Monday, June 27, 2016

Great Range Traverse

Last year a few friends of ours attempted (and completed) the Great Range Traverse in the Adirondacks. We weren't able to do it with them, but we had the idea to do it this year. We picked a weekend as close to the longest day of the year as possible and went with it. We hoped for good weather and picked our order for the traverse.

We decided to start at the Garden parking lot and end at the Rooster Comb trailhead. We worried about how to get to our car after the finish (the start and finish were about a 2 mile walk away from each other), but Mike found someone in an Aspiring Adirondack 46er group that we are in on Facebook offering rides to fellow hikers. We contacted her and she was willing to pick us up at the end of our hike.

Friday night we drove to the Rooster Comb Inn, a really convenient location for starting at the Garden, and got in bed around 9pm. We dozed on and off until our wake up call at 12:30 in the morning. We got ready and set out for the Garden. When we got there, I couldn't believe how many cars were in the lot! We paid for parking (before checking if there was even a spot) and I didn't think we would be able to park once we drove in. Luckily Mike switched driving with me and he realized we could park in the center of the lot bumper to bumper. He parked the car, went over to check us in at the register and as we were getting ready to take off another car pulled in.

They asked us where they could park if they couldn't park at the Garden. We gave them an option, but we noticed that they might fit in the center of the lot right in front of some barriers. We got the last two parking spots at 1:40am!

We took off, after Mike showed me what he wrote in the register, and started our day long journey at 1:45am.

 At Johns Brook Lodge, trying not to disturb anyone who might be sleeping

Mike loves this sign post

Since it was still dark, we had our headlamps on and tried to talk as much as possible to ward off any bears in the area (there have been sightings, but not really close to where we were). We passed a few tents as we hiked in on the Phelps Trail toward Johns Brook Lodge. The first 3.5 miles to the Lodge were really easy and we were holding steady at around 25 minutes per mile. We knew that wasn't going to last much longer past the Lodge, though!

The next 1.5 miles weren't too bad, we had never hiked on them before and we had a hard time finding the trail near Johns Brook at some points, but found it relatively quickly. I was definitely ready for some daylight at this point!

We reached a junction and had decided before the hike to take the trail to the right (Hopkins) that would eventually intersect with the Van Hoevenberg trail. The other option is to continue on the Phelps trail to Mt. Marcy. We almost immediately started going up. We slowed a bit, but not too bad considering we were now climbing and were going over harder terrain with rocks. We still hadn't seen anyone since the parking lot, but it was starting to get light out. We eventually ditched our headlamps and kept going. I was sad we started too late to see the sunrise on Marcy. Guess we'll just have to do that some other time!

The sun!


After connecting with the Van Hoevenberg trail, I started to see some signs of another hiker. I could see his wet boot prints and after almost 4 hours, we saw another hiker! We eventually caught up to him and when we reached the trail to Marcy he let us go ahead of him. The light was still really pretty out and we chatted with two guys who went ahead of their friends so that they could catch the sunrise on Marcy.

Taking a break, photo courtesy of William Hoover

Making my way to Mt. Marcy

 Off I go!

Lots of cairns leading the way

 Almost there!

We made it to the summit of Marcy right before 7am. We stopped to eat one of our sandwiches and took in the view. Marcy is the highest point in New York and didn't disappoint. We knew we couldn't stop for too long, so after taking some photos we kept going to our next destination.

Amazing views


 I love these mountains

We went back down the trail that took us to Marcy and took the Woodsfall Trail toward Little Haystack (non-high peak) and Haystack. We saw some other hikers while we were going down the trail to Little Haystack and one of them said, "wow you must have started early". We explained what we were doing and he said that they were doing the same thing, but stayed at Johns Brook Lodge to cut out the beginning that we did.

The range from in between Marcy and Haystack

Haystack in the distance!

 Pretty typical terrain for the day

The hike up to Little Haystack was a bit of a beast. Lots of rocks to climb over and I was annoyed with the weight in my pack. I was carrying a lot more than Mike (I brought our down jackets, just in case) and I was already over it. I decided to drop my pack at the junction we would take to head toward Basin after doing our out and back to Haystack. Mike kept his hydration pack so we could each still have some water. The views from Little Haystack were nice. You could see a lot of the range and Haystack in the distance.

On Little Haystack

Haystack - high peak #2 for the day

Ditched the long sleeve shirt at this point

 Mike took off his pants and I wore them around my waist the rest of the day

We made it to Haystack, after climbing over some more rocks, and took in the views. Mike said that this was his favorite peak so far of all the ones that we have done. We had to go back the way that we came and went over to Little Haystack again. We saw another hiker (who was doing a Great Range Traverse as well, and who caught up to us and passed us later in the day) heading out toward Haystack.

At the junction for the trail to head toward Basin, I picked up my pack and on we went. We were about 12 miles into our hike at this point.

