ADK Great Range Traverse

If you would have told me even when I was in my best shape as a college athlete, or a few short years ago, that I’d be writing about doing such a trek I’d either have laughed, concluded I must have contracted the Big Casino, or lost some kind of a torturous bet.

The very quick backstory is mildly interesting. Since my football career was abruptly ended as a college sophomore, for a while I tried to lift and continue in football training mode. That lasted until about 6 months after I graduated – and the combination of investment banking and a realization that having a neck as wide as my waste and getting pinned under 500 lbs of squat weight was really serving very little purpose, and probably not too healthy. So I stopped lifting and pretty much kept to a light cardio regiment for many, many years – something like 2.5-3.0 miles per run, three or four days per week, with some other hiking and sports mixed in.

Fast forward to January 2012. I had been in what I thought was reasonably good shape for a 37 year old, but never really pushing myself since football ended. I was sitting at a bouncy-house place for a birthday party, in one of those plastic backed metal chairs, with my legs kicked forward on another chair watching an NFL playoff game. After two hours in that position, I tried to get up, and could barely move. Like some really decrepit old person, I thought to myself, “goodness, my lower back has gone out.” My little 5 year old daughter had to help me walk to the car. After a couple of weeks of not really being able to twist, turn or do much of anything, I caved and went to my doctor (I don’t really have a doctor, I just went to the person that was closest to me and in the network), after a minute he looked with expectant pity on me, encouraged me to do some exercises, and told me to basically “enjoy” the coming “cascade of degeneration.”

Well, that was the spark that took me back to the intensity that I tried hard to bring to football training. Washed up and on a decline at age 37? One of the ways that our younger selves stay optimistic as our football careers end is that we read a lot about how endurance stuff is really for the older folks, and that the prime of running, biking, kayaking, and so on lay out before us, and we could do those things until we kicked the bucket. And now, I’m told that I’m on a cascade of degeneration! “Doesn’t this doctor know ANYTHING about me?!” I asked myself? In any event, that comment was the beginning of my mid-life crisis.

As I ramped up my stretching, strengthening and cardio regimen that winter and spring the back started to feel a bit better, and I set my eyes on scheduling a couple of days hiking on top of increasing the frequency of my running (and now skating too).The hiking season began with some easy leg stretchers out west and upon my return I decided to start with a fairly heady hike to see if I had the constitution to continue. The plan was to do a Dix Range traverse, but setting up base camp at the Slide Brook camp at the base of Macomb to make the day just a little less precarious for a first-timer. On the way into the park, I camped at Lake Harris and decided to “warm up” on Ampersand. Ampersand is over 3,000 feet and is in the Western High Peaks. It is a short hike by High Peaks standards, but it does have some good and steady climbing and supposedly a terrific view. Well, I woke up to a thick fog, and within 20 minutes of hiking was huffing and puffing as I had not experienced in years. An hour into the hike I had thoroughly convinced myself that not only was hiking the 46 lunacy, that I had no prayer at doing the Dixes, or even making it to the top of Ampersand,

Then I remembered the “cascade of degeneration.” Never in my life had I thought like that before. Long story short, made it to Ampersand but sadly had not more than 25 feet of views, drove around the park to the Elk Lake trailhead, marched into the Dixes with my heavy pack, set up camp, ate like a champ, slept like a champ and the next day with a start at 7am was on the top of my first High Peak (Macomb) by 8:15am, on the top of the fifth High Peak of the day, Dix, by 3:30pm, and back to my car with camp packed and a totally changed mindset by 6:30 or so.

Well, 2014 was a fun summer, with me completing the 46 by hiking 27 of them, and by the end of the summer I was feeling great and had managed to include several really long days and very much enjoyed them. It was after running up Phelps, Tabletop then over to Nye and Street that I started to think I could actually consider doing some more of the terrific hikes that I’ve read so much about. A week later I was able to do Haystack, Basin and Saddleback – loving every minute of it on a perfect day and finishing in 10 hours that I thought of doing some even longer hikes and perhaps the Range. The longest one I ended up doing (I think) was my last of the year … doing all of the Macs, and the Colden from Lake Colden, to finish the 46.

By the time this spring rolled around I was probably in the best shape I had been in in a very long time – with my weight a good 25-30 pounds below football weight, and 20 pounds below the time when the doctor told me I was done for. Running has ramped up with 4-6 days of 4-5 miles per session – a big change from where I once was, and the runs are actually quite enjoyable. Felt so good this year that after a couple 10 mile hikes up and around the Finger Lakes hills, I thought I’d just see how I could handle a really big hike. Seeking solitude and some approaches and trails I had not seen before, I decided to hike in from Elk Lake along Pinnacle Ridge, over Blake, down to Upper Ausable Lake, and then trek all the way up to Haystack and return to Elk Lake via Panther Gorge. The trails were a disaster, but I felt great the entire day and did the thing in about 14 hours. The entire time hiking along the ridge and certainly while sitting atop Haystack, the Great Range loomed and I could only wonder how that would compare to what I had been in the middle of.

America's Hardest Dayhikes

Fast forward a few weeks – for my second hike of the year (I only get the chance to get out 3 or 4 times per year), I awaited a no chance of rain (or so it seemed) day, with a few days of no rain prior, and tons of daylight, While I have no issues walking with a lamp, I really wanted to be finishing the GRT in the daylight and to make it to my own bed that night should I do it.

My typical routine has been leaving Rochester around 3pm, making a stop to have a snack in very pretty Speculator/Lake Pleasant and then make my way to the rest stop on the Northway just south of 73. After the half-pound or so of Mac n Cheese, got a good night’s sleep and was at the trailhead sometime after 3am.

Pretty spot on Lake Pleasant for my typical snack stop

Pretty spot on Lake Pleasant for my typical snack stop


High Peaks rest area

A little earlier start than usual

A little earlier start than usual, July 6, 2015

The plan was to do the GRT counterclockwise, and most important for me the plan was to walk the entire loop. Now, there are all kinds of ways I suppose you might do the Range, even in the direction I chose – some start at the HPIC and truck up Marcy from there (it’s the “closest” approach to Marcy) then come down the Range and out at Rooster Comb, others do it clockwise and end up at the HPIC (via the Van Ho) or perhaps clockwise up the Range and out via the Phelps trail and the Garden. In all of those cases people either stash a bike to finish the loop (most likely with Garden finish) or perhaps even spot cars or thumb rides. I wanted to do the whole loop, partially because I am not really keen on hitching rides, but mostly because I like the idea of the full loop being walked for this one. The tradeoff I made is that I would park at Rooster Comb (which is just a few seconds south of the middle of Keene Valley village), then walk the mile or so from there to the trailhead at the Garden.

Rooster Comb trailhead

Rooster Comb trailhead

Hang a left here for the Garden, and you have a surprising 500' or so climb up to the trailhead

Hang a left here for the Garden, and you have a surprising 500′ or so climb up to the trailhead

Among the many small delights on this day

Among the many small delights on this day

At the trailhead by 4am.

At the trailhead by 4am. The sign says Marcy is only 9 miles from here.

The walk up the road to the Garden trailhead required a decent little climb to start the day. It was a nice warmup actually, and there were a few streetlights, so managed to walk the thing without recourse to the headlamp. Note that my “deal” with myself was that since I was walking the extra mileage and uphill and making the long entry into Marcy via Garden as opposed to Van Ho, that I would skip Rooster Comb on the way back – also with the hope that I would be in bed home in Rochester before midnight. In any case, signed the trail-register, tightened my boots, donned the headlamp, and was very excited to prepare a brisk walk into JBL where I thought I’d stop to have a breakfast bar and refill a liter of water. The hope was a quick 3.5 miles to Johns Brook Lodge, and be there by 5am. I had no reason to think this wouldn’t happen since the last two times I came in and out on the Phelps trail, it was in fantastic condition and wasn’t entirely boulder and root strewn. Plus, I had waited for a week where there was no rain for several days before-hand and when I would be hiking in good weather. I always find it fun, and important, to make as much good time and distance as I can on the easy parts of the hikes, so I can be more careful, or perhaps see more stuff, later on. Well, not on this day. While surely I was able to move “well” by objective standards, it took closer to 90 minutes to make it through the endless river of muck and mud and slick roots and rocks that the Phelps had become in this very wet and cool early summer. I should have known better after the surfing safari I took a few weeks prior over at Elk Lake.

