Mount Marshall (4,360 feet) is one of the 20 trail-less monsters in New York’s Adirondack Park. I grew up in Upstate New York, aiming to bag all 46 peaks in the Adirondacks over 4,000 feet, until I hiked up Marshall.
In 1977, a friend, also chasing his 46-er badge, asked me to climb it. After a long slog to the bottom of the mountain, we bushwhacked up Herbert Brook. When the creek ran out, we pushed through tenacious tangles of fir and spruce, then shimmied up near-vertical slab, only to reach a treed summit. Miserable, water-logged and bleeding from dozens of scrapes, I swore off trail-less peaks.
In August, my friend, Helena, on her quest for a 46-er badge, asked me to hike Mount Marshall with her. “There has to be a herd path,” she said, “All of the trail-less peaks have herd paths now.”
“How far is the hike?” I asked, not remembering the exact mileage after 43 years.
“15 miles, maybe a little more,” she replied. That was my limit for a day hike under the best of circumstances, but evidently, time really does ease pain. I agreed to go.
The long approach to Mount Marshall was hardly boring, passing through slot-like Avalanche Pass to two scenic backcountry tarns, Avalanche Lake and Lake Colden. Getting around the lakes required going up and down a series of ladders and footbridges in a boulder field, an impressive stretch of trail work.
At 8.2 miles, after rock hopping across multiple stretches of waterlogged path, we came to Herbert Brook at the base of mountain. I worried briefly, thinking, it was going to be a 20-miler before the day was over, my longest day hike ever by about five miles, but my legs still felt good.
True to Helena’s prediction, an unofficial but well-defined path allowed us to crisscross the brook as we climbed, rather than slog up the flowing creek bed. The brook wowed us with its numerous pools and cascades, framed by deep green moss and the lush, primeval forest.
Above the brook, we scrambled up two rock chimneys that were more fun than frightening. As we neared the summit, we caught glimpses of Iroquois and Algonquin Peaks through the trees.
The summit came quickly beyond the second chimney. After the requisite selfies, we found a narrow spur to a rock pinnacle and, surprise, a magnificent view! Then I looked at my GPS watch. We had come 10.75 miles and now had to retrace that distance again.
My legs went numb about 16 miles into the journey. I was so glad to wear my LOWA Mauria boots. The Gore-Tex kept my feet dry, and their supportive, yet comfortable construction protected my feet on the endless cobbles, roots, boulders and slab. These boots truly helped me survive the marathon.
When we finally emerged at the trailhead, I had to admit, Mount Marshall the second time was much better than the first. Maybe I’ll finish my 46-er badge after all.
Photos courtesy of LOWA Ambassador Lisa Ballard and H. Oechsner.