Table Top Mountain
June 6, 2011
Mt. Marcy from Marcy Dam
Mt. Marcy or Tahawus (Cloud Splitter)
Mt. Marcy sits squarely at the intersection of two great hiking lists – the 46, 4,000 footers of the Adirondacks and the high points of all 50 states. It also dominates the very impressive skyline of the High Peaks of Adirondack Park in upstate New York, and last weekend was the target of affection for The Girls (my hiking companion poodles Kate and Baby) and me. We headed out across Vermont, then taking the ferry across Lake Champlain and into Adirondack Park.
Marcy is named after Governor William Learned Marcy, who directed its surveying and summiting in 1837. The name Tahawus, or Cloud Splitter, was adopted in a fit of native culture frenzy by early settlers, who could not accept the fact the indigenous people had no name for the mountain at all.
The view of The High Peaks from Lake Champlain – Our own Rift Valley
The Adirondacks – The Youngest Mountains in America
The Adirondacks began growing above a geological “hot spot” about 10 million years ago, thrusting ancient rock (principally Anorthosite) through the surrounding limestone cap. They are a real oddity in the Eastern US, and produced a radial drainage pattern and fault blocks surrounding the uplift zone. These fault blocks produced some interesting geological anomalies including “horst and graben” type faulting in the Champlain and Lake George Valleys. Faults of this type are normally associated with rift zones like the Great Rift in Africa and the horst and graben province of the Great Salt Lake Valley in Utah.
No matter the geological origin, the view across the Lake is simply breath taking, and the ferry ride to Essex, NY a real treat.
Glaciation made a major impact on the geomorphology of the Adirondacks. The Pleistocene era, beginning about 1.6 million years ago, brought with it four main continental periods of glaciation, the last ending about 12,000 years ago. The combined forces of a 2 mile deep pile of ice grinding from above, and a gently rising magma plume from below, built some of the most striking topography in the US. The Adirondacks still have a radial drainage pattern reflecting the uplift, and surface features entirely of recent glacial origins. Additionally, some really unusual windblown, lake bottom deposits around Lake Placid, form some splendid farming soil, and a handy place to put America’s finest ski jumps.
The Olympic Ski Jumps on a wind-blown glacial lake bed
Adirondack Park – a Constitutional Mandate
Mt. Marcy is the crown jewel of Adirondack Park, a 6,000,000 acre chunk of land (larger than the entire State of Vermont) created in 1885 as a forest preserve, and then as a park in 1892. It is protected by its mandate as forever wild, although it has over 130,000 permanent residents, and over 40 sawmills for the processing of “forever wild” timber. The initial impetus for the Park came from the concerns of businessmen and a local surveyor, Verplanck Colvin, who claimed that failure to stop forest operations, would result in the silting up and destruction of the Erie Canal and the Hudson River. While the concerns regarding silting were transitory, the purchase of the cut-over land was permanent, and relieved the businessmen of their future property tax burdens on worthless property.
Adding to the legal oversight, the Park was added to the NY State Constitution in 1892, augmenting the already large amounts of confusing and internally contradictory regulation in its Constitution. Today, the NY Constitution has over 56,000 words, exceeding by more than 10x the US Constitution (4,400 words). The net result is a complex regulatory structure in the Park which delights bureaucrats, and alienates backpackers. Specifically, the design, routing and cutting of trails is very slow to respond to use patterns. The result is a large number of poorly designed and implemented trails, and the development of unmaintained “herd paths” which result in very high rates of erosion. There is a preposterous number of “do not” signs and regulations, and very little constructive and productive planning and oversight.
Bureaucratic Oversight to Maintain a Wilderness
Regulations for those suffering from Agent Orange Flatulence
Adirondak Loj and up the Van Hoevenberg Trail
One Melvin Dewey, a champion of simplified spelling, was responsible for the naming of the facilities of the Adirondack Mountain Club in the Park, and their idiosyncratic spelling. Upstate New York has seen a huge number of utopian reformers, including John Brown and Mr. Dewey. Neither Dewey nor Brown made any long term impact, but Dewey lives on, to the horror of English teachers everywhere.
The trail is extraordinary in its elegant, if overbuilt, bridges and stairways up to the Marcy Dam. The trail gains elevation very gradually up from there to the last .6 mile, where it goes above tree line and gets fairly steep. The view from the top is extraordinary, and the youth of the mountains and their very hard Anorthosite rock is reflected in huge rockslides visible in all directions.
On the trip down, we did a swing up Table Top Mountain to check out the “herd path” access to the top of some of the less frequented mountains in the area. The trail had been cleared with saws, but was not otherwise maintained. The path went straight up the hill, and the erosion was pretty severe.
These are extraordinary mountains, and feel very different than their much older cousins to the East in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. This is an area which is clearly worth a visit, and we’ll be back for some more.
A plank bridge across a beaver flowage
The Marcy Dam is built of logs- Old School
The View from the top of Marcy