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How crowded is the Marcy hike?

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  • How crowded is the Marcy hike?


    Planning a trip up Marcy in September. Would like to camp at Marcy dam. I've been out of the state for a few years...How crowded is it now? Will we be able to get a tent spot at Marcy dam?

    Any input would appreciated!

    Thanks in advance.

  • #2
    It will be crowded. Here is a blog post by one of the summit stewards from a few weeks ago. Yes, the summer crowd will be gone, but the leaves will start changing soon.

    Sunday Morning.  I stopped to sign in on the radio, and looked suspiciously up and down the trail. I had spoken to 326 people the day before, and every part of me felt it. I jumped as I heard voices up ahead, worried about the aftermath from Saturday’s numbers.  The voices got louder, it was 7:45 in the morning. Three people, bear canister in hand, were happily bounding down the jumble of rocks. I instinctively pulled up my mask and stepped to the side. “Good morning! Where did you folks camp last night?” I asked “Oh on Marcy” “You camped up there?”  “Yes! We found a great spot” I was a little taken aback, over my three seasons of stewarding it has been a rare occurrence to find people camped above tree-line, let alone readily admit to it without the slightest inclination that they had done anything wrong. Stumbling a bit I turned to face them “Oh okay, well we do have a lot of really rare plants up there that are incredibly sensitive to being stepped on. Just a few footsteps is enough to kill them, that’s actually why I work up here - to protect those plants. That’s part of why we have regulations against camping both above the treeline and above 3,500 ft.” Their bounce vanished and they eyed my radio and patches suspiciously.  “We had no idea, I’m so sorry.” one of them said, looking genuinely alarmed. I continued to give them more information on the plants, emphasizing their slow growth rate and how many of them are endangered in New York State.  One member of the group was less than convinced. Scoffing he hoisted the bear can he was carrying into his other arm and said with a knowing tone “Oh I think it’s okay, we found a nice patch of grass to set up on” I stared at him. This was going to be a long day. Further up the trail, I was still thinking of if I could have handled the situation better, and if I should have reported them when I turned a corner and came face-to-face with two tents and four men in jeans.  Damn it. “Hey how’s it going?” I said a bit too forcefully, my heart sinking at the newly scorched patch of grass where they had clearly had a fire the night before.  Startled, one of them dropped the tent stake they had just pulled from the ground.  I asked where they were from and where they were headed, how their hike had been the day before. They relaxed significantly when they realized I wasn’t hostile. It was their first time in the area - ever - and one of the first camping trips they had been on. I began talking about how much I love the Adirondacks, and what a special place it is. How the High Peaks is the largest wilderness area in New York State and how few places exist that are anything like it. They all nodded in agreement. I took a deep breath and pressed on. “It’s hard, I want everyone to be able to experience this beautiful place like I have, but it’s been so busy recently I’ve been seeing a lot of resource damage from people just not being aware of the regulations in the area.” “Oh I’m sure, that’s terrible.” One of them said looking around and nodding furiously. “Yeah.” I continued “We do have a lot of regulations in the High Peaks but it’s all to protect our resources so others can continue to love and experience this place. You know I believe it’s everyone’s responsibility to research an area before going there to make sure we aren’t hurting our wild spaces or making them less beautiful for other visitors.” They continued to agree, appalled that anyone would even think of hiking somewhere without doing their research. “One way we are seeing damage is people camping above the legal elevation, which is 3,500 ft. it’s hard to dispose of human waste up here because the soil is so shallow, and before the regulation went in place we were seeing a lot of water contamination.” Their nods slowed as they realized where I was going “Wait are we above 3,500 ft?”  The summit of the 5,344 ft mountain loomed less than a mile away behind him.  “Yes, very”  After a brief pause he shot back: “I don’t think we are”  Deep breaths. “Oh we definitely are.”.  “I don’t think so”.  I wondered if my male colleagues deal with this as often as I do.  I informed the gentlemen that I had worked here for 3 seasons, and that this happened to be my 63rd ascent of Marcy, and I could assure him they were well above the legal camping limit, but if he needed to see a map I would be more than happy to pull one out and go over how to read the contour lines.  Their eyes widened and I caught some more glances at my radio. “Yes Ma’am”  They began apologizing, but justified the camping by saying that one of the men had heat exhaustion and was overly dehydrated and couldn’t make it any further.  I kept up the conversational tone “Well, you know, that’s part of being prepared. Bringing enough water and water purification so that you don’t run into a situation where you need to damage a resource to prevent injury is our responsibility. This wilderness has to be here a lot longer than we do.” I began the same process with the fire regulation, launching into a spiel about how many forest fires we have had this year, and how the use-level we see in the high peaks cannot support everyone burning things. They caught on quicker this time, but challenged me again. “Fires are allowed on this side of the mountain aren’t they? A guy told us we couldn’t have one at Lake Colfax but this side of Marcy we can.”  