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Laborious Day Weekend ( Gray / Skylight / Redfield / Cliff )

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  • Laborious Day Weekend ( Gray / Skylight / Redfield / Cliff )

    Hooo boy... that was quite the weekend. The original plan was to backpack in on Friday night, make base camp in a central area, day hike all the peaks, and backpack out on Monday. There were lots of decision points along the way, not the least of which was heading into a crowded area on a long weekend (something I normally avoid) with a known "nuisance bear" wandering around, but I made that call early on. So off I went...


    Friday - Upper Works to Lake Colden

    I bailed out of work early, having packed everything the night before. The last forecast I saw was calling for temperatures in the high 70's and a slight chance of rain. I knew it was going to be a busy weekend in the high peaks, but with my September schedule being what it is, and the summer daylight waning, this was my last chance for an extensive trip this season. I knew I'd be getting in late, so I made sure to grab something to eat on the way up instead of cooking after dusk when the critters are most active.

    I managed to grab the last available parking spot at Upper Works at 3pm and was on the trail by 3:15pm. I wasn't sure exactly where I'd end up, but I wanted to ensure I made it to the Colden Dam at least, if not further. I was fully expecting the area to be full already. The Calamity Brook Trail never seems to get any shorter, no matter how many times I hike it, especially with a full pack. I did remark to myself on the way in that, "this is the driest I've ever seen this trail". It was short-lived.

    With my back just over 1 year since surgery, and my leg muscles not quite back to where they were yet, it took me nearly 3 hours to reach the Colden Dam. At 6:15pm I faced my first decision point of the weekend:

    a.) Stay here, endure the crowds, potential encounters with the "nuisance bear", longer day hikes, but make camp before dark with a shorter hike out.

    b.) Continue on to Uphill or Feldspar, putting more strain on myself, but getting away from the heart of the madness.

    Being as though pushing myself too much has been the one thing to get me into trouble in the past, older and wiser me opted for choice "a". The more "conservative" option. I wouldn't be in the camp much anyway and keep everything meticulously clean anyway. I believe it was the right call.

    After a brief conversation with a ranger who was friendly, yet seemed already resigned to dealing with the influx of campers, I wandered around until I found the last designated site available. Small and hidden behind another bigger, better site, and near the outhouse, this was a crappy (no pun intended) choice, but it would have to do. I was in my sleeping bag by 8pm.


    Saturday - Gray & "Maybe" Skylight

    I didn't sleep well Friday night, between hearing noises in the woods around me, and *dreaming* that I was hearing noises in the woods around me, I wasn't sure what was real and what I had imagined. Then, in the early hours of the morning, the rain started. I was not expecting such steady rain so early, and it dragged on for hours. I had intended to be up at first light, but resigned myself to try and wait this out. 5am became 6am, became 7am, became 8am, before I had enough waiting around and forced myself to get up. "Maybe I'll just do Gray today and come back for Skylight. Everything is gray and foggy anyway, and I've lost several hours." I cooked up my dehydrated breakfast, cleaned up, prepped my Camelbak, and set out on the trail towards Uphill. Leaving camp at the late, late time of 9:30am.

    About 30 minutes into this journey, I was sure I had made the right decision the night before. The trail only got rougher past the dam, and my body was probably not ready to carry a full pack over it. It would have definitely been dark by the time I made it to a more secluded campsite. I passed the cairn marking the junction to Cliff & Redfield after 1 hour. I wandered through the fog before arriving at Lake Tear Of The Clouds at 11:45am. Encountering a woman, her young son, and their dog along the way. They were also headed up Gray, whose herd path started much closer to the Lake than I had anticipated. There were a few tricky sections here, but nothing too terrible. All of us arrived at the summit just 30 minutes after hopping over the "Hudson" at 12:15pm. With nothing to see, they all stopped for a rest as I turned around and headed back down to the junction. At 12:45pm I had another decision to make:

    a.) Head back now and get back to camp super early, putting off Skylight for another day, since everything was socked in anyway.

    b.) Make the push for Skylight anyway, since I'm already here and the map made it look *so close*.

    I went with option "b" this time, so onward I pressed, passing Lake Tear Of The Clouds and coming to the "Four Corners" junction 15 minutes later at 1pm. Verifying the trail with the red markers, I zoomed up to the cloudy summit in just under 30 minutes. This may have been the easiest incline of the entire weekend. I grabbed a couple photos of the silent hill. A nearby party popped champagne to celebrate someone's 46'er finish. I was still feeling pretty good, but made the call to be done for the day now. I really wanted to get back to camp and eat dinner long before dusk. On my way down I passed an inordinate amount of people just starting out for the day, with some rather lofty and ambitious goals, but to each their own, right? I made my decision.

