August 2, 2012 – Marcy

Peak Data

#
Peak
Elevation (ft)
Rank
6
Marcy
5344
1

Hike Stats

Start Time
6:45 AM
Finish Time
2:33 PM
Hiking Time
7:48:16
Distance
14.6 Mi

4:15 AM: The day starts early after a very poor nights sleep with last minute food preparations of coffee, endurance drinks, and egg bagels for breakfast. Rich and I pack the car and make an on-time departure.

5:00 AM: The road is empty but with patches of heavy fog. Rich drives and I play music on his iPhone to get us pumped up for the trek ahead. We see a few deer on the road which winds us up through Blue Mountain, Long Lake, Tupper Lake, Saranac, and Lake Placid to the trail head at the Adirondack Loj.

6:45 AM: We sign in and hit the trail. A few other groups are ahead of us, but Rich and I set a swift pace and soon pass most of them. We cross the bridge at mile 0.5, take the left at the Marcy/Algonquin trail split at mile 0.9, and head towards Marcy dam.

7:30 AM: Mile 2.1. Arrive at what remains of Marcy Dam. Hurricane Irene took out the dam last December, including the bridge which crossed the lake behind it. The lake is now mud flats with a stream and some shallow pools. The stream flows freely over the dams remains to the brook below. Rich and I pause here to take off our pants legs and outer shirts. We take some photos of the devastation and speak to two guys who say they are part of a church group that’s been camping for the past 12 days, and have climbed 22 peaks. They smell like they are telling the truth.

100_8587
Me and the mud flats – what remained of Marcy Lake behind the former Marcy Dam.

7:35 AM: We set off again across the new bridge below the old dam, come back upstream past the tenting sites, and find the trail sign at the split between Phelps trail and Avalanche Pass. Phelps heads to Marcy, which is 5.0 miles distant, and the path we take.

8:30 AM: Two miles further on, after fording Phelps brook once by rock and a second time by bridge, and after passing a trail to the supposedly trail-less Tabletop Mountain, we reach a turn off to Indian Falls. We decide to take a look and are richly rewarded. About 25 yards down, the trail opens to a flat rocky area that is the top of the falls. The water is very low so most of the steam bed is dry, allowing us to walk up to the edge of the falls. From there we have a fantastic view of Wright, Algonquin, and Iroquois Mountains, perfectly framed in the distance. It’s amazing to see the exact 3 peaks we climbed last year set before us. We get some photos, take a packs-off break, and have a few bites of trail mix before setting back off.

100_8590
Rich checking the view from Indian Falls – Iroquois, Algonquin, and Wright peaks.

As we get underway, right ahead of us is an older, but very fit hiker. His left calf appears to have either lost a part of it, or had a bone break that didn’t set correctly. His is also wearing 2 knee braces. He offers to let us pass, which we do, but about a mile on when we stop for a break he passes us by and out distances us the rest of the way.

9:30 AM: 6.1 miles. Junction of Hopkins Trail. Here we see a sign that we have come 1.8 miles from Indian Falls. The trail has grown steadily steeper along this way and more rocky. More boulders to go up and over, and fewer flat stretches. The sign post also indicates 1.2 miles more to Marcy.
We set off again, crossing many marshy areas that are wide, but passable only on planks, rocks, and sticks. The trail then becomes narrow through scrub brush as we have now left the tall tree line. Half a mile along we come to the Slant Rock Trail junction, and the sign let’s us know only 0.7 mi to go. The yellow blazes on rocks begin about now as there are no more trees. Soon the short brush gives out as well, and its all steep rock climbing. About 1/2 a mile from the top we see the hiker with the knee braces summiting Marcy ahead of us. Impressive. we press on, more slowly now, pausing about every 100 yards or so as the climbing is becoming strenuous.

10:30 AM: 7.3 miles. Summit of Marcy. We reach the summit plaque, take our photos, and then climb up to the highest point. Success! We have reached high peak #6 for us, and the highest point in NY state. One other young guy is here and he is soon joined by a companion. They are camping down in the Ausable Lake area, but are from Washington DC.
Rich and I stop here to eat our lunch. Surprisingly, I’m not very hungry so only eat half. The air is colder and windy so we put back on our long-sleeve shirts, get some additional photos, but only spend 20 minutes on top taking in the view. The view is spectacular. The sky is clear except for clouds rising from behind some of the mountains below us. We can see far to the East past Haystack and Little Marcy to Nippletop and maybe to the Giant Mountain Wilderness. To the west are Mount Colden and again Wright, Algonquin, and Iroquois. To the north is Lake Placid.

