Today was a first – first time just Hiking Buddy and I hit the trail, without men or children. This hike wasn’t even in our 2010 summer itinerary earlier in the year, but after we hiked Sawteeth and the kids went on to do these two, we added it to the list. Conditions were perfect – a clear blue sky and temperatures in the 60-70 degree range – when we left the Ausable Club/St. Hubert’s parking lot on Route 73 at 6:35 a.m. We took it as a good day for nature when a small deer greeted us at the sign-in hut just before the AMR gate. And just afterwards, while walking on the Lake Road, a hawk flew overhead from tree to tree, seemingly leading us on our way. The Ausable Club is a very exclusive, very private club that allows hikers access to various High Peak trailheads. For more information about the Club, see the trip report for Colvin and Blake.
It took us an hour from the sign-in to the dam at Lower Ausable Lake. In another 20 minutes we were at the top of Rainbow Falls. Note – there is a sign for Rainbow Falls earlier, but if you take this right, I believe you’ll only end up at the bottom of the falls and you’ll have to backtrack to the trail. We didn’t go this way, so I can’t say for sure whether it’s worth it. But I can tell you the view of the falls from the top is pretty nice. If you catch it at the right time of day, you might even be lucky enough to see a rainbow.
Less than 3 hours after leaving the parking lot, we reached the col between Sawteeth and Pyramid. We opted to hike this way, rather than a more direct route to Gothics, because our hiking kids who had done this route previously reported that Pyramid had one of the best views in the Adirondacks. We wanted to see if we agreed. We took a 10 minute break at the col and began the hike up Pyramid. Initially it was a steady climb, much like the rest of the Weld trail. But as we gained in elevation, we were faced with more rock climbing. There was one slide in particular that we approached from the side and had to hug the left side for about 15 to 20 feet until we were back in the trees. Don’t turn around until you finish the climb, or you’ll see that there’s nothing over the far side of the rock or the bottom behind you. At least it didn’t appear there was anything there but air and we didn’t feel like going back to confirm that observation. After a bit more climbing, we reached the summit at 10:35.
The summit is partially obscured until you’re actually on it, and the view really does take your breath away. I don’t think any pictures on here will do it justice, so you’ll just have to climb it for yourself. Almost every guide book I’ve read about a hike with a view will say, “A great view of…” or “One of the best views in the Adirondacks…” but this is truly tough to beat. A panoramic camera would come in very handy here. Looking off the summit to the left, you can see Colvin and Blake over the Ausable Lakes. Directly ahead is Haystack with the tip of Skylight visible. Right up close are the slides of Basin, with Marcy just behind (parts of Haystack and Basin are visible to the right in the above picture). To the right of Basin is Saddleback and then Gothics to the right of that. We met a guy from Maryland who was hiking alone and planning to do 8 peaks this day! He was obviously in great shape. He told us it took him 7 minutes to get to Pyramid from Gothics, despite the fact that it doesn’t look that close. So for fun we decided to time ourselves. The photo below is looking over to Gothics. Just to the left of that stick is a thin white line which is the trail. All the way to the left of this shot is the first hump of Saddleback.
We left Pyramid’s summit at 11 but as soon as we started, I already slowed us up by stopping to take pictures! That's ok, who wants to hike 8 peaks in one day anyway?! It's about the journey. And when you look off the back side of Pyramid, you have great views of Giant and Rocky Peak Ridge, (as seen in the shot to the right - Giant has the slides; RPR is to the right of it), not to mention the back side of Gothics and Armstrong. After a few minutes of picture taking, we came upon a pretty good section of rock that required us to do some butt sliding. The hike up Gothics was short and steep, with a bit of “non-technical” rock climbing – meaning hands and feet were needed, as well as an occasional boost or grab to get up. We thought we were at the summit at 11:30 so we stopped, took pictures and chatted with a woman who was hiking solo. As it turned out, we remembered seeing her on Rocky Peak Ridge the week prior. She was very interesting and put us to shame as she had hiked all 46 High Peaks in every season. After about 15 minutes, we started hiking again and 5 minutes later came to the TRUE summit of Gothics! We never took our picture here because we had taken it earlier. This was a great spot – gorgeous views of Lake Placid, Whiteface and toward the MacIntyre Range. At 12:05 we left Gothics for our next destination: Armstrong.
