The forecast for this Saturday was for a "bluebird" day. We were excited to be doing these peaks because Skylight is one that everyone talks about for the view. The same foursome that hiked Redfield and Cliff two weeks earlier, that is Hiking Buddy, her son and my son, would be spending this day together.
We decided to stay in Lake Placid so we'd be closer to the Adirondack Loj and able to get a reasonable amount of sleep before the alarm went off at 4:15 a.m. We were at the Loj and on the trail by 5:37. It was a crisp 49 degrees and we still needed headlamps for the first 20-30 minutes. This was to be our first time back to the Marcy Dam since Hurricane Irene stormed through the Northeast in August of 2011 and changed the face of the Adirondacks. Irene took with her the walkway over the dam, releasing all the water that used to provide such a beautiful vista when the mountains were reflected in it. Now there is a footbridge just below what's left of the dam, and a small puddle of water in which some of Mt. Colden is still reflected. We were at the dam at 6:22 and after a quick break to soak in the new view, back on our way at 6:28. We signed in after the dam and quickly got on the trail to the right - toward Colden, not the left trail towards Phelps and Mt. Marcy. Just 30 minutes later we reached a sign indicating Lake Arnold was 1.1 miles away. It was 7 a.m. My pace once we start climbing is about 1 MPH. We started climbing. This was a good climb, pretty much straight up, no real flat periods, and lots of rock. At around 8 or 8:15 I started expecting to see Lake Arnold, based on my pace. Our much faster sons were ahead of us. We yelled and heard them faintly in the distance. We kept hiking. Before long, it was about 8:30 and we were descending sharply, losing a lot of the elevation we had gained. At this point I knew we had passed Lake Arnold, but how? And where? And did the boys stop, or had they gone ahead? We yelled and got not reply. We yelled a few more times. Nothing. I was not liking this.
The plan now was for Hiking Buddy to continue ahead while I turned back. We each yelled and finally she heard them up ahead. Ok, there were a few moments of fear and doubt on my part. Thoughts like, "Have we gotten too cocky in our hiking?" "Do we take these trails for granted?" and "Is this gorgeous day going to turn out to be a nightmare?" Thankfully, nothing of the sort. We found them at the Feldspar bog. This is where I truly knew we were on the right trail! They had already crossed and were waiting for us because they knew we'd need direction. They were right. It was a little intimidating. Rather than stand and ponder, I dove in (not literally) and started across, while my son talked me through it. The first part was a rolling log, and hiking poles were helpful. Next, you stepped on the end of a plank that sunk, but not too deep, when you initially put weight on it. Then came the narrow board, which a shuffled slowly across. Then it was a quick sprint/hop to the other side. More adrenaline. This photo was taken once I safely reached the other side.
At 9:15 we saw the sign telling us Lake Tear of the Clouds was just 1.5 miles away. This was exciting - we were going to actually stand at the source of the Hudson River, over 4,000 feet elevation. It was heart pounding 1.5 miles, which we covered in just under 1 hour 15 minutes. As soon as you see the Lake, look left and there's the trailhead for Gray. We didn't see it initially because some guys were sitting there pumping water, but they pointed it out to us when we asked. We always seem to get lucky with finding help at the right time! We took a few pictures before heading up Gray at 10:37. Sources said this would take 30 minutes. Well, it took us a little longer, and here's why... After about 5 minutes of hiking up, we reached a rock slab that we had to go down. It wasn't huge, but big enough that I would get hurt if I jumped! So that took a little negotiating. Then we basically climbed a few more smaller sections of rock until we got to a fairly large slab where the trail went slightly left. There wasn't more than maybe a 6 inch ledge, then rock up with nothing really to hold on to. I did not see how I would climb this. My son didn't either, but he managed. He's a few inches taller and his long legs seemed to help. Then Hiking Buddy's son went, with me holding his foot. My turn. I wanted to cry. I seriously thought this was the end of my quest for 46 and could not believe I had not read one word about this. After contorting myself into some Twister type positions, I managed to reach my hand up while my body was splayed against the rock and each boy grabbed me. They literally flung me over the tricky part and said, "Keep going! Keep going" so I scrambled until I felt safe. When I stopped and turned around, what did I see? A trail. Yes, there was a trail that bypassed this entire section of rock. Well, why do this the easy way?
