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In Skylight

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  • In Skylight

    I had paused in order to bend over double and with heart pounding and chest heaving sucked air like a drowning man until my poor abused body returned to homeostasis. I looked over at Mudrat and found myself staring blankly into the lens of his Nikon as he digitally captured my pain. That'll look good I thought and slowly pushed onwards and upwards.

    Skylight at 4926 was not an easy walk in the park. We had been at it since 5:30 and slowly but surely our supplies were running down. Dry clothing and muscle sugar were the main items that we could feel dwindling, but the tank of mental will to keep moving, the drive to "make it" was 100% full. This was turning out to be one of the more interesting high peak bushwhacks and I was glad not to be all alone in such desolate isolation, beautiful as it was.

    It's always interesting how perception is everything. In our heads we weren't a mile or so from 4 Corners, we were 9 hours out from the Allen Trailhead. There wasn't a view of anything anywhere in any direction. Just more steepness and cripplebush above us, below us the ice-caked and tortured balsams disappeared into into a bottomless gloom as the slope fell sharply away. We wondered if we were not actually climbing Skylight's spire rather than its summit but gradually dismissed that possibility as bits of data presented themselves to us.

    "It's good",then 30 seconds later "Arghh". It was 5:30 am and I watched Mudrat's headlamp glow as he waddled across the Hudson. Garbage bags on each leg I too stepped into the river and immediately felt a strong and insistent pull downstream. I would liked to have stepped smartly but each step required focused effort. Right at the same spot where I heard Kevin's cry of dismay I felt cold water inside my boots and picked up the pace. On the far bank Kevin already had one boot off and I sat down and wrung out my socks. Rather than swap into dry socks and vapor barriers I decided I was good and should wait until after the Opalescent before "wasting" a pair of dry socks, footbeds and VBL's. We put spikes on and tramped along a supportive and barely discernable monorail. We detoured lake Jimmy,which was a royal PITA but getting to the intact walk-way would have involved a deep wade. After Jimmy we felt we were fully underway (finally) and we tramped and tramped along the approach to Allen Mountain. We eschewed the "normal" permanent temporary crossing of the Opal in favor of a quick and dry rock-hop 100 feet upstream. Got that? Quick and dry rock-hop 100 feet upstream of the "temporary" crossing. On the other side I sat down and wrung out my socks, put them away and slipped into something a whole lot more comfortable.

    On and on we tramped until Kevin said, I think we're on Allen Brook. And sure enough Skylight Brook was now almost 100 feet below us. Time to begin the whack. On came the snowshoes and much to our delight the crust was bullet proof. Too solid actually, with a few inches of slippery snow a-top it, which made side-hilling the steep banks of Skylight Brook an nearly impossible task except for the trees.

    At 10:45 we were on the North bank of Skylight Brook. It was chilly and damp, I was soaked to the skin and short stops had me shivering. We had no views. Things were looking up. The whacking, along a 60 degree magnetic compass bearing, with the brook for a handrail was pretty easy. The woods were mostly open and the snow crusty. Thickets and blowdown were plentiful but easily detoured. We were following a beautifully etched set of Pine Marten tracks, which was our main source of entertainment.

    We arrived at the creek from the Redfield Slide and paused to take on water. I carried a single nalgene that started out empty and this was my second fill-up. (Lower twin Brook was the first). Kevin filled a nalgene, zapped the micro-organisms with his steri-pen then proceed to empty a full package of Mountain House into it. The brown and viscous sludge that would ensue from this procedure would be his lunch later on. Myself, I poisoned the microbial life with little white pills. One pill makes you stronger but this pill makes you dead thought I.

    We knew we were near the vly that lies midway between Redfield and McDonnel when the terrain began to flatten out. We stepped onto Skylight Brook and it was a white ribbon of highway. We ecstatically doubled our speed while halving our energy consumption for about 300 yards until I broke through the ice and found myself standing knee deep in muddy water. That broke the spell but I got out so fast that my feet felt fairly dry. I lay on the ice trying to keep the water pooled under my calves and cracked open my gaiters to let it drain away harmlessly and we opted to leave the brook. Gradually I became aware of wet feet but we kept moving. then at the vly, we thought we were on solid ground until I broke through a second time. There was no longer a chance of any illusion of dry feet. Kevin referred to me thereafter as his poison tester.