On the one mile trip over to Armstrong, we were passed by a young guy who was like a gazelle, hopping from rock to rock, nearly running on the trail. Before we were even halfway there, he was on his way back. Before I could stop myself, I blurted out, “Are you KIDDING me??” He looked up and we started laughing. Here we were, tentatively taking each step, and Mr. Gazelle had already summited Armstrong and was coming back. If I only had a time machine…
After 25 minutes we reached the col where a sign read "Armstrong .45”. That last .45 took us about 20 minutes. There was a group of guys at the summit who took our photo before heading over to the Wolf Jaws. We ate some lunch and were soon joined by a man and his teenage daughter from Vermont. They climbed Armstrong from Gothics via the Orebed Trail from the Johns Brook Lodge and were returning that way. They were one of the only other groups we met that day who, like us, were “only” doing 2 peaks (if we don’t count Pyramid, which is technically not a High Peak).
The view from Armstrong above is looking back at Gothics and Pyramid (to the left). With the big lens on my camera we could actually see specks (people) on top of Marcy (the farthest peak to the right in the above photo - can't see the people in this shot). We left the summit of our 21st High Peak at 1:17 pm. There were some big sections of rock to be negotiated (although Mr. Gazelle probably leapt over them). We reached the col in about 25 minutes and noticed the sign that said “St. Hubert’s Route 73 – 5 mi”. Piece of cake, right?! The only thing that was making me nervous was I had heard about the rock, steepness and ladders involved in the upper part of this descent. A woman we had met descending Gothics said the Beaver Meadows trail (which is where we were headed) was one of her least favorite sections of trail. Another couple we met between Gothics and Armstrong said the Armstrong trail was “gnarly”. I always thought hikers were supposed to tell little white lies, like, “It’s not so bad (once you’re done)” or something like that. Anyway, what choice did we have now?
There was definitely a lot of rock. And if you have a fear of heights, there are a few spots that can be intimidating on this descent. Occasionally, sections of the trail were not more than 12 to 18 inches wide, with a drop of several hundred feet of cliff/rock to the side. As Hiking Buddy said in a very understated way, “no room for error”. We also came to 3 successive ladders which we had to climb UP. This was strange since we were descending the mountain. The first two weren’t bad. At the third ladder, I had a minor meltdown. The top “rung” was quite a step from the ledge, with nothing much to grab to get off it. The ledge was not very wide, so it wasn’t possible to just vault myself over the top step and land on terra firma. And it was a long way down behind me. Hiking Buddy talked me through it – which was good, because the longer I stayed on that rung, the harder it was becoming to push myself up that last step.
Other than more rock and some butt sliding, the trail kept on fairly uneventfully. There was a section that seemed like a dry stream bed and was mostly loose rock, which is really annoying and makes for challenging footing. We came to one last ladder (see photo at right) – about 20 feet high – that we actually did have to climb down. It wasn’t scary though. It was right next to Beaver Meadow Falls, which was a beautiful spot. We stayed here from 3:25 to 3:35. When we saw the split for the East River Trail or Lake Road, we opted for the ERT since we had taken the road last time. If you really want scenic and you haven’t had enough of hilly, rocky, narrow trails, by all means take the ERT. However, if you’re tired and really just want to be done with this hike, I’d suggest taking the Lake Road. We signed out at 4:45 and were back at the car 15 minutes later. Overall, it was a great day for MOM – Mothers on the Mountains.
Our total hike for the day was about 13.4 miles, up the 10th (Gothics) and 22nd of the High Peaks. Gothics is 4,736 feet and Armstrong stands at 4,400 feet. Gothics was so named because the slides on its side supposedly make it look like Gothic architecture. I don't see it. Armstrong was named for Thomas Armstrong, a Plattsburgh lumberman who bought the parcel of land that included this peak in 1866. He and his partners eventually sold it to the Adirondack Mountain Reserve in 1887.