The Wolfjaws

Upper (4185 ft) and Lower (4175) Wolfjaw Mountains 
Level of Difficulty: Strenuous
Date of Summit: 7/13/2015
Total Distance: 13.2 Miles 
Trip Time: 2 Days + a short morning
Weather: 70s and 80s and Mostly Sunny

    View from Upper Wolfjaw Mountain

It has been a couple of years since I managed to make time to climb any High Peaks, but from 7/12 to 7/14, the weather cooperated during my planned trip window and Martin G. and I were able to go after, and get, Upper and Lower Wolfjaw Mountain.  

Having already conquered the only "easy" High Peak day hikes, Martin and I decided to do his first overnight backpacking trip.  We had, for 2 years now, had in our sights the Wolfjaws since an easy day hike would bring us in to the vicinity of Johns Brook Lodge and from there the Wolfjaws appeared to be a very do-able day hike. So, leaving Potsdam at 6:45 AM, we arrived at the Marcy Airfield to take a shuttle bus to The Garden trailhead. After unloading the truck and waiting for the bus for about 15 minutes, another car pulled in and alerted us to the sign pointing out that the buses were not running.  So, we re-loaded the truck and drove the few miles down the road to The Garden and, low and behold, there were parking spots on a summer weekend!  

We put our packs on, signed in, and at 9:19 AM began the 3.1 mile trip to the DEC Interior Outpost.  Martin took the lead and set a good pace, about 2 mph.  He was carrying his clothes, a little bit of gear, and our lunches in a pack that I generally use as a daypack.  I carried my clothes and the rest of our gear, including a tent, just in case, in my behemoth of an external frame trekking pack.  Seemingly unaffected by his load (his first time really hiking with a pack), we made it to the outpost in about 1.5 hours, crossed the suspension bridge, and promptly made a wrong turn right up the range trail rather than left down the abandoned South Side Trail!  Frequent readers of this infrequently updated blog, will understand that this is the M.O. of yours truly (see "The Good, The Bad, and the Stupid" for the most damning example.)  

After sitting for a fluffernutter lunch, and examining the book and maps, we realized our error (only costing us at most 10 minutes) and returned to the South Side Trail, from which we connected to the ADK Range Trail towards the Wolfjaws.  This last 0.8 miles or so to the Wolfjaw Lean-to was more severely eroded than the Phelps trail and others, and was also steeper than our previous mileage.  Nonetheless, as we hiked this section, getting closer and closer to Wolfjaw Creek, we continued to make good time, and quickly arrived at the Wolfjaw lean-to and found it uninhabited at 12:30 PM.  

After relaxing and resting for a few minutes, we briefly contemplated a late afternoon attempt on Lower Wolfjaw, but the siren song of my cribbage board and our kindles was too strong, and we lazed away the afternoon in our shady shelter.  We snacked on gorp, refilled our water bottles from Wolfjaw Creek, ate a dinner of Mountain House Mexican Chicken and Rice, and prepared ourselves for our harder day hike up the Wolfjaws in the morning.  

A quick aside on backcountry etiquette.  Adjacent to the Wolfjaw lean-to is a designated campsite.  We walked over to explore and found some gear seemingly abandoned. Nonetheless, we didn't disturb it thinking that it was probably a hiker out for the day.  Around dinnertime, a DEC Ranger stopped in to check on us, and investigated the campsite.  She discovered that the tent has not been purposefully collapsed but had, instead, broken, likely soaking its inhabitants.  Those inhabitants, rather than following proper backcountry behavior, decided to leave the tent broken in the campsite and hike off without it. This left our ranger with the unpleasant task of humping this abandoned gear out on her own.  To paraphrase the Berenstein Bears, "Let this be a lesson to you - this is what you should not do."  

                                                      Wolfjaw Creek

After a good night's sleep, we awoke around 7AM, ate a quick breakfast of instant oatmeal, packed our daypack (this time destined for my back) with plenty of snacks and rain gear, and began our hike up to Wolfjaw Notch, between the two peaks.  We began by crossing the creek where, unfortunately, Martin aggravated a scrape on his heel from the previous day.  We bandaged that right up and continued on, up the moderately steep, but still straightforward trail.  We passed the junction with the Woodsfall Trail which leads to the Johns Brook Lodge, and continued up to the Notch, no worse for the wear.  After a quick snack, we turned right to head up to Upper Wolfjaw.  This is where, predictably, things got difficult.  This trail is typical of so many ADK high peaks trails: steep with plenty of scrambling up small rock faces, which are often damp and slick. Our spirits remained high however as everything was doable and we weren't having too much trouble.  

