The Legendary Mount Marshall

Order in ranking: 25

Ever since Steph and I decided to hike the 46 High Peaks, we’ve been hearing horror story after horror story after horror story of hikers not being able to climb Mount Marshall – having to turn around and try again (and again, and again).  We were told we would need a map and compass, and more than just a passing knowledge of how to use them both.  We were told there were so many false herd paths, that it was easy to lose your way, that it was difficult to get to and would be a long hike.

So we put off hiking it, thinking our skills just weren’t there yet.  We thought we would hone our skills on other unmarked trails first.  But we’re getting to that point where there isn’t much left – it’s time to tackle the legendary Mount Marshall.

But of course, as our plans have always shown us, there was a wrinkle.  The plan was to climb Mount Marshall in August – have a girl’s weekend camping at Wilderness Campground at Heart Lake, and do the hike then.  Then I went and bought a plane ticket to Mongolia for August, which squashed my attempting it in August.

Enter in ADK’s guided day hikes.  They had a hike up Mount Marshall at the end of June, conviently coinciding with the Canada Day weekend.  I signed up, and promised to give Steph an idea of the trail for her attempt in August.

First, a note about the guided hike.  There were 8 hikers, including myself, on this hike.  Besides myself and one other young woman (I’d say in her 20s) the rest were people in the mid-40s to 60s (I’m not good at guessing ages).  If you’re a fast hiker, a guided hike might not be the best idea.  If you’re a slower hiker, this is a wonderful way to meet people, and gain confidence for longer hikes, or unmarked herd paths.  Our guide was great – knowledgable about the area (gave me some great recommendations for GF restaurants in Lake Placid), the vegetation and the birds – he identified several birds by their calls, which I found impressive because I have no clue.

If you do go on a group hike, some things to remember:
1.  If you move a branch, don’t let it whip back and hit the person behind you.
2.  Keep your poles under control, don’t whip them back behind you and stab the person behind you.
3.  Be patient – everyone has their own pace, and you’re all on this hike together.

All of the hikers met up at the Adirondack Loj at 7 am, and after a brief round of introductions (“Hi, I’m Anya, from Ottawa.  This will be my 32nd High Peak”) and instructions (be respectful and patient, we go at the pace of the slowest person, if you want to leave the group, you can sign a release form) we set off towards the Indian Pass trail, skirting around Heart Lake and signing in at the trail register there.

Sign post for the Cold Brook Trail

Our guide set a moderately quick pace, but everyone had no trouble keeping up.  The first 4.9 miles are relatively easy (by Adirondack standards).  The terrain is flatish, with a few ups and downs, but nothing steep, no large rocks that break up your walking rhythm.  Just after passing through Scott Clearing (a large, grassy, meadow-ish area with few trees) we came to a sign post along the river marking the beginning of the Cold Brook Trail.

Here we began to slow down as this trail is no longer being maintained.  It is still marked with yellow disks, and is still relatively open, which makes it easy to follow.  There was a bit of overgrowth, but thankfully there wasn’t much blowdown.  The terrain, though, was much rockier and rougher, and started to climb, albeit gradually at the beginning, but getting steeper as we went along the trail.  We crossed Cold Brook 6 or 7 times in total – we were lucky and the water wasn’t too high, so it was easy to rock hop across (or if you’re like me and have terrible balance, it’s easy to turtle it across.)  We hit a few mud patches, but for the most part the trail was dry….unless the trail was in the brook (which it was from time to time) but at this point the water was only a trickle.  I enjoyed this trail – it was a fun challenge.  It was one of those challenges where you think “YEAH!  LET’S DO THIS!” and not “Oh dear god, what was I thinking?  Why am I doing this again?  Can I quit?  Will someone carry  me out?”

As we followed the trail, we slowed down a bit more, as it got steeper and rougher.  Not only did this allow us to “not blow a lung” as one person put it, but to also get to know our fellow hikers.  We chatted and joked as we ambled up to the height of the trail (around 1.7 miles), which is where the cairn marking the herd path up Marshall is.

Cairn marking the path up Mount Marshall

This is where the trail became steep.  Even then, it felt like an ordinary-Adirondack-level of steepness – there were rocks to avoid, rocks to step on, rocks to scramble over, but it wasn’t the steep scramble that you find on Saddleback, Colvin or South Dix.  This was your regular scramble over a giant boulder.  We took it easy here, as we adjusted to the new terrain.  More rocks, more scrambles, more dodges around trees.  And not once did we lose the trail.  I’m not sure how we could – this herd path was well defined.

Near the beginning of the trail, one of the members of the group decided to bow out.  His legs were cramping up, and he didn’t want to risk our not making the summit.  I’m sure this was a rough decision for him, I know I felt bad that he couldn’t continue with us.  Our guide asked him to wait for us at the cairn, to be sure that he wouldn’t get lost on the way out, and to be sure that his leg cramps didn’t become worse as he descended.  At this point, we were not very far from the summit – I would guess maybe another 30 or 40 minutes would see us there.

We promised to be quick, and continued up the herdpath.  As we climbed, we could see Iroquois (“Ear-o-kwah” in Canadian, “Ear-o-kway” in American,  apparently) across from us.  Cold Brook actually passes between the two mountains.  Just as with the Cold Brook trail, this herd path up Marshall was free of blowdown, but lots of overgrowth.  It’s worse on the way back – the branches are much more “grabby” in the other direction.  It was also incredibly muddy when we went through – our guide nearly lost a shoe when he stepped into what we all thought was just a bit of mud.  Sank nearly up to his knee.

Great views of Iroquois

After being on this path for a little bit, you come out to an open view, and see a peak way off in the distance.  This is Marshall, but it’s the Nippletop Syndrome – it looks forever away, but it’s really less than a mile.  The path dips down, then starts climbing again.  Eventually the path came to a sort of T-junction.  You can go left (down) or right (up).  Left takes you down Marshall, along the Herbert Brook trail, right takes you up to the summit.

Immediately after this junction, the trail splits again.  You go right again and shortly after come to a large boulder on the side of the path, with a summit sign on top.

I’m glad that I signed up for an ADK guided day-hike.  It was lots of fun, it was great meeting other hikers, and I didn’t have to worry about whether or not I was on the right trail.  But I do feel that hikers that I talked to when I was first starting out were lying to me.  Mount Marshall, while being a long hike (~17 miles) is certainly not as fear-inducing as they had led me to believe.  The trail was easy to follow, there were no signs of other, misleading herd paths, at least not on the route that we took.

Group shot!


Total climbing time: 10 hours 59 minutes
Left trailhead at: 7:15, returned at 6:14
Summitted Mount Marshall at 1:00

2 thoughts on “The Legendary Mount Marshall

  1. Wow, I had no idea that “people” think Marshall is tricky. My daughter and I did it last week, coming in from Upper Works to Flowed Lands (which is gorgeous) and going up the trail from there. We were surprised that herd path was marked with cairns any time it crossed and re-crossed the brook. Sounds like you had a great day.


  2. When we first started (I think our 3rd big hike – Nippletop and Dial) we met a group of people who compared horror stories about Marshall. One man claimed to have attempted to summit six times, only to fail each time because of all the herd paths that don't lead to the summit. Having done it now, I look back and wonder what all the fuss was about….


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