By the time I had finished my breakfast bar and topped off my water (by the way, on a dry day this would really be one of the few places to get water, and the hike is barely started here) it was around 5:30, and I was already behind my targeted 16 hour pace.

Looking back at JBL as I head toward Slant Rock.

Looking back at JBL as I head toward Slant Rock.

The trail beyond JBL and up to Slant Rock was good for ADK trails but still much slower than I had hoped based on the last time I was up to do the Upper Great Range. The next 3.3 miles to Slant Rock took about an hour and a half, and in this case some time was lost due to nearly 10 minutes of me trying to figure out how to safely ford the brook, which was running ridiculously high and I was in no mood to wade in on this day nor was I wanting to take any leaps or jumps that I was not 100% sure about. I have the voice of my wife ingrained in my head, “I don’t care if you die, but you have children!” (OK, she doesn’t say exactly that, but in her head it is something close to it)

Slant Rock, 7:15am

Slant Rock, 7:15am

From Slant Rock the climb to Marcy begins. For those of you wanting to climb Marcy, don’t be intimidated by the 18 mile round-trip from Phelps trail. The trail on most days is in excellent condition, and ascending the 4,000+ feet from the Garden over such a long stretch really leaves you without much really serious climbing until you are near the summit (well, there are some spots).

Perhaps a little dramatic, at least if you are well prepared. But, after reading

Perhaps a little dramatic, at least if you are well prepared. But, after reading “Not Without Peril,” maybe there is no such thing.

Another of the small delights, managed to snap this as the phone was falling out of my sweaty hands and the little guy was running like heck away from me.

Another of the small delights, managed to snap this as the phone was falling out of my sweaty hands and the little guy was running like heck away from me.

Take the time to take in the smells, the small creatures, the flora – it really does make days like this into super special. But … we have a long way to go, we’ll use some other posts for such reflections.

After you leave Slant Rock the trail steepens a bit until you get to the base of the summit cone for Marcy (oh yeah, did I mention that Marcy would be my first stop on the day, and that I’d be making my way “down” Range the rest of the day?). Don’t be fooled that since you are nearing a summit cone you will somehow emerge from the mucky trails. No sir-ee! There are few summits in the High Peaks that are themselves dry either, believe it or not, and Marcy was no different today.

Typical trail this year ... was fighting this all summer.

Typical trail this year … was fighting this all summer.

Just go through it

Just go through it

First views of the day over 3 hours in.

First views of the day over 3 hours in.

After the air cooled and the views started coming, my energy kicked up a bit and it was a nice, steady, steep, but enjoyable climb up slab to the summit of Marcy. Made it by 8:30, about 5 hours since I parked the car, and well over 4 hours from the trailhead. I was hoping to have summited 45 minutes earlier, but the slop and stream crossings really took a toll, though I was feeling strong and excited about what lie ahead.

The Marcy summit cone

The Marcy summit cone

Plaque, just below true summit

Plaque, just below true summit

Next stop, Haystack.

Next stop, Haystack. Panther Gorge looming. Little Haystack is bump to left.


Colden in foreground with MacIntyre Range behind (tall one just to right and behind Colden is Algonquin, off to the right shoulder of Algonquin is Wright and the smallish peak to left of Algonquin and directly behind Colden is Boundary, then over to its left is Iroquois. Marshall is to left of Iroquois (South) with a deep gorge between. Just beyond those is Wallface (as cool looking as its name sounds) and MacNaughton (4,000 feet but not on “list”)

Spent about 30 minutes up there – it was a bit hazy and though I had meticulously studied the weather and by all accounts today was supposed to be perfect, it appeared that some storms might be rolling up. It turned out to be a haze that stayed with me all day – but at least it was cool and comfortable out. This was my second time on Marcy – which though it is one of the longest treks to get to among the High Peaks, is typically among the busiest, mostly because at 5,344′ it stands as the tallest peak in New York State – so it was wonderful that for the second time I had this place all to myself. The previous time was on my Cliff-Redfield-Gray-Skylight-Marcy trek and it was nearly 9:30am when I was on Marcy last and still had it to myself.  Both visits left me a tiny bit flummoxed however because I know there is a summit marker up there, and I am sure I walked right on top of it, but both times I failed to see it. I walked over toward Colden where indications suggest that it is, then walked, quite literally, in a grid, over every square inch of the highest part of the summit, and still saw lots of holes in the rock, but no marker. Oh well, I guess I never made it to the summit.

From Marcy you get a great view of Haystack and Little Haystack. Panther Gorge looms, but it is not as yawning and imposing a gap from here as it is from the other side on Haystack – mostly because Marcy has a smoother, wider summit than Haystack.  Made it back down to the Range Trail junction toward Haystack by 9:15, and had the steady climb of apx one mile up to Haystack, up and over Little Haystack on the way.

Finally, onto the range trail

Finally, onto the range trail

Looking back at Marcy as I begin the approach to Haystack

Looking back at Marcy as I begin the approach to Haystack


Little Haystack and Haystack as we begin our ascent

Started to feel pretty good at about this point and remembered my long distance hiking mantra … don’t stop! Just keep walking and you’ll make good time, even as you take extra care to make sure every step is a sure step.

On the final approach …


And onto the summit by quarter to 10 – so made really nice time from Marcy.  Haystack has got to be one of my top 5 favorite peaks in the ADKs, perhaps top 10 of all I have ever done. Being the third highest peak in NYS, it gets less traffic than the two higher ones, but the really nice part of Haystack is that you get to actually see the highest peak, plus you get far better views of the Great Range and I believe can see more peaks from here than Marcy. The summit is not as expansive as Marcy, but there are plenty of nooks on the summit, and a lower elevation toward the south that you can find some solitude on should you have to share it. I did have to share on this day, but we all kept to ourselves. This was my third time up on Haystack. From here you get your first real solid views of just how far you have to go on the rest of the day, and some decent perspective on how far you’ve come.


Skylight and Marcy over Panther Gorge looking WSW from Haystack

Basin and Saddleback to the East

Basin and Gothics to the East (Saddleback is hidden in between them!)

Looking SSE back many miles toward Elk Lake. Last time I was up here on Haystack, started the hike from back therem over Pinnacle Ridge, down to Ausable Lake and up here to Haystack.

Looking SSE back many miles toward Elk Lake. Last time I was up here on Haystack, started the hike from back therem over Pinnacle Ridge, down to Ausable Lake and up here to Haystack.

Walking a little bit off the south side of the summit enabled me to finally get a glimpse of Saddleback, though the cliffs are not yet in view.

Basin is the hump in the left foreground, you can see the

Basin is the hump in the left foreground, you can see the “saddle” of Saddleback lower and just to its right (that saddle is a short trek, it is probably the nicest walk on the top of the Range however) and then the glaring hulk in the middle of the frame is the South side of Gothics. Sawteeth (not part of the Great Range) is off to the right, and if you look in the distance you have the Dixes, between them is the Pinnacle Ridge containing Colvin and Blake.

Walked off of Haystack at 10:05 (always a thought about when I might next be back, if ever …). Onto Basin. The last time I had hiked the upper Great Range the trail was dry, but on this day it was a stream flowing down from Haystack and into the col between Haystack and Basin. Had I realized how much water would have been up here on the Range (which is usually bone dry) I may have chosen to forego 3 of the 5 liters I was carrying and brought my pump instead. Still made decent time, but didn’t exactly run down. This is one of the steeper hikes in the ADKs that I’ve done, but nothing treacherous. The climb up to Basin from the col is one of the most fun scrambles in the peaks, it includes one spot where a ladder comes in handy.

Basin, from down in the col near the intersection with the trail down to the Warden's Camp.

Basin, from down in the col near the intersection with the trail down to the Warden’s Camp.

A quick climb up from here (really) and made the summit by 11:30 – again, slower than I had planned or wanted, but not bad given the footing on this day.

USGS marker on Basin, third peak of the day.

USGS marker on Basin, third peak of the day.

You’d be hard pressed to have a convincing argument about which of the Great Range peaks has the best views – they are all really spectacular, and for me the best thing about them is not the single view from any one spot on any one particular peak, but to see not only the range, but the Johns Brook Valley below and the Macs in the distance on one side and the Dixes in the distance on the other and Whiteface way off in the distance ahead, and see how they rise and fall from view as you hop from peak to peak on the range. It really is best to think of them as a long, bumpy, continuous summit upon which you stumble for different perspectives of the High Peaks.

