Marcy, Skylight, Gray (Winter)

Sometimes when we insulate ourselves with like-minded people it can be hard to gauge ‘normal’. In my case, my bubble consists of many people who hike all 46 Adirondack High Peaks in a single winter. While a long shot, that was an outside goal for my trip up this week.

What I didn’t count on was (a) the weather; and (b) how not ‘normal’ it is to winter hike the ADK 46. Those two made this trip more fun, more challenging, and more frustrating than I expected.

On climbing Gray Peak, I have now officially climbed all 46 Adirondack High Peaks twice. We finished our first round in August of 2014, just a year and a half ago. But before I get there, today’s hike was both fabulous and frustrating, and brought me to points (a) and (b) above.

I got a little later start than expected, signing in at 7:10 AM. The snow was firm and I made good time to Marcy Dam and all the way up to the junction for Indian Falls, which I had broken out the day before. I passed two couples climbing Marcy on that stretch, so I was surprised that beyond Indian Falls, the footsteps stopped. When I headed over to Colden the day before I was the first one and last one up.

Admiring the MacIntyres
Admiring the MacIntyres from Indian Falls

So I got to breaking trail, plowing with my snowshoes through fresh powdery snow. But the sun was out, and by 9:30 AM, the trees were dripping and the snow turned into sticky mashed potatoes. Or maybe peanut butter. It stuck to my snowshoes — top and bottom — and even clung to my hiking poles like I was stamping out basket-shaped Christmas cookies. The weight and nuisance slowed me down.

Ultimately I turned up the east face of Mount Marcy where there was thankfully soft snow and ice. It was so warm that once I put on my wind blocker I stayed warm, even on the beautiful, exposed summit.

The views were spectacular! Sun and clouds and snow-capped mountains, about as perfect a scene as I’ve had in the 7 years we’ve been hiking these mountains.

Haystack and Little Haystack from Marcy
Haystack and Little Haystack from Marcy

I turned down the south side of Marcy to go to ‘Four Corners’ and even at 5,000 feet the snow and ice was melting. Damn El Niño! The melt — dripping trees soaking me, peanut butter snow sticking to everything — would last all the way down and even up the north slope to Skylight. Again with wonderful views and this time not even a wind blocker.

Finally I descended back to Four Corners and headed to Lake Tear of the Clouds, renowned as the highest source of the Hudson, and turned up towards Gray Peak. A short while later I was at the summit, the first one there in a while, and took in the scenery.

The temperature rose all day, and the sun was out for most of it, so I finally gave up on snowshoes with about 6 miles to go, and “bare-booted” back to the trailhead. It was a bit over 19 miles in under 9 hours. I was the first to break trail for about half of the day, just like my trip through the Sewards or the previous day doing Phelps-TableTop-Colden. I ran back into one of the couples at a quickly-melting Marcy Dam, but otherwise was alone all day.

I loved the hike, but was definitely sad to see the melting. With heavy rain coming Thursday, my attempt at all 46 in a single winter are dashed. Out in the real world, though, that’s a little more ‘normal’, and my experiences this week were more than worth the trip. I still have one more hike to go this week, and I’m sure I’ll pull something new out of that, too.