Up the ladder I go

 Almost to the top of Basin, you can see where we were earlier in the distance

The beginning part of the hike down to Basin wasn't too bad, but then we had to climb over some steep rocks with very little hand or foot holds. We passed these four guys, looked like two father-son pairs, and when we got to the ladder section of the hike we all got up it together. One of the guys helped me on a trickier section. I think at this point Mike and I had already switched packs (since climbing up some of the areas with the weight was too difficult for me). Once we made it past the more difficult section we kept going and got ahead of the four guys.

The mountains are calling

Taking it all in on top of high peak #3 of the day

Right before the summit we took photos at an overlook. The views were pretty amazing. At the summit we chatted with some people at the top and then kept going. The trail down toward Saddleback had some trickier sections to navigate over and we started to slow down.

 Horrible (in my opinion)

I wasn't looking forward to the Saddleback Cliffs, but I tried not to think about it. When we reached the cliffs, however, I started to panic. I would get to a section and say that I couldn't do it, try to get my foot planted in a way that I felt safe and try to climb up, but then I would back down. I would eventually make it up (after Mike) and then the process would start all over again at the next section. At one point I remember just crawling on my hands and feet for as far as my body would go. It felt never-ending and I was worried that I wouldn't make it.

Psyched to be on flat ground

Thumbs up for high peak #4 of the day!


I know that I slowed us down significantly in this section and I really wish that I didn't panic as much as I had. We finally made it over the cliffs and I felt a bit better. We took some photos at the summit, that we had to ourselves, and ate a snack. Mike was running low on water and we knew we would need to filter some water soon.

We kept going and started to hike down toward our 5th peak of the day. The trail down Saddleback wasn't too bad. Some rocks we had to navigate down, but then it was a nice walk in the woods. We knew that there was going to be a junction coming up that we would be able to walk down to try to find water. When we reached the Ore Bed Brook Trail we took that instead of heading up toward Gothics.

We passed a tiny stream of water and kept going, but not too long after Mike asked if he should just filter from the small stream we saw. I said yes since I didn't want to waste too much time trying to find water and add too many miles. It may not have been the best source of water, but we filtered it and it was cold. A group of hikers approached us as we were sitting there filtering the water and Mike asked how long ago they had seen water. One of the guys said about a mile, so I think we made the right decision to use the slightly-sketchy water source. I worried that we didn't filter enough, though I still had quite a bit of water from the start, but we kept going.

I do remember that at one point I looked down and my hands were SWOLLEN. I think that between Basin and Gothics I really struggled. It was hot and these sections were the most nerve-wracking for me and I wasted a lot of energy freaking out.

I made sure to drink some Tailwind (that we were running low on) and ate energy chews here and there.

Gothics in the distance

We probably added about .25 - .5 miles going to get the water, but it was worth it. We got back on track and took the trail up to Gothics. The trail was steep and eventually some guys came down the trail. Mike asked if the cables were on the other side of the mountain or on the side we were on, and one guy said that they were coming right up. I was so glad this mountain had some cables to help assist us!

Up the cables

We climbed up the cables, and some sections that were really tricky without the aid of cables, and made it to an overlook. I had a feeling it wasn't the summit (and Mike agreed because he said that Gothics had a marker), but we took a break anyway. Two hikers were taking off as we got there, and Mike mentioned he was going to need more water. I made him ask them if they had any extra and the guy gave Mike some of his water. We were so thankful for this kindness!

 What a pretty day

 At the second false summit

After we left our overlook resting spot, we eventually passed another hiker (who looked like he was struggling). He looked up at us and said, "top, 5 minutes" (he must have been from Canada because he had a French-Canadian accent). Mike thought he meant it would be 5 more minutes for US to reach the summit, but the guy was asking us if the summit was 5 minutes away for HIM (heading in the opposite direction from us). We said we weren't sure (since we weren't) and said that if the overlook was the summit that it was only a few minutes away.

We kept going and reached another false summit, and then I felt horrible because depending on where the other guy came from he may not have reached the actual summit at all. After another minute or two of walking, we reached the real summit. Number 5 for the day (and number 10 overall)!

High peak #5 - Gothics

 We had to do a photo with the marker

Right before we took off to keep going, two hikers approached the summit from the direction we would be going. Mike mentioned to me that one of them was a runner from Rochester and we chatted with them for a little bit, and took their photo at the summit. We parted ways and Mike and I made the walk from Gothics to Armstrong.

I don't remember anything significant about the hike between these two mountains. Admittedly, it was around this time that we were contemplating ditching Rooster Comb (a non-high peak) and not doing a real Great Range Traverse. I was feeling alright in the breeze and in the woods, but the climbs and slow descents were taking their toll on me.

The trail to Armstrong
 Good views, I didn't know much about Armstrong so this was a nice surprise
 Us on high peak #6

It wasn't very far in between Gothics and Armstrong and we made it to the summit and sat at an overlook, taking in the views. We chatted with two other hikers who were there when we arrived and they told us about how difficult it was for them to hike Lower Wolfjaw and Upper Wolfjaw. They said that in between those two mountains was difficult, and I wasn't very excited about this information. The two women did mention that the hike from Armstrong to Upper Wolfjaw wasn't too bad, so after a few photos we kept going.

