by Niki Kourofsky
One hundred and thirty-seven Novembers ago, surveyor Verplanck Colvin first measured Mount Marcy—in a snowstorm. Russell M. L. Carson describes the scene in Peaks and People of the Adirondacks: “Under Colvin’s direction, a surveying party extended a line of levels from Westport on Lake Champlain, forty miles backward into the wilderness to the summit of Marcy. The work commenced on September 30th, and Mr. Colvin himself took the last observation on the top at 4:40 p.m., November 4th, and his men, ‘with moustaches, eyebrows and clothing white with frost, presenting a wild and singular appearance in the increasing duskiness, broke out spontaneously into hurrahs.’ It was the first positive measurement of Mount Marcy, and its height was found to be 5,344.311 feet above mean tide level in the Hudson.”
Prolific guidebook author Tony Goodwin, in a 1977 Adirondack Life article, compares Colvin’s techniques to the U.S. Geological Survey projects a century later. He writes, “From my work with the USGS, I learned to appreciate the tremendous amount of work which goes into the preparation of maps and even more the effort required of previous surveyors like Colvin, who had to start from scratch without benefit of roads, trails, airplanes, or previous maps.” Even so, he writes, “Colvin’s leveling work on Marcy has gone unchallenged for 100 years.” Read more about Goodwin’s adventures in surveying in “Mapping Marcy; or, After Colvin with Road and Alidade.” You can also buy your own print of Colvin’s topographical rendering of Marcy in the Adirondack Life store.