Pre-dawn arrival assures only less sleep for this outdoors writer
By Lisa Ballard
Since COVID-19 hit and the Adirondacks got discovered by many more hikers, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) and Adirondack Mountain Reserve (AMR) have grappled with an extraordinary number of people into the backcountry in the Adirondack Park, particularly in the High Peaks region. If you have climbed a 4,000-footer this summer, you already know your choices: make a reservation on-line for trailheads at the AMR, take a shuttle to The Garden or Giant Mountain trailheads, or get up in the wee hours elsewhere.
This summer, I completed 30 hikes around the Adirondack Park while working on the third edition of my guidebook, “Hiking the Adirondacks.” In general, parking areas were nearly full, but spots were available, except on weekends in the High Peaks. On Saturday, Aug. 20, I hiked up Wright Peak. A week later, I climbed Mount Marcy, both on Saturdays because those were the only good days for my hiking buddies, but the parking situation was bad.
For my foray up Wright, I arrived at 7:10 a.m. at Adirondack Loj. The lots were jammed, and the overflow parking at South Meadow, a mile back down the road, was basically full. Luckily my Subaru Crosstrek could sneak into a small break between the cars. Parking at South Meadow turned a nine-mile day into an 11-mile day.
Many others fared worse. When I returned midafternoon, people had parked another half-mile down the road. Those intrepid trekkers would add three miles to their day and a potentially dangerous situation, given the challenging distances throughout the High Peaks and lessening daylight. (Wright Peak is one of the shorter climbs.)
The next Saturday, for my Marcy outing, the thought of adding a couple of miles to a 15-mile day motivated me to sleep much less. I pulled into the parking lot 1.5 hours earlier, at 5:45 a.m. It was 75% full. A line of cars formed at the toll booth behind me, but I was in!
Hadn’t people headed back to school? Don’t people prefer nice days? Apparently not. Heavy rains had abated about sunrise, and thick clouds shrouded the mountaintops. Where the trail wasn’t a stream bed, it was a mudhole. Humidity was high, but that didn’t deter the train of people on Mount Marcy. I never walked more than two minutes, up or down, without meeting others on the trail.
I reached the summit at 10:50 a.m., loitering there for a half hour in hopes of a view through the clouds. No fewer than 25 people shared the top with me, taking photos and eating energy bars. Hikers came and went in a steady stream.
When I signed out at Marcy Outpost, I had to turn four pages back to find my line.
At the trailhead at Adirondack Loj, I thumbed back 10 pages to check off that I was out! Those were just the ones that signed the register. Many don’t.
Bottom line, if you want to hike on a summer weekend in the High Peaks, go really early and don’t expect solitude.
Contributor Lisa Ballard is a fourth generation Adirondacker from Saranac Lake. The third edition of her award-winning book, Hiking the Adirondacks, will be available in Spring 2023. www.LisaBallardOutdoors.com.