Mt. Marcy: Some days you eat the bear, some days the bear eats you
Today was the day we were to challenge Mt. Marcy, at 5,343 feet the tallest mountain in New York State. I was up at 5:00 and made coffee (my usual routine on high adventure trips). We ate a quick breakfast of oatmeal and such. We made plans to eat no less than five meals today, plus snacks, in order to keep us on our feet. We were at the Trailhead by 7:00; by 7:15, we were on our way up the mountain.
The assault on Mt. Marcy begins
I had my misgivings about how well prepared Julie and Abby were regarding water and so on. Neither had done any serious mountain hiking before. They and Matt seem woefully under-supplied with water to me. But I had my water filter on me, so I could resupply as needed. I was also worried about Julie’s physical stamina. But then, experience is the only teacher. Time would tell how all of us would do this day.
Welcome to Middle-earth
Beware of Ents
Stage One completed
We reached Marcy Dam by 8:30. The bridge was out over the dam. But a new log bridge had been constructed just below, so there wouldn’t be much delay. We ate our second breakfast. I noticed that Marcy Lake was very low. Hardly a puddle remained, though the waters still poured over the dam.
From Marcy Dam, the trail would get increasingly steep and filled with boulders. Marcy is a granite mountain, and that’s different from the Rockies. Granite doesn’t weather and crack like limestone does. Water wears grooves that leave large boulders behind, which have to be clambered over. When it rains, the trails turn into rivers. Thank God it was not raining this day; in fact, it was as beautiful and clear a day as you could ask for in the High Peaks area.
Still, the trail was rough. I told the group, “you eat the mountain in small bites.” We stopped often. We snacked. I brought along caramels for a quick sugar boost in really rough areas. It was lovely to see Abby helping her mother in the rough spots. And it was lovely to see Julie’s determination, too. Things were going very well. We did a quick church service on our way up during a packs-off break just below Indian Falls.
Extraneous observation: there was a large number of very pretty girls out hiking today. Young, healthy, fit, etc. I looked at some of the young men they were with and wondered what they saw in them. No doubt there were those who looked at me and wondered what Deanne saw in me, once upon a time. But, really, how many pretty girls can there be out hiking all on the same mountain on the same day? It was amazing.
We passed Indian Falls just before noon. The trail got even steeper and rockier – far more than I remembered. I referred to it as a stairway to heaven. Finally, Julie could go no further on her shaky knees. Abby was emotionally spent. Julie wanted to go back down, and said Abby could help her on the way. I was very leery of this, since if either fell, the other would be in a bad way to help. If Julie were to start down, more than just Abby would be required to assist her. Meanwhile, T.C. was insistent that we go on. He is very goal-oriented and very stubborn, and he wanted that mountain. I was very reluctant to split the party, but it was only one o’clock, and I thought we were pretty high up. If half the party could nail the summit in short order, we could catch the other half on the way down. I suggested Matt go with Julie and Abby while I took the boys to the summit. The trail was full of other hikers, too, so there would others to help if the situation warranted. We split the party at 1:35.
T.C., T.J., Jeffrey, and I powered up the stairway to heaven. We caught our first glimpse of Marcy twenty minutes later. Shortly after 2:00, we broke from the trees and saw the summit 1.2 miles away – and at last 500 feet above us. Jeffrey estimated it to be a good two hours’ hike at the rate we were going. At that point, I had to call the question. We could have made it to the summit, but we would be far too late coming back down the mountain. It would be dark. We would be too long separated from Matt and Julie and Abby, who had some food and water but not water filtration and supper, which we were carrying. The smart and safe play was to give up the quest for the summit and head back down the mountain and rejoin the two halves of the Crew. So, we saluted the mountain and headed on back, flying down rocky trails that we had labored so hard to ascend.
In sight of the summit
Resting a while
We reached Indian Falls a little after 3:00. I pumped some water for us. We tried to call or text Abby or Julie. Nobody was picking up. We scooted along as fast as we could. We caught up with our other Crew members about 4:15 or so. They were sitting by a stream. Julie and Abby had just wiped out in a mudpit, which almost claimed Julie’s shoe. They had just rinsed off a bit and were sitting and resting a while. Julie’s nice pink boots were now a deep, rich brown. I got one more liter of water pumped for Julie just before my filter clogged. At least we had enough to finish now. We ate supper there and then moved on at a much reduced speed. Everybody was ready and off down the trail just after 5:00. We all reached the parking lot by 6:20. Marcy had defeated us, but not daunted us. We ran out of time, not strength or will. Another day, Marcy!
On the way back to our campsite in the van, the topic was showers. In a sudden stillness such as often comes over a conversation, Matt and I heard Julie say very distinctly, “both my knobs turn to the right.” We started laughing. We eventually figured out that they were talking about the showers in camp. The women’s showers worked normally, but the men’s required a coin to turn the water on. It took some puzzling out to get the silly thing to work, but at a quarter a shower, it was cheap. I got my first full shower of the trip, and high time, too!
We made a hot supper of ramen (our fifth meal of the day) to finish off the attempt on Marcy. I said we could all have t-shirts made that said, “Mt. Marcy kicked my butt and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.” Definitely looking forward to an easy day to come.