Our trip up Mount Marcy

8/25/03

Our adventure started as we pulled into the town of Keene Valley.  I have always thought that it was one of the most beautiful towns I’ve ever been through.  Tim showed me the Noon Mark Diner ( http://www.noonmarkdiner.com/index.html ) and promised that if we didn’t stink too much when we came out of the woods, we would go there for breakfast!  We knew we needed to drive on to Keene (the Adirondack Loj) to rent a “Backpacker’s Cache” (we call it a “bear barrel”) – the newest way to keep the bears out of your food.  Bear-proof, waterproof, and makes a very good camp stool.  Instead, Tim pulled into “The Mountaineer” right in Keene Valley.  He was in heaven!!  We wandered around the store for awhile – I bought a bunch of Mt. Marcy postcards – thus forcing myself to climb the mountain, since I wouldn’t send them unless I succeeded.  We bought the “bear barrel” rather than renting it.  We also got some gator-aid, moleskin, etc… little items.

Tim and I started from “the Garden” in Keene Valley around 12:10PM.  That was the first time that I put on his 20-year-old pack (and of course, it’s been 20 years since I put on *any* pack).  He gallantly gave me only 33 lbs and carried 55 lbs himself.  Our destination for today is a tenting site just a couple tenths of a mile past John’s Brook Lodge.  It’s about 3.7 miles in.  We did the walk (mostly very gradual uphill) in just about two hours.  That pleased me because it meant that I hadn’t held Tim up too much.  The going is still not easy when I am new to the High Peaks and new to my boots and my pack!

In an attempt to “break in” my new boots and find out where the hot spots were going to be, Tim and I had hiked a smaller mountain, Cook Mountain, over by his parents’ house the day before.  It really is a much smaller mountain (1.7 miles each way, 850 foot ascent), and it only took us two hours from start to finish, but it was steep and it put the fear into me that I would not be able to do Mt Marcy when we got to the High Peaks. 

The hike up Cook Mountain had left me with blisters (surprise!), but they weren’t too serious.  It was really a good thing to find that weakness on a short walk rather than find out on the 3.7 mile hike in (and I would not have had the right supplies).  So, I had bought some big band-aids and some moleskin to help out.

So, we passed John’s Brook Lodge (JBL) at the 3.5-mile mark and saw the patrons sitting on the porch with glasses of wine in their hands.  Aaaurgh.  I wish I was them at this moment.  I’m sure that will pass.  We walked 10 minutes past that nice establishment into “Tim’s usual campsite”.  We had lots of time that afternoon to set up camp, get the food into the bear barrel, etc… Then we took a couple short walks – one back to JBL to fill up the water bottles and so he could show me around the lodge, the other walk down to the brook so we could cool off after the walk.

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Our tent and campsite
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Sleeping arrangements
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Tim and the bear barrel
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Tim and Val at JBL
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The brook where we soak our aching feet

We settled into our campsite and it drizzled a bit.  Tim had devised a small “porch” on the front of our tent, so we sat under that and read, or wrote in our journals, for awhile.  The small excursion lantern hung right between the two of us and it was wonderfully homey.  Soon, a young Canadian couple came along – they had a story to tell about how four of them had been setting up camp at Bushnell Falls (another mile or so up the trail) when a bear had walked right into their camp and taken all their food.  They had tried bear whistles, yelling, waving and jumping up and down, and throwing rocks at him.  Nothing was going to keep this bear from the food.  They hadn’t even had time to get it into the trees.  They were planning to walk back out to “the Garden” that night.

An hour or so later, Tim made us some dehydrated Mac-n-Cheese.  It was too cheesy, but it tasted good.  Once we were done, Tim had asked me if I was OK alone, and he was going to go take care of the leftovers.  I told him I wanted the leftovers VERY FAR AWAY from camp.  My job, while he was gone, was to watch the pot of water that was heating so that we could wash our cheesy dishes.  I had the cheesy bowl and two spoons in my hand.   I was in my Gore-tex, because it was still raining, and I was sort of hovering over the pot in a daze. 

That was the time that the big black bear chose to wander up into our campsite.  I dropped the dirty dishes and walked slowly in the direction Tim had gone.

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Bear Picture 1
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Bear Picture 2
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What was left of the trash bag
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Actual lighting in camp at the time of the encounter

I yelled “Tim!”  No answer.

I yelled “Tim!” (higher note of urgency).  “I’m coming” he yelled back.  I could tell he was running.  I yelled “I’m OK” just so he didn’t think I had been mauled.

The bear was just wandering around – not really finding anything of interest.  Tim sent me to the privy.  He stayed out there with the bear, but basically just stayed out of his way.  The bear wandered down where the trash was hanging and easily pulled it down.  Sat back and ate, then wandered away. 

