Rising Together on Skylight & Gray

“Magic happens when you don’t give up. Even though you want to.  The universe always falls in love with a stubborn heart.”- jmstorm

Winter hiking is certainly full of magic! On Sunday, February 19th, my dear friend Mallory and I put our stubborn hearts to the test when we set out to climb Mount Skylight and Gray Peak.  Our plan was the 19-mile out and back route via Lake Arnold, since we’ve both been graced by Miss Marcy already.

Following our groggy morning oatmeal and coffee, it was off to the Loj.  We arrived at the trail head at 6:45 a.m., strapping on the snowshoes right from the get go. The weather was ridiculously warm for February…34 degrees!

Magic.  Mallory and I are magic hunters, and by “hunters” I mean our eyes and hearts are always open to discoveries.  The hike starts out the same, pausing every 5 seconds to photograph miracles and moments. This exploration was no different!

Sunrise in the mountains. (exhale) Yes, that is magical too. The sky was clear, with just a few puffy floaters gracing the horizon.

The woods were bursting with beauty on this Sunday morning.  Trees that stretched their arms to touch the sky.  New York.  Just do it.

We easily maintained a positive attitude for the beginning of our journey to the glorious destination. No coats necessary either! Just a base layer and a fleece was enough so far.

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Here we go!

It would not be a hike without my love for these little guys.  Perspective.  What you see depends, not only what is in front of you, but more importantly how you view life with the eyes of your heart.

Happiness…pure and simple.  Our 2.3 mile trek to Marcy Dam was peaceful.  There is something about witnessing the break of dawn.  She speaks to you in whisper, “Stay present in every moment, no matter what the day brings…it will be just for you.

Blue trail markers guided us to the snow-covered dam.

An hour since the start, we reached it!  The last time both Mallory and I were here was in summer (on separate journeys).  The snow was just so pretty!

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#bridgelove

Shortly there after, we would bear right on the trail and follow the yellow markers for the easy 1.1 miles through Avalanche camps. The trail was nicely packed and well broken out!

We stopped here for a snack first and watched all the little birds and red squirrels scurry around us.

Plenty of older-style trail markers to spot along the way.  Spied this one about 45 minutes since the dam.  The time passed quickly as we chatted and hiked during this fairly level section of the hike.  Some cross-country skiers glided by us on their way to Avalanche Lake. Mallory, being the skier that she is, gave me a lesson in style of skis as well! Nothing like a couple of educators multi-tasking…hiking and learning, learning and hiking.

At 8:50 a.m., we approached our next signage of many junction points on this high peak trek.  Back to the blue trail markers as we began the ever-steady climb up to Lake Arnold.  Lake Arnold…sudden flashbacks to the “up and over boulder climbing” on this trail came rushing back to me from my Colden hike.  We were thankful for the snow-covered path to help ease the journey.  Even more thankful that the trail was still clearly laid out before us! So the next 1.5 miles would be just a couple of girls and Arnold…

One can never have enough “light spilling through the trees” pictures.  The sun was a precious gift in the winter.

The uphill climb to Lake Arnold was steady and constant. Mallory and I continued at our own pace, focusing on our breathing and the beauty that encompassed our surroundings.

This would be the moment when Mallory shared her climbing mantra: “strength, endurance, rise together..”  Strength…yes.  Endurance..definitely. Rise together, we would.

With every step forward, we repeated the mantra in our minds, as we trudged along.  It was a strong, rhythmic tune…4 counts with each repetition.  And before we knew it…

At 10:10 a.m., Lake Arnold appeared before us.  Sorry Mr. Arnold, we are going this way today!

Still adorned by sunshine (for now), we stopped for another refueling break for 15 minutes.  It felt heavenly to plop ourselves down in a snow bank and rest the snowshoe toes for a bit.  A review of the plan was necessary too.  Next up would be the serious loss of elevation as we dropped  down into the valley of the Feldspar trail, following blue trail markers still…

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For the next 1.7 miles, the terrain transformed once again.  We hiked in and out of tall, balsam pines and open vastness, as we approached the infamous bog area.  I told Mallory how this part of the trail was deemed impassable due to the floating bogs being completely submerged.  Lucky for us, the flooded bog rested under layers of ice and an immense amount of snow!

Go confidently in the directions of your dreams…yes, our dreams are that way!

Our spirits remained high as we appreciated the ease of the descent and “continued rest” for our legs.  Knowing full well what waited for us on the other side, we breathed in the present moment and received each mile as it came. It was back to pausing every 5 seconds to capture photo memories and hunt magic again!