Then, out of nowhere, Martin slipped and skinned his knee, setting his morale back several notches.  Band-aids didn't stick and the terrain only got harder.  We reached the first lower, false, summit of the peak, and began to descend to a col.  This was almost more than his psyche could take.  However, he persevered, and, not without some tears, fought through to the top of Upper Wolfjaw. The peak itself has good views to the south and east, although the top of the mountain is quite small.     

   View of the lower peak of Upper Wolfjaw (foreground), Lower Wolfjaw (to the left) and more distant peaks        (Nippletop?) from Upper Wolfjaw

We descended slowly, and morale improved.  We talked about politics and baseball, and many other things, and we were again feeling chipper.  Despite his earlier protestations that he "would never hike again" we chose to continue on to Lower Wolfjaw, and he was enthusiastic. 

The climb to Lower Wolfjaw, while half the distance, was no simple task either, being, again, very steep in many places.  Martin came close to stopping and turning around once, but, with mettle in his eyes, soldiered on. Many of the steepest sections offered good views back towards Upper Wolfjaw which made these intermediate steps rewarding. We reached the summit and were, at first, underwhelmed.  The views from Lower Wolfjaw are not unobstructed.  There are views to the north and northwest, and the redeeming feature is a nice view of Marcy in the distance.  This summit is even smaller than Upper Wolfjaw, but provides a nice sheltered area to relax and have a snack.  We took good advantage of this.  

                                                      view of Marcy from Lower Wolfjaw

    shelter behind the summit rock at Lower Wolfjaw

After our quick break on the summit, we descended carefully to the notch, and then began the much easier descent to our lean-to.  We stopped again at the creek crossing to fill our water, and decided to de-camp from Wolfjaw lean-to and hike out to our car.  It had taken us about 6.5 hours to do the dayhike up and down the wolfjaws from the wolfjaw lean-to.  

Screenshot of the Google Tracks profile of our day starting at Wolfjaw lean-to and ending at Deer Brook lean-to

We were again with our packs full, but enthusiastic about our dinner options in Keene Valley.  We had high hopes to make it down in about 3 hours.  We made good time, stopping frequently for water, but fell victim to one of the great traps of hiking - over-estimation of progress.  After some time, I guess-timated that we had 1.25 miles to go to the car.  About 10 minutes later, at about 6 PM, we came upon the Deer Brook lean-to and checked the guidebook - this lean-to was 1.3 miles from the car.  This was more than we could take.  We walked the 200 yards uphill to check out the lean-to, discovered it empty, and decided to call it home for the night.  

We filled our water bottles from the beautiful Deer Brook, soaked our weary feet, and prepared our dinner of dehydrated lasagna with meat sauce along with our special treat of apple cobbler, all by Mountain Home. We were suitably impressed as these dehydrated meals far surpassed the dehydrated food of my memory from my trip to Philmont.  We enjoyed a couple more hours of cribbage and reading before falling asleep.  

After another good night's sleep, Martin and I awoke early at 6 AM, quickly packed up and were on the trail before 7.  We arrived back at our car by 7:35 and were happy and excited about a successful trip.  

Before the long drive home, we stopped for some breakfast at the Noonmark Diner, which I hope was not the highlight of Martin's trip...but maybe that wouldn't be so bad anyway.  

Lampson Falls, Late Winter

Lampson Falls
Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 2 Miles Round Trip
Date: March 24, 2013
Weather: Cloudy, low 30s, snow on the ground

Lampson falls, in the Town of Clare is our go to short, easy, walk in the woods, with a great payoff.  We have been here on probably 10 different occasions, but we enjoy it every time. On March 24, with an 8 year old finally recovering from his cold/flu, my wife decided we needed to get out of the house, and I am so glad we did.  

The six of house (my wife and I, two boys (8 and 5) and two dogs) set out in the early afternoon.  After the ~25 minute drive from Potsdam, we pulled into the parking area and began to walk.  It is a flat easy walk, handicap accessible in warm weather.  On this day, it was snow packed, but easy to navigate, as usual, as we walked along the old logging road.  After reaching the falls (the guidebooks say about .25 miles from the parking area) we walked down to the base (this section was a bit slippery) and continued to walk along the low cliffs facing the falls.  This is where the trail used to end.  It is now marked to make a 3.5 mile loop to Harper Falls and back along the logging road.  We set out down that path, but retreated when the boys began to get a bit tired.  All told we walked about 2 miles round trip. 

