SWIMMING THROUGH TREES: A High Peaks adventure up Mount Marcy
This was my first trip up Mount Marcy this year. It is a highly sought-after peak during the winter climbing season and as a part-time mountain guide, this usually brings me to the top of New York a few times each winter.
We started our day at 7 a.m. from the Adirondak Loj to what looked to be a gloomy day in the hills. The temperatures were very mild at the start, being in the low 20s. It hovered around 25 to 30 degrees all day.
We were stacked to the hilt with gear, not being sure what we would need. I kept getting the high ice warning all week, so we were ready. The previous week I had been on Gothics and Armstrong and found out that the conditions were very, very, VERY icy. I had to plan for the worst, so we carried microspikes, crampons and snowshoes to cover all the possibilities.
We moved along quite well as we passed by the intersection for Algonquin and didn’t miss a step all the way past Marcy Dam, past the Phelps Trail and to the bridge over Phelps Brook.
From here, the pace slowed as the terrain began to get steeper in front of us. There was no serious ice or snow for that matter, yet we left our microspikes on.
On the way to Indian Falls, we soon passed a group of four, and they were quite amused by our large packs, in comparison to their tiny rucksacks. I carry a lot of gear for those just-in-case moments. I’ve never had to use most of it, but I am pretty confident that I would survive a night on Marcy if something were to happen.
We passed by Indian Falls without stopping and swept around the corner and started our climb of Marcy. The snow was deeper, but the trail was solid as a rock, so the microspikes remained on our feet. Our pace along this moderate section of trail was pretty good, considering I was fighting a flare-up of plantar fasciitis. As we gained elevation, it was beginning to get colder and the wind was chilly, so we added a layer back on for the final push to the Phelps Trail that comes in from the Johns Brooks Lodge. At this point, we didn’t really need snowshoes but we decided to use them to fight the typical snowdrifts that awaited us. The crampons would have to stay on our packs for another day.
We also got out our balaclavas, goggles, heavier gloves and fully layered up our core as well. We didn’t need most of it, come to find out. I actually started to get a little overheated on the steep slopes before the summit.
This is the first time I have experienced hardly any winds above treeline on this peak. However, we did need the gear once we were on top. The wind was unforgiving coming from the south, and without a proper stance it would push us around.
After a few pictures and a fist bump, we started back down and passed three of the four in the group from earlier. Come to find out, the random gear we saw stashed aside the trail was his, not planning to summit that day. He had apparently started back down to the car, hopefully in the right direction. We saw him at the parking lot at the end of the day.
On the descent, we kept our snowshoes on until we were well past Indian Falls, when the snow was not adequate enough for safe travel. Back on went the microspikes, and my feet were ever so thankful. Once we hit Marcy Dam, my plantar fasciitis was in full scream mode, possibly due to still mountaineering boots and my refusal to take some time off. I felt horrible slowing the pace down so much, but we made good time all day to this point. We were back at the Loj before dark as a stream of people flowed out before us and behind us, as if we were all on the same “Beer Thirty” schedule. For those concerned about my lower extremities, today my feet are much happier since I put a pair of Superfeet in all my boots, I shall never doubt their ability to protect my feet again.
(Spencer Morrissey is a licensed outdoor guide and author of a few Adirondack adventure books.)