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A cold trip to the top of the state

December 21, 2016
By JUSTIN A. LEVINE - Outdoors Writer ( , Lake Placid News

It was one of those bitter January mornings, where the snow creaks under foot and the car sounds like it's in pain when the key is turned.

A couple years ago, I drove to Lake Placid and met my friend Mark who had come up for the weekend to climb some High Peaks, and our other friend Nik. We headed to the South Meadow Road outside of Lake Placid, parked the car and double-checked our bags to make sure we'd have everything we needed. It was going to be a long day.

Once at the parking lot, we all donned skis and started up the old road to enter the High Peaks. The snow was squeaky and our faces were quickly glossed over with frost from our own breathing. The three of us signed in to the trail register before the sun even came up, and were soon on our way to Marcy Dam.

Article Photos

Mark Wood, left, and Justin Levine stand for a photo near the summit of Mount Marcy in January 2015.
Photo provided by Justin A. Levine

As we progressed, we talked about our plan to ski in as far as we could and then switch to snowshoes once the skiing got too difficult. From there, we would climb Marcy and go over the summit to do Gray and Skylight peaks as well. An ambitious and long day for sure. Especially since the temperature was somewhere near 30 below zero.

Nik was sporting a new set of skis and they were giving him trouble, so when we reached Marcy Dam, he decided to head back to the car. He would pick us up later that evening.

Mark and I had a snack, and let a few of the tame chickadees take some trail mix. They were landing on our packs, shoulders and hands like this was the most normal thing in the world to them.

We headed out, the cold still stinging even though the sun had started to rise on our 3-plus mile ski in. We made our way up the trail on skis for another mile or two before the lack of snow made an impact. After ski-walking over and around exposed roots and rocks, we found a lean-to and ditched our skis under it.

We had each packed a pair of hiking boots and snowshoes to change into, and had a snack as we switched foot gear. Once we had snowshoes on, we set out again, hoping that no one would find and take our skis. We've done this before and it's never been an issue in the Adirondacks.

As we walked we talked about various things guys our age talk about, like kids and wives and hikes we've done and hikes we'd like to do. The time passed quickly, but not quickly enough and we soon realized that tackling three peaks would be too much for this cold and short day.

With the decision made that we would stick to just climbing Marcy, we made our way higher up in elevation, with the snow deepening as we went. As the trees grew shorter, the snow grew deeper, but the trail was broken and other than the strain of winter hiking, it was easy to pass.

By lunchtime we were above tree line, and the wind had picked up. The snow changed from deep, trampled powder to hard-packed crust, and bits of rock and dead grass were showing through the white cover.

Seeing the summit of Marcy just above us, there were about 10 other people already up there. We followed a few other hikers up the shoulder, me taking rest-steps and battling the wind.

Our phones were not quite in working order, and with the hard-blowing wind and ice crystals flying about, I didn't take many pictures until I asked another hiker to snap a pic of us at the summit plaque.

Mark, who is a physical madman and in much better shape than myself, insisted on taking off his shirt and doing 10 burpees on the summit. I kept my clothes on and had a snack.

We climbed above the memorial plaque to the very top of the mountain, where the wind was whipping through, providing only more punch to the already painful cold.

Mark and I didn't hang out long at the top of the state since it was cold and windy and we still had a long way to go and not much daylight in which to cover the miles. We made our way back to the lean-to, taking a few breaks along the way to let my legs catch up and to take in a few more snacks. The skis were still in place under the lean-to, and after many hours of hiking, it was nice to get a break in the form of sliding transportation.

The sky had clouded up and snow began to fall as we passed Marcy Dam on our way back to the trailhead. I texted Nik, and he said he was on his way.

As the woods grew dark, the snow fell thicker and thicker, big, fat flakes slapping us across the face. This had happened to me and Mark in the past, where as soon as it was dark and we were forced to sport headlamps, the snow started to fall, giving us Star Wars-esque warp speed vision.

Tired, we slid our way toward the car, and the anticipated the warmth of the vehicle and the prospect of a hot dinner and cold beer in Lake Placid. Mark and I made it out to the car, each suffering just a few minor falls along the Marcy Dam jeep trail, and eventually sat down to a hot meal.

Although it was a long day of skiing and snowshoeing (about 18 miles round-trip in just over 10 hours), Mark and I had a great time, and most importantly, we didn't die. And that's all we could really hope for.



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