SEP 2015 - HIKING & BACKPACKING
Bennies Brook Slide
By Bill Ingersoll
Lower Wolf Jaw is not often regarded as one of the more spectacular Adirondack High Peaks. Although it is part of the stellar Great Range, its wooded summit offers limited views, and many people have been observed saying “This is it?” upon reaching the top.
However, in 2011 the storm known as Hurricane Irene etched a superb new route to the top of Lower Wolf Jaw: a long, open slide along the course of Bennies Brook on the mountain’s northwestern slopes. This is not a marked or maintained trail, but the slide extends so far up the mountain that navigation is only a minor issue. You can follow the slide with ease nearly to the summit; a path barely 200 feet long leads from the top of the slide to a junction with the Range Trail across the summit.
Some Adirondack slides are steep and slippery, but Bennies Brook Slide is a relatively gentle route. Even when the slope does become steep on the upper half of the mountain, there are plenty of ledges to serve as steps – never do you feel like you are exposed on the side of a steep precipice. There have been several manmade trails leading up Lower Wolf Jaw for generations, but in my opinion this new route – which has been gifted to us by a force of nature – is easily the most scenic.
The main trailhead for this hike is a small parking area called the Garden, located near Keene Valley. Follow NY Route 73 into the heart of the village, and turn west onto Adirondack Street near the Ausable Inn. This narrow and winding road climbs for 1.6 miles to the Garden, where parking is limited to about 60 cars, a figure that is reached early every summer weekend. No parking is allowed anywhere along the road approaching the Garden, and illegally parked cars may be towed away. The parking fee for the Garden is $7 per vehicle per day.
The alternate parking area is Marcy Field, located off Route 73 about 1.9 miles north of Keene Valley. There is ample parking here, with a shuttle bus to the Garden departing approximately every 30 minutes on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. The cost for the shuttle is $5 per person. See townofkeeneny.com to download the full schedule.
The primary trail leading out of the Garden follows the north side of Johns Brook, though rarely will you see or hear it for the first 3.1 miles to the state’s Johns Brook Ranger Station. This is a primary trunk trail, one that many hikers have seen over and over again on their frequent adventures. Note that it is a hilly route, with uphill slogs in both directions.
At 3.1 miles, when you reach the interior trail register, turn left to pass the ranger station. The trail crosses the clearing to a suspension bridge strung high above a scenic gorge on Johns Brook. At the far end of the bridge, keep left even though signs warn that the continuing trail in this direction has been abandoned by the Department of Environmental Conservation. These signs refer to the Southside Trail, a private way across state land on the south side of Johns Brook. The state has ceased maintaining the trail, but the portion you need to follow is in fine shape.
Follow the Southside Trail northeast for 0.6-mile. In this distance you pass one of the marked trails to Wolf Jaw Brook (your return route for later in the day) and then the brook itself. Wolf Jaw Brook was also radically transformed by Irene, but the slide you see here only leads back to the hiking trail you just passed. Continue along the Southside Trail to the second slide, this one marked by a tall cairn. This is Bennies Brook.
The slide extends 1.5 miles southeast from this point, from a bottom elevation of 2,070 feet to a headwall at about 3,870 feet. The lower stretches of the slide are narrow and gently sloped; it is an open swath through a sylvan setting, with limited views at first. You need to scramble around one small waterfall and a few other minor obstacles.
But as you gain elevation, the slide widens and more of the surrounding landscape comes into view. The large hill across the valley is slowly revealed to be a flank of Big Slide Mountain, with Yard Mountain to the left. As you round another bend, you get your first good look of the summit of Lower Wolf Jaw high above you. Porter Mountain and The Brothers appear to the right of Big Slide, and before the day is done you will glimpse the rocky knob of Cascade Mountain’s summit.
Two other slides join the main course at 1.2 miles; the one you want to follow keeps to the right, just a little east of south. It gets much steeper at this point, but the numerous ledges give the novice climber much to work with. The slide’s headwall is a daunting feature, but there is a convenient exit path to the left just before you reach it. As you near the vertical wall, keep to the left of the slide and look for a small cairn, if not the path itself. From this spot, your view now includes much of the slide you just climbed.
The clear herd path leads up through ferny glades to the Range Trail, just 200 feet away. Turn right onto the marked hiking trail, scramble up a steep rock ledge, and the summit of Lower Wolf Jaw is just a quarter-mile away. There are views present, but nothing that compares with what you have already seen.
By following this route, it is a 5.7-mile hike to the summit of Lower Wolf Jaw from the Garden, with a 1,975-foot climb from the ranger station. The best return route is to continue into the Wolf Jaw Col and then follow the red-marked trail along Wolf Jaw Brook back to Johns Brook.
Bill Ingersoll of Barneveld is publisher of the Discover the Adirondacks guidebook series (hiketheadirondacks.com). For more on this region, consult Discover the Adirondack High Peaks.