Colden peeking through the beautiful barren trees…

Our Dr. Seuss tree…reminded me of the Lorax’s beard!

Oh yeah baby!! At 11:10 a.m., we marched right across this part of the Feldspar Brook Trail! Pay no attention to those ominous clouds forming, I told Mallory.  The sun will still be our friend by the time we get to Skylight! #positivethoughts

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Whoa…huge wall of snow.  Continually astonished by just how much snow was out there in the high peaks, we trekked on through more towering pines.

The trail was alive with wonder.  Ice crystals encapsulated rock moss, it was difficult to tell where one ended and the other began.  I am fairly sure, that if Mallory and I had seen a single other hiker at this point (which we had not) they would give us the curious stare…our faces were inches away from nature’s gifts, our noses almost touched the rock. I mean, because honestly, we really weren’t in any sort of rush.  Well aware we would be hiking out in the dark, our biggest worry was if I pulled another “scaredy cat” move like our last hike out in spooky darkness.

Ten minutes after crossing the bog land, we reached out next crossing. We stayed for a few minutes for water, snacks and a recharge of our will and grit.  Our plan was to climb Skylight first and then backtrack to Gray on the hike out.  It would be another 1.7 miles to the Four Corners.  So far, we’ve hiked 6.8 miles. Our hearts were stubbornly open and ready for whatever laid before us.  Reclimbing the elevation we lost and then some, tested our resilience, stamina and soul, as it was yellow markers once again.

Hike the mile you are in. Strength, endurance, rise together. Rise Together.  

Magic. Everywhere. We entered the mystical world of winter in the Adirondacks.

Welcome…to Narnia.

The ascent to Four Corners had a plethora of “crawling under, climbing over, breaking through” obstacles in the midst of the steep terrain.  Again, the snow was our savior, softening the path underfoot.  That, and the excellent hikers who broke the trail out for us!

Mallory is a good “few” inches taller than me 😉 So she often teased me for “walking” right under some of the blown-downs.  Haha!  Trail spelunking anyone?

We had read reports of the high peaks before our trip.  One stated that the trail markers were buried…indeed they were!

Holy snow, Batman! Where was the little freckled-faced girl in all of this wondrous winter wonderland?

Oh wait, there she is, attempting to catch her breath after huffing and puffing on the ascent. Haha…sigh.  The trail was a butt-kicker for sure!

Mallory’s exquisite mushroom miracle! Find joy in the journey.  I know I say that often, but it is true.  There is beauty all around us, if we just maintain a stubborn heart. Then the universe unfolds miracles with every step.

Here she comes! Colden and the Macs in the background.  “Wow…,” I whispered. And then proceeded to shout down to Mallory about the beautiful mountains, which she couldn’t hear because you know, acoustics and mountains don’t mix.

We rose together at the top of the Uphill trail! Yay!! Spirits energized once again, knowing that Lake Tear of the Clouds was within our reach.

YES!!! At 12:40 p.m., Lake Tear of the Clouds blessed us with her elegance and peace. The famous boulder is off to the right in the photograph below, the engraved spiral completely covered with snow.

Despite the dark, menacing cloud blanket, we celebrated our victory for making it this far! The wind picked up, with gusts over 30 mph at times. Our wind breaker layer went on quickly, as we forged forward on my favorite part of the day!  Walking on water…right across the source of the Hudson River, the highest body of water in the Adirondacks.  Even if you’re not a geology buff, you would still be blown away by this, I think.

Lake Tear of the Clouds.

We felt enormous gratitude for the trailblazers who carved out the path all the way to Skylight!

Magic happens when you don’t give up. Even though you want to.  The universe always falls in love with a stubborn heart.

Looking back at Miss Mallory!

Awe-inspiring…this was one of those rare moments in my life when I was at a loss for words. Truly magnificent.

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A few more steps and at 1:oo p.m., Four Corners emerged at the edge of the woods!

Ok, so that Rocky, fist-pumping dance I perform?  Yeah…I did it and then some! “Mallory!! Woo Hoo!!” I sang at the top of my lungs, as the jumping and dancing up and down continued.  I may have even pulled a Usain Bolt, but my memory is slightly blurred so who knows.

When there is SO much snow, that an already low trail sign is barely keeping its head above water.  So, just lay in the snow to snap the photo!  Elated and full of joy!

