Adirondack Hike: Marcy, Skylight and Gray
My hiking buddy and I planned to do the trio of Marcy (5,344 feet), Skylight (4,926 feet) and Gray (4,840 feet) in the Adirondack Park on a Thursday in July. The three peaks are among the seven highest in the state of New York and we knew this was going to be a fun and tough trek.
As an overview of what's to come in this trip report, the hike took us eleven and a half hours and our fitbits read twenty-three and twenty-four miles, respectively. Each of us had over 50,000 steps logged on the day. We went up over Marcy.
We drove up to Lake Placid the night before and had a nice pasta dinner at the Black Bear restaurant and then stayed over in one of the local hotels so we could be up and on trail early in the morning. We were up at five and out of the hotel by 5:45 p.m.
Getting to the trail head was very simple as you turn onto route 73 east out of Lake Placid and Adirondack Loj Road is only a few miles away on the right. It's only about ten minutes down the road until you run into the booth for the lot, and we arrived just past 6 a.m., grabbed an envelope, took out the parking pass from inside, then slipped the parking fee in, sealed it and dropped it in the slot at the booth.
We turned left past the booth, stopped to ask which lot was best for the trail to Marcy Dam and were told Lot 1 which was in and down to the right. We were able to park about twenty feet from the sign in book and were on trail by 6:20 in the morning.
Our planned route as you see above in blue was to do this as a loop, heading to Marcy Dam, then up to Marcy, down the backside to Skylight, then over to Gray and out by Lake Arnold. This avoided having to go back up and over Marcy after completing Gray.
The trail to Marcy Dam is smooth with a few light elevation changes. There's a wooden bridge early into the hike as it winds through the woods, eventually dropping down to the water at Marcy Dam. This 2.3 mile section took us fifty minutes, with another few added on to head to the left to get across the water. When we park at South Meadows, it's usually a fifty-five minute walk to the same point, but 2.7 miles. We figured we'd be saving nearly a mile by parking at the Loj.
Just past the dam there is a second sign-in book and we went with tradition and signed in there also. Right past that, the signage for the trail to Marcy and Phelps is very well marked (see above).
The trail heads up and across some tree roots, eventually having you cross a little stream. Just before the stream, there's a nice little wading pool and I was sad to realize that on our loop, we wouldn't be coming back by it to cool off. Just past the pool, there is a high water bridge that you can cross or if you stay on the right side of the stream, there is a rock crossing up a little bit further.
Once across the stream, you're in a lightly inclined creek bed for the next ten minutes or so. Eventually, you come to some wooden planks and the trail head for Phelps is directly afterwards. The section from Marcy Dam to Phelps is only seven-tenths of a mile and we were there at 7:38 a.m., with previous years having taken us an hour and a half to make this point.
It's more stony creek bed for another ten minutes as it gradually heads up to another bridge and stream crossing to the right.
The terrain gets a little steeper after the bridge as you can see below for about twenty minutes, then has some sections where it climbs a little then levels off for a second, or what we always call giving you a reprieve.
The section from Phelps to Tabletop is 1.2 miles and we arrived at the trail head to Tabletop at 8:15 a.m., with a snack break planned in there.
It was only a few minutes past the sign for Tabletop that we came to a little stream crossing and the spur to the right for the views from Indian Falls. We had been up here before when we did Tabletop and were sad that we didn't go the extra five hundred feet or so to get the great views that were there.
We doubled back from the falls and found the sign that pointed the way back to the Marcy trail. Only three miles to go from this point, a 1.8-mile section and then two sections of sixth-tenths.
This next section is more moderate creek bed style hiking, similar to what you saw heading up to Phelps. We passed a few people in this section and ended up at the end of a group of three sisters, so that helped pass the time in this 1.8 mile section.
We eventually hit the next sign that let us know we were only 1.2 miles from the summit and shortly after, there is a clearing (see below) that opens up to let you look back at Marcy. We hit this clearing at 9:20 a.m., three hours into the hike.
After the clearing, the trail turns to the right as it narrows down a bit and starts to incline.
We were only in this section for about twenty minutes before coming to the next bit of signage as a lone hiker caught up to us here. You've come 6.8 miles to this point from the Loj with sixth-tenths to go.
The last sixth-tenths is fun as you get to see everything you have left to do. It starts across some boards and then up a little scramble.
After the scramble, the trail cuts across to the right and then it's up the mountain.
This last twenty minutes is decently steep, but nothing too technical. The views on the way up are great and we stopped to grab some photos in the different sections.
Once past the last cairn, the summit is pretty wide and there were a bunch of people up there. We arrived right around ten in the morning, so three hours and forty minutes to the summit.
