Monday, November 30, 2009

A Great Range Dayhike of 10,000 Vertical Feet

The respite from winter’s grip is about over in the Adirondacks. I, therefore, decided to summarize a hiking route best done in the warm weather as a nostalgic farewell to temperate days. There are many ways to challenge ones hiking metal, one of which is to set cumulative goals such as total mileage, mountains climbed or total vertical gain. The Great Range is the premier Adirondack mountain range for such a venture as hiking over 10,000 vertical feet in a dayhike. As a matter of fact, the Great Range’s complete traverse was listed in Backpacker Magazine as America’s third hardest dayhike.

The rugged twenty six mile route begins just south of Keene Valley’s Noonmark Restaurant at the Rooster Comb trailhead and ends at the Garden. Place a second car at the Garden unless you want to walk an additional two miles at the end. The total route reads as follows: Rooster Comb (+1,770’), Hedgehog (+1,060’), Lower Wolf Jaw (+1,140’), Upper Wolf Jaw (+800’), Armstrong (+500’), Gothics (+500), Pyramid and back up Gothics (+400 to boost the vertical gain over 10,000), Saddleback (+600’), Basin (+700’), Haystack (1,450’), Marcy (+1,200’) and out via the Phelps Trail.

Rooster Comb and Hedgehog, the first two “lesser” mountains, are a good warm-up before the main course of High Peaks. Filter any necessary water before climbing Lower Wolf Jaw and take enough to last until the col before Haystack, the next reliable water source. The Wolf Jaws and Armstrong offer beautiful views though they are constrained by the woods. Gothics, however, unveils 360 degree views of Adirondack splendor. In and of itself, it is an incredible climb and destination.

Pyramid is a quick side trip south and, though not considered a High Peak due to its vertical proximity to Gothics, boasts one of the best views of the Upper Range. A hiker can leave their pack on the Range Trail on Gothics and make quick time up to the summit and back. The cable route west down Gothics’ exposed bedrock leads to Saddleback and Basin, also peaks with unobstructed views. Be sure to look back as you ascend each for dramatic views of the Lower Range. The col between Gothics and Saddleback also provides a good bail-out trail to the Garden if necessary.

Haystack, a mountain of unique character due to the massive amount of exposed summit, falls next in line. A climb over Little Haystack, to the summit, back over Little Haystack to the Phelps Trail is the most expeditious route to the final destination: Mount Marcy. The Phelps Trail provides one last bail-out point before the final ascent of 1,200 feet. Celebrate quickly, once at the top because it is an eight mile hike out to the Garden via the Phelps trail. The Loj can be used as another feasible alternative.

Consult guidebooks on area specifics and become familiar with the various trails. This summary makes a full day of navigating rocky trails, gnarled roots, small slab scoots and high mileage/ascent look easy. It is not, but is thoroughly rewarding if one is prepared. A detailed description may be viewed here.

Photo: Upper Great Range by Kevin B. MacKenzie

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Kevin MacKenzie is an Adirondack writer and photographer, licensed to guide in NY state and is associate registrar at St. Lawrence University. He lives in the Lake Placid area with his wife, Deb (also a freelance photographer). His articles and photographs have been featured such magazines and journals as Climbing, Adirondack Journal of Environmental Studies, Adirondac, Adirondack LifePeeks, and Adirondack Outdoors. Many of Kevin and Deb's photographs are featured on the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge and Rehabilitation Center's website.

Kevin is an avid slide climber, rock/ice climber, winter forty-sixer, board member of the Adirondack Climbers Coalition and member of Climbing for Christ. His passion for climbing slides and pioneering new backcountry technical ice and rock routes takes him to some of the most remote areas in the High Peaks. His website and Summitpost forum page contain trip reports, photos and video from many of his explorations.

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