Because at the end of the day, what matters most is how well you played!

Anxious to climb Skylight, we ate quickly and began the ascent.  Our total mileage to Four Corners was 8.5 miles.  Crazy!  A good crazy.  Especially with what was waiting for us at the summit of Mount Skylight!

As we began our .5 mile climb, the clouds decided they weren’t quite ominous and life-threatening enough for a couple of girls fighting through the increasing wind and piling snow.  A more dramatic summit was apparently called for!

This was also the very first time we encountered other hikers on the trail.  Two hikers were on their descent, thrilled with the Skylight victory.  This was their 5th try for winter, I believe they said.  They also advised us not to linger long at the summit because the weather was rapidly changing faster than a speeding bullet! #superheroanalogiespresent

The amount of snow was insane!  Heavenly and dreamybut insane!

I continued on ahead of Mallory, insisting on scoping out the summit first to ensure it was safe enough.  (I’m laughing now, in retrospect, as I write this  because what was a 5’1″, 95 pound little woman going to protect us from?!  Haha! )

However, this was my first look at just how quickly the clouds were approaching . Yikes! I waited for Mallory and cheered her on.

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Magic happens when you don’t give up. Even though you want to.  The universe always falls in love with a stubborn heart.

Yes, yes! We kept at it, one foot in front of the other.  

Strength.  Endurance.  Rising together. 

I read somewhere that you climb through the trees before reaching the open summit of Skylight.  Yeah…we were almost on the trees on this section of the trail!!

I proceeded onward, as Mallory hiked on as well, not far behind me.  Holy S#*%! was the thought that ran like crazy through my mind.  If you looked past the summit, you could not see a thing!

But when you turned back to gaze behind you…Marcy.  “Marcy, her majesty..“I whispered once again.

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At 1:30 p.m., I reached my 28th high peak !! In this insane storm.  Maybe we should be called “storm chasers” instead of “magic hunters.”  But they are one in the same, aren’t they?  Yes..yes they are.  The southern view from Skylight looked like something out of an end-of-world movie.  R.E.M. lyrics popped into my head, “It’s the end of the world as we know it…”  I mean, honestly, who had time to sing during an all-out weather collision!

I cried.  Tears of joy, fear, pride..all of it, came pouring out of me.  In awe of what we just accomplished, I tried my best to brace myself in the high winds.  One wind gust knocked me over on the icy, steep summit!

Mallory reached her 5th high peak!! She was a mountain warrior. I couldn’t have asked for a better partner to make this journey with…she amazed me!

We had to take the “summit” pictures in a safer place…our hands were shaking from the winds, and I was praying our cell phones didn’t take off to the Land of Oz.

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Strength.  Endurance.  Rise together. We had done it!! (trying to hold ourselves still)

Mount Skylight is the 4th highest peak of the 46, standing at 4925 feet tall.

Mount Haystack dwarfed by Marcy! Still though, I could hear his chides and taunts…intimidated of Haystack, I am.  He’s taunted me in the past from the summit of Mount Marcy.

Mount Colden and the MacIntyre Range.  Algonquin mimicked Marcy here…just astonishing!

One more of Haystack from our descent. I loved the way the cloud system made its own horizon line…it was sunny still somewhere out there in ADK land!

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At 2:00 p.m., we landed back at Four Corners. It was time to head back to Lake Tear for our ascent of Gray Peak.  As we hiked to the lake, blue skies returned!  I turned to Mallory and said, “We forgot the rocks!!” We forgot to bring our rocks up to the summit of Skylight…I was convinced that was the reason we were given the end-of-the-world adventure! 😉

There was our next destination…the herd path of Gray.

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One last hurrah on the fantastically frozen Lake Tear of the Clouds…

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Ok, Gray’s .5 mile herd path.  Broken out? Yes. Easy to follow? Ummm, not really.  It was an extremely narrow and messy trail.  There were a few paths to follow.  We were definitely grateful that this peak had been broken out, but our legs began to feel the effects of the long day.

Climbing Gray in the snow required more focus, grit and perseverance, for sure! We ascended for 15 minutes before stopping to photograph the magic and miracles.  There were also a few tricky rock slides to navigate, requiring the “3 points of contact” climbing mantra.

Our first glimpse of Skylight…ahhh we were just up there!!

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Magic happens when you don’t give up. Even though you want to.  The universe always falls in love with a stubborn heart.

Strength, endurance, rise together. 

The ice formations on the trail to Gray Peak were my favorite!

