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August 24, 2012

Hiking up Mount Marcy was worth the weight

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The Daily Star

The Daily Star — Last weekend, my rock-climbing buddy George and I were talking about a hike up Mount Marcy.

Marcy is the highest peak in New York, reaching 5,344 feet up into the clouds. We looked over my map of this steep, up-and-down terrain and tried to figure out a route that would take in several other peaks as well as some of those special places I’d like to visit once more.

I chuckled almost silently to myself as I noticed a date written on the map — 1979 was clearly marked on Algonquin Peak. That was a memorable trip some 30-plus years ago.

I was teaching high school English in Worcester back then. Several of the teachers took a select group of students on a weekend hike into the Adirondacks each year and I was invited to go along. On a Saturday morning, we were parked at Heart Lake ready to hike over Algonquin, the Adirondacks second highest peak, and spend the night camping at Lake Colden.

When George and I were discussing our upcoming backpacking trip, we talked about equipment, food and the weight we would carry. That last item, weight, is what made me chuckle.

Before leaving on that high school outing, a couple of us decided to play a trick on one of the other teachers. When he was at lunch, we went into his classroom and made a slight addition to his backpack.

Once at the trailhead, most of the students were anxious to get started. They headed up the trail in small groups while the rest of us slowly brought up the rear.

Algonquin Peak lay ahead of us with its summit nestled quietly in the clouds. We took our time, putting one foot in front of the other on a trail that wandered through ancient forest and seemed to forever go up.

Having youth on their side, the kids were far ahead of the rest of us, but there was no hurry. We took our time, enjoyed the scenery and finally reached the bald, rocky summit of the mountain by lunchtime.

Patches of snow still lingered among the rocks high above timberline. Only mosses and lichens survived at that altitude, and even they had trouble because of the cold, harsh winters. We stayed on the marked trail and soon found a place to sit and eat our lunch.

No one said a word as Jim searched through his backpack for his lunch. We all ate quietly and watched as he dug down beneath his sleeping bag and other gear.

He finally got near the bottom of his bag and discovered our little joke, pulling out a 10-pound dumbbell weight. The expression on his face was priceless. The rest of us had all we could do to suppress the laughter.

Jim was a good sport about it. He never said a word as he pulled out his lunch and replaced the odd mass of heavy iron to the bottom of his pack. With a smile and quiet laughter, I knew it was only a matter of time before he got even.

I don’t know what jokes were played on other trips because I left teaching to follow my dreams soon after that. I stayed in touch with some of those folks for a few years, but no one ever spoke about those trips.

But as I’ve hiked through those beautiful mountains, I’ve often wondered — with a little smile — if Jim ever had his revenge.

Rick Brockway writes a weekly outdoors column for The Daily Star. Email him at robrockway@hotmail.com.