Sunday, December 14, 2014

Marcy, Skylight, Gray (and Marcy). 2014-12-14

MonoSodium Glutamate!

Low-lying clouds (a.k.a. "undercast") were the day's 'flavor enhancer' for our trip to Marcy, Skylight, and Gray. The undercast spiced up the views by allowing only the Four Thousand Footers to poke their heads above the clouds and appear like islands in the sky.

Tom (Randomscooter), Alistair, and I left the Loj at 6:10 AM bound for Skylight and Gray by way of Marcy. Tom and I were on a 'list-fulfilment' mission. Alistair was out to stretch his legs after a hiking hiatus of several months. Seeing that his hiking muscles had been unused for so long, he reserved the right to  tag Marcy and forego the other peaks.

Dawn at Marcy Dam.
About 20 inches of snow had fallen a few days earlier so we expected to do some trail-breaking. Tom had visited Tabletop the previous day so he knew the Van Hoevenberg trail was broken out to Indian Falls. He had seen a register-entry for Marcy, and tracks beyond Indian Falls, so we assumed the Van Hoevenberg trail would be broken out all the way to Marcy. Our assumption was only partially correct.

Just before reaching Indian Falls, I heard the sound of a freight train gaining on me. I turned around and immediately recognized the two locomotives charging uphill; Steve (Little Brown Mushroom) and Wayne (Waynald) were heading to Lower Wolfjaw by way of a Great Range Traverse.

We paused at Indian Falls to greet them and discuss our respective itineraries. Everyone had a long day ahead of them so it wasn't long before we bid them good luck and they continued up the trail. Trail conditions eventually allowed us to catch up to them. Whoever had signed in for Marcy the previous day had stopped well short of the Hopkins junction and left the remainder unbroken.

We caught up to Steve and Wayne at the Van Ho-Phelps trail-junction where they were stowing their gear in preparation for a spur-trip to Marcy. We hitched our wagons to the two locomotives and followed the track they cleared.

Tom, Wayne, Alistair, and Steve prepare for Marcy.
At treeline, I got my first good look at Haystack rising above the undercast and it was 'otherworldly'! I assumed the clouds would eventually dissipate but they lingered all day and provided truly unique views of the ADK 46. It was easy to point to a four-thousand footer because it was the only thing tall enough to rise above the clouds.

Otherworldly vista.
Four hours from the Loj, we stood on breezy Marcy and marveled at our good luck. The sun blazed in a clear blue sky over an ocean of cloud dotted with the Adirondack's tallest peaks. The area bounded by Marcy, Skylight, Redfield, and Gray remained cloud-free and that was perfect for our needs.

With hand-shakes and well-wishes, Wayne and Steve departed Marcy and sped off to Haystack. Alistair confirmed Marcy was the turn-back point for his hike. We bid him good luck and watched him recede in Marcy's northern horizon. Spying the southern line of cairns Tom and I began our descent to Schofield Cobble. Moments after leaving Marcy's summit, we were out of the wind and felt the sun's warming rays. Tom suggested we stop for a snack and enjoy the moment. Windless, warm, sunny and with a commanding view, it was an ideal spot to survey our objectives: Skylight and Gray.

Cairns mark our descent to Schofield Cobble.
The descent to Schofield Cobble was a gas! I love glissading in snowshoes through loose snow and the conditions indulged my passion. Arriving at the Cobble, Tom pointed out the route over it. Now at treeline, I was concerned we might have difficulty finding the entrance to the trail. However, rabbit tracks led directly to its entrance. The snow was soft and compressed 6-10 inches underfoot but little effort was expended because we were descending. Wherever I could, I avoided sliding down slopes and chose to create steps. I knew we would be returning via this trail later in the day and it would be easier to ascend on steps rather than slopes denuded of snow.

Four Corners was pristine; there was no trace of anyone's passage from the east or west. We unloaded some gear and Tom broke trail up Skylight. Being on Skylight's shaded side, the snowy trees did not drip melt-water onto us. We'd get that later on Gray. The view from Skylight's breezy summit was gorgeous. Only Allen poked out of the undercast but just barely so.

Sky and Skylight.

Man and Marcy.
We spent a few minutes savouring the views and then made a speedy descent to Four Corners to collect our stowed gear. We continued along the unbroken trail to Lake Tear's outlet. Lake Tear appeared to be frozen but I was in the lead and wasn't 'feeling lucky'; the temperature was above freezing and I didn't want to discover any unfrozen sink-holes.

At the outlet we, once again, stowed our surplus gear. The herd-path was in full sun and the trees were raining melt-water. In anticipation of a soggy ascent, I donned a hardshell and shell-mitts. The snow underfoot was a heavy, sticky mush that clung to poles and snowshoes. It was a wet uphill slog but at least the herd-path, although unbroken since the snowfall, was easy to follow. It was my sixth ascent of Gray so the route was familiar to me.

It felt good to tag Gray. With only Allen remaining for the Fall round, the completion of my Four-Season Grid (46 peaks x 4 seasons) seemed well within reach. We paused for a brief snack and shared our mutual concern about the re-ascent of Marcy. The trail was also south-facing and the snow would undoubtedly be heavy and wet. We rationalized it would be easier than Gray because we had already broken the trail earlier in the day.
Misty Marcy (from Gray).
The descent back to Lake Tear's outlet was swift and uneventful. We collected our stowed gear and retraced our steps to Four Corners where we began the thousand-foot ascent to Marcy's summit. As we had predicted, the climb was made easier by virtue of having broken the trail earlier in the day. However, there wasn't much we could do about the melt-water raining on us other than ignore it until treeline.

For number-crunchers, the distance from Four Corners to the Loj via Lake Arnold or via Marcy is virtually the same (7.4 miles). The elevation gain via Marcy is 1300 feet versus 770 feet via Lake Arnold. In other words, for an additional investment of 530 feet, you get the benefit of Marcy's views instead of the (often) swampy trail to Lake Arnold and its limited views. The ascent to Lake Arnold from Feldspar Brook is about 500 feet. The ascent from Four Corners to Schofield Cobble is about 600 feet. Once you've reached Schofield Cobble, you are effectively above treeline and the remaining 400 feet of open views to the summit are your 'scenic payback'. Naturally, if the weather is horrible, returning via Marcy is much less appealing.

500 feet of awe-inspiring ascent.
Above treeline at Schofield Cobble, the wind was noticeably stronger than it had been in the morning. We battened down the hatches and began the scenic walk up the windswept snowfield. Our tracks were still visible and we retraced our steps to Marcy's windy summit. Marcy represented a milestone because the day's major climbing was behind us and now we looked forward to a relatively easy descent to the Loj. One foot in front of the other, for the next three hours and several minutes, returned us to the Loj, safe and sound.
Blue light special.


See all photos.

Hike Stats

  • Distance: 17 miles.
  • Ascent: 5800 feet.
  • Time: 11h 50m.

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