Haystack and Little Haystack in foreground, Colden in the middle and Macs in the distance. Marcy is not in this image.

Haystack and Little Haystack in foreground, Colden in the middle and Macs in the distance. Marcy is not in this image.

Having done Marcy, Haystack and Basin, you are about at the halfway point in terms of hours, at least as I planned it. Had only just tapped into my second liter or water. I wasn’t much hungry at this point, but forced down a PB sandwich and bite of Clif Bar and was quickly off down the range toward Saddleback. The walk down the backside of Basin is a bit steep in spots. It wouldn’t be all that treacherous were in not for the fantastic views over the Johns Brook Valley that magnetically pull your head up and out instead of watching for handholds and safe steps. Only a few minutes into the descent you get a great glimpse of Big Slide off in the distance and then finally a clear view of Saddleback.


JB Valley, with Slide way off in distance


Saddleback and her two bumps in the foreground, Gothics looming beyond


Still plenty of downclimbing to go, but through the trees we can finally get a decent look at the “Cliffs”

Once down into the Basin-Saddleback Col, it’s a really, really quick march over to the base of the Cliffs. The best part of climbing the Cliffs is that when you get to the top, you are basically at the top – unlike several other cliffy spots in the ADKs that hit you well below the summit. The last time I was up here, I just sort of picked my way up the Cliffs without thinking too much. This time, as I got to the base, three women hikers were hovered above me, a bit anxious about how they were going to navigate their way down. They had full-ish looking packs on and scanned the rock for decent places to step down. They seemed to be about my height and I was not really envying their position, as this time as I scaled up the Cliffs there were two spots I chose to climb up that sort of required full-body hugs of rocks just to make it up, one of them being a little bit more exposed than many other places. But they were fun.

Looking up an easier portion of the Saddleback Cliffs

Looking up a portion of the Saddleback Cliffs

This is sort of what you have in mind when you think of “Mountain Climbing.” I wished I were a couple of inches taller, as there were a few handholds I simply could not get to, but the entire time I was climbing this time I couldn’t help but think of what these would be like in an icy-winter. There’s a reason they make crampons and ice axes. And then I thought about the folks who bring their dogs – I just don’t see how a dog could get up here under her own power. Once to the top, the women I saw decided to turn around and they asked me to take their picture at the summit – dumb me never asked them to take one of me. The view of Basin from this side isn’t nearly as imposing as from the Haystack side, and you really can’t get a great look at the rest of the Range (unfortunately really, I never really got a fantastic look over at the Wolfjaws, Armstrong and Gothics from a vantage point that I wanted).

Made the summit in a little more than a half-hour from Basin, again a bit more time than it took me last time, but I was not running as the day was still long ahead of me, and I also didn’t want to take a false step on a still very slippery and wet trail.


Slides on back side of Basin, with Pinnacle Ridge running along top left of picture, with Upper Ausable Lake running off into Boreas Ponds in distance


Basin, with Haystack sneaking her head over Basin’s left shoulder and Marcy peaking per head over her right.

Forced down some M&Ms and salted almonds and half a gatorade and made my way over the saddle at around 12:30, to the false summit of Saddleback and began the descent toward the Saddleback-Gothics col, which is where you can bail back to JBL and the Garden via the Ore-Bed Brook trail. That Ore-bed trail is home to an incredible, newly constructed, wooden staircase that seems to go on for a quarter-mile or more along new slide. As you make your descent you get a fantastic view of Gothics. As you peer at it you notice first that it is hulking, second that it is very close, third that you can actually see the entire footpath up (this is the famed “Cable Route) and fourth, you realize that you are not actually looking at its summit, but rather its more Southern -Western false summit.


From the col and the intersection with the Ore-Bed trail (only a 15 minute hike down the half-mile from Saddleback), you have “only” a little more than a half-mile to the Gothics summit. But immediately upon leaving the col the trail climbs … sharply … and on entirely solid, rocky ground. This is the first time in the day that I felt a bit like I was bonking, I think because I tried to keep a solid steady pace up the steepening slab … but it was far steeper than it looked, but not steep enough to climb, which is perhaps the most tough on your body. By the time I made it to the cables, I had to have been going at well less than a mile-per-hour.

Gothics cables, sort of helpful, though I am not entirely sure why they are there (certainly as compared to several other place in the peaks).

Gothics cables, sort of helpful, though I am not entirely sure why they are there (certainly as compared to several other place in the peaks).

Despite my treacherously slow ascent of Gothics, was up on top at 1:00pm. I expect summits like this to have a crowd on them, as they are not nearly as far or difficult to get to as some others, but also because of the commanding views and the large, flat summit that can easily accommodate dozens of hikers. But this was one of those times when my patience was worn. It only took a handful of folks up there really causing a ruckus that sort of ruins the moment(s) for other folks up there. I don’t want to be that “hiker guy who is a d!ck about hiking” but these folks were blasting their iPhone speakers, shouting at each other, tossing food scraps around on the summit, and just not being respectful of the fact that there were several other people up there, and also perhaps that peace and quiet as one looks at and enjoys the views is probably a nice thing – it’s not easy to get to places like the top of Gothics, where the sound and sight of cars and civilization are barely noticed, and for which you have the chance to think and breathe clearly for a while. It just really put a damper on my day, especially after my slog up to the peak, and it turned my mindset from one of really enjoying the day, to purposefully marching through the rest of my hike.


One of the many great views from the Top of Gothics. Worth 1000 (unspoken) words.



I cropped the image since I couldnt really get a good shot of the Range for over 30 minutes without the visitors on top being somewhere in the image … in any case this is one of the last views of the entire upper range you will get, with the false summit of Gothics in foreground, Saddleback and its slides over to the right, a sub-summit of Basin just behind, with Basin just behind that virtually in center of the picture. Directly behind Basin is Marcy and off to the left is Haystack. You can also see Skylight in between Marcy and Haystack and you can see in the distance to the left of Haystack, Redfield. From the right in the distance is Algonquin, Iroquois and Colden. You can actually see many more than what I marked in this picture, the view is really expansive (off to right and not pictured you’d see Wright, you see little Mt. Jo, and Phelps and Tabletop and Slide and a host of unnamed others, with Giant looming behind me).

Despite the distractions, stayed up there until 1:30 and began the 0.8 mile trek over to Armstrong. Last time I was on the lower range (now on the ADK Range Trail and not the Blue marked State Range Trail) I came up Gothics from Armstrong, and loved the walk up through the track of slab. It was pretty nice going down despite the slipperiness in spots. Once down into the Gothics-Armstrong col, which takes less than 15 minutes to get to, you have a chance to exit via the Ausable Club to your East should you choose, or you can continue on and finish the Range (with a few more places to get out on the way).

On the homestretch, only Armstrong, Upper and Lower Wolfjaw to go.

On the homestretch, only Armstrong, Upper and Lower Wolfjaw to go.

Just a little more than 15 minutes from the Col, you emerge onto Armstrong right at 2:00pm, and now have my second wind – perhaps because I expect to have the trail and summits to myself for the rest of the way. Folks don’t talk much about it, but for me the neatest part of this peak is the great view of Saddleback you get from it – you are 180 degrees opposite from the view you crane your neck to get way back on Haystack and Basin.


Saddleback, from the front side. Last time up here I saw two fellows climbing that slide off to the right.


The remaining Range.

The rest of the lower range is “famous” for not having great views, and for the summits being a bit farther apart than the summits from the upper range. Further, lots of folks seem to get a sense of dread when thinking about the steep descent and ascent required to get from Upper to Lower Wolf Jaw. However, both times I was here I really enjoyed this part of the walk. The walk over from Armstrong to Upper Wolf Jaw had me a bit more anxious during my planning than the jaws themselves, mostly due to what I recall was a super steep and very slippery few sections climbing up Armstrong. On this day however, this part of the trail was actually in good condition, in fact the trail was getting drier and had better footing as I moved along, and this is likely why I was moving more quickly at the end of the day than at the beginning. In any case, aside from the ladder on Armstrong, the descent was not at all what I remember the ascent to be, and I do not recall passing through any treacherous drops on the way down, certainly on this day the walk down Basin toward Saddleback was much more harrowing (not the right word, it was a good walk) than this particular section.

