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Marcy March 11-13

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  • Marcy March 11-13

    Many trip reports that involve the Adirondack High Peaks, including accounts of my own solo treks, focus on the accomplishment of achieving a summit. We can sometimes extract much more from a hike if visiting a familiar place with friends, old or new, and seeing things from a fresh perspective. This is the story of one of those trips – a story of climbing “Marcy – the Hard Way”.

    PHOTOS by team members Manon P. and Andy U.
    http://tinyurl.com/MarcyMarch2011

    It began in January, as I planned a trip for my non-hiking friend Erin’s “bucket list”. I began to recruit other friends to accompany us on a 3 day backpack trip up and over New York State’s high point, Mount Marcy. Although most people summit Marcy as part of a long day hike with relatively light packs, we were going to carry full packs with all of our camping gear on a route that would take us past Indian Falls, over the summit, down to Four Corners, and back out by either Lake Arnold or Avalanche Lake.

    My preferred group size was 5 or 6, and I soon reached that goal. By the end of February, Erin had to bow out of the trip, but the rest of us were committed. The team consisted of my co-worker Andy, other local ADK members Jim and Manon, and fellow Winter 46er Lyle. Andy, the youngest member of the group at about 30, is a cross-country skier and a veteran hiker. Jim, the least experienced participant among us, wanted to learn camping skills and get some backpacking experience in the Adirondacks. Manon is an avid paddler, hiker, local SAR team member, and she also is an aspiring 46er. My friend, Lyle, moved from northern New York last year to work in balmy Mississippi; I think she missed all the snow and frigid temperatures of an Adirondack winter, and was amused at some southerner’s complaints of the “cold 50-degree” winter temperatures by the Gulf of Mexico. John was a late addition to the group – he is an ADK Winter Mountaineering instructor and veteran climber, including a successful ascent of Mount McKinley.

    Our travel plans were as diverse as the climbers – 2 of us carpooled from western New York to Lake Placid, 1 drove up the day before from Buffalo, 1 drove to his cabin in Speculator before joining us, John made the long drive to Lake Placid from New Jersey, and Lyle flew to Albany on Thursday, rented a car, and stayed in Lake Placid at “Tmax & Topo’s Hostel“ (the “Jackrabbit”), owned by my friends Terri and David. Finally, at Noon on Friday, all 6 of us met at the hostel and introductions were made, since nobody knew all 5 of the other hikers. Because of reports of flooding near Lake Colden earlier in the week, we decided in advance to not come out the scenic route via the Opalescent River, Lake Colden and Avalanche Pass, but would instead exit past Lake Arnold, a shorter and surer path.

    By 2PM, we were at the ADK Loj/HPIC and began our trip along the Van Hoevenberg trail. Earlier in the week, the region had received about 3 feet of snow, followed by warmer weather and rain. We had the “best of both worlds”, with a steady rain falling as we walked, and deep snow waiting for us at higher elevations. Though it wasn’t yet raining when we started, the soaking rain soon began. We were the first hikers up there (past Phelps) since the last snowfall a couple days before, and we alternated breaking trail in the wet snow. By the time we hiked 4 miles and reached the sign just before the Tabletop herd path proclaiming “No Camping Beyond This Point”, the rain had stopped and we were ready to make camp. We waded off trail through deep snow, pushing through the trees on the shoulder of “TR” Mountain for about 200 feet into the forest until we reached a narrow, nearly flat shelf where we could set up a row of five tents. We changed clothes, prepared our food, and slipped into our sleeping bags for a welcome interval of rest.

    Saturday was rain-free. We had a good breakfast, packed up all our gear, and finally (I’m slow in the morning) hit the high trail toward “Tahawus”. As we gained altitude above Indian Falls (no views of the MacIntyres), 2 hikers approached and passed us - it was our friends “Turkey Bob” and “Junior Turkey” on their way to Marcy as a day hike. The father & son turkeys forged ahead and took over the trail-breaking duties as we continued our slow walk up toward the top of New York. By the time we began to ascend the treeless zone toward the summit, other groups began to catch us. Our friends’ foot prints were mostly obscured by the wind before we got there, and locating the trail was difficult. A pair of hikers approached and asked if they could hike with us to the summit because they were unsure of the way. We welcomed them, but because we were continuing over the other side and not returning to Heart Lake that day, they wisely chose not to risk getting lost on the way back. Luckily, another group soon came along that was going their way, and everyone was able to summit in the cold, cloudy, and windy conditions. Of course, all of the day hikers were able to move faster than my band of backpackers, so before we reached the top, many of the people who passed us were already returning. Two of those hikers wore huge grins because they had just become Winter 46ers on “The Cloudsplitter”, and we all offered our congratulations to them and kept on climbing. We topped out in wind and cloud, as is often the case on an Adirondack mountaintop. A lone hiker offered to take our group photo for us, and we all posed by the Centennial plaque. The summit above that sheltered wall didn‘t exactly welcome us, but we took turns standing on the highest rock before seeking out the cairns that mark the way down the south face toward tree line and the trail junction called Four Corners.

