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Winter of 2024 had arrived, and it was time to resume helping my friend Brian on his quest to complete his Adirondack Winter 46R list.

The beginning of the winter of 2023-2024 was wet and warm, with less than ideal trail conditions. Fortunately, a cold snap and a few dumps of snow improved matters, and Brian and I consulted on how to best resume his quest. We ended up choosing Lower Wolfjaw - the lowest and most easterly peak along the Great Range of the Central High Peaks. We had considered doing this peak on the last winter outing of 2023 (Upper Wolfjaw, Armstrong, Gothics), but had decided it would have been a bit too much to bite off for one winter day's outing. So, what better way to kick off the 2024 winter season than with the completion of the last 4000-footer peak Brian has to climb along the lower Great Range...?
Lower Wolfjaw
If done by itself, Lower Wolfjaw is often tackled by a there-and-back either from the Garden Trailhead (17.5km/11 miles), or from the AMR hiker parking lot (15km/9 miles). Being someone who likes loops, I figured it might be nice to utilize some lesser-travelled trails and trailheads and do it as a loop, starting and ending at a highway-side trailhead at Deer Brook along route 73. It looked to me like it would be as short or even shorter than either of those, and offer the variety that only a loop can provide.

Gino elected to join us for this first hiking adventure of 2024, and we were glad to have him. We didn't know what the snow or trail conditions would be like, and it always good to have extra bodies that can help with trail breaking during the winter. And of course for his witty banter, too.
Wider pullout on 73
Now, there's hiker parking along Route 73 directly opposite the Deer Brook trailhead, but when we arrived, the snow clearing was such that the slightly wider area along the road hadn't been cleared out. Rather than try and squish the CR-V against the snowbank with an unsafe separation from the highway, we elected to park a few hundred yards to the north, where a large parking area was fully cleared out (on the west side of the road). It would mean a few extra hundred yards of hiking in each direction, but was a much safer place to park.

The morning was crystal clear. Clear and cold. We had seen a few gusts of wind and blowing snow near Marcy Field, and wondered if things were going to be especially harsh up above 4,000 feet. Bathed in brilliant sunlight, we got ourselves ready and then started walking south along Route 73.
Past the Snow Goose
Deer Brook Trailhead
St Huberts
All Souls Church
The first part of our novel loop was to walk south along the shoulder of Route 73, with the aim of reaching the main hiker trailhead on the AMR's Lake Road. Along the way, we elected to depart the highway and walk along St Huberts Road. This little side road parallels the highway and is where most of the buildings and houses that comprise the tiny hamlet of St Huberts are located. I'd never actually walked or driven along this little side road, despite having visited this part of Keene Valley for literally decades. Cute little corner of the valley.

Immediately after St Huberts, the road merged back with Route 73, we reached the junction with Ausable Road - one of the two main roads leading into the lands of the privately-held Adirondack Mountain Reserve (AMR). We started to gain some altitude as we hiked up Ausable Road, and soon we reached the open golf course area and the rustic, historic AMR Clubhouse building.
courtesy BConnell
Up Ausable Road
Reaching AMR Clubhouse
AMR hiker kiosk
Soon after the clubhouse, we turned onto Lake Road (the main road leading up the valley of the East Branch of the Ausable River), and in a few moments, we arrived at the main gate and hiker kiosk, where we signed for the day. I marked 'loop' in the space for "time exited" since we were not going to be coming back this way at the end of the day.

Our next objective was to get to the start of the ascent trail leading up to the col between Lower and Upper Wolfjaw Mountains. There are a network of small trails in the valley bottom here, and there are several ways to get to that ascent trail from Lake Road. We elected to branch off from the road along a minor trail known as "Ladies' Mile". The snow depth was only about eight-ish inches, and the trail was broken out with bare-boot tracks. Still, after a hundred or so yards, we felt it would be better to start wearing snowshoes, so we stopped to put them on. Several of the rubber straps on the older of the two bindings on my Lightning Ascent snowshoes promptly snapped (I guess they'd finally reached their best-before date). Fortunately, I was able to borrow a strap from Gino's fresher snowshoes and was able to cobble together a minimal but workable solution. I made a note to raid my spare parts bin and to order a few spare straps when I got back home.
courtesy BConnell
Space for more
Ladies' Mile
Thin snowpack
Soon our travel along the Ladies' Mile brought us to the banks of the East Branch of the Ausable River, where we turned onto an unbroken East River Trail. The snowpack was still very minimal and it was no hindrance to fast travel. Literally in a few minutes we came to one of the many footbridges that cross the river in this area.
Crossing the East Br. Ausable R
West River Trail
Special Easement Markers
After crossing the narrow but otherwise sturdy bridge, we turned west along the West River Trail. The going was easy and it was not hard to follow the bright yellow ATIS AMR Easement trail markers. The trail was often within close proximity to the East Branch of the Ausable River, allowing us to see the mix of open, slushy, icy, and snowed-over sections of the river's course. No doubt the initial warmth and rain of the winter season had led to the amount of open water we were seeing. It was quite pleasant in the forest along here - bright sun, no wind, and easy walking conditions.

The trail periodically climbed up along with the rising terrain as we headed up-valley - although nothing extensive or overly steep. In thirty minutes we came to the next side trail coming in from Lake Road. Clearly most people had chosen this option, as a solidly packed-out track came from that direction and continued on westward along the West River Trail. We ourselves merged onto that track, staying on the West River trail west-bound, continuing to gradually climb up-valley.
courtesy BConnell
Nice riverside walk
Another West River Junction
Can this replace the Hawaii shot?
courtesy BConnell
Wedge Brook Crossing
Crossing Wedge Brook
Trail to the Wolfjaws
Another forty-five minutes of easy riverside hiking brought us to the junction with the Wedge Brook Trail - the trail leading up to the Wolfjaws. Here we'd be heading upwards, climbing to the Lower Wolfjaw-Upper Wolfjaw Col, at about 3750 feet, and from there another 400 or so feet to the summit of Lower Wolfjaw.

We girded ourselves for a steeper, tougher climb and began our ascent.
A tasty sign
Great Range now visible
Lower Wolfjaw Looms
The first part of the ascent up the Wedge Brook Trail to the col was actually fairly easy (and again, well-packed out). The trail follows the bottom of a deep valley that heads up against Lower Wolfjaw itself, and the grade in the bottom of that valley is fairly moderate. Apart from making this initial part go by fairly quickly, it also meant that (especially through the leafless forest) we had the pleasure of viewing the massive and steep headwall of Lower Wolfjaw itself, rising nearly 1400 feet above the head of the valley.

The trail presently turned to the left and began making a serious effort to rise up to the col. Soon we entered the land of firs and pines. Instead of an open, airy forest, we were now in a closed-in snowscape of densely covered trees. The solidly packed-out trail made for great footing, and although steep, it was fairly straightforward to gain elevation fast.
Startiing steep section
Some limited views
Beautiful snowscape
At about the 3750 foot mark, as we were nearing the Upper-Lower Wolfjaws col, we came to junction with a shortcut leading more directly to Lower Wolfjaw. Not seeing any particular reason to go fully to the col, we elected to take this shortcut (not taking the shortcut would have simply meant going a little farther into the bottom of the col and then taking a hard right back towards Lower Wolfjaw). Probably this shortcut saves about 200 yards of distance.
Shortcut junction
Starting final ascent
Brian and Dix
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