- Friday and Saturday, Before Mount Marcy
- Sunday, Mount Marcy
- Monday to Thursday, After Mount Marcy
- Summing It Up
In the spring of 2003 I very much enjoyed a trip to the Berkshires, climbing the highpoints of Massachusetts and of Connecticut, as well as four county highpoints, three of them in New York State. In 2004 I decided to do a similar trip, climbing Mount Marcy, the New York State highpoint, as well as a few other county highpoints.
Under normal conditions I would have considered the Mount Marcy trip, a 15 miles round trip with only 3,300 feet of elevation gain, fairly routine. But back problems over the previous 18 months had kept me from exercising at anything like my normal level, and at my age (67) fitness is lost fast and regained slowly . So I checked my readiness for that trip by doing a similar one close to home, taking the Crawford Path to Lakes of the Clouds Hut, about 14 miles (round trip) with 3,800 feet of elevation gain. As expected I took a long time, but had no real difficulty doing the trip, and hoped (and expected) to do equally well on Mount Marcy.
On Friday, August 20th, I left New Hampshire, crossed Vermont on Rt 4, and entered New York State on that road. I then went north along Rt 22 for a few miles, before turning west on the road to the Black Mountain trailhead. I reached the trailhead at about 11:30 AM and hiked up Black Mountain, the highpoint of Washington County.
The hike took me about three hours, so by 2:30 I was back in my car for the rest of the drive to the High Peaks area. From Keene I drove a few miles north on Rt 9N to the Adirondack Ark Motel (518-946-2276), which had been recommended by friends. It was just what I wanted, cheap ($39 per night single, $45 double), with TV, a fridge, microwave, toaster and coffee maker. My reservation was for the weekend plus an unspecified number of mid-week days; my plan was to stay until Wednesday or Thursday, depending on the weather and how I felt.
The weather forecast for Saturday was rain in the morning followed by afternoon clearing and beautiful weather on Sunday. I decided to take the day off, and spent it doing touristy things in Lake Placid.
On Sunday I woke up early, made breakfast in my room, and left the motel a bit after 7 AM. I was taking the classic Van Hoevenberg Trail, but with a twist. Instead of parking at the Adirondack Loj I had been advised to take the unpaved road to South Meadow, park at the gate, and from there hike on the now abandoned road to Marcy Dam. The TopoZone map shows the paved road to Heart Lake (Adirondack Loj) and unpaved (solid black, marked "RESTRICTED" further south) road going to Marcy Dam. While the road is 0.3 miles longer than the trail I expected the greater ease of walking on it to more than compensate for the extra distance.
The morning was cool, my car thermometer registered about 45° at the trailhead. I started hiking a few minutes before 8 AM with my fleece hat, gloves and jacket, plus Goretex long pants over my shorts. The walk along the road was pleasant, I did not really notice the ups and downs at this stage. Walking warmed me up, after a few minutes I was hiking with nothing over my shorts and t-shirt.
In about 2½ miles I reached Marcy Dam, with the first views of the day; the lake in the foreground with Mounts Colden and Algonquin in the background.
After enjoying the view I started up the trail proper. The next section of the trail follows Phelps Brook at a gentle grade, crossing it twice. Since it had been raining quite often in the previous few days I decided to take the high-water route, crossing Phelps Brook on a log bridge and following the brook to where the main trail crosses it, unbridged. After about a mile the trail recrosses the brook, this time on a bridge.
Beyond that bridge the trail has several moderately steep sections, which alternate with gentler ones, so the overall level of effort is never great. About a mile beyond the second crossing of Phelps Brook the trail crosses Marcy Brook, just above Indian Falls. The view from above the falls is outstanding: the entire MacIntyre Range is seen broadside, with majestic Algonquin (the second highest Adirondack Peak) in the center, and Colden in the foreground. The view of the mountains was so wonderful that I never ventured to the edge of the falls to look at them!
Beyond Indian Falls the trail continued for another couple of miles with alternating gentle and moderate slopes, and after a mile views of Mount Marcy started to appear. The final ¾ of a mile was steeper, with the last section going up bare rock above the trees.
The views from the summit were spectacular, but as on Mount Elbert I was surrounded by a sea of unfamiliar summits. Still, with a map and asking other summitteers, I was able to identify several peaks. Mount Colden and the MacIntyre Range were by now old friends, and Haystack Mountain was obvious across Panther Gorge. From Haystack the Great Range went north, and beyond it Giant was fairly obvious.
I had reached the summit in about five hours, and stayed there for about half an hour. On the way back my legs felt the miles they had trudged, and on the final walk along the old road they complained at each of the several small rises. I returned to my car a bit after 5 PM, having taken roughly 9½ hours total time. A long day, tiring but very satisfying!
On Monday I took a second rest day, spent mainly in Lake Placid. I walked around Mirror Lake, then spent a frustrating hour in the village shopping area looking for a Mount Marcy t-shirt. Lake Placid is clearly not a mountaineering village; while there is an immense choice of t-shirts I could find no Mount Marcy ones. That evening a spell of rainy weather moved in, but the weatherman promised that it would be gone by next day.
As promised, the sky was clear on Tuesday morning as I drove north to Lyon Mountain, the highpoint of Clinton County. The summit is a large bouldery area, with rocks interspersed with trees, and has excellent views in all directions. There were also excellent views of the Green Mountains from I87, but attempting to identify distant peaks while driving is not a good idea!
On Wednesday I planned to go south and hike Gore Mountain, the highpoint of Warren County. It is possible to hike up the ski slopes, or even take the gondola (operated in summer for mountain bikers) most of the way up. While I am willing to hike up ski slopes in winter I avoid them, when possible, in summer. So I decided to take the Schaefer Trail from the old Ski Bowl area. I failed to find the start of the trail in the maze of old ski and current snowmobile trails, so I explored some of the ski trails, and found lots of blackberries along the sides of that trail. I will return with better directions!
In compensation, on the way back to Keene I found a Mount Marcy t-shirt at The Mountaineer in Keene Valley.
I had initially thought that I might do a hike on the way back, which would have been Snowy Mountain, the highpoint of Hamilton County. By the time Thursday came I felt that I had done enough hiking, and decided to drive straight home. According to the trip odometer I had done 870 miles on the trip.
All in all I enjoyed the trip very much. It was my first trip to the Adirondacks, I hope to be back to visit many of the other peaks that I saw. I also hope to return this winter to "really" bag Mount Marcy! (I did return, as hoped, and bagged Mount Marcy in the winter of 2005.)
I only got three of the five peaks I had been hoping to get. I view that more as an excuse to revisit the southern Adirondacks than as a failure!