#8  Mount Marcy, New York (5,344 ft.)

Marcy was the first serious hike I did in support of the highpointing quest. I did it with a group of friends. We didn't know any better. Loaded up with old boots, basic supplies, and a bad night's sleep in a musty lean-to, we trekked off into the Adirondack wilderness for a 16-mile calf-buster up a wet, overly popular trail to the summit of the Empire State. And buddy it was worth it. 

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Marcy is an amazing experience, albeit one you will almost certainly share with a hundred strangers. The alpine zone is breathtaking, but the crowds are substantial, and the trail is WET. As in damp, moist, soggy, and mud-spattered. "Actively trickling" might be the best description. I have since done harder hikes (though not yet longer ones) and gained more altitude, but Marcy remains a personal touchstone as the inaugural "big hike" of my highpointing journey. One of the unfortunate side effects of Marcy's popularity is the environmental degradation of the summit area. Thus the ADK Mountain Club has installed stewards on the summit: hardy souls who huff it to the top every day and teach people not to trample the rare alpine vegetation (above). The high peaks of the Adirondacks are home to a host of rare plants, and the summit area is lined with carefully placed "barriers" of small rocks, which effectively alert you where you should step, or not. It's part of the quaint charm of the Adirondacks experience. Kudos to the ADK Mountain Club for their many decades of advocacy in restoring the "pristine" to this awfully big and beautiful wilderness.


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Lots of references will tell you that Marcy's name in the Algonquin language is Tahawus, for "Cloudsplitter." Cool name, very appropriate. I've also read, however, that the name is not Algonquin but rather a pseudo-Algonquin appellation grafted onto the mountain by early white settlers.

The mountain's Anglo namesake is William Learned Marcy (1786–1857), three-time governor of the State of New York (right). Marcy was later secretary of war under President James K. Polk as well as the twenty-first secretary of state under that pillar of presidential ignominy, Franklin Pierce. He is credited with the phrase "to the victor belongs the spoils," whence the "spoils system" was coined to describe corrupt political patronage. A Jacksonian Democrat in an era of much greater diversity among our nation's politcal parties, he belonged to a number of curiously named factions and counter-factions, from the Bucktails to the Hunkers.


Dolley Shot: Mount Marcy Follies

After our hike up Marcy my compatriots and I wanted pizza, our traditional post-hike feast. We drove into Lake Placid, the nearest metropolis to the ADK Heart Loj, and got a table outside Caffe Rustica, a swell (if sometimes overcrowded) restaurant in the same shopping plaza as the Price Chopper grocery store. I've only ever had their wood-fired pizzas, but I can heartily recommend them. On this inaugural trip I remember especially the walk across the parking lot. Those last 20 feet across the pavement were killers.


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