Adventure Report: The Great Range Traverse in the Adirondacks by Elizabeth Azze

The Adirondacks holds a special place in my heart, this is where Joe and I got married and in years prior shared many winter adventures exploring. Being here without him is bittersweet, but someone has to work, lol...

In the late afternoon on August 24th I found myself sweaty, dirty, bloody and basking in the glow of completing the Great Range Traverse.  


The Great Range Traverse is consisting of  a series of peaks along a ridgeline that runs southwest from Keene Valley.  The peaks along this ridgeline, starting from the NE, are Rooster Comb, Hedgehog, Lower Wolfjaw, Upper Wolfjaw, Armstrong, Gothics, Saddleback, Basin, Little Haystack & Haystack and Mount Marcy, but after researching a bit they’re many different variations of the above. Our groups plan led by Charlie Gadol; Race Director of the Manitou Revenge, was to start at Gardeners and finish at the Rooster Comb parking area. Meaning we would summit Mt Marcy first then Basin, Haystack, Little Haystack, Saddleback, Gothics, Armstrong, Upper Wolfjaw, Lower Wolfjaw, Hedgehog, last but not least Roostercomb, UgH! I’m tired just typing it. All of the peaks in the Great Range are in the 4,000' Adirondack 46ers list except Rooster Comb, Hedgehog and Little Haystack.

We set off to meet the rest of our group to shuttle our vehicles (3 miles). Some hikers run or leave a bike at Roostercomb and run or bike back to Gardners trail head to add to the adventure. 5:30 am we stood in the parking lot waiting for the others, the brisk temps were a reminder that my favorite season winter was right around the corner. We stood in a circle as one by one showed. I only knew 3, one person being my good mate Lisa Madden; we drove up together and shared lodging, the other Charlie Gadol and lastly a local hiker from our area, Donna Grahman.  As I stood in this circle with these tall muscular athletes who look like they live and breathe mountains, my 5 ‘3 (if I stand tall), petite frame definitely felt humbled.

Lisa checking the map. Photo by Elizabeth

We drove to the start of our adventure and of course my 3 liter bladder explodes drenching my pack and back. While everyone was trying to gather themselves gear etc.. I’m freaking out on the inside thinking I may not even be able to start this 25 mile journey. “Lisa!” I say with excitement, “I need your help, do you think anyone has extra water, help me figure out what happened?”.  I was carrying an Ultimate Direction pack, with a 3 liter bladder, the very least amount of water one should be carrying on this trip, especially when told all the streams etc. were dry. I was worried because any extra water I had was in my car back at Rooster comb, but thankfully, like any good leader would, Charlie had extra gallons of water in his car! Praise Charlie, he saved my day and doesn’t even know it. Woof!

Photo by Larry Creveling

Photo by Larry Creveling

We started our hike at a leisurely pace talking and getting to know each other a bit, many of the group have completed Manitou revenge 56, or other ultras which was reassuring to me at the time, because I was here for a training hike not to take in the sights too much. This was exactly  2 weeks from my goal race, The Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run,  and I needed a good tempo hike. We hiked along making our way to Mt. Marcy (5,344ft) the largest mountain in the state of New York. Some of the approach was very runnable but I stopped myself from running to get to know some of the folks. All of sudden a rich smell of Breakfast took over, is that Bacon I smell? I asked Lisa, she said I think so, as we kept walking hints of maple syrup awakened my nose followed by more bacon! Yup, it was the John Brooks Cabin 3.5 miles from the trailhead, serving up breakfast. They can accommodate up to 28 and obviously serve a kick ass breakfast (reserve in advance), this would be also a good spot for water if you were doing a FKT or anything else.  

Shortly after this, I thought it was time for me to say adios, Charlie originally said that we would break up into groups so I thought this was a good time. Lisa was aware of my goal so we decided to carry on at a good clip, I noticed someone behind us and it was Garry Harrington, I knew his name but never met him personally. He is a very strong mountain runner, we briefly introduced ourselves and come to find out, he also had a 100 miler coming up the Kodiak 100 miler and appreciated a faster pace.  The terrain became more technical and the grade began to increase, I would look back at lisa still hanging on and she would occasionally shout “I know what still lies ahead, Marcy is the easy part!”.  I kept that in the back of my mind as I proceeded. We made it to a junction that look very familiar to me and other fellow hikers from other directions started to appear, I thought to myself this is where Joe and I would normally come out when starting from the LOJ. Yup, the rock scramble starts here, this is where your hands come out to meet the rock for the first time of the day but by the end of this hike your hands and feet become one with the earth.

