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TRIP REPORT: Change of plans on Lower Wolf Jaw

March 19, 2012 - Morgan Ryan
Sometimes you just have to deviate from the original plan. Sunday was a perfect example for me, and the change definitely turned out to be the better way to go.

Thinking about the trip the night before, I had the idea that maybe I could hike the Range Trail and all four of its peaks. The plan was to hike the trail from east to west, starting with the Wolf Jaws and working my way to Gothics by climbing up and over Armstrong to get there. That misguided strategy would have left me the most tired for the hard climb up Gothics and the incredibly steep descent down the other side. Now I know, the best way to climb Gothics from Johns Brook Valley is on the Orebed Brook Trail (west to east).

The plan got even more unrealistic once I saw how icy it was on the way up what was supposed to be the first (and likely easiest) peak of the day: Lower Wolf Jaw Mountain. The dangerous wet ice covering the bare rock was very slick and took a lot of time and care to negotiate.

As I enjoyed the warm air and gentle breeze on the summit of Lower Wolf Jaw, I reassessed my options for the day.

If I still planned to climb Gothics, it was going to take a huge effort. Gothics is only 3.2 miles from the top of Lower Wolf Jaw, but it's about as tough a 3.2 as it gets. I would be climbing up and down steep, icy pitches the entire way and I would most likely have to hike close to 5 miles in the dark to get out. Plus, there was the fact that I would be hanging myself out to dry once I started toward Armstrong because there would come a point of no return where I'd be forced to descend the steep side of Gothics. Either that or backtrack over Armstrong and Upper Wolf Jaw to go back the way I came, which makes no sense.

The Gothics option wasn't looking good.

The next option was to call it a day and simply retrace my steps back the way I came, which would be a solid 11-mile out-and-back hike. Maybe even add another two miles by climbing Upper Wolf Jaw on the way out.

That didn't seem too bad, but it might get a little boring hiking back on the same trail I just came in on.

The third option was to continue along the same trail I was on and make a loop that would end up close to state Route 73 in Keene Valley, where I could walk back a mile-and-a-half on the road to my car at the Garden. I had never been on that trail before and it appeared to be a relatively gentle descent that would take me past Rooster Comb on the way to town.

I took the third option. It was just too nice a day to be fighting and struggling the whole time.

So I headed over the top and down toward Keene Valley. This lightly traveled trail was far from easy though. After walking along the Lower Wolf Jaw ridgeline for a bit, it got very icy and steep for a sharp descent. After the worst of the icy patches relented, I was postholing in old snow for close to a mile and making little progress with each exaggerated step.

The trail leveled off a bit after going up and over Hedgehog Mountain. I got a good look through the trees at the rock formations on Rooster Comb, and not long after I was able to put my microspikes in my pack for the rest of the day. I didn't see another person the whole way down (only saw four people total after leaving the Outpost).

The trail spilled out into a wetland area that is right behind Keene Central School. Signs of beaver were everywhere. Now I know where the school gets its team mascot from.

The weather was incredible all day. If there was a cloud in the sky, I didn't see it. A guy on the summit of Lower Wolf Jaw had a digital thermometer that read 68.5 degrees. Hard to believe that I was hiking in shorts and a T-shirt on a hike that could be counted as a Winter 46er.


Surprisingly for such a nice day, the Garden parking lot was relatively empty in the morning. Nothing like during the summer months that's for sure.

Suspension bridge just past John's Brook Interior Outpost

After crossing the bridge, I strapped on my microspikes at this junction to hike on the ice. I kept them on most of the rest of the day. A few of the people I passed on the trail had full-on crampons.

Just before reaching the Wolf Jaw lean-to, I got a close-up look at the devastation left by Tropical Storm Irene that tore through on Aug. 28. This is a picture of the fresh slide between the Wolf Jaws on Wolf Jaw Brook. Hard to believe that this gentle stream raged so intensely to create all this damage.

Here's a look in the other direction facing Big Slide and the Brothers across the Johns Brook Valley.

The junction at the Wolf Jaw notch.

The trail leading to the summit of Lower Wolf Jaw was covered in ice and quite steep.

You have to poke around a little on the top of Lower Wolf Jaw, but there's a nice view of the Great Range.

Going down the other side of Lower Wolf Jaw, the trail was all ice. Sure would have been nice to have crampons on this stuff.

The trail ended on a boardwalk in a wetland area behind Keene Central School. It was about 1.6 miles on the road from there back to the Garden where my car was parked.


Lower Wolf Jaw Mountain

Elevation: 4,175

Order of height: 30


Garden to Interior Outpost: 3.1 miles

Outpost to Wolf Jaw Notch: 2.0

Notch to Lower Wolf Jaw Mountain: 0.5

Lower Wolf Jaw to W.A. White Trail: 1.5

W.A. White Jct. to Keene Valley: 3.5

Keene Central School to Garden: 1.6

Total distance traveled: 12.2


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Gothics from Lower Wolf Jaw