Made it to the summit of Upper Wolf Jaw by quarter to three. Again spent some unplanned stop time up here, mostly to chat with a very nice guy who was backpacking the lower range, and seemed to be continuing along where I was going. His pack was large and heavy looking, I felt bad for him, but he had a great attitude and was very well prepared for what he was doing (including a can of bear spray hanging from his pack.

There are some decent views (objectively they are actually really nice, but after roaming the Range for the previous X hours, they don’t quite stack up), and after taking another liter of water down, began the mile down to the col between the jaws – there are a couple of ups and downs required to get you there, I much prefer that to a relentless and steep single climb down.

on Upper Wolf Jaw, glancing over toward the Lower Jaw.

on Upper Wolf Jaw, glancing over toward the Lower Jaw.

As you climb down into the col, there are spots where you almost, sort-of, can see through trees – it’s a bit dangerous because you find yourself creening your neck for views as you hike instead of being careful with your footwork. In any case, make quick down to the col by 3:25 …

About to be swallowed by the Wolf? In the jaws' bottom.

About to be swallowed by the Wolf? In the jaws’ bottom.

Met another couple of climbers in the col, who seemed to not be very excited about the pending steep walk up to the Lower Jaw. Seeing the end in sight, and finally really getting loosened up and having some excellent and dry footing had me feeling great. So, I ran up the last 1/2 mile on the range to the top of the Jaws in less than 20 minutes, and was up just after 3:40.

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Folks don’t particularly love the view from here, because it is hard to get one. At this point, the day was about 12 hours old, and 8 peaks old, and I finally started getting the end of the walk in my head. I had half expected a semi-joggable track on the way out, but I should have known better. The 5 miles out, just as the entry in, took a little more than I had hoped. Shortly after leaving the Jaws, you walk down a nice ridge but then some slick and loose rock as you drop to Hedgehog (peak #9). I was hoping that from Hedgehog or near it you would get a nice view of the day’s walk, but none such was to be found. Being a little disappointed with that, I had considered briefly making the side trip up Rooster Comb as I neared the end of the hike.

“Chickened” out (hah) at about 5:30, and decided to hustle out the last two miles

Seeing the end in sight, and a nice pine-soft trail, I decided (as I told myself I wouldn’t before the hike, but deep down I was thinking I’d do it anyway), I decided to skip the side hike up to Rooster Comb and it’s nice view (now I have an excuse to do the Range again) and hustle back to the Rooster Comb trailhead on Rt. 73 where I started way back when. The trail was nice and had some nice surprises near the end:

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Stopped to admire the beaver dam and turn on the phone to let Mrs. Wintercow know I was alive and made it out around 6pm.  Made the complete loop in the 14.5 hour range. I don’t have the particular specs on the particular path that I took, but the vertical is somewhere in the 9,000 feet range and the mileage probably in the 27 mile range (I promise to go calculate it soon!). It was a bit disappointing that the going at the start and middle was particularly slow, due to the high water brook crossing(s) and plentiful mud and water on trail on the way in, but I got to spend a lot of time up on the ridge, soak in the views and just go dead-brained all day long. I can’t describe that feeling, but imagine watching a fabulous movie at the same time while playing a sport you love, with all of the attendant concentration, and your mind is nowhere bad – focusing on the next step, being keenly aware of the smells of the air, sounds of the streams, and extreme quiet. No thoughts of bosses, classes, bills, worries, health, etc. nothing. I’d like to see what my time would be were I trying to move quickly and if the conditions were better. Now, no way I’m doing the 6 hour GRT run that the ultra folks do, but my guess is that a couple hours is reasonable to expect next time I go, and maybe more if I decide not to do the full loop from the Rooster Comb trailhead. Not that it matters. As a comparison, the first long trek I did was the entire Dix Range, when I was more or less out of climbing and running shape, and in perfect conditions it took me a dozen hours while starting right at the base of Macomb.

Per my usual routine, I discretely changed out of my hiking gear and cleaned up a bit in the parking lot (some other times I head out to HPIC or to a local hostel for a shower), and gladly made my way down to one of my favorite post-hike traditions – to the Stewarts Shop in Schroon Lake. After hikes like this I am typically really starving – but not so much today. The routine is usually a giant bottle of seltzer, two cheeseburgers and a pint of ice cream. The ice cream was a no go on this day, but it was a great bite with a nice view of the lake too.


Was back on the road by 7:30, and miraculously did not have to stop and was home in the shower by 11:30 – which was ultimately the goal for the day.


I was hoping that this sort of a walk would “get the devil” out of me, but here I am a couple of months since the hike and am dreaming of doing it again – even as a huge long list of other places to go looms and remains in my head. Part of the reason is that the entire Range and all the High Peaks just feels like home. The other part is that the more time you spend in these hills the better you know every nook, cranny and view to be had … yet despite that you feel like you know none of it.

So much more to say of course … until then, Hap

Elk Lake to Pinnacle Ridge and Haystack

Long day yesterday – didn’t realize how much the swampy trails would slow me down, probably should have brought a kayak instead of hiking boots,

In any case, started early from Elk Lake. Trail before Boreas Ridge is in decent condition but from thereon out there was rarely a dry spot to be seen for the day. The Elk Lake trail doesn’t provide one with any views of Elk Lake unless you are trespassing, so the views will have to come from on high. After 5 miles you head to your right into Pinnacle Ridge (Blake-Colvin Range). It’s a shortish climb up to the top of the range. Once on top, you’ll be sure to go the extra 0.2 miles to the Pinnacle and for your first good views of the day (the Dixes and Elk Lake). Actually, definitely do that because of you want a hike that maximizes views per mile, this is not it, at last not until the end. About the only wildlife I saw on this day, much less heard (it was quiet in the HP) was the grouse I scared as I emerged onto the Pinnacle.

In any case, once off of the Pinnacle, traverse the range northward for about 3 miles going over a series of ups and downs – and on this day they were pretty soft (I was expecting them to be bone dry), heading over such famous peaks as “Unnamed peak at 3700 feet.” Don’t let the lack of 46er peaks along the traverse fool you – those ups and downs were more challenging than many of the 46s. Be sure to take advantage of the few lookout spots up there, as the views are nice and when you get the chance to look West, you have an awesome site of a sheer drop down to Upper Ausable Lake and the Great Range looming.

Once to Blake, continued over to the col between Colvin and Blake, a pretty wet and rugged drop, (ran into a nice guy who was doing Colvin, Blake, Nippletop and Dial and who graciously offered me a ride from St. Huberts back to Elk Lake should I choose to bail on my journey).

In any event, dropped left off onto the Carry Trail – I have read that it is very steep and tough, but it was actually pretty decent going outside of a few spots that the trail is washed out in and it is hard to find markers. Made much better time coming down to Upper Ausable Lake than I had planned. Great photos to be had over the bridge crossing the brook that connects the lakes. Walk over to Warden’s Camp from here is on gravel road and very easy going, and fun, though I am always am uncomfortable hiking on this private land. Once to Warden’s camp you are back down at low elevation and the only ways out are to hike up and over Sawteeth back to St. Huberts, retrace your steps and over Colvin out to St. Huberts, or make your way up into the Great Range. The “easist” option you have is hiking up over Bartlett Ridge, itself a really good climb, and then back down into Panther Gorge to connect to the Elk Lake trail.

On this day my target was Haystack. I had initially wanted to add Marcy, but the Elk Lake trails and other approaches were so muddy that it slowed my times down way more than I wanted, so adding Marcy (and Skylight, etc.) will have to come on another day. In any case, the first half of the walk up to Bartlett Ridge is pleasant, allowing options to head over to other parts of the range. I chose to head straight up the Ridge, which is a pretty steady climb for the last mile before it drops you at the base of the Southern approach to Haystack. Again, not too many views along this trail, and most of the day was spent shaded until this point. Got here around 12:30, and since I wanted to be out by dark without worrying about slipping on the mucky trails on the way out (i.e. take my time picking through the rocks and logs), I hurried up Haystack and was on top a little after 1. The guidebooks say this is the steepest climb in the ADKs. I don’t know about that. It was steep, for sure, but if I had not read that note I would not have remembered the climb as being any more memorable as many others. In any case, Haystack was gorgeous on this day – slight breeze, a strange gray-blue hazy sky all around, very quiet with the exception of some large flying insects all around. A few hikers who had come in on Phelps trail to do March, Gray and Skylight had also made their way up there descending Skylight into Panther Gorge and back up to Haystack (very tough!). I could only stay a bit and descended the same way I came.

