Hiking Buddy, my son and I decided not to do Redfield and Cliff as an overnight with Skylight and Grey for a few reasons. First, I did not want to carry big packs 7+ miles to a lean-to. Yes, I admit, I was spoiled by our last hike and stay at the Johns Brook Lodge. However, after Basin I also realized what kind of shape I’m in (not great) and could not see doing 2 followed by 2 the next day. So, I did my usual research and was confident we could get both these done in one long day from Upper Works. Hiking Buddy's 21-year-old son joined us on this hike, while her youngest stayed home with a cold. The four of us left the Upper Works parking lot at 5:25, just as the sun was coming up. If you've never hiked out of Upper Works, aka Tahawus, you're missing a bit of history. Just before the parking lot are abandoned homes that were once owned by the men who worked in the mines. If you look further back into the woods, you'll see a few more of those homes. When the mine closed, the town of Adirondac was abandoned. There is one home, however, that is still in good shape as you drive to the parking area. It's on the right side, called the McNaughton Cottage. This is where Teddy Roosevelt's family was staying while TR was hiking Mt. Marcy that fateful day in 1901 when President McKinley was dying from an assassin's bullet. A guide had to race up Mt. Marcy to fetch the Vice President, who was whisked off to the North Creek train station via horse and carriage. From there he took a train to Buffalo and was sworn in as president as McKinley had died during the night. But I digress....
On the Calamity Brook trail there's a spot off to the left where you can take a very short detour to the Henderson Monument. At the risk of throwing too much history into this trip report, this is the spot where David Henderson, while scouting areas to divert water to power the mining operations, was shot when a rifle accidentally discharged. Thus the name "Calamity" Brook. After passing this point, there is a spot to either cross the brook or opt for the High Water bridge. Hiking Buddy and I took the bridge. Unfortunately it added a few minutes of hiking (hey, those minutes count, especially later) and the boys, who had rock-hopped the brook, didn't feel like waiting for us. We did catch up with them eventually as the mud bogs slowed everyone down, even them.
In just over 2 hours, we reached the Flowed Lands. I had been back here before when we hiked Marshall. It's a gorgeous spot – especially this early in the day with the early sun. At 8:05 we reached the lean-to by the Marshall trailhead and were at the Colden Dam at 8:30 – 5.6 miles in. This was a new spot I had never seen. It is spectacular! We had to climb down a ladder to get to the boardwalk over the dam and it was a great spot to take pictures. It was still early enough that mist was rising from the water in the foreground, and Colden rose over the lake in the background. Just after the dam were a number of camping sites. The boys started picking up speed, and they were off. Hiking Buddy and I forged on. There was a lot of rock and some beautiful gorges and cascading water along the trail. Fortunately, at one point there was a bridge, albeit a suspension bridge we crossed one at a time, but a bridge just below one small waterfall. The trail was also rocky, and we encountered several groups with full packs who were moving pretty slowly. Again, this is why I did not want to backpack in for this trip.
After moving along for a bit, lost in our own thoughts, I commented that we should be at the Redfield/Cliff trailhead in about 15 minutes based on the trip reports I had read. That time came and went and next thing I know we were crossing the Opalescent (I think - maybe the Uphill Brook). I remarked that it was strange the boys didn’t wait for us at this crossing, given that we sometimes need a little assistance when fording a stream. We tentatively reached the other side and met a couple who asked where we were going. We said, “Redfield and Cliff”. They said so are we but it's back there (pointing to the side of the stream we just left). Since my son had the map, we could not verify. But hikers are kind to each other, and help each other, so we trusted them, turned around, and followed them back. From this direction, the cairn marking Cliff/Redfield was much more obvious. The lean-to sign for the Uphill Lean-To was also much more visible this way. It was easy to see how we walked right by it from the other direction. We didn't see our sons here. Our "guardian angels" (if we hadn't met them, there's no telling how far we may have gone before we realized our mistake. The ADK Loj perhaps?) stopped for a snack and promised to tell the boys where we went if they saw them. Just as we I started up the trail, they were calling to us that they found the boys. We returned and there they were, at the lean-to. Apparently they didn’t hear us go by the first time, but did hear us on the way back. I asked how they saw the sign and they said they were lucky – they just happened to pause at the spot and turn around to look for us and saw the lean-to sign in the tree. A near disaster averted.
