Posts Tagged ‘Adirondack Loj’

Algonquin Peak — Sept 18th, 2011


  • Map: National Geographic, Adirondack Park, Lake Placid/High Peaks
  • Reference: Lisa Densmore, Hiking the Adirondacks
  • Trails: Van Hovenberg, Algonquin branch
  • Type: Out and back
  • Distance: 7.2 miles
  • Time: About 8 hours
  • Exertion: Very strenuous

Getting There

From Lake Placid Village, take NY 73 East to Adirondack Loj Road.  Make a right and take the road to the kiosk at the end, about 4 miles.  Pay the $10 and park in the lots to the left.  (And don’t complain about the parking fee, for God’s sake it’s about what you spend for a glass of so-so wine at these overpriced restaurants in NYC these days.)

The Hike

OK, it’s my birthday month, and the air is cooling off, so it’s time to head off to the Adirondacks and try to hurt myself.  Last year around this time I trudged up Mt. Marcy, the highest peak in NY State (5344′), so this year I decided to deal with Algonquin, the second highest at 5114′.  It’s the only other peak in NYS above 5000′.  The good news about this hike is that the distance is about half that of Marcy.  The bad news is that, if you do the quick arithmetic, it’s only 230 fewer vertical feet (since you park in the same lot), so the climbing will be about twice as steep.  Some people consider this to be a more grueling climb than that to Marcy.  After this day, I’m not sure I’d agree, but they have a talking point.

Algonquin Slab in Lake Placid Village

Algonquin Slab in Lake Placid Village

Woke up to see this outside of my hotel window on Sunday morning:

Lake Placid Village

Lake Placid Village

Although the village is called Lake Placid, the lake it surrounds is Mirror Lake.  The high peak in the background is Whiteface Mt. (4867′), which can be hiked, although since there’s a road to the top, not to mention chair lifts as it’s a big skiing destination, its appeal is somewhat reduced.

Things got off to a late start, since I discovered after I parked the car that I’d left my CamelBak back in the hotel room, so I was not actually signed in at the trailhead until about 9:15am.  No biggie, I was not concerned about running out of daylight as I was last year.  The start was familiar territory for the first 20 minutes (0.9 mi) until the split for the trails to Marcy (blue) and Algonquin (yellow).  The next milestone was the Whale’s Tail Ski Trail junction (1.4 mi), nothing of note beyond mud and rocks.  There’s nothing else between here and the waterfall on the MacIntyre Brook at the 2.3 mile mark.  This I got to at about 10:45.  This was about 1.5 MPH, not exactly a great pace, but after the ski trail, things got steeper.  There were some nice stone steps in some spots, thank you very much trail maintainers, and I made a very naive note to myself that the descent might not be as painful as that from Marcy.  (Hah!)

Waterfall on MacIntyre Brook (trail to Algonquin)

Waterfall on MacIntyre Brook (trail to Algonquin)

The next milestone is the spur trail to Wright Peak at 2.9 miles.  While just over a half-mile from the waterfall, the pitch of the trail gets much steeper, with mud and water making things slippery.  (This was a couple of weeks after some big rainstorms, including Hurricane Irene, and some of these trails had recently been re-opened, so a lot of wet was not a surprise.)

Around 11:30, I started to see views of the mountains and valleys peek out from the trees, always a welcome site after being buried in the woods for over two hours.

Breaking out from the Dark Woods

Breaking out from the Dark Woods

Shortly after that, you reach the junction with the Wright Trail (blue) to the left. I stayed on the yellow of course, which more or less goes straight, but do be careful, as one trio of hikers that I ran into near the summit were convinced they were going up to Wright until I informed them, “Um, I think this is Algonquin.”  (Fortunately for me, it was.)

Junction: Trails to Wright and Algonquin

Junction: Trails to Wright and Algonquin

Now, in any kind of normal hike, the 0.9 miles to go to Algonquin Peak as seen above is a so-what, piece of cake, can-do-it-in-my-sleep kind of deal.  No big whoop.   But it would take me an hour and ten minutes to get up to that peak, about the slowest going I’ve ever done.  But there’s a reason.  OK, it’s steep, I mean like, STEEP.  I knew this going in, of course.  It’s wet, it’s rocky, in some spots you are walking across slabs of wet, sheer rock face for 50 feet or more.  I took a couple of embarrassing falls, at least they would have been embarrassing if anyone had been there to see it.  All the while going up, I heard this little voice in the back of my head going, “This is really gonna suck on the way back down!”  To ease your pain and make you feel that perhaps you’re not a total idiot for doing this, the views do start to improve:

A View of Lake Placid as We Crawl up Algonquin

A View of Lake Placid as We Crawl up Algonquin

As you approach the edge of the actual trees, and head into what they call the krumholtz region, with these gnarled little bush-like trees, you can see Wright Peak over your shoulder and wonder why you didn’t want to do that one today (4580′) instead.

