Sept 12, 2004

Home Private: Forums New York-Mount Marcy Sept 12, 2004

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      [Ed: Imported from Americas Roof ‘Summit Trip Reports’ forum]
      [By: StevenMW on September 27 2004 at 2:23 PM]

      September 11-13, 2004


      This trip would allow the last chance to attempt a significant high point before the hiking season in many states would come to an end. The choice was made to attempt the Adirondack mountain known as Mt. Marcy. On September 11, 3 years after the terrorist attacks, I boarded an American Airlines flight to Chicago and connected to Albany, New York. I could see the skyline of Chicago, Lake Michigan, Lake Erie, Buffalo and Niagara Falls, the Finger Lakes, and finally the hills around Albany as the plane landed. I rented a car and drove north on I-87 towards the Adirondack State Park, which contains millions of acres of mountains and forestland. The New York State Constitution has a “forever wild” clause that protects these lands. It was getting dark as I approached the Adirondack Loj. Here, I would stay in the bunkroom before getting up early to make my attempt on New York’s highest mountain. The lodge was set up by Heart Lake in a very scenic area of the High Peaks Region. I bunked in a lower bunk named “Colden” and set my alarm watch for an early wake up time to prepare for the long hike.

      September 12, 2004

      The Ascent

      At 5AM, I got up and prepared to hike the 14-15 miles necessary to make the round trip between the cozy lodge and Mt. Marcy. Strapped to my head was the headlamp that would serve as a guide for the first 2 miles in. This part of the hike required great care in looking for bears since they are active near campgrounds. In the dark, it always seems like every big rock or tree stump looks like a bear. The first two miles were fairly easy. Here, the trail was mostly dry and was in good shape. As dawn approached, I reached Marcy Dam and the campgrounds there. Many bags of food were strung out over the dam on lines in order to keep them away from bears. Now that it was light enough outside, I did not worry so much about bears. Across the small lake was a view of some nearby high peaks. It was now time to continue deeper into the woods. The trail alternated between mud, rocks, root mass, and wooden planks as it followed a stream to higher ground. It took another 2 miles with a couple of stream crossings to reach Indian Falls. The trail was above the waterfall, so it would have been difficult to see the falls in its entirety without climbing down at that stage. I decided that my energy should be saved for lie ahead. Just past Indian Falls, I met and hiked with an older gentleman from the Philadelphia area who had also come for a weekend retreat. When we reached 4,000 ft., he said we only had the height of the Empire State Building left in the hike. Somehow, this did not seem too encouraging. Further up was the first real view of Mt. Marcy. Clouds would sometimes swirl around its rocky top, and I could see the many boulders on its upper slopes that we would soon encounter. The toughest part of the climb was on its way.

      The Cloudsplitter

      The Native Americans referred to this high peak as the “Cloudsplitter” due to its height. We continued to an area where it was best to use hands and feet to maneuver around the areas of bare and sometimes slippery wet rock. There was a small marshy area with wood planks. When we stepped on these, water came out from all sides. It was almost like walking on a raft in some kind of a swamp. Further up, yellow blazes on the rocks marked the path that we must take to avoid stepping on the fragile plant life. As the trees got shorter, the views of the high peaks became better. Eventually, the trees were waist high, and then they were gone. Now, we were in the Alpine Zone. The rocks finally leveled out after some minor scrambling, and then I realized that we had just climbed all of the way to the top of New York. All around were the misty peaks of the Adirondacks. The wind picked up, and I had to put my wool cap back on for better comfort. Only a few people were on top at this time. One of them was a state park steward, whose job was to remain on top of the mountain and educate people about the fragile plant life found up here. Everyone would be instructed not to step on any vegetation. I asked the steward where Lake Tear of the Clouds was. He told me it would be visible to the South-Southwest about 100 feet down the other direction. I walked to that lookout point in order to view the small lake. This was the highest source of water for the Hudson River. Also, Theodore Roosevelt had been camping there when he was told President McKinley was dying. Roosevelt learned that he would be the next President of the United States. So, I suppose that little pond was significant in at least a couple of ways and was worth the look. Climbing back up to the summit, I rested before contemplating the descent. The mountain alternated between clouds and sunshine. When the clouds came in, they were right at the level of the summit.

      The Descent

      Often, downclimbing can be just as difficult as climbing upwards. In my search for one more good climb this year, I realized that I have picked a good fight in this hike. Mt. Marcy’s greatest challenges are the length of the trail and the condition of the trail. A lot of energy is exerted by having carefully plan each step downward. Slippery rock was present in many places. Several times, my shoe would plunge through the mud and reemerge as a black messy hiking boot. A lot of the wooden planks barely reached the surface of water on the trail. Also, rocks from the size of a fist and larger stuck out of the trail. Planks, squishy mud, tree roots, and slippery abundant rocks made the descent very long indeed. It would not be an easy five miles back to Marcy Dam. Fortunately, the bugs were mostly not present. The trail had a few stream crossings to make as it worked its way down. All along the way, the weather held up. I was lucky since this region receives a lot of rain. Except for the final section near the summit of Mt. Marcy, the entire 7 mile stretch of the Van Hoevenberg trail is in a dense forest. The pines all along the way give the place a smell of a Christmas tree lot. It was not quite autumn yet, so most of the leaves were not quite changing. This was a very quiet place. Even the sound of birds was somewhat of a rarity. Most of the sounds heard were the streams and the wind at the higher altitudes. Soon, the Adirondacks would turn many colors in autumn. Not long after that, the snow will come and transform this place into a wintry wilderness. Late in the afternoon, I arrived back at the Adirondack Loj and checked out. After one stop at McDonalds at Glens Falls, it was straight to the hotel near the Albany airport to rest. 15 miles of any kind is a good hike, however 15 miles of elevation gain and trail challenges is assuredly what makes Mt. Marcy one of the most difficult of the eastern high points. By far, this big introduction to the High Peaks of the Adirondacks was worth it. The scenery along the trail would likely be a surprise to people who only associate New York with a very big city. I wished this hike had been done several years ago, when some of my Navy buddies and I were looking for a weekend adventure. It would have probably killed Scott, but Jim Warren and Jon O’Dell might have been fair game for this. Frank would probably have wanted to find some other way to get into trouble—something he was so good at. Who knows what they may have thought of the hike, but it would certainly have been a nice change from being in a stuffy nuclear power plant. Thankfully, there had been a chance to return and take that shot at the mountain. Finally, I reached the top of the Empire State, and certainly this does not refer to the top of a building.

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