Cables, Ladders, Rock Hops and Summits

Order in ranking: Gothics 10, Armstrong 22

Orebed slide

After our hike up Seymour, Steph and I drove to Keene Valley and to the Garden parking lot.  The sign said that the lot was full, but we continued on, as we had seen at least two cars heading from that direction, and thought we might get lucky.  (We did, we got a spot right away.)

We finished packing up our things into our large packs for our hike into JBL.  We were meeting friends who had arrived earlier in the day and had already hiked in.  We set off around 4:00, and arrived just in time for dinner at 6:30.  (We arrived fifteen minutes ahead of dinner, so had time to change into non-hiked in clothing.)

The next day at 8:15, after a great breakfast of pancakes and eggs, we started off on our hike up Gothics and Armstrong, which had been derailed the summer before due to rain.  We were doing a loop – up Gothics, and the infamous cables, over to Armstrong, and down via Upper Wolfjaw.  The friends we were with were also hoping to tack on Lower Wolfjaw.  Steph and I had decided to skip it as we had done it previously, and after our Seymour hike the day before, we wanted a bit of a rest (Ha!  Rest.)

Oh, stairs, how I love you!

The climb up Gothics was pretty relaxed.  We followed the trail, taking photo breaks, until we came to the Orebed slide.  We clambered through the rubble until we hit the stairs, where we started the long trek up.  A few people commented on feeling a little vertigo on the stairs, and on how difficult they were climb – they certainly cause a burn to form in your thighs!  But they are much better than handling the slide itself.

Not too long after the stairs, at 10:10, we hit an open area, where the junction with the trail to Saddleback meets the trail up Gothics.  We took a quick break, spoke with some summit stewards who were hauling rocks up to Saddleback, and then headed up and over to Gothics.  The stewards had told us that shortly after the junction we would exit out of the tree line, and hit the open rock faces, and the cables.  We were only .6 miles away from the summit, and we were excited.

True to form, the trail quickly left the trees behind, and we hit rock face.  It was not too far in before we hit the cables.

Climbing the cables

I was expecting metal cables, but these are encased in tubing, which are great for you hands.  Additionally, the rock face isn’t exactly that steep – most of the people in our party didn’t use the cables at all.  (Apparently, they are much needed when you’re going down.)  We quickly scrambled up and over the cables, before hitting more rock face (slightly steeper this time) with no cables.  Which is where my fear of heights kicked in.

I slowly climbed up, breathing deep and trying not to look behind me.  I finally hit the top and quickly got up and moved farther away from the sloping side I had just gotten over.  We ended up on a bit of a false summit – wonderful views, but not our destination. We took a quick break to wait for the rest of our party, before pushing on, back into the tree line, and scrambling up more rock faces until we finally hit the summit.

Not a garden path

There was another group up there, preparing to head out as we arrived.  After a bit of a chat, and a promise to see each other on Armstrong, the other group left and we sat down to lunch on the summit.

After lunch, we headed back out to Armstrong, following a path of rock cut into the surrounding trees and moss – it really did look like a winding garden path.  There is one section, where the path looks like it splits – keep going straight, over rock, and veer to the right, over dirt.  Go right – the straight path takes you over a giant split rock.

We hit Armstrong in time to meet up with the other group briefly, along with some other folks that had climbed up in the opposite direction.  We didn’t wait too long here, preferring to keep going.

The hike to Upper Wolfjaw was uneventful.  We passed the first group, as they were slowing down, and swung up and over many a tree branch and rock, and down one perilous looking ladder.  Actually, there was a bit of a traffic jam on the ladder – between several groups coming down, and others going up our pace slowed down.  It was a bit of a shocker seeing so many people – Steph and I have been doing some of the less pleasant (i.e. no views from the summit) climbs recently, and usually have the trail either to ourselves, or only sharing with one or two other people.

Just don’t fall between these two rocks

As we approached the height of the trail (and the junction with the trail to the summit of Upper Wolfjaw, which is 20 yards off the trail) we could hear people.  And it sounded like a lot of people.  A LOT of people.  The summit was packed – there was no room for anyone else – it was crowded with a large group of teenagers (teenagers, early 20s, somewhere in there) and their massive backpacks.  Steph and I squeezed in for a photo (Steph and I want to compare our summit photos, from last year’s misty day to this year’s sunny day) and quickly took off for JBL.  The rest of our group hung out a little longer, before heading off to Lower Wolfjaw.


Total climbing time: 8 hours 27 minutes
Left trailhead at: 8:15, returned at 4:42
Summitted Gothics at 11:19, Armstrong 12:27, Upper Wolfjaw 1:27

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