An Early Start

Oct. 7, 2012 – Boiling coffee at 4:30 AM. Any bears hiding in the pre-dawn darkness? Evidently not. The morning routine of dressing, eating breakfast, and packing up is a little smoother. But I step right into some squish just at the outhouse door. Yecch.

Billy, Matt, and Rich are at the JBL trailhead at 6:30, and we’re off. It will be my second attempt at Gothics, having turned back from my solo effort in yesterday’s rain. The young guys set a brisk pace, and we tear up the blue-marked Orebed Trail (#8 in the Adk Trail Guide). In no time, we’re at the brook/slide. I had enjoyed this bit of slide more than enough yesterday, so we briefly split up, as I stay on the trail in the woods. The guys take the slide route.

Detailed Trail Note
At this point, fairly high up the Orebed Trail (before the stairs), the blue-marked trail disappears. Yellow paint blazes mark a route up the slide bed. Shortly, there are blue discs marking the trail again, but I missed them on my first trip up here. The remaining bit on the slide itself is a little treacherous for neophytes like me. But even the “treacherous” stretch ends after a few dozen yards, and then the obvious blue-marked trail cannot be missed. (The trail maintainers might soon improve the marking in this area.)

The stairs are an easy welcome jaunt. At the col, there’s talk of being back by noon. We stop briefly and I re-arrange my pack; recalling the cold last month on Wright, I layer up. We turn left onto the yellow-marked ADK Range Trail (#4).


The ascent up the west face of Gothics is very steep and very open. Vertiginous. What’s an acrophobic mountain climber to do? There are some very sticky parts of this ascent, both below and above the cables. As we near the cabled area, I realize that my heart rate is way up, far higher than the physical exertion alone would have caused. I call for a rest, and attribute my adrenalin rush to the “exhilaration” of the climb. Nope, just vertigo and mild panic at the open heights. I breathe out, pontificate for a bit, and soon calm down. We go up again.

The cables are a breeze. You pull yourself up, hand over hand, and go right up. Not as easy as the stairs, but compared to the steepness just below and just above, they are a welcome aid. Above the cables, there’s some overnight ice on the handholds. To a rock climber like Billy, it’s all quite trivial. We all clamber up without incident.

The views from the western (false) summit of Gothics are amazing. Admiring the sweeping vista of Dix, Marcy, Algonquin, Big Slide, and everything in between, I catch my breath, unbuckle my pack, and enjoy the sight. It’s sunny and brilliant; I try to call Elaine, with whom I haven’t spoken in a day and a half. In just those few minutes, the clouds roll in, and obscure the view; it doesn’t open up again while we’re here on the western edge.

Turning back yesterday was the best decision! I could NOT have gotten up Gothics solo. Billy, Matt, and Rich were all very helpful and patient. Billy just started his 46 at the beginning of the month. Since October 1, he has climbed 13 peaks. At the end of the month, he reports back to the US Navy, for his first tour on a submarine. Numerous times I threw my gear ahead, or hoisted Halle up, or reached ahead for a hand, and one of the three guys unfailingly helped me.

On Armstrong we meet a woman sporting an “ADK 46-R” patch on her backpack. She claims to not be a dog person, but takes to Halle right away. Of course. We move on toward Upper Wolf Jaw.

The entire Great Range peaks area, from the western ascent up Gothics to the eastern descent down UWJ is challenging. Lots of tough descents over steep outcroppings, ledges, and mud. Roots and trees are your friends.

Halle and the Armstrong Ladder

Halle is great on the steep slopes; unless it’s a 3-4 foot vertical rise, she’s a better climber than we are. Together, we went down the 21 rungs of the feared Armstrong ladder. I lowered my pack by rope, tossed my poles, and secured all my loose gear. Then I picked Halle up by her Ruffwear harness/pack, and swung her down 2-3 rungs at a time. She didn’t like it, but it was easy, quick, and safe. At the bottom, Rich confessed to being a little light-headed, and he called a rest. (I was glad not to be the only one who needed a break.)

At Upper Wolf Jaw, Rich and Matt enjoyed a cigar, and I was finally able to send a text message to my wife, but no voice connection. Billy takes a compass bearing on a distant peak. We chilled out, ate some lunch, and admired the views, especially the brilliant light green of the new growth over the 1999 Noonmark fire area. The press of time (Matt and Rich still have to pack out to South Meadow) and Billy’s hurting knee turn us back toward JBL, on the red-marked ADK Range Trail (#4). Lower Wolf Jaw awaits another day! More tired than I realize, I stumble a couple times on the loose rocks on the trail alongside Wolfjaw Brook. At Wolfjaw Brook, we bear left onto the yellow-marked section (#6). At the five-way, we follow the short 0.3 mile blue-marked section towards JBL.

We’re back at JBL by 3:15, having covered the 8.2 mile loop in 8.5 hours. Including stops on three peaks, not a bad pace at all. I feel thirty years younger. Three peaks, #7, #8, and #9 for me.