Hiking has been a more recent love affair of mine, but there seems to be no end in sight. Even though I started off with small hikes, only a few hours each, I’ve started to take on more strenuous trails, lasting much longer than I knew I could do. Still, nothing prepared me for climbing Mt Marcy, New York’s highest peak, in the Adirondack Mountains.
While I knew Mt Marcy was the highest peak in New York and that the hike was 14.5 miles, I didn’t realize how taxing it would be on my body. Most people don’t do the entire hike in one day, instead camping overnight before hiking up to the top, but with limited time, we had no choice but to take it on in one day. We hired a guide and hoped for the best.
After a five hour drive upstate and four hours of sleep, we were up at 5:30am and at the Guide House to meet Spencer, our Adirondack Adventure guide. It was still dark out and there was a layer of snow on the ground, still, I barely had a clue of what the day had in store for us.
Spencer got us outfitted and ready for our hike. I traded in my adorable pink Camelbak bag, for a larger red backpack that had room to hold our snowshoes – another activity I had hoped to try this winter. We put on our mountaineering boots, bundled up, and were on our way before 7:00am.
We drove a few miles to the parking lot, and the sun started to come up. We put on our microspikes, which would keep us from slipping on the snow, and began our hike. Even as we walked into the woods, I had no real concept of what we were about to do. At this point, I knew it would be hard, but I didn’t fully grasp just how difficult it would be. But, it was exhilarating; this journey that we were embarking on.
At first, it was beautiful, unlike anywhere else I had previously hiked. There was much more snow and the trees were the tallest I’ve hiked in between. We talked and hiked and hiked and hiked, and most of it was quite like the hiking we were used to. I felt completely in touch with nature in the quiet woods; it was nice to be away from civilization for a few hours.
After a few miles, we traded our microspikes for our snowshoes. I was so excited for this new experience, until I realized how difficult snowshoeing actually was. Sure, it made walking on the snowy terrain easier, but with each step the pain in my thighs got worse, and I began to realize how out of shape I actually was.
We stopped occasionally along the way, eating snacks and making sure we were hydrated. But, with the cold weather, we made sure not to stop for long, not wanting to get too cold. For most of the hike, we wore just our sweaters, no heavy jackets, because it was so warm, but as we reached the summit, the snow began to fall, and we bundled up again.
Finally, the top of the mountain was in view, and it looked further away than ever, but Spencer assured us, it was closer than we thought. At that point, all I could think about was taking off the snowshoes I so deeply detested.
Eventually, we made our way up enough where we decided to switch to our crampons. As easy as the hike had been until there, aside from the pain in my thighs, nothing had prepared me for what was to come.
As soon as we started toward the summit everything changed. The snow and wind picked up, and I made a remark about the cute baby trees, only for Spencer to tell me that those were actually the tops of tall trees buried in snow. He also informed us that we’d have to be careful to stick to the trail, just so we wouldn’t risk falling down any areas that had open pockets that weren’t full of packed snow.
This is where my anxiety kicked in. What if someone fell into the snow, never to be seen again? It was also the moment I was grateful we had Spencer. Not only was he great company, but he’d make sure we were safe.
The further we climbed, the scarier it got. There were white-out conditions and we were walking on pure ice and rock. I was grateful for my hiking poles, and prayed that they’d be able to get me up.
I no longer felt that I was in New York, it looked nothing like New York. Instead it looked like Antarctica, or what Everest must be like. Each step hurt my body, the wind stung my face, and there was a point where I stopped and couldn’t possibly fathom how I’d make it down the mountain, let alone up it. But, Jeff helped me through it, and told me not to worry, but just to follow Spencer.
I embraced my discomfort and knew that the top wasn’t much further off. I put one foot in front of the other, sometimes counting my steps to distract my brain from wandering into some dark place. I could do this, I could make it to the top, nothing bad was going to happen to us, and nothing bad did.
It was as Spencer had said, earlier in the hike, it feels like the summit is never going to be there, and then all of a sudden, there it is. And, there it was, the plaque that told us we had reached the summit. I almost couldn’t believe it; never in a million years did I believe I was capable of something like this.
But, still after reaching the plaque, we had to walk just a little further to reach the actual summit, and when we got there an enormous sense of accomplishment swept over me. All my previous worries washed away, and I couldn’t believe that there I was, standing over all the Adirondack Mountains, high above it all at 5,344 feet, on the highest peak in New York state.
Sure, we still had a long hike down, one that would require much strength and endurance, but what mattered at the moment was that we made it up to the top. Of course, the view was covered in clouds, but as we slowly made our way down the mountain, the skies began to clear just long enough for us to see the beauty that surrounded us. It was one of the most impressive views of my lifetime, and while a photo doesn’t quite capture its beauty, you can at least get a hint.
Eventually, we made it off the mountain before dark, as difficult a journey as it was, and in total our hike took 12 hours and we walked a total of 14.5 miles. It was a strenuous hike that took all of my mental and physical capabilities, and even though afterwards, I vowed never to do another difficult hike again, I’m already ready for my next big adventure. There’s just something about being high above it all that gives you a whole new perspective on life, and it’s completely exhilarating and addicting.
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