Mt Colvin and Blake Peak

Order in ranking: Mount Colvin 39, Blake Peak 43

The Canadian May long weekend was the beginning our 2014 climbing season.  Originally we had planned to tackle some (or all) of the Dix Range – we had 5 people, and had planned on two cars, so we could do a traverse from Route 73 to the Elk Lake trailhead.  However, this was the spring that wasn’t, and by the May long weekend, the road from Clear Pond to Elk Lake (and hence, to the trailhead) was still closed.  This would have meant an extra 2 miles on top of an already long hike.  Not to mention that trails above 4000’ were “closed” as well .
So what to do, when the trails don’t cooperate?  Change your plan!  We decided instead to climb Mt Colvin and Blake Peak.  It’s also a long hike, because they’re so far in from the trailhead at the Ausable Club.  We had already book the Roaring Brook room at the TMax N Topo hostel – which has a small kitchen, a sitting room, 2 single beds and 2 double beds, as well as an ensuite bathroom – so we were close to the trailhead for those two peaks.
Steph and I have been hiking together for ages, and we’ve got a lot of shared memory built up; there are many things that we don’t have to worry about because we know the other has it under control. Having said this, it’s also fun to add in other people now and then.  I think a great climbing season is when I get a bit of both.  This time we were with two of Steph’s coworkers – Jodi and Nathalie, and Nathalie’s teenage daughter, Pascale.
The morning of the hike dawned early – we were up at 6 so that we could get on the road and get on our hike by 7:30; Nathalie had been told by one of the other guests at the hostel that rain was expected in the late afternoon, and we all agreed that we did not want to be anywhere near the summits when the rain began.  (As a side note:  Nathalie is a genius.  She brought her crock pot with her, and got a pot of chili going when we left on the hike.  When we got back, we had wonderful, hot chili for dinner.)
Of course, being up and leaving early was a great idea…..until we got out to the car and realized it was covered in frost, and we didn’t have a scraper.  Credit card to the rescue!  You gotta think on your feet to hike in the Adirondacks.
Don’t take this first trail!


take this (second) trail
We were off by 7:00, and took the Lake Road past the Gill Brook Path, to the next trail – the Gill Brook Cut off, which we hit at 8:00.  This route is slightly shorter, and infinitely easier!  After a short jaunt, we met up with the Gill Brook trail at around 8:25, having stopped for a quick break at the first junction.  We stopped again for a few photos, and then headed up towards the junction with Nippletop.
We had made really good time on the Lake Road, but we started to slow down as we hit the actual trails.  We hit the junction with Nippletop at 9:30, and then slowed down even more, partly because there was still a bit of ice in places, and we moved gingerly over it – we didn’t want to damage the new spring growth coming in.  We did have micro-spikes, but didn’t really need them.
We met three people near the summit – they had hiked in the night before, camped, and were contemplating whether to push on or turn around.  To be fair -there was a huge rock face in front of us that, for some, might look a bit daunting.  Having climbed the Cliffs of Saddleback, though, Steph and I were more than prepared for this challenge. So with a bit of a scramble, we got up, and soon came to the summit, at 10:30, where we had a half hour break and a snack.
Enjoying the scenery
Obligatory shoe photo
After a quick break, we headed over to Blake, which was a bit of a struggle.  You go down, down, down, then up, up, up.  You have to climb over three or four rock faces, and then… think you’re there.  There’s a clearing, the path is straight (in fact, if you go a bit farther, it starts to descend a bit!) but that isn’t it.  The clearing is another two-minute walk, down a bit, up a bit, and around a corner.  While the summit isn’t marked, there is a sign that points back to Colvin, and forwards to Pinnacle Ridge.
If you don’t see this, you’re not at the summit!
One of two ladders leading to Blake
To detail the trail a bit:  You start going down Colvin, and almost immediately you see a ladder.  Then you go down a lot of rocks, hit another ladder where you think “What in the world are these notches here for!?!?  Did it break?!?  Did a step break off?!?”  (And then on the way up them you think, “Oooooohhhhh…they’re handholds for people going UP” and feel really dumb for what you though going down), and then climb down a bit more rock.  Then you start going up a lot of rocks, and a lot more rock, and a lot more rock, which is incredibly steep.  Honestly, it’s probably one of the steepest climbs I’ve done.  It’s very doable – it’s not technical-climbing – you’re still just hiking, but it is a very steep grade.  We were also moving slower due to our party size.  Because there were 5 of us, we took longer to go up and over the rock faces, as we waited for everyone to climb up before moving forward.  This worked to our advantage, though, as we could pass poles, lend hands, or give advice on the best route up.
We summited Blake at 12:30, and had a half-hour lunch, then started the climb back to Colvin.  I’ve always found that the trails that are easy going up and hard going down, and those that are hard going up, easy going down, and this trail was no different.  There were a few sliding-down-on-your-butt rock faces, and a few why-was-this-so-hard-in-the-other-direction rock faces.  But make it we did, and we took a quick break on Colvin to catch our breath.


