country Books.

Carol and her husband David wrote Catskill Day Hikes for All Seasons and edit the comprehensive guidebook, Catskill Trails, for which they measured 350 miles of trails in the Catskill Forest Preserve with a surveying wheel. Both are published by the Adirondack Mountain Club. They collaborated in 2011 with the National Geographic Society to produce a new Catskill Park Trails Illustrated map, #755, packaged with Catskill Trails.


Carol received the Susan B. Anthony Legacy Award in 2007 at the University of Rochester with polar explorer Ann Bancroft and long-distance cold-water swimmer Lynne Cox. They spoke on the theme “Daring the Impossible: Strong Women Take on the World,” on how they draw attention to causes larger than their own ambitions.


The Whites write a monthly hiking column for the Catskill Mountain Region Guide and regular hiking columns for the Poughkeepsie Journal. Their articles have appeared in Adirondac, Adirondack Explorer, and an excerpt from Adirondack Peak Experiences appeared in May 2009 Adirondack Life. Carol’s commentary on how one becomes lost in the mountains appeared in a New York Times science column by Henry Fountain in August 2009, the month the Whites helped rescue an injured hiker on Mount Marcy, recounted in Peak Experiences.

Climbing history

In 2006 the Whites completed winter climbs of the 48 White Mountains of New Hampshire following winter climbs of the 46 AdirondackHighPeaks and the 35 Catskill highest peaks.  The Whites are Northeast USA 111ers, climbers of the now-115 peaks that exceed 4,000 feet in New York and New England, and have climbed eight of the 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado.

Hiking clubs & related activity

David served as a director of the Adirondack Mountain Club from 2004-2010 and is membership chairman of the Catskill 3500 Club. Carol served on the 46ers Executive Committee from 2003-2007 and heads the conservation committee of the 3500 Club. Both are members of ADK’s conservation committee.  They have led three four-week classes in hiking for the Mohawk Valley Institute for Learning in Retirement. They participate in trail maintenance, lead hikes, and restore lean-tos.

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  1. Thanks for this great write up. Would have to agree with one of your basic premises, the Adirondacks are a lot more of a challenge than the Whites. That’s not to say you can’t make the Whites just as challenging, it’s just that there is usually an “easy” option in the Whites because of the multiple roads cross-crossing the area and a seemingly endless number of trailheads.

    My girlfriend and I have only spent summer or fall in the high peaks so far but plan to begin spending some time there in the winter next season. While not having done any in winter I think there are more people perusing the W46 now and despite the “unmaintained” trails it seems “easier” now based in the stories that I’ve heard and the people that I’ve seen finish. The increasing use of GPS to find the “trail” and more feet packing it down to both lead the way and find those killer spruce traps are some of the benefits of increased interest in the W46.

    I printing this story out and packing it away with my winter gear. Will use it as a reminder for next season as we get ready to tackle the W46. Two things that will make it I’m the pack – a rope to pull people out of the holes and a shovel to help dig them out before having to invoke the 70 pound rule.

    • Hi Michael,

      One aspect I didn’t mention is the importance of weather. Always check a local weather report, especially when going above treeline, including the wind speed. Whiteouts seem to be quite common on 5,114-foot Algonquin Peak in winter, for example. Dave and I did Iroquois and Algonquin from Lake Colden in what was a full whiteout on the ridge; when we consulted our compass, we realized that we were headed toward the precipitous NE face of Algonquin, instead of down to the trail below treeline. (We hadn’t climbed over Algonquin, but went to Iroquois first from the Boundary trail; but even if we’d gone over Algonquin, our snowshoe prints would have blown in nearly immediately; ski pole holes last longer, but not long enough on such a hike). We found our way down to the trail. But Dot Myer, the first woman to summit the 111 in winter (in 1985), didn’t find the trail and her small group spent the night in a rudimentary shelter with evergreen branches they happened upon (someone else must’ve had the same experience coming off Algonquin!) The next morning they bushwhacked most of the way down until finding the trail, then reclimbed most of the way back up to get their tent, and one companion needed insulin, which was up in the tent. This could have been disastrous. The descent of “Little” Haystack toward 4,960-foot Haystack is dangerous; a Rochester Winter Mountaineering Society expedition was nearing someone’s Winter 46 peak, Haystack, but the leader decided that the descent of Little Haystack was too dangerous in high winds, so they turned back. So close to becoming a Winter 46er, she was not sure she would have made the same prudent decision! Bottom line, waiting for good weather in the Adirondacks AND in the Whites is essential. Thanks for your comments.

