On most maps of New York State, there is a little triangle located in the North East corner of the state. It is labeled ‘Mt. Marcy’ and the 5,344 ft. elevation is printed next to it.
I have been looking at that triangle an wondering about it ever since I started becoming obsessed with maps as a child.
Why aren’t there any other triangles on maps of New York? What is it about Mt. Marcy that allows her to be on the map and no one else?
It’s because Marcy is the tallest mountain in the state. There is no other point higher in elevation. When you are standing on top of Marcy, all of New York must look up in order to find you.
I had to go.
My plan was to go and visit the beautiful city of Montreal. Since Marcy was just below the border of Canada, this made for a convenient double-trip.
Montreal was incredible, the city is perfect for biking, wandering, and exploring. The women are beautiful and the food is exquisite. The atmosphere is the closest you can get to being in Europe without leaving North America. Most people in Montreal speak French, and the Eastern, French-Quebecois part of the city is devoid of most English.
One of the nice citizens.
It’s always a good refreshment for your brain when visiting somewhere you don’t speak the language. It forces you to learn some new words, really pay attention to peoples body language, and communicate through the eyes. Just don’t be obnoxious and expect everyone to understand you: visiting here is an exercise in patience and humility.
After spending a few days enjoying the city, it was time to return to the U.S. I drove an hour south to Plattsburgh, rented a cheap room, and rested up for Marcy.
Waking up at dawn and getting prepared to hike makes a man feel like he is really doing something.
The coffee was black, the air was crisp, and the drive through the colorful mountains was inspiring.
You can see Mt. Marcy off in the distance before the turn-off in to the thick forest and up to the Adirondak loj.
It was Monday and there weren’t many people around at 8a.m. I got started and walked alone through the old forest.
The first few miles of the 15 mile round trip are relatively flat. Most of it runs along the side of a pure mountain stream that provides beautiful and peaceful views.
After the easy four mile walk to the base of the mountain, the terrain changes drastically.
There she is, Ms. Marcy
The next two miles up requires you to climb over boulders, scramble up rock faces, and jump down ledges. This is where you really start to sweat.
On one five foot drop down, I landed hard on my left leg and felt my knee take the impact. The pain had to be ignored and provided a boost of adrenaline and energy. This made me climb faster.
The last mile and a half takes you up in to an Alpine climate where the weather can go from sunny and calm to bizzard-like in minutes. Many people had warned me about this and the only precaution I took was putting an extra sweater in my pack.
The Autumn view was beautiful past the tree-line. Since there were no trees to hold trail markers, people had built stone pyramids to mark the way.
Aiming towards them felt like navigating an alien landscape. The textured alpine plants and brightly colored moss that cover the rock give the mountain an otherworldly feel. The last half mile scramble to the top is over steep bare rock. I had to pace myself and allow for time to gasp for oxygen in the the thin air.
I hike alone.
The peak comes up quickly at this point and at the very top there is a marker drilled in to the rock–it was installed by the USGS and noted the 5,344 ft. elevation and has an arrow pointing North.
As the 360 degree view sunk in, that old feeling of accomplishment hit. My body ached, sweat poured out, there was a blister on my toe, and I was ravenously hungry.
And my spirit was soaring.
The view let me see the other high peaks of the Adirondaks: Algonquin, Haystack, Whiteface–they were all right there trying to compete, but looking weak compared to Marcy.
I reached the peak at 11:30a.m.–there were a few other hikers at the top and they were talking loud and being rambunctious. I wanted to be alone so I walked down the East face for a little bit until I couldn’t see or hear anyone and took off my clothes.
I sat in the alpine grass and scarfed down a half pound of sliced ham, a tomato, and a hunk of cheddar cheese.
It was the most satisfying meal of the year.
I lingered around a cliff edge for a while and let the sun and wind bathe my naked body. After putting my clothes on, I went back up to the peak–my knee was throbbing and I was not looking foward to the climb down.
There were three middle aged ladies from rural Canada who were hanging out and eating seeds on the peak. They were pretty funny broads, one told me how she built the perfect bonfire:
You gotta get the spinner out of an old washing machine, eh. Then you put it on some bricks, add yer wood, and light that fire right in the old spinner. The little holes in it will let the heat go right through and it looks real pretty with all the light coming through them holes.
I told her to invite me to her next bonfire and she said I was more than welcome. Then the ladies offered me a thermos of hot liquid. It hit the spot. After smoking a bit of their cigar, my knee was feeling much better and after thanking the nice old spinsters, I headed down.
The way down was much quicker but when I reached the boulders, my knee flared up again and I had to go at a snails pace.
After the boulder-crawl, the flat ground that should have been covered in two hours took five. My slow pace did allow me to enjoy the incredible fall foliage and the pain running through my veins made the colors even more vibrant.
There was one guy who passed by and asked if I was ok. I told him there wasn’t much else to do except trudge on. He walked with me for a bit and shared his experience as a Forest Ranger.
It was his job to keep track of the dozens of bears that roamed the area. Each bear had a GPS locator on it and every few weeks the Ranger would have to track each bear down until he had a visual on it.
And then he would charge the bear while screaming and blasting an air horn. He did this in order to keep the bears fearful of humans–they get pretty bold pretty fast and without scaring them every so often, they will come around sniffing for snacks.
I laughed hard at this and told him about how I’ve always wanted to be able to move silently through the forest without being seen by animals so I could sneak up on them.
He said that Native Americans used to play a game like that with bears. They would step as softly as they could and sneak up behind a bear that was eating, let out a war whoop, and punch the bear as hard as they could.
The sharing of these stories had me crying in laughter. I told the guy not to wait up for me and I would make it through and he shook my hand hard before going on ahead.
The leaves held many different colors in their veins, and the low sunlight shining through turned the forest in to a living painting.
I wobbled on and enjoyed the slow pace and incredible vibrancy of the forest.When the loj was reached, I changed my sweat soaked shirt, switched shoes, and crashed into the drivers seat.
It was a long drive back home but the energy that climbing Mt. Marcy had provided was enough to keep me alert and feeling good.
If you ever have the chance, and are feeling up to the challenge, I encourage you to pack a big lunch, take a deep breath, and climb up to the top of New York.