DC UL: Great Range Traverse + Sawteeth and U-Turn 46: Mission Accomplished!

Posted by Michael Martin on

As I clambered up the cable near the top of Gothics, my legs were starting to protest. We'd started at 4am, and it was about 2pm now. After a slow morning, the last few hours I had been going full-tilt to try to catch B.A., Faceplant, The Look, and Prius. A tough group to catch, but I could hear their voices ahead of me. They were standing at the intersection with the trail to Sawteeth, and were startled to see me. Prius asked if I had tied the others to a tree and devoured them. Not exactly. I informed them of Shuttle, Short Stick, and Irina's whereabouts. We looked at the map. Pyramid's summit was close and tempting--it is very dramatic-looking. But Pyramid doesn't count. I was at 45 of 46, and Sawteeth was the last one. It was also a long way down and back up, from the forehead of Gothics.

Yup, this was going to suck.

I first visited the Adirondacks in July of 2013, when I was writing my first book. The publisher wanted me to cover New York, and I had hiked nothing at all in that great state. So, I enlisted the help of every New Yorker I could find, and one in particular, Carrie Graff, aka Booty-Less. We spent two weeks touring the state, and put up three lines in the ADKs. They were good lines: I had wanted to ensure that I covered the state well.

Perhaps more significantly, I was bitten by the ADK bug, and started keeping track of those peaks. Booty-Less and I got 16 peaks in July 2013. I returned in November 2013 for a few more. Then, in January 2014, I tackled the Dix Range, minus Macomb. I didn't return till Columbus Day weekend 2014, when Shuttle and I did the Sewards. January 2015, I got a few more winter peaks, then came back in February 2015 for the Santanonis. In August 2015, I had planned to finish, but I fell a little short, leaving three peaks on the table--Haystack, Basin, and Sawteeth. An eighth trip it would have to be. I figured, "Hey, let's finish in style. I've always wanted to do a great traverse. Let's do that, and just tack on Sawteeth. How hard could that additional out-and-back be?"

Michael Martin posted on

Shuttle, Faceplant, B.A., Irina, Short Stick, The Look, and Prius signed up for this mad errand. I designed the route so that we'd walk in, camp near the Johns Brook Loj, do the traverse, starting with Marcy and finishing with Lower Wolfjaw, then return to camp at the loj. I'm fairly proud of this routing, as it minimizes the "trash miles" on either side, focuses on the peaks, and had us going up the cliffs on Saddleback, which could be uncomfortable for inexperienced scramblers. One might say that in skipping Roostercomb and Hedgehog, I'm skimping on the traverse, but of course I was adding Pyramid and Sawteeth. And, of course, there was no way I was missing Sawteeth.

B.A., Faceplant, the Look and Prius went up early and did Big Slide to warm up. Irina, Short Stick, Shuttle, and I drove up Friday. We met, as planned, at the Johns Brook Loj, and settled down at a nearby campsite.

3:30am, we were up and moving, our red lamps flashing in the dark. 4am sharp on the trail. We climbed via Bushnell Falls, a trail I had last climbed in July 2013. The sunrise came upon us after we passed the Van Hoevenberg Trail and climbed the remaining few hundred feet to Marcy's summit. It was blustery, with winds at maybe 40mph, but clear and we were treated to a fine view. I was sweeping with Shuttle; Short Stick and Irina decided they would hike towards the back while the other group pressed forward.

We descended Marcy in the brisk morning air, then made our way to Haystack, the trail a rugged field of boulders. At the turn off 0.5 miles from Haystack's summit, Short Stick and Irina pressed forward. I waited for Shuttle, then we began the climb, first over Little Haystack, then sharply down to a col, and up again to reach the summit. There were a few interesting moves, and the whole affair seemed to take a long time. The wind whipped around us on the summit, but there was a nice view of the Great Range back towards Gothics. I got a good look at the drop from Gothics down to Sawteeth's ridge.

Great. It looked formidable.

