Friday, March 1, 2013
Gothics Mountain, cable route: 02/23/2013
Spectacular in any season, the High Peaks of the Adirondacks may be at their best in winter. No bugs or mud, fewer hikers, and the trails are smoothed out under a (hopefully) deep snow pack. But to me, the real appeal of winter climbing is the chance to experience the harsh conditions that are a reminder that this is a place where nature calls the shots and man is just a visitor. We got a nice taste of that climbing Gothics on Saturday.
At 4,736’ Gothics is the 10th highest peak in the Adirondacks. A commanding position in the middle of the Great Range and expansive slides on three sides of the mountain make it one of the most dramatic of the High Peaks. The peak can be climbed via four different approaches, but the climb from the Saddleback – Gothics col is considered the most dramatic and challenging as it ascends open rock faces that lead to the summit ridge. Fixed cables assist climbers over some of the steepest sections.
Our Saturday morning start wasn’t exactly crack-of-dawn, arriving at the Garden trailhead around 7:45 and scoring one of the few remaining parking spots at the trailhead. Snowshoes weren’t necessary initially, with less than a foot of snow on the ground. However, by the time we reached the Johns Brook interior outpost, 3 miles in, snow depth had increased and all 4 of us strapped on the snowshoes. Snow was falling at a steady clip, obscuring the peaks around us. There were steady winds too, indicating some pretty harsh conditions on the summits.
Above the interior outpost, we picked up the Orebed Trail. Hurricane Irene heavily impacted sections of the trail below the Saddleback – Gothics col, with new slides wiping out parts of the trail. The trail has been re-routed to now climb directly up a portion of the slide.
Once the trail re-enters the woods above the slide, it climbs steeply to the Saddleback – Gothics col. Snow depth, which had been steadily increasing above the Johns Brook interior outpost, was now at 4+ feet. Fortunately, we had been mostly sheltered from the wind as we climbed the Orebed trail. At the col, we re-grouped, took a short break, and geared up for the expected harsh conditions on the final .6 mile climb to Gothics’ summit ridge.
The route climbs steeply from the col. A couple of open pitches lead to the cables and exposed rock. Wind made it difficult to stay together, and we separated into two groups of 2, agreeing to re-group either at the summit or back at the col. At one point above the cables, we encountered a section of ice-covered rock that I wasn’t sure we’d be able to safely climb. We found a way up a seam in the rock, and then made a push for the summit ridge. Horizontal snow obscured any views, and wind made it impossible to linger on the summit ridge. Beth and I tagged the summit, turned around and began our descent back to the col, passing by Dave and Marcy as they made their final push to the summit.
Lucky for us, the exposed rocks weren’t as difficult to descend as I had expected, and our descent to the col was relatively straightforward. While our climb from the col had taken something like 40 minutes, we were able to do the descent in half that time. Dave and Marcy re-joined us at the col, and after re-fueling and re-layering we began the hike back down the Orebed trail, eventually arriving back at the Garden trailhead just as darkness fell, 10 hours after we had started that morning.
I don’t see myself going after all 46 peaks in winter, but Saturday’s hike was a great re-acquaintance with the beauty and challenge of the High Peaks in winter.