Wright Peak on the Way to Algonquin

Wright Peak on the Way to Algonquin

There comes a point when you break completely out of the treeline, and you see the peak above you, and the pitch mellows a bit, and you say to yourself (silently), “OK, dude, like we did it!  We’re almost there!”  (Yes, there’s a fellow hiker in the picture, near the top in the very center.)

Almost at the Top--Or Are We?

Almost at the Top--Or Are We?

But when you get up there, this is what awaits you:

Oops, Sorry, This Is Really Algonquin Peak

Oops, Sorry, This Is Really Algonquin Peak

Yes, that first shot was a false summit, so you get up there to discover you ain’t done yet.  This is part of the joy and wonder of hiking:  having your hopes of some respite dashed by the real peak hiding behind a lower one.  I will say this, however:  the climbing at the end is not so bad compared to Marcy.  Perhaps that’s because with Marcy, you’ve walked over seven miles to get to the top, while here you’ve only done about three.  I just know that getting up the last quarter mile here was nowhere near as exhausting as last year’s final assault.

So I made the summit just around, 12:45, about 20 minutes later than I’d made Marcy last year with a 90 minute head start then.  I have to say, the summit was pretty much like Marcy.  Lots of bare rock, lots of grass patches that you are politely instructed not to sit or stand on by the NYS DEC Summit Steward.  (More about her later.)  The population at the summit I guessed at about two dozen, way less than at Marcy.  Perhaps this was due to it being a Sunday, vs. a Saturday then, or a bit later in the month, or it’s just that Algonquin is not #1.  In any case, you’re still about a mile above sea level and can see almost forever.

I reconnoitered the summit, and found a little spot to have a seat on the bare rock and eat my spartan lunch of cheese, Triscuits, grapes, and nuts.  It’s odd how after such an exertion, you’re hungry but not really able to wolf it down.  I just sort of nibbled on this very light fare and sipped some water.  Here’s my lunchroom view for the day:

Lunchtime on Algonquin

Lunchtime on Algonquin

Here I’m looking west at Iroquois Peak (4840′), the summit right in the middle of the picture.  One regret I have is that I did not consider taking a stroll over there after I relaxed.  A guy who had done so walked right by my while I was eating, saying he’d done this, and I didn’t even ask him how long it took.  It’s only bit over a mile one-way, and it did not look that steep at any point.  Even though, as we’ll see, by the end of the day I was pretty well shot, I think I could have bagged that peak for a song, as they say.  Oh well, live and learn.

So now about the Department of Environmental Conservation steward…  She was a perky, friendly, twenty-something dressed in a green DEC uniform, whose job it is to talk to each group of hikers reaching the summit and instruct them not to sit on the plants or grass.  Apparently in the awful ’80s before these stewards were around, the hiker traffic over these High Peaks denuded most of the popular summits, and a painstaking replanting effort had to be done to get them back to their natural, sub-arctic state.  I don’t want to bore you with the eco-orthodoxy about how there are only 87 acres of this kind of terrain in all of NYS.  Suffice it to say that I’m very aware that in my lifetime the Earth has been ruined by industry and population, so if someone in a green uniform tells me not to sit on a weed that I would normally not give a second notice to, I’m inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt.  I really do fear whether my grandchildren will ever be able to enjoy the natural wonders that I have; I wonder what will await them at the top of Algonquin when I’m gone.

I listened to her entreaties with other groups, and eventually she found her way over to me.  We talked about how I’d been on Marcy the previous year, and no, there hadn’t been a steward there that day, which she found a bit strange.  I asked her what time she would be going down the mountain and how long it would take her.  Answers: about 5:00, and about two and a half hours.  I asked exactly which peak was Marcy, and she pointed it out, then offered to take my picture with it in the background, so thanks to her, you get to look at this:

Me on Algonquin with Marcy in the Background

Me on Algonquin with Marcy in the Background

The peak in the foreground with bare rock slides is Mt. Colden.  As you can see, it was just a spectacular day.  Rather than a lot of stills, which I did take a ton of, I post this panoramic video I took from the summit.  It may not have as much details as the photos, but I think it really gives a better idea of the grandeur of the 360-degree view.

