Cover image: The author and his hiking crew on their way up Mt. Marcy. All images: Rich Van Antwerp
“The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value” —Teddy Roosevelt
Imagine you have settled into your tent for the evening after a long arduous day spent hiking Mt. Marcy in upstate New York. Through the quiet of the mountain’s night comes a stir of someone approaching in haste. The message they bring is urgent and of upmost importance to the nation.
History in the Making
That’s the scenario that played out on September 14, 1901 for then Vice President Teddy Roosevelt, who was awoken in the night by dispatchers bringing word that President William McKinley had died and that Teddy, one of this nation’s greatest champions of conservation, was now the President of the United States.
I'm a huge history buff and routinely research the local history about places I hike for the first time. As I prepared for my Mt Marcy hike in the Adirondack Park of upstate New York I was fascinated to learn about Teddy’s night on Mt. Marcy as it relates to our nation’s history as well as learning the history of Mt. Marcy and how the Park was established.
Ode to the Adirondacks
Mt. Marcy is the highest peak in New York State rising 5,343 feet in the heart of the Adirondack High Peaks Region of upstate New York. There are 46 traditionally recognized high peaks in the Adirondacks that rise above 4,000 feet and an organization known as the Adirondack 46ers was officially formed in 1948 to recognize hikers who have climbed each of the 46 Adirondack high peaks.
Some interesting facts about Mt. Marcy and the Adirondack Park:
· The first recorded ascent was on August 5, 1837. The party was led by Ebenezer Emmons who was looking for the headwaters of the East Fork of the Hudson River which it claimed was located at Lake Tear of the Clouds on the shoulder of Mt. Marcy.
· The Adirondack Park is the largest publicly protected area throughout the entire United States. The 6-million-acre Adirondack Park is larger in size than Yellowstone, Everglades, Glacier and Grand Canyon National Parks – combined! More than 2.5 million acres of land in the Adirondack Park is protected by New York State, creating a region of natural splendor and rich wildlife habitat in the Adirondack Mountains. An additional 3.4 million acres of the park is privately owned land.
· The area was designated in 1892 to protect the region from uncontrolled forest clearing that was common during the 1800s. The Adirondack Park is managed by the State’s Department of Environmental Conservation and the land within the park is required to be kept "forever wild" by Article 14 of the state constitution, and thus enjoy the highest degree of protection of wild lands in any state. Any change to Article 14 requires ratification by popular vote to amend the New York State Constitution in order to transfer any of these lands to another owner or lessee.
There are several routes to the top of Mt. Marcy and my trip started in Keene Valley at the “Garden” parking lot and the trailhead for the Johns Brook Trail. I was joined by three of my close friends and hiking buddies from Iowa, Wisconsin and Texas, two of which had never experienced the Adirondack region before.
From the trailhead it’s a 9 mile climb with an elevation gain of 3,821 feet. We followed the trail to the Johns Brook Lodge area and dropped our backpacks and set up our tents before continuing on our trek to the summit. From the Johns Brook Lodge area, we picked up the Phelps Trail which took us to the Ridge Trail which we followed to the summit of Mt. Marcy.
The trail leading from the Johns Brook Lodge area to the summit of Mt. Marcy turns from a traditional compacted dirt and rock worn trail to a steep and almost entirely a rock and boulder laden trail that resembled more of a dried out creek bed than a hiking trail. Over a century of erosion caused by trail use and flooding from winter thaw and rain shower has gradually eroded all ground cover and topsoil leaving a rocky path with gnarly exposed roots in its wake.
On our journey we passed a “Caretaker” works for the Department of Environmental Conservation. She was out for the day with saw and pickaxe in tow to do trail maintenance work. We stopped to talk with her about her work and expressed our gratitude for the work she does maintaining the trail for others to enjoy.
The final couple of miles are challenging as you navigate the boulders and avoid tripping on roots. As with all great climbs once you get a peek at the summit, adrenaline takes over and pushes you to the top. Thankfully my Oboz Yellowstone II Bdry boots with their rugged Sawtooth outsoles gave the traction I needed to scale the rocky summit.
The view from the top of Mt. Marcy is well worth the final steep climb. With Mt. Marcy’s summit being above tree line, this rocky peak which is mostly covered with alpine shrubs, lichens provide a clear 360-degree view of the Adirondack High Peaks region. You can see 43 of the 45 other Adirondack high peaks and on a clear day like we had we were also able to see the Green Mountains of Vermont to the east and even Mont Royal near Montreal to the north.
With Mt. Marcy bagged I only have 45 other Adirondack high peaks to climb before I get my 46er badge!!!! Wishful thinking indeed.
Upon returning home I began reading Frank Graham, Jr’s “The Adirondack Park”. It’s a fascinating account of the many decades of proposals and debates over how to protect and preserve the Adirondack wilderness.
We are so fortunate to have had pioneers and conservationists with such wisdom and foresight to protect the Adirondack Park and for that matter all our National and State parks for future generations to experience and enjoy.
Rich is retired fund raising executive based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and Summit County, Colorado. He’s now a full-time hiker, skier, and snowshoer working his way through his “bucket list” of adventures.