After that it was a long slog back to the road (which we hit around 4:40) and then the trailhead – Pascale, the young whippersnapper, fairly jogged back (or at least, in my foggy old memory, she jogged back) ahead of all us old folks – we all staged back at various times – from 5:29 to 5:41.  Our feet were sore, but our spirits were buoyant!
Yeah, that’s right, I brought a tiara on my hike
Total climbing time: 10 hours 24 minutes
Left trailhead at: 7:05, returned at 5:29
Summitted Mount Colvin at 10:30, Blake Peak 12:30

The Seward Range – The Good, The Painful, The Muddy and the Terrifying

Order in Ranking Seward Mountain 24, Mount Donaldson 33, and Mount Emmons 40

This past weekend marked the final climb of the season for Stephanie and I.  We had originally planned to do a guided day-hike with the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) but at the last minute, we received an email stating that we would only do 2 (Donaldson and Emmons) of the 3 summits in the range.

Normally we’d roll with the punches, but this was a bit of a big deal.  You see, Steph was at 20 summits, having decided not to push through and summit Rocky during August.  We really had our hearts set on being halfway through the 46 High Peaks at the end of this season.  So we dropped out of the guided hike, and decided to do it on our own.

We drove down on the Friday night, had supper in Tupper Lake (Pine Grove Restaurant on Route 3 is lovely.  I recommend it if you’re in the area) and then parked at the trailhead on Coreys Road.  We were all set to car camp – fairly easy when you have an SUV with back seats that flatten down.  We got cozy, had a plastic cup of wine, then rolled ourselves up in our sleeping bags and went to sleep.

We were up early the next day, and were on our way by 6:45.  There are two trails that lead from the trailhead, and we took the one straight on from the register (in fact, we never saw the other path)  In hindsight – this may have been a horse path, as the first 1.2/1.4 miles (there’s some dissension here – the book says 1.2, the signs say 1.4) was incredibly muddy, but fairly flat.  I had to do a quick sock change early on, as I got a soaker, but otherwise it was uneventful.

Turn right.  Follow the horse!

Upon reaching the junction with the tote road, the problems started, so let me just say now:
– Yes, avoid the horse trail, BUT the sign that points to the right, with the horse head on it?  Follow that.  Turn right, and follow the tote road 3 miles to the Calkins Creek Trail, which will be on your left.

So we turned left, figuring we wanted to avoid the other horse trail, that roughly parallels the Ward Brook Trail.  We should have turned right, which would have taken us to the Calkins Brook Trail.

So I’m going to describe the Ward Brook trail, just so you don’t accidentally take it. Trust me, you don’t want to.

The first 300 or so yards are on the tote road, at which point you come to a metal gate, with two paths leading in opposite directions.  (If you hit this gate, turn around and go the other direction for Calkins Brook)  We turned right, and followed the path.  (The left path takes you back to the trailhead.  You may come out to the tote road here, in which case – turn right and keep walking)

It was quite easy, very rolling with gentle ups and downs.  There were about 5 or  6 brooks to cross -all stone hopping.  One had a bridge at one point, but it is now down to one log.  It was much easier to stone hop over than attempt the log.

Blueberry Lean-to

At 9:30, we reached Blueberry Lean-To – it was empty, but well-kept.  (If you’re planning on staying, there’s a rake, a shovel, a broom, a frying pan, someone even left a pen and some crossword puzzles!)  We took a break, used the outhouse (didn’t smell great, but what outhouse does?) and kept going.

We went over two bridges; almost immediately after the second one we found the cairn marking the route to Seward Mountain.

The route up Seward was rough, wet, and muddy.  We followed the stream for a little ways over rolling terrain – it wasn’t terribly difficult, but it was serpentine and rose and fell as it went along.  About a half hour after we turned off the tote road, the trail began to climb in earnest.
Up Seward – wet and rough
It was at first not too steep, but incredibly wet – I’m still not sure if we were actually in the stream, or if the trail was just unusually wet as it had been a very wet week.   We felt it was similar to the lower sections of Lower Wolf Jaw, really.  But it began to get steeper and steeper – rivalling the steep section on the way to Haystack (where you climb 878 feet in 1 mile)
At any rate, it was wet and slippery, and we got angry and yelled at the mountain, and vowed to never, ever again hike this trail.  We climbed for what felt like hours.  (In fact, it was – we started the trail around 10:00, and didn’t summit until 1:15)  We hiked ourselves up tree trunks and roots, shimmied ourselves up massive ledges, and if you want some bouldering practise, there’s that too.
We finally got to the end of the grind, and gained the summit ridge.  We were so busy celebrating and chatting, that we kept walking until the trail started to descend.  We figured we had missed the summit marker, and doubled back to find it.  (Thus starting a 10 minute fruitless search.)  We finally gave up, figuring we must have missed it, but confident that we had indeed summited Seward.
Turns out the summit was past this point – the trail descended slightly, before ascending again to the true summit of Seward – marked not only with a small yellow disk, but also a brown sign with “Seward Mountain” on it in yellow.  Have no fears – you will not miss this summit.  It’s on the trail, not off to the side like Donaldson, or Emmons.
You cannot miss this sign.


