15 November 2012

Mount Marcy and Lake Colden - 13-14 Sep 2012

This part two of my Marcy / Colden report.  Part one is here: http://tenfeetsquare.blogspot.com/2012/11/lake-colden-12-sep-2012.html

13 Sep 2012 (Day 2)

After a rough night, I was up at 06:15, and I was freezing.  I threw on extra layers and then took a brisk walk to warm myself up and explore a bit more of the area.  Ken woke up a little while after I got back, and we busied ourselves with filtering and boiling water.  By 09:20 we were on our way, and we took some time to explore the Opalescent.  The reports of her beauty are all true: she’s a fantastic river, and the sound of water flowing and rocks banging into each other filled our campsite.  To me, it added to the perfection of the campsite, especially at night, when there was nothing else to hear.

While we were exploring the Opalescent, Ken went to climb up a waterfall, and asked me to take some photos of him doing so.  I did, and then went to meet him further up the trail.  We missed each other (I underestimated where he would rejoin the trail) and spent a few minutes looking for each other.  When we finally did find each other, we resumed our exploration, only to look up and see that someone was carrying a very large, tarp-covered object down the trail.  We stepped off of the trail to let him or her past.

To our surprise, it was a guy carrying a gigantic painting.  He had carried it all the way up to Lake Tear of the Clouds so that he could paint there, on location.  He had stayed the night, and had a full backpack in addition to the gigantic painting.  We would later find out that he stayed the night at the Feldspar Lean-to with his girlfriend.  While they were there they met another hiker, Bret(t?) who had found the walking stick that he was currently using to support himself and his gigantic painting.  We found all of this out after the fact, though; at the time, we were simply in awe of what he was proposing to do.  By the time we had ran into him, he had made it through most of the difficulties; the worst hurdle left to him was the rise just past Lake Colden, and then he was pretty much home free to Upper Works.  Well, as home free as a person can be with a monstrous piece of art strapped to their back.  Gabe was apparently the only one amongst us who saw the painting itself, though I hope to see it myself someday, too.

We watched him walk away, hardly believing what he was doing, and then continued on up.  There’s a fantastic chasm that the Opalescent flows through at one point, marked as a flume on the map, and we stared at that for a few minutes before continuing on.  The majority of our trek up alongside the Opalescent and then through the valley between Skylight and Colden was over unseasonably wet ground.  I can’t imagine what it must be like in the spring, but it was sodden even at the end of a dry summer.

By 10:45 we were at the junction with the Lake Arnold trail, and we turned yet again, to start heading through the valley between Grey and Skylight.  At 12:15 we were standing at the outlet of Lake Tear of the Clouds.  5 minutes earlier, we had stood at a spot almost directly across from Grey Peak, and we had seen our first glimpse of Marcy.  She looked huge, distant, and stark.  I knew that the last push would be over exposed ground (in both meanings of the word), the Schofield Cobble, but the entire pyramid that was visible to us was bare rock.  Ken posed for a few shocked photos with his index finger pointed at the summit.

We were contemplating turning around, since we were behind schedule, and needed to have dinner cooked and eaten well before 19:00 in order to reduce the likelihood of a bear encounter.  As we did the math we realized we would be cutting it close.  A few minutes later, though, we met a gentleman older than ourselves, who had just climbed it (a common theme for the year: getting schooled by older, fitter, gentlemen).  He gave us approximate times of an hour and a half up, and forty five minutes down.  We made it to Four Corners by 12:30, and resolved to press on.  The going became increasingly steep at this point, but by 13:00 we were in the alpine zone, and by 13:30 we were on the summit.  Gabe was already there, sitting down and enjoying the magnificent view.  Ken chatted with Bret(t) for a while, and we all chimed in to the general conversation happening up there.  There was discussion about the Artist, most of which I’ve already recounted.  Bret(t) also mentioned how he had just completed a 3 day trip through the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness where he saw not a single other soul.  (When I looked it up on the map, I realized that it was directly south of my uncle’s camp on Paradox, and that some of the trails feeding it led off of route 73.  I had no idea that stretch of land was so remote; the areas that surround it are so populous: Schroon Lake, Ticonderoga, and the smaller villages along the way: Severance, Paradox and Eagle Lake.)

We headed off the summit at 14:00, gingerly made our way down the Schofield Cobble, and finally made it back to Four Corners by 14:30.  I had left my poles at the campsite, because I didn’t want to scratch up the Cobble and the delicate lichen with the tips.  This was a serious mistake on my part, and it ended up slowing down my descent significantly.  There were a few spots on the Cobble where I felt so off balance that I thought I was going to fall.  Mercifully I didn’t.  I suppose you could view the poles as crutches, but they definitely help with the descent, both in terms of balance and keeping some of my weight off of my damaged knee.

