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:
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
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
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
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
Armstrong from UWJ
Back toward LWJ in the distance, false summit of UWJ in foreground
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
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.
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
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
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
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, so headed left instead
Basin from Pyramid
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
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)
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
Glimpse of Sawteeth from Ausable dam, about only view of it that was had all day
Looking north from bridge over Ausable dam
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.