Every now and then I like to push my limits when hiking. Single day range traverses make for a fun, yet brutal way to push my body's limit while taking in scenery. I have shared my experiences in the past on this blog of some of these hikes. The one day Presidential Traverse in New Hampshire and the 30 mile Barren- Chairback Range day hike in Maine are couple such hikes that come to mind. Now that I live in the Adirondacks, the Great Range Traverse caught my attention.
The Great Range Traverse travels roughly 25 miles over the High Peaks of the Great Range. Along the way the route ascends 10 summits, including 8 of the Adriondack 46ers. The route's climbing climaxes on Mt Marcy, The highest summit in New York. The route also reaches the top of the 3rd highest New York peak, Mt Haystack. Basin and Gothics are also traversed and rank in the top 10 highest peaks in the state. Generally the summits get higher the further along you hike with Haystack as the 9th peak traversed for the day and Marcy as the last peak and highest point of the climbing. Once on the summit of Marcy, after 15 miles of rough trail, the remainder of the route descends 9 miles to the Garden trailhead. Another 1.8 miles of road walking round out the route returning back to the Rooster Comb trailhead where the day begins. Going by the Adirondack Mountain Club's trail guide for the High Peaks, the total distance traveled surpasses 26 miles, with roughly 9,500 feet of elevation gain. (These numbers are taken from the most recent edition of the High Peaks Trail Guide, numbers vary depending on the source and GPS numbers)
I have done similar traverses in the past. Given the brutal nature of the trails in the Adirondacks, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect on how my body would handle the traverse. Not so much because of distance or elevation gain, but because the trails in the Adirondacks are in particular rough shape, resulting in slower than average hiking times. The closest comparison was my Presidential Traverse which features similar terrain, distances, and elevation changes. Seven years have past since I did that trip. I feel like I am in better endurance condition now though. This year alone I had roughly 1,400 miles on my feet between hiking, running, and cross country skiing before tackling this hike in a day.
I finally pulled the trigger and headed out the morning of Thursday, August 13th. The weather called for mostly sunny skies around 80F in the valleys with 60s on the summits. Covering the terrain on the Great Range Traverse requires a long day and an early start. I set my alarm for 330AM aiming for a 5AM start. Unfortunately I was unaware of a road closure in Keene Vally, just shy of the trailhead. Roughly three miles from the trailhead, the road was closed requiring a 30 mile detour. That pushed my start to 530AM. If nothing else, it meant I didn't need to start the hike with a head lamp.
The trip began at the Rooster Comb Trailhead. The Rooster Comb is the first peak of the day. At 2,788', the Rooster Comb is the lowest peak on the traverse. Despite its low elevation, the climbing begins at the lowest point of the trip and it requires about 1,750' feet of elevation gain to the summit. Fortunately, the trail to the summit is in much better shape than the rest of the traverse. Even at its modest elevation, open ledges at the summit offer some nice views. My legs took a little longer to wake up than I anticipated and I enjoyed the nice breeze on its summit. The summit of the Rooster Comb requires a mile round trip detour from the main trail.
|Early view before sunrise
|Sun just peaking out from Rooster Comb
|Rooster Comb vista
|Rooster Comb junction
|Keene Valley beyond Rooster Comb
The Wolf Jaws are the first two 4,000 foot summits on the route. 4,175' Lower Wolf Jaw is climbed first, followed by 4,185' Upper Wolf Jaw about 1.5 miles further. The terrain becomes quite steep like most trails in the High Peak Wilderness as it works its way through ledges. By the time I reached Lower Wolf Jaw my legs were fully awake and I felt strong. Lower Wolf Jaw offers partial views. I wasn't sure when I was actually on the summit of Upper Wolf Jaw. Views are found on a short unmarked spur a short distance beyond what I think is the actual Upper Wolf Jaw summit. Various spots along the ledges of both peaks allow for nice views.
|Typical Adirondack rock and root
|View back from ledges
|Armstrong with Gothics peaking behind it
|Below Upper Wolf Jaw
Beyond the Wolf Jaws, the trail travels just over a mile to Armstrong Mountain. Between Upper Wolf Jaw and Armstrong I had some nice bird sightings. Initially I saw a large woodpecker that flew down the trail. It stopped a few times just long enough for me to snap one quick photo.
|Lower Wolf Jaw
|Passing through dead trees
|Saddleback, Haystack, Basin, and Marcy
|Hairy Woodpecker I believe
|Looking with curiosity
|View from Armstrong
|Good look at slides
Leaving Armstrong, Gothics stands less than a mile away. At 4,736' in elevation, Gothics stands as New York's 10th highest peak and was the highest point so far on the hike. Despite the elevation, the climb to Gothics seemed rather tame. Gothics just barely peeks out above treeline and its bare summit had the best views of the day to that point. Another ledge just beyond the summit looks at the highly scarred slides on the peaks ahead.
