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Old 01-31-2019, 12:59 PM   #1
arvinsmee
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St. Regis 2 Nighter

After much consideration, along with substantial help from the members of this forum (shout out to DSettahr in particular), we settled on St. Regis Pond for our annual winter Dacks trip from 1.25 – 1.27. We were looking for a pretty lake to camp on with a mountain nearby to climb and St. Regis seemed to fit the bill perfectly.

Quick note on conditions: about 18” of snow had dropped the previous weekend, followed by a good bit of rain and temps up to the low 40s within 24 hrs of our arrival.

We arrived to the Station Road parking lot around 12:30pm on Friday, quickly suited up and headed west down the road that follows the railroad tracks. Initially we had planned on skiing in via Little Clear Pond, but I called the ranger a few days prior and she told us that the snow on the lakes was likely to be deep and crusty. We opted instead for the Fish Pond Truck Trail, using a spur path to connect to the Little Clear / St. Regis carry trail. Both of us were skiing with around 55-60 lbs on our backs. The snow was blowing in our faces and temps were around 18 degrees, but the wind wasn’t too harsh and the atmospherics just added to the sense of adventure. The trail was broken and skiing was easy.



The first part of the Fish Pond Truck Trail was broken as well, but only for the first quarter mile or so. Once we had to break trail, our progress slowed significantly. This continued through the spur trail and the carry trail. The snow was deep and our heavy packs meant we sank down much further than usual. Deadfall was not as much of an issue as we anticipated though, there were only a few times we had to get off trail to avoid an obstacle.

By the time we got to the lake, the snow had stopped. The crust and deep snow we were warned about were also nowhere to be found – I was hoping this might mean for easy travels. We soon encountered another problem entirely – under the first 6” or so of fresh snow was a good few inches of slush. This really slowed us down. We didn’t have far to go though, as we were aiming for the site on the peninsula across from the shelter (it was site 12 if IIRC).



We got to the site soon enough and got to work setting up. The location was quite exposed to the wind, but we figured it was a worthwhile trade off for the views it afforded.



We got set up quickly, as we were running a bit behind schedule. After eating dinner (some freeze dried backpacker meals) and melting some snow, we turned in for the night.

I was a bit worried about the temps for this trip, as I had never camped colder than 10 degrees and I only had a 15 degree bag. I figured I’d sleep with some layers on and I brought a 28 degree bag to use as an extra blanket in a pinch. It got down to 5 degrees that night (at least – that was the temp at 7am the next day) but I was perfectly cozy in the 15 – didn’t even unpack my 28.

Saturday we woke up to cloudy skies, temps around 7 and constant wind, but no falling snow. We had some debate that morning on how best to summit St. Regis Mountain. The original plan had been to bushwhack up to the top directly from the lake – but considering how deep the snow was, we knew that was completely impossible. Another idea was to ski out via the ponds and carry trails to St. Regis Lake, then head up the trail that starts at the bottom of Spectacle Ponds. But that was 4 miles just to the trail head, considering how bad the lake skiing was on the way in, we decided it was also impossible. In the end we opted to shoot for an outcrop at (44.3957, -74.3313) I had spotted on google maps while we were trip planning. We could see it clearly from our campsite and it look like it’d afford a good view. It would only be about 5 miles round trip. You can see it in the pic below, it's the large white rock on the left side.



We opted to snowshoe across the lake, as we figured that was probably more efficient than skiing through slush and meant we wouldn’t have to change footwear halfway through. We started out at 10:30 and headed for the Ocher Pond carry trail. Travel on the lake was easy – a lot of the slush had frozen up overnight, though it was still bad in places. The carry trail was unbroken (of course) and slow going. About half way down the carry trail we turned north and started our bushwhack. I guess I should mention here that a) I have never snowshoed before and, b) that means I have obviously never bushwhacked through 2-3’ of snow. I was not expecting this to be easy, but I had no idea of just how slow it would be. We were both wearing Lightning Ascents which don’t have much float and we were sinking pretty deep into the snow. It was brutal, but fun in its own way. As we worked our way up towards the outcrop we encountered all sorts of obstacles you can’t see on the topo – rock cliffs, giant boulders, and such. It was tricky, but also added to the fun as we had to think carefully about how we'd navigate around them. I'd experienced this bushwhacking before, but the depth of the snow meant that grades which would otherwise be an easy scramble were completely impossible. At this point we were averaging about 0.5 mph. After about of a mile of bushwhacking, we made it to the base of the hill, where things got steep for real. We pushed up, climbing about 150’ until we reached a bit of level ground. Here we took a pause to assess our situation. It was 1pm and we were still 0.2 mi and 350’ of climbing from the outcrop. It was tantalizingly close, but I knew that 350’ was too much. My buddy was completely gassed and I was pretty exhausted myself (both of us *may* have gotten a bit out of shape in the off season…) We decided to break there and enjoy the view, such as it was. The sun was out and the woods were quite gorgeous.



