I started out from the Roostercomb trailhead at 5:43am, climbing to the top of Rooster Comb in time for the cloudy sunrise. Then it was a long ascent up to Lower Wolfjaw, going over Hedgehog on the way. The air was cool but somewhat humid, with a thick cloud cover for the first half of the day. I went up and over Upper Wolfjaw, Armstrong, and Gothics in quick succession. Rooster Comb to Armstrong was incredibly soggy, with thick mud pools everywhere and wet green slime growing on most rock slabs; it made for some challenging climbing and I did a good job ignoring how much worse it would be on the descent later.
Descending Gothics was relatively smooth, with the majority of the open rock slab being dry and unslimy. The climb to the top of Saddleback was smooth, but the descent off the Cliffs was challenging. Basin’s ascent was steep and technical as always, with a number of slick wet rock slabs with fall risk to contend with. The descent was more of the same. I eagerly descended towards Sno-Bird, the first water source on the GRT. I connected over to Phelps trail and headed left towards Marcy. Once I popped out onto Van Ho trail, it was very busy all the way to the Marcy summit and down and over to Skylight. The sun had come out and the sky had cleared, and while the wind was whipping by at ~25-30 MPH (windchill around 30 degrees), many people were out hiking. I quickly went over the Marcy summit and headed down to Four Corners. I tagged Skylight and then sat at Four Corners to filter 1.5L of water and pull snacks out from the back of my pack.
Then it was descending into Panther Gorge on the Elk Lake Marcy Trail. The trail was flooded, with running water over most of it. At the bottom of the gorge, I took Bartlett Ridge Trail up to South Haystack Trail to get to the summit of Haystack. The climb was full of very steep slab and I had to be careful to not slide and fall as I ascended. As usual, the top of Haystack was incredibly windy, even windier than Marcy, with gusts getting close to 40 MPH. I was glad to get back under treeline, away from the cold wind, and kept descending towards Sno-bird, yo-yoing back on the GRT again. I stopped at Sno-bird to filter, knowing this would be my last water source until ~1-2 miles before the end. I expected the climb up Basin to be exhausting but I did pretty good, pushed onward by the desire to complete Saddleback Cliffs and Gothics in daylight. Daylight finally died as I headed towards Armstrong, and I reluctantly pulled out my headlamp. I started out only using my headlamp on as low a setting as I could tolerate, because I knew my battery life was going to be an issue given how far I still had to go.
The descent off Armstrong was sketchy in places, with all rock slab surfaces covered in water and/or green slime. The climb to Upper Wolfjaw was tiring but okay, though my legs were starting to be more inaccurate in their placement from weariness and poor lighting. My headlamp died as I left the summit and I had to switch to my waistlamp, which isn’t great for technical descent. The descents off Upper and Lower Wolfjaw were very sketchy.
After Lower Wolfjaw, it seemed like I should be back to the trailhead so soon, but it quickly became clear that wasn’t the case – there were ~4.5 miles and 3500′ descent still left, and my waistlamp battery was flickering. I put it on the lowest setting possible and just kept moving forward. I slowly drank the last of my water and tried to keep choking down calories. My brain kept wandering and I had to constantly monitor it to stay focused; my eyes kept playing tricks on me, making me think I was seeing light, movement, or animals on the edges of my vision. In the low dying light of my waistlamp and phone flashlight, I unknowingly picked the longer descent at the intersection with Rooster Comb spur trail, descending by Flume Brook Trail for 1.45 miles rather than by Rooster Comb Trail for 1.25 miles, adding on 0.2 miles and ’20 descent. Flume Brook meets back up with Rooster Comb Trail on both ends and the trails seamlessly merge together and I did not realize this difference until the next day, but as noted, it was slightly harder which only added time.
As to be expected with any of my Ben Nephew-inspired FKT routes (a la Swan Song), this was a brutal and beautiful course with endless challenges for anyone looking to test their mettle. I’d hoped for a faster time, but my time here this past winter let me forget how technical and exacting the Adirondacks truly are – snow smoothes out so many trails.