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Mount Marcy, NY (5,344) - September 7 & 8, 2010

After the ferry ride, we stopped through Lake Placid for dinner. Mike Wilson had recommended we hit up Lake Placid Pub and Brewery. He played tennis at the courts across the street while he was on the high school team and highly recommended this place after falling in love with their beer (I am assuming long after he graduated high school) and food. It was agreat stop. After dinner our energy was restored and our spirits were high.We camped out at a trail head that allowed free parking and camping. I love it when National Park land is still free and open like this. It amazes me when some parks provide no primitive camping and charge $20-30 a night for camping.

Mount Marcy, the highest peak in the Adirondacks and in New York State, it is also one of only two 5000er in the entire range. The trail is long, wet, rough, and at times quite steep. It is also quite unique at times. There are interesting river crossings, boardwalks, walkways built out of sheer rock faces extending over lakes, and miles where you are just walking over tree roots. It is also home to some very severe weather wich we experienced full force. Our adventure began with a little bit of a sprinkle, but all in all decent weather.

After a goods night rest we hit the trail, which started as an old logging road up to an old damn. Needless to say this first hour was quite easy. We enjoyed a quick snack and rest before moving onto a wonderful twisting trail that wound its way through the woods and up to Avalanche Pass.

The climb become noticebly harder on the way up the pass, but would remain relatively flat but challenging the rest of the day. It is easy to see how the pass received its name, as a huge pile of timber lay at the base of a completely exposed rocky slope. The park rangers had done an excellent job of cutting a path through the jumbled mess. It was quite an interesting site to see.

We only passed one park ranger the entire hike. He stopped to talk to us for a while before enquiring to make sure that we had a bear canister. Did I mention there were lots of bears in the Aderondacks? I definitely wish I hadn't mentioned it to Stephenie. Not only was all this hiking new to her, but she definitely had never spent time sharing woods with bears. It was taking a little getting used to on her part, but more about that later.

After the pass we were treated to some really interesting rock scrambling around the lake. Thank goodness for those that came before us and built some amazing stairs and path ways. One of the most remarkable things about the hike was the diversity of stairs, paths, and bridges that must be traversed. One of the most interesting was built, according to Mike, when the old timers were sick of carying their girlfriends through the lake and buit a trail on a sheer rock face. Definitely a great story and a great walkway.

After a full day of hiking we finally arrived at camp. Not just any camp, but one of the best campsites I have stayed at. In fact the entire trip itenerary was changed to allow the best opportunity to get this particuarl campsite. I have to thank my good friend Mike Wilson for telling me about it. The Adirondacks are famous for there lean to's scattered throughout the park. These are three sided log cabins that offer good protection from the weather and a great view of the wilderness out one side.

Day 2: In the mountains it is always wise to get an alpine start.  On some mountains that could mean departure from camp as early as 1am.  For us, we were up an hour before dawn and crossing the dam at the south end of the lake well as the faintest traces of light began appearing behind the silhouette of the surrounding peaks. 

The trail retained its rugged charm from the day before.  Early on it was sloppy and muddy before beginning to climb alongside a beautiful creek.  At that point, the footing became a mix of rock and twisted tree routes.

We finally made it to the top of the pass in time for a lunch break.  The weather was foul and diminishing our spirits.  Tired and sore we tried to recover some energy for the push up the summit ridge.  Even with the bad weather, I was still impressed with the beautiful scenery and enjoying every minute of the climb.  

The trail up to the summit climbed steeply.  As the trees became shorter and much less dense, the weather continued to worsen.  High winds, light rain, and cold temperatures were combining into a demoralizing force.  As we neared the very edge of the tree line I gave Stephenie a quick pep talk and emphasized the importance to move quickly in and out of the high alpine.  The current weather conditions, although demoralizing, were not a danger.  Our goal was to get to the summit and back off before more serious weather such as thunderstorms set in.

As the trail disappeared into a monolith of exposed rock, although beautiful, became quite but slippery.  I longed for the distant views and scenery we experienced while climbing VT, but alas we were shrouded by a thick cloud allowing for visibility to less than 30 yards.  To make matters worse the wind was really howling at this point.  I led our way up this section looking over my shoulder every now and then to check on Stephenie.  With the wind howling at 60-80mph and the light rain pelting the hoods on our hard shell jackets turning into a light sleet, conversation was impossible.  Soon a crest was in sight and I started driving toward it at an ever quickening pace.  By now, the ends of the cinch strings on my jacket where whipping in the wind and striking me in the face at painful speeds.  At the crest I discovered a 3’ high rock ledge we could crouch behind and shelter from the wind.  Hooray!

