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Marcy via Upper Works -- when to camp?

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  • Marcy via Upper Works -- when to camp?

    Hi folks,

    A friend and I are planning to climb Marcy over Sept. 11 and 12th, taking the most direct route (Calamity-Uphill-Opalescent-Lake Tear) from the Upper Works trailhead. We figured on doing it as an overnight trip, but since it's an out-and-back route, our halfway point will be the summit of Marcy and we can't camp there. We figured on spending the night at either the Uphill or Feldspar lean-to. The trip is about 10 miles each way (20 RT), and I believe the lean-tos are about 2.5 miles from the peak.

    Should we attempt to reach the peak on the first day, then spend the night in the woods on our way down and have a short second day? Or is it better to have an easy first day, reach the peak early on day two, and then head back down?

    Please share your thoughts. Thanks!

  • #2
    According to Google Earth, it's about 9.3 miles from Upper Works to Marcy. Feldspar lean-to is about 7.3 miles from Upper Works leaving you with about 2 miles and 2000 feet ascent to the summit.

    On the first day, camp at one of the designated sites near Feldspar lean-to. Enjoy the evening.

    On the second day, awaken early, strike camp, stash your gear, and day-hike to Marcy.

    Either while away the hours on the summit or return to Four Corners and ascend Skylight for its wonderful views (1/2 mile and ~600 feet ascent from Four Corners). Return to Four Corners.

    If you are an aspiring 46er, consider adding nearby Gray (unmarked trail begins at Lake Tear's outlet). If you had enough peaks for one day, descend to your camp, collect your belongings, and hike the remaining 7 miles back to Upper Works. The return is all downhill except for a few bumps along the western side of Flowed Lands.

    Good luck and enjoy!

    Camp in the Lake Colden area. It may be more difficult to find a camp-site because it is a very popular area. However, you will avoid hauling overnight gear up to Feldspar (and down the next day). Of course, your day-hike the second day will include an extra 2 miles (representing the distance from Lake Colden Dam to Feldspar lean-to).
    Looking for views!


    • #3
      Thanks very much! Just to make sure I understand, you think we'll have time to make it from Feldspar to Marcy and Skylight (plus maybe Gray) and get all the way back down to Upper Works in one day?


      • #4
        Simple answer: I don't know you so I have no idea what you are capable of hiking in a day.

        My suggestion is based on the following:
        • Hauling overnight gear to Feldspar lean-to is hard work. You have 7 miles to travel and at least 1500 feet of ascent. I don't know your pace but you're looking at 4 to 5 hours of hiking (at 1.5 mph) plus whatever breaks you may take to inspect the MacIntyre monument and admire the views of Flowed Lands, Lake Colden, and the Opalescent gorge. Add time to setup camp and prepare your gear for a day-hike.
        • If you arrive at Feldspar early and feel chipper, then by all means continue to Marcy. However, you may not have enough time to visit Marcy and Skylight and return before nightfall. Not a problem if you don't mind cooking and cleaning in the dark. Effectively, you will be cramming everything into the first day and the next day will simply be a 7 mile downhill walk back to Upper Works (unless you choose to add another peak like Colden).
        • By stopping at Feldspar for the day, you have plenty of remaining daylight hours to organize yourselves for the next day, prepare supper, relax, and recuperate from the day's exertions. May I suggest you cook and eat away from your camp so you'll have fewer curious visitors in the evening. Place your bear canister well away from your camp. Turn in early.
        • Awake at the crack of dawn. You had lots of time to prepare the previous day so get a jump on this one. Retrieve your bear canister, have a hot breakfast, then strike camp and stow everything away. Don't leave anything edible in your packs. Leave pockets open to avoid having mice create new entrances. Stash your bear canister away from your packs (it smells of food).
        • Ascend to Four Corners (1000 feet), turn left and ascend Marcy (1000 feet). The trail comes out of the woods at Schofield Cobble and proceeds along open rock, marked by cairns, to the summit. Enjoy the views. If you started early, you may be one of the first to arrive.
        • When you return to Four Corners, you'll know if you have "gas in the tank" to include Skylight. It's a half-mile away and 600 feet up. Budget about 1.5-2 hours for the round-trip. If your progress has been less than anticipated, leave Skylight for another day. However, if you're making great time, go for it! Skylight has a wonderful feeling of remoteness. You will love the view of Marcy, Panther Gorge, and Haystack.
        • Return to Four Corners and descend to your camp. Don't forget to retrieve your bear canister! Collect your packs and just tell yourself "It's 7 miles but it's all downhill." Expect about ten hours of hiking (or more) on the second day.

        FWIW, I haven't backpacked in decades and typically day-hike to Marcy and/or Skylight and/or Gray. Here are four trip reports. The first two depart from the Loj (wintry conditions) and the last two from Upper Works (one winter, one spring). At the bottom of each report you'll find a link to photos. They'll give you a sense of what to expect.

        Marcy, Skylight, and Gray.

        Skylight and Gray.

        Enjoy your trip!
        Last edited by Trail Boss; 08-12-2015, 09:52 PM.
        Looking for views!


        • #5
          Good detail from Trail Boss, as usual.

          For background, what he recommends is sort of normal mountaineering practice:

          >Make base camp the day before in as high a location as is safe, legal and reasonable.

          >On "summit day", go early, and get up and down.

          >Pack up and hike out.

          In the bigger ranges, this plan is driven largely by snow and ice conditions, avy danger, etc. But even without those factors it's still the best way to plan this trip.

          Have fun!


          • #6
            I agree with Trail Boss- some information about your experience level would help us to much better help you plan your trip.