Regardless, we made it back to camp by 17:00.  Ken stayed far ahead of me for the majority of the descent, but when we met up at a stream crossing, he had me go first so that I could pace him.  We kept that up for the remainder of the descent, and it seemed to work, in that it kept him free from injury, aside from blisters.

Just before the bottom, on the umpteenth log-over-mudhole crossing, I slipped and fell ankle deep into the mud, enough that the mud started to come inside my boot.  I managed to get out quickly enough, I suppose, but the damage was done.  Back at camp, I took a quick step in the Opalescent to try and get some of the mud off, but this was a mistake.  Had I waited until morning, I could have just scraped it off.  My boot was wet for the remainder of the trip.  There wasn’t enough daylight left to really dry it out that night, unfortunately, and there wasn’t sufficient time the following day, either.

We went for a walk around the site at 19:00, and noted that there were significantly more people around than on the following night.  We had chosen wisely, it seemed, by going from Wednesday through Friday instead of Thursday to Saturday, as I had originally planned.  While we were out, we discussed Gabe, and the fact that he hadn’t caught up to us on the way down.  He had said he was going to head out soon when we had left, and since I was moving so slowly down, we had fully expected to get passed by both he and Bret(t).  As it turned out, we saw neither by the time we reached the Lake Arnold trail, at which point Bret(t) would have turned right to get to his lean-to.

Gabe didn’t show up in our site until 19:30.  He said that had just fallen in the Opalescent, and he looked like a wreck.  We chatted for a bit, and made sure that he was OK to get back to his site, and that he had enough food.  After he went on his way, Ken and I stood around for a while discussing the sort of things that men discuss around campsites, and waited for the stars to come out.  By 20:30 we had retired to our respective tents, and by 21:15, I had passed out.

14 Sep 2012 (Day 3)

My notes aren’t quite as good for the last day, but I have GPS data and photos to fill in the missing details.  We must have woken up around 07:00 or earlier.  I remember being freezing once again.  By 07:50 I had gone for a walk to use the pit privy after breakfast.  I decided to push a little bit further on down the herd path, to see if I could figure out where Gabe’s lean-to was.  I didn’t find that, but a minute or two down the herd path I found an awesome view of the river south of Lake Colden’s dam.  Again I could see the intense high water mark etched into the side of the rock, and again I wondered if I was truly seeing the effect of Irene, or if that was the normal seasonal mark.  Either way, it was several feet above the current water level.

I headed back to camp, and finished packing up.  Ken had already packed up in my absence, and was itching to go.  This is always the hardest part for me: breaking down the site.  We had kept it light, and relatively tidy, so there wasn’t much to do aside from roll a few things up and shove it into our bags.  By 09:00 we were just about ready to go, and by 09:10 we were on our way.  I had briefly considered hiking out in my trail running shoes, since my boots were still soaked from yesterday’s mud pit, but I wasn’t sure how I would do with no ankle support and an extra 40+ lbs on my back, so I went with my boots.

Five minutes later we were on the dam, taking a few more pictures.  We continued on, said hello to the two EMS employees that we ran into along the way, and make it back to the Henderson monument by 10:05.  An hour later we paused on the banks of Calamity Brook to filter some more water.  We were (are) both neophytes when it comes to the whole process, and it ended up taking about half an hour to have a snack, filter water (which takes anywhere from 2-5 minutes per liter depending on how adept you are) and then wait for the disinfectant to prep (which takes 5 minutes per liter).

At 12:00 Ken located the site of one of the former bridge crossings.  We took some pictures, and I finally managed to get my bearings in regards to where the trail was changed.  As we continued on, I realized that we were on the remains of a woods road, which I distinctly remembered from my previous hike nearly a decade earlier.  Then, however, it had looked more like a pleasant country lane.  I remembered it looking completely out of place, but it was etched in my memory as one of my favorite spots.  As I stood there 8 years later, it took me a while to overlay the two.  I’m not convinced that I fully have.

20 minutes later we were back at the bridge where we had taken our first break on the way in.  I made a small sacrifice to the chipmunk gods (in my exhaustion I failed to open my bag of trail mix correctly and ended up spilling nuts all over the place).

At 1:00 we rolled in to the Upper Works parking lot, noticed the increased number of cars in the lot, and headed out.  We stopped at the Dunkin Donuts in Warrensburg (gas station) and also the Stewart’s, and then Ken dropped me off at my house.

All in all, it was an excellent hike.  Oh, and since I mentioned this hike on the Giant Mt report, here are the ascent details for comparison, taken straight out of Garmin Connect:

Giant Mountain via the Roaring Brook Trail: 3357’ climbed over 3.67 miles in 3:16 hours
Mount Marcy from Lake Colden: 2690’ climbed over 4.70 miles in 4:05 hours

Granted, we spent 15 or so minutes wandering around the Opalescent and talking to the Artist.  I’m still of the mind that we did better on Giant, however.

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