I really wish we had pushed on though. After getting back home, I checked the sats and realized there was a small bit of exposed rock just 0.1 mi and +150’ from where we stopped. I hadn’t marked it on my map because it was rather small - but it looks like it would have still offered a good view. You can see it here to the left of the big rock outcrop.



After a brief snack break and some phone calls (I was really surprised – but we both got signal for the entire trip, though mine was a bit weak at camp) we headed back downhill. The trek was a little easier this time, though I still managed to fall plenty.

We got back to camp a little after 3, leaving us plenty of time to get some good firewood. It was our last night so we wanted to do it up. A couple skied by our site and chatted for a minute - they were doing the Fish Pond Truck Trail / St. Regis / Little Clear Pond loop. They were the only people we saw over the entire trip. My buddy soon got the fire raging (a lot of work considering how wet the wood was with the recent rain) and I prepped out our dinner of New Mexican Style Pork Adovada, queso fresco, and instant rice.



Fortified with a warm dinner (and some hot cider with whiskey) we headed out onto the pond to do some long exposure photography. At this point it was down to -2, but it wasn’t windy and we were perfectly comfortable. The moon hadn’t risen yet and the sky was almost perfectly clear. It was a beautiful night.





We turned in shortly after that. It was a cold night. I didn’t step out of the tent to get a reading, but the closest weather stations showed a low of -9. At 5:30 I woke up cold, the thermometer in the tent showed 16 degrees. There was a fair amount condensation on my bag - our candle lantern wasn’t working right and neither of us were using vapor barrier liners. I pulled out my 28 degree bag to use as a blanket - that seemed to do the trick and I was soon back to sleep.

We woke up a little late, around 8am, to temps around 20 and a decent snow falling. We packed up quick and headed back the way we came in. The skiing was far better than it was on Friday - almost all the slush had frozen over. Plus, we had already broken trail. Thinking back, I wish we had taken Little Clear Pond back to the car, it was about the same distance and would have been nice change of scenery, and the path should have been broken by the couple that passed us the day before. Oh well. We got back to the car soon enough.



All in all, a great trip. It’s something of a bummer that we didn’t manage to get to a vista on St. Regis, but the bushwhack was lots of fun nonetheless. To be honest, I think I might prefer camping in the deep snow. It might be way harder to get around, but it feels a little bit more “magical” than when the snow is compacted and everything's easy.

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Old 01-31-2019, 01:29 PM   #2
snapper
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Great report and photos. It's always amazing how much longer it takes to travel when there's snow on the ground. Add slush, elevation, the amount on your back and any other number of variables and it leads to a great adventure. Glad you had one and were able to enjoy your time out.

That's all for now. Take care and until next time....be well.

snapper

PS - Do you mind sharing what skis you were using? Were they true backcountry skis?
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Old 01-31-2019, 01:49 PM   #3
arvinsmee
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Mine are Fischer Jupiter Control - they're made for groomed trails, not backcountry.
My buddy had some rentals, pretty sure they were backcountry, definitely had a metal edge.

Can't say if his skis were much more efficient, but I didn't have any trouble keeping up with him. Considering we only used the skis with packs on, we should have probably both gotten rentals sized for our weight +50 lbs. I feel like that would have made travel a little easier.
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Old 01-31-2019, 02:46 PM   #4
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Impressive effort. I made it to the skinny ponds ne of your final position two summers ago. Backcountry skis 90mm wide at the waist or better would have made your travel easier given the heavy packs you were carrying. Why not sleds at least on the flat sections?
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Old 01-31-2019, 03:08 PM   #5
arvinsmee
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We thought about sleds, but (correct me if I'm wrong) you can't really use those with skis. I got skis last year for Xmas, and living in DC, this annual trip is my one chance each year to put them to good use.
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Old 01-31-2019, 04:03 PM   #6
yardsale
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Sure you can, it's done all the time. You could probably rent sleds and appropriate skis locally rather than spending the big bucks for gear you use once a year.
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Old 01-31-2019, 04:20 PM   #7
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Love the sky shot. Beautiful.
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Old 01-31-2019, 04:22 PM   #8
arvinsmee
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Well, to be fair, I didn't ask for the skis, I just got them. I certainly wouldn't have spent that much on something I use so infrequently.