My patience was dwindling fast. Deep breaths. I pushed the sarcasm back down my throat and looked him squarely in the eye.  “You mean Lake Colden. I work here, I know the regulations. The man who told you that was wrong.”  His chest visibly deflated, “Yes Ma’am.” I looked again at the pile of ashes, then at the flattened vegetation where the tents had been.  I met the eyes of the men standing before me, disheveled - clearly out of their comfort zones.  “Do you need to write us a ticket?” One of them asked. I sighed, wondering again what good reporting them to a ranger would do at this point.  “I’m not going to call you in, but I want you to do me a favor.”  I asked them to google Leave No Trace when they got home, and spend some time on the organization's website. I watched as they put the website link in their phone, and thanked me. I made sure the ashes of the fire were cool to the touch, and instructed them to disperse it so other hikers didn’t get the same idea. They stumbled over each other’s apologies, saying that they hated to think they were part of the problem. They vowed to pack out every scrap of trash they found on the trail.  I wished them a good hike, and stared in disbelief at the summit of Marcy where I had just noticed yet another tent clearly staked out in the alpine.  I took off, hoping to catch up to the illegal campers before they packed up. When I got there I was too late. I walked over to where the tent had been, saw another pile of ashes from a fire, fresh blooms of toilet paper, broken glass, and several wrappers hanging off the bilberry.  Putting that cleanup off for the next day, I pushed onward, hoping to catch up with the culprits. As I crested the last ridge before the summit a familiar buzzing sound filled my ears. The drone flew obnoxiously in front of my face, and I pushed back frustration as I approached the two young men flying it. I was soaked in sweat and wheezing from running up the mountain after the illegal campers. It took me a second to compose myself, and I asked where the two people were from. They looked at me with contempt, exchanged glances, and sarcastically said “here” with a shrug of the shoulders, I swear I saw one of them roll their eyes as they continued to fly the drone over the summit. I glanced at my watch, it wasn’t even 8:30.  “Where is here?” I asked, and listened as they reluctantly told me Plattsburg and Chazy. “Oh you guys must be familiar with our wilderness areas then?”  More shrugs. “Well, less than 2% of the lower 48 states is designated as wilderness. You happened to be in the largest one in New York. It is one of the few places where motors aren’t allowed, including drones.” They glared at me.  “That’s not true, I’ve never heard that before” I glared back. Completely exasperated at being questioned for the third time in less than 30 minutes. I knew I needed to step away from this situation before my patience disappeared. “It is true,” I said evenly. “And I’m going to need to get some information from you if you don’t stop flying the drone.”  That earned me the fourth, however sarcastic, “Yes Ma’am” of the morning as they grumpily packed up.  I don’t like resorting to that tactic, but sometimes it’s the best I can do.  I continued up, approaching the sign that asks hikers to wear masks. The summit came into view, and I just stopped and stared. Someone had painted rocks on the Cairns, and the only two people up there were taking naps in the alpine vegetation. Worst of all, there was no sign of anyone with large packs, for the second time I was too late. I was shivering from the combination of sweat and wind, and my throat was on fire from the last two days of talking.  I turned my back on the summit, and gazed out over the Great Range. I watched the grumpy drone flyers make their way down, sure they would pull the drone out again as soon as they got out of my view. I looked at my watch again. 8:42. I bent down to fix some scree wall, and took a few moments to give myself a mental pep talk. I believe it was the singer Beans on Toast who penned the lyrics “Try your Fucking best”, which had become my mantra for the weekend. Another deep breath. I stood up and walked towards the painted cairn, removed the colored rocks to pack out and turned some of the large ones so the paint wasn’t visible.  I changed into a dry shirt, put on a sweatshirt, pulled out a caffeinated cliff bar, then took several more deep breaths before approaching the couple sleeping in our mountain flower watch site. My tone was a little too nice, as I did my best to talk to them as I would if they were the first folks I had seen that day. Thankfully they were kind and curious about the plants. They immediately moved  to solid rock. I then went to the far side of Marcy, out of site from the summit and trail, hugged my knees to my chest and braced against 35 mph wind. I stayed that way for 20 minutes just staring at the Deer’s Hair Sedge and watching as the clouds rolled over Algonquin.  A cascade of thoughts flooded my head. Three seasons of stewarding, and the past two weeks had been the hardest days I had ever experienced. I understood that things were busier due to COVID, but numbers have been increasing every year. Was this the future of the High Peaks? Pandemic or not, what will summit stewards be dealing with in five years. The rush of hikers seems like a glimpse into the future, one that the hundred year old plants and the character of the wilderness simply can’t sustain. I spoke to 700 hikers in five days. Many people accidentally step on the vegetation above the treeline before I can talk to them. 700 people means 700 pairs of feet on the trails. Just five footsteps will kill the plants.  We need to take action now to protect the High Peaks Wilderness. Resources need to be invested into more public education, infrastructure, and data collection, especially if limits on use are to be considered.


