The Great Range Traverse
New York › Adirondack Loj
Added by Janet Thomas
This is an epic day-hike traverse through the Adirondack Great Range, covering some of the most scenic high peak wilderness and offering breathtaking views along the way!
The Summits: Mt. Marcy, Mt. Haystack, Little Haystack, Basin, Saddleback, Gothics, Armstrong, Upper Wolf Jaw, Lower Wolf Jaw, Hedgehog and Roostercomb. Total distance is around 25 Miles and an elevation change of over 17,600 feet (gain and loss). You will need to carry enough water for the day as there aren't many places to filter along the way. I carried 5 liters for the trip. You will also want to park a car at the trail head of Roostercomb - it's a long way back to the Loj from here!
There are a few variations to do the Great Range Traverse, rated by Backpacker Magazine as Americas third hardest day-hike in 2005 and by Backpacker Magazine as one of the Grand Traverses in 2013. I did the Great Range Traverse as a series of 11 peaks (one of them, Little Haystack, being summited twice), and all but Hedgehog and Roostercomb being "highpeaks" above 4,000′, starting from NY’s highest point, Mt. Marcy for a beautiful sunrise and finishing with Roostercomb.
You will begin the hike up Mt. Marcy, via the Van Hoevenberg Trail, following the Van Hoevenberg Trail for 2.1 miles in to Marcy Dam. The bridge has been removed so you will need to take a left just before the Dam and hike down to a wooden bridge to coss, passing the jct. to the South Meadow Trail on the left and over to the back country trail register at the far end on the right, making a right here to stay on the Van Hoevenberg Trail.
After about 300 feet you will come to the jct. for Avalanche Pass Trail (yellow foot trail). Stay left to continue on the Van Hoevenberg Trail (blue foot trail) climbing gradually up to the Phelps Brook where you will cross the high water bridge to follow the left side of Phelps Brook for about 0.1 mile where the foot trail then crosses back over the brook to follow the right side again.
At 3.2 miles and climbing steadily now, you are at the jct. to Phelps Mountain (red trail) on the left. Staying right on the Van Hoevenberg (blue trail) you will continue to climb as the trail gets steeper and rockier, coming to the ski trail junctions. Pay close attention not to end up on the ski trails by following the blue trail to the right until you arrived at Indian Falls, at around 4.4 miles. You will want to walk out to the overlook at the falls here, don't pass by!
From Indian Falls, continue on the Van Hoevenberg Trail, keeping left as you pass the yellow Lake Arnold trail, until coming to the Hopkins Trail jct. at 6.2 miles. Here you will stay right to continue to Mt. Marcy. Just after this jct., the summit of Mt. Marcy is in full view ahead. At 6.8 miles the Phelps Trail (red trail) jct. meets up on the left. Bearing right the trail opens up to exposed bare rock and passes through the sphagnum bog along the Boardwalk to Marcy’s final approach as you hike to the summit. At 7.4 miles, following the cairns and yellow blazes, you have arrived at the summit of Mt. Marcy, the first summit of the day!
After 1.3 miles of descending Mt. Marcy via the Phelps Trail, you will take a right at the jct. to continue towards the Haystack’s via the Range Trail. After hiking 0.5 miles the Range Trail comes to the jct. of the Haystack Trail, to the right (yellow trail) which follows a very steep and rugged climb to Little Haystack.
After climbing over the exposed rock summit of Little Haystack, you will follow a few switchbacks down into the wooded col between the Haystack’s and proceed to climb up to the exposed rocky summit of Mt. Haystack where you can enjoy 360 degree views, and an award winning view back at Mt. Marcy. The distance from the Haystack Trail jct. to the summit is just 0.6 miles but it is very steep and covers rough terrain. Climbing and scrambling over Little Haystack and up to Mt. Haystack is a lot of fun though and it's pretty cool looking back at Mt. Marcy and over to the rest of the Great Range - the epic journey ahead!
Descend back down Mt. Haystack and back over Little Haystack until reaching the trail jct. at 0.6 miles. From here you will follow the trail right at the jct., to Basin Mountain. The descent down into the col is fairly rugged with a pretty steep drop before climbing up to Basin; another steep climb with a few challenging spots on the ascent. Basin offers fantastic views of Marcy and the Haystacks, along with panoramic views of the high peaks wilderness from the summit.
The descent from Basin following the Range Trail is steep, descending down into a col before climbing again with another steep descent over the vertical, exposed cliffs of Saddleback. There are few hand holds and places to put your feet here, making it the most challenging ascent of the traverse. Distance from Basin to Saddleback is 0.9 miles and views from the summit are not bad!
From here you will continued on the Range Trail down Saddleback into the col, and up to Gothics with a total distance of 1.0 miles. There are cables bolted down on Gothic's rock face slides to hold onto for safety. After the cables there is a large exposed rock face climb. Follow the crevice in the rock up to the summit.
You will continue on the Range Trail down the east side of Gothics, not as challenging as the previous descents, but it is still steep and rough terrain to traverse. Not far before reaching the summit of Armstrong you will pass a jct. which leads to Lower Ausable Lake. Continue to stay on the Range trail to summit Armstrong. Total distance to Armstrong from Gothics is 0.9 miles. Armstrong offers nice views of the Wolf Jaws and other neighboring peaks from the summit.
The decent from Armstrong following the Range Trail follows a long ladder down, not far from the summit, down into the col and then up. The hike is moderate and easy to follow, and after 1.0 mile you will reach the summit of Upper Wolf Jaw. It is mostly wooded, with an open ledge offering a nice view of Lower Wolf Jaw and Hedgehog Mountain.
From Upper Wolf Jaw, the descent down the Range Trail is steep with several switchbacks and some scrambling that follows the ledge down into the col. Continue straight to stay on the Range Trail at the jct. in the col and climb steeply over more rough and rocky terrain as you reach the summit of Lower Wolf Jaw.
Lower Wolf Jaw is quick climb up, although the steepness of it can slow you down a bit! It was another wooded summit, with some clearing through the trees.
You are now on your way down, descending Lower Wolf Jaw, with two more peaks to go. Take the trail which takes you over Hedgehog at the jct. The summit of Hedgehog is wooded, offering no views, just a nice hike through the wilderness, with some elevation changes.
After Hedgehog, you will reach the trail jct. for Rooster Comb, which is a 1.0 mile round trip out and back. Climbing up isn't difficult at all. It is a nice moderate hike with beautiful views from the summit! Follow the trail back down to the four way jct. and take the trail to Route 73, which is 0.7 miles and ends at the trail-head across from the Noonmark Diner. You can take a little trek through the Wetlands here and I highly recommend it! A stop for a burger and a beer at the Ausable Inn up the road is highly recommended as well!
- Water for the entire day (Approx. 5 Liters)
- Enough food for an entire day (Don't skimp here)
- Extra Layers, socks, rain and wind gear
- Backpacker's First Aid Kit
- Bug Spray
- Headlamps and Batteries
- Hat and Gloves
- Snowshoes (winter)
- Crampons (winter)
- Snow gear and boots (winter)
- Microspikes (Fall-Spring)
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Some of the greatest ADK peaks!
Though I never did the traverse all in one setting, I have done all the summits included multiple times! The climb over Little Haystack and up the Saddleback Cliffs are my favorite parts of the trails. The views throughout are all amazing. Love the ruggedness of the Adirondacks!
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