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Mount Marcy (NY)
Mount Marcy, New York
Elevation: 1,803 ft
Date: 3 days, November 20-22rd, 2004
Group Size: 3
Miles Covered: 18
Difficulty: Ice covered trail and no crampons = a lot of step cutting
Scenery: Really no view due to a fog, but I bet it's really nice
This was my first trip to the "dacks". In my attempt to learn as much about the mountain conditions in the late fall, I contacted a park ranger. I was informed that we will need snowshoes, but that crampons will not be needed. So with this advice, Pat and I drove up to Hartford, CT, where we met up with Sarah J., a friend from the Pratt & Whitney era. To my dismay, there was absolutely no snow in CT. In fact, it was quite warm. Still, we packed the snowshoes and my ice axe into Sarah's SUV and took off the next morning. Five hours later, we arrived at the Garden trailhead to see more of the same - no snow, no ice. Darn. After some debating, I decided to leave the axe and the snowshoes in the car.
Getting ready for high point #9
We didn't get moving until an early afternoon, and thus we passed a lot of dayhikers returning back to the parking lot. Just about each had crampons strapped to his/her backpack. Some half a mile into the trail we decided to talk to one of them about the trail situation. The hiker informed us that the trail was all ice, and the only way we will make it to the top is if we crawl on all fours. This was not good news. All I could do at this point was to return to the car to at least grab the axe.
Crossing a bridge by Bushnell Falls
After this mile long diversion, we started moving again. By the end of the first day, we made it to the Bushnell Falls shelter area without encountering much ice. The trail condition quickly changed the next day, as just about everything past the Slant Rock was icy. Often we would come across a big boulder "step" in the trail. Here we had to resort to cutting steps, or at least using the axe for an anchor. It was actually a lot of fun, but it also slowed us down considerably. To regain some time, We ditched our backpacks some 0.6 miles from the summit and continued on with just the crucial gear. The final push consisted of scrambling through a rock field. Luckily, there wasn't much ice here, but it was still really windy and snowing.
This is what the trail looked like for most of the second day
Sarah climbing over an icy boulder
The snow quickly turned into freezing rain as we descended back down. All my gear, which was waterproof at some point in the past, couldn't withstand this element. Freezing rain is just about the worst. The rain penetrates all your clothing just to immediately start freezing. Even in a heavy snow storm, the snow can be simply brushed off and you can stay fairly comfortable. We put our tents under the Slant Rock and quickly crawled into the dry sleeping bags. To my surprise, Pat passed out again without eating any dinner. Even though I knew he should be eating, I was in no state to crawl out of the warm tent and cook him dinner. I just set up the stove outside the tent and Sarah and I reheated few cans of canned soup and fried some Spam. Man, you got to love Spam. All that grease is so tasty on a camping trip.
Final push for the summit
Sarah and I on the top of NY's highest point
We woke up to a light snow dusting covering the ground, and all our gear frozen to what was mud the night before. This time, I forced Pat to eat some hot soup. We then quickly packed up and made it to the trailhead by the early afternoon. This was a really good trip. At first, I was disappointed as I was expecting a challenging climb through a winter wonderland. I was under the impression that this what was supposed to be a major undertaking will turnout to be just a regular overnighter. However, the ice on the higher trail still provided for a lot of excitement, and the freezing rain definitely increased the difficulty of this hike.