Video (about 40 MB)

I thought about this DEC steward a bit on the way down the mountain and afterwards.  I wish I’d remembered her name.  But here’s the horror of what she does for a living.  I don’t know how many days a week she works, but let’s be crazy and say it’s four.  Those days she starts up at dawn to climb one of these peaks (she told someone else that they do rotate peaks), and while I’m sure she’s in excellent physical condition, it is still a grind that takes her at least 2.5 hours to get up.  (On really steep terrain, going down is about the same time as going up.)  She then spends all day up there in all kinds of weather, hot, cold, wet, dry, windy, chatting to people about the same thing, over and over and over.  It can be 90 degrees at the base and 40 degrees at the summit–brutal weather in these peaks is a year-round reality.  The really awful thing is that there’s absolutely no place to go to the bathroom here.  No, they do not airlift Port-O-Pottys to these summits.  You have to descend several hundred feet to even get a modicum of privacy because the vegetation is so stunted.  Lord only knows what the very eco-pious consider acceptable ways to excrete in the wilderness.  (More about this later.)  Then she gets to go down the mountain as darkness moves in, which as we’ll see is just torture.  Whatever they’re (we’re) paying her, you could double it, and it wouldn’t be enough.

Forty-five minutes seems to be about the staying time on these summits.  That’s about how long I spent on Marcy, and other hiker writings seem to put the hang time between 30-45 mins.  For all of this work, it seems like we’re giving the view a short shrift.  There are a few reasons, that I suppose make sense.  First, you’ve got to face the fact that going down is probably going to suck, maybe worse than going up.  Second, a bare, rocky peak with vegetation you can’t sit on is not all that comfortable, and who wants to stand after all that walking?  Third, although not so much this day, it tends to get cold on these exposed peaks.  Fourth, there’s not much to do except gaze in wonder, and if you try to meditate on the scenery, one of the other three reasons keeps interrupting.  So I did a bit under an hour and then reluctantly headed back down.  (I should mention that from the map I was tempted to try to continue onto the Boundary Trail that would go down the other side and around some interesting lakes, but the word on the mountain was that the descent was very steep, and you would be taking your legs, if not your life, in your hands.  Plus, it adds three miles to the total trip.  So, no thanks.)

I took a very slow pace down to the treeline, stopping often to enjoy the views from a slightly different perspective.

Starting Down from Algonquin

Starting Down from Algonquin

My premonition on the way up, that going down was going to suck, held true.  Although on steep terrain the ascent is strenuous from a cardio POV, the descent punishes your legs, knees, feet, ankles, even your arms.  I’d taken a slow pace on the way up, and an even more deliberate pace on the way down.  My ETA at the parking lot was about 5:00PM, which I knew left me with a larger margin of error as daylight goes, so I felt no need to power down the hill.  As soon as I heard someone approach above me, I stopped and let them pass, not wanting to change my pace for external factors.  (OK, at the last mile or so, there we a couple of guys above me and I just refused to let them catch up to me.  Not sure why–pigheadedness, perhaps.)

Some random notes from the descent:

  • Near the treeline, had a guy walk past me with his left arm in a sling, not at all a slender gentleman, I must say.  God bless him on the way down.
  • Twisted my ankle really bad as it wedged between two rocks.  Also managed to give myself a golf-ball sized bruise on the my right shin dragging the leg over a boulder, in addition to some more extensive banging on that limb that resulted in a nasty iridescence up and down the  lower leg that continues to pain me as I write this.
  • Had a group of three walk by me on their way up, one guy trying to help his wife/sister/girlfriend up a particularly nasty bit of boilerplate, she in tears.
  • Some sliding on my tukos, just before the junction to Wright.  Got into one sitch where I was seriously sliding and not sure how to stop.
  • Took about an hour to get to that junction–par for the course.
  • Got to the cascade about 3:30–the worst part of the descent was done.
  • Hit the sign-in kiosk about 4:45–so about 3 hours from the peak, about 7.5 hours from the start, probably closer to 8.


