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September 13, 2013

Third shot at climb turned out just fine

The Daily Star

---- — They say that the third time’s the charm. That’s the way it was for my good friend George and I.

Last fall, we headed to Lake Placid to climb in the High Peaks but were turned back by nine inches of ice and frigid temperatures on the mountain peaks. We were ready go go back in May, but the DEC advised hikers to stay off the trails because of wet conditions and deep mud. But last weekend, we summited Mt. Marcy.

You’ve heard that if anything can go wrong, it will. Well, that’s the way things started out for us.

We arrived at Heart Lake and signed in. We were full of enthusiasm as he hiked the first couple of miles to Marcy Dam. The weather was beautiful. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky.

As we started up the blue trail, hard use by thousands of hikers became evident. The trail was deeply eroded. Large boulders, logs and exposed roots, along with mud, made the hike more difficult. But we continued on.

A couple of hours later, we arrived at the place where we’d spend the first night. Before setting up camp, we decided to go back down the trail and climb up Phelps Mountain. After all, the trail sign said it was only a mile hike. So why not go up and knock off another of the 46 High Peaks?

The steep trail was brutal, even worse than the main trail. It took us nearly two hours to cover that mile and well over an hour to get back down. The views were spectacular from the rock ledges just below the summit, but the thick, stunted trees on top made other views impossible.

On the way back down, I twisted my knee. So every step down was that much more difficult. That was the beginning.

Once we got back to camp, we unpacked my tent and found the next problem. That was because I hadn’t checked my tent out before the trip.

I just assumed everything was OK, since it always had been in the past. The tent had a sticky feel to it, though. After inserting the main support poles, we realized that the stitching on most of the tent had rotted away since its last use.

Luckily, it was a beautiful night without any wind or rain because by morning the tent was in sad shape. We knew we’d have to stop early enough the next night to claim a spot in one of the lean-tos throughout the area.

The going was rough the next day, but we climbed to the top of Mt. Marcy — New York’s highest peak. It was extremely windy and cold on the summit, but we had lunch before going over the back side toward Mt. Skylight. I was in a lot of pain by the time we descended to the four corners, but I had no choice; I had to go on. But on the bright side, it was only 10 or so more miles back to the car.

We arrived at the Uphill Creek lean-to before dark and there were two spaces left. Other hikers welcomed us into the three-sided log structure where we spent the night. Luckily there was space for us because the next lean-to was a long ways away and would have been difficult to find in the dark.

On Sunday, we continued on, putting one foot in front of the other. I learned to step down with my left leg and up with my right. It would have been a lot easier without a 35-pound pack on my back, but what you carry in, you carry out.

In spite of everything, we had a wonderful trip. And to top things off, I called Mountain Hardwear about my tent the next day. It had a lifetime warranty. All I had to do was send them the old one and they’d replace it.

Wow! Imagine that. That shows it pays to buy quality.

What’s happening?

The Conservation Alliance of New York is hosting its 12th annual Venison Donation Banquet at Oneonta’s Holiday Inn at 5 p.m. Sept. 28. To date, this organization has donated more than 300,000 meals of ground venison and ground beef, as well as $5,000 in canned and dry food to food banks in Otsego and Delaware counties. If you need more information or wish to attend this event, call Mary Martini at 607-267-1953.

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