Cliff and Marshall

David at summit of Mount Marshall.

Back to the Adirondacks this weekend, to bag two more 46er peaks: Cliff and Marshall.  This trip was more than a peak-bagging trip – it was an opportunity to re-visit some of my favorite campsites and to enjoy the incredible waterfalls and cascades of the Opalescent River in some excellent conditions. Read on, and check out the photo gallery.

Hanging Spear falls.

I arrived at the Upper Works trailhead at noon on Saturday, and it immediately started raining.  Indeed, thunder rolled through the valley as I slopped my way through the rain up the muddy trail toward Flowed Lands.  Fortunately, the rain stopped after about an hour and I made good time, arriving at the pretty Flowed Lands shelter in mid-afternoon.  With a few hours to spare I grabbed my daypack and headed down a side trail along the Opalescent River to Hanging Spear Falls, a beautiful waterfall that is reportedly one of the highest in the Adirondacks.  On return, I settled in to read while enjoying the late-afternoon sun as it dappled the water and the mountains beyond.

Sunday morning I awoke early – at 5 a.m., when the couple sharing my lean-to had set their alarm. Daylight had just arrived, with sunrise to come a half-hour later.  Knowing I had a full itinerary for the day, I quickly packed up my camp and set out for Lake Colden, anticipating that the lean-to shelters at the busy Lake Colden area would be opening up as other weekend parties headed homeward.  Along the way I stashed my pack in the woods and climbed the herd trail to Mount Marshall, alongside the pretty Herbert Brook.  I arrived at about 8:40 a.m. and enjoyed my first lunch of the day. Despite the viewless peak, there were nonetheless some nice views from the slabs of Herbert Brook on the way down. I passed three other ascending hikers – it still astonishes me how many people climb these “trailless” peaks.

Neither Marshall nor Cliff has a formal, maintained trail to the summit, but both are so heavily traveled they have clear “herd paths” that ascend to the summit.  The trails are loosely marked with rock cairns and, on Cliff, occasional spray-painted arrows.  Their real challenge is in dealing with incredibly deep mud pits and eroded cliff faces.

A short while later I arrived at Beaver Point at the southwest end of Lake Colden, and dropped my pack in Cedar Point lean-to.  With a deep sense of deja-vu, I recalled the many winter trips I spent at this shelter (in at least some of 1980, 81, 82, 83, and 86).

David near some cascades along the Opalescent River.

By 11 a.m. I was off again, crossing the Lake Colden dam and heading up the Opalescent River toward Mount Marcy.  I’d been this way 27 years earlier, when I camped at Uphill Lean-to while bagging Redfield, Gray, Marcy, and Skylight, but had forgotten how incredibly beautiful are the cascades along the Opalescent River.  Beautiful!

Horrible mud along the trail to Cliff Mountain.

At Uphill Lean-to I turned right at the cairn and headed into the mucky valley between Redfield and Cliff, following an ancient corduroy roadway now badly eroded.  Soon after leaving the squishy valley the herd path scrambles up steep, heavily-eroded granite bedrock, pitch after pitch.   I was pleased when the trail leveled out, only to find it was a false summit and another half-mile of down-and-up was needed to reach the summit.  Another viewless peak – not even reaching 4,000′ – but significant for me as it counts as #40 of the 46.

View of Lake Colden (and Mount Colden) from Cedar Point lean-to.

Back to the shelter by 3 p.m., I spent another lovely evening reading and relaxing, by Lake Colden.  Monday morning I was up early and headed back out the way I’d come, satisfied with a sense of accomplishment and pleased with the opportunity to camp in two lovely lakeside lean-tos.

Check out the photos!

Saturday: 4.9 miles with full pack, 1.4 miles with day pack.
Sunday: 1.3 miles with full pack, 10.8 miles with day pack.
Monday: 5.8 miles with full pack.

Author: dfkotz

David Kotz is an outdoor enthusiast, traveller, husband, and father of three. He is also a Professor of Computer Science at Dartmouth College.

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