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Adirondack Explorer

Friday, March 30, 2018

Skiing Mount Marcy’s summit in a whiteout

Brian Mann takes in the view from Indian Falls. Photo by Phil Brown.

I try to ski Mount Marcy every year around my birthday (March 30), and so I did the trip Thursday with Brian Mann of North Country Public Radio. It was the first time I skied the summit in a whiteout.

The weather was mild and overcast when we started up the Van Hoevenberg Trail from the High Peaks Information Center. There was plenty of snow on the trail. Because we haven’t had a snowfall in a while, the trail was packed down hard, but the surface was soft, even grabby.

We stopped at Indian Falls, about halfway to the summit. On a clear day, you enjoy a spectacular view of the MacIntyre Range. On Thursday, however, the peaks were shrouded in clouds. As we snacked on energy bars, the clouds lifted just enough to expose the summit of Wright Peak. That’s when I took the above photo of Brian.

A few miles farther up the mountain, we stopped again, this time for lunch. As we ate, two other skiers came up from below: Alan Wechsler, a frequent writer for the Explorer, and his friend, Steve Goldstein. Both are experienced backcountry skiers. In fact, our March/April issue contains an article Alan wrote  about their skiing Buck Mountain near Lake George.

As we neared the summit, we started to feel drops of rain. When we got above tree line, we couldn’t see farther than fifty feet. We pushed on, following snowshoe tracks and then leaving the trail to ascend the snowfields. We were now up against a fierce wind and icy rain.

We took off our skis just short of the true summit. Alan and Steve prepared to descend right away, but Brian and I hiked to the summit boulder to get out of the wind, rest for a few minutes, and fortify ourselves with energy bars.

We never saw Alan and Steve again, but we would see their tracks. Brian and I saw only two others on the trail this day–two skiers in the morning who were headed to Avalanche Pass.

One of the highlights of skiing Marcy is descending the steep bowl at the top. If conditions are favorable,, I usually go more or less down the center, making a few turns before the slope eases into a mellow runout.

The conditions on Thursday were not favorable. As we approached the bowl from above in the whiteout, we couldn’t make out the terrain underfoot. Normally, you can anticipate a slight bump or dip, but all we could do was react. We were skiing blind, by feel. It was eerie, but still enjoyable.

So rather than schuss the bowl, we traversed back and forth until we reached the mellow terrain below. We then found our way back to the trail and began the long trip back to the High Peaks Information Center. Once we got below tree line, we had no problems with visibility.

A word of caution: I would not recommend ascending Marcy in a whiteout, especially if you are not familiar with the terrain. Hikers have been known to  wander off the summit in the wrong direction and get lost. Having skied Marcy many times, however, I knew where to go to get back to the trail. Even so, another friend and I turned back in a worse whiteout a few years ago.

On the return trip, the cover on the trail was good the whole way. The tops of a few boulders were starting to peek out on the trail between the bridge over Phelps Brook and Marcy Dam. Some roots were exposed on the trail between the dam and the trailhead. I expect it will be possible to ski Marcy for a few weeks, but the approach will get sketchier as we see more warm days and more rain. Skiers may have to hike part of the way.

Incidentally, this was Brian’s first time skiing Marcy. He had a blast. Listen for his story on NCPR next week. Meantime, you can read my detailed story on skiing Marcy in the current issue of the Explorer.

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Mount Marcy skiing

Brian Mann ascends Mount Marcy’s summit in a whiteout. Photo by Phil Brown.

 

 

 

Phil Brown

Phil Brown has been editing the Adirondack Explorer since 1999. When he isn't at his desk, he's usually out hiking, paddling, skiing, or doing something else important. You can follow his adventures and his musings on the Adirondacks in the Explorer and on this blog.

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