We took our pictures, and started out again towards Donaldson.  The trail was steep and rocky, but a breeze to scooch down.  We met two groups heading up to Seward, including one who was finishing their 46. We descended to the col, then started up again towards Donaldson, (not as steep this time, but just as rocky) passing the cairn marking the path to Calkins Creek Trail.
Just past this cairn, after about a 15 to 20 minute walk, we hit the summit of Donaldson, just off to the left of the trail, where a large group (possibly the ADK led group) was taking a breather.  We quickly snapped our photos and ran on, as it was 2:20 already.
The trail to Emmons was incredibly muddy and wet.  There were portions of up and down, and lots of  lowering ourselves up and down rocks.  It was on the way to Emmons, disaster struck.  I slipped on the mud and cracked my knee (thankfully no breaking anything, other than skin) hard on a root/branch/rock – I still have no idea.  I popped two Advil, and we kept running.  Then Steph got stuck – her arm bent at an unnatural angle, her pole was caught between two rocks as she was lowering herself down.  I kicked her pole, and it popped free.  At this point, near tears, we asked ourselves, “Is it worth it?”
There was no way we were turning back.  We decided our problem had been that we were rushing, and not going our pace, so if we scaled it back….we’d get there in one piece.  Bruised, battered and bleeding, but we’d get there.  We ran into another two-person team, threatened them with bodily harm if they didn’t tell us how far to the summit, and kept going.
Climbing up to Emmons
We rounded a corner and there before us was Emmons…….and man did it look far away.  But, we told ourselves, it’s the Nippletop syndrome – what looks to be miles away, is in reality incredibly close.  We pressed on, but with one caveat – that no matter what, at 4:00 we would turn around.  If that meant not summitting Emmons, so be it.
We walked and walked, wondering how much further, how much further, how much further.  The trail started to twist around, almost going in circles it felt like, and I could feel that the summit was near.  Indeed, around one last corner, and up a small rocky incline was the summit of Emmons.  We did our now-traditional shot of whiskey (missed on both Seward and Donaldson in our rush) and sat down for some food.  At this point, we had only taken two or three quick breaks for food.
At 3:40, we were up and back on the trail, tracing our path back to the cairn for Calkins Creek.  We got back to the cairn around 4:45, and took a quick break to change socks and pants (taking off our muddied and soaked hiking pants to put on rain gear over our thermal long johns).  We were back to hiking at 4:55.
Calkins Creek trail is beautiful.  It’s a very gentle grade (at least going down – we didn’t find our toes jammed into the toe of our boots) and very spongy, great after hiking on rock.  It is a little monotonous – there’s really nothing to say other than – it keeps going down/up, is very nice to walk on and is very easy to follow.
We crossed two streams before having to pull out of headlamps around 6:30.  Thankfully (the only time I will say this) the trail was fairly muddy, so it was easy to follow in the dark.  We did have a spot of panic when we came to a river crossing, with high water and few good places to ford.  This is right before the end/start of the herdpath (although we didn’t know that at the time).  We calmed ourselves, looked for the cairns (there are cairns on both sides) and then rock hopped over the river. (We were less concerned at this point about getting our feet wet).
We quickly afterwards came to the old lumber/tote road that leads back to the trail to the parking lot.  This calmed a lot of our fears, as it’s easy to follow a road (no matter how old or disused) than a herdpath through the forest.  But of course, this is the point that it started to rain.
The road was a fairly gentle ascent (descent if you’re on your way up) which annoyed us as we just wanted the climbing to be over.  We kept walking at a pretty brisk pace (it was 1.5 hours between the start of the tote road and the parking lot – so 4.4 miles, roughly).  We reached the junction with the trail we had taken from the parking lot, and followed it (now even muddier and wet) back.  We hit the car at 8:23.  (I literally hugged it, Steph hugged the trail register)

Muddy leg on Emmons

So, in summary:

From the register:  there are two trails – follow whichever, but the one straight on is rough.
– Upon junction, TURN RIGHT.  You will either walk 3.3, or 3 miles, depending on which trail you took from the register.
– At cairn-on-pedestal, turn left (it’s the only way to turn) for Calkins Creek Trail
– Cross 3 streams/rivers
– Hit trail between Seward/Donaldson
– Turn left to get to Seward (roughly 1 – 1.5 hours one way), right to get to Donaldson (about 15 – 20 minutes)


Total climbing time: 13 hours and 41 minutes
Left trailhead at: 6:42, returned at 8:23
Summitted Seward at 1:15, Dondaldson at 2:20, Emmons at 3:30
Left Emmons at 3:40, hit cairn at 4:50

Street and Nye (or StreetnNye)

Order in ranking, Street number 31, Nye number 45.
The same weekend that I climbed Rocky Ridge Peak, I also climbed Street and Nye.  Unlike the day before (Rocky) when I hiked up and out with the whole group of us camping, this time it was back to the Dynamic Duo, as Steph and I set out together for our own hike.


Signing in.



Neither Street nor Nye has much of a view from the summit, so we figured the other women might not be interested in spending the day with us; especially considering we were trying to get them hooked on the hiking the 46.  They went off to hike Phelps instead, which has a fantastic view.



Steph and I set out around 8 – not fantastically early, but certainly not a late start either.  The trailhead to Street and Nye can be reached a few ways – we walked towards the Loj, and took the path marked “Mount Jo”; alternatively, you can head out past the parking station attendant booth, and take the path there marked “Mount Jo”.  The two paths do meet up eventually, at the register.
From there, you follow the path as it leads around the Lake, eventually splitting off from the Mount Jo path, and another Old Nye Ski Trail.  Shortly after this, there’s a large sign stating that the trail is no longer maintained nor marked past this point.  It should be noted that the trail is quite easy to follow, mostly.
I say mostly because when you get to the large river crossing, there are paths that lead from the trail down to the river bank.  We took the first one, assuming it to the trail, and crossed the river only to lose the trail on the other side.  (After much back and forth – both along the banks and back across the river – did we finally pull out the compass and use it while reading the guide book, realizing that we had crossed before the river swings north and needed to go back and get on the trail again.)  To save you this time and trouble, it’s important to note that a) there are two false paths to the river before the true trail leads down, and b) the true trail and river crossing are marked with cairns on both sides of the river.  If you don’t see a cairn on your side or the opposite side, don’t cross!

