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Gothics and the Great Range

June 27, 2008
By Mike Lynch, Outdoor Writer


Enterprise Outdoor Writer

KEENE VALLEY - With its slides and rugged appearance, Gothics is one of the most recognizable mountains in the Eastern High Peaks.

Article Photos

Montreal residents Samuel Chayer and Pascale Dufour climb Gothics with the help of a cable.
(Enterprise photo— Mike Lynch)

In the winter, the most skilled and daring backcountry skiers attempt its slides, and ice climbers ascend its north face. Throughout the summer and fall months, hikers scramble to its peak, taking in views of Basin, Saddleback and other High Peaks along the way.

There are at least two theories about how Gothics was named. One is that in 1857, Frederick Perkins and "Old Mountain" Phelps labelled the mountain Gothics because its slides and bare rocks reminded them of Gothic architecture, according to the Adirondack Mountain Club's High Peaks Hiking Guide written by Tony Goodwin.

Gothic architecture was popular in Europe from the 12th to the 16th centuries. It applied to stone buildings, such as cathedrals, abbeys and parish churches, many of which had pointed arches and flying buttresses.

Another theory is that a North Elba minister's poem suggested the name, according to the same guidebook.

Either way, its slides, showcasing bare rock, are its most distinguishable features.

Getting to Gothics

To get to the peak of Gothics, there are several options. There are three trails leading to a section of the Range Trail that leads to its peak, which at 4,736 feet high is the 10th highest mountain in the Adirondacks.

There is a trail from Sawteeth and Pyramid Peak that runs along the cliffs above Lower AuSable Lake. A second trail runs parallel to Beaver Creek, which empties into the East Branch of the AuSable River. Both trails start on the eastern side of the mountain, with the Sawteeth trail being further south.

The third route runs alongside and through the moss-covered Orebed Brook. It starts in the Johns Brook Lodge area, where the state Department of Environmental Conservation's Interior Outpost is also located.

For this article, I explored the Orebed Brook trail route.

From the Interior Outpost, this path, when connected to the Range Trail and the Wolf Jaw Brook trails, forms a loop of about eight miles and hits four of the 46 Adirondack High Peaks along the way.

The Interior Outpost is a log building located three miles from the Garden trailhead parking lot in Keene Valley, making the overall trip about 14 miles.

The Interior Outpost sits in a meadow beside Johns Brook. Less than a quarter-mile from the building is a suspension bridge over Johns Brook. After crossing the bridge, you can take the Orebed Trail for three miles to the Range Trail, climbing 1,740 feet in elevation as you go. As is common in the High Peaks, the higher elevation forest is dominated by a coniferous forest of balsam and spruce.

The latter portion of this three-mile section requires climbing several steep rock slabs, including one that runs alongside a nearby slide. Here ladders aid the hiker, although one ladder was missing most of its rungs.

Past this section, you'll run into a fork, where the Orebed Trail meets the Range Trail. Gothics lies to the northeast.

Up the Range Trail

Although the Orebed Brook Trail is strenuous at times, the more difficult hike begins on Gothics. When you ascend Gothics, the path is steep and over bare rock. From the Gothics-Saddleback Col to the peak, you go up 640 feet in just .35 miles, or 730 feet in .7 miles, according to "Discover the Adirondack High Peaks" guidebook by the late Barbara McMartin.

To aid hikers ascending Gothics from this section, a cable is fashioned to the rock. A bonus here is that along the outer sections of the trail, there are blueberry bushes that produce fruit in mid-summer.

From this side of Gothics, there are great views of Saddleback Mountain and the slides of Basin Mountain. In addition, to the west are views of Mount Marcy, the McIntyre Range and numerous High Peaks.

"Looking back toward Marcy ... was one of the finest views imaginable of deep gorges, rocky precipices and virgin forest, piled together on a tremendous scale," conservationist Bob Marshall wrote about his ascent of Gothics in August 1920.

After you hit the first peak, keep going and you'll soon hit the main peak, where there is a surveyor's marker. Here there is bare spot and a lookout to the east.

Leaving Gothics

After leaving Gothics, there are four more peaks to hit along the ridgeline. The first is Armstrong Mountain (4,440 feet), followed by Upper Wolf Jaw (4,185 feet) and Lower Wolf Jaw (4,175 feet).

"To some people, the Wolf Jaws are a series of knobs that resemble teeth in a strong jaw that grips the heights above both the Johns Brook Valley and the Ausable Lakes," McMartin wrote.

Because you are hiking along the ridgeline, the ascents are not nearly as difficult as going up Gothics. You do have to go out of your way to hit Lower Wolf Jaw, which is .5 miles off the main trail.

After exiting the Wolf Jaws and heading back into the valley on the trail alongside Wolf Jaw Brook, you can take the Southside Trail back to the Garden parking lot.

There are two trails from the parking lot to the Interior Outpost and Johns Brook Lodge; the other is Phelps Trail.

The walk along the Southside Trail follows Johns Brook. It crisscrosses several tributaries, before emptying into the Garden.

Contact Mike Lynch at 891-2600 ext. 28 or



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