Ascent of Mount Marcy on 2011-11-21

Climber: Dan Quinlan

Others in Party:Kaerstin
Date:Monday, November 21, 2011
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Marcy
    Location:USA-New York
    Elevation:5344 ft / 1628 m

Ascent Trip Report

Lil-Yeti (Kaerstin) and I decided we would do one more camping trip this year. It would be a three day event. A short day Avalanche Camp, followed by a loop over Gray Peak, Skylight and Marcy the next day and then hike out the last day.

November 20, 2011
We started from the Adirondak Loj around 1:05. It was a dreary drizzly afternoon, but that is OK, because tomorrow is supposed to be great weather. But before we even leave the parking lot, I realized my first problem, I forgot to pack my backpack rain cover! Luckily the HPIC was open and they had one that fit my pack! I was not lucking forward to get everything wet before we even really started.
We used the Van Hoevenberg trail to Marcy Dam. The crossing of Marcy brook went smoothly as there wasn’t much water. We had crossed the brook earlier this year when the water was much higher and with lighter packs and we had a bit of difficulty then. We arrived at the Avalanche Pass Trail at around 2:15, not bad for carrying 50 lbs and Lil-Yeti was lugging another 30 lbs.
We arrived at the lower Avalanche Camp lean-to around 3pm. We were still debating if we would sleep in the Lean-to or the tent. We spotted the ‘follow arrow’ disk for the tent site, but it just pointed to the outhouse! We wandered around for about 10 minutes before we finally found the tent site itself.
But the question remained, lean-to or tent site? Since we had our winter 2-man tent which we can fit in, but our packs must stay out under the fly and the fact that is was drizzly, Lil-Yeti convinced me that we should stay in the lean-to although it might be a bit colder there.
Since it is late November we were ‘cooking’ supper in the dark at 5 pm. We went over the hiking plan one more time, decided to start hiking at 8am (which is pretty early for Kaerstin) due to short days and then settled in for the night.

