Giant Mountain, Rocky Peak Ridge, and the Nubble

     View of Giant from the Giant's Nubble

Trailhead: Giant/Roaring Brook, St. Hubert's, NY
Distance: 11.36 miles (GPS), 10.9 (book/map descriptions)
Elevation Change: 5343 ft.
Peaks: Giant Mountain (#12, 4627 ft.); Rocky Peak Ridge (#20, 4420 ft.); Nubble (2760 ft.)
Difficulty: Most stretches are only moderately difficult, with a few steep or very steep sections

I don't want to oversell this hike, but......actually, nevermind: this was a GREAT hike.  The trails were in excellent condition, the weather was perfect, the people were friendly, and the scenery was beautiful.  Not only that, but this area, the Giant Mountain Wilderness, has so much potential for future trips.  I discovered so much on this trip that I wasn't expecting, and I will definitely be back for more.

My hike, portrayed in Google Earth

Over the many years that my family and I drove back and forth from Northern New Jersey to our home in Potsdam, NY, we often remarked on the very high waterfall visible from the road just before St. Hubert's, never knowing if there was a way to get closer.  So, it was with delight that, in preparation for this trip, I read that there is a trail to these falls at the Giant/Roaring Brook Trailhead. I started this hike with the 0.2 mile detour over to the base of the Roaring Brook Falls.  While the view wasn't much given the hot and dry late summer that we have had, I was still impressed by the potential of these falls given their great height and narrow cataract through the rock.

Looking up at Roaring Brook Falls

After returning to the main trail, I began the .4 mile hike up to the top of the falls, which offered the first view of the High Peaks wilderness across Rte. 73 from Giant Mountain.

First views of High Peaks from the top of Roaring Brook Falls

At this point the trail begins the ascent towards Giant.  The trail was hard packed dirt, and was very well-maintained.  In several places the trail had been graded with rocks or, in one spot, a ladder had been added.

Excellent examples of trail workmanship

One of my concerns going into this hike had been boredom.  That may sound crazy, but I hadn't hiked alone in a long time, and never for this length.  I am used to talking with my companions as I hike, but on this hike I wouldn't have that conversation to pass the time.  Thankfully, on such a beautiful late August day, I had plenty of other hikers on the trail, and spent about 2 miles of this climb conversing nicely with a 46er who was climbing this particular route for the first time.  It is so nice to be able to chat casually with someone with many of the same interests.  

After a little more than 3 miles, I reached the intersection with the Ridge Trail, the other primary entry point for Giant Mountain.  Here I ate my lunch and took a short break before heading up the last .7 miles to Giant.  These last .7 miles include a few short sections of exposed rock slabs, but are not too challenging.  Considerably less challenging than sections on Cascade, for the most part.  There are a few open views but nothing really spectacular.  After passing the junction for the trail to Rocky Peak ridge, it is a short easy climb up to the summit of Giant, where the views speak for themselves.  

     Panorama from Giant's peak

View of the valley communities from Giant Mountain

After a quick break and more snacks, I headed down to the junction and began the 1.3 mile hike over to Rocky Peak Ridge.  The section of trail to the col between the two peaks is by far the steepest section of trail I encountered on this day.  Lots of exposed rock slabs.  As I went down I was forced to confront what it would be like to come back up!  Thankfully, I did get some views of my destination along the way.  

Rocky Peak Ridge viewed from the descent of Giant

The brief uphill section to the top of Rocky Peak Ridge was mercifully much more gentle, and after less than an hour from Giant, I made it to the top of Rocky Peak Ridge.  One hiker coming down made clear to me that not only was the trip to RPR worth it, but that the views were better than Giant. She was right.  Also, she warned me, "just don't look back at the climb back up to Giant," and that was good advice as well, that I failed to observe.  

View looking back at Giant from Rocky Peak Ridge

Panorama from Rocky Peak Ridge, towards the High Peaks and Giant

Panorama from Rocky Peak Ridge towards Lake Champlain and Rocky Peak

While the view from Giant is mostly to the West and North, the views from Rocky Peak Ridge are in all directions and include great views not only of the High Peaks, but also of Lake Champlain and points east and south.  Definitely worth the hike over from Giant.