On the way out we stopped at the top of the falls for more pictures and to marvel at the water and ice curving and flowing around the rocks.  

Our 8 year old got to take lots of great pictures and everyone enjoyed it.  Lampson Falls is always worth the short drive for a quick retreat into the Adirondacks.  

The Pinnacle (Santa Clara, NY)

The Pinnacle (1838 ft)
Difficulty: Easy, with some short steeper climbs
Date of Summit: 09/09/2012
Trailhead to Summit: 0.6 Miles
Trip Time: 1 hr, 15 Minutes
Ascent: 506 ft.

GPS Track of Pinnacle hike, including elevation profile

This short hike near Santa Clara, NY is a great hike for families with small children.  It is short in distance, light on serious climbing, and long on beautiful views.  Louise, Martin G. (age 8), Erik (age 4), Gigi (black lab/dachshund mix, age 3) and I played hookie from church on September 9 to do this little hike for the first time.  We had tried back in March or April, but, despite the warm weather and lack of snow, the access road, which is only seasonally maintained, was closed to traffic, with a locked gate.  This time, no such trouble!  This trail seems to be oft overlooked, and on our visit we had it to ourselves.

Gigi, the mountain goat

The access road is off of SR 458 just south of Santa Clara, NY on the left side of the road.  The turnoff can be hard to see when coming from the North, but is obvious when approaching from the South.  There is a traditional ADK signpost indicating "Pinnacle Trailhead" at the access point.  Once off of 458, it is about a 4 mile drive along a narrow dirt road/track through the woods.  There are two Y- style intersections along the way, and at each junction take the more heavily trafficked route (if memory serves, first to the right, then to the left).  After about 4 miles, you will see an obvious parking area to the left and the trail starts off to the right with a trail register.

The View

The trails begins easily and slowly climbs, passing by interesting boulders and LOTS of big-toothed Aspen.  Eventually, you come to a point directly underneath a large cliff, and at this point, the trail turns to the right to begin the final ascent to the summit.  At the top there is a picnic table as long as beautiful views to the North and West.

Erik, being himself

The five of us at the top

On our trip we saw a group of vultures soaring in the air as long as a beautiful hawk which, unfortunately, I was unable to positively identify.  After snacking and snapping photos for about 20 minutes, we began the return trip happy that we had found another short, easy hike to share with visiting friends.  If you have done much North Country hiking, it is our opinion that the Pinnacle compares favorably to the Owls Head hike in Franklin County (in Owls Head, NY, south of Malone), which has been a family favorite, and although it does not have the views of Mt. Arab or Mt. Azure, its shorter distance makes it very attractive and fun, particularly for families, or if you are trying to squeeze in a quick hike on the way to one place or another.

Martin holding a maple leaf that he found - fall is here!

New Contributor

Hello!  My name is Martin D. Heintzelman. I am a good friend of Dave Beck's, and since he has moved on to Wisconsin, he has offered me the opportunity to become a contributor to this blog.  I, and my family, can occasionally be seen in Dave's posts from his time in the North Country, and we love to hike, camp, and, just in general, be outdoors.  I will do my best to keep posting as we have new experiences in the Adirondacks, and I hope you enjoy my contributions.  With any luck, we'll have Dave back in New York on occasion to do some hiking, so you should see his smiling face every once in a while!  He and his family are truly missed in Potsdam, and, I'm sure, treasured in Wisconsin.  

My eldest son, Martin G. and I atop Cascade Mountain

On Wisconsin!

This is just a post to say that (unfortunately) I've moved away from the Adirondack Region, and will no longer be posting new trips to this page.  Please feel free to refer to my past posts for information on specific hikes and peaks in the park.  Who knows - perhaps I'll begin another blog about the wonders of Wisconsin wildlife.


Dave Beck

Return to Regis

The tower atop St. Regis
St. Regis Mountain (2865 ft) 
Difficulty: Gradual, and fairly steep for the last mile
Date of Summit: 12/15/2010
Trailhead to Summit: 3.4 miles
Trip Time: 4.5 hrs
Ascent: 1266 ft
Temperature: between 5 and 10 degrees F

Last time Martin Heintzelman and I attempted a winter summit of St. Regis Mountain, we had to turn back due to the inability to find the trail and get beyond an area of blowdown.  The experience was extremely discouraging, and caused us to keep our distance from that peak for quite some time.  Well, on December 15th, 2010 (exactly three years after the first attempt - to the DAY), we decided it was time to give it another try.

