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Adventure Travel

Life List: Climb New York's Highest Peak

Add Adirondack State Park's Mt. Marcy to your life list.

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With 43 (out of 46) mountains topping 4,000 feet, the High Peaks region of New York’s Adirondack State Park is a Mecca for serious mountain climbing in the east. If you’re all about making challenging climbs harder, tackle 5,344-foot Mt. Marcy during the winter, when temperatures drop to minus 30F and glare ice smears the standard walk-up route.

Start your trip with an overnight at Marcy Dam, a 2.3-mile hike from the historic Adirondack Lodge (or in local parlance, the Loj). You’ll find shelter in one of five three-sided log lean-tos, but frigid temps will still make this feel like full-on winter camping. (Trap some extra warmth by draping a tarp over the open side.) The good news is you’ll be poised for an alpine start, which you’ll need for the 10.2-mile round-trip assault on Marcy’s summit.

This is the easiest (nontechnical) route to the summit, but it still requires your A-game in winter conditions. Before dawn, head down the well-marked Van Hoevenberg Trail (named after Henry Van Hoevenberg, who pioneered the first route up Mt. Marcy and opened the original Loj in 1890). The first couple miles unroll at a gentle grade, but the trail soon steepens. At 5,000 feet, you’ll pop out above treeline; it’s wise to stop and refuel before you do. Mt. Washington may have the windspeed record of 231 mph, but Marcy regularly clocks gusts up to 75 mph. During warm spells, Marcy can be ice-free. But expect anything from deep, drifted snow to glare ice–pack crampons, an ice axe, and an emergency sleeping bag.

From Marcy’s summit at the apex of the Great Range and the Adirondaks, you can see all of the 46 High Peaks. Enjoy the view: The greater Adirondacks comprise 6.1 million acres and is the largest protected area in the contiguous United States–bigger than the Everglades, Yellowstone, Glacier, and Grand Canyon National Parks combined. Oh, and if Marcy’s 5,344-foot summit isn’t tall enough for your taste, climb it again next year. The mountains here are rising 1.5 to 3 centimeters annually.

The Way
From Lake Placid, take NY 73 east to Adirondack Loj Road. Turn left and drive 5 miles to the Loj.

Gear Up
Stop in Keene Valley on your way to the trailhead and visit The Mountaineer. They’ve got everything from maps to mittens, and always have current conditions and forecasts.

Pair Adirondack Trails High Peaks Region, ($20; with Trails of the Adirondack High Peaks Region ($8;

Go Guided
Need some pointers for staying warm in a deep freeze? Head out on guided trip with Adirondack Rock and River. One-day trips start at $160/person.

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