Robin had climbed the highest peak in New York back in the 80s, but I had never climbed it, much less seen it. At 5344 it is not a towering peak. It is 3000 feet shorter than the mountain behind my condo in Hawaii. But the peak is a remote one, nestled in the heart of the Adirondacks making the summit a long trek. Some people make the trip a long day hike. Many hike part way, camp and bag the peak on the second day. We elected for the long day. But, of course.
My work schedule and the attempt to paint my neighbor’s barn kept me from getting as ready as I was when we hiked Mt. Washington. I did some short hikes getting use to my new low-top foot gear. I felt good when I put in an eight mile hike around Moreau Lake only to learn Robin, who always has been more athletic, had put in a 10 miler on a 4000 foot peak. Sigh. She was going to skunk me up the mountain.
To get an early start and to avoid the two-hour drive to the Adirondack Loj where the trail head is located we got a very nice room in Lake Placid. The room came with breakfast served at 6 am. Anticipating an energy-packed breakfast we instead got something that looked like little yellow marbles, bounced like rubber balls and I presume was made of 1972 military-issued powdered and pulverized eggs. The only good thing about the breakfast was the laughs we got as we reflected on the horrendous eats considering how exceptional the hotel had been. It made a great trail tale.
I don’t know how old I was when Dad took Robin and me to Marcy Lake. Pretty young, I suppose. He might have had the intentions of hiking to the summit, but we had enough of carrying a canvass rucksack full of peanut butter sandwiches and a can of beans by the time we got to the dam, about 2 miles in on a relatively flat hike. (This part of the trail is the saving grace of the whole trip. As it is a trail on soft earth and pine needles, verses the rest of the trail on rocks.) Instead of proceeding up the trail, I wanted to swim in the lake and got my first wilderness lake experience. It might have been cold, I don’t remember that. What I do I remember was the thick mucky debris that settled in the lake. It stirred easily off the dark lake bottom and made swimming as unappealing as climbing to the summit.
Two miles from the Loj and you feel the heart of the Adirondack wilderness, the place of plaid-clad woodsmen and Iroquois Indians, black bears and badgers, of glaciers and granite. These places and times held my imagination as a kid – the geology, the history, the legends of 46ers -- the challenge of becoming one of the elite who climb the peaks above 4000 ft. But I grew up and moved away never to do any serious hiking in the place of “new mountains from old rocks.”
What does one see when one hikes through the woods? To tell the truth, not much but the forest for the trees. As we gained in elevation we caught glimpses of surrounding summits through the breaks in the trees. Tall deciduous yielded to red pines and spruce, which yielded to alpine shrubs and finally to lichen and moss. The one time I looked away from the trail to see the summit of Mt Marcy I tripped over a rock and fell into the alpine bushes.
Footing was precarious. It is the little rocks that will trick you. Step on one and it may roll twisting your ankle. This happened to me on the way down. Luckily I recovered quickly throwing my weight off my ankle onto my hiking poles.
The last bit of climb is over open rock face. Fortunately the weather was perfect. Sunny with little wind, but cool enough to keep ice on the rocks protected from the sun’s warmth. Hard to imagine that these high places were once covered by glaciers more than a mile thick just a short 10,000 years ago. It was the glaciers that left the Adirondacks a jostle of peaks and gives them their beauty.
At the summit we sat on the rocks facing southeast, the high sun on our backs. Unlike Mt. Washington there are no concession stands or warming huts. I broke out a hot drink and two paper cups from the hotel carefully packed so not to be squished. Cheers! Roast beef sandwiches and peanut butter with honey re-energized us for the return trip that took us the same amount of time we had taken to climb. Old knees!
I told Dad to call the State Troopers if he had not heard from us by 9 pm. We made it back to the car by 6:15, but no cellphone signal was available until we reached Keene at 7 pm. Robin wanted a cup of coffee and we both expected that the best she would get would be gas station coffee. But we found the perfect place with an espresso machine, the ADK café. She got a cappuccino and I had a decaf latte.
As we headed down the Northway there was still a tell-tale sign of daylight on the western horizon. Another great adventure behind us. I relaxed in my sister’s new Subaru to discover heated seats are a great recovery therapy. I might have to get me one of those.