    • #3
      Weekdays (especially Monday - Wednesday) - good chance
      Weekends - Very unlikely


      • #4
        This has been a weird summer regarding use levels- which are very much not following established trends. But the best, most simple answer to your question is yes, you should expect it to be very crowded. Backcountry use levels overall are up substantially this year, and that trend appears likely to continue at least for the remainder of the pandemic. Weekdays are seeing levels of use that would've been typical of weekends in previous years, with weekend levels of use a entire new level of crazyness that has never before been seen in the Adirondack backcountry.

        Based on summit steward statistics (they count the number of hikers interacted with on any staffed summit every day) overall levels of use in the High Peaks appear to be as much as 2-3 times as high this year as in previous years.

        If avoiding crowds is a priority for you, I'd pick a non-High Peaks destination. And even then, some additional research will be necessary to find solitude- even non-High Peaks backcountry areas are seeing increased levels of use over the norm this year.

        If you do decide to camp at Marcy Dam anyways, please remember to carry and use a bear canister. Nuisance bear activity in the High Peaks is also way up this year- the DEC had to close Lake Colden to camping entirely for a time earlier this season, and one bear had to be put down (it was climbing into occupied lean-tos and ripping tents open). Every time a bear gets hiker food, it acts as positive reinforcement that encourages it to act increasingly aggressive over time. A large part of the problem is improper use of bear canisters (groups without canisters aren't alone to blame for the issue). Remember to store the canister well outside of camp (200+ feet), and to also cook and eat well outside camp (at a location different than where the canister is stored). Remember also to keep the lid on the canister and secure at all times (some of the bears have learned to show up when the canister is open).

        Remember also that BearVault brand canisters have failed repeatedly in the High Peaks (even when used properly)- and their use by campers is does contribute in part to the overall issue. NYSDEC regulations do not list BearVault canisters as an approved model for use in the High Peaks Wilderness. Using a BearVault while being aware of the issues with their ineffectiveness (and direct contribution to the issue of nuisance bear behavior in the High Peaks) is reckless and irresponsible.

        (I'm aware that the OP of this thread is likely aware of the canister regulation, and the above comments weren't necessarily directed at them specifically. Rather, I felt that the above information was worth including for all those third parties reading this thread with similar plans in mind who may not be aware of the canister regulation.)


        • #5
          Protect Adks published a list of good hikes outside of the High Peaks. Some of them aren't exactly low traffic (Blue, Arab) but a good place to start if you want to avoid crowds.

          Online Guide to Hiking Trails in the Adirondack Park 100 Great Hiking Trails in the Adirondack Park Outside of the Heavily-Used and Popular High Peaks Wilderness Area The Adirondack Park is nearly 6-million acres in size, larger than the states of Massachusetts and Vermont, a place that
          Successful ascents: 137 (81 different) as of 8/30/22
          Adirondack/Catskill fire tower challenge: 13/31
          Adk 29er challenge: 11/29

          Completed: Chester Challenge, Tupper Lake Triad, Hamilton County Waterfall