Photo by Nancie Battaglia
Retired forest ranger Pete Fish of Keene Valley, wearing a kilt on the far right, is joined by a group of friends on the summit of Mt. Marcy following his 700th ascent of the state’s tallest peak in August 2008.
 
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Keene resident Pete Fish has been hiking and skiing on Marcy for close to half a century. During this time period, he has almost as many trips up the mountain as Babe Ruth had home runs in a career.

But that makes sense. Fish is a retired state forest ranger who worked in the High Peaks from February 1975 until May 1998. He also spent six years as a ranger in the Catskills prior to that.

Fish told Embark he likes the variety of the trip, everything from the mixed hardwoods down low to alpine vegetation on the summit. One thing he recommends is taking a trekking pole when hiking. This is especially helpful for the way down. It takes pressure off the joints and helps with balance.

EMBARK: How many times have you climbed Mount Marcy?

PETE: I’m at 707 (as of March 31).

EMBARK: When was your first trip up there?

PETE: That would have been Fourth of July weekend in 1959.

EMBARK: What inspired you to do it that day?

PETE: I was living downstate and full of beans, and I wanted to do the highest point in New York state, so I got out a road map and I found out that little red cross on the road map that said, ‘Mount Marcy, highest point in New York state.’

Then I saw the city of North Elba on the map and a little black line that went into a blue dot named Heart Lake, and I said, ‘I betcha that must be the closest thing to it, so there must be a trailhead there.’ So that’s how I did it.

EMBARK: Is there a time of year that you prefer go up there?

PETE: Not at this point. It depends how my body is holding together. I think some of my favorites were really good skiing ones, but now that I’ve had so much cold damage to hands and stuff, I really don’t dare take them up there in that kind of weather very much. But almost any time it’s not horribly muddy and preferably not raining.

EMBARK: Could you talk about one trip that stands out as being interesting? It doesn’t necessarily have to be your favorite.

PETE: Probably one of the most fun ones was on a search in around 1996, maybe 1997, for a man who had gotten lost in a whiteout on the plateau.

It was just such a triumphant thing because I was the oldest ranger in the state, and I had done the longest and hardest trip of all in the search. It was just a joyous day other than the fact we were looking for someone. (But) it did turn out well because the guy, that day, had stumbled out of the snow cave that he had been in, that he dug, and found the trail and some folks.

But we green people were closing in on him on all sides, and if they hadn’t (found him), we would have had him within 10 minutes anyway.

There were rangers with snowmobiles who had come up from below and had parked the machines and were struggling going up. And I had gone up the entire length of the Johns Brook Valley, searching for him, on up to the summit.

I skied most of the way and snowshoed up to the summit, and then skied from the summit on down and got to the evacuation just as it was happening. (I was) on skis and scooted on out and still beat the snowmobiles. That was kind of a fun day. It was absolutely phenomenal skiing. So that was one of the ones that sticks out the best, but almost any one can, if it’s not an absolutely ridiculous day to be there.

EMBARK: Do you have any recommendations for people who are doing it the first time?

PETE: Have their act put together and be prepared for any kind of weather that can come their way, and always think of the possibility that if it’s a day trip, that there’s no guarantee it’s going to be a day trip, so always have enough so that they could bivouac if they have to and live. And be prepared they won’t be out of the woods when they think.

I think I gave you a list of some things (see sidebar) before that one ought to have and that would be absolutely critical for such a trip.

They need to be able to assess their own ability and know that they can do it if they can start it. And know that if they aren’t doing well, know that they can pivot on either the right or left foot and go back down and do it another time.