The white stuff
The snow levels in the park had not been as typical as usual (not nearly as much accumulation), so we made the decision to skip the snowshoes, as there only appeared to be between 4-5" of powder on the ground at the trailhead.  While I used Stabilicers attached to my boots, Martin went sans-spikes, but had the advantage of using the tread of his new L.L. Bean Cresta's for the very first time.  Outfitted in full winter gear, we set out to reclaim our pride from our old foe, St. Regis Mountain.

Elevation Profile of St. Regis Hike
GPS track of St. Regis Hike
To get to the trailhead, one parks in a small lot about 2.5 miles down Keese's Mill Rd (which starts near Paul Smith's College).  The trail begins about a tenth of a mile down a private gravel road that crosses a stream.  As with many of our outings, we had already made a mistake.  After walking for about a quarter of a mile, we realized that we had missed the trail and found ourselves at the gates of Camp Topridge.  After a bit of backtracking, we found the trail register and sign hidden behind a felled tree that was covered in snow.  In addition to that small set-back, we found ourselves struggling to find blazes at certain points on the trail (especially in the first mile).  The snow's drifting and falling had covered all evidence of human impact from the last time a hiker had been on the trail, four days before.  To make it even more confusing, many of the blazes were older, and were WHITE.  White blazes might be a good idea in the summertime, but that white blaze is nearly impossible to spot when 97% of your surroundings are covered in fresh, white snow.  Luckily, just as our patience was beginning to grow thin, we came across evidence that others had done construction on the trail and added new red blazes as part of the renovations.

The hike was beautiful.  Snow rested on every branch, rock, and needle throughout our trip, dampening the sound all around us to create an experience that felt as if the entire world had been put on "pause" while we hiked up this trail.  We passed massive boulders, walked through impressive stands of hemlocks, admired assorted icicle clumps, and relished in the fact that we were the only ones on the trail that day.  At about 2.5 miles into the hike, things began to get quite a bit steeper.  For nearly the last mile, we steadily climbed up the east face of St. Regis Mountain.  With the snow acting as a blanket of padding, it did not feel like the typical, joint-aching "adirondack rock staircase", which caused the ascent to go by much quicker (and less painful).  Before we knew it, we were at the top of St. Regis Mountain.  Although we didn't have a great view, it felt better to be atop that peak than many of our past victories.

The frostbitten fire tower of St. Regis Mountain
I'm looking forward to returning to this peak again in warmer weather, as an almost completely bare summit is rare to find on a 2800 ft peak.  It also has one of the last fire towers in the Adirondacks, and I'm not sure how much longer it will actually even be there.  The views from this peak are also supposed to be phenomenal, but the cloud cover severely limited our viewing distance.  I was also hoping to use a nifty new booklet that I received as a recent present - Thatcher's Adirondack Peak Finder - which allows one to easily identify what they see from atop a handful of popular peaks in the park.  We decided not to eat our lunch on the summit - although a tradition of many a hiker, the windchill was just too much.  We trekked back down the trail until we found a sizable boulder that would shelter us from the wind, and enjoyed a lunch of meat and cheese sandwiches, hot tea, and gatorade slushies (again, thanks to the chilly temps!).

Looking down on the frozen St. Regis Pond from the summit
 The trip back to the car was uneventful and relatively easy.  Almost 4.5 hrs later, we once again stepped onto the snowplowed road and headed for the car.  It was a wonderful return to such a great backcountry experience, and actually making it to the top made it all the more sweet.  We celebrated our victory at the Riverside Bar in St. Regis Falls, a favorite place of mine to enjoy a can of beer (yep, I said can, so be sure to bring your own koozie) after hiking in the area.  With St. Regis Mountain finally checked off the list, there's now only one peak that Martin and I have to return to and settle the score with, as a result of the trail conditions being too icy on our last attempt.  Debar Mountain, you're next...

Martin and the great, white, void

Owen & Copperas Ponds - A Winter Wonderland

Looking across Copperas Pond
Owen & Copperas Ponds
Difficulty: Easygoing
Date of Summit: 12/11/2010
Distance: 3.4 miles (round-trip)
Trip Time: 2 hrs
Ascent: a whopping 174 ft
Temperature: 34 degrees fahrenheit

It felt SO GOOD to be back down in the park.  After almost 7 months of no hikes in the Adirondacks, I was beginning to feel ashamed to even still have this blog.  This all changed today, thanks to a visit from my in-laws.  While the ladies took in all that Lake Placid had to offer (ie: shopped), Byron and I explored a little gem of a trail just a few miles northeast of Lake Placid.  I discovered this short hike via Day Hikes for All Seasons by Bruce Wadsworth, my go-to book for whenever guests come to visit the north country and are looking for a relaxing jaunt in the park to fill an afternoon.