Photo by  Larry Creveling

Photo by Larry Creveling

The weather couldn’t get much better than today, not a cloud in the sky, not even a hint of wind, the temps reached 80 plus but it didn’t feel like it. We got to the top of Marcy, the views were spectacular, we could see exactly where we needed to go next, Basin, Haystack etc.. A man by the name of Tom,  approached us and said he was a part of our group but got a late start, he took a shorter route up. He asked what the plan was, were we waiting for the entire group or were we splitting up? I stated my goal, which was to maintain a good pace and finish before dark. I waited a little then started back down Marcy to begin the next climb, on the way down Tom passes me with his music on, Lisa was behind me a ways. We ran into the other half of our group on at the base of the first rock scrambled, I waved and kept going. The descent started to become very rocky, I had very little traction and frequently slid and tripped a bit. I started to think, maybe I shouldn’t be by myself, god forbid I break my leg or ankle so I slowed a bit but know one was in sight. I said screw it and took my chances, I felt a little safer knowing Tom was ahead.

Photo by Gary Harrington

I started to see other hiking groups which was reassuring, climbing up basin was steep but very manageable. I made it to the top of Basin and there was Tom eating a fresh veggie wrap and listening to his music. We exchanged a couple of words then moved along to Haystack, I believe this one was another out and back, I saw Gary on my way down Haystack and said come on man, keep me company! As I was making my descent he caught up! He said he thought Tom and I were together but I stated nope, Tom is in his own world.

Photo by Gary Harrington  

Photo by Gary Harrington

Gary and I shared stories of our ultra running and mountaineering accomplishments while clicking off each peak. The most technical climb stood before us, the Gothics! This climb is one to avoid if its raining or you’re afraid of heights. The first pitch I definitely had to use some rock climbing moves from my past. It is a very exposed rock slab that a cable follows that you can use but is not necessary. I reached the top and there is Tom eating another fresh looking wrap, at this point I was so tired of eating bars and gu’s, I felt like grabbing it from him and running! We joked around for a couple of minutes then headed off on to the next and of course Tom took off. This is how our day went, we got to top of a mountain Tom was sitting there eating restaurant quality food while listening to music.

Photo by Elizabeth

At this point I set a new goal of completing this in 10 hours. The next couple of climbs were slightly easier but didn’t feel like it at this stage in the game. My water started to run low, but my pace was ok. We were finally on what I thought was the last climb of the day, Hedgehog, 3.5 miles to go or so until we finish. I am now out of water and feeling it. We arrived at a trail junction sign, that stated 2 miles to the parking lot and about 1 mile to the Rooster Comb summit, at this point I was ready to be finished. I asked Gary if we are supposed to do Rooster? I looked at the list that I was carrying and it said Rooster Comb on it, then we looked to the left and saw Toms backpack. Darn I exclaimed, I guess we have to go! We drop our packs and started another climb.  It was pretty short but it was a climb. We get to the top and there he is again for the last time, Tom taking in the sights! We shared our joy of how great it felt to have our packs off and to be on our last summit!

We quickly took a glance at the view and what we had just accomplished and headed down. We got back to our packs, Gary graciously shared some of his gatorade and we took off sprinting the last 2 miles in hopes of finally catching Tom. It felt great to run hard and fast after hiking most of the day. I stopped to tie my shoe, Gary passed me, I then quickly picked the pace back up to stay with him. I could see a glimpse of the parking area, there was 200 yards to go and we see Tom! Finally catching him with 200 yards to go! Oh what a day! Total time, 10 hours & 20 minutes. We sat in the parking lot enjoying the sun and rehydrating while we waited for the others to arrive. Some finished in the light, some finished in the dark, the most important thing everyone finished safely and had a great time! Thanks everyone! On to Wasatch!