Back down to the trail intersection with Bartlett Ridge trail, I headed right to the steep drop into Panther Gorge. Pumped two liters of water down in Panther Brook, which like all of the others was raging, and had a long 9-mile trek out on the Elk Lake – Marcy trail. I usually enjoy these long approach trails as they allow you to move fast and reflect on the day. Not today. It was slop most of the way with the exception of a couple of mile between Panther Gorge and the intersection with Pinnacle, and it also contained a very impressive new collection of bog bridges that were built with enormous lumber (3 x 8s I think they were). There had to be over a half-mile of them. It felt kind of random to have them there, about half the trail could have used them if we really were worried about preserving the integrity of the trail. It’s amazing there is such a long trail cut through this very clearly swamp area.

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In any case, it took a heck of a lot longer than I wanted to take on the way out. If it were dry a little around 2.25 hours would have been a nice pace, but it took me 3.25 today.

It was a fun day as always though the muddy track did get in my head. I was bombarded by mosquitos at the end of the day. You might consider this some kind of mini-range traverse – my back of the envelope numbers suggest it was about 26 miles and 7,000 feet of vertical. It includes two full ascents and lots of ups and down, with the last bit of up and down coming as you go over the Boreas Range on the Elk Lake trail on your way out. The best part of the hike is the varied scenery you get over an exposed peak, a secluded range, a beautiful lake, etc.) and of course this is one of the hikes you can do even on crowded weekends and have relative solitude. Be prepared when you go, and be committed, because it’s tough to bail on it unlike other longer treks you may put together in the peaks.


Macs and Colden, 46er Finish and a Small Tribute

Much longer report is due. After having the pleasure of meeting Alpine Lamb on my walk up Esther and Whiteface three weeks ago, she said she looked forward to a report on my 46th, so here it is.

Just a little over two years ago a classmate of my children, who would have been 11 years old last week, was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor. Alex C. (whose family was originally from the Lake Placid area before they made their way to Rochester), at his then young age had already scaled 8 high peaks, and cross-country skiied more miles in the ADK’s than many of us have managed to hike. Among his goals was to complete his 46. Alex dealt with his illness as bravely and honorably as any person you could imagine, but he ultimately lost his battle in November 2012. His parents, while of course were devastated, used this as an opportunity to celebrate his life, his drive, his boundless optimism and his sweet and honorable character. Amazing for such a young boy.

I had casually started the 46 at about this time, but really was not familiar with “the list” and being so far from the High Peaks region have concentrated hiking whenever and wherever was convenient. When I learned of Alex’s desire to be a 46er, I committed myself to finishing. And so this past Saturday, on a day when many of you were surely out there and conclude might possibly rank as one of the most beautiful days you could hope for in the Adirondacks, we finished our 46er adventure together on Colden.

I apologize to the several nice people who were having conversations with me, including a dad and son who were celebrating his very first high peak (and he did it on the steep trail from Lake Colden, well done little man!), and a very nice woman from Vermont who was asking me about Tabletop. When I had a moment to think about Andrew, and about how grateful I am to have our own two children and to have the fortunate blessings to live a life where we can scale up thousands of feet of mountains over dozens of miles as a diversion and recreational activity, I was overcome a bit. Too embarrassed to have any of you seem me in my weepy state, I snuck off the peak and into some solitude.

As far as the trip, I woke up this day with 4 to go. After getting to the HPIC at the end of the day Friday, took a pretty stroll up Mt. Jo to get a nice look down at Heart Lake and a preview for what tomorrow’s stroll would bring. Incredibly, met a couple of people who know one of my students. It seems I meet more people in the High Peaks that know me than I do right here in Rochester. Made some dinner in the parking lot, and settled in for a snooze in my car by 9.

Had the alarm set by 4:15am, and boy what a pretty morning we arose to. Since there was only the ending of a slice of the moon, the stars were really out, with very clear views of the more familiar constellations but also an easy view of Milky Way too. Stopped at the HPIC to put in some contacts and saw at least a half dozen people scattered in Lots 1 and 2 with headlamps preparing for their day as well. After a quick talk with a gentleman headed for sunrise on Phelps and onto Marcy, I made my way to the trail register at about 4:45.

The plan for the day was sunrise on Wright, and then to really soak in the views from Algonquin, Iroquois, Lake Colden and then Colden. I’d saved what I guessed would be the prettiest hike for last and didn’t want to run through it like we end up doing with some others. I almost kept that promise.

Along the way to Wright, I was leapfrogging with a nice man from Canada the entire way up. One frustrating part of the walk was a tent that was placed quite literally on the edge of the trail. I wonder why you’d be compelled to do that? I had never walked in the dark for much longer than a mile or two of the flats on the way in, and I was a bit worried it would be tough. But it was quite pleasant aside from one or two times having to stop to stay on trail and regretting that I was surely missing some nice sites.

We made it to Wright before the sunrise – and while the day itself was warm, it sure was windy up there. My hiking friend from Canada was kind enough to take a shot of me, he had no camera except a video camera, and when he went off toward Algonquin (en route to Marcy) I stopped to take another summit photo with Andrew. I almost had a heart attack when the wind was blowing so hard it was nearly ripped out of my hand as I snapped a pic of the sun rising to the East with Colden and Marcy looming in the orange haze.

Once I had spend enough time up on Wright, hustled down, now with mittens and my ski hat on, to the bottom of the spur trail. Took off the winter gear and stripped nearly to a t-shirt which was all we needed for the rest of the day. Had the massive summit of Algonquin to myself by 725 wherein I almost had another heart attack when my phone decided to power down. I thought it was fully charged. I was able to snap a picture of the range to the West with Street in the center of my shot when the thing died. I started asking, “if a man hikes in the woods and no one sees it, did he really do it.” After being pretty upset that there would be no “proof” I would be in Iroquois or Colden, I went through the five stages of grief pretty quickly.

The walk over to Iroquois was awesome, and maybe my favorite ridge walk in the peaks. Watching the flat face of Wallface approach to the Southwest, and catching my first really good elevated glimpse of Flowed Lands and Lake Colden had me not watching my footing. Got over to Iroquois by 815 where I encountered two fellows descending. Had the summit to myself, again, which pleasantly surprised me as I suspected this would be the last solitude I’d have all day. So, as I slipped into my pack to have a snack I figured I’d try my camera … and whaddya know? It worked! So, I went quickly backward through the five stages of grief, yelled at myself for caring enough about it, especially since the colors and views were so nice I don’t see how they’d ever leave my head – which is sort of the point. I wandered south and west on the summit enjoying the great view of Wallface, and also chuckling at the thought of the many crazies on these boards who look at such a gaping valley and say to themselves, “what a great bushwhack!”

As I marched back over Boundary I took note of the stray 6×6 sitting on its summit – a nice little temporary, if unintended, bench. The trail guide had me all mental about the descent down to Lake Colden. So I sat on Boundary for a good while telling myself it would be the last fun I’d have on the day. I don’t know what to say, but that trail down (it was NOT wet on this day, which helps) was really spectacular. The many waterfalls (and awesome pool about halfway down) plus the views off to the West in selected places and the good footing, and for a walk I had planned two hours on, made it down in an hour. I sprawled out on the bridge by the trail intersection on the bottom, where I had a PB sandwich, an apple and filtered two liters of water. It was super pretty. Given the fortunate happenstance of that descent, I wandered slowly over to the NE side of Lake Colden and sat on the shores staring back up at the Macs for a good while.

Decided at about 10:40 to begin the walk up to Colden. Again, reading the guidebooks, you’d be led to believe that you are about to regret the choice of trails. This time, they were right, at least about the steepness. From Lake Colden, as you know, that trail starts a steady climb of 2000 feet in about a mile and a half. And it is steady. What’s particularly fun is that the climb is both up and sideways, I didn’t realize that until halfway up and I’m asking why I feel like my left foot is all goofy. But as many of you know, the way you get up it is to … just walk. Given the sharp ascent you quickly get some nice vantage points if you turn around from time to time, and get a nice close up of one of the slides. Again, I had budgeted 2 horrible hours for it. But this time, I made it up to the stacks of wood on the summit ridge by 1150, heard a lot of conversation on the nearby summit, and took a zillion pictures of the gaping chasm below and to the left as I wandered to the true summit by noon.

