The route is appoached via "The Garden" Parking lot.
The Garden is located west off Rte 73 in Keene Valley. At about the center of this very small town, when driving north on Rte 73 through Keene Valley, you will find a large DEC sign that reads "High Peaks Wilderness Area and Johns Brook". It is adjacent to the Ausable Inn on the left side of the road (driving north). Follow the DEC sign 1.5 miles to the Garden. The parking lot holds about of 60 vehicles and parking fee of $5.00/day is charged.
As with many hikes in this region, this ones combines several trails in order to make the loop. A more complete description of this hike (with photos) can be found Here
From "the Garden" trailhead, take the Phelps Trail 3.5 miles into the Johns Brook Lodge area. From Johns Brook Lodge. Take the Phelps Trail (yellow blazes) towards Mt. Marcy. The trail is generally level at first and has some subtle elevation gains over the first 1.5 miles or so. At this point, you will reach an area known as Bushnell Falls. There is a trail junction at this point. Stay to the left trail (which is marked as heading toward Slant Rock). The right trail is the Hopkins trail that leads to Mt. Marcy. You should immediately cross over Johns Brook and notice that your trail markers are now RED .You'll know you are on the correct trail if you cross the brook within a few hundred yards or so The next 1.8 miles or so will alternate between moderate grades, level hiking and even some short descents until you reach Slant Rock and the lean-to nearby. Pass on by and continue .2 miles beyond to the trail Junction with the Shorey Short Cut.
Go to the left and on to the Shorey Short Cut. You will almost immediately cross over a small stream. REPLENISH YOUR WATER THERE (using a filter of course) as there will be no other opportunity for quite some time. The next mile will bring you over to the “Range Trail”
At the Range trail, bear to left to head to the summit of Basin. This section is very steep and much is over bare rock. About 10-15 minutes into the ascent, you will reach a tall ladder to assist you up a 20-foot section of rock that leads to tricky 100-foot rock scramble. At this point the trail will level out somewhat as you now are on the upper mountain. Follow the markers up to the bare rock summit of Basin.
From the summit of Basin, follow the trail (cairns) around the north side of the summit and then off the east side. After desending steeply for a bit, the trail will level out and then climb up onto a knob that sits on Basin's east shoulder. After a level .1 mile or so along the top of the knob you'll reach the final descent into the Basin-Saddleback col.
Beyond the col, the ascent itself begins right away and gets pretty steep before long. At first, you're ascending in the tree line but after 10 minutes or so of steady climbing, you'll reach the base of large rock. The next 100 vertical feet is a rock climb. Make sure to spot the yellow blazes on the rock in order to correctly make your way up the rock wall. This part is not hiking so much as non-technical rock climbing. It's mostly a matter of finding a hand hold and pulling yourself up to the next hand hold, and so on. The summit of Saddleback is reached at the top of this pitch.
From the summit of saddleback, you will traverse over “both humps” of the saddle and then descent into the Saddleback-Gothics col. In the col you will reach the junction with the Orebed Trail. Go left onto the Orebed Trail and descend steeply down to Johns Brook Lodge. From the Lodge, take a right onto the “Phelps Trail” and head out to “The Garden” Parking lot.
Hike totals: 15.7 miles round trip and ~4100 vertical feet
Note Most of this hike would be considered YDS (Yosemite Decimal System) Class I (Uphill hiking along trail), but there are several sections of YDS Class III (non-technical rock climbing).
Full day or overnight pack needed for this trek deep into the High Peaks wilderness. You will need all traditional Hiking gear. Rope may be useful in some area. It's not really needed unless you overnight and use it to "hang the bear bag". Good sturdy hiking boots and solid hiking skills will be needed for this hike.
During the winter, this already difficult hike, will become only feasable for very skilled winter hikers. Snowshoes (with agressive crampons), crampons, ice axe, rope, courage, etc. will all be needed.
To Overnight or Not to overnight?
It's really a matter of preference. As a day hike, it's a long day. The just under 16 miles and ~4100 vertical feet may seem reasonable however, one should take into acount a good deal a pretty rough terrain (albeit on decent trails). Besides there are 2 spectacular summits that beg you to alow ample time to enjoy in good weather.
This might make this worth a overnight venture, as we did it. We "Packed-in" 3.5 miles into Johns Brook Lodge area and overnighted in one of the several leanto's in the area. We were able to complete the hike, alow for ample summit time, and added another high peak (Gothics) before heading back to our lean-to.
We packed out early the next morning. This, we felt was the best way to do hike without rushing too much or physically killing ourselves with exhustion in the process.
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