Sunday, April 28, 2013

Gray, Skylight and Colden via Flowed Lands 4/27-28/13

I packed the dog into the car and left Albany around 4:30 AM on Saturday.  I wanted to sleep in a little bit later but once again the excitement got the best of me. It was a pleasure though knowing I'd be hiking in daylight the entire day. Spring is here and the days grow longer.

My soundtrack for the weekend was the Grateful dead, Live at Roosevelt Stadium Jersey City, NJ 08/06/74. Albany to Upper Works and back gives you just about the right amount of time to listen to an entire concert. Just after Warrensburg the sun rose in beautiful shades of red and pink. 'Playin in the Band' kicked in at the prefect time: "daybreak on the land!". It was going to be a good day.

In between North Creek and Minerva, the still nearly full moon shone over a rocky cliff with Gore in the background. If I have on regret from this trip it is that I didn't take that picture. Oh well, sometimes fleeting moments are supposed to slip by without capturing. Wild turkeys loitered at the Roosevelt (the show was from Roosevelt Stadium...coincidence!) hotel and more scurried across the road to Upper Works.

The trail from the start had patches of ice and snow. Once off the gravel, the mud I conveniently forgot about all winter reminded me its spring. A white throated sparrow sang it's haunting song, a welcome to the Adirondacks.

The first section of trail continued to be muddy with the occasional ice spine. The bend of Calamity Brook on the reroute was beautiful as always with a glaze of frost covering the grasses and making them sparkle.

After the crossing of Calamity Brook (we took the bridge and Koda whined and "crab walked" the whole way across...he doesn't love bridges) snow was more consistent. Spikes would have been good but I was moving along just fine with fresh legs. Many of the crossings were still intact but not long for this world. Several were gone already.

I got to Flowed Lands and got a hearty hello from the group at the first lean to. It was a group of high school students from a boarding school in Connecticut and their two group leaders who were also teachers at the school. I chatted with Pete, one of the leaders, asking if the lean tos around the loop were occupied. He said a lot of traffic had moved through and that the Flowed Lands lean to had 2 French Canadiens staying there. That was the one I wanted but I left plenty of time to poke around Flowed Lands and Lake Colden so I wasn't too disappointed. He offered to take a picture of good and which I gratefully accepted.

We chugged along the loop and lo and behold, the guys had already moved on. I plunked down the overnight stuff, got the day pack set up and trotted down to the waters edge to take some pictures. I felt lighter know the first task for the day was sorted and I could just relax and hike. I hiked for a little while with the group as they were heading to Marshall. I told them what I knew about the hike and Pete told me about some of the trips he took kids on. That's a pretty sweet gig! He was getting paid to hike.

As I approached the dam I had a sudden realization....there's a ladder down to the walkway. What the hell am I gonna do with this dog on a ladder? What can you do....I picked him up and carried him down. Koda is a lanky 70 lbs but he appeared to trust me so limped out and made it not so bad. I commended him for his good job and being a good boy as we started following the Opalescent uphill.

Man is this a beautiful place in the world. Cascade after falls, getting more and more dramatic as you go. The trail was still very solid with winter trail conditions. I didn't need my spikes until the Feldspar lean to intersection. I felt very strong (getting some results from 2 months of cycle commuting) and didn't start houghing and puffing until this continuous stretch of elevation gain. I picked up one of those stinger packets to try at EMS (impulse buy at the register) and have to admit it gave me a nice little boost at this point.

Lake Tear had a deep snow pack but also had grass and trees poking out in the middle. no water was exposed in the Brook or the 'lake'. We poked around for a minute and picked one of the many starts to the Gray herd path. Up up up we went with views quickly opening up all around. The snow spine was easy to follow and in good shape. In places it was raised up several inches above the rest of the snowpack. I find that this one goes pretty quick as far as herd paths go.

The summit definitely benefits from the snowpack. We were raised up on what felt like a snow stage. We could here people hooting on Marcy as we reached the sign and disc. Koda was intrigued and tried to run to Marcy. Sorry buddy, not today. I yelled back, got their attention and we hollered back and forth for a while. I could see them up there and got some good shots. If you were on Marcy on Saturday, I have a picture of you!

As it was 11:30, we had a lunch. Koda got a tuna packet and I got some elk jerky from the Albany farmers market. We trotted down in what felt like minutes and were at Lake Tear. Reaching Lake Tear of the Clouds was my primary mission for this hike. Jeanette (mountain wolf) and I are getting married this summer and I'm collecting water from three points for the ceremony: Lake tear, the start of the Hudson, the Hudson in Albany and the Atlantic off of Long Island, the end of the river where it meets the ocean. I kicked through the ice a little too aggressively and ended up to me knee in Feldspar Brook. Good thing it was so warm! I dried up within an hour or so. I pumped some water and Koda drank his fill.

The spiral was nearly buried in the snow, a cool perspective. We walked around the lake taking in the views of Marcy. The summit cone was snow free which surprised me. I guess it baked off. Soon enough we reached four corners. The trail down to Panther Gorge showed very little use for the winter. I love the trail up Skylight. Easy going for a final pitch up such a tall peak. The last 5 minutes to the summit were snow free so I ditched the spikes and my pole on the trail and made my way up the bare, neon green rock.