Follow these across the river.
We pulled out our river shoes to cross – I had already fallen once on the rocks and bashed my knee good, and the water was just deep enough to give me pause about walking (again) in wet boots.  The water was surprisingly not that cold – it actually felt quite nice on our feet. 
Abandoned cans, all rusty and un-usable.
From there, the trail was easily discernible as it led along the river bank, past a large meadow (and later on a beaver dam) eventually reaching the abandoned lumber camp.  Here we decided to leave a few things – it had been cold when we started out, and we had worn long pants at the beginning of our hike, so we left our pants, and water shoes, with a note stating that we had gone to Street/Nye and would be back later on that day for our belongings.  (And yes, they were still there when we got back.)
Street and Nye have a great hike up – it’s not too demanding (even the steep section is – compared to Basin, Haystack and Giant – not that bad). One thing that did surprise us – everything we’d read and Street and Nye talked about the steep bit before the trail splits for the two summits.  While there is a steep bit before the split, there’s also a not so steep section after the steep section but before the split.  So basically – once you hit the steep section, you’re just over half-way to the split.  You’re going to go through a section of what looks like deadwood, and things are going to look like you’re coming to something summit-y, and then you’ll go around a corner and….there’s still path in front of you.  
I can almost….reach….
We went to Street first, as we figured get the further one out of the way.  It was fairly flat for a short bit, then it got a little steep as we wound our way up.  It’s good to note that there are several paths, as people have meander their way to the summit – try to stick to the one that is the most defined to avoid trampling the surroundings too much.  I think it took us maybe 40 minutes to hit the summit – not too long, really.  Once we got there, I sat to treat a blister that was forming (duct tape over a band-aid easily solves this problem), while Steph took a few photos from the lookouts.
We quickly headed back to the split, and up Nye; it was a very quick 10 minute walk over to the Nye.  There was some gentle up and down, but the real problem was grabby branches from the bushes lining the path.
Great day for a rocky beach….
Once we hit Nye, took a few photos (of us, and the couple that we had been following to and from Street), we headed back to the split for some lunch.  There’s a nice clearing with plenty of shady places to sit at the split, which was great on a bright, sunny day.  We chatted with a few hikers (there were lots out – we met over 30 hikers, which surprised us as neither summit has a view) and then headed out – making a push to hit the lumber camp and retrieve our gear (which we hoped was still there – it was.)
We took a break by the river crossing – sitting and sunning on the rocks, and drying our feet after dipping them in water.  From there we pushed on towards the trail register, and then to the Info Centre to pick up our patch (Street and Nye share a patch.) 
Total climbing time: 7 hours and 40 minutes
Left trailhead at: 8:15, returned at 3:55
Summitted Street at 12:25 (left summit at 12:31) summitted Nye at 1:08

Rocky Peak Ridge Traverse to Route 9

Order in ranking, number 20.

