Giant Mountain — 16 Sep 2012

Info

  • Map: National Geographic, Adirondack Park, Lake Placid/High Peaks
  • Reference: Lisa Densmore, Hiking the Adirondacks
  • Trails: Ridge
  • Type: Out and back
  • Distance:  6 miles
  • Time: 7 hours
  • Exertion: Strenuous

Getting There

The trailhead is on NY Route 73, a short ride off the Adirondack Northway, I87.  I approached it from Lake Placid, so it’s about a 30 minute ride SE out of that town, just past the so-called village of St. Huberts.  (The Gertrude Stein aphorism about Oakland applies in spades here: There is no there there.)  From the Placid approach the big clue that you’re close is Chapel Pond on your right.  If coming from I87, Chapel Pond on your left means you missed it.  Look for those nice yellow-letter-on-brown-background signs that will say Giant/Ridge.  You can park on either side of 73.  The trailhead is on the northeast side of the road.

The Hike

Despite its moniker, Giant Mountain is only the 12th highest peak in the Adirondacks:

Giant Mtn Tile in Lake Placid

Giant Mtn Tile in Lake Placid

Now the previous two excursions found me tackling #1 (Marcy) and #2 (Algonquin), so why did I skip over #3-#11?  No reason.  There’s no plan here.  Plus, I’ve been thumbing through the Densmore book (see References) for the last few years, and am subject to the filtering there.  Before you accuse me of taking the easy way out, let me just say that last year’s march was a 2969′ vertical gain over 3.6 miles, while Giant is 3050′ over about 3.0 miles.  So if you do yer guzintas, this is a steeper climb than last year.  So even though when you hit the top you’re still about 400′ shy of where I was last year, that’s because the trailhead for Giant is further down into a valley than the Algonquin trailhead which is also off 73 but after it’s humped up quite a bit out of the valley.

The start is indicated by the standard DEC sign:

Giant Trailhead

Giant Trailhead

The drive out of Placid takes about 30 minutes, so I did not get on the trail until about 9:45.  Once started it became a trudge through the usual dark, rocky morass I’ve grown used to up here.  I have to say that compared to the Algonquin and (especially) Marcy trails, this was much drier.  Admittedly, they’ve had a very dry summer up here, but there are parts of the Van Hovenberg Trail up to Marcy that are basically stream beds.

For such a steep trail, my hat is off to the maintainers, because there are for the most part excellent steps and switchbacks when it gets really nasty.  About 20 minutes in–all UP, UP, UP–there’s a nice view back down to 73, and you might even be able to see your car.

First Vista on Rigde Trail

First Vista on Ridge Trail

There's My Car--Somewhere Next to Chapel Pond

There's My Car--Somewhere Next to Chapel Pond

At 0.7 mi. you hit the pond known as the Giant’s Washbowl.  It’s an anomalous little body of water sitting here for no good reason:

Giant's Washbowl

Giant's Washbowl

with a precarious-looking footbridge across its one end:

Step Carefully!

Step Carefully!

At the end of the puncheon the Ridge Trail continues up very steeply, but the steps and switchbacks make it bearable.  Around the 1 1/4 hour mark you emerge out onto some rock ledges that afford nice views worth stopping for a look at.  The snap below is of the Great Range, which is a set seven of the 46 High Peaks: Lower Wolfjaw, Upper Wolfjaw, Armstrong, Gothics, Saddleback, Basin, and Haystack:

The Great Range

The Great Range

(And no, I can’t tell you which one is which.)  Looking up from this point you see what seems to be a summit, but of course it’s not, it’s merely a tease called The Bump:

Looking up at "The Bump"

Looking up at "The Bump"

When you get near it, there is a sign indicating a choice to go over the bump or around it.  The Densmore book advised to take the wussy way around it because the vistas don’t really improve all that much as payback for humping it over The Bump.  I found that to be wise counsel and opted for the left route:

Over or Around?

Over or Around?

Within minutes of your avoidance of said Bump, you’re back to climbing again, on the final assault to the summit.  Nearing the two-hour mark, you can turn around and be smug about your decision not to expend your precious energy on that silly Bump:

Looking Back at The Bump

Looking Back at The Bump

There’s still about 3/4 of a mile to go and plenty of vertical gain.  There are very few flat stretches to be had, and they are as short as my temper when I watch Fox News.