Since we were all back together at the Uphill Lean-to, we decided to take a break. We were surprised to find this lean-to empty as all the others we had passed so far were not. We started up the trail/herd path at 10:05. It was literally only about 10 minutes before we reached the very obvious cairn with some metal on it in a little clearing that marked the beginning of Cliff and Redfield. The path to Cliff was to the right; Redfield to the left. We decided to do Cliff first as I anticipated it would be tougher, though shorter. This trail was mud, mud bogs, rock, rocky mud, muddy cliffs, then just cliffs. That about sums it up. Since I had recently done Basin, I felt confident I’d be able to get back down this rock but it would likely be on the seat of my pants (it was). There were a few dicey spots, spots in which I needed a hand, and one section even scared me a little. Amusingly, at one point on one of the “cliffs”, my son was standing at the top of the rock and said, “Mom, turn around, look at the view!” Seriously?! I was looking forward, not back! We summited at 11:35 after a long .8 of a mile from the cairn and over a false summit. The view from Cliff was supposedly horrible but I didn’t think it was that bad. It wasn’t Allen Mountain bad.
We ate and took pictures, but we didn't dally. I really wanted us to be out before dark. We left the summit at 11:52 and made it back to the cairn for Redfield in just over an hour. There we met our guardian angels who had just come off Redfield. We exchanged quick trail reports and headed up our respective mountains. This was a beautiful hike. There were cascades and waterfalls just alongside the trail. Actually, less than half mile into the hike, the trail WAS in the tributary. It was well-marked with cairns, but we were essentially rock hopping for a good portion of the climb. Then the trail moved away from the water, a sign maybe we were getting nearer to the top. If I wasn’t so tired, I’m sure I would have enjoyed it even more. I have to say, this was another one of those “why am I doing this again?” hikes. I had that moment on Allen too. I was beat and may have even uttered “I don’t think I can do this” once or twice. My legs were dead. Hiking Buddy was encouraging, although I found out later she was having her own internal discussions about not letting the mountain beat her. All the while I was thinking the boys were probably sitting on the summit, waiting… After expending considerable effort, I reached the top at 2:49. I said, “How long have you been waiting?” and to my great surprise they said, “Five minutes – we hit the wall; that was tough.” Yay – I felt better!
Reportedly, the views from Redfield were so much better than Cliff. Well, not really. I even went down to the ledge past the summit where they were good, but I think I expected a bigger summit area. After less than 30 minutes I was hurrying us along. I really didn’t want to be hiking out in the dark if it could be avoided. We left the summit at 3:22 and before long we heard thunder rolling around the mountains. There was one LOUD crack directly over our heads, and then nothing. It was odd. My son summed it up best when he said, "I guess that's an example of the weird and changing Adirondack weather." We stopped at the cairn at 4:46 for 10 minutes while my son changed his wet and muddy socks and we were off. We made good time too. We reached the Flowed Lands at 6:22, took a 5 minute break, and began the homestretch. I was really moving, motivated by the waning minutes of daylight. I was wearing my headlamp but really wanted to make it to the car without turning it on. We did. At 8:17 we signed out, smelling terribly and completely exhausted. It was just under 15 hours, but 2 more peaks were in the rear view mirror. Also, it was another day that tested us and we found out how much we could do.
At 3,960 feet, Cliff doesn't even break the threshold for a "high peak". However, on the original Adirondack survey it was thought to exceed 4,000 feet and thus it is one of the four that don't actually make the cut but are on the "list" of peaks needed to become a 46er. It is the 44th in order of height. Redfield easily breaks the high peak barrier at 4,606 feet in height and 15th highest in New York State. Early surveyor Verplanck Colvin named this peak for William Redfield, who organized the first group to explore Mt. Marcy in 1837.