January 5, 2020, St Hubert’s
Fresh tracks up Lake Road
I embarked from St Hubert’s at 6 am sharp on this snowy Sunday in early January. I headed up the road past the Ausable Club in what was still, essentially pitch darkness. The goal was a swift summit of Sawteeth Mountain, with ample time left in the day to get back to Brooklyn by a decent hour.
I signed in at the AMR register and headed up Lake Road for the third and final time (at least for this round of the Adirondack 46ers). A few fresh inches of snow atop the icy roadway made travel in snowshoes soft and silent. The journey to Sawteeth would take me all the way to the road’s terminus at Lower Ausable Lake, and it took roughly an hour to cover the 3 miles and 1000 vertical feet.
Lower Ausable Lake looked gorgeous in the early morning light. The steep, lower slopes of Colvin and Sawteeth perfectly framed the misty, snowy scene.
It blows my mind that this crown jewel of the Adirondacks sits on private property. At one point the Ausable Club owned a far larger tract of land covering a staggering 11 high peak summits. Decades ago, financial difficulties forced a sale of much of that land to the state and the negotiation of a conservation easement through the remainder of the property.
I crossed the Ausable River on a slender wooden span and began the ascent of Sawteeth Mountain. At this point, you get to choose your own adventure. You can ascend the rugged and circuitous “Scenic Trail” over the “teeth” that lend this mountain its name. Or, like me, you can opt for the Alfred Weld trail, a more direct and gradually ascending approach.
A second snowshoer had caught up to me by this point, and we ended up leapfrogging each other for much of the ascent to the summit. The trail rose 2000 vertical feet in just under two miles, and did so in perhaps the least-painful fashion possible. The ascent featured just enough switchbacks and virtually no scrambling: perfect for snowshoes.
I cannot say enough great things about snowshoes. You save tons of energy not digging your toes an inch or two into snow on each step. This much seems obvious. But the traction, with the hinge crampon, is also excellent. And best of all, many snowshoes have “heel lifts”. These calf-savers consist of metal brackets that swing up from the decking, locking into place below your heel. They allow your foot to come to rest on each step at a lower angle than the slope you’re climbing. They’re kind of amazing.
It was a beautiful, snowy ramp up to the col between Sawteeth and Pyramid Peak, a minor summit off Gothics.
From the col, the ascent steepened. A few icy scrambles added a dose of adrenaline to the ascent. The other snowshoer and I ended up doing these bits together, which added a bit of moral support to the affair. Sooner enough we were near the summit, in a misty/snowy winter wonderland.
Shortly thereafter we reached the true summit. I got the sense that Sawteeth affords some epics views of the Great Range. But on this day, misty clouds obscured any such views. The scene was still pretty beautiful though.
We descended back towards the col, me utilizing some strategic butt slides on the trickier bits. I bid adieu to my fellow hiker, who was targeting Gothics that day as well. Whereas the ascent required just a light thermal base layer, I wore mittens, a wool cap and a tech hoodie on the descent. Winter hiking is all about managing layers.
A sunny hike out
I made quick work of the descent back to Lower Ausable Lake. I passed by other hikers with increasing frequency. The clouds had begun to lift, and the sun was now out in full, shining strength.
Soon enough I was back at the lakefront, now treated to sunnier views of the frozen landscape.
The three-mile journey down Lake Road was swift and pleasant. Snowshoers and cross country skiers were out in force on this gorgeous, now-sunny Sunday. This home stretch struck me as the perfect wind-down before a long drive back downstate.
Less than a mile down the road I hit a clearing that now sported an excellent view of Sawteeth’s namesake spiky summits. I was a little bummed to have missed the full views from the summit. I’ll need to head back at some point soon.
Finally, I reached the trail register, shortly before 1 pm. Sawteeth was a swift and scenic success!