I hit the summit about 12:30–just under the 3 hour mark.  My previous two hikes up here gave me a little reference, so I was not too ashamed of only making 1.something miles per hour on the ascent.  Still, it’s nothing to brag about.  The top had a long ridge about 30′ wide with enough space for the 20-30 people that were up there with me.  As usual, I nestled into a little crag in the rocks and rested the weary bones.  Here’s the picture for which I did all of this climbing:

Atop Giant Mountain

Atop Giant Mountain

As best I can figure, you can identify the Great Range in this westerly view and the big bump behind the range is Mt. Marcy.  In my estimation that puts the almost-as-big bump on the right hand side as Algonquin.  I got into a conversation with a gentleman at the top about which peaks were which, and I think we agreed on at least these two.  Looking more northerly, you can clearly see Whiteface, easily identified by its observatory and ski runs.  (More about this later.)

Whiteface from Giant

Whiteface from Giant

A couple of younger fellows took this pic of me after I did them a similar favor.  (They took my ineptitude with their smartphone camera in stride, I must say.)

Me at the Top

Me at the Top

(I have no idea what the guy behind me was up to.)  I was actually happier than this picture might suggest.  Things were pretty OK–I was not real beat up, I ate a little bit, but not a lot–par for the course as I had learned from the past treks, and it was pretty early in the day with no rush to get back.  I did the usual 45 mins. at the top and then began the descent.

About 15-20 minutes from the top I look below me and saw what seemed to be a guy with a very big backpack coming up the trail.  As he got nearer I could see it was actually a kid seat, almost like a little sedan chair on his back with a toddler–not an infant–sitting astride Dad’s shoulders.  I made some amazed comments as we passed, and he continued to motor up the trail.  About 15 minutes later, a woman comes up with the same contraption on her back and a smaller child, dead asleep, within.  In our brief conversation I learned that the gentleman who had passed me earlier was her husband, and that she did not think she’d make it to the top.  I certainly could not blame her.  All I could advise is that when she and her husband were old and gray that they remind their kids they had done this for them.  Or maybe remind them sooner–like when they are teenagers.  I know I’m not exactly an Ironman, but I like to think if I have to get up a mountain, I can do it, no matter how long it takes.  But on my best day, even 20 years ago, I would never have entertained the notion of giving one of my kids a free ride on my back up a 3000′ mountain.  Even if I could have physically done so, still, I’d have still made their stubby little legs do the work for themselves.  And if they couldn’t make it, well then they’d just have to walk their sorry little asses back down the mountain.  I guess I really am a mean daddy.

The walk down was the usual rock dancing, but there were some calmer spots, and the views just made you take it slow and enjoy what was at your back on the way up.

Nice View on the Way Down

Nice View on the Way Down

I think it was about this spot where I took a little break, sitting on a boulder, that I realized that my watch had dropped off my wrist.  I recalled that at one point on the way down I had heard a clink sound and stopped and looked all around my feet, saw nothing, and figured my trekking poles had just hit a rock–although I had a nagging sense that that was not exactly the kind of clink I would have expected.  Now this was not a really expensive watch, but my wife had given it to me a few years back for Christmas, and I really liked it, and I get very picky about watches.  So after a little internal debate I decided to slowly walk back uphill to see if I could find it.  I had a visual image of the spot where I heard the clink, but I was not sure of where it was with regard to any way points.  My only memory was that it was after I’d gone past the woman with the sedan chair that I’d checked the time, and it was about 1:30.  Now it was about 30 minutes later.  (That was my guess, and the time stamp on the photo bears this out.)

I probably would have not searched to the extent I did had I not run into a group of four women coming down who said they had seen it.  Unfortunately, their English was not good and they could only give me semi-coherent descriptions of where and when they had seen it.  So off I went up the hill, merci beaucoup-ing them like an idiot.  I probably did over a half hour back up the hill, never quite got the feel for the place I thought I’d heard the clink, nor did I manage to decipher the fractured Franglais they had used to describe the place they supposedly encountered my timepiece.

This kind of drained the enjoyment out of the rest of the hike.  There are few things more discouraging than to climb back UP a mountain you’ve already come down, and then to backtrack a decent you’ve already descended.  I dislike the whole concept of an out-and-back hike to begin with because I don’t like doing something I’ve already done, even if it is in another direction.  Doing a mini out-and-back within an out-and-back gets me into a Sisyphean zone that makes me crazy.  And, I never did find my watch.

What should have been a tiring 2-hour descent turned into a 4-hour slog that left my legs feeling like they were made of Jello and my feet feeling like they had been run over by a car.  It was almost 5:00 by the time I was on my way back to Placid.

The next day was my driving home day, but I was in no need of getting out of Dodge early, so I decided to do a very unnatural thing and drive up to the top of Whiteface Mountain.  I’ve mentioned this peak before in my previous Adirondack posts, and I’ve skied there a few times as well.  It is the 5th highest peak in NY:

Whiteface Tile in Lake Placid

Whiteface Tile in Lake Placid

There is a 5-mile road, built in the 1930′s, that meanders up the back of the mountain.  In my several previous visits to this area, I’d considered doing the drive, but it seemed like such a lazy, old fart thing to do that I always chosen something more athletic or historical instead.  My short time window on this day, not to mention my rubber legs from yesterday’s hike, had drained me of all ambition, so off I went.

