Hey there, fellow wanderer! Looks like you’re doing your research on your next big outdoor adventure - good for you! Since you’re into the outdoors, you wouldn’t mind refreshing your Leave No Trace outdoor knowledge, would you? I would hate to promote that outdoor wanderlust to anyone who violates LNT, and I promise it’s a quick read!
Climbing the Tallest (And Longest) 46er in The High Peaks Region
We woke before the sun could rise on our cabin in Lewis, New York. The trailhead was a 45 minute drive, and I knew we’d need at least a half hour to pack our bags, quickly smear cream cheese on cheap bagels, and pile into the wagon with our eyes still half-shut.
The parking lot at the Adirondack Loj (the starting point for the majority of the High Peaks’ trails) was filling up despite our early departure. Being a Saturday in the beginning of fall, I expected no less, but part of me still held out hope that the trails would be a little quieter. Oh well.
The trail of the day was Mt. Marcy via Hoevenberg. From everything I read, we needed to allow anywhere from 9-12 hours to finish this out and back trail, and so far we fell slightly behind schedule by the time we parked.
The first ones out of the car were myself and Katie, one of my oldest friends and fellow outdoorswoman. We had been planning this trip for months, maybe even years if you count the times we said “we should totally do it” before actually committing.
Devin, though new to day hikes of this length, was a quiet warrior that soldiered through aching feet and tired minds the day before on Cascade Mountain. He followed sleepily out of the car alongside Kenobi, Katie’s all-white husky.
I’m always so thankful when I meet and get to know people like Devin - people who keep a level mind and never worry too much. That’s not to say he wasn’t prepared. His dad, being a chiropractor, hooked him up with little packets of CBD menthol cream that would later be a god send to a twisted ankle. More on that later.
As always, Tyler (The Beard in former Trail Diaries) sauntered by my side with a smile, as life partners are apt to do. He and I treated this hike as a quiet celebration of our two years annivsary. With this crew in tow, and we set off as dawn trickled between the trees.
Ascending Mt. Marcy
After stopping through Marcy Dam (the trail’s most easily accessible waypoint), Katie led the way with Kenobi. Their pace absolutely crushed the rest of our group with no signs of diminishing. I chalked it up to her newfound love of trail running, but in reality, I could’ve been in better shape as evidenced by my heaving breaths and rapidly beating heart.
Mt Marcy is by no means a difficult mountain to ascend. There are no technical portions that require skills beyond basic bouldering and watching your footing. Any vertical upswings were met almost immediately with a few yards of steady grade. What made Mt Marcy’s trail so damn intense was its sheer length. We felt every bit of her 14 miles beneath our feet and within every muscle fiber of our legs.
The forest was so dense in some portions that any break of light in between the pines was blinding. The High Peaks in New York are known for their rocky trails, so breaks were frequent as we assessed our footing and caught up with Katie.
“Boring” is not the correct term for out and back trails of this length. I wouldn’t even describe them as monotonous. They just feel...long. To break the pattern of boulder, breathe, and snack break, we spent a few hours figuring out trail names for one another (or rather, I entertained myself by thinking of trail names while the others nodded in half hearted agreement).
Kenobi: Dirty Boy. Nearly everyone we encountered had something to say about how he would get dirty. On a trail. While hiking. Like, don’t hurt yourself on that one, Sherlock.
Tyler: Steady Buffalo. He’s not fast, but he’s not slow. He’s Steady Buffalo, trucking along at his own pace.
Devin: Toadstool, but only because I really wanted to call someone Toadstool. We later changed the name to Tortuga, since his self-proclaimed spirit animal is a turtle.
Katie: Blue. We never figured out a reason why. Her eyes are a stunning blue, so let’s go with that.
Myself: Moss Bitch. I just really love moss.
Aside from Marcy Dam, our first real waypoint came in the form of Indian Falls, a stunning vista carved out by a small stream a few miles below the summit.
We stopped for a few photos and shared StroopWaffels, but it became quickly apparent just how busy Mt. Marcy’s trail was becoming. Voices in the distance were gaining on us and we wanted to keep ahead of them.
Katie, once again, absolutely creamed me, Tyler, and Devin to our next waypoint whose name escapes me. Either way, we got a generous view of the summit and the “oh shit we still have a long way to go” concerns danced across our minds. I downed one more pack of gummy dinosaurs and set off with the group towards the alpine ridge.
Once the tops of trees met our sight lines and the open air filled our lungs, we knew it would be a slower march. The prettier the pictures, the trickier the footing; save a few 2x4 runways that offered a reprieve from the soft and fragile ground.
It was upon the ridgeline that I could finally grasp Mt. Marcy’s scale. Our group was almost level with Mt. Marcy’s sister mountains, and we still had a way to climb.
We had to be more particular with our footing upon encountering the alpine wilderness. It’s a fragile landscape at that elevation, and we made certain not to instinctively grab the flora around us if we slipped on the rocky path.
We marched up the summit at around 11:30 AM just in time for a chilly lunch and congratulatory hugs, but not before exalting in giddy laughter and whooping from our crew. With fellow hikers surrounding us, our celebration was brief. Mountain Etiquette 101 - we are all united in the summit’s peace.
During lunch, the rest of the group collapsed onto a rock for some much-needed rest while I snuck a few pictures around the summit. It’s an entirely different world from the top. The air is a bit thinner, but each breath feels fuller, and every exhale is cleansing.
The burning in my legs and chest had faded into that gentle stupor hikers live for. Though neither Katie nor I have ever given birth, we imagined that hiking is somewhat similar in the way that hours of pain is simply forgotten once you reach the reward.
While we all agreed that we could dissolve into the breeze and live at the summit forever, we knew that the greater challenge was ahead of us. Descending for the entire seven mile hike back to the parking lot would wear on us, from the soles of our feet to our tired minds.
Descending Mt. Marcy
I was surprised at our pace coming back down Mt. Marcy. Rocky terrain is no fun at certain angles, and downward meant less stability in my footing. I felt confident that we could get home before sunset, but that was until I heard a nasty crunch from my left ankle.
The pain knocked the wind out of me, but before I could hit the ground, my group surrounded me and helped me to a comfortable seat just off the trail. A flood of unzipped first aid kits and containers of Advil obscured my vision while my husband gently removed my boot to inspect the damage.
I won’t dwell too much on the injury itself because that’s not what’s important here. Some medical wrap and CBD menthol rub later (thanks Devin!), I was ready to hit the trail again. What resonated here was not how quickly my group came to the rescue, but how they slowed their pace for me, constantly checked in, and made sure we all completed the trail together.
It wasn’t twilight by the time we made it back to the parking lot, but the overcast sky made it feel much later than it was. Our socks were soaked, our legs were jelly, and, despite the gloomy weather, we couldn’t be happier. When the destination is the journey itself, make sure you’re in good company; the rest is all noise. Without a doubt, we all agreed to “do this again sometime soon,” and made it our lifetime goal to complete all 46 High Peaks in the Adirondacks region. Let the journey begin.