The loop from Johns Brook Lodge (JBL) is best hiked counterclockwise over the entire Lower Range starting at Johns Brook. It is quite strenuous due to the rocky and uneven terrain, the overall length of the route (8 miles), and a number of steep and very steep ascents and descents. The terrain poses numerous obstacles such as ledges and steep, open rock faces. This hike is best undertaken with an experienced hiker in the group. No special skills or equipment are required, but the ascent of Gothics via the Ore Bed Brook Trail is intimidating for anyone with a fear of standing in the wind on steep, exposed rock sometimes without a handhold. The danger is more one of perception than reality, but that argument doesn't carry much weight for someone uncomfortable in a very exposed position. The other side of the coin is that this is nearly our favorite hike in the Adirondacks and one of the most exhilarating. Gothics will occupy a special place in your memory, too.
The upper reaches of the Blue Ore Bed Brook Trail (ADK #8, McM #119) and the climb of Gothics from the Saddleback col are both steep. Both Upper and Lower Wolf Jaws are steep, requiring negotiation of a number of ledges that slow the pace considerably. Some hikers will panic during the ascent of Gothics with its steep, open rock faces. We encountered two such persons on our hike. One of them had hiked the Adirondacks for many years. With some coaching on our behalf they both made it up the steep, wind-blown slopes. Note that there is no place on this route where a person cannot stand safely on a calm, dry day. Further, in 2005 the rangers have installed a new cable for those person with the jitters to hang onto as they ascend.
Best Tip for Lower Range:
Gothics is possibly the most fun hike in the Adirondacks. Try to pick a beautiful day for climbing. Savor, not only the Lower Range, but the Upper Range, too, when you get around to doing it. These are the crème de la crème of the Adirondacks.
Gothics offers stellar views of many peaks including the rest of the Great Range, the Colvin Range, the Dixes, and Marcy. This is in addition to Gothics being probably the most awe-inspiring peak in the Adirondacks. Armstrong and Upper and the Wolf Jaws pale in comparison, lacking the panoramic quality of Gothics and the massive bare rock surfaces. But all three offer significant views in one direction or another. Lower Wolf Jaws has good views back toward the Range. Also, its sheltered summit has a certain charm and warmth. While there in 2002 we encountered a married couple who claimed it was their favorite peak due to the nice summit.
Route In A Nutshell:
1. From JBL, moderate hiking most of the way, then steep hiking with a few short, very steep sections from JBL to the Gothics-Saddleback col via the Ore Bed Brook Trail.
2. Steep and very steep hiking from the col to the summit of Gothics over primarily smooth rock face. The trail up the face occasionally passes through small islands of conifers which provide good shelter in case of wind. A very strong, flexible cable is provided over most of the ascent by DEC to assist those wanting added security during the climb.
3. Easy traverse from Gothics' false summit to its true summit. Easy-to-moderate hiking from Gothics to Armstrong and Upper Wolf Jaws.
4. The descent from Upper Wolf Jaws to the pass between Upper and Lower Wolf Jaws is steep and involves negotiating a number of 5-10 foot ledges. However, it is entirely in wooded terrain with lots of handholds.
5. Ascent of Lower Wolf Jaws is quite steep in a number places. Care is warranted. LWJ's summit is reached 0.5 miles from the pass and 660 vertical feet above it.
6. Moderate descent to Johns Brook Lodge via the Wolf Jaw Brook Trail from the Wolf Jaws' pass.
Plan ahead! Once on the Lower or Upper Range Trail, there will be no more sources of water. Even those using a hydration pack might consider topping off their water supply at the last water.
Ore Bed Brook Trail takes you from JBL to the Gothics-Saddleback col. It was a nicely groomed trail and a pleasure to hike in 1999 when this hike was first taken. It is a moderate ascent over half to three quarters of its length, but it becomes steep and difficult in the last seven hundred vertical feet that deposit you in the aforementioned col. This distance involves steep climbing on wet, slippery rock aided by ladders. On one hand the ladders eliminate having to walk on slippery rock, but on the other hand, the ladders themselves are tricky. Unfortunately, the heavy rains that dominated the weather throughout 2000 dramatically worsened the trail conditions on OBBT. We traversed it again in 2000 as the last stage of a trip over Basin and Saddleback. Even though we were hiking in darkness we could see that the footing had deteriorated significantly.
Further description of the trails accompanies the photos below.
1. The Garden to Johns Brook Lodge
2. Loop from JBL of the Lower Range: Gothics, Armstrong, Upper Wolf Jaws, and Lower Wolf Jaws
Map 1: Counterclockwise loop starting at JBL (red "home plate" symbol) Runs SSW along Ore Bed Brook.
Map 2: Climbs out of the Saddleback-Gothics col to summit, consecutively, of Gothics, Armstrong and Upper Wolf Jaws, returning to JBL.