Springtime for Marcy in January. 2017-01-22


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Trail Boss

New member
Sep 4, 2003
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Montréal, QC
... and the title is not inspired by "The Producers" (much).

Photos: https://flic.kr/s/aHskR7zzGu

What is veal? It's the meat of male calves raised in a manner to render it pale, soft and tender. Typically, the regimen involves a special diet and no exercise. This sounds all too much like my Xmas holidays. I indulged in a special diet of anything within arm's reach and spent my waking hours nearly motionless.

I needed a hike to gently reverse the effects of "vealification" so, for my return to the High Peaks, I chose an achievable goal, namely Marcy. It also had special meaning for me. I had hiked Marcy in every month of the year except January. This visit would complete my "Marcy Grid".

A crummy weather forecast (showers and/or freezing drizzle) made me postpone Saturday's hike to Sunday. Sunday's weather wasn't much better but, no more excuses, the de-vealification process had to proceed. My wife opted to join me for the trip (the drive, not the hike) and dropped me off at the Loj. I asked her to return in seven hours based on four hours up and three hours down.

In a nutshell, I had spring-like conditions. The temperature was above freezing, even on Marcy's summit! The peaks were shrouded in clouds and the warm temperature created a heavy fog in the valleys. The trails below 2500 feet were thinly covered in dark, wet snow. Rocks and roots were visible. The snow cover improved beyond Marcy Dam. The Van Hoevenberg Trail was packed down all the way to the alpine bog and then it became spongey.

Gloomy day at Marcy Dam.

So far, I've hiked over 115 times by myself. During all those hikes, I never listened to music. Sunday's hike was the first time I was accompanied by podcasts and tunes. I also had a GPS app that verbally informed me of my progress every half-hour (total time) and every kilometer (total distance). Altogether they helped to make the miles melt away, sort of like when you're lost in conversation with a hiking companion.

I found the verbal status updates handy (although the novelty may eventually wear off). They helped me stick to my schedule (7 hours). The only thing I'd change is the selection of podcasts. Above treeline, Frontline's documentary on the genesis of Al-Qaeda was completely incongruent with my surroundings. I switched to Duke Ellington for the descent.

Bib was very kind to lend me his racing snowshoes, namely a pair of Louis Garneau Course snowshoes weighing a scant 1 lb 10 oz! I figured they would be adequate for the gentle Van Hoevenberg trail, packed down by Saturday's hikers. In fact, I didn't need them until I reached the half-pipe at treeline.

Visibility varied from OK to soupy.

The majority of hikers had walked through the half-pipe and then basically followed the "Law of Up". Several feet of snow have paved over everything and created an almost featureless landscape. I wanted to follow the official trail so I turned right and ascended the little shoulder that forms the half-pipe. Upon reaching its western end, where the half-pipe peters out, I felt I was heading in the wrong direction. I was still contouring, instead of ascending, and that wasn't right.

I glanced at my GPS app and confirmed I was about 20 feet off-trail and heading too far west. OK. Trying to follow the "summer trail" is a bit of a fool's errand; switch to "Law of Up".

Visibility varied from one to five hundred feet so spotting cairns was never a problem. I spied one in the distance and made a bee-line for it, knowing it would put me back on the "summer trail". Three-quarters of the way up the snowy slope, I noticed a horizontal crack spanning the slab. Hmmm. That's disconcerting. I reached the cairn and followed the trail to the summit.

Sneak peek of Wright Peak.

Marcy with head in the clouds.

There were no views atop Marcy but the temperature was a balmy 5 C (41 F) and the wind was nothing more than a zephyr. Tame conditions for late January plus I had the summit to myself! I snapped a few selfies, to commemorate my "Marcy Grid", and then strolled around the summit, munching on a PB&J. Eventually, my sweaty baselayer cooled down so I added a windshell. It was a far cry from my previous winter trips to Marcy!

I spent about a half-hour lounging on the summit. I never saw Haystack or Skylight but the clouds broke a few times and revealed a hazy sun and views over an ocean of cloud. Considering the weather, it was much appreciated eye-candy.

About as foggy as expected.

A glimpse of the heavens.

It was now approaching the four-hour mark and time to return to the Loj. In the event of poor visibility above treeline, I had a map marked with two compass bearings (74 degrees magnetic for 550 feet followed by 52 degrees for 700 feet). Visibility was fine and I didn't need to use the bearings. However, I was curious to discover if the inflection point (i.e. where 74 changes to 52) coincided with a prominent landmark.

I stopped at each cairn and recorded a waypoint. There was nothing of note at 550 feet from the summit. Bummer. A bearing of 74 will take you into the half-pipe which isn't all bad but only if snow conditions are amenable. A better strategy may be to follow 74, along Marcy's flat summit, until it begins to descend. This is about 100 yards from the summit plaque and is also the location of the fourth and last cairn on the summit. From there, a bearing of 58 takes you to the head of the half-pipe. "74 flat and 58 down" isn't very catchy but good to know in soupy conditions.

The racing snowshoes have little traction so there wasn't much else I could do but glissade down the snowy slope ... and finish with a sitzmark. I paused near the half-pipe to replace them with Trail Crampons. A few steps later, in the alpine bog, I met the first and only other Marcy climbers of the day. I greeted the couple and their pale-eyed Siberian Husky ("Neve").

Snow fleas! They were all over the trail and especially noticeable in bootprints. Something to think about the next time you eat a handful of snow (extra protein).

Snow fleas!

Somewhere along the way, I picked up a lost hiking pole and stowed it in the hope of catching up to its owner. I paused at Indian Falls for a second time and, unlike in the morning, I now had a partial view of Wright. I've seen better but it wasn't too shabby considering the weather. I passed a group of hikers who had just completed Tabletop. Shortly afterwards I caught up to the lost pole's owner and he was grateful to have it back.

Beyond Marcy Dam, I still felt strong and continued at a good pace. I arrived at the Loj at 3:09 PM, just over six hours from departure. Not too shabby but my old body would take almost four days to recover from the effort. Ugh. Nevertheless, it was well worth it and I look forward to my next "de-vealification" session.