Friday, June 22, 2012

Adirondacks Day 3 (A) - Fri 6/22/12

Part 6, Mount Marcy

Marcy Dam remnants
5:15am - Up and out of the tent. I have been dozing restlessly since first light nearly an hour ago, but I can hear the others moving around outside so it is time to get up. As early as the hour is, the excitement of the "big hike" day gets me out of bed easily, and I am not a morning person. I am usually the last up, which is fine with me.

This is the day these guys have been talking about and waiting for since 2008 - the day they attempt to get their revenge on Mount Marcy. They successfully summited the peak in 2008, but weather and visibility were so bad they couldn't see anything, and they were so miserable they couldn't stay on the summit (not that there was any reason to at that point). There is a palpable excitement in the air as everyone gets ready. We have breakfast, get our gear in order, pack sandwiches and snacks, and load up on liquids.

Phelps Brook
As I have noted in prior blog entries, I am approaching this with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Excitement because getting to the top of the highest mountain in New York would be a great accomplishment, and trepidation because I have doubts about my conditioning and my ability to do so. It really all depends on pace, which worries me. I don't climb well, since I get winded fairly easily. I don't want to slow the group down, but pushing myself to keep up with their pace, which is guaranteed to be faster than I would choose, will wear me out. I am hopeful but realistic. I will go as far as I can as fast as I can, and whatever happens happens.

6:45am - We set out directly from camp. My daypack feels like a bowling ball. I am carrying a rain jacket, fleece vest, camera, assorted little bits of gear, lunch, snacks and drinks in the form of a 2 liter water bladder, a Gatorade, and a 32 ounce Nalgene water bottle. That's probably about 8 pounds of liquid alone, but I am a sweater, so I expect to need all of it. The other items are carried as precautions against unexpected weather setting in while we are on the hike. The forecast is for mid-80's temperatures and sunny, but the weather can change rapidly around here, as the guys well know.

Uphill slog
The first section of trail is similar to yesterday's hike, but with more boggy areas and foot bridges, including one elevated section through a small swamp. We haven't done any climbing yet, and I feel good. Even the soreness in my heel has faded somewhat, which is nice.

8:05am - Marcy Dam, 2.3 miles in. Apparently when the dam was functional, there was a small lake behind it and a foot bridge over it. The dam must have failed recently, because the detour north around to the left and over the stream is brand new trail, as is the new foot bridge. This must have been a nice scenic spot before, but really isn't anymore. What used to be the lake bottom is now mud flats.

Upper Phelps Brook foot bridge
Soon after leaving Marcy Dam, the trail gets rockier and begins to climb. It isn't horrible at this point, but it is certainly noticeable. My comfortable pace slows, as I knew it would. Dave, Ted and Phil continue on ahead at good pace and every now and then disappear from view on the trail ahead.

8:35am (ish) - We are a shade over 3 miles in, and the difference in pace between Leo and I and the rest of the group is noticeable. Leo still isn't feeling that well, and I never climb fast. The leading three slow every now and then to let us catch up, but I don't want them to spend all day lagging back because of us. We tell them to go ahead at their own pace and we will continue on at ours. I feel bad about holding them back and feel better after they are gone. Now I just need to worry about myself without worrying about my pace's impact on others.

Lower Phelps Brook High Water crossing
We continue climbing along the north bank of Phelps Brook, which is pretty, but the climbing is hard work and there is a lot of it left. At this point I am still hopeful that slow and steady will win the race, but we are only halfway there.

9:00am (ish) - We cross upper Phelps Brook on a foot bridge and continue climbing toward Indian Falls. The trail is rockier and steeper. We are struggling but plodding along. After a little while the trail gets wetter, steeper, and mossier. Footing is tough and the climb is by far the steepest yet. I am puffing along, as is Leo.

9:45am (ish) - The last few tenths of a mile have been brutal, and with no let up in sight, Leo and I agree to bail out together. He really isn't feeling well now, and I am tired enough to pull the plug as well. If this last bit is any indication, I don't know how much more I could force myself to do, and Leo is wiped out. I check the altimeter on my GPS and we are at just under 3600 feet, nowhere near the 5344 crest of Marcy. There is a whole lot more "up" out there. We take a brief rest, and dejectedly set off down the mountain.

Leo and my attempt on Marcy
10:05am (ish) - An odd thing happens. As we are working our way down the slope, we pass the turnoff for a very obvious side trail. But to my knowledge there shouldn't be a side trail. Just the trail to Marcy. We stop, look around, and much to our shock and amazement, the turnoff is the Marcy Trail. I pull out my GPS and map, and sure enough, we somehow managed to miss the main trail and ended up on a side trail (a winter ski trail) headed to the top of Table Top Mountain. Ugh. In retrospect it makes sense now why the trail got so much more rugged, as it is not regularly trodden as is the highway to Marcy. I am stunned and shocked and don't know whether to laugh or cry. We went a brutal four tenths of a mile up the wrong trail. If we had stayed on the correct path, the map shows it not getting quite so horrible so fast, and there was a section of upland meadow that would have helped give us a breather. Maybe, just maybe... Oh well, at this point, there is no thought of continuing up the right way, so we continue down.

10:20am - We reach the foot bridge over upper Phelps Brook. Being in no hurry anymore, I am much more inclined to stop and take pictures, which we do at several points. I try to distract myself with the scenery, but am only marginally successful, as there isn't all that much scenery to enjoy. As with the hike yesterday, there are no vistas or overlooks, just rocky streams and more woodland.
(note variance from trail at lower right...)

11:07am - We cross the High Water bridge over lower Phelps Brook. We are tired and pretty quiet as we do the last few miles. My heel is killing me again, and I am not happy with my performance today.

12:11pm - Leo and I trudge back into camp tired and defeated. We have hiked 8.8 miles of rugged terrain, climbing 1400 feet up and then 1400 feet back down, much of it in the middle few miles. We covered only 60% of the mileage and 40% of the elevation gain. As tired as I am, it feels like it should be more.

Next... After Marcy

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