100_8596
This time from Mount Marcy – Colden in the foreground, Iroquois, Algonquin and Wright behind.

10:50 AM: We set off back down, making a slow decent to keep our footing on the steep rock. We pass a few groups coming up and encourage them with reports of the remaining distance. Rich spots some blue-purple flowers we haven’t seen anywhere else and takes a photo. He also takes one of the largest of the cairn.
We take few stops on the way down, passing again the Slant Rock and Hopkins junctions. At Hopkins we note that one of the marked destinations is 16 miles distant. Can’t imagine walking that far at this point. Luckily our next planned stop is only 1.8 miles more.

12:15 PM: 10.3 miles. Back at Indian Falls. Rich suggests a break to cool our feet. I readily agree. We head back out on the flat rock surface, find a shallow pool and pull off our boots and socks. The ice-cold water feels like heaven! We end up not just soaking our feet, but also washing the mud from our legs and arms, splashing our faces and the backs of our necks. We get some good calf stretching in, and mix up some Gator Aid. It’s a very refreshing stop and we spend about as long here as on the Summit. After a time we set out again for Marcy Dam.
We continue our climb down rocky steps and boulder covered trails, across Phelps Brook a couple more times, and remark that this part of the trail seems steeper coming down then we remembered it coming up. That is what fatigue will do to you.
We take in some wild life on this stretch, including two toads, one common and the other with an orange tinge. We also see two chipmunks, the second of which was quite curious and came to within 3 inches of my toes when I flinched and the movement scared him off.

1:45 PM: 12.5 Miles. Back at the dam we take a quick peak at the camp sites, hoping to see what the lean-toos are like. We see only tents however, so cross back over the bridge and press on.

2:33:16 PM: 14.6 miles. I sign us out at the parking lot and we are in amazement at how soon we are back. 7 hrs, 48 min, 16 sec. Nearly 45 minutes faster then we covered 11.6 miles last year. And while our legs and feet are very sore, we don’t yet feel the exhaustion. Back at the car we ditch our packs, boots, and socks, grab our “after” foot wear (sneakers for Rich, flip-flops for me), grab our change of clothes, and head into the visitor center. After changing, we browsed the shop a bit but decide not to get anything.

3:00 PM: We set off with me at the wheel. We still can’t get a cell-phone signal from the parking lot, so can’t check in. We haven’t had a signal all day. We figured the Marcy trail is just too far from Lake Placid.

3:10 PM: Heading past town we are finally able to make a call and find out from Dad that Erin and Kristen have taken the boys tubing down the Hudson, and plan on eating out. We try reaching them a few times, but only get some out-of-sync texts through due to spotty coverage along our way home.

5:00 PM: We pull into the driveway in Indian Lake. Dad is out fishing but mom and the dogs are there to great us. She is amazed at our early arrival, exactly 12 hours after we left. After unpacking the car, and our packs, we get cleaned up to go out to dinner.

6:00 PM: The women and boys get back just as we are about to depart. We trade very quick recaps of our days, then Mom, Dad, Rich ,and I head out to Switfty’s, a new Irish bar in town, for dinner. Rich and I both get the post hike stakes, and share stories and pictures from the trail. We repeat the stories when we get back home, and take some well deserved feet-up time the rest of the evening. It was a full and rewarding day.

 

Lessons From Year 3

1. Never let age or disability serve as an excuse for living a full life and chasing your dreams. The hiker we encountered, despite a deformed leg and probably 2 bad knees still out-paced two able bodied and pretty fit guys in their 40’s. His memory will always be an inspiration to keep hiking and enjoying the outdoors no mater what life throws at me.

2. Plan time for breaks and refreshment. Our two stops at Indian Falls really energized the rest of our hike. They probably had a lot to do with how quickly we finished. A dip in cold water would become part of our hiking tradition when ever possible from then on. Much of what we want to do and accomplish requires endurance, time to recharge is essential to keep going for the long haul.

 

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July 13, 2011 – Wright, Iroquois, & Algonquin

Peak Data

#
Peak
Elevation (ft)
Rank
3
Wright
4580
16
4
Iroquois
4840
8
5
Algonquin
5114
2

Hike Stats

Start Time
7:00 AM
Finish Time
3:30 PM
Hiking Time
8.5 hrs
Distance
11.5 Mi

 

5:00 AM: Rich and I are up and out again for an extra early start on our 3 peak, 11.6 mile assault. We’ve both been training hard this past spring doing P90X and are in top physical condition. We’ve got new packs, better gear, and feel very ready for the challenge. We’ve also packed a lot of food since we are anticipating a long day. Our path will take us about 4.5 miles to the peak of Wright Mt., back down, up and over Iroquois, the 2nd highest peak, across 2 smaller peaks, and up Algonquin. We must then make a 5 mile return, again over the 2 small peaks and Iroquois. We anticipate and have allowed for an 11.5 hour trip.