There were some tricky spots to navigate down and we had to climb down a steep ladder (and one of the rungs was missing!) I was pretty over the hike at this point, and I knew that Mike was struggling a bit. We texted (or at least tried when we had service) the person who was picking us up at our finish to let her know that we were going to be a lot later than we had originally thought and said that if she couldn't wait for us that we would just walk to where we were staying.

When the text eventually sent, she said that she didn't mind waiting and to try to replenish our electrolytes if possible (we still had a little bit of Tailwind each). The hike up to Upper Wolfjaw was demoralizing. There were some sections where we could really move and then, bam, we would be slowed down again by more rocks.

I could tell that Mike was struggling, and he was running out of water, but I just kept motivating him to keep moving. We would take short breaks when we could and rest on the steep sections in between the peaks. One guy that had passed us going up to Armstrong, passed us again going down toward Upper Wolfjaw.

High peak #7 - UWJ

We made it to a sign that said "Upper Wolfjaw, Summit 20 Yards" and went to the left to get our 7th high peak for the day. We took a break on the summit and tried to gather ourselves. We knew that we were still in for about 5-6 more miles of hiking.

The hike down Upper Wolfjaw wasn't as bad as I was expecting, but it was still slow going. There were some easier sections but Mike was having a hard time at this point. I was sharing my water and Tailwind that I had left with him and as we started to make the climb up Lower Wolfjaw he mentioned something about the Interior Outpost (where we may have been able to get some water, but it was a backtrack and would have added more miles). I said we had to keep going and asked him when the last time he had eaten was. He couldn't tell me so I made him stop and eat his sandwich. He said it was difficult to eat since he had no saliva (which I said that I didn't either) but I made him eat as much as he could. We eventually kept going and made the trek through the wooded summit of Lower Wolfjaw, our 8th high peak of the day.

On the trail to LWJ (and little did we know we'd be going to St. Huberts but from a different trail)

Putting on some smiles, but hurting on high peak #8 - LWJ

At this point, we were focused on getting to the end. I was able to get a text out to the person giving us a ride to update her on our status. She mentioned that we could take the trail to St. Huberts instead of hiking over Hedgehog (another non-high peak) and that she would pick us up there. Luckily, I checked my phone RIGHT before we got to this junction and I told her that we would go to St. Huberts.

I was scared for Mike during the final 3.5-4 miles. At one point he mentioned that he might need an IV and then later he said he didn't know if he could go 3 more miles. I wasn't going to let him stop and not make it out of the woods, so I kept him moving. I stopped drinking water and Tailwind (with the exception of a two small sips) so that he could have everything that I had left. I made him eat some more energy chews and tried to push the pace (without going too fast).

While it wasn't the easiest trail ever, the trail toward St. Huberts was a lot easier than the trail over Hedgehog that would have taken us to the Rooster Comb trailhead (but it was about a tenth of a mile longer). We were able to get in miles closer to 35 minutes, and the terrain was a lot easier. Unfortunately, since we had started later and ended up going slower than we had anticipated we were losing daylight.

We put our headlamps on around 8:45pm, and started to make noise because we saw some evidence of potential bears (there was a pretty big pile of poop on the trail). The other issue with going this way was that I felt the trail wasn't marked that well (or it was probably that we had never been on it, were struggling and it was dark). We lost the trail a few times and went back to the last place we had seen a trail marker and then found the trail again.

We got to a junction for St. Huberts via the W.A. White trail or a trail toward Snow Mountain. I made the decision to go toward St. Huberts (since that's where we were going), but apparently we could have gone the other way and hit the road sooner (and just told the person to pick us up on the road).

We could hear cars for the first time since leaving the Garden 19 hours prior. I asked Mike what drinks he would want when we were done (he said chocolate milkshake, Gatorade and water) and we just kept moving toward our new finish. We got to a brook crossing and walked over a bridge (after confirming that was the right way to go) and I saw buildings. We got to a dirt road and didn't know which way to go. I saw something that looked like eyes (and didn't want to be in the woods anymore) and lots of fireflies.

After struggling to read the map on which way to go, I texted the person picking us up and told her we were lost. She asked where we were and I gave a description and said we were on Lake Road (we just didn't know which way to go on Lake Road). She said she could drive on Lake Road and told us to walk toward the green building.

Finally, after 24.5 miles, 13,500 feet of elevation gain (or 10,000 feet, our watches have significantly different data) and 19 hours and 40 minutes, right before 9:30pm, we were done. We saw the person picking us up and she drove us back to our car at the Garden.

I wish that we had done the entire Great Range Traverse, but we got the peaks that "matter" done (the high peaks). The traverse put us at 13 high peaks total and we can't wait to hike more of them!

In hindsight, I wish we had been able to filter some more water (and we might have been able to somewhere else but it would have added more miles), but it was really dry out there. I am just thankful that we both made it out of the woods with just some sunburns, bruises and scratches!


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