Monday, April 20, 2009

Mt. Marcy

On Friday, April 10, I flew to NY to see my family for Easter. I wasn't expecting food on either flight, so I brought my own, but they did serve what seemed like a decent lunch on the Houston to NY flight. My dad picked me up at LaGuardia and not that long after we got to my parents' house, they hosted a dinner party for our whole family- including my sister, her husband and their daughter- plus the whole clan of longtime friends, including two more young girls. It was a nice, informal meal, and it was good to catch up with an old friend I hadn't seen in several years.

Saturday we drove up to our friends' place upstate where we usually go for Thanksgiving. After lunch and my sister and niece showed up, they went into town to do some shopping while I went for a little hike up a hill that makes a valley in which the house sits. I first waded across the cold stream in borrowed waders, getting ever so slightly wet, then started up a marked trail. Once I got to the top of that trail and to a clearing, I continued straight up the rest of the hill toward the crest. There was no marked trail, and I had to go through a lot of brambles. I didn't go as far as the absolute crest, just to where it leveled off and there was a rock wall. I made my way down pretty haphazardly, with a vague bearing of the other side of the property. Once I hacked my way back through the brambles I made it back to the meadows and then back to the creek. Later on, just for a little more exercise, I ran up the hill on the other side of the house up to an outbuilding and back.

Sunday my mother and I "hid" Easter eggs in plain sight for my niece to find. After she finally got up and had breakfast, we all bundled up against the sub-freezing morning to help her find and collect them all. We had a delicious ham dinner with all the fixings at noontime, and then by 2 pm we all headed off in different directions. My parents and sister went back to their homes, while I drove north to Lake Placid, where I had made arrangements for the evening to be near the base of Mt. Marcy for an early ascent on Monday. After checking in, I went to one of the two brewpubs in town, the one in town with the fancier menu. Because I didn't feel like spending more than $20 for a dish, I only had an appetizer and two of their beers while watching the end of the Masters tournament with some actual golf fans. I went from there to the other brewpub, sampled some of their beer and ate a bit of their much cheaper food. Somewhat fortunately, that place closed at 9, so it all but forced me to go back to my hotel and turn in early.

When I woke up at 6 am Monday I kind of regretted having even as many beers as I had consumed. I got some breakfast at McDonald's and headed to the trailhead. By the time I ate my breakfast, got all my layers on, and strapped my trekking poles and the snowshoes I'd rented the previous evening to my pack, it was about 7:30. It only took a few steps to regret the way I'd very loosely strapped the snowshoes on, as they were swinging about and being a nuisance. Even though it was only about 18 degrees out, after 15 minutes I was already starting to sweat, so I stopped to relash the snowshoes and take off my hat. I trudged on over the frozen ground until I got to Marcy Dam and stopped to eat a couple of my mom's cookies. It was still cold enough out that when I lowered my hood, my sweaty hair would freeze. I signed in at the second register, then started up toward Marcy, the peak still more than 3000' vertically above. There started to be patches of snow and ice at that point, but crunchy and not very slick, so I didn't need the snowshoes. I was kind of concerned when I came to a stream crossing without a bridge. When I was halfway across but unsure of how to cross the second half, I saw what almost seemed an apparition of three young women on the far bank. As I later found out, there was a "high water" bridge downstream I'd unwittingly passed. It was about then that I remembered my poles, and used them to stabilize me as I crossed the icy rocks. I slid just before getting to the far bank, but fortunately didn't get my socks wet thanks to the gaiters built into my shell pants. I passed the women when they stopped for whatever reason, but it wasn't long before they were right on my heels and I stepped aside to let them pass, and I didn't see them again until above tree line. When it was starting to get more snowy than rocky, I took another break near where the Phelps trail splits off and put on the snowshoes. After I got a little further, the trail was solid snow, no rocks poking out any more. When I got to a steep section, I used the ascender feature of the snowshoes to help out, keeping my foot from having to go all the way down to the plane of the shoe/slope. The only problem was that for a while the trail couldn't make up its mind whether it wanted to be steep or flattish, so I had to keep taking down and putting up the ascenders, since they make walking weird on flat or vaguely downhill portions. I did, however, manage to get pretty good at doing so. The sun was really nice and bright all day, a welcome change from the snow showers I arrived in the area to. The main problem that caused, however, was that since I forgot to bring sun screen with me, I wound up sunburned at the end of the day. The other problem was my eyes. My limited use of my "glacier glasses" had shown them to a) fog up very easily and b) get uncomfortable after long use. I didn't really need them until I started getting pretty high in elevation and the trees started thinning out. I finally put the glasses on near tree line, and sure enough they fogged up immediately and pretty much stayed fogged up until above tree line where the howling winds kept them mostly fog-free. I had brought along my mountaineering boots, expecting to change into them when I put on the snowshoes, but didn't since my feet were quite warm at that point. Above tree line, I wished I had changed at some point, but it was too late by then. My feet weren't really that cold, but they were a bit wet from having been covered in snow for hours and with the wind I could definitely feel the cold. The good part was that only about the last 300' vertical was completely above tree level, so the exposure time was not that severe. I don't know if it was because they were using crampons, but the women I had seen earlier slowed way down above tree line and I caught up to them as they were standing at the summit, which was perfect timing. I took a couple of pictures of them, and they took a couple of pictures of me, then I took a few of the view and such, then started heading back down, at about 12:30. At that point I was feeling a bit tired, but definitely like I had accomplished something, and was feeling pretty good. Well below tree line, I plopped down on the side of the trail to have some lunch. I ate a few cookies and a quarter of a ham sandwich before I got up and got moving again. It wasn't very long after that, however, that I started feeling spent. My knees were getting sore and it was taking a lot longer to descend than I had anticipated. I met a guy on his way up, on skis, which seemed completely insane. By the time I got back down to Marcy Dam, only about halfway, I felt totally spent and took my pack off for a longer break. I had some more cookies and ham sandwich, changed my socks, took off my fleece shirt, and reluctantly trudged on. From that point the ground that had been frozen in the morning was now mud, which I dislike on the best of days. After a couple of miles I was whimpering and whining to myself with practically every step. I was hoping for some motorized vehicle to miraculously pick me up and deliver me to my car. No such thing happened, of course, and I slowly ground on, being passed by several other people who had obviously not been to the summit. Finally, finally, just past 6pm, I arrived at the trailhead and dumped and disrobed my gear. The rental guy was just about to lock up and leave, but I was glad he came out and took the snowshoes from me. Then began the next ordeal, driving four hours back to my parents' house. I stopped just down the road in Keene for some much needed quick human fuel of peanut M&Ms and the Dr Pepper I'd been craving all day. At 8 I was starting to fade pretty badly, so I pulled over to a rest stop, but as soon as I closed my eyes my mind started up, so I got another Dr Pepper and kept on down the road. At 9 I was fading again, and pulled into another rest area, and what seemed like seconds after closing my eyes, it was past 10 and I was sufficiently refreshed to make it the rest of the way. I got in about 11:30 and went straight to bed, despite really needing a shower after sweating out 6,000 calories.

Tuesday I went with my mom in the morning to a beautiful private garden where she did some weeding with fellow Master Gardeners while I walked around. After a little snack and a chance to meet the 93 year old woman who lives there, we went back to the house to do some more gardening. I did some touch up work on rocks and then some cleanup in the thyme, before going inside to look at their deathly slow computer. For dinner, we went to a nice seafood restaurant in town.

Wednesday, I gathered my things and got on a commuter train to Grand Central Station, then a subway to Penn Station, then a 9-hour train ride to Pittsburgh.

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