Panther Gorge - 2017
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Panther Gorge - Gray, Skylight, Haystack, and Marcy
September 22-23, 2017

This trip was attempted way back in 2005, but the weather had other plans and we didn't climb any peaks. Needless to say I was anxious to get back there and complete the task. This would be the third adventure this month and the completion of a goal I had to do 11 peaks in 3 weekends.

Brendan has been willing to help me complete the 46, so obviously he was my pack mule (I mean hiking partner) for this trip as well.

Day 1

It was before 7 am when we arrived at the trailhead parking lot at Elk Lake just in time to get one of the last two remaining parking spots. There is no parking allowed on the road and the next closest overflow lot is 2 miles away. We loaded up our packs and hit the trail towards Panther Gorge by 7:15. The trail was in great shape thanks to a good stretch of dry weather after a very wet summer. The forecast was calling for unusually warm temps for this time of year right through the weekend. No chance of rain however, so it's all good.

  This bridge creaked and moaned as we crossed but in fact was vey stable.

  The trail turns into this nice walkway and eventually joins with one of the Elk Lake Lodge dirt roads. Easy walking!

  Brendan spotted this moose track in the mud, it was very large. Never did see him though.

So we made very good time on the way in thanks to the condition and ease of the grade. It was beginning to get warm already however so I was thankful that we were in the shade for most of the way.

A little over an hour into our trek, were both still feeling very chipper.


Soon the trail would leave the road and start the gradual climb to gain altitude only to lose it again as we descended into Marcy Swamp.

  The long line of plank bridges seems to go on for ever, but make for easy walking so we picked up the pace.

  It looks like Yogi likes to use the plank bridges as well.

We made it to Panther Gorge in 4 hours, not bad for just under 9 miles. It went by rather quickly as well. I can't say the same for the way out however. We found the lean-to open in addition to the only legal designated campsite. There was a group of 4 coming behind us, so we chose the campsite to let them have the lean-to. I also like to use the tent when we carry it all that way.

  Camp is set, time to start bagging a few peaks.

We headed toward the 4 corners and to our first destination of the day, Gray Peak. The trail ascends gradually but steadily as the 4 corners junction is at or above 4000 feet.

On the way up, we could see one of the challenges we had for tomorrow, the mighty Haystack Mountain.

  The aptly named 4 corners with all the signage and even a toilet.

We passed this junction and came along Lake Tear of the Clouds, which is known for being the highest water source for the Hudson River. The lake itself isn't much more than a low area with more weeds and reeds than actual open water. But it's a cool place nonetheless.

  Taking a short break at the lake with another of tomorrow's challenges looming high above, Mt. Marcy

Just past the lake is the trail junction for Gray Peak which seems to be more of an extension of Mt. Marcy but must meet the criteria for a summit unto itself. The climb from the junction is only .3 miles and with the exception of a few rock scrambles, is an easy ascent.

Brendan (aka The Mountain Goat) scaled this rather quickly and enjoyed the view while waiting for the old man to figure out the best method.


  My turn. It was pretty steep initially, luckily the rock face was dry so once I got momentum, no issues.

  Number 40 for me.

The views from Gray are nice, Marcy looks close enough to touch and looking west, Colden and the McIntyre Range are in full view. It was a cloudless day although the humidity did affect the clearness that is usually evident in late September.

Our next destination was Mount Skylight, the 4th highest peak at 4926'. The trek over from Gray was quick and before we knew it we were on top. The trail to the summit from the 4 corners is a steady ascent but not overly steep in any parts. The trail was also in very good shape, and you can stay on the bedrock for most of the way which helps to minimize erosion.

  Another shot of Lake tear of the Clouds coming back toward the 4 corners from Gray.

An interesting pattern of moss on this rock. I initially thought it was man made, but saw a similar smaller one on the trail as well. Not really sure.


  A couple of needed reminders of the fragile nature of this environment 

As I said, the trail to Skylight proved fairly easy so before long we were on our second high peak and getting some amazing views. I think Skylight is now in my top 3 for sure. The panoramic banner for this page is from the peak.



Marcy    Haystack and beyond   Colden and the McIntyre Range 

  Back at camp before 6 after a long but great day.

Day 2

We awoke fairly early after a decent nights sleep and after some delicious freeze dried breakfast and Cafe' Mocha, we did a little pre-emptive packing to reduce the work needed later. First order of the day was Mount Haystack, at 4960' it's the third highest. We started hiking at about 7:30 I think and before long we were at the junction where the real climbing would begin.

Shortly past the junction the trail goes straight up for the rest of the way. It reminded me of the trail to Dix Mountain from the north, it was that steep.

  A familiar sight, Brendan waiting at the top of a steep section.

  Another familiar sight, Brendan watching me struggle up a steep section.

Of course the steep sections just got steeper and eventually became bare rock as we closed in on the summit. The Mountain Goat always kicks into another gear when the summit is in reach.

  As I clear the last of the trees, I can see him making his final push, I wouldn't be far behind.

We had the summit to ourselves, so of course we took a selfie ! It was still early and the sun was low but shining brightly.

  Number 26 for Brendan and # 42 for me

The views from Haystack did not disappoint either.

Another awesome panorama, this time from Mount Haystack

After a very enjoyable time on Haystack, it was time to continue the loop on to Marcy. After going up and over Little Haystack, we saw our first other hikers of the day heading to haystack in the opposite direction. We wouldn't see any others until we reached the junction of the Phelps and Van Hovenburg trails.

  A quick break here to re-hydrate before the challenging ascent of just shy of 1300 feet in 1.3 miles.

  Might as well power up with a protein snack as well.

When we did reach the next junction, we saw many other hikers. All shapes and sizes, young and old, two legged and four. It was a good opportunity to take one more water break and chat with a few of them as they reached the junction from the Adk Loj no doubt. They were happy to see the first signs of the summit.


Once we left the junction, the trail crosses a few protected areas with plank bridges and then the true summit march is on. It looks so close but it is deceiving, believe me.


With our destination reached, we shared the summit with a good many folk for a little while and enjoyed the views all around us. It was sunny and very warm and a bit hazy, but the views were still great. An interesting optical illusion is to look at Haystack and realize that all of the mountains that seem to tower over it behind are actually all shorter in height.


Brendan was enjoying the wonder around him when he had to ask; hey so where is the car from here?

That put us back in gear and the new motivation was a bacon cheddar burger and Irish brew at Flannigan's in Schroon Lake. Of course there was a lot of work between us and that becoming a reality. As you know, I call these final pack outs and hikes to the car, the Death March, and by the time we got all the way back to camp, packed up and carried those packs toward the Elk lake trailhead, this one would prove to be the most challenging "death March" I've done to date.

  Somewhere on the march, taking one of many well needed breaks for water. I'm still smiling too!

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