Adirondack Great Range Traverse

In an older backpacking magazine article New York's "Great Range Traverse" was nominated as one of the hardest day hikes in America. After successful reconnaissance of the trail I can say without a doubt, they ain't shitting us. Make no mistake, this hike will rough you up and you'd better bring some water.

One of my friends who lives in NY has a large and close family and as such when they get together they throw a mean BBQ. Needless to say when the offer came through to spend some time with the gents of the family up in a camp house along a lake in the Adirondack's, I jumped on it. I searched around for a decently sized trail run that could make for a fun Saturday adventure and stumbled on the FKT boards, with the FKT of the Great Range Traverse being around 6 hours. The stats seemed to be similar to a Presidential Traverse (which doesn't really mean much I guess) so I figured a 8-10 hour day should be doable. I purchased an ADK map for the high peaks region and did some planning.

The Adirondacks have been a main stay in my youth, but only as background scenery when my family would spend many a summer in Lake George. I was excited to get back to the region and leave some blood in the woods of my youth with the hobby that has felt like home. So after fighting some Friday traffic in Boston I was en route to my home state.

That night at the camp was a grand time and I didn't drink......much. I spent the night sleeping on the beach in my tent and awoke naturally to the sounds of birds, gentle lapping of the lake, and brilliant sun. A short drive later I had arrived at the Rooster Comb trail head.

Rooster Comb Trailhead
The traverse starts from Rooster Comb and climbs into the mountains where you travel along ridges (with a couple spurs for summits) until you arrive at Mt. Marcy. From there it's a gentle decline all the way to a different trail head (Gardens) that isn't far from Rooster Comb. The traverse is popular it seems, as most people I talked to on the trail were out doing the same thing.

The initial trails were pretty well buffed out and slightly steep. My though process throughout the day centered a lot on how and if I would recommend the run to my friends. This section was definitely in the "fun and runnable" category. After nothing too technical I bounced up the spur to the summit, running into the first set of hikers I'd seen all day. Coincidentally enough one of them was wearing a Western States 100 shirt and we talked about who our picks for the day would be.

Smooth Trails!
Handsome Rocks!
From the summit on Rooster Comb some of the climbs of the day were laid out before me with the exception of Haystack and a few others which were hidden from view. The traverse tags 11 peaks in total including Mt. Marcy. The relative diminutive stature of Rooster Comb made the other big brother mountains seem imposing.

Marcy at far right
The trip down Rooster and the climb to the Hedgehogs began to peel away the veneer of runnable terrain to expose the nature of the Adirondacks - Wet rock, mud, overgrown foliage, boulder scrambling, fun. The trail transitioned from soft pine single track with no rocks to cussing and fighting climbs in a very bi-polar fashion.

That is in fact the trail

I caught up to the duo with the Western States shirt and fell in behind them to chat for a bit. Where I caught them is an important point, they were filling their bottles in the stream. Lacking the extreme luxury of a cushy AMC Hut along the route, there were few places for reliable water. I had read about one about 10 miles in (At the bottom of Basin and Haystack) that ended up being a good source, but it took me almost 6 hours to get there which got a bit hairy. I was carrying the 2L Ultimate direction bladder, two Salomon 17oz flasks and a 22oz ultimate direction bottle. Given the heat and humidity I was tapped when I hit the refill point. At this point in the run I had plenty and the stream they were in looked a little suspect.

We ended up talking for a good 30 mins or so while I hiked behind them. Somewhere around the climb to the Wolfjaws I left the guys behind and had a ball scrambling up more rocks. I'd say there were definitely some non trivial bouldering moves. Granted, I've never taken a climbing class, but I was jamming my feet in cracks and sidepulling (I think that's the name of the technique?) to get up. I think I missed one of the Wolfjaws as the trail had yet to really top tree line and some summits were simply a small path with an overlook barely big enough for two people.

3 hours or so in I was on top of Armstrong which was a more exposed summit and I was able to really view the rest of the ridge line. Mt. Marcy was a naked rock topped beacon amidst the rolling green landscape of pines and hardwoods. The last climb of the day didn't seem too far off and my spirits were still high. The Gothics were next and I noticed the features that give them their name, large rock slides that stripped trees and left long wounds of bare rock. If the forest is considered to be one big organism the vacant space looks as a scar that will never heal. It gives the mountain a stormy vibe very unlike the gradual vegetation thinning that most mountains experience.