  1. Algonquin is not tougher than Marcy.  I mean the numbers just don’t add up: 7.2 mi vs. almost 15 mi, plus that extra 230 vertical feet.  I will say that the descent on Algonquin is more painful in some parts because of the pitch.
  2. I felt slightly less beaten-up on the return to the car than last year, and I think it’s mostly due to the distance.  No matter how you look at it, it’s twice as many steps to get up and down Marcy.
  3. This year I also went crazy and invested in a pair of those sissy trekking poles.  Overall, I think they helped, reducing the impact and strain on my legs and knees.  That said, on the downhill, they have a nasty habit of getting stuck in the mud or between rocks, and this slows you down, or worse, makes you fall.  Frankly, I can’t imagine coming down one of these peaks without at least one stick.  But people do it.
  4. At the Adirondack Loj, there’s a bulletin board where one of the posts is entitled, How to Poop in the Woods.   I felt this deserved a few moments of my time after I got back to the car.  It’s a basic set of steps, like… walk away from the trail and any water for some distance (I forget how much), with a spade (unlikely) or a conveniently found stick dig a hole, do thine business, and finally either bury or pack out the toilet paper.  It makes one wonder who opts for the latter alternative.  And who is the guy who even suggested this?  I don’t think I want to meet him.
  5. If I’d done this a week or two later, the fall foliage would have been at peak.  As it was, things were just beginning to turn, as you can see in some of the pictures.  But I can’t even begin to whine about this because this day, and the next, were two of the best late summer days, weather-wise, one could ever hope for.  And it’s always a crap-shoot on these mountains.  You can get rain or hail any day of the year, so take what you get, and be happy.


Drove back to Lake Placid Village feeling OK, but not great.  Spent a quiet night in my room, with some chills, but not as bad as the previous year.  Lots of weird dreams.  My ankle was very sore, the knot on my shin was rather large, but it went down overnight.  The next day I went to the opposite end of the spectrum and took a kiddie hike up to a place called Mt. Arab, which I will write up in a subsequent post because it was another spectacular day, especially for someone as beaten up as I.

Tuesday, I woke up to rain, took my time packing up and headed out of town for home.  I wonder if next year I’ll want to do this goofy thing again.  Who knows?

Mount Marcy, Sept. 11, 2010


I arrived in Lake Placid the day before (the 10th), staying at the Lakeview Motor Lodge—not as hokey as it sounds, actually a pretty comfortable place with a nice view of Mirror Lake off my balcony.  Stocked up at the local Price-Cutters and got to bed early, after dining on a Subway Veggie Delite ©, although I was a little leery of what effect this might have on intestinal activity whilst on the trail.

Mirror Lake, Lake Placid Village

Mirror Lake, Lake Placid Village

I did not sleep well.  I guess I was anxious about the hike, so I woke up around 5-ish, tried to get back to  sleep, but could not.  I was on the road by 7:00, with two granola bars and a cup of the in-room coffee (yuk) for breakfast, but a backpack full of trail mix, beef jerky, cheese and crackers, grapes, blackberries (which were awful as it turned out), Fritos corn chips, and more granola bars.

The Climb Up

I parked at the Adirondack Loj [sic] around 7:30.  I had scouted the place out the day before, and decided to invest in the $10 parking fee, thus cutting 0.6 mi out of my round trip instead of parking along some dirt road in front of the Loj, as one blogger had suggested.  Turns out, I would have gladly paid $50 by end-of-day to cut out the 0.6 mi., so kudos to me for making the non-stingy-bastard choice.

I scoped out the grounds of the Loj, whose parking lot was about half full, with plenty of folks about, and got on the trail at 7:45.

The first stretch to Marcy Dam was nice going, even if the woods were a bit on the dark and dreary side.  The trail was well-pounded down, and had no tough ups or downs.  So far, so good.  Got to Marcy Dam at 8:45.  This is only about 2.2 mi, so I was not thrilled with my progress—I like to do 3 MPH if possible when the terrain is easy—but I knew it was going to be a long slog, so 2+ MPH would be OK.  At the Dam, there was a nice view of a pond and some mountains, but it was not Chateau Lake Louise by any stretch!  I did find it interesting that Marcy Dam seems to be build from logs, so I wonder how they can keep that thing in place.

Lake at Marcy Dam

After the Dam, it’s a not-so-bad climb up a rocky part.  I thought I was doing OK, leap-frogging other hiking teams, as they did me.  A DEC ranger powered by me on the trail with an ax in his backpack.  He was a young guy, who would pass later me on his way back down, well before I was close to Marcy peak.  By 9:35, I was crossing a footbridge over Phelps Brook, and this is where the easy terrain ended.  I didn’t know it then, but now, besides a continuous, unrelenting UP (which I expected), the ground would be rocky, wet, muddy, and just  generally unpleasant for walking.

