So, as planned, I attempted to climb the entire Adirondack Great Range in a day last weekend. I’ve wanted to have a go at this for some time so I was stoked to finally get down there and have at it.
Short Version: It was rough but I got it done.
I drove down Friday afternoon, bought food, scouted out the trailhead parking situation and then went to bed earlyish in anticipation of an early start.
Saturday morning I got up at 5am and was on the trail by 5:45am. I set off at a silly-quick pace, thinking I’d get round in something ridiculous like 10 or 11 hours (bearing in mind the fastest known time is just under 6 hours, by a super-talented trailrunner, this was somewhat optimistic). The trails in the Adirondacks are generally narrow, steep, and either muddy, hideously rocky or both. Until you’ve hiked on them it’s hard to appreciate just how slow-going it can be. On a good hiking trail I’d expect to cover 5km in an hour. On this route I could only manage about 2.5km per hour.
The first third of the route is almost all in the forest, with lots of ups and downs (mostly ups) as you pass Rooster Comb, Lower Wolfjaw, Upper Wolfjaw and Armstrong. It’s fairly unrewarding, gaining 3400′ of elevation without getting to enjoy any really epic summit vistas. Getting from the trailhead to the top of Armstrong took me 4 hours 15.
At the trailhead at 5:30am
First views from Rooster Comb
A brief view from between the trees
The middle third is the most enjoyable. Over the next 4 or 5 hours I summited Gothics (probably the most enjoyable ascent/descent in the Adirondacks), Saddleback, Basin and both Little Haystack and Haystack. All of them have exposed, rocky summits and require at least a bit of rock-hopping or scrambling to get up or down them. Being above treeline is always a good thing, as you can generally see for miles and you get to feel the wind in your hair. However, as is common in the High Peaks, there was a LOT of wind in my hair on this occasion. So much that I almost lost my hat, and the filling literally blew out of my turkey sandwich. Consequently the strategy was generally “get up on top, get a quick photo, then scamper down off the summit for a snack”.
The final peak on the traverse is Mt Marcy. It’s also the highest peak in New York state, and consequently one of the busiest. I don’t like Marcy much. It feels too much like a tourist attraction. Hence I got up it as fast as I could (which wasn’t very fast seeing as I’d been hiking for 9 hours by this point), shot a quick video message to send to a friend who was running an Ultra marathon on Jersey the same day, then got down.
The final, and hardest, challenge of the day was getting from the summit of Mt Marcy back to The Garden trailhead. It’s all downhill, but on trails as rugged as these there’s no way to make use of that downhilliness. In some respects the loss of elevation just means you pound your knees harder and stepping down from one rock to another gives even more opportunities to fall on your face. From the top of Marcy to the trailhead took me 3 1/2 boring, painful hours for a total trip time of 13 hours 22 minutes.
Overall, it was a super tough day out. Over 30km, and somewhere approaching 10,000′ of elevation gained and lost. Long, arduous, sometimes tedious – exactly what I expected, and wanted. I was interested to see what it would be like to keep moving quickly for such a long time, and the answer was that I can handle it but the knees and feet started to get cranky after 8 or 9 hours. I was slower than I hoped but in retrospect I don’t see how a hiker can cover that route in less than 12 hours. To go faster than that you’d need to be a very lightly laden, and a very skilled trail runner.
I’m not in a hurry to do that entire route again, especially not in a day, but I’d love to go back in the fall and do Gothics with Krista, maybe incorporating an overnight camp in the valley.
As I’m not working at the moment I’m on a bit of a budget, but fortunately it was a pretty affordable trip too. I spent $150 on gas (I covered about 1200km in the car), $50 on food for the weekend, another $50 on two night’s accommodation in the bunkroom at Tmax-n-Tops Hostel (definitely a recommended place to stay if you’re a lone hiker or on a budget) and that’s about it.