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The Great Range Traverse – By Danny Hickey

Posted: April 7, 2020

Lower Wolf Jaw seldom sticks out in a hiker’s mind as a highlight from the High Peaks, and especially not when set against the backdrop of its siblings: The Great Range. At the end of a chain of heavy hitting open summits and some of the Adirondacks’ most spectacular climbing, the memory of Lower Wolf Jaw is often obscured by early morning intimidation at the start of the traverse, or fatigue and more dramatic views by the end of it. Or, as anyone who has climbed it knows, the experience of Lower Wolf Jaw can very easily be colored by the nightmare of a climb that takes you out of Wolf Jaw Notch.

    Haystack, Basin, Saddleback, Gothics, Armstrong, Upper Wolf Jaw, and Lower Wolf Jaw, plus or minus the state highpoint of Mt. Marcy, all put together make for a day that is as punishing as it is rewarding. One late September Saturday, I set out with Barry Needleman, Molly Schneider-Ferrari, Erin Coyne, and Ted Sonneborn to have such a day out on “The Range.” After months of talking about doing it, I couldn’t tell if it was the 4:00 AM coffee that had us nervously shifting around in the car, or if the reality of what we were about to face was finally setting in. The next 12 hours were grueling, yet amazing. The views offered by every single peak seemed to inject some power into our legs after every grueling climb, and our spirits were soaring as we traversed the Adirondack high country.

    And then, Wolf Jaw Notch. I imagine this is how an electric guitar feels if it is unplugged mid strum- struggling, suffering in order to do its job with power and dignity but instead merely producing a feeble scraping, barely audible. Climbing out of Wolf Jaw Notch, with only one more peak to go, my legs were guitar strings, emitting their final desperate twangs as the power seemed to be pulled from them in an instant. I am not sure how I ended up making it to the top of Lower Wolf Jaw on those tortured wires, but when we stepped out onto the summit we seemed to be lauded for our persistence. Lower Wolf Jaw, the veritable outcast of the “Great Range”, met us with a sunset unlike one I had ever seen, dripping out from behind the Adirondack Park slowly and gracefully, as if to lead us home in its footsteps.

It may not be the most popular or the most memorable of Adirondack peaks, but Lower Wolf Jaw will always stick out in my mind as a reminder of what you may find when you hike just a little too far and stay out just a little too long: The best of views with the best of friends. Those are the hiking memories that will last forever in my mind, out in front of everything else. Even the climb out from Wolf Jaw Notch.

By Danny Hickey

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