a short backpack. a long story.

for our first backpacking trip of 2008 we decided to re-hike a high peak and try to grab a new one.
you see, we want to (eventually) get our 46'r patch. we aren't commandos though, and still want to enjoy the journey. i love the adirondacks and am mindful to not focus on the numbers.
adam and i started hiking together very quickly after we started dating in 2002. i had been hiking the high peaks and backpacking for a few years before we met, so i had to "introduce" him. luckily for our relationship, he was quickly hooked on the adirondacks also.prior to this trip, adam and i had hiked 22 of the 46 high peaks in the adirondacks. the problem is, we started hiking high peaks before we felt the need to become official 46'rs and we didn't document our hikes very well. it wasn't until the summer of 2004, and our hike up phelps mt., that i started journaling our trips. so that meant we would have to re-hike five high peaks to officially have them count towards our 46'r journey.which brings me back to this trip. even though i had hiked mt marcy twice and adam once, we picked it to re-hike for 46'r documentary purposes. gray peak is a trail-less bushwhack, but very near mt marcy. we figured we'd pick this one up as well, which would bring our count to 23 a piece. not to forget about our awesome dog, crosbi; she had not hiked either mt marcy or gray, so her total would be 11 peaks after this trip.

07.11.08: DAY ONE. THE HIKE IN.
we started from the upper works trailhead around 7:30 AM after an hour and a half drive from home. we opted to sleep at home rather than camp at the trailhead to savor one last night of bed sleep.
many other backpackers had signed into the register before us and were also going to basecamp in the lake colden area.

as usual, i couldn't help but notice the bear warning signs. this year there was an extra twist though, as they made note of the bear canister failures from 2007. we currently carry two bear canisters, each of different brands. our newest canister, made by Bear Vault, is the brand that has failed. awesome.

the day was overcast and humid, which isn't preferable for carrying a 35-45 pound pack full of stuff, but we managed to hike the calamity brook trail into lake colden in about three and a half hours.
we set up camp just as it started to rain, cooked some lunch and took a glorious nap. upon waking, the rain had stopped and the sun was just peeking out. we were visited by two different rangers that day at camp. each was looking for our bear canisters, which are now required by law in the eastern high peaks. the second ranger noted that the bears were at lake colden just the night prior and had taken another backpacker's bear canister. he told us to place a bunch of pots and pans on top of the 'weak link' canister. that way, if a bear made an attempt to break into it we could hear the clatter, get up and "scare him off".
with those thoughts in our heads, we sipped some tequila, ate dinner and went to bed.

woke up after a great night of sleep, with no noticed bear activity. had breakfast, pumped some water and got back onto calamity brook trail around 8:30 AM.
the day was great; mostly sunny and around 85 degrees. it was still humid, but you can't have it all. the trails were very muddy and i was glad to have my gaiters.

we made it to lake tear of the clouds around 11:30 AM. here is where we found the cairn marking the official start of the bushwhack up to gray peak. adam hurriedly pumped more water as the black flies were savage and neither of us had our head nets.

it's very difficult to describe how awful and maddening black flies are unless you experience them personally. all things considered, they are tiny and very poor flyers. but they make up for this in their numbers and sheer commitment to drinking your blood. black flies will hover until they find a deet-free spot on your clothing. from there they will latch on and crawl until a spot is found to bite. you probably won't feel them bite, but you will later find a bloody spot, which will soon become inflamed and will itch like the seventh level of hell. oh, and don't forget the incessant buzzing and the fact that they get in your ears, nose and eyes. if you stop or slow down, they will find you.
lake tear of the clouds seemed to be where all of the black flies in the entire world are born...
the trail up gray peak was steep and required a bit of scrambling, but was over in less than a half hour. we summited around 12:15 PM and had fantastic views south and west.

we could see mt marcy from our perch and decided not to go back down the way we came and summit marcy by the marked trail. instead we agreed to venture on the unmarked, herd path from gray peak to mt marcy.
to summarize that next hour, we experienced an epic struggle with miniature, high altitude hardened evergreens and blood sucking insects. none of the trees were taller than five feet, but were so dense that you could not see your own boots. the "path" was less than six inches wide and easy to lose; mostly because you couldn't see it through the shin-scraping, eye-poking trees. anytime you stopped to find your way, the insects found you and forced you to quickly move on. there was lots of swearing and getting our packs snagged on branches. i will be unable to wear a skirt to work for some time; lest people think i like to be hit with switches across my thighs. although adam isn't worried about not wearing skirts, he did lose his kershaw knife somewhere during the battle of the gray peak trees.
we did eventually find our way above tree line on the shoulder of mt marcy. it was a quick, but steep jaunt to the summit, arriving at 1:30 PM. it's never lonely on the top of mt marcy and there were many others sharing our experience. we cooked a meal, mended our blisters and let crosbi savor a quick nap after her first summit of the highest peak in new york state.

we agreed that attempting to summit mt skylight was out of the question for the day and got back to camp by 6:15 PM. after a refreshing 'bath' in the opalescent river, we had dinner, again drank tequila and went to bed.

sleep was not so great due to a tent-hogging dog and an aching hip flexor.

drizzle woke adam up around sunrise and he secured the rain fly. we woke up again around 9:00 AM to the sound of heavy rain and the realization that our tent was in a depression in the ground. simply put, we were flooding. a frenzied tent move in the pouring rain and a damp discussion on the unlikely prospects of improved weather followed. it was decided that we would pack up and hike out.
after waiting for the rain to let up, we loaded our soggy gear and got on the trail a little after noon. the rain held off for the next hour or so, but then unleashed it's fury. we hiked in the pouring rain for two hours. the trails were first muddy, then flooded. it was so uncomfortable that it was funny. i mean, when you stop to pee and pull soaking wet underpants back on, you either laugh or go crazy. we stopped avoiding water; simply because it was impossible to not walk through puddles and our feet were fully saturated anyway. adam noted, "it feels like my boots are filled with cottage cheese". quickly followed by, "some cottage cheese would be good right now".
we kept ourselves sane by thinking of the delicious, fresh meal we would prepare once we got home.
(if you are curious...we decided on nachos with refried black beans, vegetarian meat sauce, guacamole and all the fixin's)

while it may seem that this was a horrible experience, it was not. it certainly won't rank in the top ten backpacking trips, but it was none the less a good time.
we are already planning our next trip, but are going to leave upper works and the calamity brook trail alone for a bit. we will never, ever again camp at that site at lake colden even if were assured that it wouldn't rain.
and we will always bring our head nets.


  1. I very much enjoyed reading your detailed account of your "never a dull moment" trip. makes me excited and a little nervous for my excursion this weekend- more rain is in the forecast!

    also...go ahead, wear skirts and show off those hard earned battle scars from gray! congrats on being a 23er..halfway there :)

  2. Your words create such great visuals. You brought to mind several reasons why I miss New York...and several reasons why I do not. Congrats and Happy Hiking!

  3. wait, so are you saying you don't like to be hit on the thighs with switches? because this is totally changing my view of our internet friendship.


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