My wife, I and our 10 year-old son hiked LWJ after much consideration and preparation due to the weather/ time of year. (Our son has 5 peaks already, and is game for the challenge…he also knows we will pull the plug on a hike if conditions dictate – we abandoned Wright in May). We settled on the peak and the Garden to JBL/Phelps trail due to online research and family recommendations (my brother and dad had done the peak in summer, and both said they thought going up the Wolf’s chin would be a bad idea in icy conditions). I also liked the fact that even though we were adding distance, we were avoiding a good chunk of elevation by starting at the Garden. The lot was 1/3 full at 6:15am and we headed out in a temp that was just under 20 degrees, with pretty still air. The trail to the DEC outpost was coated by at most an inch of snow, and was a good crunchy underneath which helped with traction and cushion…no mud at all. We made good time to the suspension bridge, which is a beautiful location; you could tell at the bridge that no one had been that way for at least the last 24-48 hours.
Once across the bridge, there are no trail signs initially, you just head left for about 100 yards, and then take the next hard right up a sloping grade. Not having signs is a little disconcerting, but that’s what directions and maps are for. After that, you take your next left and head more uphill. The whole section after the bridge was pretty muddy. The grade picks up from there, and you start the slog to the col, with the mud base mostly converting to ice, and with snow depth slowly increasing. At about 3200 feet, we put on our spikes (a first for us all), not because of ice, but because the 3-8 inches of fresh snow from the day before started to compress and your boot would backslide. That made a big difference. We made our way to the trail split at the col and headed to the left, at this point all previous evidence of tracks from others was gone, due to earlier winds and drifted snow(up to 2 feet). The wind for us was still pretty non-existent. At the second junction, we saw the first sign of recent tracks, and as we made our way up the tough but doable south face of LWJ, we passed the three others who had come over from the Wedge Brook side. There were a couple of technical spots in this portion, but with the spikes they were doable.
At the peak the wind was mostly still (we were very lucky), but the air was still quite crisp and we couldn’t luxuriate and cool down too much so back down we went. There was no sign of any traffic coming up from the north via the W.A. White trail, and so it seems that we made the right choice by attacking from the south. My wife is in great shape, and I am in pretty good shape, but with the extra gear, and the snow/ice, it took us 4:45 to summit. As we descended, we attempted to eat lunch at the lean-to, but after heading 150 yards down the lean-to trail, with no structure in sight we abandoned that plan, and decided to eat lunch at the DEC outpost. We got to our car at exactly 3pm, thus with a couple of stops, lunch etc…it took us just under 9 hours. There were no envelopes for parking, but I still threw $10 into the shed for karma. Overall, the conditions were wintery, but the lack of wind and bright sun made for a very enjoyable and doable summit. Spikes were a must though, and you needed to have confidence in your gear and physical preparation.