Getting Up New York’s Highest Mountain
Ok, it’s not climbing, it’s more like hike-climbing. There is a trail that leads to Mount Marcy in the Adirondacks, in New York and once you start moving up in elevation it gets dicey as in some areas you have to traverse over rocks and boulders to get to the top. Not that it is a difficult hike but it will certainly be a very long day to hike up and back down the mountain.
Mount Marcy is the tallest peak in the Adirondacks and the second tallest mountain in the Northeast. Mount Washington in New Hampshire is the tallest at 6,288 feet. At 5343 feet Mt. Marcy is the tallest of the 46 mountains in the Adirondack Region. Yes, that’s a lot of mountains to climb. Driving into the area is a cinch but get there early as parking at the Adirondack Loj is getting harder all the time. I began my hike through the trails early in the morning as it takes up to seven hours to get to the top depending on your pace. The trail begins in very flat terrain and as you begin to go up in elevation there are several areas where you will see rocks and boulders in front of you that you will have to scramble over. That is perhaps the most arduous part until you get to the higher elevations where a little lite hand climbing will be involved.
There are normally plenty of hikers ascending the mountain, particularly during the summer months. In the winter, only the bold ascend the snowy mountain wearing snow shoes, poles, and crampons. Many hikers stay at the Adirondack Loj, a lodge at the head of the trail leading to Mount Marcy. The lodge is a mix of hotel and base of operations for hikers, climbers, and campers in the region. The Loj is operated by the Adirondack Mountain Club, a group that has been at the center of recreational activities in the park for decades.
The hike up the mountain is 7.4 miles each way from the Loj on the Von Hoevenberg Trail. That’s just one approach and it is the shortest but there are three others. But don’t be fooled, the way to the summit is riddled with rock scramble that will involve picking up your legs over and over as you traverse the trail. This will make it a moderately difficult hike that while not technically challenging will leave the less fit among us more than a little tired. The steep areas come every so often and make the trail much more arduous than your standard hike. There are numerous areas where you will come across water either on the trail or adjacent to it. Colden Lake is one of those water bodies you can appreciate as is the rushing water flowing down the mountain through its rivers, creeks, and streams. Phelps and Marcy Brook as well as Indian Falls offer some selfie opportunities so have your phone ready. You can also see Mount Colden, Avalanche Mountain, and Wrights Peak from the trails. Sometimes it gets confusing, and it is enough for you to question your map reading skills. You will often be looking for trail markers to confirm your whereabouts. But not to worry keep going eventually you will run into someone that will tell you that it is just ahead about two miles. You don’t know how many times someone told us it was two miles to our next turn. Those were the longest two miles we’ve ever seen.
The approach to the peak has what we called a false peak. Just before you get to the summit there is a plateau that makes you feel that you’ve arrived, especially if you are in heavy fog. But you actually have to keep going another few minutes before you get to the summit. The views are spectacular. On a clear day, you can see for miles across the landscape. Mount Marcy is a challenging mountain to get to and it should be as its varied terrain requires you to change your techniques over and over. I have heard some folks say that it is a moderate ascension on a trail. That is true depending on what kind of shape you are in. Those with physical ailments should monitor their condition periodically during the ascent. If you feel discomfort or pain, turn around and head back. During our ascent, we had someone that had a hip replacement and although he felt discomfort he continued to the top. After he developed pain, it took nearly 21 hours for him to finish the hike. Putting him and others in the sights of bears and other animals that you could see on the trail during the late night hours.
Yes, you could see bears. Just two weeks before we got to the mountain, a woman had been badgered by a black bear along the trail. She turned out fine but know that spotting a bear during your hike is possible but rare. Ascending Mount Marcy is a wonderful way to spend a day. Just pick a good, clear day and be prepared with a water filter, food, and night equipment. A backpacking tent would be a good idea if you think you may have to spend the night. To the adventurous, I say get after it. To those contemplating the first climb, this is it. Of course, you could always try Algonquin or one of the other smaller 45 mountains in the Adirondacks. But why not start with the tallest? Safe trails…