Sunday, June 3, 2012

Gray and Skylight with a Marcy Kicker

Memorial Day weekend in the Adirondacks. The weather on Saturday was best described in one word: perfect. Bright sunshine, no bugs, and a cool breeze. Sometimes, it just doesn't get any better than this. Today was my annual wildflower hike to Skylight to catch a glimpse of the alpine azaleas. I knew it was a bit early, but I figured maybe with the warm weather the flowers would be out. The lower elevations found star flowers, ladyslippers, bunch berries, and golden thread. Up high, the lapland rosebay and diapensia were just peeking out from their buds. No alpine azaleas yet. My next few weekends are booked up, so no alpine azaleas this year. But that will make it even more special next year!

 This was my first time heading out from the Adirondak Loj trailhead since before Irene. So many times I've stopped to take pictures of the iconic scene from Marcy Dam; I must have a hundred. I really hope DEC at some point can afford to rebuild the dam. It's just not the same... All sorts of lumber was stacked up by the dam for the new bridge over Marcy Brook. The bridge is the first project scheduled for Adirondack Mountain Club's (ADK) pro trail crew.

The new view from Marcy Dam
I finally remembered to bring my new "helper" from work - Marcy, the mem-Bear-ship Bear (Marcy Bear for short). I always though it would have been cool to bring a real bear cub to events I attend, but I think it would have been frowned on. So Marcy Bear is my answer to having a mascot of sorts. Plus she is much safer for the kids to hug. Marcy is looking to climb the 46 so I probably should have brought her to Cliff and Redfield when I was there a few weeks back (and Haystack and Basin the week after that). Might be a while before I get back around to those peaks again.

Meet Marcy Bear
Onwards we go towards Lake Arnold and Gray. The start of the trail from Marcy Dam towards Lake Arnold was obliterated by flood waters from Irene. Amazing the power of water. I've been noticing this spring many rocks in the streams rearranged and scoured white by the flood waters. Kind of a surreal scene being played over and over again in the waterways of the high peaks.

The trail  heading down towards the Feldspar lean-to was wet as usual. The bridge over the Opalescent River was missing and the trail rerouted to a rock hop crossing. Lots of trail work and new boardwalks installed in the swamp. Nice job!

Lake Tear of the Clouds
Marcy from Gray
After crossing Feldspar Brook, it's a steady climb to Lake Tear of the Clouds. Lake Tear seems to be draining. Maybe it's because of the low snow year. About half the lake was just marsh. I haven't been on the Gray herd path in a number of years. Last time was during the winter, and we blazed our own trail, avoiding all the ledges on the herd path. Wonder what that path looks like without a deep snow pack. Conditions on the regular route today were typically wet and muddy. One thing nice about Gray - it's a short trip to the top. We ran into only a handful of people (one on her way to 46er glory today!) and had the summit to ourselves. After a quick snack, we slid down the herdpath and hiked on over to Four Corners.

Marcy from Skylight
Mt. Colden and the MacIntyre range
Next stop: Skylight. I think it's a tie between Haystack and Skylight as my favorite high peak. Both more remote so less crowded, and both having killer views. Maybe the slight edge to Skylight as it's home to the alpine azalea.

Haystack and Basin from Skylight
The trip up from Four Corners is short and steep. The expansive summit cone of Skylight is broad like Marcy. Lots of places to fan out. We had lunch facing south presiding over Elk Lake, Allen and the North River Mountains. Then we switched north for views of Marcy and Haystack. We lounged for almost an hour on Skylight. Tim napping and me soaking up the endless wilderness. Now fully satiated and rested, we decided to finish the day with a Marcy kicker. One must regain elevation climbing back to Lake Arnold, so why not regain elevation in a more spectacular fashion - 1000 feet up Marcy in .9 miles. At least half of it is above treeline, the views offering a pleasant distraction from tired quads and screaming calf muscles.

On the way up to Marcy
from Four Corners
On top of Marcy's summit, we joined the throngs of other hikers. Julia, the summit steward for today, and coordinator for the summit steward program, checked us in at number 158 for the day. Whew! Marcy sees lots of action and the summit steward program is integral in educating hikers about the unique and fragile alpine ecosystem found there and on New York's highest peaks.

Marcy's summit
Congratulations were in order for the newly minted 46er we had seen on Gray. Gray was 44, Skylight 45, and she decided why not aim for Marcy and complete the quest. She couldn't have picked a better day! I am really bad with names, so I can't remember hers to give her a shout out. But you know who you are and I'm glad we were able to share the moment with you.

Colden and the Macs from Marcy
On our way back from Marcy, we detoured at Indian Falls to pump some water from Marcy Brook and take a short break. While we were sitting there, a family showed up with three teen-aged girls. The girls were excited about their hike, but even more excited to remove their hiking boots and dangle their feet in the cool waters at Indian Falls. I love seeing young people out enjoying the mountains. A great way to wrap up the day!

Work obligations will keep me out of the high peaks for a few weeks, but wait until you see where in the world I'm going next!

Haystack from Marcy
Julia, ADK's summit steward coordinator, in action

Descending Marcy

Algonquin from Indian Falls
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