Times are a changing and so is our awareness. In previous decades a number of climbers standing on Gray Peak’s summit have succumbed to Marcy’s spell and headed directly for its majestic dome one-mile away. Long ago it was a relatively easy decision since the herdpath from Lake Tear to Gray was a rather rough affair and no one was looking forward to the return. As years went by, a semblance of a herdpath developed all the way to the Marcy tree line. Always a long and winding route with numerous false paths, it never was a time saver or a relaxing trek. And it certainly did not justify the ensuing trampling of vast sections of “Adirondack high country”.
All the while, increased traffic and light maintenance turned the barely .5-mile designated route from Lake Tear to Gray into an easy look-a-like-trail which takes no time to climb and descend round-trip. Consequently the direct route to Marcy has lost most of its appeal as a shortcut. This is welcome coincidence because the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is asking climbers to return to Lake Tear and reach Marcy by way of Four-Corners. Summit Stewards are regularly removing the cairns illegally placed by hikers wanting to help others or themselves to find the way at Marcy treeline. Since September 2014, there is a large sign near the summit of Gray informing of this herdpath closure for the unaware and/or stubborn.
While climbing, as in investing, one can be sure that if it looks too good to be true, more often than not it is! A summit steward noted, “Bushwhacking through these trees hurts them; they, in turn, will bite back with sharp branches clawing at the arms, legs, and faces of any who try to pass.” Furthermore it will cost one a large amount of time (specially for the first .5-mile of ups and downs), a shirt, a jacket or a pair of pants, if not all three, and more importantly create a third path to the summit of Mount Marcy even though the present two official trails are more than enough to get to the top of New York, especially since we all care about preserving and restoring alpine vegetation.
As ADK’s Education Director Julia Goren explains:
“Bushwhacking from Marcy directly over to Gray hurts alpine vegetation that so many hikers and Summit Stewards are working to protect. The old herd path tramples delicate and endangered alpine plants. It heads into sensitive Krummholz, where gnarled spruce and fir are fighting to hang on in the harsh conditions that exist at tree line.”
Thank you for spreading the word and abiding by the sign.