Mount Marcy
5,344', Highest Elevation in the Adirondacks
June 1999


Nearing top of Marcy

Adirondack Loj is the starting point for many enjoyable High Peaks Trails for old and young alike. From Otter Chalet or Deep Woods Cabin, follow Route 86 past Whiteface, turning left onto River Drive, where the West Branch of the Ausable heads off towards the Olympic Ski Jumps. Turn left onto Route 73 towards Keene, and look for an open field on your right, framed by the High Peaks and the road to Adirondack Loj. From the Loj, trails lead out to Algonquin,  Wright, Marcy, Haystack, and other High Peaks. For young kids, Heart Lake and a lovely, short hike up Mount Jo await.


Dan, Steve & the View from Mount Marcy

One day in June '99, having taken leave of our senses, Dan and Steve pulled a 23 mile, all-day marathon, leaving from Adirondack Loj in Lake Placid, and hiking to the Garden in Keene Valley via the tallest and third tallest mountains in the High Peaks, Mount Marcy and Haystack, respectively. (Beware of going up the backside of Haystack from Panther Gorge. If you must, prepare for the steepest elevation gain in the Adirondacks.) Marcy may be one of the easiest hikes in the High Peaks, but it's a long hike, 14.8 miles round trip via the shortest route, which is the Van Hoevenburg trail, which leaves from Adirondack Loj.


Marcy from Lake Tear in the Clouds, source of the Hudson River

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There's an interesting story connecting Teddy Roosevelt with Mount Marcy at the time of President McKinley's death. I've told it wrong so many times, I felt compelled to set the record straight below, by quoting from an article in the New York StateConservationist.
Most sixth graders have heard that Theodore Roosevelt’s charge up San Juan Hill helped propel him to the White House. But few know of the dramatic midnight charge, by buckboard down a fog-enshrouded Adirondack road, that actually delivered him to the presidency.

This little-known drama began to unfold on September 6, 1901, when President McKinley was greeting guests to the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo and an anarchist, a gun concealed under a bandaged hand, pumped two bullets into the president at point-blank range.

Roosevelt, who had been elected vice president 10 months earlier, rushed to McKinley’s bedside from a speaking engagement in Vermont. Formal vice presidential duties had consumed only four days at that point. Roosevelt had considered resuming his legal studies to pass the time. In the days following the shooting, a shocked nation imagined the worst. But McKinley’s condition steadily improved. The president’s political advisors agreed that it would send a reassuring message to the public if the vice president left Buffalo and joined his family for a planned vacation.

Roosevelt, an accomplished naturalist, knew the Adirondacks and loved its charms. Nestled in the foothills of Mt. Marcy, New York’s highest peak, was the Tahawas Club, a hunting and fishing resort in Essex County, a bumpy day’s ride away from the North Creek railroad depot in Warren County. Arriving unannounced in linen duster and white felt hat, Roosevelt commissioned a buckboard to take him to the Tahawas Club. By late afternoon, his wife Edith was recounting to her husband how their son Theodore had shot his first deer.

The following morning, September 12, Roosevelt and an entourage of 10 guided by Noah LaCasse set off for two rustic cabins at the foot of Mount Colden, where they planned to spend the night before climbing Marcy. They awoke to a steady rain, but the vice president was intent on pushing ahead. The route up Marcy is strenuous with several steep ascents. Rain-slickened trails added to the challenge that day, and LaCasse later said the clouds were so thick he could not see 10 feet ahead.

They reached the summit shortly after noon as the clouds broke briefly to offer a stunning view. When the clouds rolled back in, the party descended to Lake Tear of the Clouds, several hundred feet below, where they had left their packs. They sat in the grassy opening to eat a packed lunch and look out across the tiny lake that is the source of the Hudson River.

As Roosevelt pried open a tin of ox tongue, Harrison Hall, a guide, rushed into the clearing. He headed straight for Roosevelt with an anxious look on his face and handed him a yellow telegram from Elihu Root, McKinley’s Secretary of War. “The president appears to be dying and members of the cabinet in Buffalo think you should lose no time in coming.”

