The next morning we took our time rolling out of bed after a laborious journey to the summit the day before. My buddies and I collected some refreshing and tasty water from a rushing river, and used a tiny stove to boil it for our oatmeal. We also ate plenty of fruits to make sure we had plenty of energy to get us to lunch.
The start to the second leg of our journey was beautiful. We walked up a slight incline along the same river we used to make our breakfast and enjoyed the morning sunlight. Knowing it better to be safe than sorry, we had our crampons at the ready just in case of any particularly snowy or icy sections of the trail, but after the first couple of miles we were cracking jokes about how it was unnecessary. It wasn’t long before we realized our caution was justified as we ran into our first patch of snow. We were glad to have them on hand.
At first the snow only appeared in sporadic patches on sections that weren't all that steep. We thought it would be a cake walk. I noticed the temperature was starting to dip slightly but didn't think much of it at the time as we were moving along and keeping our body heat up. As we moved along, the patches became more frequent until the snow eventually engulfed the entire trail.
Under normal circumstances it’s not that difficult to hike in snow, but since the weather had been warm, the trail was beginning to melt, resulting in a sort of watery-snowy-mix that was very slick to move across. And as we ascended the mountain, the snow was packed down into a firm path from the high levels of traffic from other hikers, turning the slushy mix into a compact ice. To top things off, at this point the trail became very steep, leaving us slipping and sliding all over the place.
At this point the crampons were a blessing and we were all thankful to have them. Everytime time I slipped and had to catch myself with an extra step and bracing my arms, it felt like so much extra energy was wasted. My friends were going through much of the same and we were quickly drained. It felt as if the journey was becoming twice as long. The progress was slow.
We were hiking along these conditions for another few miles that seemed to take forever until we broke the treeline and reached the beginning of the mountain face. Rocky and in direct sunlight, we were all thankful to be done with the snowy trails and to take our crampons off. But this new section brought its own challenges. We took time to rest and eat a small snack, which gave me a second wind and some excited anticipation at the thought of tackling the second half of the climb. This motivation lasted about half a mile. While it was nice to be out of the snow, by this point our boots were already soaked from the slush, as we faced small streams, rocky terrain, and an even steeper climb up to the summit.
Given the conditions the final push to the summit was tough,but finally we made it. There was so much to see we spent a while walking around and taking in all the views and surrounding mountains. Mount Marcy is not only the tallest peak in the Adirondacks but the tallest peak in all of New York, and the top provided some amazing views of all that surrounds it. The additional hiking along the summit led us to a nice place where we got to relax and eat lunch. It was a great relief to take our socks and boots off, and giving them some time to dry, we took a small siesta. The mountain peak was relatively crowded with other hikers so we were grateful to find a quiet place to rest.
After our rest we were slow to put our socks and boots on as they were still a bit damp and our muscles ached. But we were excited to explore the second half of the mountain, continuing along the same trail down but on the opposite side of the mountain. While we thought this trail couldn't get any more difficult, the hike down proved this theory wrong.
Going down the east side of the mountain to no surprise was super slick and steep. The snow was bright and fluffy but it was difficult to get a footing. It seemed that this trail did not get as much traffic. Since it was too difficult to hike down, we decided on a quicker and more improvised method: sliding. Alternating between sliding down as if we were on skis, and sitting down to slide on our butts, we were traveling fast and saving energy. While it was dangerous and there were many close calls of falling over ledges, the adrenaline rush added a new aspect to the hike.
Making our way down from the summit and after two miles or so of sliding we made it to flatter terrain. Just as we experienced on the way up, the trail returned to its snowy, wet, icy mixture and we all put our crampons back on for stability. Hiking along this trail further, we made it past the slick snowy trail until we were only experiencing snowy patches until finally the snow was gone and we were hiking on a trail that doubled as a small stream due to the snow melt running-off the mountain.
The Adirondacks mountain range is a very special ecosystem. The rushing river that we camped by, as well as all the surrounding rivers and lakes, are kept running by the high levels of snow that these mountains accumulate. During the winter months, snowfall builds up on the mountain face, and in the spring and summer, the snow melt provides water to all the rivers and lakes. Hiking this trail in May, we were right in the thick of this shift.
Finally we made it to a lower elevation where the trail was relatively dry and easy to hike. We were faced with a choice in our hike back to our camp: we could hike five miles along the lakeside back to our camp -- this would keep us at low elevation and would be a smooth hike back -- or we could save about a mile hiking and summit a second mountain, taking a different trail back to our camp. After a fun and exhilarating hike down mount marcy we forgot all about the struggles and terrain change on our initial summit. We decided to take the shorter hike and summit a second peak. We figured that since we just submitted the highest peak in New York, climbing a second mountain that was about 1500 feet shorter would be no problem.
We were quickly reminded how difficult the first ascent was, leaving us once again with our crampons strapped on, facing another difficult hike up Mount Colden.
To be continued….