The view from the top of the western sub-summit is quite excellent. Atop it, one is positioned very favorably to take in virtually all of the Adirondack High Peaks, and in particular, there are relatively close-up views of the highest peaks of the range - Basin, Haystack, and Marcy - to the west. A high overcast was starting to come in from the west, dimming the strength of the mid-day sun but also casting a flatter, more monochrome light across the landscape. It did not, however, diminish the grandeur of the view.
Immediately to the east, separated from us by a very shallow scrub-filled col, was the gleaming white crest of Gothics. Although it looked far away, I knew from past experience that it was an easy walk from where we were.
Perhaps fifteen minutes later, we re-emerged from the scrub onto the open snow slopes of the summit crest. There was very little to no wind and the temperature, even with the now semi-overcast skies, was quite mild. After a few congratulatory summit shots (46R peak #6 for Mr. Hatko), we ducked over the crest on the eastern side, in the lee of the very light breeze. Time for lunch - a quick lunch - for time was marching on and 3pm was not far away.
After lunch, we had an important decision to make. We had achieved our primary goal - climbing Gothics - and we could either retrace our steps back the way we came, or continue on along the range trail, over its many bumps (including the summits of Armstrong and Upper Wolfjaw), forming a loop. I told Chris that returning the way we had come was possibly easier, but longer. The way forward was somewhat more uncertain (in terms of whether or not the trail was broken out or not, etc), but would offer a shorter distance and the prize of two more 46R peaks. Although feeling somewhat tired, Chris chose the latter. Onwards, then!
Checking out the descent
In winter, with a full snow-pack, the eastern ridge of Gothics offers a pleasant alpine experience: an aesthetic open snow ridge. This was in full form today, and it was great to clomp down the ridgecrest with open air on either side and the expanse of the Eastern Adirondacks, all the way to Vermont, before us. In summer, this section of trail is actually completely within scrub forest, and you don't get any views at all. Late winter is the time to do this section!
The nice open ridgecrest section was over all too soon, and we were back in the trees. The trail was hard to discern: many of the trail markers were buried under the deep snowpack, and with no tracks to follow, it was often not obvious which way to go. A bit of intuition and exploration kept us on course, though, and soon we were at the base of the shallow col between Gothics and neighboring Armstrong.
I explained to Chris my thoughts regarding Armstrong Mountain - one of what I like to call the "fake" 46Rs - owing to its obviously too-shallow prominence relative to Gothics (the Gothics-Armstrong lowpoint is at most 100 feet in depth, well below the official 300 foot requirement). Still, it was on the books as an official 46R - and soon to be number 7 for Chris.
Also at the col between Armstrong and Gothics, specifically at the junction with one of the trails leading down into the Ausable River Valley, we encountered a pleasant surprise: a solitary set of snowshoe tracks came from the direction of Armstrong Mountain and continued down towards the valley. This was good news for us: it meant that for the next while - in fact, all the way to the Upper Wolfjaw-Lower Wolfjaw col - we'd have a track to follow. With many buried trail markers, having a track - even a single person's track - was very useful. It meant one can turn off one's route-finding brain circuit, which usually leads to faster speeds and definitely requires less focused attention.
A few minor ups and downs and pushing through many slushy branches (getting us all quite wet in the process) got us to the summit ledge of Armstrong Mountain. Even though the peak itself is relatively nondescript, the ledge does provide an excellent vantage point back to Gothics and to the highest peaks of the Great Range. Congrats, Chris, on your number 7!
The trail over the crest of the Great Range (the trail we were following) is often rugged: many of the peaks and bumps along the ridge have sharp gradients; and one such sharp slope presented itself on the other side of Armstrong: a steep and somewhat tricky descent down soft snow. There were enough open spots on this steep descent to require the exercise of caution, for a slip would likely result in considerable speed buildup before impacting some sturdy tree trunks. Careful stepping and the judicious application of tree branch-holding saw us all make it down without incident.
We arrived at the summit of Upper Wolfjaw, Chris' eighth 46R peak, at about 4:40pm. The overcast had thickened appreciably, and now the sun was only a wan bright dot starting to descend through the western sky. We'd now had pretty much enough of the tiring trek across the soft wet snow conditions of the ridgeline, and were looking forward to getting to the next major col and starting our way back down into Johns Brook Valley.