Now, I love going solo, but the outdoors are always best shared with others (if only for safety reasons), which is why I was so pumped when my solo trip into the Adirondacks’ Great Range became a last-second team expedition with my buddy, Scott.
After driving all night, we camped out on the road after cracking my trusty Subaru’s front sway bar on a rocky dirt road (casualties are to be expected), and then headed out to park at the popular Garden Lot, which only had about three or so spaces when we arrived at 7:30 am. The lesson: get there, early.
We decided to take the recently abandoned South trail going from the Garden Lot to Wolf Jaw Lean-To, where we’d make camp. In spite of being abandoned, the South trail is still relatively easy to follow: some sections are washed out and required some scrambling up loose rock and dirt; don’t worry, it only requires mild critical thinking. The hike along the South trail is a great one, following the beautiful and often scenic flow of the Johns Brook.
After making camp at the Wolf Jaw Lean-To and meeting a hilarious, friendly, and thoughtful French-Canadian diesel mechanic, we headed out to climb Upper Wolf Jaw and the Gothics.
While the view on top of Upper Wolf Jaw is an understated one as far the Adirondacks are concerned, the climb up was fun: your average up-hill slog, with short technical sections of scrambling up rocky slabs that almost bordered on bouldering. Thankfully, these sections were not dangerously exposed or high, so they added a nice change of pace.
From there, the path to Armstrong and Gothics was a straightforward up-and-down over some small rises, ending on the sunbaked, panoramic peak. While we had hoped to do Saddleback as well, the heat and lack of available water sources made that a really bad idea, so being responsible we slid down the cables (a welcome installation) and headed down the large slab that is the Orebed Brook, which thankfully had some ladders installed to make the trip down a wee bit easier.
Our night ended with a quick dip in the Wolfjaw Brook, which was a terrible idea consider the state of the blackflies. Oh, did I mention that the black flies tore us literal and proverbial “new ones”? God I hate black flies…
The next morning took us up Haystack by way of Slantrock. On the trail, we met a nice guy named Mike, who at first seemed like your average kinda-goofy 50-something, who we slowly learned was an American bad ass: an Army explosives and ordinances expert, to be precise. He had tons of stories to tell, a lot of them absolutely hilarious. We split ways to climb Haystack, which Scott and I agreed was one of the more fun hikes we’ve done in the Adirondacks, and offered one of the best views at the top. Looking to the the West was the peak and drop of the Great Range; to the South East a backdrop of mountains upon mountains, and the liquid shimmer of Elk Lake, and obviously the hulk of Marcy just nearby.
Now, “just nearby” is an understatement, because going down South side of Haystack was just a controlled slide down several open slabs with little to no handholds, leading to jarred knees and an overall achingly slow descent; from there, we went up the steep, swampy Panther Gorge, because apparently we love having really bad ideas. After reaching Four Corners, we powered up Marcy and had a lovely hike back to the Wolfjaw Lean-To from there. If I could do it over again, I’d go over Marcy, down Panther, and up Haystack to home, because I don’t hate myself.
The next morning, we hiked back along the South trail to the Garden lot, running into Mike once again, who had just seen a black bear lumbering off to the side of the John Brooks trail running parallel to ours, which was a bummer beca– USE I’VE WANTED TO SEE A DAMNED BLACK BEAR FOR SO DAMNED LONG. Over all, it was a good trip.
MORALS OF THE STORY
-Get to the Garden Lot nice and early
-Talk to folks out on the trail (if you/they want); you’ll get tons of cool stories, new perspectives, and you never know who you might meet
-The hike up Wolfjaw is super fun; the hike down the southern side of Haystack is proportionally awful. Sometimes a longer hike up less technical terrain is so much easier than a shorter but much more technical route. Do your homework before hitting the trail
-During Black Fly Season, opt for long sleeves and pants, and a hat with a wide brim (and a bugnet for when hanging around camp), for me, this made all the difference, and required no bug sprays