I’ve been planning this climb for the past 5 months…since the moment I gazed at her regal beauty from the summit of Mount Colden. It would be my birthday present to me, from me. Miss Marcy and I had a date with enduring faith, accompanied by a side of “don’t you dare quit.”
My mountain blogs are more than just a trip report. They are my memoirs, my heart stories…and my climb up Miss Marcy promised to be yet another journey that uncovered strength I did not know existed within.
Since it was my birthday hike, I treated myself to a stay in a private room at the Adirondack Loj. I was one of just a few travelers that roomed there the Friday night before. It was perfect. Perfect sunset, perfect beverage. Relaxing, serene, cozy, peaceful…the perfect place for a goodnight’s rest.
My original plan was to hike Mount Marcy along with Mount Skylight and Gray Peak. My plan B was to climb Phelps and/or Tabletop if I had any gas left in the tank after the descent from Marcy. Plan C, which I ultimately had to go with, was to climb Miss Marcy as a solo peak.
I left the Loj at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday morning, May 14th. It was 41 degrees with a slight breeze and just a few clouds in the sky. The forecast was predicting rain showers with thunderstorms by early afternoon so my pack was literally packed with every type of jacket imaginable. Plus, I have a history of falling on EVERY hike, so along with food and water, I had some extra clothes as well.
I signed in at the trailhead at 6:38 a.m. I would be following the popular Van Hoevenberg trail all the way up to the summit of Mount Marcy. My mind had been a little off all morning. Maybe it was from the journey ahead. Or maybe it was consumed with spending my birthday alone. Either way, the battle in my mind has begun before I even stepped foot on the trail.
As my tradition, I wrote a quote next to my name this time:
“Be stronger than your strongest excuse.” A feeling of uncertainty stirred inside.
I ventured down the familiar walk to Marcy Dam. I am always amazed on how different the trail looks every time I am there. This would be my first journey in the springtime. With Spring comes mud…but honestly, the trails weren’t any more or less muddy than usual so far.
The lone hiker once again…I would not see another hiker until about 5 miles into the trail.
As I walked on with purpose and pace, my mind was fixed on what others had said about this particular climb…“easy” but long. I have experienced a few long and quite challenging hikes under my belt at this point, tackling 2 or 3 peaks at a time. So how hard could this ascent, which many hikers call “The Adirondack Highway” actually be?
I arrived at Marcy Dam at 7:34 a.m. Always seems like a fast 2.2 miles in…definitely not the same feeling on the way out!
Hello old friend…how lovely it is to see you again…
Onward…step for step…my mind began to free itself, as it always does. My soul deeply appreciates the silence of the walk these days. Also accompanying the melody of silence was the absence of fear. No fear. Amazing actually. The only feeling running through me was a slight bit of mental sadness that I was trying to breathe in and let go.
I move fairly quickly when I hike alone. The sound of my steps monitors my cadence. When I reached the first junction, I have typically veered towards the right to Avalanche Camps…but today would be my first time heading left toward Phelps. With 2.4 miles already in, intrigue to discover this “new” trail set in.
A few more minutes into the climb….my nemesis arrived. Water…flowing…fast. Bad luck surrounds me like a whirlpool when I have to cross these streams. I am not sure why. But I always fall.
Phelps Brook to be exact. There was an option to take the High Water Bridge over that I past a bit earlier and neglected to trust that the trails would meet up eventually. I stayed the course and followed the blue trail markers. Which in turn, led me to crossing the brook via rock hopping.
In theory, I should excel in this arena with being a former dancer. However, I am short. And what comes with a short height are short legs. Short legs with a heavy backpack and a stubbornness to use my poles. So after assessing all the possibilities, I said a prayer and jumped to the first small rock…and again to the next and kept going until I reached the other side. I made it! I made it across… and landed directly into my first mud pit of mud season. (I had been fair warned…but alas, stubbornness won) I stayed on the trail, through the mud and thanked the trail gods for all of the foot bridges that followed.
Relieved, I walked swiftly over bridge after bridge. My mental exhaustion that tagged along in my mind like a dull pain remained a bay for the moment, as the trail continued to be “easy.”
The junction for Phelps was just ahead…I had the option to climb this mountain as well, on my descent. At this point, that sounded like a solid plan. So I smiled at the steep climb (which was actually a bit daunting to look at…only an “adirondack” mile to the summit) and bid that junction farewell for now. Continuing around to the right, I began a steady ascent now, following the blue trail markers all the way to the summit!
A bridge! Thank you! And some stone steps…the trail at this point ascends for sometime!
At 8:44 a.m., I arrived at Indian Falls. A nice little side trip here…and stopped for a snack and some water. I had been on the trail for 2 hours now and hiked roughly under 5 miles at this point.
A group of much younger hikers were having some fun here, as some darker clouds rolled in for a while. (Thank you for taking my picture, youngins’)
This was also the moment that I realized I left HALF of the food I packed for this “supposed-to-be-3-peaks-in-one-day epic hike” in my room, back at the Loj. Yup!
Oh well..not much I could do so up, up, up I went on the Van Ho trail. That mental exhaustion that tagged along? He began to place some defeat in my mind. “You won’t have enough fuel for your body for all 3 peaks,” he began to tug. “Yeah yeah,” I replied out loud. I knew it too…but I refused to count them out just yet.
A steady incline with some solid huffing and puffing began. Next junction stop was the trail to Tabletop Mountain. This Van Ho trail, by the way, has a plethora of junction points…all along the way!