Map from "Day Hikes for All Seasons" by Bruce Wadsworth
We chose the Owens & Copperas Ponds hike for a number of reasons.  We wanted to relax.  We wanted to take some nice photos of winter.  We didn't want to get in over our heads (like so many times before).  Perhaps most importantly, we wanted to finish in time to enjoy a beer in Lake Placid after the hike.  All perfect goals, and all were attainable with this hike.  A short 1.75 mile hike in, and the same back, totally about 3.5 miles of hiking.  There was barely any climb in altitude, and no tough scrambling.

Snow Collected Around Buds
Such Soft Snow
We were a bit concerned - as we drove down to the park from Potsdam - that we might have made a mistake in not renting snowshoes.  The snowcover on the side of the road looked to be 12+ inches.  Luckily, our decision was a good one, as the trail contained hardly more than 4-6 inches of the powdery stuff.  It was also a beautiful rendition of snowfall in the park, looking more like someone had decided to hose down the forest with shaving cream, instead of snowflakes.

What a beautiful hike this was! The trail was gradual and easy-going and there was hardly a need for more than hiking boots (in fact, snowshoes would have made it harder to hike, but Byron used his new Kahtoola MICROspikes, which definitely helped).  Every half-mile, a pond would greet you, sitting at the base of a small peak and crying to have its picture taken.  We did just this for the first pond we came across - Owen Pond - which is accompanied by one of the Sentinel Mountains as its backdrop.  I thought I'd test the strength of the ice on the pond, only to instantly find my right leg about knee-deep in icy water (thankfully, my gaiters and waterproof boots stopped most of the water from ruining my day).

Panoramic of Owen Pond

We continued on to the next destination - Copperas Pond - where we planned to take a break at the lean-to overlooking the water.  On our way, we ran into a hunter and his dog, who had been on the search for snowshoe hare that morning.  It felt a bit strange to run into a hunter during the hike, seeing him stand on the trail with his gun, but I quickly realized that he was out there for many of the same reasons we were - to enjoy the wilderness on a beautiful day.  After saying goodbye, we continued on to Copperas Pond.  It was an equally majestic sight, with a small lean-to tucked into the hillside, across the pond.

Not a bad lean-to site on Copperas Pond...
At this point - 1.3 miles into the hike - we decided to push forward around the perimeter of the pond, to make the lean-to our midway point for the day. It was a short hike of about .4 additional miles, that included traversing a few rocks and boardwalks, to the lean-to.   We enjoyed a quick break of trail mix and hot tea in the lean-to, and turned around to backtrack our path to the car.  As we neared the end of our journey, we continued to find excuses to stop and snap another picture, as we were both taken aback by the way the snow had decided to collect on the flora of the park.  I'm definitely returning to this peaceful part of the park in the summertime, as I'm fairly certain that it will be just as beautiful and relaxing in the warmer months as well.

Walking back to the car, from Copperas Pond

Higley Flow: A Hike for All Ages

Beaver Pond

Higley Flow State Park (Beaver Pond Trail)
Difficulty: Extremely Easy
Date of Hike: 9/19/10
Length of Hike: .9 miles
Trip Time: 1 hr
Temperature: Mid-60's

One of the informational placards found on the trail

It doesn't get easier than Higley. Set in the village of South Colton, just off Rte 56 (between Potsdam and Cranberry Lake), Higley Flow State Park (Park Website Here) is a place that has everything a family needs: a wonderful beach on the Racquette flow, hundreds of campsites, and a handful of walking (and mountain biking or skiing) trails to choose from.

The Littlest Hiker

GPS plot of our hike, done w/ my phone

Since I'm sure we'll make it back to Higley many times, I'll keep this brief, sticking to just the short jaunt that my wife, daughter, and I took today. We hiked the Beaver Pond Interpretive Trail. It was a rolling trail that took the hiker through a variety of different habitats, including marshlands, ponds, and different forest settings. It was great for kids, as the variety keeps them interested, and the informational placards (w/ illustrations) helps for everyone to learn something new about where they are.

Forest planted by CCC

Looking out over the wetlands

This trail was so well-blazed and easy that my 18-month old daughter hiked about half of it herself. I would say that if you live within a 20-minute drive of this trail, it's worth a visit. With other trails in the area - like the Stone Valley Trail and the Red Sandstone Trail just up the road, Rte. 56 is a wonderful starting point for a great hike in the north country.

Hiking up the hill

Snack break