I’m very glad I did for several reasons, which I will get into.  It’s about a 20-minute drive from Lake Placid, northeast on NY 86 to NY 431 that goes up the mountain.  A mile or so up 431, there’s a toll booth of sorts, more like an entrance gate, where you pays your fee ($10 for a solo car) and gets a little brochure and a ticket.  Then it’s a slow crawl up the 5 miles of very bumpy road to the parking lot.  The road is tough not because of cracked pavement, but the surface is riddled with bumps and divots that I presume are formed by the ground shifting underneath.  It’s a steep grade, so my car found it hard to do over 20 MPH, but there are lots of places to pull off and enjoy the views, which just keep getting better and betterer as you go up.

The parking lot is really just a strip of face-in spots along the return side of the road, so you have to go to the very end of the road, in front of what’s called The Castle, then loop back and find a spot on the way down.  I imagine on fall weekend days it gets very crowded.

The Castle

The Castle

Parking on Whiteface

Parking on Whiteface

If you look above the parked cars in the picture, you can see the weather observatory at the actual peak.  There are two ways to get up there.  You can take an elevator that is directly under the observatory, or walk back to the Castle and then take a quarter-mile walk up along the crest of the mountain.  Given that I was already wimping out today, I felt obliged to do the walk.  It is a great little hike, although in wet or icy conditions I would not recommend it to the faint of heart.  For me, it was a spectacular day–a little warmer than the day before, which contributed some haze, but the air was still very clear.  The path up from the Castle is slippery in parts even when dry, as there are many sections where you have to friction climb up the natural rock where the builders seem to have given up trying to pave a path or even stairs.  There is a metal railing on both sides, so it’s not precarious, but it does require some careful stepping along the way.  Take your time–there’s no rush and every stop is an opportunity to soak in the views.

The Walk up to Whiteface Peak

The Walk up to Whiteface Peak

You’ll know when you’ve hit the top:

At the Top

At the Top

There is much to behold up here.  First, you get a real view of the actual Lake Placid, the lake, not the village:

Lake Placid (the lake)

Lake Placid (the lake)

When you hang around the village, the focal point is actually Mirror Lake (very nice in its own way), which in this photo is the small bit in the upper left hand corner.  The real Lake Placid is much bigger, but somewhat invisible in the village.  You can have a look down at the ski runs of Whiteface which in a few months will be packed with skiers.

The End of the Gondola atop Little Whiteface

The End of the Gondola atop Little Whiteface

The crazy thing about this mountain is that the uppermost ski lift ends over 350′ below the summit, yet the mountain still has the biggest vertical drop in the East (3430′ if you believe their web site).  You can also look back down over the crazy switchbacks that got you up here:

How Did I Get up Here?

How Did I Get up Here?

There’s a great vista in each of the 360 degrees up here.  If it wasn’t for the wind and having to go to work the next day, I might be up there still.

If you read the brochure you get at the toll gate, it takes a little dig at the kind of USA we find ourselves living in today.  If I can take liberties with their POV, this road could probably not be built today because it would cost too much and it would probably be impeded by various environmental concerns.  But back in the 1930′s, in the Depression, NY State and then-governor (soon-to-be-president) Franklin Roosevelt just thought, Hey, this is a good idea, let’s just freakin’ do it. (I am taking liberties.)  Now, no doubt there was some environmental impact at the time, but in some ways it blends in nicely with the mountain, and it was done for $1.25M.  Yes, it was a big government job, but it got some folks working, and now there is actually a way for people with disabilities, or who no longer have the physical ability to hike up to this kind of a peak, the chance to enjoy a bit of natural beauty.  I’ve tended to be a snob and think, if you can’t do the hike, you don’t deserve the view, but being up at the top with a lot of people who clearly, if they tried to hike up, would be coming down in ambulances, made me feel good that there’s one out of the 46 Adirondack High Peaks that anyone can get to the top of and enjoy.  So it was a bit of a correction for me.

For fun, I took the elevator down–the real creepy part being that there’s about a 100-yard, 7-foot high, dark, soggy tunnel at the bottom you have to walk through to get back to the parking area.  My sister would love this!

So net, a great trip.  Yea, lost the watch, hurt my feet, had a pretty miserable climb down Giant, but as they say, A bad day fishing [or hiking] is better than a good day working.

just

One Response to “Giant Mountain — 16 Sep 2012”

  1. Andrew says:

    Nice post! Sorry about your watch… :-(

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