A Picture-Perfect Day in the High Peaks

A Picture-Perfect Day in the High Peaks- Stephan Washburn

I’ve had a few picture-perfect days in the Adirondack High Peaks. Many of them have been on solo hikes, which allow me to totally disconnect from the busy world and completely immerse myself in the mountains, my happy place of isolation and solitude. One of these picture-perfect days happened recently, on July 3rd, 2022. I knew I had a solo hiking trip planned that day to help complete my goal of becoming a 46er by the end of the 2022 summer. The two hikes in question were either Marcy, Skylight, and Gray, or Redfield and Cliff. I had just done Street and Nye two days before, and so I couldn’t decide which to do because they’re both relatively long, and would get me to 33 high peaks.

Just a few minutes before I went to bed on July 2nd, I decided to go for Marcy, Skylight, and Gray. The weather looked promising and I was getting excited, which is always crucial when planning to hike some high peaks. I woke up bright and early at 2:30am, drove to the ADK Loj, arrived by 4:30am, and started hiking at 4:45am. One of the first high peaks I ever climbed was Mount Marcy in 2010. I was only 12 years old. So, it had been a long time since I had been on the Van Hoevenberg trail up to Marcy, past the turnoff to Tabletop mountain. Since I started so early, I only passed a few hikers along the way. I was on a mission to get these mountains done, and was eager to get to tree line. I passed two hikers coming down from Marcy about five miles in, who had watched the sunrise from the summit, and one trail runner who came barreling down the mountain at full speed, which I found very inspiring. From there, until I reached the summit, I was completely alone. Just how I like it.

I reached the summit of Mount Marcy at approximately 8am. I had the summit to myself for a good 20 minutes or so, until the summit steward arrived. It was pretty surreal being back on the summit of the tallest mountain in New York state after not having been there for over 10 years. The early morning sun cast some pretty unique shadows across the other high peaks. I sat and ate an apple and a sandwich while talking to the summit steward. It was such a beautiful morning, with a little bit of wind to remind you of where you are. Mount Marcy is one of those summits that I just didn’t want to leave, even if I had two summits to go after this one. I had to remind myself that once I left the summit, I wouldn’t be coming back up until I decided to do this hike again one day. I took a deep breath, took in the beautiful views one more time, and started the descent down the Schofield Cobbles to Four Corners. 

The descent down the backside of Marcy was a lot steeper than I anticipated. As I was descending, I kept looking straight, towards Mount Skylight, and it never once looked like I was getting closer, which was intimidating to say the least. Sure enough though, I sang a bit to myself once I made it to tree line, and the next thing I knew, I was at the absolutely gorgeous Four Corners intersection. The little stream along the basin of the intersection was so unique, and quite cute. I took a sip of water, and began the half mile ascent up Skylight.

Mount Skylight had been one of my most anticipated high peaks. I had seen so many pictures and videos of its summit, giving me an idea of what I was in for, and the summit steward also told me how the alpine vegetation up at the summit was some of the most impressive of all the 46 High Peaks. Reaching the summit was like something out of a dream, after hearing and seeing all these things about the mountain. I felt like I was in The Shire, from Lord of the Rings, or a Hayao Miyazaki film. It’s quite impossible to put into words what that summit is like, until you’re there. Looking back at Marcy, where I had just come from, was quite impressive. It always baffles me how far your body can walk, let alone hike. I didn’t want to leave Mount Skylight either… it was just such a remarkable peak, I didn’t want my time up on the summit to be over. I knew I would one day come back up, so I took it all in one more time, and began the descent back down to Four Corners.

Once I made it back to the Four Corners intersection, I took a left and began the 0.3 mile walk to Lake Tear of the Clouds, the start of the Hudson River. Another memorable moment was looking up at Marcy, overlooking Lake Tear of the Clouds. Seeing the tallest mountain of New York state tower over the start of the Hudson River, the very river that I live next to down in New York City, was quite surreal.

It was time to begin the ascent up to the final peak of my day, Gray Peak. From the lake, it’s about a 0.3 mile of steep climbing up to the somewhat wooded summit. I knew that Gray wasn’t going to be as remarkable as Marcy or Skylight, but I was still excited nonetheless. Tackling three peaks in one day is a serious accomplishment, and approaching the summit of the last one for the day was exhilarating. Once I reached the summit after some serious rock scrambles, I spent the most amount of time on a summit for the day. I really just didn’t want to leave yet. It was one of the most beautiful days of the summer so far, and the views of Marcy and Skylight were spectacular.

I took it in one last time, and began my descent down Gray. Once I reached the lake, I knew I was going to be, what I like to say, heads-down descending for a while, until I would reach the dreaded floating logs…

After about a good 30 minutes of descending, I took the right to head towards Lake Arnold and the floating logs. It was here that I stumbled across two other hikers, Sarah and Nicole, who had just completed Redfield and Cliff for their day. Sarah was a seasoned 46er, and Nicole was well on her way to finishing her 46. I stuck with them because Sarah said she had been in the floating logs area enough times to know which way to go. Once we reached the dreaded area, Nicole took a funny photo of me about to put my foot in the shin-deep water. We began our trek across, and Nicole and I followed Sarah through the worst parts. A hop onto a log, into some mud, accidentally stepping onto an unstable log getting my foot wet, and a few leaps later, we had made it across. My feet were a little wet, but I wasn’t worried after doing Allen the weekend before, and completely soaking my feet during that hike. I had just purchased some trail running shoes and new Darn Tough wool socks, that would both dry quickly.

I stuck with Sarah and Nicole once we passed the floating logs, all the way up, and past Lake Arnold, Marcy Dam, and to the parking lot. Their pace was identical to mine, and we were having lovely conversations. It’s always refreshing to have some people to talk to after a long day on the trail.

What describes a picture-perfect day? To me, it’s the views from these beautiful peaks, meeting great people, and learning about yourself and your capabilities during some solitude. I’ve had a few of these before, and I know I’ll have a few more in my future, but really, nothing beats any day in the Adirondack High Peaks.

– Submitted by Stephan Washburn (New York, NY)

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