After resting some and refueling, I began the trek back to Giant.  Noticing that I was down to about a half liter of water, I thought about continuing away from Giant to Marie Louise Pond to filter some more water, but decided that the extra 1.2 miles roundtrip was not going to be worth it.  I think I made the right call, but I was definitely thankful when I finally got back to Roaring Brook and was able to refill my bottles, several hours later.  

The ascent of Giant from Rocky Peak Ridge certainly lived up to my fears, and there were a few stretches where I was just managing to put one foot in front of (or above) the other.  After this hard climb I rested some more at the junction with the Ridge Trail, and noticed a strange feeling.  As I began the descent I realized that I was already feeling sad to be heading down, rather than spending more time in this beautiful section of wilderness.  In the interests of exploring as much of the area as I could, when I got to the fork with the Ridge Trail to the left and the Roaring Brook Trail to the right, I decided to head down the Ridge trail to make something of a loop of the rest of my hike, rather than going down the same way I had come up.  The 1.1 mile stretch of the Ridge Trail down to the Nubble trail made for some gorgeous hiking.  Lots of exposed rock with beautiful views to the West and South.  

views from the Ridge Trail

At one point the trail divides into so that hikers can go either over or around "the bump."  Again, in the interest of learning as much as possible, I chose to go OVER the bump.  While the views were nice, they offered little that was unique given the many other exposed areas.  

It was also in this stretch that I encountered that rarest of Adirondack creatures, the switchback! Thankfully, this relatively steep trail was made easier by using several switchbacks along the side of the mountain. I was sure to make note of this on my GPS track to show my son later....the lack of switchbacks is one his "favorite" things about ADK hiking.  

Finally, I arrived at the junction with the Nubble trail.  I finished off my water, and had an additional snack before resuming the climbing portion of my day with an ascent of the admittedly small peak between Giant and the pond known as Giants Washbowl.  I struggled with this choice briefly, deciding between this climb and continuing down to cross on the washbowl trail itself (where I would also be able to fill my water bottles).  Alas, the draw of more views, including some of the Giant itself proved too tempting.  This was a great decision.   

The nubble was only about .5 miles from the Ridge Trail, and the climbing was gentle.  I met more friendly hikers and shared the trail with them for this short section.  After a great little vista with views of Chapel Pond and its cliffs and the wash bowl, the trail continued up to the Nubble itself which has spectacular 360 degree views of Giant Mountain and the High Peaks Wilderness.  

Panorama from Nubble

Giant Mountain from the Nubble

Washbowl and Chapel Pond cliffs

Once I began the descent from the Nubble to the Roaring Brook Trail and then to my car, with nothing more to look forward to, my knees and legs began to really let me know how they felt about all the hiking I had done!  I still had nearly 2 miles to go, and my legs were not happy!  The descent to Roaring Brook is somewhat steeper than that to the Ridge Trail, which made for challenging hiking on tired legs.  

After a little less than a mile, I made it to roaring brook, refilled my water bottles (and drank from them generously) at a beautiful pool and then headed down to my car.  

The Giant Mountain wilderness is a spectacular area to which I will return!  I have been intrigued by Giant for years, in fact, before I had even moved to NY I had gotten this particular mountain in my head.  It lived up to every expectation that I had.  Even more than this trip though, I am excited by the possibilities for future hiking.  An excellent short hike with kids would be to park at Roaring Brook, see the falls in high water, and then head up to the Nubble, looping back by the wash bowl.  This would be about a 3.5 mile loop with only a little bit of tough climbing.  For those kids who want to be bagging high peaks, I recommend the Roaring Brook approach over the Ridge Trail.  While it is not as scenic, it is a gentler, if slightly longer, climb that I think will prove less exhausting for kids.  It also has no large rock slabs that would require little ones to be boosted!  Of course, if your kids are like one pair I saw on this trip, doing their 16th and 17th high peaks, of THE SUMMER, then by all means, the Ridge Trail may be for you.  

In case it hasn't been made clear, I highly recommend this small network of trails.  Some of the best trails I have been on in the Adirondacks.  Enjoy! Oh, and if you are heading back north afterwards, don't forget to stop at the Noonmark Diner for dinner and pie and Donnelly's Ice Cream in Saranac Lake for second dessert.  What, you've never heard of second dessert?  Well, I guess you just haven't been hiking hard enough then.   

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.