Moms on the Mountains

High Peaks trip reports for the Adirondacks of New York State.

#22 Lower Wolf Jaw 5/14/11


The forecast was not promising for our first hike of 2011.  However, we decided to chance it.  And so it was that Hiking Buddy, her son, her sister and I set off from the St. Hubert’s/Ausable Club parking lot under cloudy skies at 7:05 a.m. for Lower Wolf Jaw, a peak that's 4,175 feet.  The most notable thing about the morning initially was that the outhouse has been removed from the parking lot.  We don’t know if this is a permanent or temporary situation, but one that did not make us happy.


We reached the guard shack within 15 minutes and were planning to take the W.A. White trail from here.  However, the second notable thing about the morning was that a sign by the property map said this trail was closed as the first footbridge was washed away due to the recent flooding.  Plan B was to hike up the Lake Road about a mile, cross the footbridge on the right that indicated the way to the Wolf Jaws.  We had taken this route last October when we finished the hiking season with Upper Wolf Jaw.  This route is 4.2 miles to the summit via the Wedgebrook Trail.  The White trail is 5.1 miles, but is described as a more moderate climb.  I guess moderate wasn’t in the plan for this day.


We crossed the first bridge off the Lake Road at 7:40 and five minutes later we crossed the Canyon Bridge.  The Ausable was really moving after all the rain.  By 8:20 we reached the Wedgebrook falls footbridge and took a five minute water break.  The 200 yards up along the cascade of falls is fairly steep.  The steepness continued even as the trail curled away from the brook.


Next we came to a long period of flat to very moderate climbing, which gave us a chance to catch our breath and chat!  When you see some big boulders on the left and steep cliffs on the right (which might not be visible when the trees are all thick in summer), the climbing starts again.


At 10:10 we arrived at the fork which leads to Upper Wolf Jaw (left) or Lower (right).  It was at this point that we saw the first significant amount of snow on the trail.  Hiking Buddy’s son had gone ahead and called back on a walkie talkie to tell us there was more snow and ice ahead.  The ladies stopped here because we were hungry and needed some nourishment.  We ate our first sandwiches, popped a few photos and were on our way after 20 minutes.  It took us 45 minutes to finish the less than a mile trek from the junction to the summit.  It was mostly moderate to steep climbing.


There isn’t much of a view from the summit, and not just because the day was grey and cloudy.  If you make your way behind a large boulder, there is a short side trail which offers a bit of a view but unless we missed something, this was about it.  As we ate our food and rested our legs for a bit, we noticed a sign that indicated it was 5.1 miles to the parking lot if we went down the other way.  We checked the ADK guidebook and decided if just that first footbridge was out, we would still be able to make it all the way down on the W.A. White trail and then hike out on a different trail at the very end.  So that’s what we did.  Hiking Buddy always prefers the path less traveled (or just not knowing what we’re getting into).  I liked that the book said this route was more gradual, which is why it was longer.


We started down just before noon, as the sky started spitting on us.  Right off the bat we encountered a snow/ice field on a rather steep section of the trail.  We couldn’t slide down it because it was too steep.  We had to go around it, which proved a bit challenging as we hugged the side of the trail, grabbing trees and roots along the way.  Once we finished the steep and snowy upper part of the trail, we found ourselves picking our way along sections of rock – the kind that just slow up your journey because you have to watch your footing.  The rain started coming down harder when we were about 1/3 of the way down, so we stopped to put on ponchos and raincoats.  The trail became increasingly slick and muddy and we each took a few spills.


The good thing about taking this route is that there actually are a few scenic spots along the way.  On a better day this might be the way to hike up LWJ.  Not only will you have some views, you can do it as a loop, going over Lower, down to the col and up Upper and then out on the trail we came in.  The picture to the left is one view of Keene Valley that we had during our descent.  Further down the trail was a side trail to a scenic overlook, but we were too tired at that point to take one step more than was necessary.


Hiking Buddy’s son had once again gone ahead, and radioed back that he found the bridge which had washed away, but instructed us to walk further downstream and we would be able to cross.  So when we came to the first bridge we saw, we weren’t sure we were supposed to cross it.  It was intact, but had clearly been knocked half off its foundation and ropes were holding it in place.  The Ausable River was really rushing beneath it.  We thought it looked risky, so we started down the West River Trail.  After about 10 minutes, we pulled out the map and realized we were heading way out of our way.  So we went back, crossed the risky bridge – quickly – and kept plodding along.  Shortly after, we came upon the spot where there was clearly a missing footbridge.  Instead we followed the signs for the “Ladies Mile” because we knew this would take us to the Lake Road.  It did.


We signed out at 4:05 and were back at the car by 4:20.  We were a group of seriously drenched hikers.  My gaiters kept my lower legs dry and the poncho reached to about my knees, but my arms and head were soaked.  The heat of the car felt good.  Yes, it rained but not until our trip out.  And, in looking at the plus side, there was absolutely no bugs!  A major positive during what could be serious black fly territory this time of year.


With this hike of High Peak #30 (in order of height), Hiking Buddy and I have reached the halfway point in our goal to climb the Adirondacks’ highest 46 peaks.  Her sister conquered her first climb.  And I realized how out of shape my legs are and how long this hiking season is going to be if I don't work on that soon!