Because we were very close to three of the four highest summits in the state, whenever the trail turned in just the right direction, there was a view out to a summit. Typically I'd look back and see a sliver of Haystack, rising above Panther Gorge opposite us, sometimes we'd get an oblique view on the big steep bedrock slabs of Marcy, or even a glimpse of the open summit above.
It took us about an hour to climb the 1100 feet to Four Corners. Here trails lead in all directions - up to Marcy, to Skylight, and down towards the Lake Colden area. And because we had now connected up with the "busier" side of the Adirondack trail network, we immediately started to encounter lots of hikers.
We had travelled over 15 kilometers (close to 10 miles) in about seven hours, and we still hadn't reached our halfway point (i.e. the summit). It was clearly going to be a very long day!
We turned left at the Four Corners junction and started up the final stretch to Skylight's summit. The trail was extremely eroded and bouldery at first, but as we gained altitude, it transitioned to mostly stretches of solid bare bedrock. Hiking on the "bones of the mountain", as I like to call it.
Marcy Summit, Oblique Angle
Skylight has an alpine (i.e. open) summit, and as we approached treeline, the vegetation got shorter and scruffier. We could look back and see an ever-expanding view that included the looming summit of Marcy, less than a mile away from us.
Breaking out onto Skylight's open tundra was wonderful. The light breeze in the forest below translated into a brisk wind up here, but it was a very nice, temperate day and it only served to refresh us, not make us cold. We could see in all directions now, a wide view that included most of the Adirondacks' major peaks. Especially nice was the view back towards Haystack and the Great Range, the axis of which was aligned more or less directly at us, causing all of the peaks along the range to be clustered together from our viewpoint. And way, way in the distance, on the opposite side of Route 73, the maple-leaf shaped west face of Giant Mountain could be seen.
Skylight's Alpine Terrain
Skylight is a very dome-like peak, and as we approached the summit, the grade lessened. A cairned path led over the gentle upper slopes to the summit, where a wide cairn of loose stones marked the top (hikers are supposed to take a stone from Four Corners to the summit to ward off rainy weather).
Boreas Ponds from Skylight
I had hoped for solitude on this, one of the Adirondacks' harder-to-reach summits, but it was not to be. It wasn't ... crowded... but there were about ten or so other people scattered about the broad summit.
After taking a few shots of the broad vistas in all directions, we retreated to our own private corner, somewhat out of the wind, for our own summit break. Brian did his customary orthopaedic back break.
It would have been great to spend a whole hour up here in the cool wind, taking in the top-of-the-world views. But as mentioned earlier, we were a long, long way from our trailhead, and it was already nearing 3pm. Time to start hurrying back.
Back down across the alpine tundra, down the slabs, then the boulders, to Four Corners. Down the steep trail to Marcy Brook, arriving streamside just over an hour after leaving the summit. We had both brought water filters rather than carry extra litres of water, and we needed them now to refill our empty supplies.
Back down to Panther Gorge
The hike back down Panther Gorge was an exercise in controlled speed-walking - a gentle descent and soft, unobstructed trail; then the excellent planking across Marcy Swamp. In two hours we had made it all the way back to the crossing at Stillwater inlet. Even so, it was now 6pm. Good thing it was only a few days after the summer solstice (so that our sunset time was pretty much as late as possible).
After Stillwater inlet, we had the least-fun part of our hike back to complete: the muddy wet 500-foot climb up to the crossing of the Boreas-Colvin ridgeline. Our pace slowed down significantly here (overall our hiking speed had been quite high), and it took a good hour to get up to the height of land. We were starting to feel the distance and elevation now. Getting just a wee bit tired.
With gravity helping our descent, we were glad to arrive at the old forest road network of the Elk Lake area. From here, we didn't have to think too much about where to put our feet, and it was a mindless trudge south as the the late day light slowly transitioned into deep, pre-sunset shadows. The sun finally went down just before we reached the footbridge over The Branch, but at this point we had less than half a mile to go, so it looked liked we'd be finishing up without needing to break out the headlights.
We arrived back at the trailhead at 9pm. At almost 14 hours in total length, and with a total distance of about 34km, this had indeed filled the objective of a more hard-core hike. And frankly, we both had done pretty well - I was feeling a bit stiff but overall pretty intact, as was Brian. A good confidence check before our backpacking out west.
Skylight from Elk Lake - Hike Data
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain:
Total Elevation Loss:
* : +/- 75 feet