As it turns out, it can snow up to 3 feet in the Adirondacks, even on Memorial Day! An unfortunate weekend for a backpacking trip...
The Adirondack Great Range... Memorial Day 2013??
Well not all the adventures I write about on this blog are successful and this was one of my less enjoyable trips. The Great Range in the Central Adirondack Range of upstate New York is one wild range. With peaks between 4,000-5,000ft, its not exactly uncommon for snow to linger on into the summer. However, it IS unexpected to have 3 feet of snow on Memorial Day weekend! Unfortunately for me, that was the time I was traveling to the Adirondacks! Needless to say, I was unable to do the full Great Range.

The Great Range Traverse is an infamous Northeastern death-hike or sufferfest that is done by insane hikers such as myself. For more examples, see Presidential Traverse, Pemi Loop, or Bigelow Traverse . While there are several variations of the Great Range Traverse, it is most commonly associated with climbing Lower Wolfjaw, Upper Wolfjaw, Armstrong, the Gothics, Saddleback, Basin, Haystack and Marcy. These are all some of the tallest mountains in New York and are all part of the "Adirondack 46ers".
Rooster Comb Trailhead, High Peaks, Adirondack Range
Well, I knew this was going to be a sufferfest because I had climbed Vermont's Camels Hump the day before and run into significant snow at the higher elevations. It was really difficult to tell how bad it would be up high though! I mean, there's just no knowledge base of how quickly 3 feet of snow melts in late May because, this hasn't happened in any recent history! I'm sure its not the first time, but of all the people I talked to who were intimately familiar with the Adirondacks, none of them had seen "this much snow this late in the season". Really, this was ridiculous even considering the range.

So I began as most hikers do at the Roostercomb Trailhead just outside of town in Keene Valley, New York. It begins a relatively steep ascent from about 1,000ft to the summit of Lower Wolfjaw at 4,173ft. There are, of course, a half dozen false summits and countless PUDs (pointless up-and-downs). Again, this was expected...

At about 3,500ft, I started running in to snow. It got to the point where it was significant- perhaps 6 inches to 1 foot in the shady spots and cols. Crossing the summit of Lower Wolfjaw, the snow and mud were enough to slow me down to 1-1.5 miles per hour. At this point, I started thinking that I probably wouldn't be able to do the whole traverse.
Lots of false summits and PUDS!
Part of the sufferfest that is the Great Range Traverse is the descents- Between Lower Wolfjaw and Upper Wolfjaw is a nice 900 foot decent and re-ascent. The trail continued to be drenched in wet snow and ankle-deep ice/mud. I wasn't feeling to happy. Eventually I topped out on Upper Wolfjaw, 4,203ft and it must have been 2 in the afternoon.

So it was looking like I wouldn't be able to do the whole thing. I decided to do Armstrong and the Gothics and descend from there. I knew that a thunderstorm would be rolling in the early hours of the next day so I didn't want to get caught up on Marcy in the middle of the night, exposed to lightening. I descended to the next col between Upper Wolfjaw and Armstrong which was tough, but not as bad as the last one.

Armstrong, 4,429ft was the first summit with a really great view which assuaged the misery which this hike was becoming. This isn't my first time on a really difficult hike, but I just couldn't deal with soaked and cold feet coupled with wading through icy mud. I mean, I was well prepared for weather and rain but even the most waterproof of boots will eventually be soaked through. After hours and hours of this, it was safe to say that I was just going to have to deal with cold feet for the duration of this trip
Views from the summit of Armstrong, I think?
Armstrong wasn't much of a mountain, more of a hiccup between the Wolfjaws and the Gothics. Climbing the gothics was about as bad as it would be on this hike. The Gothics sit at about 4,600ft so I was basically post-holing in about 2-feet of snow while the ambient temperature was 55-degrees. At least the view was nice!

Coming up the Gothics was tough, but coming down from them was crazy! It is a really steep and exposed decent- enough to where I wish I could have roped up for it! On a sunny, dry day, it would have been tricky. On a wet, icy day, it was madness. There are some ropes which some kind soul has installed which help. For the most part I was just walking down these 45-degree rocks in wet boots and praying that my hiking poles didn't slip out from under me. I may have uttered a few choice words down this slippery descent. 
Part of the trail had ropes, most of it did not. 
Is it really the day after Memorial Day??
Eventually I came to the col between the Gothics and Basin mountain where I bailed. I should mention that the entire trail is a classic "Northeastern Trail" which means that it was basically cannibalized out of a small stream which runs down the mountain. Basically I was wading down a stream, all the way to the bottom. I can't complain- its the same stuff I've dealt with hiking in the Whites, Greens and Maine's Mountains. 

At some late hour in the evening I finally arrived at the lean-to below the Gothics and spent the night here. Usually this Gothics-Armstrong-Wolfjaws hike is done in a day but I had planned on spending 2 in the Great Range. The lean-to felt like a hotel compared to everything else that had done!
He'll be coming down the mountain when he comes...
Wouldn't want to cross this without a bridge!!
It was a nice night- I was dry and comfortable. The next day it was raining but I was still okay. I descended down to the Ranger Station and lodge which serves as the entry point for these peaks. Johns Brook runs through the valley just North of the Great Range and it can be a formidable crossing. There is one bridge and I would recommend using it any time of year. It is nearby the Ranger Station.

The hike out wasn't so bad. I was not dry, but I was dry-er. It is still a long walk out and it is wet and muddy. Eventually I made it to the Garden Trailhead which is a different trailhead than the one I came in on. You can either take a taxi back to town for 5 dollars or you can walk back to your car which is about 2 miles away. I might be wet, tired and sweaty, but I will never pay for a taxi for a 2 mile ride!

I suppose I will have to come back to do the Great Range again someday soon. I can't say I enjoyed this hike as much as I have others in the area, but I will come back! I guess it all goes to show that you never know what's going to happen in the Adirondacks. 

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