A very happy and nice group of people were enjoying the views on the two openings up there including an entire family that marched up the Trap Dike (with the daughters having fun at their (slower) parents’ expense!) and another nice guy I had been leapfrogging with over in the Macs who decided the Trap Dike was a swell way to get up Colden after that trek.

Lingered up there for a bit, snuck over to the actual summit rock in the trees, and wandered off around 1240. It was such a nice day that one didn’t really want to come down.

Now that the “list” is done there are all kinds of hikes that I actually wanted to do … and having had the good fortune of two trails taking far less time than I planned on, and having well over 90 minutes of leisure time in the peaks, it seemed to make sense to keep the day going.

So after a quick scramble down to Lake Arnold, I kept left at the Feldspar trail junction and instead went down to the cross-over trail and onto the Van Ho. Wanting to get back to Rochester before too late, I knew I couldn’t do all I wanted … so I practice what you might call “Tantric Hiking.” You hustle your way all the way up near a summit … and then turn around. I found this to be quite invigorating – especially after not allowing myself a wander, or a turnaround or anything like it in the 2+ years since we wanted to finish the 46. So, made it to about .7 miles before the Marcy summit, then turned right around. The little excursion added a little more than 2 hours to the day, but given the low-autumn glow through the brightly colored trees the entire way, and given the happy faces on just about every person you encounter along the way, it was an jaunt worth taking. It’s also nice to be able to time the walk for future trips. Tried to hustle back so I could make a stop at the Mountaineer (been wearing the same Merrell boots for 17 years) before it closes (I thought it closed by 5). Felt bad for the people who think I was rushing them, there really were a lot of folks out along the entire way back.

Happily made it back feeling a lot of different emotions. Managed to take a shower at the HPIC (75 cents, what a great deal) and was amazed as I drove out of the Loj road at how far the line of cars went – well past South Meadows. Made it to the Mountaineer where they were super helpful in getting me into two pairs of new shoes – there’s not quite a store like it, at least not that I am familiar with, here in Rochester.

Slapped in another book on tape (thank you Monroe County Library!, the 46 would have been much less enjoyable without your company in my car) and was home before the family was in bed.

Thanks for listening. As blessed as my life has been, I still wish that I lived closer to the ADKs and had more time to spend when there, but those are good problems to have. Looking forward to running into you guys on the trail, and happy hiking to all.

Esther and Whiteface

Wasn’t much in the mood for tent or car camping so spent the night at the Keene Valley Hostel. I quite like the place, Robin the host is super accommodating and the place is clean, comfortable and has just what you’d want in a place. After a nice walk around the village and a stop in the library, was in bed with a book by 9.

My hope was to do Esther and Whiteface and make it home for a Friday Fish Fry in Rochester. Had I been staying the night I would have added Street and Nye so that I could complete the “Compass Climb.” If you do Esther, Whiteface, Street and Nye you’d end up doing NSEW … corny, I know.

So, decided to start at Wilmington Reservoir up Marble Mountain. Was on trail at about 6 … forget how much light we lose in late August, so first 20 minutes or so I was trying out my new headlamp.


Was at the junction with the other trail up Marble (the Atmospheric Science Research Center) by 640. Was making good time for first mile and a quarter but the trail up Marble gets pretty steep and as I huffed up the apx Mike from the first trail junction (with the Flume trail) to the ASRC junction I was questioning my conditioning.


It turns out that this was the toughest stretch of trail the entire day. From here you get some glimpses through the trees but no real clean outlooks.

Made it to one of the old taboggan shelters by 720, which was only a couple of minutes before the turnoff for the Esther herd path. The trail from Marble to here is at a moderate grade, not very wet, but with some loose dirt and stone which slows you down a tiny bit. That said, the trail conditions on the Wilmington trail are certainly among the better you’ll encounter in the High Peaks.



Took a drink at the cairn and started up at about 725. In no time you are up Lookout Mountain where you can get a beautiful view East and North including Esther. Esther appears to have a gentle grade from here and indeed it does.


The herd path had only a couple of wet spots and was real fast going – in my view probably the easiest herd path in the peaks. Lots of nice mushrooms along the way, not even a real rock scramble, a nice accompaniment of PeeWee and nuthatch calls, and made the summit before 8.



You get terrific views back toward Whiteface – with the summit buildings and the road/wall easily in view and if you’re taller than me you can get views North and East just past the summit. Was back at the trail junction by 823 and began the 800 or so foot climb to Whiteface. The walk was quite pleasant and very quickly you come across a couple of ski trails, and old lean-to site, and the top of a Whiteface chairlift that I didn’t realize got up that high – it must be within 400 feet vertical of the summit.



Quickly from there the trail steepens a bit until you get to the auto-road. Sure you can hear it but the trail only walks along it for a few hundred feet, then at ascends left on a ridge above the road and onto the broad, open and beautiful summit.



The summit was nearly empty, as I made it just after the first few card arrived by 915. Stayed until nearly 10. The sky was blue with splotchy clouds. I really wanted views of the entire Great Range to the south, but while almost everything was visible, Gothics and Nippletop and Dix were clouded in. The views in other directions were great, including the range abutting Lake Placid, and out east into Vermont.



Sadly, the old metal summit sign was missing! I hope it’s being painted or something.


After a small bite and talking to a gentleman who got clouded out on his drive yesterday up Mt. Washington and meeting a nice family from Indiana left the summit around 10.

As a got back near the road I saw a person adjusting her gear and I said have a nice hike – but she quickly introduced herself as ADK Forum member and 46er and Summit Steward and trail maintainer AlpineLamb. She lives, enviably, nearby in Ticonderoga so gets a chance to spent a lot of time in the peaks. She was on her way to the Esther herd path, as she was asked to be a trail adopter. She smartly drove to Whiteface and made the walk down to Esther. We walked and chatted together down to the cairn – while she shared stories of some of her experiences on trail work and hiking, and she alerted me to look for an old sign indicating we were walking on the old Wilmington Ski trail. We never saw it, but the company was nice for a bit.

After she departed for Esther, I picked up the pace – seeing three or four groups on the way in, and scooted down and signed out by 1130. With about 50+ minutes of summit time and chatting, the entire trek took a little more than 5 1/2 hours – my best guess is that it was only about 12.5 miles and 4,000 feet total elevation gain. That makes #41 and #42.

Hope to “finish” sometime in September with a sunrise on Wright, finish the Macs and making the trek to Colden. We’ll see how that goes.

Lower Great Range Plus Sawteeth Plus a Porcupine!

Having done the Upper Great Range a couple weeks prior, I was really looking forward to the other half of the range. Sawteeth and Pyramind are not formally part of the Lower Range, but really make for a super loop if your ambitions are just to complete the Lower Range.

Folks can do this trek in either a clockwise or counterclockwise direction. I chose the latter – in small part since I think I like having some climbing get started right away but mostly because I thought starting at the far end of the Great Range and getting views as you move along it would provide more and more rewards as the day went on, and also give me a preview for what the full GRT would look like from this direction should that be the approach I choose.

So, I decided to take the Deer Brook trail to Snow Mountain, then cut over to the WA White Trail toward Hedgehog and onto the Wolfjaws. From there the Range trail takes you over to Gothics, and then a spur trail over to Pyramid and Sawteeth. Wanting to get home in time for dinner, I took the Weld trail down to Rainbow falls and out instead of taking the “Scenic trail” off of Sawteeth, which would have added another 30 minutes in my estimation.

The trail begins in a private driveway about a mile north of the traditional trailhead onto the AMR lands. It is marked with a brown sign for Deer Brook trail. It ascends at a decent clip right from the start, in and out of the (heavily flowing due to a week of recent rain) Deer Brook bed. Per usual, I was super excited for this walk, but couldn’t get my legs under me (that usually happens about 2 hours in depending on the terrain). Maybe this had to do with the 2:30am wakeup and drive from my parents’ house in Pittsfield, MA.

The walk up was quite pretty and despite the water the footing pretty good. As you make your way onto the White trail, the grade sharpens a bit, and the 3,100 foot climb from Rt. 73 to the top of LWJ is generally on this grade the entire time – not too many flat spots to cruise on, nor very steep or bouldery or rooty the entire way up. For those of you not wanting to start your Range traverse on a long, flat, dirt road (Lake Road inside AMR lands), this really is a lovely approach. As you ascend the LWJ spine you get nice views back of Giant, and some nice views over to Round, Noonmark and even in places Bear Den, Dial and Nippletop if you take the time to scoot over to the several side views that await you.

