After more visits with my parents and friends, we are ready for another High Peak. The weather is in the 50s, warming up to the 60s, with sunshine. Perfect for a good hike.
At 6 miles (via the shortest route), Giant is one of the shorter High Peak hikes but that also makes it one of the steepest. We’re going up 3,000 feet in 3 miles. Three Adirondack miles, which means it’s not an easy path, it’s a bunch of boulders and tree roots with the occasional mud patch, just to keep it interesting. It also has fabulous views of most of the High Peaks to its south, which is one reason I’ve chosen this particular hike.
Just after we sign in at the trail register, the hike immediately starts its ascent up the rocks and roots, twisting and turning. It’s about a half a mile or so to a pretty lookout over Chapel Pond below us and the nearest mountains to the south. As we rise, we will see more and more mountains.
We continue and cross the end of what’s known as the “Giant’s Washbowl” (a small pond) on a footbridge. Walt remarks that the washbowl must fill up quite a bit in the spring because the bridge we’re on is nowhere near the water.
We, somehow, miss the very well-marked junction to the summit at 1 mile. I look up and realize we are on a yellow-blazed trail and I know the book said we’d be on a blue-blazed trail the whole way. We continue a little bit further, seeing a side trail to a lookout. I pull out the map and guidebook, realizing we are standing on a side trail at the “Giant’s Nubble.” We enjoy the view over the washbowl before turning back. We’ve added about half a mile to our day. At the junction, we’re both shocked that we missed it: there are three different wooden signs pointing to the summit, the parking lot and the nubble. What can I say? I was in the lead and it was my fault that we missed the turnoff to the summit. It happens. I think I managed to miss it because I was remembering my first trip up Giant, nearly 15 years ago, when I had my first hiking meltdown – because we’d missed a turnoff coming down the mountain and had to backtrack uphill.
Anyway, no meltdowns today.
We continue on and the trail is now steeper, rockier and harder than it was at the start. There are some switchbacks, which is not very Adirondack-like but they are soon countered by the huge rock wall that we arrive at. There are helpful yellow blazes painted on the rocks, showing the easiest way up the face. I confess that even after all my hikes in the Adirondacks (I’ve hiked all 46 High Peaks), I still wonder sometimes how I’m going to get down some of these rock faces on the return to the car. I always do but it still gives me pause.
Up we go, out of the densest of trees. There was a fire here about 100 years ago and the really tall trees stop at a point where the fire stopped. After a century, there is no sign of a fire and there are now a lot of trees, they’re just not as dense and tall as the ones below.
We keep going in and out of the forest and then over huge open rocks. I like the big rocks because we have to think less about where to place our feet; we can just walk. Although it’s hard walking because there’s a lot of elevation gain. We stop for small breaks for water and panting and longer breaks to admire the views that just keep getting better the higher we go.
At one point, Walt points to a summit above us, saying “that must be it.” I remind him that the guidebook says there are numerous false summits. He nods.
A few minutes later, we’re at another junction – we don’t miss this one – and I tell him that we are about a mile and quarter from the top. He responds that he “didn’t need to know that.” We haven’t even achieved 2/3 of our 3-mile hike yet. The summit is a long ways off.
We’re back in the woods now, the open rock faces behind us. There are huge boulders still, but more along the lines of 12 feet of figuring out how to navigate. I’m trying very hard not to think about the descent.
After more than two hours since our start, we hit another junction that says we are 0.7 mile from the summit. And it’s all just hard up, except for the short, flatter areas that are remarkably muddy. I’ve never figured out how Adirondack mountains are able to keep so much mud so far up the mountain, but they are very often very muddy at the bottom and top, even if the rest of the trail is relatively dry – and it very often isn’t.
It’s just slow going. We get passed by a few groups. I’m feeling smug because they’re all much younger than us until a guy about my age just passes us like we were standing still. Oh well.
On we go. In some spots, I just throw up a knee, not even attempting to be graceful. Most of the rocks are damp, in some cases with trickles of water flowing, but they are craggy enough that they are not slippery, which is helpful. I step up one big rock, fail to get enough weight on my front foot, fall on my right flank and slide about 4 feet. Walt’s standing behind me and successfully breaks my slide, which upsets me, because if I’d had more momentum, I might have knocked him over backward. I would just assume he get out of my way. As I point out to him: “You should know by now that I don’t give a damn about me falling (I’ve done it a lot and never suffer serious injury) but I freak out when you fall.”
Anyway, neither of us was damaged in this fall, so we continue.
After what feels like a very long time, we hit our last junction, which tells us we are 0.2 miles from the summit. My book says this is a fairly easy and, for once, it got the difficulty level correct. Very quickly we are popping out on the rocky summit with our views, which are rapidly being obscured by clouds but are still very pretty.
We enjoy our usual PB&J, chips and Gatorade lunch and a nice rest. Take a bunch of pictures and head back down after half an hour. It took us exactly 3 hours to get to the top, including our ½ mile detour to the nubble, and it will take us 2 hours and 40 minutes to get back to the car.
We make it down pretty well, although slowly and carefully, through all the steep upper sections; pick up speed on the open rock faces and then slow a bit as we descend back into the rocky woods. Once we get to the last mile, Walt keeps asking if we really did all of this coming up. This hike is just one long uphill followed by a long downhill.
Back at the car, we are excited because there’s a soft-ice cream stand near our rented apartment that should be open. Twist cones all around!