I figured the sled pulling on your back would completely negate any slide you could get out of the ski. And what do you do when you you encounter a downhill section? Dodge the sled once you reach the bottom?

Perhaps skis and packs weren't the most efficient method of transportation, but we wanted something fun yet predictable. I've skied with a 60 lb pack a few times. Not having used a sled before, I didn't think it wise to add that to the mix.

It's certainly something we've kept in mind though.
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Old 01-31-2019, 04:37 PM   #9
yardsale
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IMO, sleds lose their advantage as you move away from flat plains such as roads or frozen water. That said, one deals with gradual down hills with an attachment system that uses plastic poles rather than loose lines to tow the sled. Also, you can create a brake by making multiple knots in a looped line attached to the front of the sled. When you toss the line on the snow in front of the sled, the sled runs over it and it creates a drag which will slow the sled when heading down hill.
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Old 01-31-2019, 09:35 PM   #10
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Great trip report!!
And fantastic pics, you really captured the essence of a winter trek.
I'm gonna keep in mind that rock outcropping for the next time I'm at St Regis.
I did bushwhack from the pond to the summit back in '81 or '82, but I'm not in the same shape any more, so that outcropping would be an ideal goal.

Glad to hear that you both enjoyed the trip. Too bad you're so far from the ADK's...
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Old 02-01-2019, 07:40 AM   #11
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Yeah, with the proper setup, sleds can be used with skis. The key is to make sure that you run the rope through PVC pipe so that the sled doesn't catch up with you, and to cross the PVC pipes before clipping them on to your pack to keep the sled from trying to pass you on the downhills.

However, while sleds can add a significant advantage, the trick that I've learned is that in deep snow especially, they should not be used as a complete replacement for your pack. A heavy sled will bog you down just as much as a heavy pack on your shoulders. Rather, the sled should be used to supplement your pack- the ideal is to have perhaps a third of your gear by weight in a small sled, with the rest in the pack.

What tent were you using? It's possible that the tent doesn't vent well. And even with tents that do vent well, you're still going to get some level of condensation inside the tent overnight anyways.

Also, FWIW- I'd be super cautious in the future about using a 15 degree bag for Winter camping in the Adirondacks, even if you have a lighter bag to supplement it. -20 rated bags are more or less the standard for cold weather camping in the region.

Otherwise, nice photos and thanks for the write up. :-)
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Old 02-01-2019, 11:44 AM   #12
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Love the night sky photo - was that a DSLR or a phone camera app?

Great job working within your limits. Sure, the outcrop would have been nice but that was hind-site.

I have winter camped often now and really like it. Oddly enough though, never with deep snow/untrodden trails. Will have to look for it.
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Old 02-02-2019, 11:48 AM   #13
arvinsmee
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Stripper Guy - Agreed! Not sure if I'll ever get the chance, but I'd love to try again in the summer. The woods were nice and open and I'd expect it'd be an easy bushwhack without all that snow. It would get a little tough once the steep part of the climb begins, but it's not all that much elevation gain.

DSettahr - We were using my old REI Arete 3 person. They generally get good marks as a budget 3+ season tent. It has vents in the ceiling for airflow, but I'm wondering how well it preforms compared to other winter tents. Mine is pretty beat up after 8 years of use though and I was thinking of replacing it with a new tent that might vent better. Problem is all the winter tents I see are insanely expensive and way more hardcore than I need. I had my eyes on the Copper Spur Expedition 3 person - they were discounted as of last week, but it looks like they just sold out. In regards to the bags - I thought a lot about that going into the trip. I really would love a zero degree but can't justify the expenditure right now. But I've bivied with my 15 in 20 degrees was perfectly cozy, so I knew I'd be comfortable in the tent down to zero or even a bit below. I figured I'd get uncomfortable at around -15 and miserable at -25. Miserable is ok, especially when you're ~1.5 hrs from the car. If I was planning on camping in shelters in the HP I'd want a -20 for sure.

tenderfoot - Thanks! I used a Sony a6300 (mirrorless crop frame) with a 12mm f2.0 for the first shot and 8mm (fisheye) f2.8 for the second.
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Old 02-02-2019, 06:11 PM   #14
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Nice report and pictures,
Thanks,
Don
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Old 02-05-2019, 06:07 AM   #15
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I am sure others are being polite but the use of a 15 degree bag sent shivers (literally and figuratively) down my spine.

Sorry to sound critical but "Miserable at 25 below and "only" 1.5 hours away from the car"?

Madness.
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