Labor Day Weekend || Through Hiking Giant Mountain and Rocky Ridge || September 4, 2016
On Sunday morning, we woke up excited and ready to take on our first 2 “46ers”. Back when we were in SC and living in New York was only a dream to us, we heard about the 46 peak challenge — a “historic” challenge that includes almost all mountains in the Adirondacks that are over 4000 feet tall. I think we both mentally put that on our bucket list faster than you can say “46 peak challenge”. Once we arrived, we learned that all of these mountains are all centrally located in the High Peaks region a bit farther North than where we’re located, and we heard about other challenges that sounded more doable for the time that we were here. So, we put this challenge on the back burner. Still, we wanted to get a taste of the 46ers and reach higher peaks than we had so far, so we planned our weekend around this one big hike.
As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, we went on this weekend hiking adventure with a friend, and because of that we were able to park our cars in different lots and take on this hike as a through-hike. We decided we wanted to do a trail that was around 10 miles long, potentially less popular, and that would get us multiple peaks if possible. Curtis chose Giant and Rocky Ridge mountains, which are both 46ers and the trail would also include a mountain on the 29 peak challenge. Lars’ car was parked at the Eastern trailhead for Rocky Ridge the night before, so after packing up camp, eating breakfast, and hiking back to our car, we drove to the trailhead for Giant Mountain on the West side. It was pretty busy already, but we were expecting that, it was a Labor Day weekend after all — we were looking forward to making it past Giant and Rocky Ridge because we knew less people would be on that part of the trail.
Today’s hike was, in a word, exhausting. The trail was honestly one of the hardest we’ve ever done. I was comparing it to trails like Cathedral Rock and Pusch in the Catalina Mountains of AZ. It took us about 3 hours to do the first 3 miles. We stopped so much to sit down and catch our breath. There were steep rock faces and sections where we were literally rock climbing, and there were rocks and roots in the way that were high and hard to step over. Giant is the 12th highest peak in the 46er challenge, and on a difficulty scale of 1-7 (7 being highest) it stands at a 5. Yet most other 46ers are 6 and 7’s! If this is what all 46 peaks are like, I’ll turn in my resignation now!
Now I asked Curtis to give a brief layout of the trail. (We would post an elevation profile, but his phone died on the hike) From the West, the trail to Giant Mountain ascends approximately 3000 feet in 3 miles. Most people hike up and down this steep goat path, but we (read I) decided we could do better and snag a second 46er and get a really good hike on. Going West from Giant, the Rocky Ridge Trail rapidly descends 1000 feet in a mile only to regain almost all of that going back up to the peak of Rocky Ridge (number 20 in the 46ers). For the remaining 7-ish miles the trail descends the Ridge passing over many lesser peaks and losing elevation in short steep bursts rather than gradually.
So this whole thing was a real struggle for all of us….except for Charlotte, our tiny little basset hound. Charlotte seriously did so amazing, her energy and rock climbing skills were so far above mine. Everyone would initially comment on her tiny little legs, but hey, her tiny little legs were getting her up the mountain faster than anyone else. She would scamper up the super steep rock face like it was nothing. She was always in the lead for our group, and I was always holding up the rear. I would overhear people talking about how embarrassing it was that “that tiny little dog is getting up this mountain faster than I am”. Who would have thought back at the time when Curtis and I decided to try and make her do some hiking that she would do so well and go on to pass our level of climbing. We are so proud…and I feel bad that I’m always holding her back. She probably could’ve summited Giant in half the time it took us.
Well, after 3 brutal hours we finally made it to the summit of Giant, and we joined the mass of hikers to sit down and take in the view. To be honest, we were a little disappointed. From the top, you can really only see towards the West. The gnats were also really bad at the top. We pointed out which peaks we knew and had heard about, and talked with a few other hikers who had more experience with the 46ers. To anyone who has completed them all, we now have mad respect for you.
We ate some of our food, but decided to push on. We were only 3 miles in to our 11 mile hike, after all. Yikes. I was SO glad we didn’t have to return on the same trail we came up — going up such steep trails is difficult, but going downhill is dangerous. However, we found that going down the other side of Giant was just as steep and challenging. There were less rock face sections, but the dirt trail was more wet and slippery. I’m not ashamed to admit I sat and scooted down some especially steep parts. Once again, Charlotte just beasted the whole thing and was pretty much waiting for us on the top of Rocky Ridge, the next peak.
Thankfully, once we were off Giant and onto Rocky Ridge, the trail was a bit easier. We had to regain a lot of elevation, but it took us much less time than ascending Giant did. There were less people on this peak, but the gnats were still just as bad. The majority of people who do both Giant and Rocky Ridge in a day will hike up Giant, down and up Rocky Ridge, and then will retrace their steps back to Giant’s trailhead, meaning they basically have to climb up and down Giant twice. We were SO thankful we were able to do a through hike instead and kept reminding ourselves of that during the rest of our hike.
However, doing the through hike meant we had 3 extra miles to go than if we had gone out and back. Sometimes, when you hike a ridge trail, it means that it follows a ridge that passes by different peaks. Other times, it goes on the ridge and up to the top of every single peak along the way…and unfortunately, that’s what this trail decided to do. We hit Bald Mountain, which is on the 29 peak challenge, and then a handful of other peaks that I honestly don’t even care about. The trail was never too difficult, but we were so worn out from going up and down Giant that we were already physically and mentally exhausted. I stopped taking pictures around 2 — only 5 hours into the hike — and when I stop taking pictures, that means I literally have stopped caring.
When the trail finally started going down for the last time, I was way behind the others. Curtis would stop and wait for me at points while Lars and Charlotte went on ahead. Yeah, my puppy finished the trail long before I did. We were going pretty crazy toward the end. I kept thinking I saw the trailhead and parking lot but was continuously disappointed. I was also hoping we would come across like a ski lift or something that could take us to the bottom…since I had no cash on me, I decided I would trade my camera for a ride back. So maybe I was a tad dramatic.
There was no Ski Lift, but we did make it back to the parking lot, where Charlotte was waiting for us in Lars’ air conditioned car. It took us about 9 hours to do the whole 11 mile hike. I was pretty sore and my feet looked bad, but once it was all said and done, I can say that I’m glad we did it and got it over with. I’m not sure how many more 46ers we’ll do. I’m pretty curious to see if they’re all that bad…but I’m not sure if I’m curious enough to find out the hard way! At least we were able to conquer 2 of these peaks. We drove home that evening and then took it easy on Labor Day. The highlight of the day was coming home and eating homemade no-churn ice cream that I had made right before we left. The perfect solution to any exhausting day. 🙂
Curtis: In retrospect, the hike itself isn’t truly that difficult. It is very steep, and so difficult to navigate, especially on the way down, but very much doable. What made it so difficult for us was really our lack of preparedness. We didn’t carry nearly enough water (yet we still run into people without it) and we really wore ourselves out in that first three miles. This was our first longer, higher hike we’ve done in a long while, and perhaps we over estimated our natural ability. So we live and learn and adjust the way we’ve been doing things, and I think our experiences on this hike really benefitted our experiences in the following week when we hiked to even higher heights.