The bright idea for today was a horshoe-like traverse of the Wolfjaws, starting at the Garden and ending at the Roostercomb trailhead on route 73. We'd bumped the hike from Saturday to Sunday in order to avoid a particularly cold and windy day. Along on today's hike: Myself, Jennifer, Pu, and Ewart. We drove down in two cars, leaving Ewart's at the Rte 73 trailhead, and then climbing into Jenn's little Echo hatchback and driving up to the Garden Trailhead.
I think there is something about traverses that brings out the "forgetfulness" aspect in people. Sometimes keys, sometimes gear, and sometimes.... cards. As in, memory cards. As in, memory cards for cameras. Digital cameras. Getting the idea yet? Yep, This time the thing that was forgotton was my memory card for my digital camera. You'll notice a dearth of pictures on this one! Ewart had two or three pictures left in his old film camera, and offered to let me use them. Still, frustrating! (you'll notice I've tried to fill things in with some pictures of the Wolfjaws I've taken from other peaks recently).
Setting out at a reasonably brisk clip, we quickly covered the easy ground from the Garden trailhead to Johns Brook Lodge. A volunteer-staffed "warming hut" was open, and we stepped in to a nice warm cup of water and/or tea. I didn't know there was such a facility here in the high peaks during the winter.
From the hut (which is right next to Johns Brook Lodge) we then headed towards the col between the Wolfjaws, crossing both Johns Brook and Orebed brook. There was very little snow below 3000-feet, but lots of ice from recent freeze-thaws - yaktrax were very useful. We covered the climb from the valley to the col in pretty short order. The trail is not that rugged or steep up to the col.
From the col is where things start to get steep! our first stop was Upper wolfjaw, so we turned right and headed up. It gets steep very quickly, and the trail today was covered in extensive ice on these steep parts. Pu, Jenn and I switched to crampons. Ewart had chosen not to bring his, and, upon seeing the condition of the trail, realized that he couldn't reasonably make it without them. He decided to turn back and try Lower Wolfjaw on his own, and would meet us at the junction at the col later.
Pu, Jenn and I made our way up the steep section and then over an intermediate bump and to the summit of Upper Wolfjaw, where a bit of bright sun shone on us (it had been flurries and generally bright but obscured conditions all day). I took one of the precious pictures from Ewart's ancient camera on the summit - proof that we'd made a winter ascent of Upper Wolfjaw.
The way back down to the col was quick - even so, I figured Ewart would have been waiting for us for a while. As it turns out, he arrived back at the col about the same time as us, reporting that he was turned back from the summit of Lower Wolfjaw as well. A disappointing day for Ewart! We had wanted to do this hike as a traverse, so we decided to split up at this point. Ewart would head back down the way we came up to the Garden trailhead, and we'd continue up, over Lower Wolfjaw, and then down over range trail all the way to route 73. It _seemed_ on the map like it could take about the same amount of time, but in retrospect, that was wishful thinking on my part!
After splitting ways with Ewart, we climbed up the steep trail to Lower Wolfjaw using our crampons, where we quickly wolfed down lunch. (We didn't want to stay too long at the summit - we needed to make good time on the trail down to the highway).
As it turned out, the trail hadn't even been broken recently past the summit of Lower Wolfjaw (probably a bad sign). Because of the alternating steep and not-steep sections of trail, and because of the iciness of certain parts and snowiness of other parts, we were forced to switch back and forth between crampons and snowshoes a couple of times, slowing us down. Lower down, in the 3000-to-3700 foot range (what I like to call the "crap zone"), there was a fair bit of blowdown (although not as bad as our recent trips to Dial mountain and Porter mountain). This, combined with no broken path, really slowed us down.
Eventually, as the light of day started to wane, we saw the impressive cliff faces of Roostercomb ahead. This marked the start of the more open and much faster path down to the highway. Soon both our crampons and snowshoes were off and we were able to really zoom down the trail. It was now well past 5:30, and I was a bit worried about Ewart down below, probably wondering where the hell we were. Finally, at 6pm, we emerged at the Roostercomb trailhead, where Ewart was dutifully waiting for us. He had made it back down to the Garden trailhead a full two hours before us. Ugh! Well, now we know definitively which way is faster! This hike was tougher than its less-than-20km length would have you believe!
Interactive trackmap - click map to expand
* : +/- 75 feet
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* : +/- 75 feet