    After the vly we knew we would climb again and I decided to warm my core and then stop to wring out my socks. This was a good move. I kept the vapor barriers in and felt a lot better but gradually more water moved down into my boots and I lost feeling in my feet. Now I was worried about trench foot but only mildly considering the the time interval would be pretty short. (The plan was to take care of business down there in the foot region at 4 Corners).

    We were now well away from the brook and we began to feel it swing northwards up the face of Skylight. We swung with it gradually decreasing the bearing. The traction wasn't great. Our calves and other ankle muscles were working very hard in order to assure "stickage". So were our cardiovascular and respiratory systems as was indicated by huffing and puffing. The woods were pretty good though. The view upwards was obscured by trees but there was nearly always a channel if one didn't mind a lot of twisting and turning. We didn't but nevertheless, it was a tough workout. The summit dome was probably be due north of us but at one point we realized that up (and the best open channels) was 15-20 degrees west of north. The map suggested that if we continued on this line we would climb the Spire of Skylight. We opted against the Spire but considered cresting the Spire-Sky col and then hanging a right for an easy shot at the summit. We moved right for a while (side-slipping and tree groping as we went) and then came up under a set of ominous and forbidding cliffs. Were we just below the spire? Had we drifted that far off course? There was no way of knowing and we ascended to the left of the cliffs through and over ice-caked, scrubby growth. Kevin went up a very steep but clean section and I reluctantly followed thinking perhaps I should skirt left and fight my up through a thicker but less steep pitch. After a 20 feet of grunting and panting I lost traction and slid back down. The gentler pitch had my name on it.

    Now we were clear of the forested slopes and on the steepest section of all and it was a lawn of stunted balsams, that stuck up 3 feet above the snow. The trees were broomsticked and flagged and covered in an inch of ice. Fog was blowing through and our visibility was maybe 50-100 feet. It was like nothing I have ever experienced and as the slope relented, the channels opened up and we were able to attune ourselves fully to the wonderment and rugged beauty of our surroundings. Below us the slope fell away into nothingness, above us we had a vague perception of an inverted bowl whose crown was to our right. We were most likely somewhere east of the Spire-Skylight col. We walked on, up and down over a series of rolling ridges but always upwards until we saw a line of rocks and spied a familiar looking area. The summit! We barely broke stride, just paused for a handshake. In pursuit of the destination we had been students of the journey.

    In the fleeting instant that we crossed the summit and stepped onto the trail the aspect of the hike changed 180 degrees. It was 3 pm and we had a 5 hour stroll ahead of us out to Kevin's car, which we had parked at Upper Works eons ago. I finally took care of my feet, and we rested, fueled and changed clothing at Uphill Brook Lean-to. The trip out was broken up into manageable segments, although the final couple of miles did take on a bit of a death-march feel. Especially as we finished in near-total darkness without headlamps. it was 8:30 when we made it to Upper Works and Kevin asked me if we had ever done a "normal" hike together.

    Photography by Mudrat to follow.
    Project-100: 100 peaks, one winter.

  • #2
    The Real Deal

    Welcome back to the Adirondacks...and here I thought you'd given up on hiking


    • #3
      Great to hear that the weather and conditions didn't derail your adventure! Thumbs up to all those spare socks you had!!
      inclined to climb...


      • #4
        Nice effort! Do you have a track log? I remember crossing a very steep, seemingly vertical chute dropping directly south from the rocky cap on Sky going toward McDonnell, and thinking I'd like to climb up that from Skylight Brook some day. Sounds like it was as good as I'd imagined.


        • #5
          But did you go deep?
          Ready to join AlpineLamb's flock...

          46W +1W
          AlpineAce: 46/46
          AlpineNinja: 46/46


          • #6
            Digitally captured pain.
            Attached Files
            Project-100: 100 peaks, one winter.


            • #7
              That was a great read Neil! Vivid, exciting. Now its off to the map!


              • #8
                15 Hours With My Favourite 'Poison Tester'


                I sat in my office on Friday the 14th glumly contemplating the next day's hike…something of Neil’s creation this time. Freezing rain encased the trees in a clear glaze. The precipitation turned into rain by late morning; the day felt heavy. Later, while sleeping in my car in preparation for an early start, I listened to it beat a lament on my windshield. I had no desire to hike in the rain in combination with winter conditions; both sets of gear was packed none-the-less.