After adrenaline rush #3, reaching the summit was almost anti-climatic. Almost. The summit of Gray is our 44th and we were there by 11:27. There's a small rock in the sun on which to enjoy lunch, but the true summit is a few steps ahead, in the trees. That's where you'll find the summit sign. Looking out through those trees you'll also see Mt. Marcy, looming large. Supposedly there's a herd path from here over to Marcy, but it was not very apparent. I would imagine anyone trying to hike it would have a true bushwhack. We took our pictures, grabbed some grub and headed down. It literally took just 30 minutes back to Lake Tear. We went around the spiral target rock (trust me, you cannot miss this) and on to the Four Corners, a trek that took less than 15 minutes. At the Four Corners we each grabbed a rock to take to the summit. The story goes that if you carry a rock up Skylight, you will be rewarded with no rain for the rest of your hike. The forecast this day was for no rain anyway, but why mess with folklore?
Skylight's trail was surprisingly easy. Even at my slow and steady pace it only took me 33 minutes. The trail literally dumps you right at the giant cairn made by the collection of hikers' rocks. Looking to the left at this point you will see Marcy, with Gray to the left of that. To the right of Marcy is Haystack. Straight ahead of the giant rock pile is the Dix range, Colvin, Blake and to the right of that in the foreground is Elk Lake. Turning around you will see Colden, the MacIntyre range and Whiteface in the distance. It's nothing short of spectacular being on the 4th highest peak! We could have spent a lot more than the 50 minutes we did up here, but we had to move. Our thought was to hike up the backside of Marcy, over and down the Van Hoevenberg trail. We'd done this trail before and knew it was a fairly moderate descent.
We left Skylight's summit at 12:59. I'm always the caboose of the group, and I carefully plodded along, always watching my footing on the loose rocks. Before long I heard voices and thought my group was waiting for me. I looked up and could not believe I was already back at Four Corners. It only took 20 minutes to get there from Skylight's peak! At 2:17 we began the hike up Marcy, via the trail that was almost directly across from Skylight's. It's just under 1 mile so again, I figured one hour. The first half mile is in the trees. As soon as you break out of the trees, you are at the big boulder that you can see from Skylight. Once you go over that hump, it's pretty much wide open rock. It's not scary rock, but it's steep enough that I walked with a forward pitch for momentum! There are plenty of cairns and yellow blazes to mark the way. I had to do a lot of walking/resting but my slow and steady pace works. I was at the top in just under an hour. It was just as spectacular as I remember from my last trip there 4 years earlier.
We enjoyed a half hour viewing and summit snack before heading down the other side of New York's highest peak at 3:48. Twenty minutes later we reached the junction with the trail to Slant Rock. Hard to believe it was only 1.2 miles from that point to Slant Rock, which is back by the Johns Brook Lodge. We were at Indian Falls at 5:21 for a water refill, snacks and sun and on our way again at 5:33. Two hours later we were at the parking lot, with very sore feet! It was so crowded, but we were glad to have arrived early and gotten spots very close to the trailhead. Every step matters at that point! So many cars didn't even make it into the lot and were parked at least a mile, maybe two, up the road. We felt bad for anyone having to make an even longer hike just to get to their cars!
Overall this was one of my top 3 days in the mountains. Not only was the weather perfect, the views were amazing, the peaks were challenging, the people were friendly (as always) and we are now just 1 peak away from completing our 46!
Gray is the 7th highest peak in New York and at 4,840 feet it is also the highest trailless peak. It was named by Verplanck Colvin, who named many of the High Peaks, for Asa Gray, a famous botanist in the 1800s. Skylight is the 4th highest peak and rises 4,920 feet in elevation. Sadly, I can't figure out who actually gave Skylight it's name, but it comes from the bald, open and relatively flat summit in the middle of so many High Peaks.