Upper Wolf Jaw
4:15 AM: Up and dressed, then wake Ryan and Jack because this year the boys turning thirteen have been invited along. Ryan’s birthday having passed about a week and a half ago, Jack’s coming up in September. We prepared our usual breakfast of egg and cheese bagels, but added bacon this time as well. Rich and I have our to-go cups of coffee, and the boys have hot chocolate.
5:10 AM: On the road before sun-rise and this time we head south east on 28. We are using a new route up the Northway this time as our departure will be from the Adirondack Mountain Club in the Keen Valley, rather then at the Loj. We take 8 to 9 to 87, and exit on 9/73 North about 5 miles to Ausable rd.
6:25 AM: Arrive at the parking lot on the road, outside the AMC property. This is a lot set aside by the club for hikers, who they allow to traverse their land and use their trails to get to the state trails and peaks.
6:35 AM: The four of us depart the parking log with packs and hiking poles. The weather is cool so Jack and Ryan have their pant legs on and sweatshirts. Rich went with legs and long shirt, I had on my long sleeves, but shorts. Our initial mile was up the club road, past their golf course and tennis courts to the trailhead and register.
6:50 AM: Sign in at the register and we are directed by a ranger to continue on Lake Rd through the AMC gate to the trailhead. We are looking for the Western trail but only locate the Eastern. This is fine as both follow the East Branch of the Ausable river, just on opposite banks, and the map shows 2 bridge crossings further up where we can join the Western trail in plenty of time before we reach the trail toward Gothics.
7:09 AM: We soon find a beautiful span across the river and join the western trail and head wet. The trail begins to gently climb hear, still following the river, but higher & higher above as the water becomes more turbulent. The trail is very narrow hear with a steep drop-off to the left down to the river. The kids are doing well, and the train is easy.
7:59 AM: Reach the first trail junction at a bridge over a tributary to the Ausable. There is a few small cascading pools, and we stop to cool our selves. Afterwards we crossed another span and continue west at the junction. At the end of the day, this is were our loop of the range will link back up. We have explained to the kinds on the drive up that this trail shape is called a “lolly-pop” which they find amusing. We tell them at this point we’ve completed the “stem”, and that at the next junction we’ll begin the steep point of the climb.
8:34 AM: We arrive at Beaver Meadow falls, which is a spectacular 50’ cascade. Another bridge crosses the stream at its base and we pause before it for several photos. The view of the falls is spectacular. We cross the bridge and come immediately to the junction with Gothics trail at 3.4 miles in to our trip. So far the map mileage matches that of our new hiking companion, Rich’s GPS triathlon watch. We have pace, mileage, and elevation at our fingertips and this proves helpful throughout the day. It also proves the guide-book to be a bit short on its estimates.
8:39 AM: We take a right at the junction and now really start climbing. We’ve come up only 400 ft, and have 3,000 to go. The trail is still very wooded at this point and most of the climbing is root steps, but there is also one 15 foot or so ladder, the 1st we’ll encounter this day. More breaks are needed now as we are starting to work. The kids are starting to realize how tough this is going to be, and feel a little discouraged until they get warmed up. Pace is ranging between 1.2 and 1.6 mi/hr.
Rich kept calling out the elevation at the boys request and 3,000’ is a celebrated milestone. I let them know that once we cross 4,000, we’d stay above that for all the peaks we plan to hit. Our goal is 3, with an optional 4th of Lower Wolf Jaw if time and mussels allow. The way is becoming rockier now, with more bare-boulder climbs. Some are slick, and require hand-holds and pull-ups to get over. I was very glad we only took the older boys because height would be a limiting factor in completing this journey.
10:27 AM: 5.1 mi in. Pass the Balancing Boulder which has a remarkable overhang. We get the obvious posses photographed, catch our breath, and continue on. According to our directions, the junction to Gothics and Armstrong is only 0.3 mi away. This would prove to be about 1/2 a mile short of the actual, and what a 1/2 a mile it was. We actually had to descend a series of 3 ladders, while skirting cliffs won the south side of a spur off the Great Range. We felt as if we were the crazy people who scale narrow seems on impossibly hight cliffs in movies, only we were doing it for real. Only a thin line of trees were between us and air.
11:30 AM: 5.8 mi. We finally come to the trail junction at Gothics Column. We are unable to understand the name of the place, unless it has to do with all the daed pine trees. At any rate we are pleased to see a NYDEC sign post indicating 0.45 mi to Gothics, o.15 less then I’d estimated.
11:55 AM: Summit of Gothics! Ryan and Jack’s 1st High Peak and the view is spectacular! High Peaks in every direction, clear bright skys, and an intermittent wind that allowed warm moments when calm, enough to air out our feet and enjoy our lunch on the summit. We spend 36 minutes at the top having sandwiches, oranges, cookies, and Gatorade. Rich and I also discover we’ll have the Twizelers all to our selves as neither of the boys care for them. Botha are elated at their accomplishment. We get our photo proof of arrival with the marker, and I also pulled out the top map to confirm the identity of 4 peaks Rich and I previously climbed; Wright , Algonquin, Iroquois, and Marcy, as well as Round Mountain and Nipple Top.
