The first notion that we had of entering the park was the loss of cell phone reception. I often asked myself what phone company is most widely used in New York, or if cell phones are used at all, as both AT&T and Verizon had limited connection at best, flitting in and out of reception as we travelled through the State Park that is the northern half of New York. The journey itself was one of quick turns, high inclines and sharp descents of roadway that navigated the valleys crammed between the green mountains that rose up on either side of us. Dense forest and sheer rock-faces bordered the asphalt with an intent, it seemed, to swallow up the highway and reclaim its ravaged territory as it fought to find purchase on class-5 dirt shoulders and demolish the medians with falling rocks. We passed many construction crews attempting to repair the latest assaults upon the road. The mountains themselves were only half seen, only revealed if one pressed their face to a window to look upwards in the hope of seeing the apex of the dark green walls that hemmed the road in. After driving along that winding passage for quite some time, we turned onto the trail that would lead us to the Adirondack Park. The forest suddenly disappeared then, as if to grant us our first real view of the mountains that we had it in our minds to climb.
The vista laid out before us was incredible: squat constructs of bedrock, thrust upwards from the earth in a time before man and populated by the earth-green shades of canopy, rose above distant forests as fat giants looking out across the world with content. Cotton clouds rode upon the highest peaks, creating a scene, despite the grayness of the sky, that was more commonly found decorating the pages of a seasonal calendar. This lasted only a few moments before the view was once again swallowed up by the thick, moss-covered trunks of trees and dense foliage. A few more minutes saw us arriving at the service center that would designate which trails to travel and what precautions were to be taken with the high population of bears in the area. They outfitted us with a map and a “bear can”, a bear-proof container that would contain our all of our food-stuffs. After gearing up for the two-mile hike that would bring us to our campground, we were ready to spend the next three days as mountaineers.
Parker and I arrived at our campsite around 7:00 with plenty of daylight left to make dinner and settle in. The grounds themselves were something special. Directed by a woman who spends most of her time hiking trails to track and document the movements of bears, we were allowed to find a secluded campsite hidden by a small stream and nestled in a wooded peninsula. We were asked to keep its location a secret as the site is considered special by the park-rangers (apparently we appeared worthy of such knowledge). After dinner and a short discussion, it was determined that we would hike Mt. Marcy, the tallest mountain in New York at 5,344 feet and from there make the short climb over to Mt. Skylight (4926 ft) for a nice 11 mile round trip.
It was a decent morning I guess, the canopy parted above the trail to let the sun shine down into my eyes and warm my skin. I tied the bandana around my head to ward off the flies and to hold the sweat inside my scalp. The pack I wore carried the food and water that we would need for the climb and was cinched tightly around my torso, it’s weight lending me a feeling of assurance. Parker didn’t have one, but that was his loss. The trail began as one of hard-packed dirt and I couldn’t help but think about all those thousands who had walked it before me. Or maybe it was hundreds, Marcy was a pretty high peak. Trees and undergrowth rose to either side of me but I wasn’t acutely aware of it, my world was shrunk down to the next ten feet in front of me as I navigated the roots and rocks that began to appear more frequently and the sucking mud that always seemed to find its way into my boots, even as I stepped around it. Four miles from the top the ground began to shoot up in a steady incline. Because we were climbing a mountain and mountains go up. The hard-beaten dirt of the trail gave way to the rocks and pebbles of the not-so-dried-up streams that fell down Marcy after the rains had come, which was just about every day. The weight of my pack clung to my shoulders as I followed Parker up the step-like stones that led up the mountain. Hours passed and still we climbed, step by step, ignoring the greenery and beauty of the forest around us as we fought to keep our footing among mischievous rocks that were not always as stable as they appeared to be. My thighs and calves burned with effort and I could feel the sweat trickling down my back, soaking my shirt. Mud was spattered up my pant-legs and a sheen of perspiration clung to my skin. It was more uncomfortable than anything, I just wanted to reach the top so I could discover what it was that Parker was so keen to see. We stopped just over a mile from the summit at Indian Falls to refuel our water. I looked around for a tomahawk or an arrowhead that would give me a reason for the name of the falls, I was disappointed to find none. Looking up, I noticed a cloud hovering above us, not in the distant stratosphere but no more than a few feet from my outstretched hand. The accompaniment of the clouds with the river, the dark pines and the waterfall seemed as it had come out of some Lewis Carol fantasy, I mused.
As we continued, the trail got steeper, I had to use my hands now to climb over monstrous boulders while trying not to slip on the moisture that covered them, though I ended up doing so on more than one occasion. I watched Parker closely, his arm hadn’t regained its full range of motion and I was waiting for him to slip so that I could catch him. He kept his balance though. We passed the point where leafed trees could grow and pines would only obtain six feet in height. Moss was everywhere and everywhere was sore from carrying a thirty-five pound pack up a 5300 foot mountain. The big rocks we had to climb gave way to even bigger rocks, we were almost there. Suddenly the trees were gone and I realized with a bit of amusement that we were a above the tree line. I looked down the way we came, or rather out at the surrounding area. Titanic shapes rolled beneath me, like hills across a plain but much more pronounced. The flanks of those hills descended into deep valleys thousands of feet below us and I fancied I could pick out our starting point. I looked away before I could absorb in the whole scene, I didn’t want to take anything away from the view at the top.
Parker and I reached the summit of Mt. Marcy about a half-hour later. The summit was of blue-gray rock, occasionally dotted with growths of
the lichen and fungi that can only grow there. Small stones, carried by hikers from the beginning of their climb, were arranged I an almost ritualistic manner around these growths as if they were something sacred. Structure-piles of these same stones formed wards that looked out from the summit over the mountaintop. And what a view they had! Mountains rose and fell for as far as the eye could see, the horizon itself being formed by their jagged shapes. Deep greens and browns covered the surface of the mountains, trees and topsoil that just barely hung on to the rock beneath. In many places, these colors had been washed away, exposing gray stone. Lakes pooled at the feet of these mountains, sunlight flickering off their surfaces. We stood at the highest point of our known world, wind billowing around us and the clouds hovering below us. We felt as some elder gods, primordial beings gazing out at the earth that was ranged beneath our feet. All the beauty of nature, the power of great waterfalls, the majesty of near-endless forests, the soft and rolling bodies of cotton clouds, these things were beneath our feet. All the constructs of men, immense cities, towers of steel and glass, roadways that stretched for thousands of miles, these things were beneath our feet. We stood above the earth, above nature and above mankind. That is what it is like to stand on a mountain.
The feeling was repeated after we descended Mt. Marcy and ascended Mt. Skylight, but it could not compare to the original rapture. Even as we made our way back to camp, we thought of these things. Even though our legs ached and our feet were raw, we could not shake the vision of the mountain. Parker and I arrived at our camp at 3:00. It had taken us 6 hours to climb eleven miles. After pausing to rest, we decided that it would be a good idea to run the two miles back to our car, through the woods and dodging mud-traps and loose roots the whole way. Once there, we showered and ate before making our way back to our tent. In all, we had hiked more than fifteen miles that day, dinner was consumed quickly and we were asleep soon after we were in the tent.
Here’s some photos!