Let me start this post with just this.
Holy. Shit. That was intense.
The plan for this adventure began back in January when my training partner filled me in on her plans to do this. She invited me along..I thought it sounded epic and agreed to partake in this. Fast forward 6 months later and we solidified the plans with 3 other badass women.
I will admit I had NO IDEA what I was getting myself into. I didn’t really research it much and knew that there would be mountains so i thought it would just be a hilly trail run.
I am clearly an idiot.
In the days leading up to our trip the girls were posting pics of some of the traverse and I began to freak out a bit. Ok a lot. What the hell had I gotten myself into!!!!
I put all my trust into these ladies that I would not die on these mountains and all 5 of us set off to Keene Valley, NY to begin our adventure. It was about a 6hour drive from the GTA without traffic.
We had booked an Airbnb to stay at right in Keene Valley instead of the camping/hostel/Loj options. It was a bit pricier but we liked the option of cooking for ourselves, a warm bed and hot showers. The place was also less than a 10 minute drive to the trailhead so we were happy with our decision. It had a great wraparound covered porch with views of the mountains. It was perfect and I would 100% stay there again when i return to the area.
The night before our traverse we packed our bags with water (at least 3Litres each), food (Burrito’s, Rice Chrispy Squares, Trail mix, Gels and even apple pie), snacks and any other emergency supplies we would need and hit the sack for our 5am wakeup. We had checked the weather a million times over (they were calling for rain..but the thurnderstorm risk was gone..phew) as well as our route maps and GPS files. We were ready to roll!!
When researching the traverse the ladies found that on every Website, Forum and Facebook page, people had a different version of it. We decided to tackle the version of the FKT (fastest known time) that local Ultra and OCR runner Ryan Atkins completed. We knew that Mt Marcy..the highest peak on that traverse..was an optional peak on a lot of blogs we read so we were ok if we didnt make it that far. But the plan was to complete them all followed by the 9Mile trek down out of the mointains. Just over 30kms in distance plus a 5k hike back to the start lot once out of the trail.
We started from the Roostercomb lot just outside of Keene Valley. We parked our car there (Free parking) and made sure to sign the Log Book.
We were on our way! The trail starts with a climb right away. There was very little flat on the traverse..you were either going up or down..and if not going up or down you were scrambling over boulders. It was way more technical than I expected and since I have no experience with mountain hiking/running we made sure to keep our pace at a vigourus hike rather than any running. This was going to take a while.
Summit #1 – Rooster Comb – Elevation 2789ft
After about 7kms we reached our first Summit of the Day. This was our chance to catch our first glimpse of the mountains from up top. And it was breathtaking!! We continued on and decided that once we hit the next summit we would break.
Summit #2 – Hedgehog Mountain – 3389ft
At the top of Hedgehog we decided it was time to fuel. We wanted to enjoy the peaks and take in a much as we could so we were breaking every 1.5hours or so to eat. Sometime it was a full out lunch break and sometimes it was on the go. We were burning a tonne of calories on this trek as it was a full body workout as opposed to just running. We were on all fours at times scrambling up rocks and boulders to reach a summit.
Summit #3 – Lower Wolfjaw Mtn – 4175ft
This was our first summit over 4000ft. And we started to notice that the terrain was getting tougher. More rocks, more boulders. Amd it was slowing us down a lot! We are trail runners not rock climbers! Still we trekked on, constantly in awe over the views and terrain.
Summit #4 – Upper Wolfjaw Mtn – 4185ft
Summit #5 – Armstrong Mtn – 4400ft
These 2 summits were only 1M apart and we made quick time through them deciding again to break at the summit of Armstrong.
We had encountered a couple hiking groups by this time and had started asking questions about what was still to come. We knew Gothics and Saddleback would be tough based on what we read online and with the amount of rain the area had been experiencing we were worried about slick slippery rock. Especially since the descents would be steep and on Saddlebacks…no ropes. Needless to say the words of the other hikers were not comforting. They basically were telling us we were nuts or in one case “savage Canadians” but still we decided to trek on and just see how bad it really was.
Summit #6 – Gothics – 4736ft
Pardon my french but this is when shit got real.
Both the climb up to gothics and the descent were difficult for us newbie mountain trekkers. We were noticing the strange looks from other hikers at our get up of run gear and trail shoes when everyone else was covered up amd wearing rugged hiking boots. Where they were walking down steep rock face we were sliding down on our bottoms. And in turn I ripped my shorts. Damnit. Thankfully the descent on gothics had a rope (read: garden hose) system that helped us get down slowly. It was exhausting and we were relieved when we could finally rest out shakey arms and legs after that tough summit.