As I was starting to daydream about life and get myself into a good hiking rhythm I was starting to notice a strange smell, and heard some quiet rustling on the trail above me (I could not see). Not thinking much of it, I plowed ahead and looked up and to my (happy at firs) surprise saw this:

Big Porcupine on the White Trail


My very first ADK porcupine! It may have been the very first porcupine I have ever seen. Now, after admiring how cute it was, and making a note of how surprisingly large it was (it was at least the size of a grown Golden Retriever), I watched … and watched … and watched … as thus chubby fellow just sort of stood there on the trail 40 yards ahead of me. And he stood there … and waddled … and stood there … and stuck his nose in the ground … and stood there. I was sort of imagining that seeing me would encourage him to scoot away, or do something. But nope, he just stood there. After 7-8 minutes of this, I was reminded of a time hiking in the Tetons when I let an excrement nibbling marmot (seriously) stand in a trail for 15 minutes before I figured out a quiet way around him), I decided I better bushwhack around the feller. Of course, as I got safely above him, he scampered rather quickly up a tree and disappeared from view even though I knew where he was stashed.

Funnily, when I got home and told my 8-year old daughter about my encounter she scolded me for my impetuous fear telling me that porcupines don’t actually shoot quills even though they are raised when frightened. They would only have impaled me had I tried to pick it up. Or eat it. Or something.

On my way, made it to the wooded summit of Lower Wolf Jaw in about 2 hours 15 minutes of hiking at around 8:30. Folks denigrate the summit, and I can see why if they are coming over from Gothics and other portions of the Range, but I find it quite nice. And per usual, had the summit to myself. This was another one of those peaks that you really don’t get a good look at as you are hiking up it despite my best efforts, and I was looking forward to the drop to the notch and up the UWJ so that I might be able to see from whence I came.

Lower Wolf Jaw Summit

Lower Wolf Jaw Summit

After about 15 minutes of summit time onto UWJ. When looking at the Wolf Jaws from below in Johns Brook valley or from the other side by Giant, the col between them looks pretty steep. And various trip reports suggest they are really steep. And I suppose the drop down from LWJ and climb up UWJ is steep insofar as it goes, but hey, in comparison to a 3,000 foot climb to get to the first jaw, it’s not mentally or physically overwhelming to drop down and up 800-900′ between peaks. The going was pretty smooth and within 30 minutes a bit up the ascent of the first false summit of UWJ, you are able to peer back through the trees and catch a glimpse of the LWJ. I love looking back at peaks like this – it’s weird to see how quickly one can move around the hills – because from afar sometimes the things look impassable.

Looking back north to Lower Wolf Jaw from early in UWJ climb

Looking back north to Lower Wolf Jaw from early in UWJ climb

After a pretty straightforward climb, one comes to a clearing and a huge boulder. It’s easy to see how folks might assume this was the summit. But the dead giveaways that it is indeed not the summit are that the area does not look too beaten down, the boulder does not look much ascended (not sure how I would have gotten up on it without some teleportation) and in the trail bend a simple sign that says “Trail.”

Boulder on northern lower summit of UWJ

Boulder on northern lower summit of UWJ

Trail to true summit

Trail to true summit

After a quick descent into the summit col a short climb takes you to a sign that indicates the actual summit is 20 yards off into the trees on a rock outcrop that one can see for several dozen yards as you approach from the trail below.

Upper Wolf Jaw summit ledge

Upper Wolf Jaw summit ledge

Armstrong from UWJ

Armstrong from UWJ

view East

view East

Back toward LWJ in the distance, false summit of UWJ in foreground

Back toward LWJ in the distance, false summit of UWJ in foreground

On to Armstrong

On to Armstrong

Once again I found the summit of Upper Wolf Jaw to be much prettier than anticipated, and really loved the view looking back toward Lower Wolf Jaw and the vast expanse as you sit on the ledge and gaze east. The summit was also empty and I lingered for 20 minutes as I took some notes and had half of a much needed peanut butter (on Italian Bread!) sandwich and got near the bottom of my first liter of fluid (with some Mio Energy squirted in). Was on summit by 9:40 and departed just after 10:00. The walk down from UWJ into the Armstrong-Col was uneventful. The view of Armstrong from UWJ leads one, correctly, to believe that it is a short stroll over. Indeed, it’s a bit hard making out the prominence of Armstrong from either side of the mountain. It must be barely a standalone mountain by the rules of what is and what is not a mountain in the ADKs. By comparison, Pyramid Peak, located on the other side of Gothics is clearly more discernable than Armstrong as a stand alone peak, but it is too close and has not enough prominence to be declared its own.

The going was fairly quick up Armstrong and you clearly ascend up the rock faces and cliffs that are visible as you gaze out at it from UWJ. The ladder on the ascent of Armstrong was not nearly as vertical as the one going up Basin (but in my view neither should give folks much pause, they are quite pleasant little climbs), but the scrambling for a hundred feet or so above the ladder gets a bit challenging in spots. This is due to a combination of its being extremely wet and slick on this day, and there being a few spots where my very short self couldn’t reach a couple of handholds that I’m sure some taller climbers made. But it’s always a fun puzzle standing at the bottom of a rock face and seeing the various ways one may make it. A few scrambles, pull ups and even one knee ascent, and made it to the top by 10:35. The weather report for the day was supposed to be in the mid-70s (in Keene Valley) and with mostly sunny for the day (buttressed by days of rain before and after). As I got to the top of Armstrong the usual ADK winds picked up, some darker (but not ominous) clouds rolled in and the temp cooled quite a bit – it had to be in the mid-50s. I still had my long sleeve shirt and long sleeve pants on. And they were soaked from both the very wet trails and my usual sweating – that cooling wind really did make me chilly.

Ladder up Armstrong, the steep stuff is above this

Ladder up Armstrong, the steep stuff is above this

What’s nice about Armstrong as you come over from the Wolf Jaws is that you really get your first superb looks at the bigger portions of the Great Range, and your first terrific look down into Johns Brook valley, including an easy view of the JBL from way up on high. Looking southwest you can see the big rise of Gothics, with a bit of a smile knowing that the first summit of several that are clear up there would be the actual summit (the summit reached via the cable route from Saddleback is further west along the range trail and one does not hit it doing the LGR in this way). Moving over you get a great view of several yawning slides making their way up the appropriately named Saddleback – including the slide that a gentleman I met on the summit of Saddleback two weeks ago scrambled up. There appears to be about 150 yards of thick bushwhack at the top of that slide, which showed itself clearly on the companion from a few weeks’ back. You don’t get the great views of Basin from this vantage point, but those would come in spades in a few minutes. In the distance you can see Haystack and Marcy, and scanning further clockwise you can get a preview of the amazing views you are destined for on Gothics of the Macs and Phelps, Tabletop and further clockwise a view of Slide.


Armstrong Summit Marker


Looking West from Armstrong


Slides on North Face of Saddleback


Glimpse of Gothics, clearly much higher (about 500′) than Armstrong


The cold breezes got the best of me and I was off the summit and onto Gothics by 10:50 despite wanting to stay up. If you were to look at the view of Gothics from Armstrong, you might think you were in for a doozy of a climb. But the walk down was short and not very steep into the Gothics – Armstrong col as you descend along a fairly level ridge.

Armstrong-Gothics col

Armstrong-Gothics col

And from the col, the short mileage would seem to portend a torturous climb up Gothics, seeing as you had many hundred feet of ascent in only 0.4 miles. But yet again, this portion of the Range trail reminded me of portions between Basin and Saddleback and the ascent up Gothics here reminded me quite a bit of the excellent ascent up Skylight, so the going was not only quite manageable but once again really fun.

Range Trail up Gothics from Armstrong-Gothics col

Range Trail up Gothics from Armstrong-Gothics col

At this point, as in many of my long hikes, I was really starting to get my legs feeling good under me, and it is on moments like this that I wished the hikes could last forever. I really wanted to get up over Gothics and head out to do the rest of the Range, it would be very doable on this day, but not in the plan, but it gives me something to very much look forward to next summer. In any event, made the summit just before 11:20 with no one (yet) on it. And gosh what a view! I can see why so many people pick it as their favorite, or choose to end their 46 on it, or climb it from several different trails.  At the summit there is (one of the rare) a USGS marker with Gothics written on it, and a couple of survey bolts that must have been placed by Mr. Colvin back in the 1870s that you see on quite a few of the high peaks.

