Pie is for Winners: A Triumphant Trip Report for The Great ADK Return

As anyone who has pursued their 46 knows, there often are peaks that annoy you—the ones that you should have hiked but for some reason you didn’t do so. Skylight, Gray, and Redfield were on that list for me. Tabletop to some extent. (And let’s not talk about Basin or Blake.)

Michael and I decided to cross a few of those peaks off my list and focus on the ones furthest from the Adirondack Loj trailhead. My priorities were Skylight, Gray, and Redfield. Anything else would be a nice bonus but I wanted to clear out that section of peaks. Also, I wanted pie.

A plan was in place—I-95, however, decided to laugh. An EZ-Pass malfunction and New Jersey traffic meant that we hit the New York border after being in the car for nine hours. (For comparison, it usually takes about nine hours to get to the Adirondacks.) We were on track for a 12- to 13-hour drive, which would place us at the trailhead right at dark and then to camp rather late. To be honest, we were both tired of being in the car so we opted to press on until north of Albany and stay overnight in Saratoga Springs.

Saratoga Springs wound up being an unexpected highlight of the trip. Our hotel was off the main strip in the downtown area, giving us a good opportunity to stretch our legs and find a good meal at the Café Benelux. While it slightly threw off our general scheme, it was the right call given the holiday traffic.

Saturday morning, we were up early and on the road to wrap up the last bit of the drive. Given the stories about overcrowding, I’ll admit to a certain level of nervousness that we’d arrive at the Adirondakck Loj parking to find it full. The overcast weather may have helped, but we were pleased to find plenty of parking when we arrived.

Then it was time to hike. We made decent time to Marcy Dam. Our original plan was to hike directly to Feldspar and then tackle either Redfield or Gray and Skylight, but we decided to take a slight diversion and grab Tabletop on the way in. It started to lightly mist on us as we started up the herdpath to Tabletop. I huffed and puffed my way up the trail—then victory. We were on the board with one peak.

Peak #1 Accomplished!

We flirted with the idea of going over Marcy and then getting Gray and Skylight. Michael was more eager for the plan than I was—mainly I was concerned that the effort of getting over Marcy would leave me too tired to grab my intended peaks. I did not want to leave Redfield undone. The decision was more or less made for us as a park ranger advised us to head to Feldspar given a forecasted storm for the area.

Feldspar it was. We passed by Indian Falls and then climbed up to Lake Arnold. Michael charged up the path while I picked my way along the rocks. (Hello, rocks, my old friend.) The path eased out as we made our way closer to Feldspar.

The wooden planks in boggy spots are a familiar sight to anyone who’s hiked in the Adirondacks. Being covered in water—also familiar. Less so are the planks disjointedly floating in the water, a sight that greeted us as we neared Feldspar. Michael and I paused to figure out how to even start crossing what now looked like a lake. Michael ventured out on one of boards and tried to assess the situation while floating about the water. We tried one way and then another to cross on the boards, but they were too unstable and the water too deep.

Fancy a swim?

Time to regroup. We backtracked a bit and found a trail that people had taken to bypass the bog—Michael kept an eye on his GPS as we navigated around the bog and back to the trail. We finally arrived at Feldspar around 3:30 p.m. and sat down for a welcome break. The lean-to was taken up by a hammock hanging from the rafters whose owner had apparently headed out for a hike. A couple was already ensconced in one of the tent sites—the storm predicted by the ranger caught them by Avalanche Lake, bypassing our area—and another hiker, Noah, was trying to see where to pitch his tent.

The next part of the plan was to do either Redfield or Gray and Skylight. I’ll admit that I was enjoying my break quite a bit and wasn’t too eager to start out for a peak at 4 p.m. Why not leave the three for tomorrow? I’d have plenty of time to rest up, and we’d be starting early from camp. Plus, it appealed to my deadline side—three peaks, one day, no outs.

That decision wound up being a stroke of good fortune for Noah. Once we made our decision, Michael and I set up our hammocks and popped open our refreshening beverages. We chatted with Noah for a while. He, too, had encountered the bog and was preparing to do his first high peak—Marcy—tomorrow. We were joined by a park ranger who definitely looked the part—big pack, a commando vest, and what looked like a machete strapped to his side. (It was an ax.) He quizzed us about the hammock in the shelter (not ours) and then pointed out that our hammocks weren’t set up close enough to the camping signs—next time, we should be closer. Then bear canisters. I proudly showed our Garcia canister. Noah wasn’t aware of the regulations and had a bear hang. Not great.

Last year, the area was closed briefly due to a bear that became accustomed to the food and even entered the lean-to. The bear had to be put down. Needless to say, proper food storage was a top concern and the ranger was ready to walk Noah down to the Lake Colden outpost so the food could be stored properly. We offered to store his food in our canister, though, averting this step, and the park ranger agreed.

The ranger’s visit also shed some light on the floating logs. Apparently, the planks were placed in 2016, and the engineers said they would last for a decade. They did not factor beavers into the equation.

Sunday morning and it was game time. We headed to Skylight and Gray first. Lake Tear of the Clouds was covered in mist as we arrived and began the steady climb up to Skylight. No views for us but it was still a beautiful sight. Then over to Gray—a few of the scrambles had us (okay me) poking around for easy ways to climb up and down, but we made it there. As we descended, the sky briefly opened up and we could start to see the surrounding mountains.

Skylight and Gray = done!

I was feeling good about our progress as we arrived back at Feldspar to collect our full packs. The next stage in the plan was to head to Uphill, drop our packs, and then do Redfield. Then, we’d exit via Avalanche Pass—I was excited to finally do the Hitch-up Matildas. After all, the climb up Redfield was just a long grind.

Oh, a long grind it was. The path moved from dirt to rock hopping along the Uphill Falls Brook. The water was flowing—it was spectacular, but I was starting to get tired. The last 1,000 feet were agonizingly slow as the climb got to me, but we made it to the top and enjoyed the view. I was near my limit, though, as we made our down. The combination of wet rocks and a tired Jen made for slow progress down the trail.

I know I look a little crazed hereit was a rough climb!

We arrived at Uphill and quickly conferred on the plan. It was much later in the day—almost 4 p.m.—than we had anticipated, and we had a long way out. I had it in my head that our plan to go out Avalanche Lake was still the best since all I wanted to do was go downhill. I also had it in my head that I did not want to do the climb back up to Lake Arnold. (Yes, I know it is a little climb, but I was a little irrational at that moment.) It also meant we had to go through the bog again. Michael rightfully pointed out that the Lake Arnold route was shorter and would wind up saving us some time.

With dreams of Lake Placid in our minds, we set out the Lake Arnold way. We made decent progress around the bog now that we knew how to navigate it, and then started to make our way down to Marcy Dam. We were back in the parking lot around 8 p.m. and had beers in hand by 9 p.m. I hobbled my way from the brewery to the hotel, fortunately right next door, and collapsed for the evening.

Monday morning, we were up bright and early and arrived at Noonmark just as it opened. The walls were freshly painted a bright blue as the new owners have started to make their mark on the appearance, but we can assure you that the food is still tasty. We headed back home taking the Pennsylvania route to avoid the holiday traffic on 95.

All in all, it was a challenging weekend. We did 9.3 miles on Saturday with 2,761 feet of gain and 15.6 miles on Sunday with 4,020 feet of gain. Of course, Sunday would have been much easier if I had pushed myself to do Redfield the day before—that being said, we got all three peaks that I wanted to get and added the bonus of Tabletop. It was good to be back up there.

And yes, we got a pie.

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