The Great Range Trail: The Adirondacks' most sought-after traverse
This extra-long day hike is one of the toughest in America, so Backpacker Magazine said back in 2005 and I would have to agree. The Great Range starts at the Roostercomb Trailhead in Keene Valley and traverses 12 different mountains over a course of 25 miles and only after you have conquered roughly 10,000 feet of elevation gain. Of course this range trail has many different variances with numerous side trails and entry points. Don’t feel like you need to do the traverse all in a day or all at one time, you can do sections, pick which mountains you want to visit, or skip a section all together. That is one of the advantages of the Great Range Trail, is versatility in visitation. Below is a brief overview of the trail with the added side trails pointed out, but more of an introduction to several of the High Peaks as you would hike the trail from Keene Valley to the highest point in the state, atop Mount Marcy.
Starting from the trailhead for Rooster Comb, at just over 1000 feet in elevation, you cross a long bridge over a beaver marsh to sign in for your journey. Quickly passing by a small pond you will start to climb steadily though a somewhat dark forest and come to a side trail for Snow Mountain. A steady climb will then bring you to a short spur trail to the summit of Rooster Comb. This steep trail will summit you on the first peak of the range; many hike this mountain alone and is an excellent destination for many hikers – some just pass it by.
After a slight descent you come to a trail that leads back into Keene Valley. Ahead of you is now Hedgehog Mountain. This steady but somewhat easy climb will bring you over a wooded summit where views are limited and the true top is at times walked right over.
A small descent will bring you to a saddle where a trail heads down to the Adirondack Mountain Reserve (AMR) and you will continue to climb, but at this point much more aggressively. Views will start to appear from the trail. A steady climb will bring you to a small summit referred to as the Wolf Chin. The Wolf Chin is not labeled as such on most maps, but it’s your final stop before the first High Peak is topped.
A short steep descent will bring you to a notch before a seriously steep climb will bring you to a mellow ridge just before the summit of Lower Wolf Jaw Mountain. The views here are nice, but they soon get much better. An equally steep descent will bring you into Wolf Jaw Notch where a trail leads down to the AMR and another to Johns Brook Lodge (JBL). You will continue through the notch and start a steep and then steady climb over a false summit of Upper Wolf Jaw Mountain before summiting your second High Peak. The views here are a better than on Lower Wolf Jaw, but more is yet to come.
After you decent into a col you will climb steadily and a bit steep to the summit of Armstrong Mountain, where the views are better yet. The descent off Armstrong into the saddle with Gothics is very easy and never too steep. In the saddle a trail leads down to the AMR.
The climb up Gothics is one of the most scenic climbs in the park and your camera better be ready. As you climb the spine the views of the highest peaks in the state start to unfold. The 360 degree views from here are breathtaking. A slight descent will bring you a trail that leads to Sawteeth and then the AMR, Sawteeth is technically not on the range, but it is sometimes climbed as a side trip during a traverse. The descent and climb of Sawteeth will add much more elevation change. Past this trail the grade gets quite steep over bare rock and is referred to as the Cable Route. There is a long cable to aid in the travel of this section. Once down you will be in a deep cleft between Gothics and Saddleback. A trail here leads down to AMR.
Up over Saddleback Mountain is not too bad of a climb, but still fairly steep, a false summit will add to the elevation change. The views from here are amazing. The drop off Saddleback is one of the toughest in the park, referred to as the Saddleback Cliffs; it can be trying for those not comfortable with steep drops and exposure. Take extra care on this section of the descent. Once in the deep col you will have a steep climb which will bring you to the top of Basin Mountain. The views from Basin are equally as choice.
The descent off Basin is super steep and will bring you to a very deep col, a trail here leads steeply up and out to JBL. The Range Trail continues through the dark col and passes by another trail that eventually will lead down to AMR. Now you will climb steeply up the shoulder of Haystack Mountain. The trail will bring you to a rocky spine on Little Haystack. A spur trail to your left will bring you over Little Haystack to Haystack. This is an exposed route over open rock which is known to have the best views in the park. You will have to traverse back over Little Haystack. Once back over the spine you will continue back along the trail and drop to an intersection with a trail down to JBL. Continue to Mount Marcy to top out on top of New York State. You will pass by one other trail that leads down to the Adirondack Loj, Marcy is a bit further along.
Once you have topped out on Marcy all you need to do is get out, Mount Marcy is the final peak and to some is not considered part of the Great Range Trail, but to most it has been adopted in. The hike out to the Adirondack Loj is a mellow one, never too steep but nearly 7-miles in distance.
Interested in doing the traverse, part of the traverse, just Mount Marcy, or any combination of peaks? See what a local guide service has to offer. Then I am sure you will need a hearty meal and soft bed, Lake Placid can accommodate.