This past weekend, I headed down to the Adirondacks yet again, but this time with a gaggle of girls.  Besides my climbing partner Stephanie, there were four other women who were keen on hiking and camping in the Adirondacks: Terri, Mel, Nath, and Christine.
We drove down in a thunderstorm, but thankfully the rain let up long enough for us to erect our tents….and tarps over the tents.  It proceeded to rain most of the night, but Friday morning dawn with a cloudy sky, but no sign of rain.
We set off for the trailheads – our plan being to park one car at the trailhead to Rock Peak Ridge on Route 9, pile into the other car and park at the Roaring Brook trailhead to Giant Mountain and Rocky Peak Ridge on Route 73.  We got off to a slightly later start that we had hoped, but it was still early enough to get parking.
While Stephanie and I have climbed Giant before, the women were new to climbing the 46ers, with the exception of Christine, who accompanied Stephanie on her hike up Big Slide.  Giant is certainly an interesting choice for a first climb – most people would start with Cascade or Porter, as the two easiest.  But Giant is a nice climb, if a little steep in places.  It also involves some minor rock scrambling that isn’t very scary.
We took a few breaks on the way up – Stephanie wasn’t feeling too well, and the other women wanted time to soak in the experience.  We weren’t trying to set any records, so we meandered along, taking breaks, chatting, and going at our own pace.
It’s funny how trails seem to change – there was lots of stuff that neither Stephanie nor I remembered, but other places that we recalled in great detail – such as the first rocky slab that you have to scramble up.  The first time we climbed it, we stuck to the edges, rather afraid of falling down the rock, and anchoring each other as we took pictures.  This time, however, we were much more confident (thank you, cliffs of Saddleback) and strode out to take photos from the same lookout.
After a bit, Stephanie made the call to send the other women on ahead of us as she was feeling a little out of sorts and wanted to take a bit longer of a breather.  The reasoning was that they wanted to summit both Giant and Rocky Peak Ridge, and if they went ahead they could summit Giant, and we would meet up with them at the junction for Rocky Peak Ridge.  Neither party would miss out on what they wanted, and no one would have to wait for the other.   So the four women went on, and I stayed back with Stephanie.
We slowly made our way up, chatting with each other about our hike that day and the next, and about what hikes we might like to do next year.  We moved at our pace – we’re slow, but we’re steady.  We rarely need to take long breaks, because we don’t push ourselves too hard above what we’re comfortable with.
Relaxing at the junction
When we passed the junction for the Zander Scott trail (also known as the Ridge Trail), with .7 of a mile left to the summit of Giant, and .6 of a mile left to the junction of Rocky, Stephanie decided to send me on ahead as well.  She had made the difficult decision to not summit Rocky Peak Ridge.  She was feeling exhausted, and wanted to be fresh enough for our climb up Street and Nye the next day.  (Stephanie had done the majority of the driving the day before, in torrential rain, so it’s no wonder that she was exhausted.)
So I set on a little bit quicker, and reached the junction to Rocky Peak Ridge, to learn from other hikers that the other women had just left to summit Giant. I sat down, and prepared to wait (and enjoy the sun that had burnt off the clouds).  After a quick wait, both Stephanie and other women joined me.
We decided that Christine would stay with Stephanie, as she had only intended to hike Giant, and Nath, Mel, Terri and I would hike over to Rocky Peak Ridge.  After that, Nath would return to meet up with Christine and Stephanie, and Mel, Terri and I would continue the traverse to the Route 9 trailhead.
The “steep descent” on the col between Giant and Rocky Peak Ridge wasn’t that bad.  I felt it was on part with the rocky steep bits on Lower Wolf Jaw – perhaps a bit less.  The ascent on the way to Rocky Peak Ridge was steep, but no more so than most Adirondack hikes – there at least was no rock scrambling involved.  All in all, it’s very doable if you’ve done several hikes in the Adirondacks that involve some rocky scrambling.
We quickly hit Rocky Peak Ridge, and took various group and solo photos.  From there, Nath headed back, and Mel, Terri and I headed on.
The trail to Route 9 is lovely, descending to pass by a pond (Mary Louise Pond) before ascending to Rocky Mountain (not to be confused with Rocky Peak Ridge).  Lots of open rock face, and lots of great views from here.  Then it was another descent, before climbing again to Bald Mountain.  Again, lots of open rock and some fantastic views.  The trail is clearly marked over these peaks with not only with yellow paint blazes, but also with cairns that lead you around the rocky summits to the path on the other side.
The map we had, had one more name on “Blueberry Cobbles” so we figured we were fairly close to the end of the hike.  We set on, and descended and ascended yet again.  Here we were faced with not only open rock face, but very slanted open rock face.  I was reminded of the cliffs of Saddleback – although these were not as steep, nor as perilous looking as Saddleback, they were intimidating.  We took it slow over the rocks, as we slowly starting to descend yet again.
From here, we thought it would be a straightforward hike to the trailhead.  And then….a sign.  There seemed to be no reason for this sign (although, it could be that it was marking the junction to a short cut, that we found out about after the fact) that said “Blueberry Cobbles Rte 9 2.4 miles”.  Had we gone 2.4 miles since Blueberry Cobbles?  Did we have 2.4 miles to go?  We had no idea.
Great view, long hike
And then, suddenly….another ascent.  That’s right – our fifth ascent since leaving Rocky Peak Ridge.  We were going up again.  When, we wondered, would this hike be over?
We continued to follow the trail, and started another descent when we saw a sign for a red-marked trail that was a short-cut around Blueberry Cobbles summit.  I’m not sure how much time could have been cut off if we had followed this trail, but it may have given us one less ascent/descent.  We picked up the pace, as much as we could given the fact that it was nearing on 8 hours of hiking at this point.
We were moving on auto-pilot, when we saw something in the distance.  We didn’t want to be fooled – far too many times we had seen a small clearing in front of us, and we had thought it was the parking lot to no avail.  But this time was different.  This time we could see sun glinting off of metal.  And it was – we had finally, at 6:20, hit the parking lot.
The traverse is a nice hike, but it’s long, and the constant up and down as you climb and descend the various peaks between makes it feel even longer.  But the views are quite nice and almost make up for it.  Still, I’d recommend climbing Rocky Peak Ridge from Giant.
Total climbing time: 9 hours and 28 minutes
Left trailhead on Route 73 at: 8:52, hit trailhead on Route 9 at: 6:20
Summited Rocky Peak Ridge at: 1:43

Upper Wolf Jaw and The Loop That Wasn’t

Order in ranking, number 29.

I decided not to blog right away about Upper Wolf Jaw.  Things have been busy with life in general, and other up-coming trips.  But here it is, finally.

So some back story if you haven’t read my post on our HaBaSa adventure:  We were, in the end, supposed to hike HaBaSa on the Saturday, and then on the Sunday do Gothics-Armstrong-Upper Wolf Jaw as a loop, in that order.  Only on Saturday night, the forecast was for rain and possible thunder storms, so we decided we’d switch the order, so that at least that way, we’d get Upper Wolf Jaw done, if nothing else.

Why did it matter that we got Upper Wolf Jaw done?  Well, you see – we’ve been buying patches for the hikes.  After we complete a hike, we buy the patch.  Only, after finishing Lower Wolf Jaw, my hiking partner Stephanie, realized that…..the patch is for “The Wolf Jaws”.  That ‘s’ is very important.  Being the honest people we are, we held off getting the patch until we had completed Upper Wolf Jaw.  So we were really anxious to finally get the thing.