We grabbed a photo at the Mount Marcy plaque and then went up to the top and found the survey marker for our summit shot. This was our thirty-ninth high peak since we started the challenge in May of 2017.
We spent twenty minutes up top taking video and chatting with other hikers who were on the mountain. The sun went behind some clouds for the entirety of our summit time and the wind was pretty strong up there. We decided we'd wait to do our next snack time until we started down the back side and even had to layer up until we got off the summit.
The terrain coming off the back side was pretty steep with an occasional wet spot from the rain the previous night so we had to be pretty careful up top. Eventually, it gets a bit more moderate about ten minutes down as you can see from the next few photos.
There's a huge rock with a view of Skylight before the trail heads down and into the woods.
Once in the woods, it's back into some stony creek bed and muddy patches as the trail winds down to the four corners.
We arrived at 11 a.m. on the nose and spent about five minutes chatting with a trio of forty-sixers from the Boston area, including one of them who had just finished up on Marcy.
The signage is easy to follow and we started to head up to Skylight. The lower part of the trail is much like what we just got off of, tight trail in a thin creek bed for the first fifteen to twenty minutes. It's not too steep, and it opens up for a view back to Marcy at points.
The alpine section is pretty wide before the summit and we spent a few minutes here taking in the sights and grabbing a few photos.
We made the summit right at 11:30 a.m. and were the only ones there. Many people told us this was their favorite summit in the Adirondacks and we could start to understand why.
We spent a good amount of time up there, taking photos and video, snacking on some fruit and just enjoying the general splendor. We took some shots with Marcy in the background, some with Haystack.
We started down around noon and ran into a pair of hiking royalty who were sixty-nine and seventy-seven years young. Both had done the ADK46 Challenge multiple times, with one on their seventy-seventh time. I was stunned.
We were down by 12:25 p.m. and then took the trail left towards Lake Tear and the trail for Gray. It's pretty flat in this section with a bit of mud.
The trail comes around this big boulder and gives a good view back up to Marcy. A nice cool breeze was flowing through the valley, so I spent a minute there enjoying that. The trail head for Gray is about twenty feet away and goes across the stream that filters to the lake and we reach it at 12:48 p.m. in the afternoon.
Gray starts out nice and moderate, but has a tricky little scramble down some rocks inside the first ten minutes. In the second ten minutes, there's another fun scramble up this time. Aside from those two areas, it's a tight and muddy creek bed up to the summit.
We hit the summit of Gray at 1:15 p.m., so seven hours since we started on trail to summit all three. There was a good hour of down time in there, so if you're hustling, it's less than that. There is a lookout just before the summit as seen below and a big rock just behind the summit sign that afford some views.
We were up there for about ten minutes then made the descent down and reached the trail head for Gray at 1:48 p.m., turning right there and following some teenagers down who were doing a camping program where they come up in consecutive summers for a week to hike.
The first ten minutes on this stretch is flat, but then it becomes what we like to call pound town - rocky steeper creek bed - for the next half hour until we reached the stream crossing at Feldspar Brook at 2:30 p.m.
Right after the crossing, it starts heading into some nice marsh lands. There are boards and within ten minutes you come to the infamous floating board section of the hike out.
The path was pretty decent until we reached the end. A few of the boards had become dislodged, so we reached down and stacked them back onto each other so that there was a continuous trail across. But it was certainly entertaining and you need to be diligent here to avoid a swim.
The trail has some muddy sections as it stay flat past a stream on your left. After that, is the worst section of the hike. It's a constant uphill hike as you go across the shoulder of Colden on the left. We never read that this part was in there and were totally unprepared for it mentally. To say it sucked would be an understatement.
We eventually got to the sign for the trail that leads back up to Colden and Kory took a second to head over to Lake Arnold for a photo. I ran out of pack water around this point and took a minute to head to the stream on the right to fill up some water in case I needed it later. It was 2.2 miles to Marcy Dam from here.
We reached Marcy Dam at 4:50 p.m. and then became a six-person group as we headed back out to the Loj and at 5:45 p.m. made it to the sign in book. Kory consumed five liters on this hike and I finished my last drop of 4.5 liters just before arriving at the Loj where I had a jug of water and a water bottle waiting in the car.
All-in-all, it was an enjoyable hike. The last part after the floating bridge section is a slog, but that's the norm now with these hikes. Glad to have it done and will probably head back to Marcy on a clear day sometime in the future.
- Adirondack Hike: Haystack, Basin and Saddleback
A full trip report from our hike to Haystack, Basin and Saddleback Mountains in the Adirondack Park of Upstate, N.Y. at the end of July in 2019.