The Adirondack 46 are staples of hiking in upstate New York. WAMC’s Jim Levulis summited one of the 4,000-footers and sent this report.
I knew the hike up Gothics was going to be tough, having read online reviews and other hikers’ accounts, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. The first stumbling block was finding a parking spot. Since a handful of the High Peaks can be accessed from the same general area around Keene, New York, the lots fill up quicker than you might imagine. Arriving shortly after 8 a.m. on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend meant I needed to park on the shoulder of a road. Leaving my truck, my girlfriend and I walked along a road that cuts through the private Ausable Club leading to the trailhead. An ornate wooden gate and archway offers a good photo opportunity to document the journey’s commencement, which we didn’t pass up.
We planned to hike a roughly 11.5-mile loop taking us over Pyramid Peak and then to Gothics, with an elevation change of about 3,900 feet. An interesting note about Pyramid – while it reaches well above 4,000 feet, because it is so close to Gothics, it is not recognized as one of the Adirondack’s 46 High Peaks. But, as we realized when we reached Gothics first, we clearly took a different route than anticipated.
In any event, the first highlight of our journey was Beaver Meadow Falls. The rushing waterfall spewed mist – a welcome blanket. Steps from this oasis, the trail’s grade immediately increases. A wooden ladder anchored into the side of a rock wall was the launching point. After the top rung, solid wooden blocks lodged into a boulder offered stepping points. At this juncture, we were nearly level with the top of the waterfall that we were standing at the bottom of no more than a minute earlier.
That scramble was not a teaser. The incline continued all the way to the top. A good portion of the spring hike involved climbing what was basically a creek.
A note here that as of my hike, the state Department of Environmental Conservation maintained a muddy trail advisory for the High Peaks Wilderness Area. DEC is asking hikers to help avoid damage to trails by avoiding those above 2,500 feet. I considered this advisory when deciding to hike Gothics and used extreme caution to not further damage the trails.
Many times, we faced rocks or boulders that came up to our chests. Unable to simply step up, we looked for roots or handholds in the rock we could use to pull or boost ourselves up.
I typically use hiking poles to keep my balance and take a little bit of weight off my legs. The poles were strapped to my backpack for this hike, but I never used them because every 50 feet or so I was using all fours to climb.
The unrelenting incline with mind-taxing obstacles was at times unbelievable. The trail rarely seemed to flatten. Regardless of our griping, the climb was worth it. The views from Gothics were stunning. More than 20 people were taking in the sights from the summit. One person was even flying a drone – I was annoyed by the constant buzzing. After eating a packed lunch, we continued along our loop. As we rounded the corner on Gothics’ summit we finally found Pyramid Peak spiking into the sky. The valley or col between the two peaks looks like a tougher trek than it actually is, but still very steep. Rather than risk losing my balance, I slid down a rock face on my posterior. Of the two peaks, I preferred the views from Pyramid. With a smaller summit area that emerges from evergreens, it had a more intimate feel with an amazing look at Gothics.
And if the ascent was mind-numbingly consistent, the decline was much the same. With fewer obstacles to carefully maneuver around than the hike up, the trail down barely flattened out. This took a toll on our knees and feet. Constantly having to put all our weight on one foot and then the next created a persistent soreness. We decided to get off the rock and root-laced trail, instead choosing to walk down the road we started on for about 3 miles back to the trailhead.
It was not the most exhilarating way to end our first hike up one of the Adirondack 46, but it got us where we needed to go. And that’s a big part of hiking, right?