Anyway, Sunday morning dawned with lots of clouds, and those clouds were moving pretty quick.  A note about the weather in the Adirondacks:  If it says it’s going to rain, even if it’s a 10% chance, it’s likely it will.  And the weather can change in the mountains – it blows in quickly, and while it may be ok at the base of the mountain, at the summit it’s windy, freezing, windy, rainy, windy and incredibly cloudy.  And if lightening should happen when you’re on exposed rock, there’s not much you can do but hurry.

We decided to push onwards anyway.  Our plan was to re-evaluate the plan at each summit, and turn back when we felt the weather was too inclement to continue.

JBL’s former generators

After a brief delay, as we took the wrong path out of JBL (where we saw generators that had been used at JBL) The walk up Woodsfall trail to the five-way junction (and the Ore Bed Trail, which we didn’t take) is pretty easy, but man…..our legs were killing us.  The 11-hour hike from the day before was letting us know that even if the weather cooperated, our bodies might not.  But, for the most part, the trail is level and easy to walk, so we made good time.

We took the ADK Range Trail and headed to the junction with the trail that leads to Lower Wolf Jaw.  I remember this trail being quite nice – it was fairly level, with a few ups and downs, but nothing that pushed us.  It was a good warm-up for what lay ahead.

Again, we made excellent time to the junction, and the weather seemed to be holding.  We thought, at this point, that we would definitely get Upper Wolf Jaw, and quite probably Armstrong, with a slight possibility of Gothics.

I live for these signs on my hikes.

We sat down to have a snack, and while we were there, a French couple came up the trail that we had just been on.  Their goal was also Gothics.  We warned them about the weather, as they seemed completely unprepared (small daypacks, that obviously didn’t have rain gear, or much food, running shoes, shorts and tank tops), but they seemed confident.  And then they asked us, “Does Gothics have a view?”  Well, not in this weather, no.  It was still very cloudy, and the occasional spit of rain was still coming down, so the chances of there being a view from Gothics in that weather….not going to happen.  They kept going, and were long gone by the time we started up again.

The trail up Upper Wolf Jaw is, well, it’s got its scrambles up rock, but after HaBaSa the day before, it seemed a treat.  The only bad part was that the rocks were slick.  It does take some negotiating, but the trail is really not too bad.  You do have to hike yourself over some rocks, and there was one spot that could have caused us some troubles – you either have to haul yourself up a huge slab of rock, or if you’re thin enough (and not too claustrophobic), squeeze between two huge slabs of rock to get to a spot where you can easily climb up.  We squeezed, but anyone much bigger than us would have issues with it.

Almost a fairy land.

At this point, the trail started to become misty.  We were high enough that we had actually entered into the clouds.  While this sounds awesome, it was a little wet.  Not as wet as it would have been had it actually been raining, but everything was damp.  We seemed to keep going and keep going and keep going.  The trees began to thin, and the wind picked up.  We had a brief huddle and decided that when we reached the summit, we would take a quick picture of our feet (tradition) and a picture of us, and we’d run down to some shelter and have a snack.  And then we’d go back to JBL.  We were tired, our legs were tired and we just couldn’t face the thought of dealing with the mist, rain and wind for two more summits.  The closer we got to the summit of Upper Wolf Jaw, the more resolute we were to turn around after that.

It’s right there.  how did we miss it?

And then….we saw a small trail branching off the main trail, leading to a rocky out-cropping.  “Is this it?” we thought.  We took the path, battling the wind and mist, and stood on top – quickly snapping our pictures, before running back down.  But then we had to determine if that was actually the summit or not, as we hadn’t seen any markers, or signs or anything.  So we continued on the main trail, and it…..abruptly started descending.  So back we trudge, and as we past the trail leading to the out-cropping, we saw the sign.  How we had missed it originally, I don’t know, but it’s right there “Upper Wolf Jaw summit, 20 yds”.

We started back down immediately.  The trail down was no more difficult that going up, which is surprising because my experience in the Adirondacks is that if it’s easy going up, it’s hell to come down, and vice versa.  But this trail we seemed to fly down.  We met a few other people who were on their way up, but it was fairly quiet for the most part.

We returned to JBL to pick up our packs (yes, you can leave them in the Great Room on the day you check out, if you’re planning a hike), use the washroom, and buy our patch.  Then it was back down the Phelps trail to The Garden.  It was slow going – we were tired, our legs were sore, and we’d already hiked over 5 hours that day, but we made it.

Battered, bruised, and muddied

Our options at this point for Gothics and Armstrong is to hike in from the AMR side (by the fancy country club) and go over Pyramid and Sawteeth (another 46er) and back out that way, or to have someone drop of us at the AMR, hike over Pyramnid, Sawteeth, Gothics, Armstrong and Upper Wolf Jaw again.  Alternately, we could do the loop we had originally planned to do, and leave Sawteeth and Pyramid for another hike.  It won’t be this year, that’s for sure, but perhaps next.  And this way – we’ll get another stay at JBL!

Total climbing time: 5 hours 28 minutes
Left JBL at 8:27, returned at 1:55
Summited at 11:21

HaBaSa from JBL

Haystack, Basin and Saddleback (HaBaSa)
Order in ranking: 3, 9 17

It was down to the Adirondacks for another long weekend of climbing and luxury camping, if you can call what we did camping, and if you can call Johns Brook Lodge luxury.  I should probably start at the beginning so you can follow that.

