In August 2004 I hiked Mount Marcy and decided that I wanted to return and do it in winter. Since I very much enjoy winter camping I had originally planned to set up a "base camp" at Marcy Dam for a three day trip with the summit attempt on the second day. Over the winter I started questioning the appropriateness of hauling the gear needed for an overnight for such a short trip (15 miles and about 3,500 feet of elevation gain), and decided to do it as a day trip.
I had planed to do it "some time this winter", and suddenly I found that the end of winter was fast approaching. Early in March I decided that I would do it during the last week of calendar winter, and announced it to some of my hiking companions after a hike. One of them asked to join me; I was obviously very happy as company is always nice on a long drive and a long hike. We decided to stay at the Adirondack Loj for two nights and to have dinner there both nights.
We reached the Loj on Wednesday March 16th shortly before dark, and just had time to get our stuff in our bunkroom and have some wine and cheese before the excellent dinner was served. During dinner we got to know some of our fellow guests at the Loj and had a pleasant conversation.
On Thursday morning we were the only ones signed up for early breakfast (ready at 6 AM, including fresh brewed coffee). We were a bit slow getting our things together, and left the Loj around 7:30, rather than at 7:00 as planned.
It was my first winter trip to the Adirondacks, and my companion's first trip there in any season. We were both surprised and delighted to see how well packed the trails were; clearly the "snowshoes or skis required" policy works very well.
We made steady progress along the easy grade of the trail, stopping to enjoy the views at Marcy Dam and at Indian Falls. The broadside view of the MacIntyre range from Indian Falls is particularly impressive; we decided then and there that we had to return next winter to do Algonquin! Then the trail started getting slightly steeper, though never really steep, until we reached the Hopkins Trail junction. Before that junction we started getting views both of Marcy to our south and of Whiteface and the many lakes to the north.
Snow depths had been increasing dramatically as we gained elevation. Low down the DEC signs were high above the ground; by the time we reached the Hopkins junction many were at ground level. Lower down there was almost no snow on the trees, higher up they were covered with snow, many having huge mushroom-like caps of snow.
When the trail broke out of the trees it became much less distinct, and different parties clearly went in different directions, with most skiers opting to go substantially to hikers left (east) towards the snow fields. We were momentarily confused, but I recognized the small knob that the trail went over in summer, and saw a cairn on its top. We were too far to the left to go over it, but we saw cairns a bit higher up and headed for them. This I find interesting; I do not remember reading anything about difficulties following the trail.
The snow had become much more hard packed, and for a short distance we found ourselves wearing snowshoes in terrain where crampons would have been more comfortable, with the terrain too steep to stop and change. After a short and, to me, unpleasant section we reached a flat spot and changed into crampons, which made the rest of the ascent much more comfortable.
We reached the summit around 12:30 and had a very pleasant lunch. The wind was, almost until we left, completely non-existent, and the sky, which had been totally clear at Indian Falls, was just starting to have a few small clouds. The views were spectacular, I could recognize the main ranges and a few major individual peaks, but will really need to spend more time in the area to become familiar with the mountains.
The descent to Marcy Dam was uneventful, though my muscles were tiring, and were complaining whenever the trail was flat enough for gravity to offer no help. Beyond Marcy Dam we had to go up several short pitches, plus a longer pitch just before the trailhead. These ups were most unwelcome, but we knew that we were approaching "home", and kept going.
We reached the trailhead at 5:45 PM, almost exactly ten hours after starting. I was quite tired, but a good hot shower, followed by wine and cheese, helped me recover. We had an excellent St. Patrick's Day dinner, and again enjoyed the company of our companions. After breakfast next morning we said goodbye to our Loj companions, and started the long drive home.
A wonderful trip! Unbelievable weather on the hike, great views along the trail as well as on the summit, good food and good company. We have already decided to return next year, staying three nights and hiking two days.
Note: We enjoyed the Loj very much, but must note that it was much less than half full. We were about six or seven people in the main 18-bed bunkroom, with lots of room for our gear. I suspect that with a full bunkroom we would have been much less comfortable!