In my humble opinion, this is the best hike in the ADKs. It's a brutal 20 mile loop that takes the entire day and brings you over three gigantic peaks. It's a true mountaineers dream, at least for those of those of us out East. Brian and I started our trek at The Garden parking lot in Keene Valley and headed towards Johns Brook Lodge on the Phelps Trail. The morning was chill, but warming quickly and the air was crisp. We stumbled into the Lodge just as those staying at the relatively primitive dwelling were lining up for breakfast. We decided to sit down outside the lodge and have some breakfast of our own, primarily consisting of Cliff and Nutrigrain bars and a bit of Gatorade.
Has there even been such a perfect mountain trail?
Once on the trail we marched and marched and marched and it never seemed to get any higher, but thats the trick to Haystack, you have to fight just to earn the privilege to start climbing it. Haystack is one of the more remote mountains in the park, so much so we had never even seen its name on a trail sign while doing one of our other hikes. When we finally got to the junction for the final push we were confronted with a 40 foot rock scramble that commenced the ascent. It was one scramble after the next, then up and over Little Haystack, a small subsidiary peak before the main summit. I had more fun climbing Haystack than any other mountain in the ADKs at the time. The exposed summit, the endless scrambles, and breathtaking views made me feel like a true climber for once. At the top we found out why they call this mountain "Marcy's Balcony"; it is the best view of Marcy in the park. We were on the summit for just a few minuets before a father and daughter joined us, shouting what we have been dreaming of since we started, "46!"
Haystack from Little Haystack
Haystack, Skylight, and Marcy (L-R) from Basin
We lingered in the crystal clear day only a bit then went on our way. We could see Basin perfectly from the enormous Haystack, which is the third tallest peak in the park, falling just short of 5,000 feet. The ascent up Basin gave us some excellent views of what we just climbed and beyond. Basin was a much wetter and muddier mountain than the rocky peak we just came from, but who doesn't like a little mud?
A narrow ridge on Basin Mtn.
Since Basin is a bit closer to major trails and other peaks its summit was crowded and much louder. We came across a couple from Montreal who were also on their way to be 46ers, but they had the added bonus of getting engaged that day atop of Marcy. After giving them a hikers hug (a momentary one-handed press while holding your breathe) we were on our way. The last and shortest peak of the day was Saddleback. We hadn't read up on the summit before we left so what we saw next was simply terrifying. As a rule of thumb, the grade of an ascent (or decent) is hard to figure out at a distance. Normally in the ADKs, that which looks very steep ends up being pretty mild when you get closer to it. This was not the case on Saddleback. The string of hikers on descent looked like they were repelling down a vertical skyscraper and sure enough thats what it felt like when we got there.
I was in my glory! I love heights, I love scrambling, and I even love the terror of scaling steep sections. Brian, not so much. As I was busy finding the most difficult scrambles I could find, Brian (terrified of heights) was genuinely unnerved. I cooled my jets. He got to the top and shouted a string of celebratory obscenities (hence the nick-name Grizzly). Upon decent we came across a massive rock slide from years past that we had some fun running down. After power hiking it back to the Jeep all we could think of was steak. It was Brian's turn to pick a place to eat and he picked the Adirondack Steak something, something, across from the Olympic complex....don't ever eat there! No mind though, we conquered half the Great Range. We went on to trek the five mountains of the Lower Great Range the next summer; feel free to read that grueling trip as well. Also, please check out my blog as we take on the rest of the Adirondack and Colorado high peaks, along with trails, mud races and some great stories.