    Descending in bitter cold and wind is challenge enough, but those of us who wear eyeglasses also have to deal with fogging and icing-over of lenses that results in obscured vision. I fell only once while above tree line, and watched as my friends began to disappear into the distant, icy haze while I retrieved my hat on the nearby slope. Thankfully, Andy waited so I could walk toward him instead of looking for the next cairn. While still on the summit, I had mentioned a previous experience there while hiking solo in winter. On that trip, I had difficulty locating the trail into the trees because the last cairn is far away and upslope from the first trail marker, so I told everyone to note the angle that the cairns pointed down the open rock, and continue that angle when searching for the trail.

    Once at tree line, that familiar challenge greeted us. We all searched for a path through the evergreens while having to wade in 3 feet of fresh snow. As we wandered around looking for a colored disc on a tree, John took out his i-phone and opened his “Topo App”, resulting in a beautiful large-screen GPS read-out that clearly showed the trail was very close to our location. We found the trail, waded, lost the trail, fell into a spruce trap or 2, and found the trail again for good. Breaking trail downhill in steep & deep snow isn’t too bad – it’s actually fun. We made our way down to the Four Corners intersection and were happy to see the tracks of other hikers who had climbed Skylight without venturing up to Marcy.

    Before embarking on the trip, we discussed whether we would want to grab Skylight and Gray as long as we were there. After two strenuous days on the trail, we decided that we didn’t want to, and continued down toward the Feldspar lean-to, hoping it would be empty. Lake Tear-of-the-Clouds was frozen, of course, covered in deep snow, and barely recognizable with Marcy’s towering presence obscured by cloud cover. We trudged on and were quite relieved to find the shelter empty and welcoming.

    We claimed our space and pulled out gear. I volunteered to plow the path back to the outhouse, and used John’s mountaineering shovel to dig out the door and make steps down about 4 feet from the snow surface to ground level. Back at the lean-to, being able to actually sit down on the wooden floor instead of having to kneel in the snow was a great feeling. Small comforts are magnified on a hike like that. Finally, it was my turn to change into dry clothes and fire up my Whisperlight to get some snow melted and water boiling. While I changed and warmed up inside my bag, my friends put some water on the stove for me. Dehydrated meals might not taste very good at home, but they seem like gourmet fare when devoured in an open shelter on a wintery evening after a big hike. Unlike the previous night when we were lined up in tents spread out over a wide area, we were now able to talk to everyone and share tales of adventure. After a good meal, we slept equally well.

    On our last day, we had a quick breakfast and hit the trail, knowing that we had to climb uphill to Lake Arnold before descending to Avalanche Camp and finally out past Marcy Dam. There were a couple groans on the climb out, but mostly relief that every step brought us a bit closer to the trailhead. The miles went by quickly as we walked over familiar footbridges, past brooks, and over the old wooden dam.

    Spending good quality time with friends and meeting new people in such a beautiful mountain setting makes the experience that much more enjoyable. Even though that was perhaps my 7th time on the mountain (maybe even 8 or 9), I probably felt as good as the 3 hikers in my party who were up there for the very first time, because there is a keen sense of accomplishment in doing something “the hard way”.

    L-R: John, me, Andy, Manon, Jim, and Lyle's right arm
    Last edited by ALGonquin Bob; 04-20-2011, 09:59 PM.
    "It's a beautiful day!" - Fellow hiker Shin Murnane's (5785W) last words at Marcy Dam 3/28/09
    46er #5357W
    Check out my "MOUNTAIN BLOG" http://bvanhise.blogspot.com/ AND ALGonquin Bob's Paddle Guide

  • #2
    It has been brought to my attention that I left out the post-hike part of the trip. After we all returned to the hostel and changed clothes, a few of us went out for a celebratory beverage and dinner at the Lake Placid Pub & Brewery. A loud clinking of sturdy beer mugs filled with some fine local brew, and a rousing toast to "Marcy the hard way" preceded a hearty meal. It was just what we needed after 3 tough days on the trail.
    "It's a beautiful day!" - Fellow hiker Shin Murnane's (5785W) last words at Marcy Dam 3/28/09
    46er #5357W
    Check out my "MOUNTAIN BLOG" http://bvanhise.blogspot.com/ AND ALGonquin Bob's Paddle Guide

    Comment


    • #3
      Nice trip report. I was up there a couple of days after you, but never had a chance to finish writing my report. Since you just posted yours, maybe I should finish and post mine.

      Comment


      • #4
        Hey Bob- i'm in Tonawnada as well--- keep me in mind as you plan future trips if you are looking to fill up your group! Haven't done any overnights yet, but would like to get into that this year....
        I AM A 46R. 5 winters.

        Comment


        • #5
          DSettahr - You should definitely write that; it's always good to read about someone's adventures, and maybe a different perspective of a similar trip.

          joelenhard - Shoot me a PM; maybe we can meet over some local Buffalo brew!
          "It's a beautiful day!" - Fellow hiker Shin Murnane's (5785W) last words at Marcy Dam 3/28/09
          46er #5357W
          Check out my "MOUNTAIN BLOG" http://bvanhise.blogspot.com/ AND ALGonquin Bob's Paddle Guide

          Comment


          • #6
            I can vouch for Bob and his hardy band of backpackers. I encountered them south of Lake Arnold when I was going to Redfield/Cliff for a day trip and they were coming out. Doing so, we broke trail for one another!

            But no one broke trail for me to Redfield/Cliff. Just lucky, I guess....

            Comment

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