November 21, 2011
I was up before the sun and prepared some coffee and oatmeal. We don’t have a thermometer but it was definitely below 32 degrees as there was ice in all of our drinks! We have our zero degree sleeping bags and liners so it was pretty comfortable. Although my feet did get cold (tonight I’ll put some foot warmers in my socks!) Lil-Yeti on the other hand slept wonderfully and stayed toasty. I even had to wake here to get her going!
We left the Lean-to at 8:45 (ok, so we are already 45 minutes behind schedule) under beautiful blue skies. We used the Feldspar Brook Trail (#73) to get to the Calamity Brook Trail. There was some massive destruction from Irene on the Feldspar trail, but they did a wonderful job of cleaning up the trail so we could get through with no problems. We had great views of Colden along the way. The trees were frosted and the sky so blue, this is gonna be a great day to be hiking!
We reached the Calamity Brook Trail at 11:25 and started our ascent towards our goals for the day. The walk up the Calamity Brook Trail to the Gray Herd Path went well. It is cold enough that the puddles / mud is frozen, which is a good thing. The bad thing about the temperature is that my tube from the camel back keeps freezing. But by tucking the mouth piece between my shirts I can keep it from freezing (or at least so far). The Nalgene bottles that Lil-Yeti is using have frozen water on the sides and each time she opens to drink she first has to break through the ice barrier at the top of the bottle.
The Gray Peak Herd path was easy to spot with the cairn at the outlet of the lake. We headed up at 12:25. Now our pace slows considerably. Much of the path is completely covered in thick ice. We needed to get out our micro-spikes which helped considerably, but you still needed to be very careful of your footing. Close to the summit of Gray, we get our first clear glimpse of Mt. Marcy and it takes our breath away. With the crystal clear blue sky as it’s background and the open rock summit we can’t wait to hike it. We reached the summit of Gray Peak at 1:15 and it is at this moment that I realize we are way off of our schedule. The problem with our schedule is that (as usual) I have over-estimated our ability, and under-estimated the task at hand. We were hoping to finish our hike before sun down (or shortly thereafter). But it is now 1:15 and we have only reached our first peak! But the weather is just too nice and the views breathtaking to go back (although it is 2 miles shorter and basically down hill). We have a quick ‘cup-o-(crunchy)noodles’, With the cold temperatures it takes a long time to get the water to boil, so I only wait long enough for it to get sorta hot. We are headed down Gray at 1:30.
We arrived at the 4-corners at 2:10 where I told Kaerstin that she can leave her backpack here, just bring her spikes. We started up the Skylight trail and realized quickly we are going nowhere without putting on our spikes once again. The path is basically filled with thick white ice. There is a lot of grabbing hold of trees to assist us up. Our pace really slows now. I’m not sure exactly how far from the summit we were when we popped out above tree line. OMG!! It was truly spectacular and a bit emotional. I was truly worried about the time of day and the temperature and the fact that I have my 15 year old daughter along with me. But she is doing great and she also just loves the views, which for me is very rewarding to see. We had absolutely fantastic views in every direction and with the low sun the lighting of the mountains was fabulous. With Mt. Marcy in the center, we could see Iroquois and Algonquin to the left and Mt. Haystack to the right. Truly a spectacular place to be! But it is late and we need to get over Marcy before dark so we quickly take lots of pictures and head off of Skylight at 2:55 headed for the highest peak in New York.
We returned to the four corners at 3:20 where Lil-Yeti retrieved her backpack and then continued on the Calamity Brook trail to the summit of Mt. Marcy. Again we needed the micro-spikes to get up the icy trail. Once we were above tree line and on the open rock of Marcy there was no more ice to contend with and so no longer needed the spikes. With the very low sun, the views of the surrounding mountains were just fabulous! Since it is pretty steep here we were able to take several breaks and take lots of pictures. But I still had one worry, I wanted to get back below tree line before dark. I wasn’t quite sure how hard it would be to follow the cairns on the open mountain in the dark. As we ascended I was thinking how peaceful it was, there was practically no wind. It was wonderful. We reached the summit of Mt. Marcy at 4:15, and although it was NOT in the plan, we watched the sunset from New York’s highest point! After a few more pictures we headed down, knowing we had over 4 miles to go to get back to our lean-to and most of that will be done in pitch black. We did reach tree line while still twilight and then we once again ran into the dreaded ice. So with micro-spikes and head lamps we carefully descended the mountain. We reached the junction of John Brooks trail at 4:50. It was at about this point that we noticed that the entire tube of our camel back was frozen, indicating it is getting colder. Once we reached the Indian Falls – Lake Arnold Crossover at 6:40 we were able to remove our micro spikes. We took some time for a snack and needed to pour the water from the camel back to one of the Nalgene bottles. After spending most of the day avoiding ice, we now started to be careful of the muddy spots along the crossover trail. It was 8pm when we finally arrived at the lean-to at Avalanche Camp. Before changing into some nice warm clothes we pumped some water from the river and tried to boil some water. After 30 minutes we decided ‘warm’ water would be good enough and enjoyed some lasagna before crawling into our warm sleeping bags.

November 22, 2011
I awoke before the sun rose and started warming some water for coffee. Most of the water in our jug had frozen overnight but there was enough to get things going. Once I had some water warmed, I poured it in the frozen block so I could use it for breakfast. After a nice cup of coffee and some oatmeal I decided I would wake Kaerstin. She seems to be able to sleep quite well even in these colder temps. We started our hike back at 9:05. After our long day yesterday we were happy to hike the mostly down hill to Marcy Dam which we reached at 9:35. We reached the parking lot at 10:45. Out of curiosity I stopped in the High Peaks Info Center to inquire what the temperature was earlier this morning. We were quite surprised to learn that it was only 10 degrees! No wonder everything was frozen!
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:1050 ft / 320 m
    Total Elevation Loss:3800 ft / 1158 m
    Round-Trip Distance:9 mi / 14.5 km
    Quality:9 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Exposed Scramble
    Gear Used:
Crampons, Tent Camp
    Weather:Cold, Calm, Clear
Gorgeous-Watched Sunset!
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:1050 ft / 320 m
    Distance:1.1 mi / 1.8 km
    Route:Skylight Trail-Calamity
    Start Trailhead:Mt. Skylight  4294 ft / 1308 m
    Time:1 Hours 15 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:3800 ft / 1158 m
    Distance:7.9 mi / 12.7 km
    End Trailhead:Adirondak Loj  1544 ft / 470 m
    Time:5 Hours 30 Minutes
Ascent Part of Trip: Gray-Skylight-Marcy (2 nights total away from roads)

Complete Trip Sequence:
1Gray Peak2011-11-21 a3600 ft / 1097 m
2Mount Skylight2011-11-21 b650 ft / 198 m
3Mount Marcy2011-11-21 c1050 ft / 320 m
Total Trip Gain: 5300 ft / 1615 m    Total Trip Loss: 3800 ft / 1158 m

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