Phelps & Tabletop - High Peaks 5 & 6
Alarm went off at 3 am Saturday October 10th and we were on our way to the ADK Loj by 3:30 in the morning. We arrived at the ADK Loj parking lot right at 5:45 am to find that there was a LINE of cars in front of us. WHAT?! I couldn't believe it, I thought we were nice and early - but apparently not early enough...
This was my first time hiking out of this parking lot. For those of you who haven't hiked out of the ADK Loj, it is very different than the St Huberts parking lot. This lot is HUGE, but fills up quickly because of campers and all the people doing day hikes. There is also a toll booth of sorts where you have to pay $15/car to park for the day, I think it was $8/car if you're an ADK club member.
This area has a concession stand, retail store, bathrooms, and more! Totally different experience than your other ADK trailhead parking lots that's for sure.
We left the car, clicked on the headlamps and started towards the trailhead at 6 am. At this point we started on the trail and were in a line of people hiking in with headlamps. And when I say a line, it was like 30 people. We walked at a super fast paced and passed all of these groups of people - I hate walking in a line or surrounded by people. At this point we are speed walking down this trail. It was dark still, but I could tell I really enjoyed the trail - featured lots of meandering turns through the woods, and wooden bridges over streams. Finally we put a decent amount of space between ourselves and the groups behind us, at this point we had probably hiked a mile and a half and had to strip down to teeshirts. Yes, teeshirts in the middle of October. It was going to be a warm one that's for sure, with a high of 70!
It was 2.5 miles from sign in to the Marcy Dam, but an easy 2.5 miles, barely gaining any elevation at this point. Marcy Dam is beautiful, sun was coming up and we retired the headlamps at this point of the hike.
We crossed the dam and there is another trail sign in sheet, we signed in here and started on the Van Hoevenberg trail. The VH trail follows the Phelps Brook for the majority of the trail. This section climbs a little bit of elevation (but not much), we followed this for about a mile. Nothing overly important to report here.
After a mile of hiking this section of the trail you reach a trail junction where left is Phelps and right is Marcy. Our plan was to first trek up to Tabletop and then come back and up to Phelps last. Reasons being: Tabletop is a steeper/longer climb, it's further from the trailhead, and also offers less views (wooded summit). So, in order to hit Tabletop first you take a RIGHT at this junction towards Marcy.
Side note: This was the first hike where I had seen SO many people confused on where to go for the mountain they were hiking. This is a good reminder to all hiking in the high peaks, it's so important to check the map before starting your hike and to have a plan. If you are just relying on signage and trail markers, it will be incredibly easy to get lost and/or off the trail!
We took our right at the junction and hiked another mile towards the next trail junction. This section of the trail crossed a bridge over the brook which was beautiful and starts a gradual rock scramble climb, gaining some more elevation. After this mile you will see a small sign on your left hand side reading "Tabletop". If you don't take this left and keep going straight, it'll lead you up to Marcy! So make sure to keep your eyes open for this sign.
From the sign to the summit it is only .8 miles but wow does it feel longer! Tabletop is a herd path and for those of you reading that don't know what this is, a herd path simply means it's a very narrow trail that is not upkept by the stewards and is not marked. Sounds intimidating, but due to the amount of hikers that come through the high peaks every day - it's a clear path.
You essentially follow the creek bed the entire way up to the summit. It's very straight forward. But it is DEFINITELY narrow, there were actually some sections of trail where I could barely fit through with my backpack on! The tabletop trail was also incredibly muddy and wet, We summited Tabletop at 9 am, about 3 hours from signing in.
The summit of Tabletop is a wooded summit - so it's not a large space. It is marked by a wooden sign. Honestly, everyone says the views are disappointing at Tabletop - but I thought they were just beautiful! I guess to each their own. We didn't stay long on this summit at all, probably about 5-10 minutes, snapped a photo and turned back down.
Going down Tabletop took a while because we were moving slowly with all the water/mud on the path. We reached the bottom where the trail junction was and sat on a log for a snack to refuel for the remainder of our hike.
It was amazing sitting there and watching everyone going up to Marcy. So many people in white tennis shoes, one guy was even carrying a Yeti cooler with him..... can you imagine? Climbing the highest peak in NYS with a yeti cooler strapped around his neck. Lots of people confused on where to go, even saw one couple turn up to Marcy thinking it was Phelps and had to correct them - Oh boy.
After sitting here for a few moments, we carried on our hike, back the mile to the trail junction to Phelps & the Van Ho trail. When we reached the bottom of the Phelps trail, we took a moment for a snack, take some layers off and get ready for the climb. Phelps was actually a really enjoyable hike for me.
It was my type of hiking - it had slab climbs, boulders, rock scrambles, a whole mixture of technical climbing. which I really enjoyed. The climb to the summit is right about 1.3 miles. We moved fairly quickly on this section of trail because we noticed some storm clouds closing in and wanted to summit/start our descent before any rain.
I was really proud of myself on this section of the hike because I was CRUSHING this mountain. I pushed myself hard, and summited Phelps in under an hours time. We reached the summit at 12:05 pm. It was a beautiful summit, and such a contrast from Tabletop. Panoramic views of the high peaks, looking right out at Marcy. Some dark clouds over Marcy and some wind, but other than that, a beautiful day!
We had our lunch, a beer and snapped some photos and started our descent at 12:30. Feeling really accomplished with our day, (although definitely feeling a bit tired) we had big smiles on our faces on our way down Phelps.
We hiked down Phelps. back to the VH trail, back to Marcy dam where lots of hikers were cooling off or relaxing at, and then back to the main trail to the parking lot.
We soaked in the beautiful foliage at this part of the trail, which we hadn't seen earlier in the day because it was still dark out.
And when we were less than 2 miles from the parking lot, we actually did some light jogging! I had never done this before, especially not after hiking almost 13 miles, but it was a flat section of trail and we were just ready to be done for the day. On and off jogging, walking, jogging, speed walking, we made it back to the trailhead at 3 pm right on the nose.
13 miles, 9 hours and 3900 ft of elevation for high peaks 5 & 6 on our journey to become 46ers.