  2. Excellent beta about the Winter 46. I’m a White Mountain hiker and have been thinking about expanding my horizons and hiking the Dacks. How trailless are the peaks really? Are there herd paths or is it fulll on bushwhacking?

    • The canisters in the Adirondack High Peaks were removed in 2001 and the myriad herd paths were closed off. Now, one minimally-maintained path to the trailless peaks makes the Adirondack High Peaks much less a genuine route-finding experience than the Catskill high peaks offer. There are 35 of those peaks over 3500 feet with 13 canisters on the trailless peaks, and virtually no herd paths. There, you can really test your route-finding skills, and getting lost is not uncommon. Also, the Adirondacks are actual mountains and ranges with defined summits, as opposed to the long flat summits in the Catskill Forest Preserve; that region is actually an eroded plateau, but we always say, “If they look like mountains and hike like mountains, they’re mountains!” And very challenging, I’d add. Also, the 46ers organization began in 1948 and “beaten paths” began to be formed from then on. (The Catskill 3500 Club started in 1962). Of course, the trailless peaks in winter are a different story! We broke trail to remote and trailless 4,606-foot Mt. Redfield near Mt. Marcy on a zero-degree day in incredibly deep snow, thus moving at a glacial pace and getting cold extremities; we found ourselves a good ten minutes from the canister on the peak’s indistinct summit. The can was just barely above the snow behind snow-covered branches and we might not have found it! If you didn’t sign in, your climb was not officially accomplished. Without canisters to find and sign in, people might think they are on a true summit, when they’re pretty far from it. Pursuing the Winter 46 became very popular starting in the 1990’s, so the chances are reasonable of finding a broken trail to a summit or range. The Catskill trailless high peaks, where you have to find a canister, with no herd paths, remain a good challenge. About one-third of its membership of 2200 are Winter 35ers. It’s great experience for learning about winter mountain hiking!

  3. This has got to be one of the most gripping and informative posts I’ve ever read. It makes my kicking steps up icy mountains in the High Sierra look like child’s play, but I loved the vicarious thrill of Carol and Dave’s adventures. Gorgeous writing and photos, too! I’m putting Carol’s books on my to-read list.

    • Hi Gail,

      Many thanks for your appreciative response to my guest post about Winter 46ing, but kicking steps up icy mountains in the High Sierra sounds like super adventuring. Our western mountain hiking was among the Colorado 14,000ers, and we did an amazingly easy climb (after being acclimated) up Mt Elbert, Colorado’s highest at 14,450 feet (starting at about 10,500 feet). But no sooner had we descended than it started snowing, and a major blizzard began. People and even the snowplow were stranded on Independence Pass the next day. I can’t wait to read your post on May 13th!

  4. As a female hiker and peakbagger all I can say is WOW! It’s great to read about another woman who kicks ass like Carol. I’m going to have to check out her books too!

    • Hi Sara,

      Thank you for your great comments! My book “Women with Altitude” is often read as Women with Attitude; you’d appreciate these incredible women whose superb attitudes shine through their descriptions of their lives and best adventures.

  5. “Virtually no herd paths to the trail less Catskill Peaks”?
    We must be from different dimensions Carol…I’ve never seen a trail less Catskill peak. Many of the herd paths there are marked with cairns ( southwest hunter is a good example).
    And I remember commenting to a friend that one herd path we encountered could be followed blindfolded.
    The Catskill 3500 club is indeed a great way to get involved in hiking, but it is more of a social outing group than a route finding club.

    • Peter, many of the Catskill 35 have no visible herd paths whereas the Adirondack herd paths are very well worn and are like maintained trails. Many of the 35 (the trail less ones) are true bushwhacks albeit in most places the woods are open and visibility is good. We just finished all 35 twice over the past two years, once in Winter, so I’m a recent finisher… unless someone blazed the trails in the past year! ;)

  6. Now I want to REREAD all your books! Happy New Year to you and your family.

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