So our plan for today was to hike Basin and then scoot over to Saddleback and down the Orebed Trail and out. Well, plans were made to be shot to hell! The day dawned as those beautiful Adirondack mornings do - temps in the 50s, clear blue skies. We were excited to begin our 2012 hiking season (we did redo of Cascade and Porter a month ago for a warm up - ha - like that really prepared us for this!).We headed out early, arriving at the Garden lot in Keene shortly after 6 a.m. We wanted to be sure to get a spot since this lot only holds about 25 cars and the day was going to be a great one for hiking. Also, the shuttle from Marcy Field was not yet operating. We got one of the last spots around the perimeter of the lot. They packed a few more in the middle after us.
Hiking buddy, youngest son (who is now taller than me this year) and I headed out on the Phelps trail at 6:20. We reached the T intersection for the Interior Outpost (left) or Johns Brook Lodge (right) at 7:40 and signed in again here. Again we wrote we were headed for BaSa. Off we went. Fifteen minutes later we were at the JBL where people were enjoying their coffee on the porch on this gorgeous sunny day. We took a few minutes on the benches to grab some water and munchies and chat with three guys who were headed to Haystack.
By 8:10 we were back on the Phelps trail (yellow disks) toward Bushnell Falls, 1.3 miles away. The falls are actually .1 mile off the main trail so we didn't see them. At the trail junction, go left towards Slant Rock. The trail disks will now be red. Along the way we passed some campers just waking up and getting water from the brook, which was still along the trail at this point. In fact, just after we crossed it we were at Slant Rock, which is quite impressive. You can't miss it. We had another snack break but we couldn't sit for long as the black flies were having their way with us. Keep moving! So we did. Very soon after we reached the intersection for the Shorey Short Cut to take us up to Basin. HOWEVER, when we stopped here we reviewed some notes I had with me. One of them said something to the effect of Haystack being 1.5 miles round trip from the Shorey Short Cut. The prospect of bagging a third peak for the day made us excited. How bad could a 1.5 mile detour be???
So instead of turning left, crossing the brook and heading up the Short Cut, we continued straight toward what we thought was just a .75 mile jaunt up Haystack. The trail at this point had gotten steeper and just when we started thinking this .75 miles seems awfully long when we came to a T split. The sign pointed right to Marcy 1.3 miles or left to Haystack 1.0 miles. WHAT?? My son, who had gotten there first, was reporting this information to me. I said, "Are you SURE that doesn't say POINT one miles???" Nope, one more mile. Ok, so now we're thinking maybe we'll just climb Haystack and Basin and come back another day for Saddleback. That would be a good compromise. And, one plus to that plan would be that we would not have to negotiate the cliffs on the side of Saddleback that faces Basin.
We soldiered on and met a guy who had come from the Orebed leanto, over SaBaHa and said he had left Haystack's summit almost an hour before. Wow, did we have some climbing left to do! And again, the flies were murderous! At this point we were climbing on rocks - the kind that require you to really pay attention to your footing, especially on the descent. By 11:50 we reached a small rock outcropping which looked like a great place to eat a sandwich. It was also a nice spot to see Mt Marcy fairly close by and to look ahead at Little Haystack and Haystack. And apply some Off!
We pressed on, with me being the slow hiker today. And I really didn't want to stop too often to rest because the flies would descend and torpedo their heads straight into my flesh. Between swatting them away, I was constantly removing my glasses to blow them off the inside of my lenses. This was not fun.
By the time we reached Little Haystack, my legs were feeling the fatigue. "Little" Haystack is actually 4,692 feet and would rank as the 12th highest of the High Peaks on its own. However, because it's so close to Haystack, it doesn't "count" as one of the 46. Tell that to my legs! Whether it "counted" or not, we still had to go up and over - twice. As we reached the top and looked over to Haystack, my legs started cramping. I drank some more water but I think it was too little, too late.
We started down the back side of Little Haystack. My compadres were laughing at my cramping contortions but I was seriously not thinking it was too funny. As we began the ascent of Haystack, they moved on ahead. I was struggling. Not just one, but both quads, calves, arches - each time I tried to raise my leg to get over rock. I could see the summit and thought I might not make it! I stopped and drank a whole bottle of water for the final push. The day was warm but not overly humid. This was a whole new experience for me - and not one I hope to repeat! Anyway, I FINALLY hit the summit at 1:10 - almost 7 hours from the time we left. It was then I decided there was no way I was attempting any other peaks today.
I'm sure my hiking partners, particularly my son, could have conquered at least one of the neighboring peaks. But a mistake hikers often make, and one I was not anxious to copy, is not knowing your limits or overestimating your abilities. For today, this was only going to be a one peak day. But what a spectacular day it was. You must be able to see about 30 other High Peaks from Haystack's panoramic mountaintop. But as another hiker said on reaching the summit, "It didn't come cheap." I donated a lot of blood to the flies on the way up. Not much of a breeze at the top either so they were still hanging around, but not as bad as on the climb.
We left the summit at 2:05, were back on Little Haystack by 2:25 and stopped for some pictures and more hiker chitchat. There was a group of 3 guys, one of whom was about to finish his 46th on Haystack. We asked them if we should go towards Basin and take the Shorey Short Cut down or go the way we had come. They said DO NOT take the Short Cut, it's VERY steep. We heeded their advice and began our trek back from whence we came. Interestingly, when we reached the junction with the Short Cut, we met up with another threesome who were on Haystack with us. They had gone up the Phelps trail and come down the Short Cut. They said the Short Cut was brutal in comparison. Ok, so we made one good decision for the day!
At 4 p.m. we saw a sign that said 6.9 miles to the Garden. By 4:55 we were down to 5 miles remaining and 1.5 miles to the JBL, which we arrived at 40 minutes later. We were moving at a good pace, despite the blisters Hiking Buddy and I could feel growing in intensity on our feet. We stopped again at the Lodge for fortification and were very pleased to see a spigot outside with a sign "Potable Water for the Public, Courtesy of the JBL". My son had just finished the last of his water and was happy to replenish here. I've never seen this mentioned online so I wanted to make sure to point it out. Also, we saw the same guys we met here in the morning. They added Marcy to their trip, after Haystack. They were down one member of their group though so I think only 2 made the trip over to New York's highest peak.
At 5:45 it was time to start the final push. My son decided we were holding him back so he grabbed the car keys and took off. Hiking Buddy and I stopped to sign out at the second book (the one near the Interior Outpost) and turned around to see the trail go UPHILL. Thought we were done with that! I may have said a few four letter words. Anyway, we eventually got back up to speed and covered the 3.5 miles out by 7:10. I was never so happy to see the car, but it hurt my feet just to cross the lot to get to it! I'm so happy to have Haystack under our belts. 36 down; 10 to go. Soon we'll be counting down in single digits. And while this wasn't the original plan for today, maybe it was better we didn't know what to expect! Haystack may have been the toughest single peak we've climbed to date. And by the way, we later figured out that the “1.5 miles to Haystack from the Shorey Short Cut” reference PROBABLY meant AFTER you’ve climbed the Short Cut. So 1.5 miles over to Haystack from the TOP, when you hit the Range Trail.
Like Nippletop, this peak is not named for anyone in particular but for its appearance. Someone must have thought the summit looked like a Haystack and that's where the moniker came from. No mystery. At 4,960 feet, it's the 3rd highest peak in NY State.