                Awakening at 4:30 a.m., Neil and I readied ourselves. The rain had tapered to an intermittent mist/sleet and the temperature was a balmy 33F. I was content with the change. It took us a bit to get moving toward our first challenge--fording the Hudson River. It was about 12-18" deep where we crossed and the current was strong (or I was weak). I felt the cold rush of water on both feet as my garbage bag armour was pierced from below. Thus began the adventure. We wrung our socks out on the other side of the river as I grumbled...not a good start. The temps wouldn't drop below the 20's at elevation, so we continued.

                Lake Jimmy's plank walkway is defunct and a herd-path now follows the shoreline. The unsupportive snow made it arduous and another crossing of its outlet was done on a balance beam of fallen cedars. After this 20-minute detour we were finally on our way and once again owned warm feet. Crossing the Opalescent a couple miles later was a blessedly dry rock hop/jump.

                10:30 a.m. found us at Allen Brook where the real work began. The brook was thickly encrusted with ice and offered a great alternative to walking up along the woods and navigating tangles of trees, deadfall and the ups/downs of the forest floor. Soon enough, we were forced back into the woods, alternating sides occasionally. Martin tracks led the way for a surprisingly long stretch before veering off our course along the brook (60 degrees magnetic).

                In what seemed like a short period of time (compared with my last trek up Skylight Brook in 2009), we reached the deeply recessed brook draining Redfield Slide (about 3 hours' bushwhack) to the north of our position. This would be our longest break of the day, about 10 minutes, as I readied my water for rest of the trek. In hindsight, I should have waited until after the swamp, but better safe than sorry. Our next target was the swamp about 1.2 miles from Allen Brook. The land flattened as we approached. It was an eerie scene since the cloud ceiling and intermittent precipitation shut down the views beyond a couple hundred feet.

                Neil walked ahead as I photographed the area. The inflection suddenly changed in his voice as he yelled; he was excited about something. As I broke through the trees, I saw what looked like a white highway; Skylight Brook was frozen over. Its gently rolling surface was like a paved road that disappeared in the trees beyond. Neil said, "This is almost like cheating!" Too bad we couldn't cheat the rest of the way, I thought.

                This is almost like cheating!"

                A hundred yards farther, we found a few open places where the clear water rushed within view and skirted on the side. That's when the day got 'interesting'.

                Neil was leading and I heard a crack as his foot broke through. Time slowed…he pitched forward with the other foot to catch his balance and a 3 foot hole suddenly caved in. Neil was suddenly standing on the bottom of the brook in about 3 feet of water…mid thigh. I rushed over, but he'd extracted himself. Lifting his feet high, he drained his gaiters and assessed. The humor came back into his eyes when he realized he wasn’t completely soaked. That's when I repeated his phrase, "This is almost like cheating?" I’ve never seen him look at me as he did! Fortunately, he was far too far away to slug me...

                Swimming in Skylight Brook.

                We were well over 7 miles from the trailhead. It would only get colder and windier. Movement was the best way to keep warm, either by heading back or continuing. I questioned him and he chose to was becoming a true Adirondack adventure and we had extra dry gear if needed. On hundred feet beyond we reached the swamp. It was obviously a wide open area, but we couldn't see across. On a clear day; Skylight, McDonnel, Redfield and Allen would be quite a sight.

                We stepped away from the edge on a heading of 60 degrees. There was no warning. “Splash” Luckhurst broke through the ice a second time and extricated himself even more quickly. I decided to quash any one-liners, but was too concerned to materialize a good one anyway.

                Ethereal Swamp...send donation to ADKHP Foundation and the spectacular surrounding HP views will magically appear.

                We decided to trace the outside edge of the swamp around the left-hand side. He'd done his time as 'poison tester' and I tentatively led the way looking for trees or shrubs poking through and avoiding any smooth tracks that might indicate water. A few minutes later we found a feeder stream and followed it. This was actually the 6 foot wide drainage that led to the col left of the Spire, Skylight's southwest shoulder. Eventually, we crossed as it tracked in the wrong direction. We were now off our trajectory along Skylight Brook, but had fun following the ‘rule of up’. It all led to the summit…eventually.

                Soon after the drainage, the slope of Skylight got steeper, the climbing more challenging. The support of the snowpack was never an issue. The inch or so of new snow/sleet, however, was annoying unless we climbed directly upward. Unfortunately, we needed to side-slope for quite some time. The snowshoes had a tendency to slide without the crampon portion biting fully. Intermittent sections of tightly knit forest slowed occasionally, but we usually found acceptable corridors through which to progress. Throughout, I played the game of managing my sugar intake and struggled to maintain a proper balance of blood sugar.