What an amazing day to be on Skylight. Not too much wind, warm temps and enough cloud cover that I didn't have to squint to take in some of my favorite views in the high peaks. We had a terrific photo shoot with Koda making his usual majestic poses with Marcy, Haystack and beyond as the backdrop. On Gray, I picked up a really nice stick and for the novelty of it, we played some fetch on the main open rock, careful to stay away from the alpine vegetation. This is a moment I will not soon forget. We were both so happy. After almost an hour out on the 'dance floor' it was still only 1:30.

Since it's Koda's first time camping out I wanted to get back to camp as late as possible so he'd just pass out and not get to fixating. Anyone who have had german shepherds knows just how driven these guys are. When he's awake and any time before around 8 or 9 pm, if there are people around he wants to engage and interact. There is no laying around on the couch. So with that in mind I thought maybe we'd add on Cliff, see how we felt and maybe try for Redfield. It was a pleasure to go down hill and we essentially skied down to the Feldspar intersection.

On the way up I noticed that Lake Arnold wasn't too far off. I'd never been on this stretch of trail and since the hike was all about the Hudson, it pulled at me. The pragmatist in my knew it'd be easier to hike C and R and not have to come back to get them later for Koda's 46. The desire for adventure won out though. An added bonus was knowing that my good friends Kyle and Sara (Sara is Lostchord around these parts) were climbing Colden and I might just bump into them. So off we went, following the Opalescent. After a while I got a good peak at the base of the (is it the south or southeast?) slide on Colden. I like the idea of climbing it one day but will not drag my poor dog up there.

There was a lot of elevation gain from there to Lake Arnold. I pumped more water and was sweating pretty hard as the sun had come out and warmed things up. I got to Lake Arnold and my dream came true. There was a group that had just come down. They said there were a ton of dogs climbing Colden today. I asked if one of the groups with dogs had a girl with red dreads and sure enough it turns out that Sara and Kyle were still up there!!! I smiled huge and started laboring up Colden. I will say that tacking this one on was a little bit of the old eyes are bigger than stomach situations. I was bonked out pretty good but Koda was doing really well. It was a welcome respite when Sara, Kyle, three dogs and their owners all came around the bend. We chatted for about 20 minutes, drank water, and let my legs rest.

The summit bumps were stunning with views in all directions. I got a nice look back over to Gray and Skylight and of course, you can't get much closer to the Macs!!! I continued over the summit and quickly enjoyed new views down towards FLowed Lands. This trail has a well-deserved reputation for being steep. It was hard going on jelly legs. As the trail gets a lot of southern exposure there was large sections that were completely snow-free. The views were totally worth the difficulty though.

Ahhhh the next snag. This is what happens when you decide on the go to add something on to your trip. Since I hadn't planned on climbing Colden, I hadn't read the trail description. Here I was at the top of another 8-10 step ladder. Koda whined, search for a route around the ledge but couldn't. I tried a couple different spots with him but nothing worked. We were well down the mountain at this point but still I thought about backtracking rather than putting him at risk. Hey, if I could do it once, why not twice? I picked him up and carried him down about 3/4 of the way at which point he took a flying leap into soft snow. Lots more 'good boys' and 'your such a good boys'.

From here on out it continued to be steep and like most high peaks after along multi-peak day, the final segment dragged on my tired body and mind. Reaching the lake shore was a major happy moment. We made our way around and back to the dam. I figured I'd pick him up again but this time he climbed (with some butt support) right up! He's becoming a bridge and ladder master. On around Flowed Lands and back to camp.

I knew it was a good sign when he immediately got in the lean to and laid down for a minute. Typically when i take a break during a hike he whines until I get moving again. At camp he was relaxed and seemed to 'get' that we were staying. I gave him dinner and made a backpackers meal while munching on chocolate. I gave him a pigs ear and got to eat my dinner in peace while he chomped away. He spent the evening on a 20 ft tie-out which went well.

I opened up my bag and the old sleeping bag I brought for him. I dried off his belly and legs with my nifty new microfiber camp towel. Great worked really well. I curled up in my bag and read by the quickly fading light until I needed a head lamp. Just when it started to get dark, the group of high school students stopped by for a visit. I don't know if their group leader encouraged them to do so (probably) but they offered me this yummy granola/ cookie highbred that was really delicious. It was very touching and the whole group (teachers and students) couldn't be nicer. Good neighbors!!!

Sleep came decently easy (for the fact that I was laying on boards haha) and Koda settled in next to me. Every once and a while one of us would stir a bit and check in (I'd pet him or he'd lick my face) but that was about it. I had nightmares in the proceeding weeks of Koda barking all night or running around and neither of us sleeping. I feel blessed. It didn't hurt that we hiked ourselves into the ground.

At first light, Koda woke full of energy and encouraged me to get my show on the road. We were on trail after some brief packing and bear can retrieval. I had decided not to cook breakfast so had saved an apple, larabar and more elk jerky. We hiked to Calamity Pond and had breakfast next to the monument. Koda got another tuna packet. The hike out was uneventful but the weather and scenery were simply stunning. I tarried often, taking pictures and taking it in. I stopped and watched juncos and black capped chickadees picking at the ground and flitting through the tress. My cup was running over.

At the car I tied up Koda, changed into sneakers and a hoody and got the gear all cleaned up and situated. We started back down the road with a one-two punch of 'Loose Lucy' and 'Big River'. Once again fitting selections. By the time we got to 'He's Gone' the lyrics "nothing left to do but smile, smile smile" couldn't have been more fitting. This is a hike I won't soon forget. I was able to reflect on many of our previous hikes through the area and dream about Jeanette, Koda and I's future together with the most beautiful backdrop imaginable.

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