Haystack and Basin
Date of climb: August 25, 2012
#3: Haystack, 4960 ft.
#9: Basin, 4827 ft.
On Friday night my hiking partner and I stayed at the Johns Brook Lodge, a 3.5 mile hike in from the Garden trailhead, to shave off a few miles at the beginning of our long day of hiking Haystack and Basin.
I was really happy to be able to hike these two from the JBL, as they are so far out and therefore difficult (unless you are a faster hiker than I) to do in a day. Most of all, I was thrilled to cross Basin off my list. Though I can’t remember a time I haven’t looked forward to climbing each and every mountain I’ve set off to conquer, I have to admit that Basin is one that I wouldn’t have attempted if I wasn’t an aspiring 46er. It’s known for being challenging and most would agree that it’s the toughest of the Great Range, some ranking it the toughest of all 46. I found it to live up to its reputation.
At 6:00 a.m. on Saturday morning we set out from JBL along with a third hiker who joined us, having tent-camped nearby the night before. We picked up the Phelps trail and took it past Slant Rock. What an absolutely beautiful hike this was; I had no idea what this end of the Phelps trail looked like until yesterday. It runs along Johns Brook for a bit crossing back and forth a couple of times, and then the trail opens up into a gorgeous spruce forest with tons of bright green ferns and moss.
The only wrench up until this point: just before reaching the forest, we accidentally disturbed a nest of angry wasps as we passed by. I was lucky to escape with only one sting (which hurt like a son of a b*tch all day), but one of my hiking buddies was not so lucky and ended up with 10 or 11. It’s almost impossible to describe where it is on the right hand side of the trail as there are no real markers coming from the Lodge, but coming from the other direction there are 3 orange flags in the trees on the right side just before the nest, which is near the base of a tree on the opposite side of the path.
We picked up the State Range Trail to Haystack and begin our journey to Little Haystack, which we had to climb first (and twice, as we also had to climb back over it on the return from Haystack). These two mountains were so much fun to climb. When you come out of the trees you see them both in front of you – massive piles of rocks that you can’t imagine being able to climb too easily. But they weren’t as steep as they appear when you are facing them. You are on exposed rock for quite awhile and there are a few tricky-ish challenges, but nothing too crazy. Haystack is known for being #1 for views, and the sights from summit were incredible. The hike from JBL to Haystack via the Phelps trail is my favorite Adirondack hike to date. I had such a great time on this one, and will definitely do it again someday.
After Haystack and Little Haystack we headed on over to Basin. I was really afraid of climbing this mountain and I know that part of it was purely psychological, as I’d built the challenge up in my head. It was a steep climb and there were definitely a few parts that I had a really tough time with. It was very technical in places and required a great deal of thought with regard to picking your route both up and down the rock. I had a few moments on the descent where the fear almost overtook me, but I managed to get down the most challenging parts without slipping and have never been so happy to touch bottom after a climb. This is one I will not be repeating and I’m thrilled to have decided to climb Saddleback separately, as many opt to do it together with Basin. That route requires (most commonly) the descent of Basin on the steeper side to the col, and then up the very steep Saddleback cliffs. I’m happy to do Saddleback another time from the gentler side where it faces Gothics as it’s not a terribly challenging climb, and even more happy that I can now head into the winter knowing that Basin is behind me.
We took the Shorey shortcut back to the Phelps trail. I’ve heard it was rugged and steep, and it was… but I think I had built it up more in my head and didn’t find it to be as bad as I was anticipating. It was quite annoying to have to ascend a good deal of elevation at the beginning just to lose it again heading toward Phelps, but the most annoying thing we faced on this route was that it started raining just as we were starting the fairly steep descent. It made for a slow-going climb down to Slant Rock.
It was a long day… we were pretty tired when we arrived back at JBL to grab the rest of our things, and a bummer that after a long day of climbing 4 peaks we still had to double the weight we were carrying and hike the 3.5 miles back to Garden. Daylight disappeared from the sky while we were still a couple miles from the parking lot which slowed us down even more, and it was challenging staying on the trail – it gets so dark in the woods that even our headlamps and flashlights barely cut through the blackness. Seeing taillights from the cars in the lot reflecting back at me was the most glorious part of this portion of the hike.
Even with the darkness at the end, the exhaustion, the moments of panic on Basin, etc. – such a fantastic day. Not to mention the stellar company – so great to share this experience with two hiking buddies/wonderful people. I’m at 21 peaks now, with 2 more to reach my goal of hitting 23 before winter, and I think I’m already ready for more…