Mount Marcy

I spent the weekend in Lake Placid with my father, David III and brother, David IV. It was an amazing time in which we connected with each other and with nature. As I am leaving on October 1 to teach English in South Korea for a year it also served as a kind of “sendoff”, yet III and IV seemed more like they were celebrating my close departure date – both were in unusually high spirits.


Our weekend trip entailed fly fishing on the famed Ausable River, busting each other’s balls, dining out, climbing Mt. Marcy, and busting each other’s balls. There was a hard rainfall the night before we arrived so the water levels were high and were not ideal fishing conditions. I did not catch a single fish nor did I even get a hit, but I did manage to accomplish something: After being challenged by IV, I successfully swung myself up a tree that was halfway cracked about 8 ft from its base and shaped like and upside down L. I proudly sat atop of this 90 degree angle. Shortly thereafter IV decided to join me, completely cracking the tree and setting up a date between my ass and the ground. III caught two trout.


The trek up Mt. Marcy was the highpoint, in every sense. According to III, the summit of Mt. Marcy stands at about 5,300 ft. I believe him, especially after journeying up to the top and then, much to the chagrin of my feet, back down.


Heading into this expedition I was suffering from an extreme case of overconfidence. How hard could this climb be? III has a lot of experience hiking and climbing the Adirondack high peaks and he instructed me on what I should wear and bring for the trip. He stressed how chilly it would be at the summit and furthered his point but showing me what he was packing. I took his words seriously. I followed up the lecture by asking if the steward at the top of the mountain would be hot babe.


From where we parked the car the trail to the top stretches about 7 miles. We began the hike at around 7:30 am. The first two miles were a cake walk. The trail was relatively clear of rocks and roots and did not have much uphill climbing. When we arrived at the Marcy Dam I thought that this might be even easier than I had originally anticipated. We rested at the Dam for about fifteen minutes so IV could eat breakfast. Now is a good time to mention that IV was wearing Vibram Five Fingers, a type of athletic shoe that has minimal cushioning that offers the “joy” of going barefoot. He got the idea from a book called Born To Run which tells the story of a hidden Indian tribe that credit their super athletic ability on running barefoot. The state and condition of his feet were a constant conversational piece and he garnered much attention from other hikers inquiring about his reptile looking footwear. My Puma cross trainers were deemed less interesting.

Marcy Dam. Notice IV's Vibrums.


It was at this time that we met a friendly couple in their 60’s who I will call Mr. and Mrs. String Bean. The String Bean’s were thin and fit, each with a head of white hair, glasses and smiles that featured the gums as much as the teeth. They were the kind of couple that looked more like brother and sister than intimate partners. Mrs. String Bean took our picture. The String Bean’s had questions about the trail that III gladly answered.  Before the String Bean’s resumed their hike I said we would see them at the summit.


We bid our farewell to Marcy Dam and continued along the path. The next mile was similar to the first couple, but steeper and with more rocks. We marched past the String Beans in this time, which was a real ego boost. I equate climbing a mountain to driving on a highway. I don’t get into my car with the mindset that I want to race other vehicles, but others pass me on the highway I find it hard not to press on the accelerator. Well, climbing a mountain is no different. I don’t necessarily have a need to be the fastest guy up the peak, but I’ll be damned if I let you pass without subtly putting my walking stick in front of you.


I will be first to admit that III is much more adept at maneuvering through streams, rivers and trails. He is probably also in superior aerobic shape than I am, but I am not as friendly, and either is IV, and this worked to our advantage. At about the 4 mile mark III took his first of spill. After his third fall I deduced that every time he went down it was when we were passing by other hikers on the trail. Mt. Marcy is challenging, but if you are in good enough shape you can do it. As a consequence of being the most storied peak in NY, on weekends in the early fall when the leaves are beginning to turn, there is a decent amount of foot traffic on the trail. I mentioned to III that he was falling when we were passing people coming the opposite way. As it turns out, III was so eager to say hello and make small talk with fellow hikers that he would take his eye off the uneven, rocky terrain and end up losing his balance. Sometimes it’s advantageous to pay other people no mind.


The String Beans pass us.


We pass the String Beans.


As the trail twisted up the mountain it became more challenging. We came to a small patch of grass that has beautiful open view of the top of the mountain. At this vantage point, hikers very close to the top appeared as mere ants climbing an ant hill. We snapped some pictures and continued on. From this point we were 0.6 miles from the peak and from here on out is when it became especially arduous, requiring us to scale big rocks.


At the summit.

After nearly 4 hours we made it to the very top of the highest peak in NY. The view was spectacular.  The only disappointment was that the steward was a neo hippie dude instead of a hot chic. Because of the nice sweat I worked up I arrived to the peak with a cut off Under Armour shirt. The sky was clear and the sun was at full strength, but the temperature from the high altitude and the whipping wind sent a chill deep to my bones and I immediately reached for the extra clothes I brought in my backpack. Though I listened to III, apparently I did not heed his advice close enough. Despite all the layers of clothes I was under I still needed more to be comfortable in order to nap like I had planned. I was desperate. I had a baseball cap, but I needed something to warm my ears. I reached into my backpack to see what I could work with and the only thing left was  a spare pair of boxer briefs. It was a brilliant move of improvisation- I carefully placed them on my head like a skull-cap. Soon the chilliness left me (along with my dignity). This propelled III to endure a fit of laughter like I had never seen. I don’t know if it was the altitude or if I really looked that ridiculous but after a few minutes I became genuinely concerned-he clearly was not taking in enough oxygen. Eventually his case of the giggles subsided. Subsequently, I ate a turkey sandwich then fell into a peaceful nap next to IV.

We made it back to the sign-in post around 6 pm.

Much to my surprise, and disappointment, the String Beans were ahead of us signing out when we reached the post.

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