Saturday, July 21, 2012
Skylight, Gray, Marcy and a 46er finish Saratoga-style: 07/19/2012
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Although we took our time on the summit, we knew we had a long ways to go before the hike was over.
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.
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.