Sunday, March 6, 2011

Winter Peaks: Armstrong and Upper Wolf Jaw

The morning began with a drive through sleet and snow to the parking lot at the Ausable Club. We geared up and were on the 0.9 mile road to the gate a little after 7am. We signed the book at 7:20 checked out the map at the gate house, and chatted with the ranger for a bit about our plans for the day, which were initially Gothics and Armstrong, possibly the Wolfjaws. We walked the dreaded Lake Road past the Reservoir and took a right at 1.8 miles passed the gate. After about a half mile we turned left onto the East River Trail for a short distance before going right, over the bridge and crossing the West River Trail at the foot of the frozen Beaver Meadows Falls.

Along the Beaver Meadow Trail we encountered some steep parts requiring a couple snowshoe stomps with each step to get the crampons to hold. There were a few snow covered ladders for assistance in some areas. The wind picked up and snow drifts covered the tracks of previous hikers making it difficult to tell where the trail was between markers. The worst part of the day was where the trail narrows along the shoulder of Armstrong. We slowly sidestepped on our toes with our heels overhanging the side of the ridge. One slip would have sent us down a steep incline about 20 feet to some trees, hopefully, because beyond those trees was a void. With nothing to grab onto we had to rely solely on the toe crampons and balance, making sure one foot was secure before moving the other. An inappropriate place to have a panic attack, I must say. Thank you MSR Lightning Ascents, you worth every penny!

After getting past that we knew we were not going to go back down that way. The trail splits to Gothics one way and Armstrong the other, at about 3 miles from Lake Road. At this point it started snowing harder and the wind was howling. We were on about 5-6 feet of snow, and many of the trail markers on the trees were only an inch above the ground at this point, some probably buried in the snow. Since we needed to find another way down, we decided to skip Gothics, go over to Armstrong, grab Upper Wolf Jaw by default on the ADK Range Trail and decide later if we were going to try Lower Wolf Jaw.

We reached the summit of Armstrong at about 0.45 miles from the split. The fierce wind was painful and there was no view beyond the edge of the rock, but it felt good to be on a summit. After a couple photos we ducked back into the trees and headed onwards to Upper Wolf Jaw.

I was actually surprised to see how quickly we hit the summit. It was about 0.8 miles from Armstrong but a relatively easy climb. The wind on Upper Wolf Jaw made off with my left extra glove, forcing me to put my wet first pair back on before we made our way down.

We found ourselves wondering if we were going the right way a couple times, the snow drifts covering the trail which was no longer broken. A few butt slides, some accidental and some on purpose, we eventually found ourselves at the junction where the ADK Range Trail beaks towards John Brooks Lodge and the Wedge Brook Trail takes you to the West River Trail and eventually to Lake Road. By now the snow had changed to steady rain and we were pretty soaked. Lower Wolf Jaw would be saved for another day, we were tired, wet, and done for the day. From this point it was 3.6 miles to Lake Road, another one mile to the Gate and less than a mile from there to the car. On the West River Trail, we encountered a group that had spent the day hiking Lower Wolf Jaw, the eldest member just turned 70!

Our total distance was a little over 13 miles before we got back to the car just before 4pm. There were only a few cars in the lot, because really, it was not a good day for hiking.

All the pictures can be seen here.

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