From Marcy ski to shining sea
SARANAC LAKE — Many people hike the state’s highest mountain each year. But one local guide recently went from the roof of New York to its lowest point in one day, just to see if he could.
Jeff Murray, who lives in Saranac Lake and works as a licensed guide, recently skied up Mount Marcy, then hopped in his plane in Lake Placid and flew from there to the end of Long Island, dipping his toe in the Atlantic Ocean just as the sun went down. And although it’s a roughly 15-mile round trip up Marcy, Murray said the most difficult part of the trip came at the very end.
“After we landed, and we landed right at sunset, the Montauk (Long Island) airport is 400 yards from the ocean,” Murray said. “But you have to crawl through these shag trees there and they’re stunted trees that make it almost impossible to crawl through. I wanted to get a picture of the sunset and touch the ocean before it got dark so I parked the plane and crawled through these shag trees.
“And then you have to go up a dune and it was maybe 200 feet, and on the other side of the dune was a sandy cliff so I had to slide down there. That was the hardest part of the whole thing.
“The funny thing is, I had left my little pack with my flashlight and everything in the plane,” he continued. “On the way back, it was getting dark and I didn’t have a flashlight and my phone was dying so I didn’t want to use that. So that was the hardest thing of the whole trip.”
Murray completed the trip in just about 12 hours, but doesn’t include the time it took him to get to the top of Mount Marcy.
“It’s summit to sea, so I’m not counting the five hours it took me to get up there,” Murray laughed. “I like to try to do something new every week, and this was just something I thought about like the week before. It might be as simple as hiking a different trail or paddling a different pond or eating somewhere different.
“You’ve got to keep life interesting.”
Murray, who is a also a licensed pilot, said in the winter he spends most of his time skiing and flying. While he has many other hobbies, the summit-to-sea trip combined two of his favorites.
He said skiing in the High Peaks wasn’t great on a bluebird day in March, but the hard pack conditions made for a fast trip down.
“I only go up it (Marcy) if I’m either getting paid, or I can ski down it,” he said. “It wasn’t the best skiing day. The weather was great, but the conditions were icy and hard pack. It wasn’t enjoyable skiing until you got on the main trail, then it was fine.
“I wouldn’t have gone up it to ski down other than this little thing I was doing. Whiteface was a better day.”
Murray, who owns an experimental Glastar plane built by a former Boeing engineer, said the flight from Lake Placid to Long Island went off without a hitch. He was aided by his friend Dave Kellerman, who was tasked with keeping Murray awake on the flight.
“We had a nice tailwind on the way down, so I was doing at times like 150 knots — so that was like 170-plus miles an hour,” Murray explained. “So we flew to Ticonderoga because they have inexpensive gas and that was less than half an hour.
“The flight from there was only an hour or so.”
Murray said from Ticonderoga to Montauk is only about 250 nautical miles, and their flight path took them over Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut. He said flying over Long Island Sound during sunset was “beautiful.”
Murray said the trip up Mount Marcy took a little longer than he anticipated because he ran into some other hikers who he stopped and chatted with.
“The actual real plan was to do the trip, and then fly back for two-fers at the pub (the Lake Placid Pub and Brewery),” he laughed. “But by the time we would have taken off (from Long Island), it would have been 8 o’clock and we just decided to stay down there. And that worked out really good, because we got to stay at a big, historic hotel for 99 bucks, and it was really nice.”
Although Murray said the flight was as good as a pilot could hope for, the fast skiing conditions on his descent in the High Peaks may have been his favorite part of the whole trip.
“I think my favorite moment was coming down from Marcy,” he said. “It was fast, and I was doing like little, quick turns and it was just fun. I was really moving, and nobody was coming up the trail, which was great.”
Murray said he couldn’t have done the trip without the help of Kellerman, Murray’s wife Sally, Adirondack Mountain Club staff at the Adirondack Loj, the guys at Adirondack Flying Service and Adirondac Rafting Company’s Bob Rafferty, who “gave me a clean shirt and hat to wear to Long Island.”
“I’m going to add another favorite moment,” he said. “We got the hotel because the price was right, but they also had a hot tub. The hot tub was closed so we sweet-talked the lady behind the counter to let us get into the hot tub, but technically they had to have somebody there. So there was this guy that barely spoke English that came down to watch us, and he was from Venezuela, so we talked politics while I was in the hot tub.
“He’d get so excited I could barely understand him, but he was kind of like our lifeguard,” Murray laughed.