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September 20, 2013

People make hiking more interesting

The Daily Star

---- — I hesitate to write more about my Mt. Marcy climb, but some things about the hike are still lingering in my head.

Those “things” are the people you meet along the trail.

As we drove into Heart Lake to park on the very first morning of our hike, we were asked, “Do you have a bear canister?” Of course we did. They’re required since using a bear canister to keep your food away from those pesky, black, furry panhandlers has greatly decreased the number of bear encounters. But they’re still a problem at Marcy Dam and Lake Colden.

Two miles up the trail, we met a ranger who was putting up some new trail signs. Her first question was, “Do you have a bear canister?” Once a bear finds food, it will always return to that same area for more.

Anyway, enough about bears. Sadly, we never saw one.

The first interesting people we encountered on the trail were four college guys. That meeting was rather brief. We moved to the side of the trail as they went running by, going rock to rock at a frenzied pace.

Their goal was to run, yes run, from Heart Lake to the summit of Mt. Marcy in two hours. Now that’s 7.4 miles uphill, and it’s steep. I’m not sure if they made it on time, but when they passed us, they were on their way back down the mountain and still running.

While filtering water late the first afternoon, a young couple paused to talk. They were heading to a lean-to near Lake Arnold, but I saw a few problems with their plan.

It was already past 5 o’clock. They had missed a turn several miles back, so they had to hike three miles out of their way, and it was going to be dark soon. We ran into them the next day on the back side of Marcy. They finally set up camp at 1:30 in the morning. Funny thing, though: They were still smiling and having fun.

Just before reaching the top of Mt. Marcy, we stopped at an area known as the meadow. There was a middle-aged couple taking a break as well.

The woman plainly said to her husband, “I’m not taking another step. I’ll wait here for you to get back.”

Nothing more was said as we started out, but every time I looked back, she was right behind us. I guess the mountains have a special attraction for people. She summited it the same time we did and seemed pretty happy.

The second night, we arrived at the Up Hill Creek Lean-to. There were already six guys and all their gear in the rustic log structure. That didn’t matter. One guy offered me a bottle of spiced rum while everyone else moved things around to give us space. The lean-tos are designed to hold eight campers and, without asking, they made sure we’d fit in.

Two of those guys were from Quebec. They had hiked in so they could climb Gray Peak. Once on its summit, they would complete their quest of climbing all 46 peaks that are more than 4,000 feet tall. We held a pre-celebration for them that night.

Then there was the outhouse of sorts. One of the guys disappeared for a few moments but couldn’t get over the fact that the privy was just a wooden box with a hole in the top right out in the open.

“Darn,” he said. “I didn’t think I had to use a litter pan. Besides that, the people in the tents could sit there and watch me go!”

We all laughed, but that was pretty much the truth of the matter.

Hikers come and go on the trail, but they unknowingly form a community. If you need something, everyone is willing to help. Even if you hike by yourself in the woods, you are never alone. It’s just that some of those folks are more interesting than others.

Rick Brockway writes a weekly outdoors column for The Daily Star. Email him at