A large portion of the trail from here on in was arguably a stream bed, because flowing water was constantly coming down the trail, making puddles, slippery rocks, and mud pits all along the way.  By 10:20 I was at Indian Falls, which was the only other landmark of note until the summit.  Not much of a falls, as these things go, but the view of the Mount Colden and Algonquin Peak was very nice, and it was a good place to sit and have a snack.  I was tired, but still raring to go.

Top of Indian Falls

So, more rocky, wet, muddy, slippery, up, up, up.  I’m lucky if I made 1 MPH at this point—turns out that’s about all I was doing.  At 11:24, I got to a junction with the Hopkins trail, and I could see Mt. Marcy for the first time from the little clearing there.

Still 1000 Feet Up to Go!

The sign tells me I have 1.2 miles to go, but I guesstimate that although I might have only 1/7th the miles left, I have about 1/3rd of the altitude to gain, so I’m not optimistic.

Almost There?

So now, in addition to the water, mud, and rocks, I now have to deal with prospect of gaining 1000 vertical feet in 1 mile.  The last 0.6 mi is really where the terrain gets steep, but in some way, it’s a welcome break from the water and the mud, and you’re in the sunshine finally after being entombed in the dense forest for the last four hours.

If I’d had any energy left at all, I would have relished this rock scramble, above the tree line, following only cairns and yellow blazes painted on the rocks, but I was exhausted.  I could do no more that a hundred or two linear feet without needing to rest.  There were lots of people at this point—some on their way down (bastards!), some, like me, agonizing their way up.  Some seemed as genuinely beat as I, which made me feel a little better, since they were about 25-35 years younger than me, but pride was in the backseat of my emotions at this point.  All I wanted was the summit, which I got to at 12:25.


At the Summit

It was like a little city up there; I estimated 50 to 70 people.  This was a perfect day, weather-wise, and I guess everyone else in the area had figured this out as well.  So, well, OK, this was something else I’d expected.  It’s a large, denuded summit, so I found a nice little depression in the rock, collapsed, and had lunch.  It was a little cold, with the wind at my back, but once I put on a jacket, I was fine, laying there, eating my meal of hiker’s delicacies, listening to some Beethoven on my iPod.

All along the summit, there were little plots of vegetation roped off to keep people from stepping on them.  I’m not sure how effective this is, since it wasn’t so much “roped off” as “stringed off,” but people seemed for the most part to be respecting this.  (Unlike two months before on Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, where it seemed all the signs in the world couldn’t keep the Great American Public from traipsing through the shrubbery.  I guess one of the differences was that on Cadillac, almost everyone had driven to the summit, while on Marcy, that was not an option.)

I strolled around the summit, which is large–a good thing considering the lunch hour population I encountered.  There is a metal plaque memorializing the 100 year anniversary of the first ascent in 1837.  This plaque seemed to be a good spot to take a self-photo, for which I asked a fellow hiker to assist me in.  The resulting picture is, putting it mildly, not among my best.  My total exhaustion is shining through, and I was so numb that I forgot I had my ear buds in, but at least I took off my goofy hat.

Proof of Life

There’s an obvious “top of the top” section, which I made sure I stepped upon, then made sure I’d taken photos of the entire 360°.  I could see the ski jumps from Lake Placid as well as the village.  It was sobering to realize how far I would have to walk back to get to the car.

At the Summit

The Slog Down

I left the summit around 1:15.  While the vista deserved more time, after a while one gets so sated with mountain’s majesty, that you run out of awe.  I was also feeling the effects of the climb, the wind, and probably the altitude, and decided that some lower point on the mountain might improve a malaise I realized had come upon me.  Also, in the back of my mind was the Marcy trip of my son’s chemistry teacher, who had broken an ankle on the descent the year before.  After seeing the terrain on the way up, I was aware of how easy a that kind of mishap might be, and I wanted plenty of time to navigate the rocks, mud, and water.

The descent down the treeless section was very dicey, with me needing to slide down on my ass in a few sections.  It was very slow going until I hit the treeline.  There were still a number of people coming up, and I tried to lend them some encouragement, although I’m not sure I was very convincing.  Once back in the woods, the hike became a monotonous replay of the hike up, with the gasping for air replaced by pain in my feet, knees, and ankles as I slid over the boulders and battled gravity to stay upright.

