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Climbing New York’s Highest Point: Mount Marcy

By: Patrick Gensel
Photos By: Bill Urbanski

The piercing whine of my travel alarm sprung me from a deep sleep at 5 AM on Saturday morning, but I did not put forth my usual struggle to wake up. I was excited for our intended winter ascent of Mount Marcy, the highest mountain in New York State. The thermometer read seven below, but despite the chill, my excitement did not ebb. I crawled out of the blankets and began to prepare for the cold we expected to face while the rest of the team slowly did the same. We ate breakfast and did a final sweep of our dwelling to be certain we did not leave behind any mission critical gear.

The team consisted of Bill Urbanski, David Weaver, Phil Shellenberger, John Haczewski and I. All of our skill sets varied greatly, but we all shared the same burning passion for the outdoors and the freedom of the hills.

We arrived at the Adirondack Loj parking lot just before 7 AM, eager to set out. We planned to make our assault on the summit via the Van Hoevenberg trail, accessible from the parking lot. With the brightly shining moon hanging above our head, we did a final gear check, extended our trekking poles and put our snowshoes on. Shortly after, we snapped a group photo and wandered up the trail, summit bound and grinning.

The High Peaks From Marcy Dam

After an hour of beautiful wooded winter scenery, we arrived at Marcy Dam. We stripped off a layer or two in anticipation of the elevation gain in our near future. I looked up at the mountains beginning to peek through the cloud cover and took a swig of hot Tang from my water bottle. Yep, that’s right Tang; the citrus stuff we all remember from our youth. I’d never had it hot before, but thanks to a smart suggestion from Bill , the hot Tang was keeping me warm. With everyone hydrated and gear management taken care of, we continued. As we trekked onward, the snow began to deepen and the beautiful, snow covered conifers were more abundant.

Within what felt like minutes, we arrived at a sign pointing to Indian Falls. Fortunately, we made the decision to check it out. Moments later, we stood atop a frozen cascade providing uninterrupted views of the High Peaks region. The few minutes of exposure on top of that windswept waterfall was enough to chill me to the bone, but as it usually goes with this type of pursuit, I was almost too warm within minutes of walking again.We reached a clearing just before noon and were treated to our first glimpse of Mount Marcy’s summit. It stood a mere 600 vertical feet above our heads, encased in deep blue skies. The sign ahead told us we were just over a mile from our goal.

The more we walked, the smaller the trees grew, altering our perspective and perception of distance; things looked much further away. Thankfully, a pair of climbers near the summit helped us regain our perspective. As the trees all but disappeared, we decided to hunker down behind a large rock and do our final gear management before the summit push. Everyone added layers and donned ski goggles. The wind started to kick up, blowing snow everywhere.

Suited up, I hiked just beyond the group and stood taking in my surroundings. I had been at higher elevations before, but something about this place screamed “remote” and “alpine” to me. As I usually am on these types of adventures, I was elated. Shortly after, I was joined by my companions and we pushed toward the top.

I was walking for a few minutes when suddenly I was sucked waist deep into the snow. Like quicksand, struggling only seemed to worsen the situation. Fortunately, Phil was close behind and came to help me out. After analyzing the hole, I realized that a buried bush created a pocket of air, perfect for me happened to fall through.

Bill Standing above the summit plaque

Within minutes, Bill and I arrived at the plaque declaring this the summit of Mount Marcy. I stuck my trekking poles into the snow and joined Bill on the true summit above the plaque. The rest of our party joined us shortly thereafter. The wind was blowing at about fifteen miles and hour, pushing the wind-chill to around twenty five below zero.The conditions quickly deteriorated around us, and at this point we had to decide whether we would descend via an alternate and possibly unbroken trail, or retrace our steps back down Van Hoevenberg.

After little discussion, we decided that the prospect of an unbroken trail in potentially deteriorating conditions was not the way to go and be began our decent back down the Van Hovenberg trail.

The descent went quite swiftly; with few stops and a strong pace, we made it five miles back to Marcy Dam where we regrouped before making the final two mile push for the parking lot. There was plenty of talk of beer and food by this time, and I was certainly ready for it. We arrived back at the Adirondack Loj at around 4:30pm, putting our round trip totals at fifteen miles in nine hours. Fatigue began to take its toll on the group and we prompted loaded our gear and set out on our next adventure – beer and food!

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5 Responses to “Climbing New York’s Highest Point: Mount Marcy”

  1. bill
    January 28, 2011 at 8:09 pm #

    gotta love hot Tang on an Alpine climb.

  2. Katie
    January 28, 2011 at 9:01 pm #

    Bill, I never would’ve thought that would taste even remotely appealing, but I might have to give it a try! Sounds like you had a great day, and a similar experience to what I had last winter climbing Algonquin. The ‘Dacks are beautiful any time of year :)

  3. David
    January 28, 2011 at 9:40 pm #

    Who is Bill Stands and why did you post a photo of him?

  4. White Mountain Dude
    July 12, 2011 at 3:55 pm #

    There’s nothing better then beer after a day of hiking (no matter what season). Cheers!

  5. Charlie Kelly
    July 27, 2011 at 7:27 pm #

    That’s my home mountain! First 46er and I lived in Keene Valley for a long while

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