    Heading downhill, the Feldspar and Uphill areas had morphed into tent cities. I expected Lake Colden to be several times worse, and I was not proven wrong. 3 hours later, at 4:30pm, I arrived to an oversaturated Lake Colden "Campground" and one very frustrated ranger who already seemed to be at her wit's end, and I couldn't blame her. That said, I was impressed by how well she handled the situation, relocating several groups for illegal sites and dealing with numerous parties who had no bear canister. I ended up sharing my small site with 2 other groups, which I had been informed may happen. A group of 3 guys set up their tent and disappeared. Then a young Canadian girl wandered into my site, having just accidentally solo-hiked Colden instead of the MacIntyres. She was intelligent and had all the right gear, but just wasn't very well-versed in navigation. She seemed to know her limits (ie. "no unmarked trails"), and I helped her formulate a plan for the next day. We made pleasant conversation as the sun made an early exit behind the clouds and western peaks. The ranger continued to relocate and reprimand other campers. Our site retired early, as others just began cooking dinner around us. The night was remarkably silent given the population boom and I slept fairly well.


    Sunday - Cliff & Redfield (+ an Early Exit)

    Sunday morning, I seemed to be the first one up at Lake Colden. I walked out to the dam to collect water and make breakfast. There was literally no place else to go that *wasn't* in the middle of somebody else's site (more thoughts on this later, in another thread). Sunlight radiated an orange glow underneath the misty gray clouds hovering in the pass between Colden and the Macs. It was a beautiful, still, and quiet. I decided I'd make a run at both Cliff and Redfield today. It was early enough and these mountains were both shorter and closer than the previous days ventures. So it should be easier, right? With the "campground" coming to life at about 7:30am I set out across the Opalescent, breaking through spider web after spider web uphill towards Uphill.

    I was obviously the first person on the trail this morning, and what I found was a mess. The trail along the gorge had widened considerably over the past 12 hours. The mud deepen several inches. A few rungs of the ladders had been broken. The wear and tear of the late night crew was painfully obvious. From the ground to air, nothing was dry this morning. I got to the cairn near Uphill after an hour, just like the day before, arriving at the second cairn for Cliff 15 minutes later. The shovelhead seemed to have gone missing, but this was undoubtedly it.

    If ever there was a case for marking and maintaining trails on ALL the peaks, the base of Cliff this morning was it. Just a giant mud puddle, at least 30-40 feet wide in some places, made by hundreds of hikers avoiding whatever part was muddiest on their way through. I honestly wasn't even sure where the original "trail" was supposed to be, and that's part of the problem when there is no "officially designated" path. One person's herd path is just as valid as another's until everything is eroded. I know some people want to cling to the past, when you had to find these trails on your own, but times have irreversibly changed, and we have to change with them to at least minimize the damage. Yeah, some markers, planks, and corduroy may not keep 100% of hikers on the same path, but even 75% is better than what I saw up there this weekend.

    /digression

    So, I did my best to hop through the mud. Most of it honestly was just an inch or two deep anyway, and these boots aren't made for job interviews. So through it I went. Though messy, this section is relatively short. The mud gives way to a deeply rutted trail towards yet another cairn, at which you make a sharp right, up a small embankment and towards the first set of "cliffs". Which were nothing to write home about. "Is that it?" I asked myself. Oh, how foolish...

    The second set of slabs proved a bit more difficult, but manageable. I was starting to worry there would be more though, and I was justified in that concern, for approaching the final wall of Cliff's cliffs, I found myself bewildered. There didn't seem to be any good footholds, handholds, or any holds at the bottom in which my "average height" reach could work with. The mist was making everything more slippery. I sized up my options and made a go up the left side. No dice. There was nothing I could safely and easily grasp to pull myself up. I glanced back over to the right and thought I saw something I could work with. I eased myself back down and proceeded to attemp the right flank, planting my foot in a small, soaked crevice, I reached and then... *slipped* gracefully landing back at the base.

    At this point, my mind was racing and filled with doubts. Should I give up? Should I go back to camp and get my clothesline? Is it too wet today? Am I just not in shape for this yet? My fear of heights stopped by to say "hello". I was shaking.

    "Alright Stop!"

    I put myself in timeout for a few minutes to breathe and reason with myself. I had never bailed on a peak before. Never needed rope or any sort of assistance, and dozens of people both 30 years older and younger than me had done this peak, this tiny-### little peak, just the day before. Surely, I was just being stupid and stuck in my own head. I re-evaluated the situation, and made a run for the left side again. Giving it everything I had, in a fit of blind ambition, I willed myself up the entire slab in what seemed like a matter of seconds. Standing at the top and looking back down it hit me....