We descended towards the col between Haystack and Basin, where we tanked up on water. I carried 3L forward, but would run out near the end. Shuttle wasn't feeling well and was moving slowly. We discussed options and decided she would descend here. Alone, I flung myself up the slabs on Basin, trying to catch the others. On the summit, Irina and I discussed what she would do in the afternoon. (She would reach the summit of Gothics at about 4pm, and be, I think, in position to finish the traverse, with only Armstrong and the Wolfjaws ahead. Prudently, however, she turned back and descended the Orebed trail to camp.)

I moved on, descending Basin and reaching the cliffs of Saddleback, which loom large in the imagination of ADKers everywhere. A few years ago, I had been backpacking the GRT from the other direction and my partner had not liked the look of these cliffs, which explains why I had Basin and Haystack out by themselves. They are dramatic, and descending Basin, you can study people clambering up them. I shut my mind off and began climbing them. They are short, and there are only a few class 3 moves, maybe three or four, but they are a little more exposed than is usual on-trail in the ADKs. I clambered up the fabled crack and topped out where, two years, we had turned back. Quickly, I reached the col between Saddleback and Gothics.

Short Stick was there, sitting contentedly in the sun. She said the others were not far ahead, that her legs were jello, and that she had not enjoyed Saddleback. She said she was going to descend in a bit, and meet us at camp. I headed up Gothics, taking the steep slabs as quick as I could.

Michael Martin posted on

And so we were reunited.

Prius and The Look had been discussing skipping Sawteeth, but with me there, they decided they would press on. We descended a long way past Pyramid, even getting worried that we'd missed the turn off. It was a typical rugged, slabby descent, but we knew we'd have to re-climb it. Prius remarked that it felt like we were getting Cooch again. But, at last, we passed the trail headed down to Ausable Lake, climbed the few hundred feet remaining, and there we were.

46! The party was subdued. I remarked, "Thank god it's over." We took a few pictures. I washed down a caffeine pill and some vitamin I with a beer. We still had the Lower Range to handle. Easier than the Upper Range, but still. It was 4pm.

We began the long slog up to Gothics again, and tagged it, more or less together, then The Look and I hiked together over Armstrong. The descent off Armstrong was tougher than I remembered (I had climbed it from the other side in 2013). When I got to the top of Upper Wolfjaw, Face Plant and B.A. were having a break. I pressed on, as I wanted to get as much done in the dwindling light as a I could. I reached the col between the Wolfjaws at 6:30pm, and the summit of Lower Wolfjaw at about 7pm. I fumbled with my gear at the top, got my headlamp on and began the descent.

FacePlant, BA, Prius, and I descended from the col together towards Johns Brook (The Look had opted out of Lower Wolfjaw, and was ahead). It was amazing how fast we were now that we were on regular trail. It was raining now, but it was too warm to care. Near the bottom, B.A., who had a fever and hadn't been feeling well all afternoon, decided he would just go crash at a lean-to. The three remaining pressed on. Just a mile to camp.

We crossed the brook, passed the loj, and turned into camp at about 9pm, where Shuttle had prepared a merry reception, featuring champagne and ADK cookies. Everyone was there except B.A., who was slumbering in the lean-to. The night was a wet one, but the next morning dawned clear and dry, and we backpacked out and met B.A. at the parking lot. He seemed to feel better.

Noonmark. Breakfast. Pies are for winners, and we bought a lot of pies. And it was all over except for the long drive home.

And so ends the tale of our GRT+Sawteeth, as well as my 46. Thank you, everyone, for keeping me company on such a madcap venture! The Adirondacks are one of my favorite places in the world--they never let you down, if it's adventure you're after!


Hua Davis posted on

WOW!! What a terrific adventure !!! Congrats to U-TURN for finishing the ADK 46er in such a DC-UL fashion..![:D]

Christy posted on

Is our aquatic slumber on night 2 worthy of mention in the report? Ha ha

Michael Martin posted on

LOL .... Christy, I said it was wet!

Michael Martin posted on

OK, we slept in a puddle.

Daniel posted on

Congrats, Michael. And now, the Whites beckon... ;-)

Joffrey Peters posted on

+1 for the Whites. :) There's the White Mountain Challenge to do... you could knock 'em all out at once!