Mount Marcy - New York Highpoint
WillhiteWeb.com: Hiking, Climbing and Travel
Distance: 7.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,100+ feet
Summit Elevation: 5,344 feet
We arrived at the trailhead around 2 p.m. because we got the New Jersey highpoint that morning. Had I known it was 7 miles with 3,100+ elevation gain, I probably wouldn’t have started down the trail. We had come a long way and I didn’t know what the weather was going to do, so off we went. I was loaded down carrying my 35 lb. son in a backpack. The further we got up the trail, the more the clouds were building. It was hot, sometime in August. The last few miles we started getting funny looks like “why are they so late getting up?” In reality we had pushed up in just a few hours, on a surprisingly rocky and steep trail. As we neared tree line, we ran into a park ranger. She wasn’t too happy she couldn’t convince us to turn around. In the distance was the distant role of thunder. We were tired but now we really had to push the final half mile to beat the storms. As we got close to the summit, the way was marked with yellow paint strips on the rocks. The trees were now shrub like about 5 feet high. At the final brush area before the rocky summit I stopped. Our hearts were racing from exertion and fear. The thunderstorms were near, but there wasn’t any way to tell if they were coming this way. My hiking partner was Kathleen, my sister in law. I tell her I’m not comfortable taking my 2 year old son up to the summit with lightning in the area. I have her wait with my son while I run up the final 200 vertical feet, about 10 minutes climb. I was pretty freaked out, keeping my head low as if that was going to help me. I stepped onto the summit with one foot, pivoted and started running down with the other foot. I had made it, the highpoint of New York.
When I got back to Kathleen, she wanted to give it a shot. I hadn’t seen any lightning bolts so I gave her a quick lesson in lightning dangers. First rule….we shouldn’t even be here. Mostly I tell her if she sees any lightning or feels any static charge get turn back fast. She was a novice climber; her desire to continue must have been pure ignorance. She stands up and starts her run for the summit. After 10 minutes only 30 feet from the summit, a bolt of lightning strikes the summit area on the far side of the mountain. Even from my far away vantage point, I could see her jump 3 feet into the air landing with her feet pointing down the mountain. I’ve never seen someone move so fast down rock. Because the rocks were tricky, she had to take lots of steps. It appeared she was taking 3-4 steps per second. As fast as she was trying, it was too late; the thunder cell was on top of us. Several more bolts hit the area. I was scared for her as well as myself. I decided to get lower on the mountain for better shelter. I work my way down through the mix of rocks and bushes, trying to keep as low to the ground as possible. My child carrier is aluminum; I pray there are no metal parts. Finally I stop; a meadow ahead will make me stand out as the tallest object. It starts raining, really bad rain. Where’s Cathleen? I’ve been waiting awhile, more than enough time for her to catch up. Then I hear faint yelling from above. It sounds like help! O crap, I think she is hurt. I start working my way back up the trail. Then I hear her yelling my name. I yell back, “this way, this way”. She had got lost, loosing the yellow paint strips in the mad rush down. She follows me back to the edge of the meadow where we bunker down to wait it out. Kathleen looks at me shortly after a bolt strikes nearby, saying “I don’t want to die.” I try to comfort her fears but we both know we were in a bad spot. Finally the worst had passed. We were completely drenched. Luckily my son had a rain hood so his core body was dry. We quickly crossed the meadow continuing our way down. By the time we reached the tree line, the storm had moved on. We had made it, surviving an extremely violent storm in a most unforgiving place. An hour later, we would be hit again but we were then in the relative safety of the forest in a valley bottom. We just laughed during this second round. That evening on the news, we learned this had been a particular rare storm for the area, flooding and even killing a few people in their homes. As for state highpointing, this was the most danger I’ve ever placed myself in, even on Mt. McKinley I never felt this close to getting hurt.
View from where we watched each other climb the final segment
Here I am soaking wet after the storm
Views about 10 minutes before we got hit
Maverick having fun just after Kathleen headed for the summit
The trail followed these yellow swatches