We headed back out on the trail over to Saddlebacks…the one we were most worried about and all agreed we would fuel up again at the summit before making the descent.
Summit #7 – Saddleback Mtn – 4515Ft
Now this peak was not our highest of the day, but I would call it pretty damn difficult and scary…and only because of how open and exposed the rock face was at the summit. No trees to block any of the elements and it was straight down with no ropes or ladders. FUN.
At this point i took charge of our Savage Canadian crew and lead the way down. I am NOT a great bouldering/rock climber but do have a bit of experience in the sport. So i took everything I learned and helped pick a safe line to the bottom reminding the girls to take it slow and to keep the body close to the rock. We were literally sliding down a rock looking for a blaze, seeing it painted on the edge of a rock and disappearing straight down.
We made it back to normal trail eventually and had a little bit of a celebration dance. The part we were most worried about was OVER!!!
Summit #8 – Basin Mtn – 4827ft
Safely off Saddleback we made our way over to Basin Mtn. Well apparently this one was also a scrambly rock climbing mess to get to the top of as well..however not as exposed as Saddleback, and with our newfound confidence we summited this baby in no time.
It was a LONG descent straight down into the valley after Basin before starting the ascent to our last and highest peaks of the day.
Summit #9 – Little Haystack – 4692Ft
As we made our way over to Mt Haystack we all started feeling the fatigue settling in. We had been hiking for over 12hours at this point and still had the 2 highest peaks and longest climbs to tackle. And Mt haystack was not easy. In fact…it was the hardest climb of the day. Literally…more climbing than hiking.
We were exhausted and I was starting to feel a bit shakey. We got to the top of what we thought was Mt Haystack..looked over at Mt Marcy, and started oooohing and aaaahing then I looked to my left. WTF is that Mountain?? Its HUGE and was right next to where we were standing. Another group was standing next to us and informed us that it was in fact Haystack Mtn and we were only on the summit of Little haystack. NOOOOOOO. NONONO.
I wanted to cry. As we were standing at the top of Little Haystack the weather was starting to turn. It was windy and much colder. I had put all my morning layers back on. And I noticed how shaky my legs and arms were and looking over at the monster that Haystack was with all exposed rockface and a technical climb I decided I was out. I told the group i would wait just inside the forest at the trail intersection to go to Marcy and they could summit without me. I didnt want to make a mistake because I was tired and hurt myself. I knew it was the right decision. 2 others in our group felt the same and joined me for our trail picnic while the other 2 summited Haystack.
We ate Pie and met the most lovely gentleman who educated us about the local alpine plants and various birds that call these mountains home. We loved it! We kept warm with our sol blankets and after about an hour the ladies rejoined us with a report that although they did summit Haystack..Marcy was lookong like a no go. The weather system blowing in didnt look safe to hike to the top (at 5344Ft it would have been a huge climb) and we were losing light. We did bring headlamps but the more hiking in daylight we got done the better. So unanimous decision was to skip Marcy..and to take the Johns brook Trail back to the Garden Lot to complete the traverse loop.
The trail back to garden was 9Miles long. Through a creek bed. Of boulders. And water. It took forever to hike. We were all getting hungry and tired and light was itching its way away. I got into a zone and just started powered through…taking the trail section by section until we reached landmarks and signage.
Eventually about 5 miles out we had to bring out the headlamps…and with that all our nerves went on edge. This was bear country..and in the dark..every sound, rustle, flash is a bear in my eyes. We did not stop for even a second for those last 5 miles (which were runnable FINALLY but it was pitch black so we power hiked it instead). 15hours after we left the rooster comb lot that morning..we found ourselves in the Garden lot. WE DID IT! We hiked the traverse! Unfortunately our night wasnt over, we still had a 5K hike back to our cars…and no one was willing to pick up 5 very dirty and smelly Canadian savages so we took our time, enjoying the clear starry skies as we made our way back. We even were invited to a huge house party enroute (and then uninvited when they saw how dirty we were lol…but thats a whole other story).
We eventually made it back to our Airbnb, enjoyed a taco feast and a nice hot shower.
This was probably the most adventurous thing I have ever done. And I loved every second of it. There are so many other trails and mountains to explore in the area that I am already making plans to head back.
If you are interested in hiking the grand traverse yourself I do suggest you research the heck out of the area and to print detailed topographical maps. They were very useful while we were out on the trail making decisions on whether to hit Marcy or not. I cannot wait for my next adventure to the area!!