Sunday, October 6, 2019

Giant Mountain and Rocky Peak Ridge

My original plans for the start of October involved a longer backpacking trip.  Unfortunately, Mother Nature's plans differed from mine.  With mostly wet weather in the forecast, I decided against backpacking.  I had enough washed out backpacking trips that I wasn't eager for another, especially with colder fall weather.  With one promising nice day forecasted on the last day of September, I decided to visit some higher mountains on a day hike.

I have been slowly hitting the Adirondack's highest peaks over the past several months.  Although I have hiked a handful of times since my hike in the Santanoni Range, more than a month has passed since visiting a 46er peak.  I have been working at peaks on the outside edge of the 46ers.  This time I decided to tackle the eastern most 46er summits, Giant Mountain and Rocky Ridge Peak.

Giant and Rocky Ridge stand as the 12th and 20th highest peaks in the Adirondacks.  They sit separated from the mass of the Adirondack High Peaks by Route 73.  This separation by the deep valley makes 4,627' Giant Mountain one of the most prominent peaks in New York.  Rocky Peak Ridge stands as the high point on the ridge extending east from Giant.

I planned this hike with little notice.  I didn't know too many specifics on this hike before hand, just the route.  Parking tends to be problematic at the Route 73 trailheads, so I started hiking by 7AM and found ample parking on a Monday morning in late September.  My frequent hiking buddy, Choya joined me.

I started my hike on the Giant Ridge Trail.  Giant has a reputation as a steep climb, start to finish.  It gains about 3000 vertical feet in three miles.  Sure enough, the climbing begins from the trailhead.  I expected this.  What I didn't expect was such a high concentration of views.

Chapel Pond

Morning sun not quite reaching the valley

Almost immediately, the trail passes ledges that overlook the valley below.  Less than a mile into the hike, a small pond called the Giant's Washbowl sits immediately along the trail.  Leaf color dotted the trees along the pond, which sits below a rocky hillside.


Not long after passing Washbowl, the steeper climbing begins.  The trail traverses and follows open, rocky slopes as it makes its way up the ridge.  The open rock allows for nearly endless views across the valley.  The Dix and Great Ranges are constant companions to the east.  These ranges are quite impressive with jagged terrain and plenty of open rock and slides.  To the south, several valleys still sat in morning fog with higher terrain rising above the shroud.  

One of the lower sections of rock

Still mostly clear early on the hike

Much of the trail traversed rock

The Great Range

Dix Range

The morning started out sunny, but high clouds began pushing into the area.  These high clouds were quite textured, adding to the view.

Interesting clouds moving in

The clouds overtaking the sky

Majority of the hike followed the open rock.  As elevation increased, so did the views.  The peaks beyond the Dix and Great Ranges started to rise in the background. Mt Marcy, the, MacIntyres, the Santanonis, and countless other High Peaks started to come into sight. Whiteface's ski trails were visible to the north.  

Closeup of the Great Range

Continuing on slabby terrain

Peaks rising beyond the Great Range including Marcy and Haystack


Despite its elevation, Giant doesn't quite rise above treeline.  The summit sits on open ledges with wide open views to the west.  The Great Range dominates this view, but much of the High Peaks Wilderness and numerous 46er peaks are visible.  Some of the valley comes into view below with buildings looking like dots 3,000 feet below.  

Choya on Giant

View from Giant

Civilization visible in the valley

Hunters Pass

Choya ready to move on

Marcy is the point in the middle, Haystack to the left, and
I believe the Santanoni Range in the distant right

Just below the summit of Giant, a sign marks a junction and the trail toward Rocky Peak Ridge, 1.2 miles across the ridge.  From the upper reaches of this trail, there is a good look at Rocky Peak Ridge, with Lake Champlain clearly visible not to far beyond.  The spine of the Green Mounains in Vermont stretches north to south on the horizon.

Junction below Giant


Despite the steep nature of the trail to Giant, the worst terrain was ahead.  The trail drops steeply over ledge as it makes its way to the col between Giant and Rocky Peak Ridge.  From the summit to the col, the trail drops nearly 900' in about a half mile.  Fortunately, the climb from the col to Rocky Peak Ridge gains elevation more gradually with much less rock.

Rough terrain below Giant

The col between the peaks is gentle

The summit of 4,420' Rocky Ridge Peak offers scenery just as impressive as the taller Giant. It's bare summit offers 360-degree views. Giant blocks some of the High Peaks area.  Giant's rocky, bare eastern side is quite a sight however.  To the east, Lake Champlain seems incredibly close and much of the lake can be seen south to north.  Beyond the lake, the Green Mountain's spine can be seen.  I could even pick out some of the peaks, such as the iconic shape of Camel's Hump.  The foliage in the valleys seemed to pop from the summit as well.  The lower peaks of the Adirondacks stretch to the south, with the northern end of Lake George visible.  Beyond the main summit, an open area a couple hundred feet beyond allows for the best views to the east.

Clouds above the Champlain Valley


Dix on far left, Great Range on right

Dix Range

Great Range

Tomcat and Choya

I enjoyed an extended break on the summit and a snack for Choya and myself.  I needed to retrace my path.  The steep climb from the col back to Giant's ridge was even more challenging on the return.  Despite its steepness on the slabby, rocky ridge, I loved the descent.  Nearly the entire time, in your face views across the valley let you forget your knees are taking a beating.  The awesome views on the way up are even better since you are facing them the entire time while descending.  The cloudiness added to the starkness of the mountains.  Changing foliage was the icing on the cake.

Trying to capture the color on the lower mountains

Camel's Hump on the left

Another look at foliage

Lake George in the distance

Dix Range and Hunters Pass

Great Range with many distant peaks

Lots of orange showing

One big difference stood out on my descent.  While climbing, I saw only a handful of groups.  On my descent, I passed groups every few minutes.  By the time I reached the trailhead, the trailhead was completely full and at least 15 groups signed the register after me.

Continuous views on the descent

Hunters Pass

A few cairns mark the route as well as blazes

Fall color below the Great Range

I didn't know what to expect on this hike.  My last two hikes on 46er peaks, The Seward and Santanoni Ranges, featured long marches with minimal scenery.  This outing was relatively short at just over eight miles.  The views were nearly endless however.  Although I have only climbed 13 of the 46ers, I found these two very worth the effort.

Marcy in the distance

Closeup of Hunters Pass

Although relatively short compared to other trips to 46er peaks at just over 8 miles, this hike packs a punch.  Expect well around 4,400 feet of climbing, with the same amount of descent.  If your time in the Adirondacks is limited and you are looking for some high elevation time, these two peaks are definitely worth the effort.  Climbing just Giant, cuts the hike down to 6 miles and 3,000 vertical feet.  Although still stout, attainable by someone in decent hiking shape.

Choya in deep thought

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