    "I have to come back DOWN this?!"

    But that was future me's problem.

    I turned and walked the muddy trail to the false summit, and kept walking. Cliff Mountain, though short and view-less, may be one the most interesting peak I've visted at ground level. The trees were shrouded in fog. Spiderwebs glistened in the mist. Bright green moss blanketed everything, with mushrooms of every color imaginable popped out from the forest floor. Maybe if I ate some of them I could fly back off this mountain? (Warning: Never take my ideas seriously) There was something powerful, even mystical, about this scrappy little hill.

    Suddenly the trail dipped down. And down. And down some more. Now I knew there was a false summit and a col, but this seemed like too much. Was there another herd path up the backside? Was I on it? I had just started to unbuckle my pack to take a look at one of my maps, when I saw the trail curve right and back uphill. Nevermind. Within minutes I was at the summit. It was everything I expected it to be. I took a photo and headed back.

    I passed one group of 3 female hikers on the way back to the "cliffs". Their leader/guide(?) had been here before. I dreaded what lied ahead, yet I resolved to a much different approach this time. Just. Do. It. And so I did. No time to stop and think and worry or get stuck in my own head. I just bit the bullet and flew down on instinct alone. Safely making it to the bottom in no time. Magical or not, I never needed to see this mountain again. I navigated my way down the other slabs, back through the mud, to the cairn.

    Cliff had taken way longer than I expected. 2.5 hours from cairn to cairn. It took a lot out of me. Physically yes, but moreso mentally. Should I push on to Redfield? How hard can it be?

    And just as I had resolved to make a go of it, a pair of husky, bearded male hikers arrived, headed in the same direction. We got to know each other quickly and loosely agreed to band together for the duration of this one. It was clear these guys were experienced and knew what they were doing, one was a little faster than me, the other a little slower. So it worked well. We followed the steady climb up, alongside, in and out, of Uphill Brook. Again, with the unmarked trails, there was no one clear "route", and I counted at least half a dozen cairns alongside the stream. NONE of which, and I stress, mean "cross here". They all simply seem to mean "the trail enters or exits the brook here". In some places you could chose either or. The water level, despite the low-hanging clouds and intermittent rain, was low enough. This "trail" was just a haul. No ups and downs. Nothing remarkable. Just climbing, endlessly, rock over rock, into the clouds, until the stream disappeared and a blatantly obvious path carries you the rest of the way to the summit. I arrived at 12:45pm. Just in time for "lunch" (ie. eating everything left in my bag).

    Up there we met up with the group who had camped at the site NEXT to me the night before, with their guide. A few minutes later, the women who had passed me on my way down Cliff also joined us. Another group showed up. Things were getting crowded. With nothing to see except clouds, and the looming option of hiking out early, I decided to head down quickly. Quickly being a relative term here, as it took me 3 hours to descened from Redfield back to Lake Colden. Carefully treading over each slippery rock along the brooks as not to break myself on something as silly as a descent back to camp. It's easy to let your guard down when you're not doing something as blatantly dangerous as climbing up a wet slab of rock.

    I arrived back at camp at 4pm. My sitemates had long since disappeared, and the ranger was in the process of relocating a pair of men from the Ukraine(?) to my site, and confiscating their food, as they had no canister. With my clothesline full of soaked clothing and my mission essentially "complete" I had one last call to make:

    a.) Leave now, even though my body was aching badly, and I might not get out before dark.

    b.) Call it a night, and try to rest up and leave with plenty of daylight, despite the fact that I'm nearly out of dry clothing.

    I went with option "a" here and made the push. According to the ranger, there had been no reports of bear activity over the past 2 nights, but she was still concerns about the number of people without canisters, and others cooking well after dark. Both rangers I had encountered reported that the bear was stealing packs regardless of scent or actually containing food. It just knew that "packs = food" now, and I wasn't up for another night of "cat & mouse". Not that it's the bear's fault, but at this point, the damage is done, and well, it's a brand new pack! So out I went. Within 30 minutes I was on my way over the dam for the last time. My energy sapped, and my knees screaming, but my hunger for a cheeseburger keeping me focused, I walked the longest 3 hours of the weekend back to Upper Works, with a headlamp strapped to my hat "just in case". Signing out at 7:30pm, I never needed it.