7:00 AM: Hit the trail from the parking lot at the Adirondack Loj. It’s our first time at the site that is truly the hub of the High Peaks Wilderness. The parking lot is actually at the visitors center, not the Loj itself.

After signing in the log book, we head out to what for the first 2 miles is a relatively flat trail. We pass through a grove of amazing towering pines where we take a few pictures, and across some small streams. At about 2.2 miles we pass a waterfall and again get some nice pictures.

100_0502

Past this point the trail begins to ascend more steeply, with rock steps and a few scrambles. At mile 2.9 we veer left from the Algonquin trail on to the Wright Peak ascent. We soon break out of the tree line and begin steeper climbing over alpine terrain. We follow the rock cairns at this point to stay on the trail.

9:00 AM: Summited Wright Peak and had tremendous views of the surrounding wilderness. the clouds were hanging low, but above the mountains and moving quickly through the sky. We had a snack and strew aching break, including a little yoga at 4500 feet. Rich sent photo from his phone of him in a yoga pose to Kristin. We had enough of a signal to check in by phone as well.

We headed back down the trail to the junction with the Algonquin trail and met a couple of Adirondack Stewards coming up for the day. We also met a father – daughter pair and ascended the rest of the way to Algonquin with them. The father grew up in the area and had done all 46 peaks multiple times, often in Winter. On Marcy and others nearby he climbed up and skied down. A crazy feat in my opinion, given how narrow and rocky the trails are. But his experience left him quite the hiker and Rich and I struggled to maintain the climbing pace he set.

The daughter was starting this coming Fall at Syracuse, in the New House School so Rich had some stories and advice to share with her.

11:00 AM: Reached the peak of Algonquin and took our lunch break. One of the Adirondack Stewards arrived soon after and we and other hikers received great information about the peaks we could see, alpine environment, and her job as a Steward.

Proof of Summit

We spent a bit of time up there getting some photos, and directions on continuing on to Iroquois. We set off to the south down the bare rock face of Algonquin, the opposite side which we ascended. This brought us to a trail in a low scrub brush zone of dwarf pines. The trail was very narrow, rutted, and muddy. We had to take this over an intermediate unnamed peak, down into another valley, and up Iroquois. Iroquois itself was similar scrub for about 1/2 the assent, then rock scramble marked with cairns and painted blazes.

12:00 PM: Summited Iroquois and again had clear views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. The wind had picked up a bit so we donned wind-breakers and had to huddle behind a bolder to make our check-in phone call. “Proof of ascent” photos were taken as well.

12:15 PM: Began the return trip down Iroquois, up intermediate peak, down intermediate peak, through scrub brush, and up the 45 degree bare rock of Algonquin’s south face. Coming up the slope on our toes we realized what all the P90X sneaky-lunges were for.

12:45 PM: Back at the top of Algonquin we could see, hear, and feel a thunder storm approaching in the distance. Realizing this, we cut our rest break short and head down with all due haste.

Light rain was falling as we descended and the rumble of thunder was at first hard to identify as such, sounding more like passing jets because it was so long and steady. But the mounting rain and distant lightning left no doubt. The rain made many of the bare rock areas very slippery and we had to slide down as much as climb. Because we were keeping so low, the hiking poles were of little use so we stowed them on my pack. Rich had actually snapped his in the mud between Algonquin and Iroquois, so it was too short for a decent anyway.

2:00 PM: Made it to the relatively flat terrain (dirt and rock steps, few scrambles) below the Wright pass split, and really picked up the pace. About half-an-hour latter the rain became heavy, so we moved all electronics to Rich’s pack and put on his pack cover.

We passed a group of Scouts heading out for an over-night and didn’t envy them one bit. When we hit the flat dirt in the tall pine area we moved to a jogging pace with about 1.5 miles to go.

3:30 PM: Arrived back at the visitors center, stowed our gear, and grabbed our dry change of clothes. Inside the center were shower areas where we could change. The showers were tempting as well, but we did not come prepared for that, nor did we have the pile of quarters needed to turn on the water.

