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Oct 3, 2004 (Sun)
Elevations: 4840 feet, 5344 feet, 4427 feet; Order of Height: 7, 1, 19
Participants: Andrew Lavigne, Markus Wandel
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Well, the time had finally arrived. After months of re-doing peaks (so Markus could catch up), and working around vacations, and finding a good weather forecast, I was ready to tackle my only unclimbed 46er peak: Gray Peak. And since we were along with a friend also finishing the 46 on Tabletop, we decided to combine the two into a single hike. To do this, we planned to start at South Meadow, climb Gray via Lake Tear of the Clouds, then traverse over Marcy, then down the Van Hoevenberg trail to Indian Falls, quickly summit Tabletop from there, and head back down to South Meadow.

The forecast for Sunday, October 4 was good - although sandwiched in between two bad weather days before and after, but as we got closer to the weekend, this forecast remained firm, so we decided to go for it. This was a pretty ambitious itinerary, well in excess of 30 km, and lots of elevation gain to boot, so we decided to head down Saturday evening and camp at South Meadow. The drive down, apocalyptically, was almost a continual torrential rainfall. Was this some sort of sign? Despite our fears, we continued to Saranac Lake, where we stopped for dinner at the Pizza Hut, partially because of hunger and partially because it was still pouring and the thought of putting up tents in such conditions was pretty unpalatable. We clung to the fact that the forecast was still predicting a nice day for tomorrow (Sunday).

Sure enough, after our pizza, we came out to a soggy night, but the rain had stopped. On the way to South Meadow, Markus noticed a couple of rents in the sky, with even a star or two poking through. I decide to sleep in the CR-V, partially because of the wet ground and partially because I've wanted to try it out and see if I fit in the back ok. By the time we hit the hay, the sky has completely cleared, and the waning gibbous moon casts a bright light over our campspot. Apart from a noisy ranger participating in a hiker-rescue, the night is calm. We get up at 3:30am, quickly scarf down some food, and are off on the South Meadow trail at 4:10 am. The sky is crisp and clear, and it is not too cold (above freezing, at any rate). The moon is brilliant, and we hike the whole way to Marcy dam sans headlamps, making for a wonderful ambiance.

At Marcy Dam I take a ghostly 30-second exposure of a scene I've taken many times before, but which is wonderful everytime I see it. From Marcy dam, we quickly head up to Avalanche junction, stopping to put on our headlamps when the footing gets too rough to navigate by moonlight. We make excellent time, and are all the way to Lake Colden before actual sunrise. The early morning mist and the reflection of Mount Colden on the surface of the lake deserve a couple of photo snaps as we hike by.

The ascent from Lake Colden up to the Twin Brook Lean-to is quick and uneventful - we don't stop to take too many pictures of the scenic Opalescent . A quick food break at the Lean-to, and then it is onward, up the steep Feldspar brook trail to Lake Tear of the Clouds, which we reach mid-morning. A small but well-defined cairn marks the start of the Gray Herdpath, and it is located just down from the outlet out of the lake into Feldspar brook (in fact the cairn is right across Feldspar brook from the trail).

The well-defined herdpath quickly takes us up to Gray's summit, which, although treed, has many surprisingly nice views in all directions, including the summit cone of Marcy looming nearby, and excellent views towards Lake Placid, Skylight, and the MacIntyres. We reach Gray's summit sign... and the moment is here. Markus and I shake hands, 'bergheiling' our last as-yet-undone 46er peak. For me it has been ten years since I started hiking down here, and it is a satisfying feeling to look around and know that you've been on every single high mountain in view. There are three other aspiring 46ers who summit just behind us (including one guy named Dave, and one for whom Gray is his first 46er peak). Other than that, we are alone. We decide that a traverse over to Marcy from here is much more interesting than heading back down to the trail and around (plus much shorter). There also seems to be a faint but reasonably followable herdpath marking the traverse, so we decide to go for it.

The herd path turns out to be quite scenic, with periodic viewpoints. Gray is turning out to be a much nicer peak than I had expected. A few tangly spots, but with no major problems, and we reach treeline on Marcy, marked by a small cairn (in case you need to do this route going the opposite way). Trailless alpine hiking in the Adirondacks, an extreme rarity, now presents itself to us. The final bit of ascent up the alpine terrain on Marcy is spectacular (and we carefully keep to the open rock to avoid damaging the vegetation), and we take a ton of photos!

The summit of Marcy has its usual bunch of hikers (although really not all that many), and we stop for a lunch break, since we've reached the summit just before noon. We have a nice long talk with the summit Steward, soak in the amazing views, and then head on down to our next objective: Indian Falls and Tabletop Mountain.

For the first time in 10 years, I get to see Indian falls in the daylight and with no clouds, and the view of Algonquin from it really is quite spectacular! We then locate the herdpath going up Tabletop (which is just below Indian Falls where the hiking and ski trails meet), and start up. At the start of the Tabletop route, we meet a hiker who immediately recognizes Markus and I from our Adirondack web pages - very strange being so recognized by a complete stranger! After a chat, we shake hands with Jeff (from Albany), and we are off. The route up Tabletop is short (less than 1km) and steep, and we are up and down it in just over an hour total.

With our day nearing the end, we cruise back to Marcy Dam, getting down to elevations where the most beautiful fall colors are located. The late afternoon autumn light and the brilliant colors make what is often a boring walk back to the trailhead most enjoyable.

We reach South Meadow at 5:10pm. A simply superb 13-hour, 32.7km Adirondack journey. Not only did we finish our 46, but this hike was such a nice one as well, combining beautiful fall weather and colors with a suprisingly excellent hiking route. If you can handle the distance, this hiking itinerary hits many of the Adirondacks' scenic highlights! Anyway my first 46 are now done... I wonder how long it'll take until my second 46er is achieved? Looking forward to finding out....

Trip Reports, Image Galleries or Other References:
 Image Gallery: October 2004 Gray Peak Traverse


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