There is something about visiting a place for the first time, the way it smells, the weather, the people you encounter, it leaves a lasting impression, even after countless visits it’s the memories of that first visit that stick. As rain fell hard on the roof of the youth hostel we arrived at only a few hours before, the structure shook with an echoing crack and rumble thunder. Jolted awake, almost not remembering where I was or just how I had gotten there, and who all these people were sleeping around me, clarity fizzled in just a bit as another explosion of electricity lit up the night sky and barreled a wall of sound straight down main street as if all of the boulders on the surrounding mountains had broke loose. The rustle of half dozen people who were awoke by the storm filled the open room and I remembered the man we had encountered when entering the hostel, tall with pigtails, wired rim glasses not unlike that of John Lennon, he was sleeping out in the yard in his tent, lightning continued to strike near by and I was thankful that we were inside of a hostel instead of half way up Mount Marcy.
Morning came too quickly at 5:30, our tall friend had found his way into the living room, contorting his lanky frame to fit into one of the reclining chairs. We shuffled across the road to catch the diners first round of pancakes and eggs as the cold rain chased whatever sleep was left in us away. Coffee arrived and it’s heat reminded me that we just left Rochester where it was in the high 90’s and the sunburn on my nose still stung and now here we were in the Keene Valley surrounded by the Adirondack mountains and we were likely going to find winter conditions on top of Mount Marcy. We took our time planning out the day, discussing just how close the lightning was really striking through out the night, getting our fill on diner coffee before setting out for the day.
Bags packed, water bottles topped off, we said goodbye to our new tall friend as he was headed off into the outskirts to find his missing bike pump, we drove down the road twisting through New York farm land, clouds gave way to brief glimpses of the sun and a quick spell of a rainbow over a barn, I wondered if this was right? surely it’s not this beautiful here. It was a Sunday, the rain continued to lightly fall as we put the first dozen or so steps towards the top of Mount Marcy, I regretted only bringing shorts realizing that the temperatures on top will likely be near the freezing mark. We would pass weekend campers as they packed up to head home, the steep rocky pitches, worked in patterns through the pines, along the cascading creeks, the clouds would part every so often to give us a glimpse of the surrounding mountains. I hoped for a bear, not to close but just enough to get that rush that we were actually somewhere wild. Keeping the pace steady we were soon above the tree line, and the wind took a solid bight, gloves, another jacket, cinching the hood tight around my face, by over layering on the top I thought maybe I could counter act the lack of coverage on my legs. With the trees gone, there wasn’t much hiding from the wind, every so often a boulder formation would give a bit of shelter but it never lasted long. New York’s highest peak, wind pushing so hard you could lean full into it and not fall over. We enjoyed the isolation high on top before other hikers arrived from below.
Descending back to the trail head the rain had finally pushed through, the sun gave a bit of warmth to the air and the ache from a long days hike started creeping into my legs. Surrounded by peak after peak, giant rock slides, and technical traverses, on clear days Vermont is visible from the high points, we sat on the ledge of Marcy dam looking back up to the peak where we had just found winters first efforts, smelling the pines and the air unaffected by exhaust and heavy industry I wondered why it had taken me so long to be there.
Surrounded by the ghosts of the 1980 winter olympics under the shade of Whiteface mountain we searched for dinner in the village of Lake Placid. It is almost as time has ceased to progress in the village, hockey jerseys and souvenirs still hang in almost every window, the haunting structure of a ten story high ski jump sits just on the outside of town leaving us to wonder if that was it’s original location and where the hell the landing was? With the sun fading as quickly as whatever energy we had left ,we headed back to the hostel with the hopes of a good nights rest in order to find ourselves back out hunting the second highest peak Mt. Algonquian the next morning.
Fumbling bags and extra jackets I was welcomed by a crusty old miser grumbling on and on while banging dishes around in the sink. I said hello, more grumbling. I remembered the old man as more of an apparition that morning, quiet, sipping instant coffee in the corner of the dining area near a bare light bulb, hair in a state of unrest and shaggy snow beard to match. The calmness he possessed that morning must have been misplaced somewhere in the mountains or perhaps at the bottom of two dollar well drinks at the tavern down the street, the grumbling continued, deep and raspy “corporations” “businessmen” repeating several words over and over again. In intervals a cabinet would get slammed and more guttural complaints would follow. After a brief attempt to tolerate the episode it was decided that it was best to find somewhere else to sleep that night. Perhaps the old man was harmless and just venting at what he saw were the ills of the world, disturbed enough by the current state of the global politics that he was unable to keep his accusations of it’s perpetrators to himself but we weren't willing to stick around to find out. Finding refuge in a local motel we were able to sleep soundly with out wondering if we were going to be woken by gangly figure wielding a knife over us accusing of us of treason against man and nature.
The sun greeted us early on our second day in the Adirondacks, as did the remnants of the days before hike with stiff legs and sore feet we set back out on trail for one more quick fill of mountain air before the long drive home. A traverse steeper than the day before, technical, rocky, and steep, very steep. Once the trail started going up it did not relent until the summit, where we were treated to clear skies and a full view of the mountain range. Spared the winter weather and wind from the previous day, we were able to enjoy the view and rightfully earned snacks before setting off. As the afternoon faded into evening and back mountain roads eventually gave way to the endless highway the Adirondack mountains had already left me wanting more, more of its steep pitches and unpredictable weather, more of its quiet foggy mornings where you can walk straight down the main road to the diner without seeing a car or person, more of its pine forest, hiding wild life and vagabonds camping on the sly, more haunting experiences to fill pages and scrap books so that when I reach the point of a wild old drifter sifting through the mountains I’ll remember to not spook my bunk mates.