Mount Marcy: The High Peak of New York - Purple Mountain Press


by Sandra Weber

From the introduction:

"Mount Marcy, Tahawus, Cloudsplitter, High Peak of Essex—by any name, it is the tallest mountain in New York State. It stands 5,344 feet above sea level, a wild mass of old rocks and earth girdled by flourishing forests and grand gorges.

There is no mountain in the world quite like it.

Of course, that may seem overstated or inflated. Mount Marcy is but a little bump when compared to the Rockies or the Alps. Even four eastern state high points—Mount Mitchell, Mount Washington, Clingmans Dome, and Mount Rogers—are taller. Yet Mount Marcy is special. It is the closest any of these tall eastern mountains comes to wilderness. It has no lodge or observation tower or road on its summit dome. The closest road is more than five miles away, the closest little village eight. Reaching Marcy's top requires a walk of at least seven-and-a-half miles through forests of birch, pine, spruce and fir, over streams and past waterfalls, around boulders and across swamps.

But even Mount Marcy is not a primeval wilderness. It is a landscape that has been abused and neglected, then protected and regenerated. It is a modern wilderness. A wilderness, in a sense, created by humans practicing restraint. A place where human activities are subdued and natural activities dominate.

Mount Marcy is a beacon for people, like me, who seek wilderness. Climbing into this high, wild place is an adventure of the body but also of the mind and soul. It hardens my body and loosens my spirit. I let go of the fast-moving, technology-oriented world and drift into another space. A space where I connect with other life forms: trees, rocks, flowers, birds, bears, black flies. A space where I touch rain, ice, wind, and mud. A space where my natural rhythms return. I can climb the many sides of Mount Marcy and see its many moods. Whether sun-splashed, fogged over, or ice-coated, the scene at the summit is splendid. The openness is inspiring. The hard rock under my feet is infallible.

But there is so much more to Mount Marcy. Beyond the summit rock and the dirt trail, there is a post-glacial ecosystem. There is a tiny trickle of water that divides between the Ausable and Hudson rivers. There is a spring snowbowl and mountain sandwort. There are footsteps of guide Orson Phelps and mountaineer Lucia Pychowska, President Theodore Roosevelt and botanist Orra Phelps, conservationist Bob Marshall and professor Ed Ketchledge. This is also a place that has been a campground, garbage dump, and latrine. There is erosion and restoration.

The history of Mount Marcy is not dead history. It is a living history, and a broad history—about the Adirondack Park, about wildness, and about ourselves. Read its records. Sample its stories. Examine its memoirs. See if it doesn't excite your curiosity, enrich your mountain view, and make you want to split a cloud or two."

Mount Marcy is the highest of the Adirondack High Peaks, the tallest point in New York State. Never before has the big story of this mountain been told. Never before has the grandeur, and controversy of this mountain been fully explored. Now author hiker, and historian Sandra Weber has written the first book about Mount Marcy.

Mount Marcy: The High Peak of New York, is a well-researched and richly illustrated work. According to Adirondack historian Warder Cadbury, "Here is Mount Marcy, from bottom to top, all wrapped up in a neat attractive book. There is geology and botany, the history of its first ascent, the rival egos of the early explorers, and the mix-up about its name. From early women climbers, winter excursions, calamities and clubs to management plans and summit stewards, the narrative is both historical and as fresh as today."

One chapter recounts the mountain's most famous event, which occurred exactly one hundred years ago, September 1901. Vice-President Theodore Roosevelt climbed to the summit of Mount Marcy and declared the surrounding landscape "beautiful country." When he descended a half-mile to Lake Tear of the Clouds, he received word of President McKinley's deteriorating condition. Thus Roosevelt began his race down the mountain, to the North Creek train station, and eventually to the presidency.

The book tells of other adventurers: artist Benson Lossing, philosopher William James, surveyor Verplanck Colvin, conservationist Bob Marshall, and ranger Pete Fish. There are scientists John Torrey, Gifford Pinchot, and Edwin Ketchledge. There is guide Orson Phelps, hiker Grace Hudowalski, and many more. Their accounts describe the beauty of the mountaintop but also illustrate how Mount Marcy has been impacted by iron operations, lumbering, tourism, fire, and hiker overuse.

Despite these past human disturbances, Mount Marcy has returned to a natural state. It is now part of the largest legally designated wilderness area in New York State. And thousands upon thousands of hikers come to "do Marcy" every year.

"Whether you have climbed Marcy's slopes or admired it from afar," Weber says, "I believe the stories in this book will wonderfully enrich your view of the mountain."

Sandra Weber's other two books, The Lure of Esther Mountain: Matriarch of the Adirondack High Peaks (now out of print) and The Finest Square Mile: Mount Jo and Heart Lake (currently out of stock), depict the legends and history of two other Adirondack mountains. Both were published by Purple Mountain Press.


"A wonderful job of research; I love the book" --Mary MacKenzie, Lake Placid-North Elba Historian

"This is an entertaining book that brings together information gathered by others over many years and sheds new light on it. It's a must for hikers." --Neal Burdick, Editor of Adirondack Mountain Club publications and Associate Director of Communications at St. Lawrence University

"What a magnificent study of Marcy! I'm sure that Old Mountain Phelps highly approves" --Jim Goodwin, Adirondack mountaineer

238 pages, more than 100 illustrations, 7 x 10, index, 2001
$20.00 paperback--A Purple Mountain Press original

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