    Despite the steady rain, socked-in summits, muddy trails, and overcrowded campsites, I came away from this weekend feeling pretty great about it. Tired, sore, muddy, and smelling like Manhattan in mid-summer, I feel somehow re-energized. I know I'm still moving more slowly, but I'm making better decisions, and still accomplishing what I set out to accomplish. And at this point in my life, I am more than ok with that.

  • #2
    Nice work! Glad you're getting back into strong enough form to take on challenges like this one.

    Lots to take in there, but overall what you described is why I head away from the ADK on holiday weekends; stay home or go fishing.

    Did the young Canadian woman happen to have a map with her? It sounds like she had her limits set a little too high since the trails being pretty clearly marked didn't help her at all.
    My mind was wandering like the wild geese in the west.

    Comment


    • Trail Boss
      Trail Boss commented
      Editing a comment
      RE: Hiker with map shocked by the ability to tell west from east.

      If you brought a map but can't orient yourself while standing on a dam at the southern end of a narrow lake … you brought it for what exactly?

    • gebby
      gebby commented
      Editing a comment
      Yikes! She was going for the Macs and hiked Colden? That's a big navigational error!

    • ndru
      ndru commented
      Editing a comment
      Yeah, it was a little concerning, but I detailed the way back out pretty thoroughly. Didn't see any SARS about her, so hoping it went ok.

  • #3
    Nice Job.
    The trail to Cliff has for a long time gone straight though the big wide and long mud wallow just after the Cliff-Redfield jct. Sounds like you hit it dead center.
    Don

    Comment


    • #4
      Originally posted by Hear the Footsteps View Post
      Nice Job.
      The trail to Cliff has for a long time gone straight though the big wide and long mud wallow just after the Cliff-Redfield jct. Sounds like you hit it dead center.
      Don
      I'm sorta curious as to why that trail even goes up the "cliffs" from that side in the first place. Granted, I couldn't see very far into the woods in any direction given the cloud cover, but the contours on any topo map seem more favorable for an approach directly up from the trail along the Opalescent.

      Anybody have any idea why there isn't a smoother approach to Cliff? Other than tradition, and possibly masochism?

      Comment


      • ndru
        ndru commented
        Editing a comment
        interesting bit of history and facts Hear the Footsteps , i never would have known. i assume this was all "pre-internet" information? i've never heard of those routes, even on older websites.

      • Trail Boss
        Trail Boss commented
        Editing a comment
        I hiked Cliff in 1981 and I too believe it started where Hear the Footsteps described. Just a bit west of where the combined trail to Redfield and Cliff starts now.

        The Twin Brooks Trail. It ran roughly north-south from the East Trail, between Cliff and Redfield, and connected to the Mount Marcy Trail. Pretty sure I saw it on the ADK map when I started hiking in the 70's (never hiked it).


        Ever notice the Mount Marcy Trail changes marker color at Uphill Lean-to? Why would a trail change color like that? That's because it was the intersection of two trails bearing different colors. It's red up to the lean-to and then changes to yellow. The Twin Brooks trail was marked yellow.

        I had to indicate that tidbit in the Mount Marcy Trail's *description* because there's no way to designate more than one color to a route in OpenStreetMap. Normally a route retains the same color from start to finish. https://hiking.waymarkedtrails.org/#route?id=6619237


        If I recall Tony Goodwin's description correctly, (a long time ago) the Tahawus Club owned the land where we now call the Upper Works trailhead. Members could set out from there along the Calamity Brook Trail and on to Marcy. Non-members would use the East Trail and Twin Brooks trail to get to Marcy.

      • ndru
        ndru commented
        Editing a comment
        I was a little perplexed about the trail marker color change at first. Thought I may have missed a junction or something, but the trail was pretty clearly still the right one there.

    • #5
      Originally posted by Hear the Footsteps View Post
      Nice Job.
      The trail to Cliff has for a long time gone straight though the big wide and long mud wallow just after the Cliff-Redfield jct. Sounds like you hit it dead center.
      Don
      Cliff, Seymour, Seward (north), and the Santanoni Express dearly need bog bridging. Simple, cheap, and effective; all four of those will recover in no time at all.
      ADK 46/46W + MacNaughton, Grid 262/552
      Photos & Stuff

      Comment


      • #6
        Originally posted by autochromatica View Post

        Cliff, Seymour, Seward (north), and the Santanoni Express dearly need bog bridging. Simple, cheap, and effective; all four of those will recover in no time at all.
        Thumbs up
        .
        If I had decision making authority I'd add the following: Caveat. There may be more if we'd put more time and effort into this.
        Donaldson ridge at least two places.
        Marshall two places above the beaver meadow
        And a Ladder on Seward N at the wall.
        Approach at Lake Arnold returning from Mt Colden

        After hiking Iroquois this August I was very happy to see swamp grasses returning to the first and worst (going south) of the mud wallows on this route.

