Hike: Mount Marcy
Distance: 15 miles
Elevation: 5344 ft
Total Ascent: ~3800 ft
Date: May 9, 2015
To say I had become a little obsessed with standing on top of Mount Marcy after our epic failure (er, solid attempt! … learning experience?) back in January would be the understatement of the year. Unfortunately life and poor Spring hiking conditions disrupted the flow, and the next opportunity wouldn’t come for several months.
I was itching to try out my new shoes. I had spent months agonizing over what to slip my feet into once winter took its leave. I wanted minimalist shoes, but waterproof and with decent traction in the mud. A tall order indeed. Once I gave up on the idea of finding a boot I was happy with and began looking at sneakers, I happened across the Vivobarefoot Winterproof Trail Freaks.
An opportunity for a little getaway finally presented itself for me and my brother in May. I was telling some friends about my plans a few days before the trip. “I’m heading to my parents’ house (sans kids!) from tomorrow through Monday. Hoping to get a couple hikes in. Maybe even another Marcy attempt (apparently there is still a couple feet of snow up there).”
My friends were unimpressed. “Oooh. You found a May vacation spot with snow. You’re really winning at the vacation thing.”
Indeed, it was hard to imagine feet of snow anywhere at this point. Spring was in full swing, trees and flowers blooming, the grass already pissing me off because I JUST MOWED, DAMMIT. But Brian and I heeded the reports and packed our microspikes and snowshoes, even with the high temperature in the High Peaks expected to be around 80F.
I had also invested in a nice pair of Black Diamond trekking poles that I was excited to get to know. The value of good poles became apparent on the last hike when mine had become useless, contributing to my hip failure. I expected to fully use their features on this day, with rubber and carbide tips, and removable snow baskets.
We set off from the Loj up the now all-too-familiar Van Hoevenberg Trail around 8:30am, feeling relaxed and excited. It was already warm, and we had hours more daylight to play with. There would be no freezing to death today.
The trail to Marcy Dam was surprisingly dry. This was supposed to be mud season! It turns out all the water was in Marcy Brook, overflowing the dam hard, melting off the surrounding mountains in torrents.
We passed some college-aged guys, also intending to summit Marcy. They were wearing shorts, t-shirts, and sneakers, with minimal gear on their backs. I felt a bit apprehensive while talking to them, knowing the conditions ahead would be far different than down below, but on we all went.
This was the first time I had seen this section of the trail along Phelps Brook not covered in thick ice. It turns out it’s far rockier and harder to traverse. But it was fine. A little sweat wasn’t going to slow us down too much.
Once across Phelps Brook, the trail begins to steepen quickly. This was our first sign that winter did still exist up here, however minor. It was important to carefully watch our step, as the difference between ice, rock, root, and mud was not always obvious.
The thickness of the snow beneath us quickly grew as we climbed, even though the warm temperatures had it melting in buckets. We could literally hear the water rushing in rivers below our feet, finding its way down the mountain into Marcy Brook, over Marcy Dam, and eventually to Lake Champlain.
I had heard of postholing before, but never experienced it myself to this degree. If we were careful to step in the exact middle of the worn path, where others had packed it down well but hadn’t destabilized it by postholing themselves, then it was usually ok. A slight deviation would send us sinking to our hips. This happened, um, more than once. We passed a couple who were fleeing down in frustration, muttering about sinking every other step.
At one point, Brian put his pole in a hole I had just climbed out of to show its depth, and while doing so postholed himself. I had the pleasure of capturing the moment on camera.
One of the really cool things about this section of the hike was experiencing the battle between the cold and warm air. The ground and the sun were battling it out, and we were caught in the middle. A hot breeze would immediately be followed by an icy cold breeze, then hot breeze, etc.
Finally we made it to our turn-around point in January, feeling much stronger and more capable than back then, despite the battle with the unstable trail.
We elected to continue on without our snowshoes. We received a few compliments at being the only ones on the mountain with the foresight to bring them, but that doesn’t mean we were smart enough to put them on our feet. One guy joked about wishing he had brought his raquettes, and another asked, “To play tennis?”, much to the delight of the rest of the group. It’s the little things.
Much of this section of trail was easier hiking. The snow pack was more stable, and we could trudge along without worrying about constantly postholing as much. It felt exciting to be further along than I had ever been before, seeing new trail that had been haunting my dreams for several months.
Exiting the trees, the views immediately became phenomenal. This is looking down the Great Range with Basin in the forefront.
Nearing the top, the snow was largely gone, but what was left was ice. There were a few tricky spots where the ice was unavoidable. At one point we refilled our bottles from water pouring off a little baby glacier, figuring there was little chance it would be contaminated at that location, since there was no upstream.
Although it was not a crystal clear day, the views were still impressive and well worth the trip.
This is one of my favorite shots from the day, taken by my brother. It brings me back to that moment, standing atop Marcy and taking it all in. I was dreaming of exploring down there, beyond Marcy, experiencing Skylight, Lake Tear of the Clouds, Gray, Redfield, and Cliff from the west. It would be more than a year before that dream would become realized.
Finally around 3:30pm we decided we’d better get a move on, and started the long descent.
After the break at Indian Falls, my arthritis decided to kick into high gear and my knee gave out. The descent through this section is the most technical of the entire trek, and I was crawling. It was frustrating as hell, for both me and my brother.
A few years prior, I had an arthritis episode that lasted for months, and was so severe I could barely walk, couldn’t do normal chores or pick up my kids, at times couldn’t get into or out of bed without assistance. I was diagnosed with reactive arthritis, and had been learning about it and my body since, and how to best manage it. Clearly there was more to learn.
Just before crossing Phelps Brook, my brother dug some ibuprofen out of his pack and gave it to me. I had taken so much NSAIDs during my severe arthritis episode that I had developed an emotional block against taking them, not wanting to return to that saga. But, duh, they can still help at times. And within 15 minutes I was back to cruising speed, my brother huffing behind me muttering under his breath, because a few minutes ago he was waiting for me.
Hike: OK Slip Falls
Distance: 7 miles
Date: May 10, 2015
The next day, my brother and I wanted to do something with our dad, but, for obvious reasons, nothing too crazy. We decided on OK Slip Falls. This had recently been opened up to the public, and was a fairly level, 7 mile round-trip hike with one of the tallest waterfalls in New York at the terminus.
The conditions were quite different from the day before. Some mud, but mostly dry, easy trail. Our legs complained at first, but once we got going it felt good to stretch them out.
The falls were absolutely stunning. There is a trail to hike around the rim, but weather was moving in, and we were all tired. The end of the trail, where this view is from, is quite steep. I wouldn’t recommend letting small children run wild here.
On the way out, the skies opened up. Brian and I neglected to put our ponchos on. It absolutely poured and we got soaked. Fortunately the temperature was mild, and it added to the adventure and the memory.
After a beautiful and successful few days of hiking, it’s time to drink wine and get out the maps to plan the next adventure!