Marcy farthest center, Gothics directly ahead of me, Haystack ahead and to the left
The mix of runnable and not runnable continued on and off. There are some rather technical descents down slabs somewhere in the Gothic/Saddleback/Basin region. As I down climbed a boulder using the handy sidepull/foot jamming technique I decided I wouldn't recommend this traverse to anyone unless they fully understood the amount of hiking they'd be doing. A section near Gothics is actually roped which helped as I repelled down the exposed slab.

My mood was crashing as I got more dehydrated and as I sat to rest before heading down Basin I was fighting nausea. I saw a hiker in full Salomon gear and assumed he was training for Hardrock or UTMB. The mountain is one of the largest near some Canadian cities and I met some folks from up north this way. The view from Basin makes Marcy and Haystack seem far away and the dip between the two looks very exaggerated. Since both are spurs off the traverse I weighed skipping one of them.

Haystacks Left, Marcy Right, The valley in between the two is part of the way home

As predicted a small stream was flowing at the bottom of Basin and I refilled and doused myself in icy water as it immediately left the earth. It did nothing to refresh me and I slogged on up the Haystacks. I wore my new cowboyish hat and most people greeted me with a "Howdy" because of it. I ran into a much more authentic looking individual in a real deal Stetson and gave him an all knowing nod. The top of Haystack gives yet another intimidating view as the valley between Haystack and Marcy is a good 1200 feet down. A small bump connects the two along the trail and still requires descending over 500 feet down and then nearly a thousand up to the peak of Marcy.

Up Haystack
Marcy from Haystack
8 hours, 13 miles and nearly 9500 feet of climbing later I arrived at the top of Marcy. At some point I had put my hair up and the back of my neck was burnt to a crisp, the sun was starting to poison me. I sat for awhile in the gentle breeze at the summit considering how stacked the first part of the journey was. A little stunned I still had 10 miles to go I shoved down what food I could and got into a groove for the briefest of moments on the way down. I had read that the gradual descent into the valley and back to the trail head was mostly runnable, but that really doesn't start till 4-5 miles into your descent. Those 4-5 miles are running down an old stream bed (which could make a good refill point, even if you wanted to add some mileage and hit it before the Haystack/Marcy spurs). Eventually you are running in what becomes a pretty big river and it was refreshing to dunk myself in a few times.

Just a few more miles of this..... till you run in the river it feeds into
Weird color corrected Marcy
When the trail eases into runnable terrain it takes you past some tent camping spots (hike in only) and a lodge your can stay at (and refill at). I was in a better mood. A dog tried to bite me. I finally hit the parking lot.

The traverse ends at Garden which is down the street from the Rooster Comb trail head so I ran around a bit looking for the main road I was parked on. At one point I found a sign for an old closed trail that had connected the two points. I imagined land disputes forcing the trail out onto the road. Doing nothing to allay my daydreaming a local resident grilled me about where I was coming from and trying to go to when I asked for directions. She thanked me after I gave her the info and I imagine she'll go have some words with the parks people.

Staggering into the parking lot I fumbled around in my car for a carton of dried apricots I had stashed in there. Spilling most of them on the ground as I removed them from the car I nearly lost my shit. After staring at them rolling around in mud for a bit I sat in the car with the air conditioner running and nibbled on the few that survived the fall.

I awoke the next morning to find my upper body decidedly sore and my arms and legs covered in welts, bruises, poison ivy, bug bites, sunburn and scratches. I wouldn't expect anything less from the Adirondack's and limped around the rest of the day with a shit eating grin on my face. I like the idea of gruffness. The personality of the mountains is abrasive and isolated but in it you find the welcoming glow of accomplishment. Views at the top invite you to bond intimately with the mess of tangled life and geology that guards its shoulders.

I wore a brand new pair of TrailRoc 245s, without socks. Besides a few rubbing points they performed dutifully. This marks only the second time I've re-purchased the same model of shoe. Couldn't be happier with how they perform, grip, and protect my feet from damage underneath. Banged my arches on a few rocks but that is bound to happen.

2 other pieces of new gear, the aforementioned hat (Hat)  and a really nifty bag to hold my DSLR while running (Camera Bag). The bag also performed awesomely, and the camera didn't bounce at all. It was super easy to get in/out of and I even stored some running supplies in the pockets. Great compliment to my Salomon pack. Mostly purchased because it was cheaper than buying a new point and shoot.

This trip will probably do little to prepare me for how fast VT100 can be. Hopefully amidst a couple more Whites excursion and possibly a backpacking trip I can fit in some road miles. Not too worried about it though. I've been mulling over some experimentation with body composition changes as my next fitness goal.

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