By Tracy Ormsbee
Mt. Marcy wasn’t on my bucket list. It was an assignment for the Adirondack Explorer that first brought me to the summit two years ago. I was interviewing Mary Lamb, an Adirondack 46er many times over and summit steward assigned to Mt. Marcy that day. Without that purpose, it might have been many more years until I would be motivated to conquer the 5,344-foot-peak, New York’s highest.
But I hiked Mt. Marcy that day, and it was hard. Hard enough that I was excited for the accomplishment — and really glad to put it behind me.
It would take two of my oldest and dearest high school friends to get me to go back.
When I posted photos from my first Mt. Marcy hike to Facebook, my friend Beth commented on the post.
Beth: I want someone to climb Marcy with me.
Me: haha. I can’t think about it right now.
Beth: Next year.
I first introduced Beth to the Adirondacks when we were in high school in Martinsburg, West Virgina. I invited her here to stay with my family at Lake Eaton and she did, several times. Twenty years later, she brought her own family back to stay at Long Lake and we connect every year when they’re here — hike, eat together, swim, paddle. Last year she introduced another of our best high school friends, Staci, to the region, and like so many others who visit here once, she was hooked, too.
So this year, following a pandemic shut down and two summers since I’d hiked Mt. Marcy, Beth asked again. Now it sounded like a pretty good idea. She wanted to bring her two children — adults, really, Katie and Nathan; Staci; and a new friend, Jenna. My husband, Jim (and our unofficial Adirondack guide), booked us a bunk room for seven at Johns Brook Lodge. Side note: A running joke among these friends is Jim’s scale of mountain difficulty, which runs inaccurately low as far as we’re concerned. This will come into play later.
I thought I was a little smarter having hiked Mt. Marcy once before. The hike felt about 2 miles too long that first time around and I thought a stay over would solve that, so we booked the lodge for the night before our hike. There won’t be a third time, but if there were, I would book the stay the night after the hike. Stopping and picking up our gear at the lodge after finishing Marcy and then having to walk another 3 miles to the parking lot was painful. I might have cried a little (a High Peaks habit of mine) if I weren’t with friends from high school.
The lodge provides meals beginning the last week of June. We were there the week before. Guests can still use the lodge with full access to the kitchen, but must bring their own food. Luckily, Staci owns a very fine restaurant in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Mangia Qui. She brought the meatballs, pasta, pomodoro sauce and freshly grated parmesan. The rest of us brought Snickers, Pop Tarts, cheese, eggs, bacon, bread and a box of wine.
About sleeping in a bunk room: I took a top bunk, because it seemed like a fun idea. Truth is, I didn’t sleep. Not the lodge’s fault. More the room of seven people and too-close-to-camping experience. The chemical toilets inhabited my dreams.
In terms of wilderness experiences, some wouldn’t even consider Mt. Marcy one this time of year. But for the 50 or so of us approaching the top with about seven tenths of a mile to go that day, it didn’t matter. Instead it was a community accomplishment with lots of shared pain, “congratulations” and high fives along that last bit to the top. How motivating as you come out of the trees to see spectacular views around you and hikers ahead of you winding their way up to the summit of the highest peak in New York.
One last bit of learning: Jim’s scale of difficulty suggested the Phelps trail as the shorter, better, more direct way to go. The first time I hiked Marcy, we hiked the Van Hoevenberg trail. That one was long, but not as boulder filled or steep. If I were going a third time (Stop me if I consider it), I’ll be on the Van Hoevenberg trail.
In high school, we didn’t talk about sore knees–or menopause–as much as we did on this trip. But it’s fantastic we’re making new Adirondack memories all these years later.