By the time I reached the junction with the Hopkins trail, and that first view of Marcy, it was 2:15.  That meant it had taken me as long to go down the 1.2 mi. as it had going up.  Any hope that I had of making good time on the return had just gone out the window.  The good news was that the lethargy I’d felt at the summit had gone away.  Now it was just a question of plugging away.

I reached Indian Falls an hour later, at 3:15—still pretty slow going.  On the way up, two guys who had been leap-frogging me had had a conversation about whether they should leave the short detour to the falls for the return trip.  It was a good thing I decided take it then, otherwise I probably would have just blown on by the the falls on the way back.  I wanted down and back, no detours, thank you.  I didn’t take a single photo on the descent.

At 3:50, I’d hit the wooden bridge over Phelps Brook.  This was arguably the worst terrain of the return trip.  It had been no picnic on the way up, but with gravity looking to make you fall at every step, and the saturation of almost every part of the trail, it became an episode in what I called “Rock Dancing,” i.e. how to find the next step that would not cause me to (a) fall on my ass, (b) break my ankle, like my son’s teacher had done on this stretch, or (c) kill myself.  I’d had a notion to listen to some podcasts on the way down, but the mental effort needed to maintain my footing made me realize I couldn’t possibly follow a narrative.  After the bridge the Rock Dancing continued, although the trail was a little wider, a (very) little dryer, and there were some patches of bare dirt into which one might place a foot carefully and eliminate the chance of slipping.

But it was now about 8 hours in, 3300 feet climbed, a dozen or so miles, and the tank was empty.  Every step, even on the slightly more forgiving section along the brook, hurt.  Some of my problem was my pack.  It had probably weighed 25 pounds when I put it on, and for some reason, I had not drunk as much water as I thought I would.  By my reckoning, I still had a liter in my camelback, and I was forcing myself to drink all the way down.  I dumped the 750 ml. bottle in the side pocket of the pack, figuring that worst case, I’d use the filter bottle I’d brought for backup.

Marcy Dam came into sight at 4:30.  This was a welcome point for two reasons.  First, I got to sign out at the register, so this was a definitive step to ending this hike.  Second, I knew the trail would be much gentler from here on in, if not always descending.  Frankly, after the punishment of the downgrade, I was looking forward to a little upgrade—just a little, though.  I sat down at the edge of the Dam for a few minutes, trying to drink some more water and eat a little.  I was neither hungry nor thirsty, but I knew that I should keep stuff going in.  I’d only peed twice on the trip, early on the way up, and soon after coming off the summit.  So things were not working great in the GI area.

The last stretch was the longest two miles of my life.  I kept telling myself that it was only 2/3rds of the way around Rockland Lake, a 3-mile loop I’ve done maybe 100 times.  Of course, it’s flat and paved, so I can walk it at 4 MPH, but I figured maybe I could get to 3 MPH on this stretch and not need an entire hour to get back to the car.  It was not to be.  Although I did regain some of my speedy pace near the end, and actually passed 3 or 4 other groups, it seemed like the signposts were lying and I was traveling a whole lot more than two miles.

Whatever it was, I managed to trudge off the trail, into the parking lot around 5:30.  I imagine it must be fun to sit at the Adirondack Loj and watch these wretches come off the trail.  An experienced observer can probably tell who the neophytes are by seeing the wobbly legs that we have after we walk from the registration kiosk and look at the paradise of autos before us.

Back at my car, I barely had the energy to enjoy sitting down on something soft, taking off my boots, and opening a fresh bottle of water.  I didn’t linger, but got out of the Loj parking lot urgently.  On the road out I could see the cars of the cheapskates parked along the approach to South Meadow Road, and thanked my stars that I had been willing to part with the tenner for the lot.


First, I’m glad I did this.  It was grueling, tedious, and at times nerve-wracking, but it was an opportunity to do something moderately notable.  Despite the number of people at the summit, it’s not something very many people get to do, nor a place in this world very many people get to visit, so yea, I would do it over if I could roll back the clock.

That said, I think it may be some time, or another lifetime, before I walk across Marcy’s rocky summit again.  The vista was great, although my ability to fully appreciate it may have been compromised by my exhaustion.  The summit aside, it’s not really a very appealing hike.  The terrain and ascent aside, it’s 7 hours of being buried in the woods, with two ancillary viewpoints (Marcy Dam and Indian Falls), neither of which can be in anyone’s Top Ten list.

