Damn it – please don’t tell me we’re going to get eaten up here, I thought. Why the hell do I do these things to myself??
Friday, the day before we tempted fate with our position in the circle of life, we drove from Canada to Lake Placid (upstate New York, USA). We wandered the town and then moved on to a campsite about 20 minutes away from our trail head. Saturday morning, we reached the trail head parking lot at a local golf course about 7:10am. Looking at all the cars already there, I started to wonder if we should have gotten there even earlier. With a shrug, we took note of the time (7:25am) and headed off.
We crossed a bridge to the West River Trail towards Rainbow Falls. Technically this was mistake number two but it was well worth the short detour to these falls – after a quick clamber over some slippery rocks, there lay a tall waterfall to admire. We had it to ourselves so it felt like we discovered something. We headed back to the junction and chose (mistake number three?) the scenic trail to the first summit (Sawteeth) rather than the more direct trail. The terrain was narrow, full of boulders and roots, and was definitely a challenge. Every once in a while, we saw the river by which we were walking. The trail went up and up and up – sometimes the trail seemingly ended but then we’d realize that the giant boulders in front of us were actually the trail so we’d have to figure out how to get on top of them. Sometimes the gap between the ground and the next part was too high so there was a wooden ladder to make things easier.
On this particular trail, there were about five marked outlook spots where you can see the river running in between the surrounding mountains – pretty but nothing unique. The obnoxious thing about Sawteeth is that there are many places where you’d think you’ve reached the summit but no…the trail just kept going and going and going. It was 1:10pm by the time we reached Sawteeth’s summit and that was when we fully realized that we may be screwed. But! We held onto hope. Mistake number four.
If you’re hiking just for the sake of bagging 46er peaks, you’ll hate that you have to climb Pyramid which doesn’t count, in order to reach Gothics, which does count. But if you’re out here enjoying the hike, actually…you may still hate it because it is up and down for really nothing. It was pretty, though – when we had views, it was of layers upon layers of mountains in the distance. We reached the summit of Pyramid at 3pm and then Gothics at 3:50pm. By then we were really screwed because the clouds that had been lingering all morning, decided to become a storm. It poured. Views were obscured and our footing became even more treacherous. Because we were on steep mountains, the trails became riverbeds. Water gushed from every direction, all rushing as fast as it could downhill. We had to trudge through it in the opposite direction – up. It wasn’t long before we gave up trying to keep our feet dry and just marched through the mud and puddles. As we descended Gothics, we passed a sign saying that we were just in the Alpine zone – amazing yes, but being that high in a storm really wasn’t a good idea.
As we made our way to the next summit, the rain stopped and the sun came out. It was gorgeous late afternoon light reflecting off the water, highlighting the damp trees. This was also the time when we came to a junction – left would take us to the final three peaks and right would take us back to the parking lot. It was 4:45 pm and both directions would have been ballpark five miles. It was Fate testing us. We went left. Mistake number five.
We came to a junction that pointed the way to a lodge several miles away to the left and to Lower Wolfjaw to the right. That was it. No parking lot sign. Crap. Do we go for the lodge? Do we try to call for directions? What do we do?? As we tried to make a decision, that was when we saw the deer strolling by in the distance and I remembered that we were in hungry animal territory. Just when we were thinking to go to the lodge and hope we could get a ride back to our car, something made me run off in the other direction for a few feet. Nothing. Just as I was about to turn back around to my friend, I saw a sign. Hallelujah! It was to the parking lot! And off we went – practically running down the mountain, racing the dimming light and setting sun. But it was too late – it was too late hours ago. We spent the next two hours hiking in the dark. Thank goodness we both had headlamps and I also used a flashlight app on my phone. It was two hours of utter focus – one could freak out later but for now, survival mode. Twice my light picked up glowing eyes in the distance, one time the eyes staying perfectly still for the longest time. Probably only a few seconds but it felt like forever as we waited for it to move so we could identify it as harmless or painful death. Turned out to be yet another deer and I wasn’t sure if I should be simply thankful or to start wanting some venison for dinner in revenge for scaring me like that. Picking out trail disks up in the trees in the dark with a headlamp and a cellphone flashlight isn’t high on my list of things I ever want to do again. Nothing like knowing that, if we missed just one, we could be stumbling around in the dark all night. But besides all that, what extra pissed me off was I could tell the scenery through which we were rushing would have been beautiful in the light! Lush forest, tall trees, rivers and thundering waterfalls – I wanted my camera!
So, boys and girls, what should we all learn from this? For starters, always pack properly when hiking – I don’t know what would have happened if we didn’t have rain gear, light sources, and plenty of food and water. I don’t want to think about it. But what we should also learn (ironically enough), never trust the internet! Someone else’s ten hours could most definitely be your 15. Oh and if you’re planning to do the Adirondacks 46er challenge, I highly suggest doing a trail marked “easy” first, not “difficult”. And if you plan to do the Lower Great Range, I definitely recommend doing Sawteeth separately from the other five peaks unless you can fly. Other than that, go for it – I certainly plan to continue for the other 42 peaks!
Started: July 4, 2015; 7:25am
Sawteeth (4100′): 1:10pm
Pyramids (4515’): 3:00pm
Gothic (4736′): 3:50pm
Armstrong (4400′): 5:15pm
Upper Wolfjaw (4185′): 6:35pm
Lower Wolfjaw (4175′): did not summit (this time)