We could not have picked a better day for our last High Peak. The weather was perfect, the sky was deep blue, there was barely a breeze at the summit - just sun, sun, sun! Ann, Tim, Pat, Danny and I got to the Garden parking lot at 6 a.m. and were literally one of the last cars to fit. That's a sign right there that the day is going to be a good one...everyone's hiking! We signed in and were on the trail at 6:12 a.m.
The first three miles are pretty easy, with some moderate climbing. We covered it in an hour and 14 minutes. We stopped long enough at the T intersection for the Johns Brook Lodge (right) or the Interior Outpost/Orebed Trail (left) to sign in at the register. Just after the open meadow area around the Outpost there is a cable suspension bridge. This might be a newer version of a bridge since Hurricane Irene. I can't say for sure, but it looked fairly new.
After the bridge, the trail began to climb a bit but it still wasn't what I'd call steep. I didn't want to jinx anything, but I was thinking, "Wow, this is pretty easy." At that point I wasn't sure if it was because our last few hikes had been pretty challenging or if it was because I had a little more adrenaline or because it really was just easy. In any event, we marched along. We saw a lean-to at about 1.3 miles from the Outpost. It was occupied. We kept going. We saw a set of steps that definitely looked to be on the newer side - probably post-Irene. We kept going. We came to the base of a slide - definitely new since Irene. You could tell just because the exposed rock was so white and clean. You could also tell because the trees that washed off that slide were deposited in a big heap at the base.
At this point we wandered out of the woods and onto the slide, which was shaded at this time of the day. That meant it didn't feel much warmer than the 48 degrees the car's thermometer read when we began the hike! But who could resist hiking for at least a little while on this brand new slide? Not us, so we did. Eventually we did head back into the woods and onto the trail. My son decided to kept going on the slide until we felt like the trail was leading away from it. Then he trudged through the woods and re-joined our group.
The next time we came to the slide it was because the trail actually led us right out onto it. We were at the base of the largest set of stairs I had ever seen. The stairs are affixed to the left side of the slide. My understanding is that the ADK (Adirondack Mountain Club) just finished the uppermost section as recently as a month ago. The options here were to take the steps or walk the slide. Two of our younger hikers climbed the slide; the rest of us took the stairs, which, by the way, were not any easier. It was like being on a Stairmaster that never turns off! As impressive as it was, I'll be really REALLY impressed when the ADK figures out how to turn it into an escalator!
Once we were back on the Orebed trail we saw some giant patches of orange slimy stuff. That's the scientific name for the ore that was the basis for the trail's name. At 9:35 we saw the sign marking 4,000 feet. Actually, someone pointed it out to me. I'm not usually looking up when I'm hiking so I often pass by signs like this. Since Danny was wearing a t-shirt that listed all the High Peaks and their elevation, we checked Saddleback's. Turns out we had 515 feet to go from this point. At 9:47 we came to a sign that told us we were a half mile from Saddleback's summit. Within that half mile we stopped to take some pictures of Gothics, of which we had an amazing view when we turned around and looked through the trees. In fact, the sun was hitting it at such an angle that we could actually see the glint of the cables and people climbing them near the summit. We hadn't climbed Gothics that way, but it looked kind of fun!
Also on that last half mile we met a man and woman coming down Saddleback so we stopped to chat. She told us when we got to the summit it would be wooded, then we would go down a bit and then out to the ledge where the views are, looking toward Basin. But she stressed that the real summit was in the woods. This was important to us since we wanted to record our time for our 46er finish. So up we went. Ann, Tim and I were together as we wanted to finish together. We went over a hill in the woods and started going down. We wondered, "Was that it? Did we just finish? What time is it? This is so anti-climatic!" and we kept walking. Then we went up a little again and realized this mountain is called SADDLEBACK - hump, saddle part, hump. Now we really were at the summit - it wasn't the wooded part. By the time we processed this, we were at the top. I had wanted to video it but... Anyway, we did find the surveyor's bolt on that open rock so official summit time was 10:25 a.m. I didn't even cry! I was sure I would! Instead, we broke out 2 small bottles of champagne that fortunately did not explode in our backpacks and put on shirts created for the occasion and celebrated! Because it was such a gorgeous day, we stayed at the summit for just over an hour. I could not imagine a more perfect day to finish. When the youngest member of your group says, "What a gorgeous view...THIS is why I hike!" you remember why you go through all this in the first place. And although we had initially wanted to finish on Haystack or Skylight, this worked out much better. We got back to the parking lot by 2:49 (where I did get a little misty), which meant we still had time to shower, nap and celebrate! If we had finished on one of the longer, more difficult peaks, we would have probably just collapsed!
Well, I just told you why the mountain is named Saddleback. It is the 17th highest of the Adirondack High Peaks at 4,515 feet. It is a fairly easy hike from the Orebed trail. We did peer over the side that faces Basin at the cliff below. It didn't look impossible, but we were nonetheless happy with our decision not to tackle the mountain from this direction. In the end, it all worked out....and we are now 46ers.