Climbing Mt Marcy – Reaching the Peak
It was now about 10:30 AM and I had been on the trail for about 2 hours and had reached the bridge above the Phelps Mountain junction. As I headed up the next section of the trail, it was not long before I would meet the snow and slush-covered portion of the trail that others had warned me about.
As the snow on the hillsides above was melting rapidly in the warm air, the resultant water was rushing down the hillside and often right down the trail. This created a mixture of snow, slush and water which was not only slippery but also very tough to walk through. Although there were signs of Spring, the mess under foot left little time to enjoy those signs.
It is definitely not a good sign when the trail marker is attached to a downed tree but, at this point, the trail was still pretty easy to see so the marker wasn’t essential.
With each step forward and higher up the hillside, the snow got deeper and generally wetter. My feet also got wetter each time that I had to step in a puddle deeper than my boot tops and, boy, was that ice cold water ever refreshing! In the winter, when I was last on this trail, my snowshoes would hold me above the substantial snow pack but, now, as I walked along, sometimes my feet would stay on top of the snow, other times both feet would sink in and still yet, other times, one would sink and one wouldn’t – a slow and difficult style of walking to say the least.
At this point in time, I was still about three miles from the peak and already my speed had slowed to a snail’s pace and I was getting rather tired of the tough walking conditions. Unfortunately, the worse conditions were yet to come but, thankfully, there was no wading through streams required, just a bit of balancing on logs across rushing water.!
This sign didn’t make me a feel a lot better. I thought that I had made a great deal better progress than just 2.0 miles from the Marcy Dam. A felt like stopping but trudged on through the snow and slush! I just kept thinking that, when I got to the top, the trip back to the tent would be so much easier being as it was mostly downhill from the peak.
Eventually, I reached an opening in the woods and could spend a bit of time getting my breath and enjoying the fruits of my labor. So far, I had had met one fellow coming down from the peak and a young couple who had passed me in the woods were now ahead of me and were on their way to the peak. Not many humans on the trail today. No surprise!
Although it was nice to be able to look out and see the many peaks that were now at my elevation or lower, looking out in the other direction wasn’t so nice, since the peak of Marcy was still quite a bit higher and I knew, from past experience, that I still had quite a bit of a challenge ahead of me and the clock was clicking faster all the time.
Since the slow/slush/water combination in the trail was now knee deep or deeper in most places, it was time to put the camera in the knapsack and use the last of my energy and both of my hiking pools to keep trudging on. Shortly after, another hiker came up from behind and, after some brief discussion about the wonderful hiking conditions, passed by and trudged on ahead of me. In the distance, I could see that Whiteface Mountain had a good amount of snow at its peak and, closer in, Cascades Mountain was likewise wearing a crown of white. I had heard that those climbing Cascades the day before had found it to be a wet, muddy challenge. Somehow, at this point in my climb I had very little empathy for them. At least my trail wasn’t muddy, I guess!
When I climbed up to this point on snowshoes on an earlier trip, the wind was howling, visibility was near zero, and this sign post was just barely visible poking its top out above a snow drift. On that occasion, the windchill was likely close to -50F and I turned back downhill, unable to see a trail ahead and not wanting to accidentally tumble off some cliff edge. This time around, the temperature was well above freezing, only a gentle breeze was blowing and I was determined to drag my tired body to the top.
It was definitely a tough climb for me and I had taken over 8 hours to make the peak. Certainly more than I had originally planned for and I knew that I was really tired at this point in the journey. As I looked back down the trail, I knew that I wouldn’t have much time to enjoy the view before slip-sliding back down into the slush below and trying to get as close as I could to the LOJ and trailhead before darkness set in.
A few shots of the view from the peak at 5PM on a Tuesday evening – May 28, 2013.
At 1544ft (1679 m), Mt Marcy is the highest point in New York State and standing there on that peak was a great feeling. I guess my next challenge should be Algonquin which at 5114 ft (1559 m) is the second highest in the Adirondacks.
I was all alone up on the peak except for a trio of Juncos who were searching for tidbits of food among the rocks and snow banks. Most of the snow that had fallen two days earlier had melted off the peak and some of the melt waters were still waiting for me to find them on my trip back to the parking lot :-).
Heading down again.
The temperature was falling and the wind was beginning to pick up a bit as I was leaving the open rocks at the peak. I was certainly happy to be back into the shelter of the forest that surrounded the trail. The snow in this part of the trail was still deep, the slush was still a frustrating and slippery covering for hidden rocks and the water coming into the boots was still ice cold, but my focus now was on getting as far away from the peak a I could get before the sun disappeared and darkness made seeing the trail by head lamp a bit hit-and-miss and made every step on slippery rocks a bit of a challenge. It was time to put the camera in the pack and move a quickly as I could. Four hours later, darkness caught up with me near the Phelps Mtn Junction but at least I was away from the snow and the slush before dark.
The next day, as I was driving home, I once again encountered an Amish buggy moving at its determined pace from point A to point B. The day before, I, too, had made it from Point A to Point B in a determined effort that left me exhausted but happy and satisfied.