Haystack, Basin, and Saddleback Mountains

Reading previous reports of this hike can be intimidating, with the more than 16-mile/5,000 vertical foot climb seeming borderline impossible. One of the things my quest for becoming a 46er has changed in me is redefining possible, and these three mountains are proof of it.

Early morning sunshine on the Phelps Trail to Haystack/Marcy from the Johns Brook Lodge.
Morning sun on the Phelps Trail

We made good time before dawn by headlight, and enjoyed early morning sun in our walk up the Phelps trail. The climbing barely registers until you get to Slant Rock, where it breaks up into two segments, one to the Range trail and the second up to Haystack.

Of course, the hike isn’t quite that straight forward, with a mandatory summit of Little Haystack guarding its bigger namesake. We could faintly discern Haystack through the clouds which built all morning, and Little Haystack’s steep open rock backside showed that it was a suitable keeper. Anxious to summit, I made quick work on the descent and again up over the open rock towards Haystack proper.

Approaching Storm on Haystack
Approaching Storm on Haystack

We enjoyed our 39th peak alone with wispy clouds encumbering our views. As we started off, the clouds broke and we were able to enjoy the awe-inspiring vista from the 4,960-foot summit. The quick-moving clouds flirted in and out of each summit as the sky grew progressively darker.

By the time we left Haystack and made our way back over Little Haystack the thunder started, portending rain and wind for the rest of our hike.

Descending Haystack as a thunderstorm approaches the Great Range.
Descending Haystack

The rain started halfway up Basin, and by the time we summited it was lightly but consistently falling. The clouds, now darker and foreboding, were still flicking in and out of the other summits. It created a breathtakingly dramatic vista of mountain ranges interspersed with black, white, and Payne’s gray clouds. Despite the increasing frequency of thunder and rain, the remarkable view stopped us in our tracks for a moment on our 40th peak that likely very few others have ever seen.

Moving from Basin to Saddleback involves climbing its cliffs. Notoriously difficult on dry summer days, we arrived at the foot of the cliffs in pounding rain and ripping wind. The threat of the approaching thunder overrode the fear of the climb, and we quickly made it to the top. The views on our 41st peak were of the back of a thunderstorm cloud, so we walked straight over and down the Ore Bed trail home.

We made it back to the Garden in 10 hours and 58 minutes with the sun shining again and one of the biggest tasks behind us. Rewarded with drama and awe, impossible was indeed possible.


2014: 6 high peaks As of 7/31/14: 41 (out of 46) high peaks completed.

2014 high peaks – 6: Colvin & Blake, Allen Mountain, Haystack, Basin & Saddleback

2013 high peaks – 14 (8 new): Macomb, S. Dix, E. Dix & HoughTabletopCliff & RedfieldMarshallWhiteface & Esther; Dix; Santanoni, Panther, & Couchsachraga

2012 high peaks – 24 (23 new): Big Slide; Lower Wolfjaw, Upper Wolfjaw & Armstrong; Marcy; Gothics & Sawteeth; Street & Nye; Phelps; Rocky Peak Ridge & Giant; Skylight & Gray; Wright, Algonquin & Iroquois; Dial & Nippletop; Dix, Hough, S. Dix, E. Dix & Macomb

2011 high peaks – 3 (2 new): AlgonquinCascade & Porter

2009 high peaks – 2: Cascade; Giant

Edit: See: Our Path to 46.