Backpacking New York: Exploring the Adirondacks and Climbing Mount Marcy

I swear I love it there...even if you can't tell by my face!
New York's Adirondack Mountains are among my favorite places on earth, and my goal is to adventure there as much as possible. 

On this early spring backpacking trip, our plan was to hike in from the John's Brook Lodge to a secluded backcountry camping spot on Friday. We would then climb Mt. Marcy on Saturday, just over 10 miles round trip. On Sunday, we would tackle Mt. Haystack and Basin Mt., then Saddleback Mt., a 12-mile grueling hike. Monday would be a leisurely hike out, and we would be back in Philly in time for dinner. Of course, nothing ever goes quite as planned.

Day 1: Travel to the Adirondacks and Our First Night Out

The group was organized via, the same group I hiked a local Pennsylvania trail with earlier in the year. I'm grateful for, mostly because after moving to Philadelphia and having no clue where to hike, the group was a saving grace!

After spending an hour in standing traffic en route to the Adirondacks from Philadelphia, we finally made it to The Mountaineer around 4pm for bear canister rentals. One group member brought more food than could fit in her canister, including delicious Trader Joe's corn puffs, so we all helped her eat the remainder on the hike in. No protests. We arrived at our predetermined backcountry campsite only to find John's Brook, which we had to cross to get there, was extremely high. We found a backup on the trail side of the brook and settled in to rest.

Day 2: Climbing Mt. Marcy

We woke early to an overcast sky, and packed up to leave for Mt. Marcy. The round trip hike would be 10 miles, almost 3,000 feet of elevation gain. Anyone who's ever been to the Adirondacks in the spring knows to expect very, very wet conditions, but what we did not expect to encounter was a significant amount of snow.

The trail was buried under there somewhere!
Halfway through the ascent, the trail turned into a running stream covered by indeterminable depths of snow and ice. We punched through the layers of snow frequently, every few steps, sometimes waist-deep, which made the going slow and difficult. We were unprepared for those trail conditions, and only half of the group had adequate rain gear. I made the conscious decision to leave my gaiters at home. Bad, bad decision. And then it started to pour.

The rain came down in sheets, petered off, then started up again. When we finally got to the summit, we'd been battling 50-60mph wind gusts, sleet and rain torrents along the last mile of rock-scrambling trail. Dan and Josh, our fearless trip leader, had to hold our first-time backpacker's hand during the last half mile. But we made it.

Not exactly ideal trail conditions!
I stayed on the summit long enough for the picture, then scrambled down with two other members of our group. I made another bad decision - to leave my rain pants in the tent - and was paying for it. It took us almost four hours to descend five miles back to camp due to the trail conditions, and the rain worsened.

Much to my dismay,  when we got back to camp, I discovered our tent floor was no longer waterproof. I was snuggled up in my 0º down bag when I noticed the rain was coming into the tent from the floor, soaking my Thermarest. Down bag + 30-40º nighttime temperatures + wet = potential hypothermia. Luckily, I was able to see refuge in another tent, a two person with two people already in it, while Dan roughed it out in ours. I still got wet in the other tent - a 12-hour torrential downpour will do that - but it was better than the alternative. Dan spent the night in a 4" puddle on a little Thermarest island.

Yes, I'm wearing socks on my hands. My gloves were soaked from the cold, wet night.

Day 3, Sunday, May 17th

After our bout with bad weather, trail conditions and the lack of preparedness for both, we decided to bag the remainder of the trip and hike out Sunday. The hike out was painless with decent weather, and four of us decided to find a cheap hotel near Lake Placid to make the most of our time off from work.

We spent the night at the Ledge Rock at Whiteface. It was a fantastic find during a ski trip last March; the lodge has a game room, complete with an archaic collection of VHS movies, a fireplace, a pool table, and a BYOB bar. It was a great night, and we drove home refreshed the next day.

Lessons Learned

  1. Prepare for everything, within reason. I made a few stupid decisions on the Mt. Marcy hike, failing to anticipate changes in weather. When the temperature dropped and trail conditions worsened, I might've been in real danger of hypothermia.
  2. Be patient. Even when there's someone in the group who is unprepared, inexperienced, and does not move at the speed of the rest of the group, that person still might have the same desire to explore the mountains as all of us do. As a group, we could have done a better job of helping her pack. Each one of us might be that person on our next adventure!
  3. Manage your reactions to things out of your control. I was quick to feel and act negatively as Mother Nature continued to throw us curveballs I need to make sure I recognize I cannot change how I feel about a situation, but can change how I react. I can allow myself to, for a second and only in my head, say, "This f*cking sucks!" And then I need to move on and remember how special being out in the wilderness is.

Despite the fact that the Adirondacks have hit me with rain or snow on nearly every trip, I can't wait to go back. My next trip will be to the Catskills for Devil's Path in June, then back to the Adirondacks for a canoe trip in August. I can't wait!


mountainstuff said…
Nice stuff about managing reactions :) If I'm not enjoying it I usually stick the iPod on. A quick dose of the AC/DC or some hiphop usually improves my mood.