USGS Gothics Marker

USGS Gothics Marker

Original survey bolt

Original survey bolt

Another original survey bolt

Another original survey bolt


This summit is very open and in the alpine vegetation zone. There are lots of places to lounge and take in the incredible views. My guess is that 40 or so people could spend time up here on a busy day, with another 30 or so able to set on the nearby open area just further down the Range trail from there. Now we are talking about views, on all sides. You can look North back over to Armstrong. You can look East over to Pinnacle Ridge and Dial and Nippletop and Dix Range beyond, You can look south from a few different vantage points and get the sharp point of Pyramid (almost like you can reach out a grab it) nearby, and it looks like a steep climb from here. And of course angling over West and Southwest you really see the upper Great Range laid out before you, with a view of Saddleback, Basin, Haystack (and little Haystack), Marcy and all of the valley to the West, including JBL, Big Slide, Yard the brothers, the Macs and many, many more, You could spend hours up here and I nearly did – having my lunch of Italian sausage, cheddar cheese and Gatorade while I took 10 minutes sitting staring off in each direction,


Big Slide and her neighbors


JB Valley

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Lower summit of Gothics in foreground (at top of Cable Route) with Saddleback to right and Basin beyond in center and left. Marcy's cone is off in the distance

Lower summit of Gothics in foreground (at top of Cable Route) with Saddleback to right and Basin beyond in center and left. Marcy’s cone is off in the distance

I was enjoying the summit and lunch so much that I neglected to take too many pictures. Next time up here I am going to bring my scope, tripod and good camera. I actually didn’t take a close up of Pyramid, which you can get from a few vantage points up there. Stayed up until just after 11:45 and made my way over to Pyramid, while watching a few people butt slide down Pyramid toward Gothics. You could also hear them quite clearly all the way from the summit of Gothics. I suppose I’ve got nothing against folks talking while hiking, after all this is typically a hobby to be shared and enjoyed with others, but out deep in the wilderness, after enjoying 4 hours and 3 peaks in total silence (with even very little animal or bird noise on this day as in many others), it’s a bit jarring to be met with not just talking, but a regular stream of near shouting for 15 minutes. A bit flustered by this, I raced my way down Gothics and up Pyramid in less than 15 minutes and was standing on the (steep) Pyramid ledge by noon. It really is only a short scramble down and up from Gothics and even if folks did not have it in their original hiking plan, it is definitely worth the scamper over if you have the energy.

Folks say it is one of the best views in the park, and it it is hard to argue with that. I think there are many “better” views but that’s like saying there are some better quarterbacks than Tom Brady. The highlight view is that you are starting at the massive gaping Southern face of Basin and you also get to see the Southern face of Saddleback and you get to see the massive Southern and Eastern faces with slides of Gothics. Gothics and Basin do appear to be huge mountains and from the vantage on Pyramid you feel like you are going to be swallowed up by their imposing rock faces.

Badly wanted to take this route, but Sawteeth was in the plan for today

Badly wanted to take this route, but Sawteeth was in the plan for today, so headed left instead





Basin from Pyramid

Basin from Pyramid

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The camera doesn't do the yawning depths below  Pyramid any justice

The camera doesn’t do the yawning depths below Pyramid any justice



Marcy cone off in distance on top left, then Basin, Saddleback, and lower summit of Gothics as you scan East

Lingered again for 10-15 minutes and then, with a little melancholy, made my way down to the Pyramid-Sawteeth col. Melancholy because you really are coming down from the Range at this point. I did not clock it, but as Pyramid is at over 4500′ and Gothics over 4700′, you descend off the range quite a bit to drop down to the Sawteeth col. Sawteeth is only around 4200′ and not technically in the LGR, so it’s like you are leaving a special place, and the spectacular views for the day must come to an end, as they always do. The walk down is on the longish side especially compared with the shorter and more exciting descents off of the Wolf Jaws, Armstrong and Gothics, but the footing was OK, and it was fun knowing that the rest of the hike was still going to be pretty. Made it down to the Col at about 12:40 where I once again ran into a couple of brothers who had run the LGR (at least on the runnable parts). I stayed in the col for 4 or 5 minutes while they ran up the trail, hoping to have the walk up to myself and a little solitude at the summit. Well, I got the trail part right, and despite the distance it really is only a scamper to the top – made it up at 1:00pm only to find that the brothers had run right over the summit and down the Scenic trail (I would see them again down at the Ausable Lake dam, where they promptly took off for a run down Lake Road). Anyhoo, the summit was a lot more wooded than the others (with the exception of LWJ) so you could not look over too well at the Dix and Pinnacle ranges, but once again you are rewarded with good views of the Upper Range. I did not spend very much time up there, as a group of three was definitely parked there, and sprawled across the entire summit, including a guy with his shirt off tanning, and a companion of his lain flat across the actual summit point. Absent stepping on her I am not sure I could actually touch the summit to the nearest inch, but I was able to snap a few pictures while leaning out over her – I did say pardon me and she promptly offered me some chocolate covered pretzels (I declined) and I was then on my way back down the same way I came up (eschewing the “Scenic Trail” for a future planned hike).

You can continue over Sawteeth to the Scenic trail or turn back around to the more moderate Weld trail

You can continue over Sawteeth to the Scenic trail or turn back around to the more moderate Weld trail

Summit of Sawteeth

Summit of Sawteeth

Summit of Sawteeth

Summit of Sawteeth

Summit of Sawteeth

Summit of Sawteeth

I was back down at the col at 1:30 and took the 1.8 mile Weld trail down to Rainbow falls. Unlike many of the approach trails further west and north in the high peaks, this one had excellent footing almost the entire way. Easily runnable for those of you inclined to do so, and I was able to keep a full stride for the entire way and made it quickly down to rainbow falls by 2:05. On this generally cloudly day, the sun came out just as I approached the falls and was treated to this!


Good advice (and you should be careful, as just below the logs they put up the cliff falls off sharply and with a slick dirt footing nearby)

Good advice (and you should be careful, as just below the logs they put up the cliff falls off sharply and with a slick dirt footing nearby)

Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls


I was planning on finishing the hike along the West River Trail, but after 25 minutes of making my way down, I just sort of flipped my mind a bit and wanted to make quicker progress home, so I ran it back to the Ausable dam, walked up to Lake Road and made quick work of the Lake Road out the to AMR exit. The original plan was to hook up back with the White trail and then back down the Deer Brook trail to my car on 73, but changed my mind and opted for a long road walk – my estimate was about 4.something miles of road walking which started a little after 2:35. Back at AMR gate at 325 and back to my car after a slog on Rt 73 dodging very fast moving trucks by 3:55. With over an hour of summit time, the hike took 9 hours 40 minutes. I can see trail runners doing it in half that, and in my view this was a terrific trek, and “easier” than the Dial, Nippletop, Colvin, Blake hike and the Sewards.

Cool mushrooms on the Weld trail

Cool mushrooms on the Weld trail

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Glimpse of Sawteeth from Ausable dam, about only view of it that was had all day

Glimpse of Sawteeth from Ausable dam, about only view of it that was had all day

Ausable dam

Ausable dam

Looking north from bridge over Ausable dam

Looking north from bridge over Ausable dam

AMR Gate

AMR Gate

I don’t keep my iPhone GPS on when I hike, I just keep my map and compass handy. But given the way I went I think the trip was close to 18 miles and 6,000 feet if you include all the ups and downs. It was truly a terrific walk and made for a satisfying peaks 36 through 40. More on that soon, it is “sad” that the 46er adventure is nearing its end, but hopefully my reasons for this are beyond pedestrian.


Camped at a pretty little spot in South Meadows. Was awakened 20 minutes before my alarm by ADHD squirrels maddeningly dropping cones and nuts from the canopy.

On 530

off noon

… time on my hands and feeling pretty good, packed up camp, had a lunch of pretzel bagel and cheddar, chugged a Mio-Energy water, drove over to the HPIC, and was strolling along Heart Lake by 1:30.

Back down by 6.

Phelps and Tabletop … and Nye and Street