Scene of the first REAL mud pit of mud season occurs right after I bid farewell to another mountain junction. Looking around at the surrounding beauty, I failed to watch where I was walking and stepped DEEP into a mud extravaganza! I literally had to pull my leg out with a tug and a slurping suction. I was free and vowed to pay better attention now!
Oh great…more water! Marcy Brook was upon me. Thrilled as I was to attempt yet another Hail Mary, I managed to stay positive (and ignore the taunting mental exhaustion) and balanced across a fallen log.
Somewhere after this point I lost track of time…forging forward, I began replaying past conversations I had recently. Does that ever happen to you? I’m sure it does…
Sometimes I wonder if we put too much pressure on birthdays…after all, I was exactly where I had wanted to be. In my peace. My sanctuary. Surrounded by blessings and wonder. Yes…so incredibly thankful.
And soon enough…
Another junction…and I knew this one!! I remembered my climb up Mount Colden and passing this crossover junction point on the Lake Arnold trail. I almost bailed on Colden and headed right over to Miss Marcy then! Finally, a smile emerged on my face. I was recharged with nostalgic energy.
Keep on, keeping on that blue trail…step for step…and to my delight, the trail leveled out for a short time. Muddy, but level and energizing to hop along..
I have to admit…I was out of breath for most of this journey. This was surprising to me because, like I said, I’ve hiked “harder” loops and mountains before Miss Marcy.
But another sign revealed itself soon enough…and I’m pretty sure I let out an enormous sigh. Mt. Marcy…1.2 miles still to go! Somehow, I assumed I was much closer than that!
At 9:54 a.m., 3 hours after I departed the Loj, I reached the junction for Hopkins Trail. This was the route up to Marcy from Johns Brook Lodge. And yes…that is ice and snow on the ground. On went my microspikes for the remainder of the hike. (After I slipped and fell on some ice…legs came right out from under me! Ouch!)
Other than one more hiker, who had been descending the mountain already, the trail was peaceful and a gift. Birds galore. Many of their sweet songs filled the air around me…I was beginning to finally feel “ok” again.
There she was! Miss Marcy…I could do this! I could do this, I thought. I was tired. My legs burned. My feet hated me. My soul was weary, but determined. I took a few more climbs forward…and then, it happened!
Pop! Something awful popped in my left knee! No…no, no, no, no. Instant blinding pain…but it was my birthday hike. And pain or not, I would stand on the summit of Mount Marcy. Pain is not foreign to me. I’ve danced in pain. I’ve run in pain. I’ve biked in pain. I could do this…
I treaded gently to the last and final junction where the Phelps Trail up from Slant Rock met for one last chance to see Miss Marcy. Throwing down my pack, I plunked myself down on this rock…next to the fallen sign. Like me, it too has had enough!
I remained on this rock for 15 minutes. More water, another protein bar, and a prayer. This would be the spot where I prayed this trip. There was only 0.6 miles left to climb…the final push to the summit.
I prayed for the strength to fight through the physical pain…and the mental exhaustion.
Rumi says, “The cure for pain is in the pain.”
Push through..everything is temporary. Emotions, space, thoughts, environment. This was the only moment I would have just as it is….I prayed for gratitude and the ability to stay present in this moment as I fought my way to the summit.
Using my poles to navigate through the remaining trail, I came to the first ledge or landing.
There was an incredible view of Mount Haystack’s gnarly summit. It was taunting me from way over yonder, as if to say, “Come on, I dare you!”
I would crawl…bear crawl all the way up to the summit of Mount Marcy. I crawled to the summit of the tallest mountain in New York State, at 41 years old. I replaced discouragement with determination. “One step at a time, just keep moving forward.” I crawled over the ice and through the snow that clung to the summit.
At 10:49 a.m., victory! 4 hours. 4 hours and 2 stops later….
Mount Marcy was my 15th high peak!! There were a few other hikers hanging out at the summit, one of whom was kind enough to take my picture (after watching me fumble with my tripod to try and take my own picture).
There I was…standing on the highest point in New York State at 5433 ft.!! Behind me, my beloved Mount Colden, where I first gazed at Miss Marcy. Behind Mount Colden, the Macs Range, my most cherished hike aside from this one ,and where I also gazed at a snow-covered Marcy at the time.
I had made it. Once again, strength from within prevailed. I sat down for a while, out of the wind and put some snow on my knee. The realization was beginning to set in that, one: I was out of food; and two: the descent from 5344 feet in the air was not going to be a piece of cake by any means, with a bum knee.
I gingerly made my descent. My poles were my life savers, guiding me down and over boulder after boulder. The 7.4 mile hike back to the Loj seemed like an eternity. Once I reached Marcy Dam, the final 2.2 miles transformed me into a zombie! Ha! (Note to self: need new hiking boots)
At 3:35 p.m. I snapped this selfie with a smile on my face, as I sat down next to the trail register. Smile through the pain. I took this picture to serve as a reminder that, no matter what life throws in your path, you ultimately have the inner fierceness to rise above and achieve victory. Embracing the journey means so much more than just “peak bagging.” This day was my solitude with Marcy…just two women who respect peace and the calm it brings.
Total distance: 14.8 miles and change.
Total time: about 8 hours.
Temperature: 60 degrees and I beat the downpour that would happen in the next hour too!
Thank you, Miss Marcy, for this beautiful challenge. For playing a pivotal role in rediscovering my strength that I often forget I possess. For a most memorable birthday hike that will remain with me forever. You were majestic, serene and absolutely breathtaking.
Much love (and still i rise) Amen.