Thursday, October 18, 2012

Gothics, Armstrong, Upper Wolfjaw and Lower Wolfjaw 2012-10-18

After a hiatus of many years, Robert a.k.a. "Bib" is returning to the Adirondacks to attain 46er status. We were introduced by way of mistaken identity (he thought I was someone else) but it was a fortuitous mix-up. I discovered he lives in Montreal's West Island so, given proximity and a shared interest in hiking, we teamed up to hike the 4K peaks of the lower Great Range.

We left Montreal at 5:00 AM, arrived at St. Huberts at 7:20 AM, and signed in at the AMR trail register at 7:40 AM. Nine hours and four High Peaks later, we were on our way to knock back a few beers.

We selected the best weather day of the week and weren't disappointed. Although equipped for ice and snow we encountered none. In the bright sunshine, the mountains shed their coats of snow and offered us good ol' rock and mud. Traction aids, lulled by constant motion, snoozed all day in our packs.

We made good time and arrived at the dam in just under an hour. Ascending the Weld trail, we topped out on Pyramid around 11:00 AM and were greeted by forecasted winds of 35 mph. The conditions were outside the boundaries of my new lightweight softshell's "design envelope" so I retreated momentarily out of the wind to don a hard shell (and gloves).

Upper Great Range viewed from Pyramid.
The view of the Upper Great Range, and rushing clouds cleaved by Haystack, was spell-binding. The spell was broken after being sufficiently chilled by the constant wind. A quick snack, a few more pictures, and then, still fully-layered for warmth, we descended into the steep col and popped up on Gothics' shoulder fifteen minutes later.

Slightly less breezy than Pyramid, we spent about a half-hour on Gothics enjoying some of the best views around. Despite a recent snowfall, there was no evidence of it; the peaks were dark green tinged with the oxidized palette of post-leaf-peeping season. Shells were stowed and we began our descent to the Gothics/Armstrong col.

Upper Great Range viewed from Gothics.
While descending towards Gothics' northern summit, I remarked to Bib what an amazing place this becomes in winter. The northern ridge can accumulate so much snow that one walks more than 8 feet above the trail! The twisty, rocky descent to the northern summit becomes a smooth highway of snow. However, on this day it was its normal self of rugged trail through stunted trees.

In the col we stopped for a snack and to listen to the symphony of wind through the firs. The growth of young firs among the greying logs of old blowdown brought back a memory of stepping into a spruce trap two winters ago. They appeared to be benign today but their true nature will become evident in a few months.

I had started the hike with an inflamed tendon in my lower left leg and muscle pain in my right shoulder. I wasn't sure if these injuries would prove to be a liability so the Beaver Meadows trail was a potential bail-out route. Both Bib and I felt fine so we continued to Armstrong.

One of the disadvantages of doing this route clockwise is the views become progressively less impressive. Compared to what Pyramid offers, Lower Wolfjaw's views are humdrum. In my opinion, Armstrong offers the last good view before Upper Wolfjaw takes it down a notch and Lower Wolfjaw just pays lip service. We reached Armstrong at 12:30 PM and enjoyed the last good view of the upper Johns Brook valley under a warming sun and mild breezes.

Gothics viewed from Armstrong.
South of Armstrong, the Range trail drops steeply over a series of rock slopes including one spanned by a ladder. Shortly before reaching the ladder, we met our first hiker of the day. I couldn't help but bring attention to the gentleman's fluorescent green trail runners. He mentioned there wasn't too much mud and I indicated his shoes were mute evidence given that they were "still glowing".

Bib en route to Upper Wolfjaw.
Twenty minutes past the ladder we stood on Upper Wolfjaw (1:15 PM) and paused, very briefly, to admire the last good view of our route. I mentioned to Bib that many folks mistake the next summit, with a glacial erratic, for Upper Wolfjaw. A few minutes later we arrived at the erratic and met two more hikers who, mapless, assumed they were atop Upper Wolfjaw. They indicated they were heading to Gothics so, chances are, they will ascend Upper Wolfjaw's true summit. I recounted an example or two of people losing their way due to a lack of a map and navigational skills. I ended my sermon with "Get a map!" We bid them good luck and began our descent into the wolf's mouth.

In the col we paused and, still feeling chipper, agreed to continue to Lower Wolfjaw. The 700' ascent went by quickly and we arrived at 2:20 PM. Referring to a map, we explored our descent options and chose to return by way of the shorter route, namely the Wedge Brook trail. Our descent was at a comfortable pace that permitted us to fully appreciate walking under a canopy of golden trees and enjoy the last bit of fall color. Although by no means a technicolor display, this last vestige of autumn splendor is vibrant compared to what November will offer.

Bridge over Wedge Brook.
We arrived at the AMR trail register at 5:40 PM and then proceeded directly to the Ausable Inn for well-deserved burgers and beer. 


See all photos.


Ascent: ~5300 feet
Distance: ~16 miles
Time: 9 hours

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