Saturday, July 21, 2012

Skylight, Gray, Marcy and a 46er finish Saratoga-style: 07/19/2012

Beth climbing Marcy on Thursday, July 19, 2012.  Skylight, Redfield and Lake Tear of the Clouds are in the background.

The Saratoga Skier and Hiker, first-hand accounts of adventures in the Adirondacks and beyond, and Gore Mountain ski blog.

On Thursday, Beth and I hiked her final peaks for the Adirondack 46: Gray and Skylight. Lots of 46ers celebrate their final peak with a sign or a banner, celebratory beverage, maybe even a cake at the summit. Beth took things a step further, celebrating in her Saratoga track dress (the track opened on Friday) with champagne on the summit of Skylight.

We opted to do the hike as a loop from Adirondack Loj, climbing via Lake Arnold and Feldspar Brook to Lake Tear of the Clouds, source of the Hudson River. From Lake Tear, both Gray and Skylight are short out-and-back climbs. Rather than re-trace our steps, we climbed up and over Mount Marcy, returning to the Loj via the Van Hoevenberg trail. This loop covers some of the most spectacular alpine terrain in the Adirondacks, a fitting final hike.

Pre-dawn start from Bolton Landing

Early morning view of the peaks from Adirondack Loj Road

Many aspiring 46ers try to save a special peak for their finish. Last year, as Beth's peak count rose through the 30s, she decided to target Skylight for her finish. Many 46ers count Skylight at or near the top of their list of favorite peaks, and for good reason: a broad alpine summimt, spectacular views, and a sense of remoteness make Skylight special. As my friend Bob Marcellus said, "there always seems to be some magic on Skylight's summit."

Our route choice had added meaning since we had not hiked in the Marcy Dam area since Hurricane Irene.

A de-watered Marcy Dam: casualty of Hurricane Irene

The dam and former hiker's bridge at Marcy Dam...

and, the new bridge,about 100 yards below the dam

Slides on Wright Peak from Hurricanes Floyd (1999, left) and Irene (2011, right)

Like many High Peaks hikes, flowing water is frequently nearby. Our route to Skylight, Gray and Marcy roughly followed the courses of Marcy Brook, the Opalescent River and Feldspar Brook. Despite the dry summer, the brooks were flowing beautifully:

Above Marcy Dam, we climbed to Lake Arnold at around 3700' on Mount Colden's east side. Far less frequently visited than the Avalanche Pass area on the opposite side of Colden, this area is beautiful for its remoteness and its interesting views of Colden's east slides. The run-out from these slides extends nearly all the way to the trail at a point approximately 1.3 miles past Lake Arnold.

Lake Arnold, elevation 3700'

Colden's east slides

The Opalescent River and Colden's east slides

Another view of Mount Colden from the Feldspar Brook trail

Climbing the Feldspar Brook trail towards Lake Tear of the Clouds

Lake Tear's outlet and the start of the Gray Peak herd path

Eventually the Lake Arnold trail reaches Feldspar Brook. The Feldspar Brook trail is then followed to Lake Tear of the Clouds, the source of the Hudson River, elevation 4,300'. Amazingly, for 35 years after Marcy was first climbed in 1837, Lake Tear was thought to flow east into the Ausable and Champlain watersheds. It wasn't until Lake Tear was first visited (by Verplanck Colvin, in 1872) that it was determined to actually flow west into Feldspar Brook, the Opalescent River and the Hudson. Until Colvin's visit and first-hand observation, it was erroneously thought that Moss Pond, a small tarn high on nearby Redfield Mountain, was instead the Hudson's source.

At Lake Tear of the Cloud's outlet, a herd path ascends to Gray Peak, 7th highest in the Adirondacks at 4,840'. The herd path is short and fun, climbing steeply through several short cliff sections to Gray's summit ridge more than 500 feet above Lake Tear.

Gray's herd path - it helps to have some rock moves in a climber's bag of tricks

High up on Gray, with Skylight in the background

Marcy's summit is just a mile from Gray's summit ridge

Gray's summit ridge is wooded, but there are plenty of great views

Looking a bit weary, but just one peak left!

Colden and the Macintyre range (Wright-Algonquin-Iroquois R to L) from Gray's summit. From here the long run-out of Colden's east slides is visible.

Atop one of Gray's cliffs

If it was easy they'd call it New Hampshire

Following the up-and-back to Gray, it's a short hike up the trail to Four Corners, the iconic four-way intersection of trails heading to Mount Marcy (N), Skylight (S), down to Panther Gorge (E) and back to Lake Tear (W). Turning towards Skylight, we climbed the roughly 600 vertical feet to Skylight's beautiful alpine summit.

Approaching tree-line on Skylight

The trail ascends through stunted trees before emerging onto Skylight's alpine summit

The view of Gray and Marcy from near Skylight's summit

Approaching Skylight's summit

Skylight's summit cairn, Beth's 46th peak

We had Skylight's summit to ourselves. The views are of course spectacular in all directions, but perhaps most of all towards Marcy, Haystack and Panther Gorge. Beth donned her Saratoga track dress, we broke out the champagne, and took a bunch of summit photos.

46er toast

A 46er finish, Saratoga style

Gray, Colden and the Macintyre Range

Allen Mountain and the Boreas Ponds to the south

Heading down, Marcy still to go

Although we took our time on the summit, we knew we had a long ways to go before the hike was over.

View of Marcy, heading down from Skylight

Part way up Marcy from the Four Corners

Breaking out above tree line on the climb up Marcy, Skylight in the background

The ascent from Four Corners is steep

Expansive views climbing up Marcy from Four Corners

Although I am a 46er (#2447, 1987), I had never hiked Mount Marcy. All of my previous Marcy climbs (8 or so) were on skis, in the winter, which of course still counts towards the 46. All of those ski ascents were done via the "standard" Van Hoevenberg trail route, so I had never climbed through the beautiful alpine terrain of Mount Marcy's south slope. Although Marcy is specatcular in winter, I have to say that the hike up from Four Corners was stunning. In my opinion, that approach is superior to the Van Hoevenberg trail for hiking Marcy.

On the summit of Mount Marcy

View to the north, with Giant Mountain on the horizon

Marcy's summit plaque

Views of the Great Range descending the Van Hoevenberg trail from Marcy

Backpackers and the Macintyre Range from Indian Falls

We left the summit of Marcy around 4pm. We had allowed ourselves 12 hours to complete the 18 mile, 4800' vertical route, and we arrived back at Adirondack Loj within minutes of that 12 hour mark.

With Beth's completion of the 46, the spectacular summits, interesting route and perfect weather, today's hike is one of my most memorable.


  1. Congrats to Beth! That hike is a great hike. Skylight to finish.... and Marcy to boot! I thought Marcy was great from the South through Schofield Cobbles. Great that you had Skylight to yourselves. Congrats again.

  2. Awesome job Beth!

  3. Congratulations to Beth! We did Skylight and Gray as part of a long weekend backpack that included Cliff and Redfield. It was tough but I thought the hiking was some of the most beautiful we had done in the High Peaks. Your photos bring back some great memories!

  4. wow! I had not seen this until now.. Great day and I am following in your footseps exactly next Sunday..I hope our day goes as smoothly as yours. Love you guys!!!Marcy