An account of a rare mid-week Adirondack hike, one meant to snag one of the relatively few sunny and clear days in the Adirondacks in the winter of 2013-2014.
My work-colleague and friend Chris Hatko had expressed an interest in climbing some new (new to him) Adirondack 46Rs during the winter. We had arrived on the idea of climbing Gothics - a very scenic peak that he'd never climbed. So, starting in January, we waited for a combination of a good forecast, good trail conditions (i.e. nice snow) and of hiker availability. Week after week, nothing aligned, all the way up to the end of March.
With winter's end rapidly approaching, we finally decided to take a vacation day from work and go on the next good forecast day - whenever it occurred. That day came on - perhaps somewhat whimsically - on April Fool's day.
Approaching Lower Great Range
April 1, 2014 was a Tuesday. Jenn happened to have Tuesdays as an off day, and so joined us. Under a calm and completely clear sky, we drove down through Keene Valley to the Garden trailhead. The higher peaks of the Adirondacks were nicely coated white, thanks to a fairly substantial snowfall from a few days before (on the weekend - as usual!).
The Garden parking lot was nearly deserted, with only one other car present. Not too surprising given it was mid-week during winter conditions. Such a beautiful day wasn't going to be enjoyed by very many people; guess we'd have to make up for that!
By 8 a.m., we were ready to head out. The main trail up Johns Brook had been well tracked out by many backcountry skiiers, and the below-freezing temperatures of the previous night resulted in a very firm surface. Therefore, we elected to bareboot this part.
After an hour and forty minutes of easy walking along the packed trail, we arrived at Johns Brook Lodge (closed for winter), where we noted how rapidly the crisp below-freezing morning was changing into a very warm spring day. After stopping for a snack break one of the lodge's picnic tables, we pondered the next phase of our hike.
Our overall plan was to summit Gothics via the Orebed Brook approach. This entails going up Orebed Brook to the col between Gothics and Saddleback Mountains, then hanging a left and following the crest of the Range Trail over the top of Gothics. I told Chris about the opportunity to include two more 46R peaks - Armstrong and Upper Wolfjaw - by continuing along the Range trail from Gothics and then back down via a different trail. He seemed keen to the idea, although he did note that the summit of Gothics, now clearly visible above the trees from our position at the lodge - still looked pretty far away.
Wolfjaws through the trees
The well-packed track split up into many directions at the lodge. Snowshoes were now definitely required as we made our way along a connector path across Johns Brook Valley to join with the Orebed Brook trail.
We stopped for a moment at the crossing of Orebed Brook itself. A well-defined set of backcountry ski and snowshoe tracks crossed our path here, heading up the frozen and snow-covered bed of the brook itself. On the far bank, the Orebed Brook trail had only a solitary set of tracks on it. We consulted our maps and thought about it for a moment: the Orebed Brook Trail closely parallels the brook; why didn't we just follow the more scenic and less strenous track in the brook rather than religiously staying on the trail? It made sense, and we theoretically wouldn't have any problem hopping back to the official trail should the tracks somehow veer away or stop. So, up the brook bed we went.
Our satisfication with this decision grew with each step we made up-stream. The wide bed of the brook was nicely filled in with a thick snowpack, with only the largest of boulders visible as rounded white humps. The ski/snowshoe track made the hiking easy. And it was very scenic - like walking in a long open forest glade.
Beautiful streambed travel
Beautiful streambed travel
We noticed huge piles of forest debris piled up along sections of Orebed Brook. These, I realized, must be remnants of the effects of Hurricane Irene, which hit the Adirondack region on August 21, 2011. The Hurricane caused a lot of damage in and around the Keene Valley area, and I'd heard that there had been many new landslides, including one that had come down and widened Orebed Brook. Ergo, it made sense that we were seeing these pockets of debris. Must be quite a mess during the summer season.
However, for us here on this beautiful winter day on top of a thick snowpack, the widened Orebed Brook was in fact quite beautiful. We were getting all sorts of wonderful and unique views up and downstream that we'd normally not get. Among them were intermittent views of the large and snow-plastered north face of Gothics, now very close and very high above us.
The grade of the brook increased, sometimes with little steeper steps, and we gradually curved towards the Gothics-Saddleback col. At times we could see how the backcountry skiiers had made telemark turns in the fresh snow of the now-wider brook. Looked like they had a lot of fun!
Backcountry skiing wonderland