Mark Jessie sees a side of the Adirondack Mountains that most people don’t. While most of us are nestled in our beds or just pouring that first cup of high-octane coffee to meet the coming day, Jessie is already out in the mountain air, pursuing an epic, peaceful passion: hiking at dawn.
Jessie lives and works in Tupper Lake, co-owner of Raquette River Brewing and the adorably retro Faust Motel. He’s an affable, down-to-earth guy whose work has him interacting with locals and visitors. He’s a good people person. But on the trail, he’s pretty happy to savor the solitude. Some days he doesn’t see another person on his hike, which he knows you won’t get in other parts of the Adirondacks. That solitude is one element of an overall experience — a way of being in nature — that Jessie finds on his hikes, blended with challenges, accomplishment, confidence, beauty, and the unexpected. It's not just about getting to the top, getting in enough steps, or checking off a list.
"Take a hike in the dark...it’s a huge confidence builder. You find something in yourself when you do it. If you do that, it’s a really incredible experience."
The darkness doesn't bother him. Neither does the cold. They simply enhance the experience, honing a sense of wonder and keenness in some pretty harsh elements. “The early mornings hikes, that’s the ultimate for me. To wake up in the morning, super early, and start hiking in the dark, is the best. It’s the best experience, it’s the most rewarding when you get to the top and there’s that sunrise and it just beats all...a beautiful sunny day hike is great but it doesn’t beat the dawn patrol.”
Jessie hikes a lot. His early morning outings mean he can hike many days in a row, before work, and his location is ideal. While the High Peaks tend to get the most hiking attention, Jessie's favorite hikes are close to home, noting, "this is where the Low Peaks are. This is a beautiful part of the Adirondack Park that not everybody knows about or goes to. And there’s so many hikes here that are just incredible and a lot of them are very family friendly."
One of Jessie’s best-loved hikes is Coney Mountain, a favorite with many locals and visitors, for a lot of reasons. The trail gradually ascends 523 feet over 1.1 miles to an open summit with great views. It’s an opportunity for hikers to get up close and personal with the Adirondack skyline without slogging for miles and as it is just off Route 30 south of town, it's not far away. For Jessie, early morning hikes of Coney, with the possibility of a perfect sunrise, are extra special. “The beauty of Coney Mountain with the 360 degree view, it’s always breathtaking. No matter how many times I go up there, every time is special and every time is different.”
"The gorgeous sunrise is the icing on the cake. You can’t describe it in words, you have to experience for yourself."
Jessie gets a lot out of his hikes, which are followed throughout the community. There are locals who follow Mark’s adventures on Facebook, part of a circle of support that both inspires him to keep going, do more, and sometimes, simply to step on the trail. That extra push both helps and amazes Jessie, who loves to encourage potential hikers and help them experience some portion of what he feels in the mountains. "Once you’ve done it, no matter what happens the rest of the day, you know you’ve accomplished something awesome. It makes you feel complete."
"Everybody should get out there and hike. Even if you don’t think you could do it, start slow, take an easy hike, or just get out for a drive and take your camera and take a picture of a beautiful view. Get up, get out there, and just enjoy the six million acre playground that we live in. It’s awesome.”
Visit Tupper Lake, tuck in to a meal or a flight of ale. Step outside, follow Jessie's advice. And if you head up Panther Mountain or Lows Overlook — two more of his favorites — early some morning and meet a man already on his way down, make sure you say hi to Mark. He'd love to welcome you.