Backwards J is a thing, apparently

First, Johns Brook Lodge (JBL).  This is a hike-in facility run by the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK).  It’s a 5.6 km (3.5 mile) hike from The Garden parking lot to JBL.  It’s a full board lodge, at least between late-June and Labour Day.  The staff, there were three when we stayed there, hike in all the food.  Any special dietary needs (gluten-free, egg allergies, etc.) need to be communicated at least 24 hours in advance so that the staff can bring in any special food (my friend Stephanie, who has celiac’s, had gluten free pancakes one morning).  But this is no luxury lodge – the rooms are all dorms (there are two general 10-bed dorms, and two family four-bed dorms), there’s no electricity, no shower and no flush toilet.  Not to dissuade you too much – the privies are clean, with a seat (no squat toilets!), and there are sinks to wash your hands/do a bird-bath after your climb.  The water is also potable, so you don’t need to hike in water for your stay.  And, while there is no electricity (and no charging phones, batteries, or cameras), there are propane lights, and propane stoves.  We had wonderful meals (turkey, mashed potatoes, bacon, sausage, eggs, oatmeal, coffee, BBQ chicken, etc.) while we were there, and they prepared a bagged lunch for everyone each day.  Additionally, it effectively cuts 11.2 km (7 miles) off your hike; if you’re planning to do the Haystack-Basin-Saddleback (HaBaSa) loop, this is definitely a good thing.

Our big plan was originally to do a Gothics-Armstrong-Upper Wolf Jaw loop, and spend a night camping at Johns Brook Lodge.  We’d hike in on the Friday, spend the night, do the loop on the Saturday, hike partway out and camp in a lean-to, then hike the rest of the way out on Sunday.

This plan then grew to doing Saddleback-Gothics-Armstrong-Upper Wolf Jaw as a loop on Saturday, spend an extra night at JBL on Saturday, and then hike Haystack and Basin on Sunday, before hiking out.

Which changed one last time when we saw that it was to rain on the Sunday.  Everything we’d read said don’t climb Basin or Haystack in the rain.  So our game plan, upon reaching the Adirondacks, was to do the HaBaSa loop on the Saturday, then the Gothics-Armstrong-Upper Wolf Jaw on Sunday.  Ambitious, to say the least.

And onwards towards JBL

Our hike in was a little slow – it was the first time that we had carried full backpacks (with clothes, sleeping bags, extra snacks, and our day packs) and we wanted to make sure to conserve some energy.  It probably took us close to two hours to reach JBL.

Once there, we quickly unpacked and sat outside enjoying the view, as well as sharing stories and tips with the other hikers.  The great thing was that most of them were also aspiring 46ers, including two women (also from Ottawa!) who were set to complete the 46 the next day with a hike up Haystack.

It was an early night for everyone, and a mad scramble the next morning as everyone prepared for their hikes.  We had filled our camelbaks and water bottles the night before, so after breakfast (eggs, oatmeal, sausages), we grabbed our lunches (two sandwiches – one pb and j, the other ham, as well as trail mix and cookies), stuffed them in our day packs, and set out.

A few broken sign-posts along the way

The first few miles were definitely easy, with a few rolling up and downs, but nothing strenuous.  This always scares me, because I know that at some point there’s going to be an up, and the longer it takes to get to the up, the harder that up is.  And that certainly proved true, as we had 878 feet to climb in a mile.  But, we thought, ‘how hard can it be’?

Not very, it turned out.  It is steep, and it is rocky, and it was wet (and buggy) but it wasn’t too bad.  I wouldn’t want to go down it, but up – it was fine.

We got to a rocky outcropping, where a woman was sitting, and I got all excited, “Is this Little Haystack?!?”  I asked.  No, it wasn’t.  “Is it BIG Haystack?!?” I asked in jest, no it isn’t.  “Is it Needle-In-A-Haystack?!?” Stephanie jokingly chimmed in, and after a laugh we all agreed that would be the name of that outcropping.  So, for those of you follow us, you will first summit Needle-In-A-Haystack, then Little Haystack, then descend Devil’s-Half-Mile (more on that) before finally summiting Haystack.

People picking their way down Haystack

The trek between Little Haystack and Haystack, Devil’s Half-Mile, is a little bit daunting.  It involves walking carefully on small ledges along the rock face, and gingerly scaling the rock face up towards Haystack.  It’s not hard, but it does require some concentration, and I definitely wouldn’t like to do it in the rain, or on wet rock.  The best piece of advice I can pass on is….leave your poles (or pack them into your day pack.)  We left ours by a cairn on the way up Haystack, which  made the rock scrambling that much easier.  (And yes, they were still there when we got back down.)  Follow the yellow paint blazes and you’ll be fine – there are lots of hand holds and toe grips, and for most of it, you can walk upright, if a little slanted forward.

We convinced two other hikers to do the rest of the loop with us.  Their group was only planning on doing Haystack, and they had been debating doing the Basin-Saddleback loop but were unsure.  In retrospect, I’m very, very, very glad that there were four of us.  The trail up the Saddleback cliffs was….scary.  Especially in the moment.  But I’m ahead of myself here.

Going down Haystack was a lot easier than going up – possibly because we had only spent about 20 minutes at the summit, and the way was fresh in our minds.  We raced back up and over Little Haystack, and back down to the trail, that branched off towards Basin.

More ladders.

Basin was a little slower going.  It was quite steep, and there was a bit of rock scrambling to get up and over some of the larger boulders.  And, because of course always, there was another ladder.  I practically hopped my way up, I was so happy I didn’t have to climb down the thing.  The other two people had gone on ahead, and we ambled our way towards the summit.  We’re not fast hikers, and we’re ok with that.  We hike at our pace, and we get there.  Plus we enjoy it along the way.

