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."
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.