Apollo 12

I said I was looking for adventure — it didn’t take me long to find it! I climbed Mt Marcy (5348′, highest point in New York State) last weekend with my scout troop. Lesson learned: mountains are big! It was an epic experience, even if it’s an experience that a certain someone doesn’t believe I could ever do, despite the photo evidence!

I should have known from the start that this was a bad sign, that not many people go this way.

The beginning of the hike was flat and easy enough, about 5 miles to Calamity Pond, where we got the first clear view of the mountain we were about to climb

And here it is (just a bit) closer, from the Flowed Lands

The Opalescent bouncy bridge marked the approximate halfway point in terms of distance getting to the mountain. Half the troop mutinied here, realizing by basic calculations that the hike would go after dark, which many didn’t plan for.

The rest of us, 11 people or so, started climbing faster up toward the top of the mountain, which seemed to drag on forever. When another few hours of climbing only got us to Tear of the Clouds, it became obvious that now was a good time to turn back. Being less than a mile from the summit, my scoutmaster decided to send me and Christian up to the top so at least someone from the trip made it!

And, almost as soon as they went back on their way, the skies opened up and it RAINED!

Of course we only kept climbing higher, ignoring the signs along the trail saying to turn back in severe weather, and the raging torrents of water pouring down the path.

The final approach looked like this: bare, slippery rock, above treeline, with heavy rain and raging winds. By the time we got here, it even appeared to be raining UP onto us, not entirely unlike the inside of a car wash.

Finally, we made it to Gray Peak, and saw Marcy in the not too far distance (it looks far, but trees at this altitude are only 3 feet tall!), and decided we might as well push on to the true summit, the weather having taken a break from deteriorating for a bit.

And then this happened: back into the rain and clouds again, and now there was something frozen falling too.

The view from the top, or something like that:

And finally, some proof, even though Scott thinks I photoshopped myself in.

Yet this was only halfway. The way down was mostly a living hell, through 11 miles in a soaking wet, increasingly chilly maelstrom. The only other person we saw the entire way was right off the top, a Russian guy in an orange and blue tracksuit, thoroughly lost looking for the way down to Keene Valley, who crossed paths with us at least twice.

From there, the descent took forever as night fell and the mud only got deeper. In the darkness, we lost any track of time and distance, and we’d already sent our map off with the first group of mutineers. The miles dragged on as we regretted giving away our food and water to people we thought needed it more, lightening our own loads at the expense of running completely out of energy in the cold rain. Making matters worse, we kept hearing voices and music out of the woods, and seeing lights in the distance, all of them of course hallucinations, to the point that we’d have to stop and look, and ask each other if it was real. And even then it wasn’t always obvious, sometimes we’d even hallucinate about the same things.

Finally, almost by surprise, we made it to the parking lot, which was empty except for one car and one tent. The scoutmaster, Larry Root, stayed behind for us, having given up hope that we’d make it out of the mountains that night, assuming we found shelter in a lean-to or something. I’m actually kind of amazed he didn’t call for a rescue on us; he must have trusted my reputation in the troop as the wild one, or remembered that i spent the last four summers teaching survival. His shock at our appearance was incredible, especially once we told him what we’d experienced up there, and even more so when we both decided we weren’t at all scared of returning, and thought it was a lot of fun!

The next morning, reunited with the rest of my troop, we told our story to them. I almost didn’t want to, knowing what they all missed out on, but they actually found it quite a relief, to know what they had been saved from! But if this is what it means to live life into the wild, I’m ready to take it on again. 2 peaks down, 44 to go!

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