            If you're new to backpacking, I wouldn't recommend trying to get to Feldspar. That is a longer haul with full backs that could be a lot for a first timer or someone who isn't used to carrying overnight gear.

            As crowded as they can be, Flowed Lands or Lake Colden are probably a much more reasonable camping option for beginners. It is going to give you a longer day on the day that you climb Marcy, but it is doable if you give yourself as early a start as possible.

            Also, be aware that it is going to be getting pretty cold at night by early September. There is even a decent chance that nighttime temperatures will be below freezing. Make sure you have an appropriately rating sleeping bag and some extra warm layers of clothing. You might encounter ice at higher elevations but that early in the season, any ice forming overnight should melt quickly during the day.


            • #7
              Thanks, everyone. Helpful advice.

              My hiking buddy is a relatively seasoned backpacker, he grew up in West Virginia and has done some trips out west. I'm less experienced (my last overnight wilderness trip was to West Canada Lakes about 13 years ago) but I'm in good physical shape and I've done some moderately strenuous day-climbing. My buddy doesn't think I should have any trouble.

              Neither of us has done the High Peaks before, though, so I want to make sure we've done our homework and checked in with the experts.

              We'll be prepared for the cold. My friend's bringing his 0-degree bag, I'm picking up a 30-degree bag, and we'll both have extra layers.


              • #8
                A 30 degree bag is really more of a summer bag. Using it is going to be cutting it pretty close in the High Peaks in September, especially if you're serious about camping at a higher elevation site like the Feldspar Lean-to. You might luck out and get warm nights but I wouldn't plan on it.

                Remember that unless they follow the European standard, the given rating for sleeping bags is often the survival rating, not the comfort rating. It is usually a good idea to assume that you will begin to feel uncomfortable when the temperature is about 10 degrees above the given rating.

                I have a 35 degree bag that I steadfastly refuse to swap out each season until after Labor Day, and even then, I often have some uncomfortable nights in late August.

                Remember also that while adding extra layers of clothing in your sleeping bag can help some, it usually really doesn't work as well as you might hope. That clothing often tends to take up space that would be filled by air anyways, and in adding layers, you are often making it more difficult for heat to spread from your core to your extremities (this is a bit counter-intuitive, but it is true- the added insulation blocks heat transfer via conduction and convection). The ideal sleeping situation in cold weather is a warm enough bag, with minimal clothing on beneath it (a layer of long underwear or the like).

                If you're serious about 3 season backpacking, I would probably look at bags that are rated at least to 15 degrees. I personally use a 5 degree bag for spring and fall camping. It's a bit overkill in September, but it sure is nice and cozy come late October or early November.

                Another option would be to get a liner. There are some decent ones on the market, that will lower the temperature rating of your bag 10 or 15 degrees.
                Last edited by DSettahr; 08-14-2015, 10:58 AM.


                • #9
                  DS is exactly right about September and the 30 degree bag. I camped at Ward Brook in mid September 1985 with a 30 degree bag, in a tent. I survived, but was EXTREMELY uncomfortable and slept very little. Bring a warmer bag or a least a liner.


                  • #10
                    A slight exaggeration in order to make a point about Adirondack trails:

                    Trail in Colorado at approximately 10000 feet elevation.

                    Trail in the Adirondack High Peaks at approximately 3700 feet elevation.

                    Many trails in the High Peaks are heavily eroded and often muddy. They look like brook beds and, in a rainstorm, it's hard to tell them apart.

                    If you can average 2 mph in the High Peaks, you're moving at a pretty good clip. Budget for 1.5 mph and be pleased if you do better.
                    Looking for views!


                    • #11
                      Gotcha. 15 degree bag at least, plan for 1.5 mph. Thanks, experts!

                      It sounds like the smart move is to hit the peak(s) on the second day, so we'll do that. I'd like for us to make Feldspar or at least Uphill so the second day isn't totally rushed, but we can see how we're feeling when we get to Lake Colden and stop there if we're worn out.
                      Last edited by voicevote; 08-14-2015, 11:48 AM.


                      • #12
                        Trail Bosses point about the difference in northeastern vs. western trails is also a good one. Northeastern trails tend to be steep, muddy, and rocky. Western trails tend to be well graded, with plenty of switchbacks. Because outdoor recreation got its start in the northeast, many of the trails were constructed without any knowledge about how to properly route them for minimum impact and maximum efficiency.

                        Most people who've hiked both out west and in the Adirondacks (or in the northeast) have agreed that western trails are noticeably easier to hike on, despite the higher elevations.


                        • #13
                          Follow-up question: there's plenty of accessible water on this hike, right? I assumed so, since most of the route follows one stream or another, but it'd be nice to have some confirmation.

                          We'll have purification tablets, of course.


                          • #14
                            Hi folks,

                            Just wanted to say thanks for all your help. My friend and I did our hike this past weekend and it was a big success. We made it to the Feldspar lean-to before dark on Friday night, reached the top of Marcy just after 10am on Saturday, and made it back down to Upper Works before dark that evening. It was an unforgettable trip.

                            Trail conditions for most of the trip were rocky on the slopes and a little muddy on the flats, but definitely manageable. Friday's weather was glorious. It did get cold at night but our tent and bags were more than up to the task. No bears overnight. Saturday's weather held out just long enough for us to reach the peak and get back down to Feldspar for our gear, then the skies opened up and we finished the last five miles or so in torrential rain.

                            The scenery at Flowed Lands, Lake Colden, and Tear of the Clouds was delightful, and of course the view from the peak was spectacular.

                            We were definitely much better prepared for having had your advice. Thanks for helping to make this amazing experience possible.
                            Last edited by voicevote; 09-15-2015, 02:12 PM.