                Primary navigation never changed; we checked the compass and topo map at regular intervals in the thick mist. We guessed at our general location on the flank of the broad mountain and believed we were slightly east of the spire as the time neared 3:00 p.m. (In hindsight, we were correct). Slight nuances and depressions in the landscape gave the impression of being near a drainage at around 4,000 feet in elevation (perhaps a little higher), but there was none upon exploration. We were about 1/10 of a mile west from the upper portions of Skylight Brook.

                At around 4,500 feet in elevation, an opening in the distance heralded a change in topography. A small snowfield followed by a 60 degree face of rock and scrub led to the cripplebrush above: the ridge! I chose the shortest path using my ski pole as a make-shift ice ax and kicking the snowshoe crampons into the surface as deeply as possible. It was about a 20 foot climb to a safe perch from which to wait for Neil. He chose a path slightly to the west. A few more minutes of climbing on 45 degree crust and spruce led to a slight leveling of the terrain. Our heading on the ridge was north-northeast up small successive bumps in the terrain. We briefly thought we were on the spire, but ruled it out as we continued to climb.

                60 degree slope up the side of the ridge.

                Digitally captured pain.

                The whole endeavor now had an other-worldly feel, each ghostly knob guiding the way to the next. It suddenly became very flat with wide open snowfields between the taller spruce trees. Open rock suddenly appeared followed by the summit cairn. The time stood at 3:40 p.m. as we walked by the cairn with hardly a glance. It had been a long day, some 10 hours and 9+ miles of near constant motion to attain the summit. Our original thought of trekking over to Allen was a distant memory. We opted for the easy bailout route we’d pre-planned…a 10 mile walk via trail to Upper Works via Flowed Lands.

                The journey out is of little significance other than to say we had some awesome conversations, rested at Uphill Lean-to, ate a late lunch and changed into dry layers. Flowed Lands was unsafe to cross (and Neil was sick of playing ‘poison tester’). We arrived back at the car at 8:30 p.m. after another fantastic and challenging Adirondack adventure. Congrats, Neil on your 44th High Peak bushwhack!

                Most of our route (it's missing the first and last 30 minutes of route line).
                May your ambition for the goal allow you to be a student of the journey.



                • #9
                  Interesting to see the trip through another pen. Great pictures of the flowing water in the creek under me!
                  Project-100: 100 peaks, one winter.


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Neil View Post
                    Digitally captured pain.
                    Where else would you rather be?

                    Thanks for the great reports guys!
                    Going where the wind don't blow so strange
                    Maybe off on some high cold mountain range.
                    Robert Hunter



                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Neil View Post
                      Interesting to see the trip through another pen. Great pictures of the flowing water in the creek under me!
                      I enjoyed yours also! I guess I could have gotten water in the hole you made if I'd been running low
                      That was a well-earned peak!
                      May your ambition for the goal allow you to be a student of the journey.



                      • #12
                        HUGE adventure, whats left for your 46 BW Neil? Hopefully you wont have to test another brook ice shield.

                        Kudos to both of you.
                        8000m 0/14


                        • #13
                          Neil, during the trip to McKenzie we crossed a partially thawed brook. You looked down its length and, being the glass half-full guy, saw the frozen parts and remarked it looked like a feasible route to follow. I, being the glass half-empty guy, saw the yawning watery holes in the brook, thought you were either kidding or worse. I don't know if you recall my facial expression (probably similar to biting into something very sour) but I had the same one while reading about/looking at photos of you falling into the brook! Then I thought of your TR (and video) where you broke through the ice on Lake Jimmy. Come to think of it, you also stepped into a soft spot in the ice cover on Moose Pond! Is there a pattern here?!?

                          Great adventure, reports, and pics, gentleman! Thanks!

                          I'm game to join you for peaks 45 and 46 if the bushwhack difficulty is somewhere between the trip to McKenzie and this one!
                          Looking for Views!


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Trail Boss View Post
                            Is there a pattern here?!?

                            Great adventure, reports, and pics, gentleman! Thanks!
                            Thanks TB!

                            Anyone familiar with the "Chuck Norris Was Here" jokes (usually where there's some sort of destruction)? Every time we see a hole in the ice we can say, "Neil was here!"
                            May your ambition for the goal allow you to be a student of the journey.



                            • #15
                              It sounds like fun.