Unsupported Winter Bob Marshall Traverse


03.20.21

Katie Rhodes

Bethany and I pull into the Garden parking lot just before 4:30am feeling eager, and flow down the trail at an easy pace; this was only the warmup after all. After a round of the single season winter 46 this year, our bodies are accustomed to heavy packs over long miles. It’s almost as if we had trained for this day all season, without even realizing it. Our plan is to mimic the footsteps of Bob Marshall, a forester and wilderness activist who was one of the first to summit all 46 High Peaks of the Adirondacks. His is a household name in the Adirondack Park and the physical embodiment of the High Peaks to many.

On July 16, 1932 Bob took the same walk we would complete today – up and over 13 High Peaks and 1 Low Peak in order to set a new record that, according to him “would fit perfectly in a class with flagpole sitting and marathon dancing as an entirely useless type of record, made only to be broken, were it not that I had such a thoroughly glorious time out of the entire day.” Today we would try to make Bob proud, not only by completing this challenge with the same enthusiasm but with the intention of being the first women to do so in the winter. 

Just as Bob had done, we started our journey officially at Johns Brook Lodge at 5:39am, backtracking on ourselves to begin the ascent of our first mountain – Big Slide. A journey like this is a marathon not a sprint, so we tried to hold back despite feeling light and strong. As we reached the junction 0.3 miles from the summit, we began to see peeks of red and orange from the inevitable sunrise and our pace quickened. We struggled to refrain from stopping and gasping at the sight of a perfect rising sun, knowing we were on the clock, but it was too gorgeous not to turn and pause several times as we climbed. We reached the summit at precisely the pinnacle of the sunrise, gulped it in for just a moment, and then started right back down. A man on the summit rock with a large camera called to our backs, “Where are you going?? Aren’t you going to stay for the rest of the sunrise??” I called back “Not this time, we’ve got a long day ahead of us!” as we disappeared around the corner. We laughed and grinned as we made quick work of the descent, feeling like the mountains had spoken to us with the rising sun as their mouthpiece. 

Near the base we passed by a women so in the zone she barely saw us coming. “Hey you!” Bethany called to her as we got near, “What are you up to?” “Just going for a walk” she replied and kept trucking, determination in her eyes. “We’re tackling the Bob Marshall” Bethany shared but Laura was practically gone already. We continued on, pondering the interaction. I hadn’t recognized her at the time as I only knew her via social media but we had just run into Laura Tuttle, one of the original Adirondack Badass Mountain Women. So strange that we would see her at this time heading up the backside of Big Slide… with such a large pack… Bethany and I exchanged looks. Laura was going for The Bob too! That was the only reasonable explanation! We grew excited, three women were out simultaneously pushing for The Winter Bob, something only one man had been able to accomplish to date. We prayed our presence down the trail would help her dig deep and drive her forward.

We cruised back past JBL and began sailing up towards the Great Range, I had never approached the range from this direction and was thoroughly enjoying learning the curves and inclines of this new (to me) trail. All of a sudden, we were at the junction to Lower Wolfjaw, as if by teleportation. Up to the summit and back we slipped, then on to Upper Wolfjaw feeling strong. Despite hauling 5 liters of fluid and 5,000 calories each, our packs felt surprisingly light. Right from go, we are careful to pause at least once every hour to hydrate and down a few hundred calories to keep us fueled. The Upper Wolfjaw summit comes easily and we’re off to Armstrong, cruising over the rolling terrain of the range. A quick pause on the summit ledge of Armstrong to take in the views gets us fired up for the day to come.

The skies are bluebird and the sun shines brightly on our faces, driving us up towards Gothics knowing an even more grand view of the surrounding peaks awaits there. As we pop out on the summit we reach our arms up and spin about, smitten with the summits and trail still awaiting us on this glorious day! Two women approach us and say they recognize us, they’re going for the Great Range Traverse today and seem as content as we are – kindred souls. We say goodbyes and then we’re off again, dropping down down down along the cable route before starting the climb back up again. For the first time all day, I begin to feel a bit sluggish. The snow has been warming under the full sun and has taken on a mashed potato consistency, slowing us a bit. We get quiet as we slog upwards and I begin to worry about this sudden fatigue so early in the journey, we still have a long way to go today. Then my stomach gives a helpful little grumble and I smile; we’d been so caught up in the beauty of the range we’d failed to refuel on the hour. I was just hungry! We pause and I gulp maple almond butter and Tailwind down before we press on to the summit of Saddleback.