It took three and one-quarter hours to descend the 12 miles back to the club; once there, Roosevelt decided to stay the night and start for North Creek the following morning. Later that night another messenger arrived with a second urgent plea from William Loeb, Roosevelt’s private secretary, that the vice president leave at once.

At 10:30 p.m., Roosevelt climbed aboard a one-seater wagon driven by David Hunter and drawn by a big bay horse that had been skidding logs all day. They sped off into the fog, the only light supplied by a lantern tied to the rear axle. The corduroy road, pocked by mud holes and uneven, rotting logs, ran for 10 miles to the Tahawus mine’s “Lower Works.” There, Roosevelt made a quick phone call, drank a cup of coffee and then climbed into a buckboard driven by Orrin Kellogg, a native of Minerva whose cousin, Frank, later became secretary of state.

“I was driving a two-seater,” Kellogg later told Eloise Cronin Murphy, who chronicled the trip in her book, Theodore Roosevelt’s Night Ride to the Presidency.” “Mr. Roosevelt got in the back, had just a bag which he carried right in the seat with him. It was raining, kind of a drizzle.” Kellogg gave the vice president a raincoat to protect him from the splashing wheels.

Meanwhile, Loeb at the North Creek station, again and again phoned the Aiden Lair Lodge, the starting point for the third relay, asking whether they had news. At 2:15 a.m., Loeb phoned the lodge and shakily told innkeeper Mike Cronin that McKinley had just died. Roosevelt, wherever he was, had just become the 26th president of the United States.

Visitors at the inn strained for a glimpse when the coach pulled up to the hotel’s wooden platform shortly after 3 a.m. But at Cronin’s request, no one told Roosevelt the news. As his buckboard and team pulled into the misty black night, a lantern was offered for light, but Cronin said it would be in his way. “Here, give it to me!” Roosevelt barked, and they took off down the 16 miles of sloppy road to North Creek with the president holding the only light they would see until they were in sight of the station.

When one of the horses stumbled going down a slippery hill and Cronin began holding the team back, Roosevelt urged, “Hurry up! Go faster.” Later, Cronin warned they were approaching a curve where the road had been carved into a hillside and a misstep could send the team tumbling down a 75-foot embankment. “I suggested I slow up until we struck better road. He replied, “Not at all. If you are not afraid, I am not. Push ahead!”

That last 16 miles took them one hour and 41 minutes — the best time ever clocked by a two-horse team between the two points. Two miles north of town, Roosevelt asked Cronin to halt. He got out and smoothed his hair and clothes and straightened his tie.

They rode into North Creek as dawn was breaking. When Roosevelt jumped down from the wagon at the station, Loeb wordlessly handed him a telegram stating that McKinley had died — thus Roosevelt learned he was president. He bolted up the stairs to the platform two at a time, turned and waved at the crowd, then climbed aboard.

Later that day in a private ceremony in Buffalo, attended by McKinley’s cabinet and a few friends, Roosevelt took the oath of office.

A century later, the story still excites visitors to the Central Adirondacks. The North Creek train station has been designated a national landmark. A citizens group has restored the station to its 1901 appearance and will reopen it as a local history museum in 2000. A tourist train now departs regularly from the station to nearby Riparius, along the tracks Roosevelt traveled in his first three hours as president.

Every September, Roosevelt’s midnight ride is celebrated in the communities he tore through that night — Newcomb, Minerva and North Creek. A centennial extravaganza is in the works for September 2001, with parades, dances, races, train rides and a filmed re-enactment of Roosevelt’s ride to destiny. New York State is in the midst of a centennial commemoration of Roosevelt’s two years as governor (1898-1900), at the instigation of Governor George Pataki, a long-time Roosevelt buff. At Governor Pataki’s urging an unnamed 3,821-foot mountain in the High Peaks was designated TR Mountain. A complete listing of state centennial activities and Roosevelt-related sites can be found on the web at www.trthegreatnewyorker.com.

Robert Engel, coordinator of exhibitions at the New York Historical Society in Manhattan, is a trustee of the North Creek Train Station Museum in Warren County. Judith Watson of Manhattan is a freelance writer, public policy consultant and frustrated Adirondack gardener.

This article first appeared in the October 1999 issue of the New York State Conservationist.


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