Escape to Panther Gorge

By Mary Lou Recor

Panther Gorge has always interested me, given its remote location in the deepest heart of the High Peaks, shadowed by the walls of Skylight, Marcy and Haystack. I imagined it as dark and mysterious. Even its name evokes fanciful thoughts of wildness and an edge of danger.

But until this past summer I had never been to Panther Gorge, mostly because it required a two-day trip. I didn’t want to rush in and out on a day hike. I wanted to steep myself in its mystique. I wanted to spend the night. I also realized that having been there once, I probably would not return.

So last July Fourth weekend, perhaps the busiest of summer, I wedged my Toyota Corolla into the last parking space at the public lot near Elk Lake – between a blue pickup truck and the sign for the Dix Trail. This was not a good omen. I envisioned myself sharing a campsite with a gaggle of overly enthusiastic middle-aged peak-baggers and a troop of sweaty, cranky Boy Scouts. I need not have worried.

The remote Panther Gorge lies between Mount Marcy and Mount Haystack. Photo by Carl Heilman

My hiking partner, Chris, and I crossed the road to the Marcy Trail and left the motorized, computerized, industrialized, synthesized, suburbanized, cellularized world behind. We met no one over the next nine miles, past three piles of bear scat, past an irate mother grouse, past the trail to Marcy Landing, all the way to the lean-to at Panther Gorge.

Three sleeping bags lay across the floor in the lean-to, and a small tent was pitched irresponsibly close to Marcy Brook, but no one was around. After setting up our tent and caching our bear-proof canister, we climbed the backside of Haystack, returning to camp at dusk. Still deserted. We fell asleep to the sound of the brook running at the bottom of the hill. The next morning, we were on the trail before anyone else was up, and we had the delightfully remote bald summit of Skylight to ourselves.

Bushwhacking the herd path between Gray and Marcy, we saw no one, not even our own feet. The top of Marcy was, as expected, dotted with self-absorbed clusters of climbers. As we hiked the miles back to Elk Lake, we met not another being, except for the conniving mosquitoes and deer flies that, sensing in their insect brains that we would return by the same route we had taken in, descended on us with a vengeance as we passed through Marcy Swamp and tormented us all the way to Nellie Brook.

I no longer spend every weekend hiking in the Adirondacks as I once did, but I have heard the High Peaks are crowded. Doubtless that is relatively true, judging by the numerous parking lot expansions at the Adirondak Loj, the need for a bus shuttle to the Garden and the burgeoning number of recorded Forty-Sixers. But it’s reassuring to know that there are still places in the High Peaks where even on a sunny holiday weekend, we can escape the mass hiker ingress and be lulled to sleep by the quiet sound of a running brook.

Mary Lou Recor is president of the Adirondack Forty-Sixers. This article originally appeared in the group’s magazine, Peeks.

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The Adirondack Explorer is a nonprofit magazine covering the Adirondack Park's environment, recreation and communities.

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