September 4, 2009

Wolf Jaws

Upper Wolf Jaw
4,185 feet  |  ranked 29/46 in height  |  10th peak climbed
Lower Wolf Jaw
4,175feet  |  ranked 30/46 in height  |  11th peak climbed

It was 8:30 on the Friday morning of Labor Day weekend when my husband and I set out from the parking lot.  The beginning of the hike from the AuSable Road trailhead is utterly incongruous with virtually any ultimate destination that can be reached from there, as private lands belonging to the Adirondack Mountain Reserve/AuSable Club must be crossed to reach state land.  We powered through the first 0.7 mile along the dirt road, through a golf course, past the tennis courts and clubhouse, and finally, past the beautiful “camps” of super-privileged club members.

Approaching the gatehouse, where non-members such as ourselves must normally check in with the club ranger, I heard distinctive laughter.  That is Jay, I announced to Erwin.  Jason & Susie are college friends who live in New England now, who were to be joining us at our Chapel Pond campsite that evening, but whom we hadn't expected to see until after our big hike.  We knew their plans for the day involved hiking with a friend from grad school, who they’d stayed with the night before.  We spied Jason in the back of a pick-up truck parked by the gatehouse.  When they saw us waving, he and Susie jumped out, and we all exchanged hugs.

Their friend, who has family connections to the club, told us to hop in the back of the truck, and they’d drop us off down the Lake Road.  So our hike started with a 0.7 mile walk along one road, and then a 0.7 mile ride along another.  We hopped back out of the truck at the footbridge that leads to the 0.45 mile connector track, which crosses the East River Trail before terminating at the Canyon Bridge. After crossing the AuSable River, we got on the West River Trail, and followed that until the intersection with the Wedge Brook Trail at a small, but lovely cascade.  By now it was 9:30 am.

The next 1.6 miles up to the first junction between Upper and Lower Wolf Jaws took 2 hours.  It didn’t help that Erwin and I were both recovering from bad colds that had afflicted us the week before.  I felt virtually normal in every regard except a lingering cough, which continued to plague me throughout the weekend and made breathing a bit more difficult than normal.  But I was not to be deterred.  We headed left to tackle Upper Wolf Jaw first, since it was further away, both from our location at the trail junction, and from civilization in general, meaning that it would be easier to summit Lower Wolf Jaw another day if we couldn’t make both as planned.

We quickly reached the Wolf Jaws col and the junction with the Range Trail, with official NYSDEC signs indicating that it was 0.9 miles to the summit of UWJ, and 0.5 miles to the summit of LWJ.  It was on that section of the popular Range Trail where we met the first other hikers since leaving the West River Trail, passing two parties headed out after several days in the backcountry.  Moving forward, we gained the height of the false summit (a tooth in the Wolf’s Jaw).  I was fully expecting this extra bump from reading trail guides and trip reports in advance, but even so, was a bit surprised by the size.  Climbing up, it looked almost as big as either Wolf Jaw.  Past that, the trail dipped down 100 feet or so, and then made the final summit approach.

The tooth, looking a bit formidable
 Upon arrival, we had the summit to ourselves.  We dropped our packs, and peeled off our sodden wicking shirts and damp socks, draping them on balsam firs to dry in the sun.  Unfortunately we had to pull our soggy clothes back on practically immediately due to some oppressive and unfamiliar relation of the no-see-um.  It was black with a pale spot, bigger than a no-see-um (although smearing easily in the same manner) but significantly smaller than a black fly, and lacking the striking hump-backed profile of the latter.  Due to my 15 years of fieldwork, I am well acquainted with many a biting insect, but these little tyrants were new to me.  And the summit was the last spot I expected to be bled, as mountain breezes often keep bugs down at high elevations, even if they are bad along the trail or back at camp.  Neither was true in this case: the only biting insects we encountered all weekend were on the UWJ summit.  Odd.

We then enjoyed our picnic lunch, sandwiches made en plein aire from whole wheat bread and slices carved from a block of extra sharp cheddar, with sides of nuts and a bit of dark chocolate.  During our meal we were joined by another friendly hiker, who was traveling alone and had a fun ritual of photographing a little toy pig on each of his summits.  We were also joined briefly by a man hiking with his teenaged daughter and her friend, but that group also moved along fairly quickly.  After finishing our trail lunch, we got out the cameras and thoroughly documented the lovely views in both directions along the range, and across the valley towards Giant and Rocky Peak Ridge.

Eating lunch on the tiny summit ledge, with Armstrong looking so close
View toward Lower Wolf Jaw, over the tooth
Then we packed up and headed back down the trail towards the col and the Lower Wolf Jaw ascent.  The tooth of the false summit was barely noticeable on the descent (funny how that works).  We were slowed only by a few rock scrambles made slippery by wetness.  Erwin is not pursing the 46 and at the col, decided he'd had enough up for the day.  I was powerless to resist summiting another peak for the mere additional mile of hiking, so we decided to meet back up along Wedge Brook, and headed our separate ways.  The trail from the col to the LWJ summit was steep, gaining virtually the same elevation in 0.5 mile that UWJ had spread over 0.9 mile. 

Ascending LWJ, I passed both the Hula Pig Hiker and another solo hiker on their way back down.  Both stopped for friendly chats and shared assurances that we were almost there.  Hikers are just the nicest people!  Knowing my husband was waiting, I didn’t stay long on the summit of LWJ.  Plus, we’d already lunched and the views are less expansive, although one ledge provided panoramic vistas including Marcy, Algonquin, and Whiteface.  After shooting my full complement of desired images, I discovered that my CF card had corrupted somehow, a crushing blow since all the photos I’d taken up to the point were lost.  Luckily, Erwin has a wonderful collection of images I can enjoy (including those posted here), so that tempered my loss somewhat, and I had a spare card in my pack.  I quickly swapped the cards out and frantically re-shot my lost views.

Tomato-head at the summit of Lower Wolf Jaw
View from Lower Wolf Jaw ledge towards Marcy and Algonquin
The descent was uneventful, which is always good. Of course we had to walk the full return trip back, including the short Lake Road portion we’d rode through on the way in.  And of course the members bus barreled past as we trudged along, belching diesel fumes and smugness into our weary faces.  Back on the road through the golf course, I realized I hadn’t sat down since the summit of UWJ, and plopped down briefly on a bench to polish off the last of my water.  By 6 pm, we were back to the vehicle, which was stocked with welcome fluids and sandals, thrilled with the day and our accomplishments.

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