I turned around, excited to share my discovery with Stephenie, but she was nowhere to be seen.  Concerned, I started running back down the mountain to find her.  In my haste to end the lashing of the wind, I had left her in whatever dust I might have generated in absence of the rain.  About 50 yards down the mountain I found her on hands and knees cowering from the brutal wind.  Initially, I thought she just needed encouragement so I shouted down to tell her about the shelter I had found.  Conversation was impossible at distances of more than just a few feet, so I descended further.  We each took a trekking pole in one hand and hugged each other with our free arm.  Acting as a team, we made our way up to the sheltered area.

Finally we could talk.  Steph was completely dejected by the weather.  She had actually been nearly blown off her feet and was too afraid to move.   We discussed our options.  We could turn back and enjoy the immediate escape from the conditions but face the disappointment of being so close to the summit without achieving it.  We could wait it out and hope the weather improved.  We could go for it.  The sleet had passed and the wind was not gusting quite as bad.  We decided we would act like a team and push upward toward our goal.

I put Stephenie on my downwind side and arm-in-arm, each of us with a trekking pole in our outer hands, we made our way to the summit.  The only problem, conditions were so bad we couldn’t really see anything around us.  We made it to what appeared to be the summit, but I couldn’t find an official marker.  It was clearly the highest point around, numerous signs demanded avoiding the roped off areas protecting the fagile plant life that lives on the summit.  With Stephenie taking a break I set off on my own further along the trail to explore and make sure.  After a hundred yards or so, it was obvious that the trail was losing altitude fast and dropping back down the ridgeline on the other side.  I returned to Stephenie convinced and grateful that we had made it to the top and could get the heck out of this weather.  Without much fanfare, we snapped a couple pictures and quickly descended back the way we came, using the same strategy we employed on the way up. 

The hike back to camp was not fun.  Stephenie’s spirits had completely bottomed out.  Morale was low.  The wind was no longer a factor below the tree line, but the weather was still pretty miserable.  If there is ever a test for a relationship, this kind of ordeal would push any relationship to the limit.  After a while, we finally passed the only two hikers we had seen all day.  A typical trail conversation, we spoke of where we were from, what are hiking plans were, and how beautiful the park was.  Finally the loneliness of our surroundings and the hostility of Mother Nature were being replaced by the warmth of human contact.  After a long snack break next to a beautiful cascading creek, that Stephenie’s mood started to improve. 

Morale had returned, but we weren’t out of the woods yet.  J  In fact we weren’t even to camp.  When we finally stumbled into camp wet and tired, it was time for another decision.  I laid out the options for Stephenie and gave her 100% of the vote on how to proceed.  We could take a 30min break, eat, rest, and begin a hike out.  The hike was mostly downhill, but rugged and strenuous.  If we decided on this option, it was likely the last hour of our hike would be in darkness, with nothing but our headlamps to light the way.  Option #2 was to stay at the lean to for another night.  We had enough food (you never go into the wilderness without extra food and water) to spend the night and hike out in the early morning.  Although this sounded great, it had consequences to the rest of our itinerary.  Basically we would arrive at our beautiful boutique hotel in Maine late in the evening with only enough time to sleep and check out in the morning.

That was not an option in Stephenie’s mind.  The hotel in Maine was the part of the trip she was looking forward to the most.  It would not be sacrificed.  We rested, ate, packed, and mentally prepared for the long hike out.

The hike out was mostly uneventful.  Stephenie was focused on the goal and suffered no more emotional challenges.  The scenery was beautiful and enjoyable just as it was on the way in.  We passed Avalanche Lake, then pass, then descended to a much wider, much less rugged trail.  The light was fading, but not presenting any major problems until we reached the campsites surrounding the lake.  Darkness had almost completely set in.  All of a sudden we heard some yelling.  We finally identified the location and spotted some guy off in the hazy twilight next to a lean to.  He was too far to understand and didn’t respond to any of our questions.  In fact, all of a sudden he just disappeared. 

Steph was freaking out and sprinting down the trail.  Either he had just been eaten by a bear or was a psychopath that was about to kill us.  Either way she was taking no chances and was literally sprinting down the trail.  I did my best to catch up to her and reassure her that neither of the two scenarios was likely.  I promised to keep a lookout over my shoulder to make sure, but that we couldn’t run the entire way down the mining road.  Exhausted and spooked myself, I did keep a keen lookout over my shoulder to make sure we weren’t being stalked as the trail twisted its way to the parking lot.

With Stephenie asleep at my side, I navigated through the dark, twisting roads of the Adirondacks, across a ferry, and back to Burlington.  I checked into a nice, hotel with a breakfast buffet and hot tub.  Both of which we enjoyed to the fullest the next morning before hitting the road to New Hampshire and Maine.

 

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Map of US HighPoints
KEY: States: Green - summited, Yellow - attempted, White - Not visited
Dots: Green - State Lowpoint, Red - State Highpoint

 

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