We met a few people along the way, including a couple who had come up over Saddleback before tacking Basin (doing it the opposite way from us), with full on backpacks.  Like massive full on backpacks.  So some more advice – do not do Saddleback-Basin-Haystack.  Especially if you have full on massive backpacks.

We finally made it to the summit of Basin, and looked back over the path we had come.  We could see both Little Haystack and Haystack in the distance.  It always amazes me, how distances always look massive when you see them, but seem so much smaller when you walk them.  We met up with the other two hikers from Haystack, and enjoyed a few moments rest before we left to tackle……the Cliffs of Saddleback. (dun dun dun!)

I have no idea of what’s coming

Ok, so, disclaimer.  I am beyond terrified of heights.  Or rather, falling from/being pushed from heights.  Two steps up a ladder and I freak out.  (Second disclaimer:  I do not let this stop me from doing anything I really really really want.  I will tough it out and scare myself if I have to, but I will do whatever it is if I am that determined.)

So back to these cliffs.  Have you seen “The Princess Bride?”  And do you remember the Cliffs of Insanity?  It’s basically that.  Only I’m exaggerating just a little bit.  (Although, we did have a woman following us, and I swear she kept gaining.  It was very Princess Bride.)   The cliffs aren’t that bad.  There are three ‘sets’ that you have to climb.  The first one is probably the hardest, because you have no idea how to begin.  Thankfully, the other two people went first and coached us up.  Once you get the first foot up, and the first hand-hold, the rest just seems to “flow” – you can easily get up the first set of rocks.  After that there’s a small area to stand and catch your breath.  Then it’s up the next “set” – again, once you get going, it’s easy to keep momentum up to the next flat-ish area. 

The paint blazes lead either up and over or over and down

I found the third one the hardest – this one seemed to have fewer hand-grips, but did have some space to wedge an arm against the rock and push yourself up.  And then…you’re there.  You’re at the top, or at least very close.  You have to walk around the rocks a bit (again, on an angle as you are still on a bit of an incline) but after one brief haul up a rock, you’re at the summit.  You’ve made it.  You have accomplished one of the hardest hikes in the Adirondacks (that’s what I think, and I swear I have read it somewhere else.)  Is it scary?  Yes.  Could you hurt yourself, badly?  Yes.  Should you have company?  Yes.  Should you do it the opposite way?  No – because then you’d see where you are going, dooooooowwwwwn, and that is just….stupid.  Go up.  Climb.  Climbing it is easier than trying to descend it and have clean underwear at the end.

Woot number 17!

Once atop Saddleback, we took a group picture with our other two hikers, Chris and Eric.  This summit was Chris’s 16th, our 17th and Eric’s 20th.  We were all a little battered and bruised – I have a few (very minor) scratches from my climb up, as did most of the others.  But we made it, and the pride….man.  If you’re wondering if you can do it – yes you can.  Take a deep breath, and go.

We all slowly hobbled down Saddleback.  We met a crew doing trail repair on the Orebed trail – they were building a new ladder up the slide, to maybe? replace one taken by Hurricane Irene.  The devastation left behind by the hurricane is incredibly evident – the slide is desolate, and piled at the bottom is a massive amount of dead wood – trees, branches, roots.  It’s just incredible.

New ladder being built

If you’re thinking of doing the Orebed trail, it’s not too bad, at least until the split with Gothics.  From the base of Saddleback to the bottom, it’s fine, especially with the new ladders.  (I hear that the portion from the split to Gothics summit is a must-go-up, because of the cables.)  We were a little slow on descending – Stephanie and I went ahead, and Chris and Eric took it slower on the way down.  I was so ready to stop walking.  There are a few times, as you cross slides, that it might be easy to lose the trail.  Follow the cairns and the trail markers, and you’ll be fine.  We did get lost at one point, but we just back-tracked to the last marker, and then made our (corrected) way from there.  I guess that’s the thing with the Adirondacks; it’s like the Hitch Hikers Guide To the Galaxy – Don’t Panic.  If you ever think you’re lost, just go back to the last marker, and re-find your way.

We walked for what seemed forever, when we hit a lean-to.  The lean-to is half way along the Orebed trail, and we couldn’t believe that that is where we were.  We honestly felt like we were closer to the end.  But we kept walking, and a little bit later hit the junction for the trail that leads to JBL.  The good news is that if you’re staying at JBL, you don’t have to walk the half-mile back to the Interior Outpost to start your hikes – there is a trailhead at the lodge.

At this point we were moving on auto-pilot.  One foot in front of the other.  All we could think of was the BBQ at JBL that night.  Dinner is served at 6:30, and we knew it would be close.  Finally, after two river crossings, and a horrid, horrible, set of “stairs” we neared JBL. By this point it was 7:00, but thankfully dinner was still on, and there was lots of food.  As we walked in (me first, Stephanie a few seconds behind me) two massive cheers went up from the hikers already back at camp.  They clapped and cheered us as we entered the lodge and we were both overcome with the sense of camaraderie.  We quickly devested ourselves of our shoes and socks, and sat down for some well-deserved dinner.  About 10 minutes after us, in came Eric and Chris, and another massive cheer came from those of us at dinner.


Total climbing time: 10 hours and 57 minutes
Left JBL at 8:05, returned at 7:02
Summited Haystack at 12:30, Basin at 2:40, Saddleback at 4:30