The sky really opened up while we were in the visitor center so we took our time, browsed the small gift shop a bit, and watched the overnight hikers take refuge on the porch with their full packs.

4:00 PM: Called Erin and Kristin from the car to let them know we were done and would meet them soon in Lake Placid. We linked up down-town, grabbed a fantastic steak dinner at a surf and turf brewery (good beer) and did a little clothes shopping in town.

Erin and Kristin did the driving back about 2 hours to Indian Lake so Rich and I could rest, but honestly we were far less tired then last year despite the greater mileage, higher ascent, and faster pace.  11.6 miles, 3050 ft, and in only 8.5 hours. We had a fantastic day and are totally psyched for next time!

Lessons from Year Two.

1. Conditioning matters. Getting and staying in shape in the off-season is tough, but it gives you what you need to live life to the fullest. The payoff is incredibly worth it. But no matter how tough you think you’ve become, 6 months of effort doesn’t beat a lifetime of work and experience.

2. Be aware of your environment. We saw the lighting and heard the thunder coming and got out of there as quickly as we could.

3. Gear matters. Better boots, better packs with rain covers, and proper clothing can make the difference between adventure and misery. We got caught in a storm, but were dry and comfortable, and no electronics were damaged because we had the right gear.

4.Share your victories. Completing 3 peaks in what felt like record time was sweet. Having our wives there at the end to celebrate with was even sweeter.

July 1, 2010 – First 2 High Peaks

Peak Data

#
Peak
Elevation (ft)
Rank
1
Cascade
4098
36
2
Porter
4059
38

Hike Stats

Temp at Start
 Approx 60 F
Start Time
7:30 AM
Finish Time
12:30 PM
Hiking Time
6.5 hrs
Total Time
7 hrs

5:30 AM: My brother Rich and I set out from our lake house in Indian Lake with his dog Bella. Our destination is the Cascade Mt. trail head near Lake Placid NY.
Our drive takes us through Blue Mt. Lake, Long Lake, Tupper Lake, Saranac, and finally Lake Placid.

7:30 AM: Reach the trail head a few miles past the Olympic ski jump. We are the 3rd car in the small parking area at the side of the road. We don packs, rain coats (a light mist is falling) and hiking sticks. We have packed lunches, snacks, about a gallon of water each, and plenty of 1st aid and emergency supplies. My pack feels quite heavy at first, but I quickly get used to it.
We get Bella on a retractable leash, sign in (indeed we are third on the trail) and head out.

8:00 AM: After a pit stop for Bella and stowing the bat used to clean up after her (Rich designates this “Geo-Crapping”), we closed a small stream and start our climb in earnest. The trail is full of large rocks and roots making most to the assent akin to stair climbing.
Bella too the lead, followed by Rich, then me. We found this arrangement avoids tangling us up in Bella’s leash.

8:30 AM: A mile in but our GPS watch was not accounting for vertical so we think we’ve got less then 1/2 a mile. Rich and I are concerned our pace, and apparent lack of physical condition may greatly extend the duration of this hike. We’ve paused about every 10 minutes to catch our breath, shed layers, and hydrate.
The ground is also becoming muddier in spots as the misting continues. Many areas require bolder hopping or balancing across small logs and sticks to cross the mud. The hiking polls help immensely  definitely worth the 30 bucks.

9:45 AM: Reach the split in the trail for Cascade or Porter. We are elated to realize we’ve covered 1.8 miles at our expected pace of 1 mile per hour, not the mear 0.87 miles the GPS reads. Rich and I decide we can ignore the GPS for the remainder of the trip. We set off on the left fork, 0.3 miles to Cascade.

9:50 AM: Leave the tree line and meet 2 guys coming down from the top who tell us we are only about 200 meters away, and that it’s very windy. Time to put up the hoods.

10:00 AM: We reach the summit of Cascade Mt after some serious boulder climbing. Bella demonstrates she must be part mountain goat during this leg.
There is zero visibility at the summit and a driving icy rain. There is also a geological survey medallion set in the rock at the peak. We snap some photos and head right back down out of a strong desire to get out of the wind. Poor Bella is drenched.

10:35 AM: Back at the intersection we set off down the right fork, 0.7 mi to Porter. To get there though, we fist have to go down. We hope with every step down we’ll soon level out; you hate to loose elevation only to have to regain it.
On our way up to the intersection a man coming back from Porter told us the trail was “wet”. We wonder what he meant. Wasn’t the trail we were on already wet?
We soon found out. Most of the way was mud puddles. We hopped across rocks, and went around where we could, but some slogging was un-avoidable. Other key item of gear: water-proof boots.