|Lower Ausable Lake below Gothics
|The peaks to be climbed next
|South from Gothics
|Upper Ausable Lake
|Top of the cables
|A look at the slide with the cables
|Looking back up at the cables
|Near the bottom of the cables, looking up
|Large slides on Basin
|Top of ledges on Saddleback, trail walks along this
|Trail travels down this near vertical face
|Wildflowers on the ledges
The 9th highest Adirondack summit, Basin Mountain, stands less than a mile beyond Saddleback. Once past the ledges, the trail to Basin went by quickly. At 4,827', Basin features a nice open summit. By the time I reached Basin, I had covered more than 11 miles and nearly 7,000' feet of elevation gain. I took a longer break to eat lunch and drink the Powerade I had with me. Roughly 6 hours of time passed since I started my trip.
|Boardwalk protecting alpine vegetation
|Haystack and Marcy
|Rocky trail between Basin and Haystack
Haystack stands about .6 miles from the junction according to the guide book. (.5 according to sign at junction) Despite a relatively short detour to Haystack, the trail gets rather rough. A rocky subpeak, Little Haystack is reached first, with a rough descent before the final climb. Nearly the entire distance stays above treeline with paint blazes and cairns marking the exposed route to the summit.
|Rocky terrain on Haystack
At 4,960', Haystack stands as the 3rd highest peak in the state. While slightly lower than Marcy, Haystack was my favorite peak on the trip. Its rocky, exposed summit feels more rugged and wild. The views from Haystack take in the entire route of the day with a great look at my last obstacle, Mt Marcy. I started to feel hungry and choked down an energy gel to hold me over until I reached Marcy, still two plus hiking miles away.
|Marcy across Panther Gorge
|Alpine terrain along Haystack
|Basin on the right
Leaving Haystack, the trail descends to around 4,100'. From the low point, it's 1.3 miles and 1,200' to the summit of Marcy. Despite the steady elevation gain from the Haystack- Marcy col, the climb to Marcy never seemed too difficult, even with 15 miles on my legs. I think it was the easiest climb of the day of the 10 summits I visited. As I approached Marcy, I passed numerous groups that were descending and could see quite a few on the upper reaches.
|Approaching Marcy from alpine meadow below summit
|Just below Marcy
|Looking across Marcy's alpine summit
At 5,344', Mt Marcy stands as the highest summit in New York. As the high point, it sees more people than many of the High Peaks. Talking to the summit steward, she said she counted around 100 people visiting the peak for the day and was probably the busiest weekday of the summer.
|Closeup of the neighboring peaks
|Algonquin I believe
|Haystack with Dix in the distance
Majority of Marcy hikers use the Adriondack Loj as there starting point, so I lost most of the summit traffic when I headed down the Phelps Trail toward the Garden trailhead. The first several miles of descent traveled over rocky footing, slowing me down a bit at first.
Once past Slant Rock the trail leveled and became less rocky. I took advantage of the terrain, running where I could. Up until this point, there was very few stretches I could utilize this strategy due to rough terrain. I stopped occasionally to take a photo. Despite a very steep trail, I took the .2 mile diversion to enjoy Bushnell Falls. I highly recommend Bushnell Falls to anyone passing by.
|Johns Brook runs nice and clear
Most of the remaining trail went by quickly as I ran on the mostly flat terrain the last several miles. I reached the Garden trailhead at 547PM. From the Garden, I ran the last 1.6 miles until I reached Route 73. Along 73, I walked the last .2 miles to the Rooster Comb trailhead to cool down. I reached my car at 610PM.
|View descending Marcy
Going by the guide book, my total route covered just shy of 27 miles while climbing in the neighborhood of 9,500 feet. My time totaled 12 hours 40 minutes including breaks. I didn't know initially how my body, particularly my knees would feel at the end of the day. Surprisingly, my knees didn't even have the slightest discomfort. I even went on a two mile walk with Puma and our dog Choya when I got home. My Presidential Traverse left my knees throbbing. I used poles this trip and I think that made the difference. Even the days following the trip, I had tired quads, but no knee issues and was running the following day.
|20 foot drop of Bushnell Falls
Overall I really enjoyed the trip. I wouldn't recommend an undertaking like this as a day trip unless you know your capabilities and are conditioned. Like I said early, I had nearly 1,400 miles on my legs this year alone prior to the trip. I have successfully tackled several other long distance and high elevation gain day hikes over the years. I routinely cover 20+ mile days on my backpacking trips and have done 50 mile trips as overnight hikes. I was aware what my body can handle going into the hike.
|Clouds over the tundra
I know this hike often gets compared to the Presidential Traverse in New Hampshire. If weather cooperates, overall I would say the Presidential Traverse may be slightly less difficult. The Presidential Traverse passes multiple huts and the Mt Washington summit buildings, which all offer water and often food. The structures also offer some refuge from the weather if needed. Water is limited on much of the Great Range and shelter doesn't exist until lean-tos are reached well below the summits. The Presidential Traverse runs slightly shorter with the climbing spread out more evenly.
|Southern half of the Great Range from Gothics
For similar long distance, day trips that I have tackled, click the links below to read past posts on my blog.
Six Peak Adventure in Missouri Gulch and Basin- 6 summits including 3 14ers and 3 13ers in Colorado with 8,000 feet of climbing
Barren-Chairback Marathon Hike- Nearly 30 miles with 6,000 feet of climbing in Maine's 100 Mile Wilderness
The Presidential Traverse- 23 miles with 9,500 feet of elevation gain over 8 4,000 foot peaks including the 5 tallest New Hampshire summits
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