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.
Markus signs us in
The forecast for Sunday, October 4 was good - although sandwiched in between two bad weather days. Fortunately, 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 in an almost 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 emerged to a soggy but rain-free night. 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 had completely cleared, and the waning gibbous moon cast a bright light over our campspot.
The Dam by Moonlight
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.
Morning twilight at Avalanche Lake
Morning mist on Lake Colden
Mount Colden in Lake Colden
Andrew at Lake Colden Dam
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).
Cairn marking start of Gray herd path
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.
Andrew near Gray's summit