Summited Porter Mt. No visability here either, though even if it were clear the peak is a rock surrounded by scrub brush and dwarf trees. So its not clear if much could be seen anyway. There is no marker at the peak, so we stand on the apparent highest point for photos.

Just down from the summit, in a more sheltered grove of trees, was a party of three hikers celebrating their completion of all the 46 peaks. The party consisted of a women who appeared to be in her 60’s, her son was around 20, and a girl who we were not certain was a sister or a girl-friend. They were toasting their accomplishment, a few completed in what sounded to us to have been a short 6 years, with a bottle of Dom.

11:00 AM: We make it back to the fork in the trail between Cascade and Porter and start our decent back to the trail head. On the way down we pass far more hikers, including large groups of kids that appear to be summer camps. We had quite a time controlling Bella, who acted quite aggressive toward any male hikers we passed, and especially toward other dogs. We also noted the trail conditions had become much muddier during the day.
While the decent was quicker then the climb, the impact on knees, ankles, and hips was also more pronounced. About an hour into it, my right knee was throbbing horribly  Having the hiking pole again proved invaluable to steady footing and maintain control over the pace of the decent.
Although we knew we were moving more rapidly, fatigue and frequent stops to let other hikers heading up pass us made the trip down seem as if it were taking forever. The trail looked very different in reverse. Thankfully we knew there was only a single trail or we might have seriously thought we were going the wrong way.

12:30 PM: Made it back to the trail head, signed out, and got back to the car. We changed out of our hiking boots and wet cloths, dried off Bella and got her onto a blanket on the back seat. She was asleep in no time. Rich and I had some snacks and headed for Indian Lake. Two down, 44 to go.

TIPS and LESSONS from Year 1.

1. Don’t bring a dog up a mountain in the rain.  Ok, that maybe a bit too specific to apply to your every day, so let me generalize.  Choose the right companion for your journeys. Will they help you along, or slow you down?  Do they have the right temperament for what you are likely to encounter along the way? Pay as much attention or more to their needs than your own. And also, NEVER HIKE ALONE. I can’t emphasize that enough, so I’ll do it again NEVER HIKE ALONE.

2. Know your fitness level & pick an appropriate challenge. We all want to do grand things, but the greater the challenge, the greater the preparation needed. Make sure you did the pre-work and that you are ready. Then go for it.

3. Plan and study your route.  Knowing the way and the distance between landmarks, and having a good map gave us the confidence we were making progress when technology failed us. Knowing how to use a map and compass also meant we had a fallback.

4. Bring the essential gear. A long hike in a remote region is no joke. I see too many people every year that are woefully unprepared. And every year I read about a group that must be rescued from somewhere in the High Peaks. Occasionally someone doesn’t make it.  Always be prepared to stay longer then you plan, survive the night if required, and deal with emergency situations you may encounter.  See what I pack on my high peak adventures for suggestions of what you should have with you on every outing.

Off the Beaten Path

“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure some of them are dirt” – John Muir

 

Walking. The original form of human locomotion. There is something both humbling and gratifying in taking a journey on foot. Traveling with only what I can carry forces me to focus on the essentials while allowing me to slow down and appreciate the true scale of the places I visit. When I go on I hike, I am usually headed to the top of some peak, and the ascent up a mountain is both literally and figuratively a means to get above it all. A way to gain distance and perspective on my life while unplugging from it.

I became serious about hiking when my brother and I first learned about the 46 High Peaks in the Adirondack Park of upstate New York. The Adirondacks is a 6 million acre preserve set-aside by the NY state constitution to be “Forever Wild”. My family has spent most of our lives camping, fishing, and boating in the Adirondack Park, and consider this rugged paradise our spiritual home, So you’d think we’d know it pretty well.

Yet it was only 8 years ago we first heard about the 46’ers; all the mountains over 4,000 ft within the park. People who manage to hike to the top of all the High Peaks get to join the 46’er club. This sounded like a fine goal, so we set out to become part of the club. Little did I know how much hiking would instead become part of me. I thought it fitting therefore that a blog about dirt, covered some of the dirt I’ve traversed.

What follows in the weeks to come are my journal entries from these Adirondack and other hiking adventures, along with hiking tips and lessons learned (both for hiking and life), that I’ve gathered along the way.  I hope you enjoy the stories, find the tips valuable, and most of all I hope this journal inspires you to unplug, pair-down, and go out there and find some dirt paths of your own.