Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Mt. Marcy by way of Johns Brook Trail

Last weekend myself, my girlfriend and three of our friends climbed Mt. Marcy, the highest point in NY. It was a great accomplishment for me (as well as a few others in the group) for a couple of reasons. It was my first overnight hike in addition to being the furthest (14 miles) I've hiked in a single day, the record was previously 11 miles to Buttermilk Falls that I did more than a year ago. I've also never planned a hike for such a large group that involved considerable research and the right gear.

For those of you planning to hike Mt. Marcy there are three different (primary) ways to ascend Mt. Marcy. At 7.4 miles, the Van Hovenberg Trail is the easiest and shortest, starting from the Adirondack Loj (aka the ADK). The second route, the one we chose to hike, is via Phelps and Johns Brook Trail at around 9.1 miles each way with the trailhead at the Garden in Keene Valley. The third and most difficult ascent is via the Great Range Trail at 13.5 miles each way. We chose Johns Brook because we wanted to make it an overnighter and it had the most camping sites and lean-tos along the way, as well as Johns Brook Lodge (JBL) 3.5 miles in for water refilling.

After selecting our desired trail the next step was to create a rough itinerary and list of gear and supplies required for the trip. Here's what I ended up packing. Note that

- Non-cotton shirt
- Athletic shorts
- Hiking socks
- Hiking boots
- Underwear

Packing: (In a hiking backpack)
- Extra non-cotton shirt
- Extra Hiking Socks
- Extra Underwear
- Rain Jacket
- Fleece for cold/night
- Non-cotton Long sleeve shirt for another layer
- Bug Spray
- Sunscreen
- Toothbrush/Toothpaste
- Wipes
- Deodorant
- Plastic bags for feet
- Camelback (100 oz)
- Nalgene (1L)
- Sunglasses
- Sleeping Bag
- Headlamp
- Map
- Tent
- Bearproof canister

- Rope
- Knife
- Compass
- First Aid
- Duct Tape
- Camera
- Phone
- Water purification

- Along with this we also had a meal and a fresh change of clothes waiting in the car for when we returned the second day.

All said and done my pack weighed 45lb with water but I had an oversized (and overweight) pack, a $5 heavy sleeping bag and a bunch of food and supplies (most of the optional stuff) that I didn't need. In the future I'll shoot for 30-35lb.

The Trip:
With all of our gear loaded up in the back of the Rav, we headed off to Keene Valley around 2pm on Saturday for an arrival at the trailhead around 4:30pm. The first 3.5 miles to JBL, and our campsite, took 2hrs 5mins. Compared to the walk back it seemed like a cakewalk with all of that gear, food and water. By 7:30pm we had our tents set up and were settling down for the evening for a nice game of ERS and storytelling. The next morning we were up at 6am, breaking camp and eating breakfast. We started our ascent at around 7:15am with smaller, lighter packs, leaving our camping gear behind and it took us 4hrs and 10mins to summit. The hike up was very damp, but a lot less difficult that I expected. Instead of a sloped well-beaten path it was a narrow fairly flat path with steep rock/bouldery climbs in between. It made for by far one of my most interesting and enjoyable climbs. Instead of killing our calves on a boring incline it was more like rock climbing/jumping which made things much more entertaining. The last half mile or so to the summit is above the treeline for the most part and costs of slippery mossy rock faces and outcrops. The summit was easily 10-15F colder than a few hundred feet lower, partly because of additional the moisture and wind. The visibility was probably a few hundred yards, pretty disappointing for such a large undertaking compared to anything we had done previously.

We decided to take our summit lunch back at a warmer portion of the trail 0.5miles down. Our progress descending was much slower than anticipated. We made it back to our camp in 3hr 45 (only 25 minutes faster than the ascent). Because it was a lot of rocks and roots the downhill was much more strenuous on our knees and hip flexors. Where things really took a turn for the worse was when we had to put on our heavy packs. The 3.5 miles back to the car seemed never ending but we managed to make it back in 1hr 40 mins, on a portion of the trail where the elevation change was mostly a wash.

In all, it was a great experience. Everything went according to plan and no one got injured despite a few close calls. The summit and hiking conditions were a bit disappointing and the walk back was very taxing, but the hike up and feeling of accomplishment totally made it worthwhile.

Peakbagger - lists the two routes as Van Hoevenburge Trail and Feldspar (Tahawus), has a great list of trail reports by other hikers
HighPeaksClimbing - Lists Adrondack Loj and Garden Parking Lot as two trailheads, refers to Phelps trail (turns into Johnsbrook trail) as the popular route from Garden Parking lot.
Keene Valley Hike Shuttle
My Big Adventure- very detailed picture hike using AdLoj route
Natural Born Hikers- another great photoblog using AdLoj route
Description of Johns Brook Trial
Description of Johns Brook Trail with Camping
Grace Camp

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