The end of August was closing in and the writing was on the wall — summer would soon be a thing of the past.
Subtle hints of fall were slowly announcing their arrival - Mountain Ash trees with large bunches of bright, red berries — once lush, green ferns were now a vibrant gold.
Puffs of smoke appeared from tall chimneys — a sure sign of chilly mornings.
My friends Lori Clark, Kelly Moody and Ruby Salley and I chose to end the summer with a bang. We decided on a loop which would ascend Mount Marcy, down the back side, up Mount Skylight and on to Gray Peak, returning on the Lake Arnold trail back to the start.
Our day would cover over 19 miles and an early start was necessary.
The morning was cool as our boots hit the ground at the trailhead at the Adirondack Loj. We chose to begin our day climbing the tallest mountain in New York, Mount Marcy via the Van Hoevenberg Trail.
Marcy is one of the more popular mountains of the 46 high peaks and we were a little concerned the trail would be crowded due to the huge increase of hikers in the area.
Our early, midweek start soon diminished these thoughts. Throughout the entire day, we met up with only a handful of hikers.
We took a quick break at Marcy Dam to grab a snack and remove some warm clothing and we were off again. Roughly 2 miles would bring us to our next stop, scenic Indian Falls, about 50 yards off the trail. The top of Indian Falls could easily be a destination in itself with a spectacular view of the MacIntyre Range with Algonquin upstaging the rest.
Taking some time here we enjoyed the vista that lay before us. It felt a little chilly on my backside and soon my laughing companions confirmed that I had blown out the seat of my pants.
No needle and thread here so what to do? In a MacGyver like move, Ruby pulled out some duct tape. I told Kelly that she was a true friend as I bent over and she applied the adhesive.
One piece did the trick but I told her if that if she had made an X, I would have had hot crossed buns.
Time flew by quickly, as we continued on. Due to a dry spell, the water crossings were easy with the muddy spots sometimes having corduroy to help us across. Corduroy is a type of bridge formed by logs laid side by side.
Before we knew it, we were on a boardwalk that crosses a high-altitude sphagnum bog just before the rocky shoulder of Marcy. We were in the arctic-alpine zone where we were careful to walk only on the rocks in order to preserve the fragile vegetation.
We met a friendly trail steward just before the top who was greeting hikers and sharing information on how to protect New York’s alpine habitat.
We had made it to our first peak.
The summit was windy as we zipped up jackets and sat down on the rocky, bald summit to have our lunch with a view. With a panoramic vista before us, we had an incredible view of Adirondack high peaks, Vermont and Canada.
It just so happened to be Kelly’s birthday as we presented her with heart shaped glasses and serenaded her with Happy Birthday. Time passed quickly and soon it was time to head down Marcy, knowing we still had many miles to traverse.
AWAY ON THE WIND
Cairns (piles of stones) helped us find our way as we made our way down the steep descent. Off in the distance, we could see Mount Skylight. It sure did look a long ways off.
We reached Four Corners (the intersection where we would begin our climb of Skylight) in no time at all.
We had become acclimated to the nice cool temperatures of Marcy while hiking on its open face. The climb to Skylight was partially enclosed in trees making it quite warm and humid.
Partway up, I thought to myself that I may pass on the final peak as heat, humidity and hiking are not a good combination for me. It didn’t take long and we popped out on the open side of Skylight in an alpine meadow.
With a cool breeze again, all thoughts of ditching the final peak floated away in the wind.
I have to admit that Skylight is one of my all time favorite mountains.
Again, we had a beautiful, panoramic view. Thirty major peaks can be identified from this summit.
The first time I climbed this peak, hikers were encouraged to carry a rock from the timberline to place on the summit cairn. However, this is not the case now as the Adirondack Mountain Club has put out the following statement: Rocks are the last thing Skylight needs.
Summit Stewards have made great efforts to utilize the overwhelming heap at the top, but unfortunately there are only so many cairns to be built, scree walls to be laid, and loose patches of soil to be filled in. This season, stewards carried down or spread out 80 crates of rock from the pile, each weighing around 75 pounds. That is equivalent to 6,000 pounds, or three tons, and there is still plenty of rock up there.
It’s safe to say that the rocks have become much more of a nuisance than a help. I personally didn’t mind not adding the weight of rocks to my already heavy pack.
We lingered a bit on Skylight, chatting with fellow hikers and taking photographs. It truly is breathtaking and no words can describe the feeling. One last look and we were heading down, hiking cairn to cairn ready to tackle our last peak of the day.
Reaching the outlet to Lake Tear of the Clouds (also known to be the start of the mighty Hudson River) we made the decision to filter some water.
I had packed my Sawyer Squeeze filter and soon we had filtered enough water for everyone for the rest of the hike. Gray is the highest of the trail-less peaks. We found the path easy to follow but very muddy and narrow. Both Ruby and I definitely donated some blood to this mountain from the scratchy branches and rugged rocks.
There is a sign indicating the top and some views off to the side but we stayed only a few minutes. It was already 2:30 with roughly 7 miles to go.
Back at Lake Tear of the Clouds, we were happy to know that we would now be on marked trails for the rest of the day.
All summer long, we had been reading reports of the "floating logs."
This is an area before you reached the Lake Arnold intersection where during high water, the logs that you traverse are literally floating making it almost impossible to make it across with dry feet.
Upon reaching the logs, we were glad to see that most were above the water. Lori pushed her pole in to see how deep it was and it almost reached her hand. This confirmed the fact that if you fell in you would be near waist deep in yucky, mucky water.
DAY TO DAY
Ruby, Lori and I slowly made it across with success with the help of our poles.
I turned to see Kelly making her way along the narrow, moving boards. It was a little late, but I sheepishly offered my poles — she was midstream and had no intentions of stopping right then.
That girl has balance and made it safely with no problem. With that last obstacle behind us, we were golden.
There was still some climbing and some mud to navigate but our spirits were high as we completed our 19.5 miles all in one piece and smiles on our faces.
We had started in the daylight and ended in the daylight — we had come full circle. As we began our ride home, we munched on some popcorn and drank ice cold chocolate milk.
What a way to end the day.
Peru resident Joanne Kennedy is a photographer and writer who can be found exploring the many lakes and mountains in the Adirondacks or other wilderness areas. She enjoys sharing the unique places she visits in the natural world with her readers. Reach her at email@example.com.
Directions: The trailhead can be reached via the Loj Road off NY 73, 4 miles SE of Lake Placid Village. There is a parking fee.