Another quick break to enjoy the day from this new vantage point and to swap to our Kahtoola Microspikes to make for a safer descent down the bare Saddleback cliffs. Another pause to flip back to our snowshoes and we’re off to Basin through deep, windblown snow. This section would prove to be the toughest trail conditions of the day but we manage to maintain a solid pace and summit Basin with renewed vigor. Dropping down the north side of Basin, we run into Jay Whitbourne and his group who are going for the GRT Plus today (Great Range Traverse + Skylight & Grey). We refer to Jay as the ‘Modern Day Bob Marshall’ for a reason – strong, kind and humble; he’s gained a reputation for impressively long days in the mountains and emanates the spirit of the Adirondacks. They send us off with well wishes and we push towards our next objective with enthusiasm. As we approach I become nearly giddy; the sight of Little Haystack before us and Mount Haystack looming behind it.

Haystack has always been a favorite of mine and I know the out and back to the summit will charge me up as it always does. Our legs gain a renewed sense of vigor and we move quickly over the bare rock summit, taking the time to pause and enjoy the majesty all around us. Sometimes I stand on these peaks and can’t help but wonder how I got so lucky to live this life among such beauty. Back to the junction we bounce toward Marcy, the halfway point! I wonder aloud how Marcy’s ascent will feel after the mileage we had already covered with full packs but I’m pleasantly surprised at how good our legs feel as we climb.

As we reach the summit we plunk down behind a rock crevice to block the wind and soak up the sunshine and to take a proper rest break. We gaze back over the terrain we had covered already today, squinting to see the figures on the peaks we had already visited. ‘Was Laura out there somewhere’, we wondered? Just then a woman crested the backside of the summit and approached us excitedly. She explained that she recognized us and shared a powerful, personal story with us that nearly brought us all to tears. Another kindred spirit! We wished we could stay longer and trade stories but we were still on the clock so off we went, down the backside of Marcy where the mashed potato snow greeted us again. Skylight came quickly, with the ascent feeling trivial after all we had already accomplished. My brain flashed forward to the climb we were headed towards up Algonquin Pass which required us to gain 2,000 feet in just 1.5 miles. ‘How bad would that hurt?’ I wondered before pushing the thought away and settling into the pleasant descent to Lake Colden we were on.

Time passed quickly as we approached the Pass and I took point, shifting into low gear. Slowly and steadily we climbed up up up. I tuned into my body’s cues, slowing the pace whenever my heart rate dictated. With little trouble, we topped out with grins on our faces – we were in the final stretch! The out and back to Iroquois feels so good we practically run it, overjoyed with the journey unfolding. As we reach the summit of Iroquois I hug the summit cairn and we both call out into the mountains – woohooooo! With fire in our hearts, we run down Iroquois and over Algonquin, laughing and whooping. The sun begins to set and we power up Wright knowing we’re about to catch a magical sunset. Again, the mountains speak to us, ‘You’re exactly where you’re supposed to be’ they say.

The sun crests behind the distant peaks and casts a fiery glow just as we reach the summit rock. Then we’re on our way back down at top speed. I had been too fired up to stop and switch to my Microspikes before the ascent and regret it as my snowshoes spark and slide on the descent. At the junction we take a final break before barreling down and out toward the Loj. Sprinting with unbridled exuberance we haul down the trail; reaching the Loj we book it across the parking lot and head out to grab our final objective – Mt Jo. As we ascend my lungs finally start to protest, wheezing subtly in the cold air from all I had demanded of them today. We slow the pace and respect our bodies’ limits, chugging up to the summit in low gear. As we reach the top, we both gasp and snap off our headlamps. The stars were perfectly shimmering in a pool of the deepest black night. We stood and stared side by side for a few minutes, in awe of the sky and the mountains and the journey we had just shared.

Finally, we nod to each other and make our way back down to the trailhead to finish what we had started. Back at the 46 House we cut a pizza down the middle and each take half, knowing we earned this gluttony and recapping the day. Again, we wonder aloud ‘Is Laura still out there somewhere?’ The next morning we wake up still buzzing from our journey when suddenly B looks at her phone and calls out, “She did it! Laura completed The Bob too!!” and our hearts are soaring – three badass mountain women persevered on the ultimate Adirondack traverse on the same day! 

31.16 miles

15,000 feet gain

13 High Peaks

1 Low Peak

15 hours 39 minutes 

Categories: FKT, KT's Corner

2 comments

  1. Hey Bethany – what an inspirational write-up and great achievement you both did! I am sitting here in PHX reading your narrative to Jan and Joe Berger and everyone is loving it! Yesterday Joe and I did a hike on the Arizona Trail starting at Lake Roosevelt. The hike starts off with around 1K vertical in about the first mile. It was tough! So you mentioned 2k vertical over 1.5mi, plus in the snow. We have total respect for your achievement!

    Like

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