12:31 PM: We gear up, bid Gothics farewell, and head back down the junction to Armstrong, less then a mile away. The trail back to the junctions goes by quickly, carving your standard bed-rock trail through low pines and down rock steps. From the junction up to Armstrong involves some additional steep descents, followed by challenging climbs. It takes the full hour to make the next summit.
1:16 PM: Armstrong is less spectacular at 4,400 ft., with only a small rock clearing facing west, no medallion, and just a yellow plastic disk mailed to a tree marking it as the peak. We take only a short break here, get our photos, look back at Gothics, and move on.
The trail down to Upper Wolfjaw is extremely challenging. We cover many steep bare rock descents, 2 more ladders including one 40 to 50 feet down, and really have to stop and plan our way at many points. Rich and I take turns leading and flowing the boys to help find the safest ways down. Ryan proves to be very adept at theses descents, but a little too reliant on grabbing twigs of pint trees, rather then solid trunks and roots. No mishaps, but Rich and I know he can’t keep doing that or one day he’ll get hurt.
2:08 PM: After what seems like very little climbing for all the defending, we find the short spur to the left to Upper Wolf Jaw. The summit here is similar to Armstrong, with a view only in one direction; this time East. We celebrate the 3rd peak of the day, and peak 3 for Jack and Ryan, 9 for Rich & I, with a packs-off Cliff Bar break of about 15 minutes. While there, a nice French-Canadian couple from Ottawa joined us and we talked for a while. Rich and I also discussed our progress, pace, and how far we had left to go just to get back to the car. We realized the extra mile of so for Lower Wolf Jaw was out of the question. The boys were spent and had given their all. We were looking at a possible 7:00 return just going strait down, so that was all we could realistically do.
2:18 PM: Start our final descent and again find may challenging slides and climbs along the way. Rock steps and rough terrain that pounded the knees and feet were the rule for the next mole of so down to the 1st junctions, which was a trail off to Jone’s Lodge. I wasn’t expecting this one so a map check was required. After a short break we continued on toward the Lower Wolf Jay junctions. The section of the trail from Upper Wolf Jaw to here was where we saw the few other hikers we saw on the trail. All told we saw 2 on our way up to Gothics, (2 women who passed us not long past Beaver Meadow falls), the 2 Canadians on Wolf Jaw, a lone female hiker on the way down, also passing us, 3 other male lone hikers, and a pair of male hikers on the way up. That was only 10, far fewer then normal. We attributed it to the high level of difficulty of the hike.
3:30 PM: Our pace picks up past the Lower Wolf Jaw Junction as the trail mercifully soothed out to more foots and pine covered trial, and fewer rocks. According to Rich’s GPS we were doing 2.6 mi/hr now. Just prior to the next junction back to the “stick” portion of the trail we found a way down to a stream where a couple of pools had formed. It was an idyllic spot to cool our feet and legs in icy water, rejuvenating sore and throbbing limbs. After about 15 min of rejuvenation we continued on to the junction and down to Western trail. We kept up our pace with Jack and Ryan now in the lead. They kept saying there were deer-mined to get back to the car and complete the hike.
4:30 PM: We made our way now on flat terrain for the last wooded mile along the western bank of the Ausable river to the final bridge crossing, connecting us to the Easter trail where a sign simply saying “Road” pointed us back to the Lake Road. We took a picture for the boys at the sign, trekked the 200 yards or so to the road, and about 1/2 a mile out to the AMC gate. Pictures were taken at the gate, and we were soon signing out.
5:05 PM: Signed out. Said hi to a small group with a friendly puppy staying at the club, then headed back on paved roads towards the car. Along the way the boys kept making jokes about how the golfers in carts, or tennis players we passed were doing nothing compared to the 13.5 miles they’ve covered. The road back seemed much longer then it did in the morning, so we also joked that they’d moved the parking lot while we were gone.
5:34 PM: A much received foursome made it to the car, with the boys hugging it in joy. We changed into clean shirts and flip-flops and sunk into our seats. Rich and Jack both attempted to reach Kristin on her cell-phone, and the lake house, to let everyone know we’d had success, but only reached voice mail. We decided to go to Basil & Wicks for dinner and set out with me at the wheel.
7:00 PM: Pulled into North Creek and Rich received a text that the rest of the family, who had been down in Glens Falls for the day, were already at Basil & Wicks. We pulled in about 10 minutes latter and found them just finishing up. We all shared stories and pictures from our day, including the news that Patrick, who was having a rough week anyway, had chipped a front tooth playing laser tag. This on top of getting 5 stitches in his right index finger as a result of trying to close a tamed pocket knife. The tough kid’s spirits were till high and he enjoyed swapping the day’s stories with his brother and cousin.
We all ate well and returned home exhausted and proud of our three high peak adventure, and especially proud of Jack and Ryan for doing so well on the most technically challenging series of peaks we’d ever done.