Although I lucked out with the weather, the price was hiking in a relative “crowd.”  While probably not as bad as a weekend in the heart of the summer, there were still too many people to make the hike notable for any sense of wilderness.  Given its prominence, I accepted this; the highest point in the most populous state in the nation is unlikely to be deserted on any but the most brutal of days.  Given that the following two days (the ones I originally targeted for the ascent but abandoned due to the weather report) would have had me rained or hailed upon, as well as rewarded with a cloud-covered summit, I gratefully accepted the mini-city I found on the top and slopes of Mount Marcy.

This was a stretch for me as a hiker, because of the distance and height, and because I had not been consistently hiking in the last year or so as I had in the past.  I knew I was up for some agony, but had deluded myself into thinking it might be not so bad, in part due to some needlessly nonchalant blogs about the hike I’d read before my trip.  Marcy is not Mount McKinley, but it’s not Breakneck Ridge—the most challenging hike in the Hudson Valley—either.  It’s another notch up from that.  I suppose you can always find a taller, badder mountain after you struggle up your last challenge, until you get to Everest, but I have no interest in that, or McKinley, or anything even remotely in that neighborhood.

But to me, hiking is more than just distance and altitude.  It’s a combination of the land, the location, the scenery, and the quiet.  It’s an odd calculus to think that I struggled for almost 9 hours to enjoy 45 minutes of a great view.  Is the top of Marcy more inspiring than the top of Mount Taurus on the Hudson?  Maybe—probably, but I can get to the top of Mount Taurus in 2 hours and feel a damn sight better than I did atop Marcy. So IMHO, Marcy’s ROI is debatable.  The physical benefit of the exercise seems to be evened out by the risk of injury plus the punishment to my feet.  I went back to my hotel in a kind of daze and spent the night with some odd fever and chills that went away the next day.  I’m not sure what exactly my body was telling me, but I might have been something like, “Don’t do this to me again!”

Based on my observations of the fellow hikers I encountered on the trail, there surely are things I can do to help my body out the next time I try to do something like this.  First, I need to train a bit better.  I was not in poor condition, but neither was it optimal.  Also, those sissy ski poles I saw people using on a trail such as that Van Hoevenberg Trail up Marcy, are definitely useful.  I carried an old 5′ stick taped with tennis racket grip, and while I love my stick, something lighter and one for each arm might have been a big help, especially on the way down.  (I was frankly astonished at several young hikers who sped past me on the way down, several women among them, who had no poles whatsoever.  I have no idea how they could make it over those rocks at that pace!)

On an historical note, my trip took place just under 99 years from the day (Sept 12th, although different accounts put the date on the 13th), that Teddy Roosevelt hiked up Mt. Marcy.  On his descent he stopped at Lake Tear of the Clouds for a late lunch.  (This small lake is the source of the Hudson River.)  Before he could dig into his lunch, a mountain guide caught up with his group to hand Roosevelt a telegram informing him that President McKinley, who had been shot on Sept. 6th in Buffalo, but had been making a good recovery, had taken a turn for the worse and was not expected to live.  Roosevelt then began a mad dash on foot, wagon, coach, and train to get to Buffalo.  By the time he arrived, of course, McKinley was already dead, and Roosevelt had become president before he had even left the Adirondacks.


I spent the next day strolling around Lake Placid.  I took a kayak from the hotel onto Mirror Lake, but had to come back after about 30 minutes due to rain.  I walked the path around Mirror Lake, which has pavement stones every few hundred feet with the High Peaks names and heights.  Here’s the one for Marcy:

I also checked out the Olympic Ski jumps and John Brown’s farm State Historical Site.  (Both recommended!)

Lake Placid Olympic Ski Jump

I was pretty beat up, but nothing like the night before.  The next day I headed home, stopping off for a short hike in a place called Snake Den Harbor north of Westport, NY on Lake Champlain.  Just as I got the to the cliff overlooking the lake, it started to rain, and I walked back to the car, soaking wet.  This was the best picture I could get:

Lake Champlain at Snake Den Harbor

I liked the Westport train station, shown here:

Westport, NY Train Station

Just to cap off the trip, I ran into the most intense hail storm I’d ever been in on the Northway just south of Lake George.  Here’s the video I took when I pulled over to wait until I could see:

Hail Storm on Northway