We took advantage of perfect weather on Saturday to make a tour of most of the lower Great Range. Leesa wanted to climb Gothics and Saddleback so we planned to park at the "Garden" parking area, in Keene Valley, and hike into Johns Brook Lodge before climbing the Orebed Trail.
We knew we'd have to arrive early to claim a parking lot. The Garden fills extremely early on summer weekends. The set the alarm for 4 AM and managed to get to the lot by 5:30. There were still about 5 parking spots left. We happily took one and geared up to head out. I checked my watch and noted that we were on the trail at 5:42. There was just enough morning light that we did not need to pull out the headlamps to get started.
Within minutes we saw a deer standing in the trail. Our dog Rev wanted to make friends, but we put an end to that. As we arrived at the NYSDEC Interior Outpost Ranger Station the sun was really coming out. We could tell it was going to be a perfect day.
|NYSDEC Interior Outpost Ranger Station (near Johns Brook Lodge)|
We crossed the suspension bridge to gain access to the Southside Trail. From there we headed to the Orebed Trail. Leesa had never been on this trail, so she was in for a treat.
|Suspension bridge over Johns Brook|
As we began climbing, we passed the newly renovated Orebed Leanto. It was just redone this past March. 5 guys were just up and about having breakfast there. Next we reached the Orebed Slide. Trail crews have recently done an outstanding job completing the stairs on the Orebed Slide. I believe I read that there are 182 steps. In any case, it is a marvel. Great work done by the crew!
|Leesa brought up the rear|
Since we started early, we hadn't seen any other hikers yet, but that would soon change. We arrived at the Saddleback/Gothics col and headed up Saddleback first. We went up and over the wooded summit and stopped at an overlook ledge where we saw 3 guys taking a break. We continued on to the top of the Saddleback Cliffs so Leesa could see what they looked like. The 3 guys soon approached and they headed down the cliffs en route to Basin Mountain. For us, this was our turn around point. Leesa would not have wanted to descend the cliffs.
|The Saddleback Cliffs|
We went back to the Saddleback/Gothics col and began our ascent of Gothics. At this point, lots of other people were alongside us as we reached the cables en route to the false summit of Gothics. The cables are not really necessary in dry weather conditions, but some people used them. The section of slab rock just above the cables is where it gets tricky in icy winter conditions, and there are no cables there!
At the false summit, a family was there taking a break and having a snack. We continued on to the junction with the trail to Pyramid/Sawteeth. I convinced Leesa that it was worth the short .3 mile trip over to Pyramid where there is perhaps the best view in all the high peaks. On Pyramid, we took our first break an broke out some food. Rev appreciated that!
|The view from Pyramid!|
We returned to the Range Trail, a reached the summit of Gothics. Several groups were on the summit. We talked with 2 guys who were confused about how to get to Armstrong and Upper Wolf Jaw. They had come from that way, but didn't realize it.
Gothics and Saddleback were both new summits for Leesa. At this point we discussed our options. We decided to continue on the Range Trail to complete a loop hike. Leesa had not yet been on Armstong either, so by continuing onward, she could gain another new peak. We would then go up and over Upper Wolfjaw before descending from the Wolfjaw col down to Johns Brook.
|... and waiting for us to scale the rock|
The walk from Gothics to Armstrong is relatively easy and soon we were on Armstrong along with a probably 15-20 other people. We had a little more food and continued on. Soon we reached the ladder on the north side of Armstrong. I had forgotten to dog harness, so it was a challenge with Rev. I picked her up (like a pillow under my arm) and began going down the ladder. I got about 2/3 down the ladder and she had had enough. She jumped to her freedom, none the worse for wear.
|a common sign near treeline|
The trail between Armstrong and UWJ is rugged and we slowly picked away at it. There is also a false summit in between the two. As we reached the summit of UWJ we saw many of the same people we had seen all day long. We took the 20 yard long trail to the summit and claimed our 4th high peak of the day. This one was not new for either of us, but nice still the same.
After dropping down to the Wolfjaw col we chose to return to Johns Brook. Both of us have climbed Lower Wolfjaw several times and we didn't have the need to go up it again on this day.
The return Johns Brook lodge was uneventful. WE stopped in at JBL and I had a piece of chocolate cake. We refilled a couple water bottles and soon found ourselves on the final 3.5 miles to the car.
Hike Distance: 16.8 miles
Hike Time: 12 hours, including stops
Total Vertical Gain: ~4900'