Tim and I went back (together) to finish up the stuff he was doing and we talked about the fact that we thought the bear might loop around on the ridge and come back.  Holy cow, we get back to the campsite and all we can see is his big bear butt sticking out of our tent!! (I had left the tent open when Tim had screamed “Get the camera!” during visit #1).  Back into the privy for Valerie.  I’ve never spent so much time in an outhouse in my life!  He wandered around, gave Tim’s pack a whack, then left again.  He, or others, made four more visits to our campsite between 10PM and 5:30AM.  We think there were at least two different bears, based on the noises they made.  The 10PM visitor slashed up the cover on Tim’s pack pretty good, but didn’t do any permanent damage.  We just stayed in the tent and pretended to sleep.  (Well, Tim *did* sleep, but I didn’t).

8/26/2003

My stomach has been so upset all night.  I made Tim take me to the privy at 3am and again at 6am.  I hardly slept at all.  Not a good way to prepare for an 11-mile hike today.   I didn’t feel like eating breakfast, but Tim convinced me to have one oatmeal packet.  No bear came charging out of the woods to take it from me.  That was good.  Again, not a good way to set out on an 11-mile hike.

Left camp at 7:40am.  Mostly gradual incline for the first two hours. Tim was pleased with our progress.  I noted the rockiness and all the roots in the trail.  I didn’t see it, but I think Tim winced.  He knew what we were in for, and I had no idea.  Soon, this rocky and rutted trail would seem as smooth as our walks at Carousel Park here in Delaware.

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Self-Portrait as we start our trip
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Unknown mountain along the way
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Brook near Slant Rock
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Tim makes fresh water for us
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Slant Rock

We stopped at Slant Rock for a decent snack and so Tim could refill the water bottles.  It was beautiful!  After that, though, the trail got much steeper and much more rocky.  It was a long walk to the next milestone – where the trail intersects the Ridge Trail for Haystack Mountain and Mt. Marcy.  To that point, Tim had already done this trail before with Shannon and Dad two weeks earlier.    We’d gone about 4 miles, darn near all uphill, and I was starting to wonder if I was going to make it.  My theory was that if I could just make it to the open rock face, I would get a charge of adrenaline and would make it the 0.6 mile on that charge.  The problem was that we were still 0.7 miles from that point, climbing over boulders through thick brush.  Tim was great about stopping when I needed to.  We *did* make it to the open rock face and I *did* feel better after that.  I was very tired, and Tim made me eat and drink at the summit (around 12:15PM).  Weather at the top was hazy, but overall very good.  Thankfully, no rain.  We left the summit about 12:40PM for the long walk back to camp.

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3.5 miles down, 2.1 to go
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First views of the Haystacks
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First views of the Haystacks
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First views of the Haystacks
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5 miles down, 0.6 to go
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Little Haystack and Haystack Mt
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Valerie and the Haystacks
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Self-Portrait, a bit closer to the top
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First sighting of the Marcy summit
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Views
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Flora
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The summit is getting closer
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View from the summit
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View from the summit
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Mt. Skylight
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Valerie on the summit
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Alpine Vegetation
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Valerie on the summit
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Surveyor marker
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Busy summit!
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Tim on the summit

Walking down the trail is just as challenging as up, but without the wheezing and gasping on my part.  My toes felt bruised, my ankles, weak.  I had no idea what kind of physical impact a walk like this would have on me.  I hurt everywhere.  We stopped at Slant Rock again on the way by (2:30PM) and chatted with two sisters from Ottawa.  Tim refilled the water bottles again.  Most of the rest of the walk home was a blur of drizzle, rocks and roots, sore toes, sore knees and probably some dehydration.  There was a point not far from camp where Tim made me stop and drink.  I think I was starting to become incoherent.  Ha ha.  We got back to camp around 4:40PM.  I was pleased to note that it was NOT an 11-hour hike, just an 11-mile hike.

Peeled off our hiking shoes and put on the surf socks to go down to the brook.  Dunked our feet in the ice cold water and wiped ourselves down with wash cloths.  It felt good!  We saw the famous tame doe that Tim, Dad and Shannon have seen on every trip into JBL.  Tim made dehydrated Lasagna for dinner, and we had no dinnertime visits from the bears.  Rain had started in earnest for the first time on the trip.  It lasted about an hour, and then it just turned into lots and lots of wind.  Very interesting because we could hear the wind coming down the valley for at least 15 or 20 seconds before the trees outside our tent would start moving.  It was moving like waves.  It either kept the bears away or at least drowned out the noise of them so we couldn’t hear them.  Slept better.

8/27/2003

Packed up camp and headed out about 8AM.  I felt like “bear bait” in that I was carrying all the leftover food and all the trash, I’m at the back of our little train of two, AND this darned antique backpack I’m wearing has duct tape on the latch, and I couldn’t get out of it by myself if I had to.  I AM A SITTING DUCK.  Watched over my shoulder for the whole walk.  We talked to some folks from State College, PA.    Saw some frogs, snakes, red squirrels and chipmunks.  No bears!

At “the Garden”, we cleaned ourselves up and changed clothes.  Drove to the Mountaineer so that I could get my Mt Marcy pin, then off to the Noon Mark Diner for breakfast.  Tim had blueberry pancakes with ham.  I had French toast with a fruit cup!  YUM!