        Don

        Comment


        • #7
          Originally posted by Hear the Footsteps View Post

          Thumbs up
          .
          If I had decision making authority I'd add the following: Caveat. There may be more if we'd put more time and effort into this.
          Donaldson ridge at least two places.
          Marshall two places above the beaver meadow
          And a Ladder on Seward N at the wall.
          Approach at Lake Arnold returning from Mt Colden

          After hiking Iroquois this August I was very happy to see swamp grasses returning to the first and worst (going south) of the mud wallows on this route.

          Don
          I'd add the top of Wolf Jaws Notch. A couple of stringers would help a lot and maybe eliminate the rabbit warren of other routes.

          Comment


          • #8
            Originally posted by ndru View Post
            A nearby party popped champagne to celebrate someone's 46'er finish.
            That was likely my family of 5, we were there at about that time with one tiny bottle of bubbly to mark our finish.

            Comment


            • ndru
              ndru commented
              Editing a comment
              Well congratulations then! I didn't really stick around long to talk to people up there, but it seemed like ya'll were having a good time!

          • #9
            Originally posted by ndru View Post
            If ever there was a case for marking and maintaining trails on ALL the peaks, the base of Cliff this morning was it. Just a giant mud puddle, at least 30-40 feet wide in some places, made by hundreds of hikers avoiding whatever part was muddiest on their way through. I honestly wasn't even sure where the original "trail" was supposed to be, and that's part of the problem when there is no "officially designated" path. One person's herd path is just as valid as another's until everything is eroded. I know some people want to cling to the past, when you had to find these trails on your own, but times have irreversibly changed, and we have to change with them to at least minimize the damage. Yeah, some markers, planks, and corduroy may not keep 100% of hikers on the same path, but even 75% is better than what I saw up there this weekend.
            Last September I completed my ninth round on Cliff and Redfield. My TR is here but the relevant excerpt about Cliff is this:
            The path is now terribly braided as a consequence of hikers seeking to avoid the wettest and muddiest parts. From past experience, I went directly into the standing water and "log-rolled" across the many trees, rocks, branches, and ancient bits of corduroy within it. I traversed it with nothing more than muddy shoes and I consider that a win. It's faster, and less destructive, than threading through the rapidly eroding bypasses. On the return leg, a small miscalculation netted me a cold rush of water into my trail-shoe. I smiled and conceded "Well you got me! Now we're tied one-one!"





            I won't dispute the area is a mess but that's the fault of every hiker seeking to find the driest ground in that pass .... and there really isn't any (not for long). I've "log-rolled" though that spot for years and have avoided using the sprouting herd-paths. I have no illusion that everyone is equally mindful about the impact of their passage. Most are oblivious to the notion or couldn't give a rat's azz because they're focused on "bagging a peak" .... preferably with clean, dry shoes. The times have not "changed irreversibly", hikers have always behaved this way just now there's more of them.

            In the short span between 2011 and 2017, I hiked Cliff 8 times and witnessed a yearly progression of trail degradation. It's as if locusts were chewing away at the trail's edges. They behave this way on unmarked AND marked trails. It's not likely to ever change and that's a shame because it means we will lose something unique to the High Peaks, namely unmarked trails.
            It's not about "clinging to the past" (one is still free to bushwhack to any peak) it's about losing the "middle ground" between marked trails and bushwhacking. Unmarked trails may appear on maps but they still pose a greater navigational challenge than marked trails. Just ask anyone who has hiked an unmarked trail after a snowfall. The opportunity to experience it, and to learn from that experience, will be lost. I understand the need for it but will still mourn their passage.


            Looking for Views!

            Comment


            • mbowler
              mbowler commented
              Editing a comment
              Maybe mark the trail at knee height? That preserves the winter challenge. :-)

            • Trail Boss
              Trail Boss commented
              Editing a comment
              LOL, good one!

          • #10
            Good TR! This trip is very similar to my first overnight in the high peaks 5 years ago, where we hiked almost the same peaks in the same type of conditions (Redfield, Skylight, Gray - but Marcy instead of Cliff). Main difference is that we had a clear blue-bird day for Marcy, and we missed Cliff since the map shows its height (correctly) as less than 4000 so we did not clue in until too late that it was a 46er. That weekend though we had uphill lean-to to ourselves all weekend. Nowadays I would never dream of trying to get a lean-to in the eastern high peaks (especially) on a long weekend.

            Comment

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