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One more tricky rock slide to climb with narrow footings after this frozen sculpture of Mother Nature.

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Views from Gray! Yes…in the winter, with tons of snow to stand on, there are amazing views from Gray Peak all along the way!

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I remained here for a bit, as Mallory made her way up the rock slide, watching the clouds cruise by.  Oh by the way, Mallory LOVED the herd path to Gray!  #notreally

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Just hanging out on an outcrop of Gray, with Mount Skylight in the background!

At 2:45 p.m., after 40 minutes of stubborn hearts and burning thighs, we made it to the summit of Gray Peak!! Wait a minute?? I thought Gray was a wooded summit??

Typically it is! But we were standing on ginormous amounts of snow that we were literally on the tree tops! By far, one of the coolest experiences I have had hiking in the Adirondacks.

Gray Peak is the 7th highest peak of the 46, standing at 4840 feet tall.  Mallory conquered her 6th high peak! Not to mention, her first-ever double peak climb! So proud of her tenacity and resolve!

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Another summit shot with Lady Marcy, as Mallory calls her, in the background. Incredible! #thosecloudstho

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Not sure what I was doing here…probably naming surrounding peaks again.  “And there! And there! And there!

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Gray Peak marked my 29th high peak! (and my 14th winter peak!)  There she was again…Miss Marcy, so close it felt as if you could reach out and touch her.  The winds were still whipping fiercely by, but the air temperature held a warm 34 degrees.

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We pretended the wooden Gray Peak sign was somewhere buried under this tree…but honestly who knew?!

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We had hiked 10.5 miles so far in 7 1/2 hours.  As I mentioned earlier, we knew we would be hiking out in the dark with our headlamps.  However, we were ready to leave Gray! That uphill reclimb of the Feldspar Brook trail back to Lake Arnold was gently dangling over our conscience.

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One final “breathe in and exhale” of Skylight mountain love before journeying back into the forest. We’ll be back to visit her again in warmer weather. Mallory and I agreed that the views from Skylight were one of the best in the Adirondacks, if not the best!

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We rested quite a bit on the descent of the Uphill trail.  Fatigue and weariness seeped into our bones.  Delirium is tricky to counteract at times.  GU gel saved us for much of it! Replenishing electrolytes is crucial on the long days hikes.

After 2 hours and 15 minutes of down, down, down, we arrived at the final battle of the Feldspar elevation gain.  Despite our exhaustion, witnessing both a mountain sunrise and sunset in the same day is quite spectacular and a blessing from above, not doubt.

Magic happens when you don’t give up. Even though you want to.  The universe always falls in love with a stubborn heart.

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Once we reached Lake Arnold, it was off with the snowshoes and on with the microspikes.  Headlamps were fastened to our heads and ready as darkness quickly approached.

By 5:30 p.m., we were in complete darkness.  As we continued down the Lake Arnold trail, Avalanche camps were alive with lit-up tents and laughter.  It did ease my mind to know there were so many hikers camping.

I remained brave in the dark.  Mallory is always brave. She did a great job keeping my mind off being scared by chatting once again!

At 6:30 p.m., Marcy Dam was upon us, thank goodness.  We would also encounter another group of hikers crossing to head to their camp.  They had climbed Algonquin for the day.  And..I’ll just say, because I am still incredibly proud of us, that those hikers were equally impressed with our day’s journey!

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It was hard for Mallory and I to stay humble, while we quietly celebrated our “strong women” moment for a minute!

Finally, at 7:30 p.m., Mallory did the honors of signing us o.u.t. of this monumental day!

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Below is the profile of our climb according to my Garmin.  Monumental indeed.

Total distance: 18.6 miles

Total time: 12 1/2 hours, with plenty of rest time

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As we walked out to the parking lot, semi-delirious, we broke out in song…”We are the champions, my friends…and we’ll keep on fighting to the end..

Not sure the other hikers in the lot appreciated our serenade but we amused ourselves for sure!  Proud ladies.  Strong women.  Humble hikers. Magic Explorers. Crazy weather conditions that only winter in the high peaks could bring.

It was the perfect day.  All of it.  From the highest of highs to our lowest of lows.  We had done it.  We.had.done.it. Our stubborn hearts let the universe guide our eyes, our souls, our life on this truly spectacular day.

Strength.  Endurance. Rise Together.  And Repeat.  As often as necessary.  #stillwerise

Floating on Cloud 9,

J & M

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