Back in November of 2001,
while Markus and Lorraine and I were watching the Leonid Meteor Storm
on top of Noonmark mountain in the Adirondack Mountains of New York
State, (click here
go to the image gallery of that night), we learned, through some other
star gazers, of a famous and challenging hike known as the "solstice
hike". This is a hike where one traverses the entire
Range in a single day. Yes, you heard right - in one single day, usually
around the summer solstice, when days are longest. Eight of the highest
peaks in NY state, around 35 kilometres total length, and all in one
day. We were impressed at such a hard hike had a name and a following.
However, at the time, it just seemed like a crazy outing for folks
with more stamina than brains.
The panorama above, taken by Markus years ago on the summit of Nippletop, gives us a good view of the entire Great Range. The route usually goes from left to right, with the first summit reached being Marcy, and the last summit reached being Lower Wolfjaw. As you can see, there is a lot of rugged up and down on this hike!
As a few more years slipped by, and, as we got more into ADK 46er hiking, the thought of this legendary outing took on a more tangible and attainable quality - but, for one reason or another, we were never able to pull together the right conditions to tackle it - until this year (2004). We managed to cobble together five enthusiastic challengers of this legendary hike: myself, Pu, Caroline, Markus, and Luc. For Luc, the deciding factor to come on this hike was the fact that I labelled it "the Insane Hike". Can't resist a challenge, eh, Luc?
I wasn't quite sure exactly how long this hike was going to be - some descriptions I'd read pegged it at as much as 38.5 km. Rough estimations on the map showed around 35 km - a formidable outing even without the many summits and rugged Adirondack trail conditions. As a result of the triple unknowns of distance, difficulty, and whether or not our group of hikers would be fully up to the task, the planning for this Adirondack outing was extra conservative:
1. Since one of the objectives of this hike is to complete it within the span of a day, we elected to start _really_ early. We planned to be on the trail by 2AM. This meant driving down the day before and setting up tents and getting sleep at the trailhead.
2. Travelling as light as possible was key as well - extra weight would have a noticeable effect on our rate of progress. So, we chose a weekend where the weather forecast was good, so as to minimize heavier clothing, and we were able to obtain the services of Ewart, who oh-so-nicely volunteered to hike in from an access route with a resupply of food and water to the halfway point along the hike, on the summit of Saddleback.
3. Prepping our bodies as much as possible, by carefully consuming enough food (and the right kind of food) and drink the night before.
We chose to do the route from highest to lowest: summit Marcy first, then work our way down the Great Range to the east, ending at Lower Wolfjaw. We elected to start out at South Meadows, which offered very nice [and free] camping. We car shuttled a vehicle to the end of the hike, at the Garden parking lot in Keene Valley.
The time had come to start what could possibly prove to be the hardest hike I'd ever done (in a day, that is). We were up at 1:00 am, and, after some quick fuelling up, we were hittin' the trail at 1:50 AM from South Meadows. The weather was partly cloudy and we could see stars here and there, and the night was very cool for late June. A good thing, really, to help reduce our dehydration rate and to reduce the bug annoyance factor (actually, there were no bugs at all).
I put my sneakers on for the march along the old fire road to Marcy Dam. I figured that I might as well give my feet as much of a nice easy warmup as possible before putting on the heavy hiking boots.
My headlamp's batteries were almost completely toast and it was quite a challenge to see what was going on in front of my feet - especially so considering the fast pace we were setting. Being a little unsure of how long or hard this hike would actually be caused us to be in the mindset of going as fast and taking as few breaks as possible here in the early stages of the hike.
Marcy dam (picture with caption Marcy Dam in the middle of the night
) arrived at 2:40 AM. 50 Minutes, not bad - a pretty quick march from South Meadows. Markus had decided to go his own pace from South Meadows and was considerably behind us. We were a bit worried that he might be annoyed with us at our pace, but when he finally showed up several minutes later, he just tramped on by without taking a break, stating that he'd make up for the slower pace by not stopping as much. A good way to handle the situation, I thought.
So, while Markus continued on (hopefully on the right trail), we stopped and stuffed ourselves with calories and some liquids.
We continued along the Van Hoevenberg trail towards Marcy. The trail becomes the typical Adirondack over-eroded rocky mess, and, with my super-feeble headlamp light, I was constantly in danger of stumbling or putting a foot wrong. Unfortunately, Markus had the extra headlamp batteries and we still had not made up the time to him from the stop at Marcy Dam.
In any case, we charged up to Indian falls, arriving at 3:55 am. At this point, we were way more than halfway up Marcy, which was excellent considering we had started only 2 hours before. Markus gave me his new headlamp batteries, and what a huge difference that made! Caroline was feeling a little queasy from the combination of stuffing lots of food down while at the same time hiking hard.
A dim bit of twilight allowed us to see the silhouette of Algonquin and the MacIntyres - it was going to be close if we wanted to get to treeline on Marcy before sunrise!
Continuing on at our brisk pace, we passed a few good viewpoints that revealed an amazing pre-sunrise glow (picture with caption Amazing pre-dawn colors
), and that also revealed that, in the valleys, ground fog and low clouds had settled. I love this effect, of being above the clouds, and I was thrilled to see it (picture with caption Above the clouds
Dawn was due shortly after 5am. 5:13am, to be precise, and we managed to more-or-less reach treeline on Marcy right around then. The sun rose just to the left of the Great Range and provided a spectacular silhouette of the rugged route we would be following for the day (picture with the caption Magical Great Range