It seems like a lot to hike three high peaks in one day, but if you are going for all 46 of them, it is definitely the way to go. I had already hiked Mt. Marcy nearly two years ago, but that is one I'd always be willing to do again, at least in good weather. In this case, it was actually shorter distance to climb one more mountain than to go around!
This trip was an ADK outing. Some of us met around 4:30 am, or earlier, the rest of the group met at the trail head around 6:10am at the Adirondack Loj. A slight chance of rain or thunderstorms was in the forecast for the late afternoon, but otherwise mostly sunny and cool. Perfect hiking weather! We were geared up and ready, starting about 6:30am.
From the Loj we took the Van Hoevenberg trail 2.3 miles to Marcy Dam. From Marcy Dam, we followed the Avalanche Pass trail for about 1.1 miles to the Lake Arnold trail, which is where some climbing started. We followed the trail beyond Lake Arnold and crossed the Opalescent River and continued to where Feldspar Brook meets the Opalescent River for a total of 3.5 miles. We picked up the Lake Tear of the Clouds Trail and followed this section of the trail for maybe 1.1 miles to Lake Tear of the Clouds.
Lake Tear of the Clouds is the highest pond source to the Hudson River, at 4346 ft. From Lake Tear of the Clouds, you can see the top of Mt. Marcy, also known as the Cloud Splitter. Cloud Splitter is the English translation of Tahaus, the Native American name given to Mt. Marcy.
"But how wild and desolate this spot!...First seen as we then saw it, dark and dripping with the moisture of the heavens, it seemed, on its minuteness and its prettiness, a veritable Tear-of-the-Clouds, the summit water as I named it."
- Verplank Colvin, 1872
This was a nice place to stop and rest to take pictures. Such a peaceful little pond full of rich history. It is said that the then Vice President Theodore Roosevelt, while vacationing in the MacNaughton Cottage in the Upper Works, had just finished climbing Mt. Marcy and was in this very spot when he was notified that President McKinley had been shot.
"...way up among the Adirondack peaks is a little pool asleep. Through the long winter it lies-a solid crystal almost-under the accumulating weight of many snows, barren of all life save that which, like itself, waits for the summer's sun to warm it into tardy being and bring with the rank green fringe its swarms of batrachian young."
-Seneca Ray Stoddard, 1885
While state surveyor Verplank Colvin, and his guide, William Nye, were the first white men to find the pond, it was likely to be found, used, and appreciated by the Algonquins, Mohawks, and other Native Americans long before.
The herd path up Gray Peak, the tallest unmarked high peak in the Adirondacks, is marked by a cairn as you reach Lake Tear of the Clouds. It wasn't too difficult to climb, and looking behind on the way up you can catch glimpses of Skylight Mt. It is a herd path, however, so it was a narrow route, so I was frequently getting scratches and slaps from branches on both sides, but that's all part of the adventure.
Just before the summit, to the right, you can see Skylight clearly. A very short distance ahead is another lookout towards Colden and the McIntyre range to the Northwest and Whiteface to the North. From the summit marker sign you can see the top of Marcy. We rested here for about 20 minutes, ate some lunch thinking that the summit of Skylight might be too windy.
We headed back down to Lake Tear of the Clouds and around the right hand side of it, stopping to look at Marcy and the target lichen on the side of a boulder.
We continued toward the Four Corners, a distance of about 0.3 miles. From here you can go up to Skylight, Marcy, or Panther Gorge. We followed the trail to Skylight for about 0.5 miles to the summit, each picking up a rock to place on the summit on the way. These rocks are used to protect the small amount of vegetation on the summit, and according to legend, it will rain if you do not carry up a rock to throw in the pile!
The summit of Skylight was amazing, perhaps offering the best view in the High Peaks region. Yes, Marcy provides the highest view, but when you are on Mt. Marcy, you can't see how beautiful it is! We lucked out with the weather - no sign of rain, and the wind was a gentle, welcomed breeze. We lingered for a while on the summit looking at the views and the wildflowers. We were informed by a fellow hiker that the Alpine Azalea (thanks Sister for helping me remember the name) were in bloom. They are an endangered flower and if I remember what the hiker said correctly, Skylight might be the only place in the Adirondacks where they bloom?
We waved over to the McIntyre range where another ADK group was, conquering the entire range in a day - what an admirable feat! We looked up at Mt. Marcy with awe, but also with a groan. We could go around Marcy, but it is actually easier and more direct to head back to the car by climbing up and over Marcy's summit. Besides, two people in the group needed to climb Marcy still for their 46. We left Skylight and headed down to the Four Corners.
From the Four Corners, it was only 0.8 miles to the summit of Marcy. This is according to the ADK High Peaks Region book. Someone had ripped the millage off the trail sign as though to say, "Don't worry about it." The summit of Marcy was just as beautiful as it was the first time I had gone, though still a crowded, popular summit. After hanging out there for a while, remarking on the impressive time we had made so far, we headed out determined to get to the car before 6:30, making it an under 12 hour day. We took the Van Hoevenberg trail route back to the Loj, the most popular trail from Heart Lake to Mt. Marcy, probably because it is only 7.4 miles. We got to the car at 6:20pm or so - a total of about 18.5 miles in just under 12 hours! Not to mention the 90 minutes in summit/rest time we had!
All my pictures can be found here.