New York: Mt. Marcy (5,344 feet)
Distance: 14.8 miles on the Van Hoevenburg Trail
Elevation gain: 3,164 feet
Date: August 19, 2015
Bathrooms: Real bathroom at the camp store by the parking lot. Sketchy backwoods toilets available around mile 2 along the trail.
On his final night as Vice President, Teddy Roosevelt climbed Mt. Marcy. President McKinley had been shot several days before, and took a turn for the worse while Roosevelt was summiting. Roosevelt had to quickly scramble his way down from Marcy, and be sworn in as President in a borrowed coat. Leading up to this hike, Raina and I fixated on how unique it would be to follow in Teddy Roosevelt’s footsteps to a highpoint. No matter that we were taking a different trail. At the summit, we’d be standing where Teddy stood. As we yammered on about the awesomeness of this upcoming experience and what could possibly be better than standing at the top of a mountain where Teddy Roosevelt stood, Raina’s husband (our support staff) deadpanned, “Only following in Michael J. Fox’s footsteps.” He had a good point.
When we met at 5:30 am in our hotel lobby, we were pleased to find that the front desk clerk was willing to sell us each a hot cup of coffee for $1.70. Groggily we hopped in the car, and enjoyed the Adirondack sunrise while we got caffeinated. (Once again, dirt road master and travel agent extraordinaire Shaun, Raina’s husband, was driving.) We smiled over roadside bunny rabbits, and admired an industrious squirrel who was spending the dawn hours strategically dropping pine cones onto cars from a very tall tree in the parking area. Our friend, Rachel, pulled in shortly after we got there, and some guy and his friend named Doug took our picture. The day was ours; We hit the trail.
The first two miles were glorious. We followed well built bridges over picturesque streams, and breathed deeply the scent of Christmas trees.
Around the two mile mark are wooden outhouses – think Shrek. No toilet paper, no Purell, and seemingly little maintenance. You could smell these toilets for hundreds of yards. None of us opted to use them.
After the first two miles, the real hike began. We started off with a rocky incline that was manageable. After that the trail got muddy. Then the rocks got steeper, and wetter. Sweat poured off of us like we’d decided to spend our day in a Bikram yoga class. Toward the end of the hike, the rocks went straight up for about 30 feet at a time. Still, the trail was well laid out, and clearly marked. We all made it to the top in good spirits.
On the ascent, we bumped into a solo British guy several times who made unsolicited observations about us each time. “You must have gotten an early start” he began as he came from behind us around 9:00 am. Either he got an early start as well or that was his backhanded way at declaring his athletic ability to be far superior to ours. Later, as he was maybe coming off of the summit, heading down a different trail from the one he’d come up, he commented to Raina and Rachel who were waiting for me and Shaun to maneuver up a straight rock face, “You must be waiting on others.” Seriously, what was with this guy?
We were greeted at the summit by a high peak steward who answered our questions, and directed us away from the fragile alpine plants. The views were amazing, and we enjoyed the sensation of the clouds rolling over us. While it was a bit chilly, we were lucky that we didn’t face too much wind on our climbing day. We were happy to find two USGS markers at the top.
The really hard part was getting back down again. Honestly, it felt like it would never end. While the climb up was challenging and exhilarating, the climb down was long, wet, and soul sucking. Carefully placing each step on the wet, steep rocks, we only have a few minor falls among our group to speak of. By the time we reached the final two miles, which we thought were mostly flat on the way up, we realized that we enjoyed that leg of the trail so much because it was downhill. We had no idea so much uphill remained ahead of us.
We can only hope that it will be one of those hate it while it’s happening, and look back on it fondly experiences.
A couple of notes:
- The ranger advises 4 liters of water/person. We drank about 3.5/person and probably would have consumed more if we weren’t rationing. Bring at least 4L or a water filter to refill along the trail.
- Parking in Lot 1 gets you closest to the trailhead. Just watch out for the squirrels who have a sense of humor all their own (spaces closest to the trailhead are vacant for a reason).
- Depending on the trail conditions, hikers seem to take anywhere from 6 to 14 hours. Get an early start.
- Wear waterproof shoes. From what we understand, this is a wet, muddy hike no matter when you go.
For a satisfying post-hike dinner, try the homemade goodness of Lisa G’s.
For local beer with your dinner, try the Lake Placid Pub & Brewery. Food and beer are good, kids can enjoy their own play area, and the brewery offers tours. As an added bonus, they bring in live music, including contestants from The Voice (Amanda Lee Peers was performing the night we were there).
Make a long weekend out if it by exploring the Olympic Park. Try a bobsled ride (a must do!), walk the full mile bobsled/luge track, stand atop the ski jump, enjoy a gondola ride, and explore a castle. It truly gives you a new appreciation for the Winter Olympics. Plus, the kids can climb on spider web ropes and low rock walls in between activities on the mountain.