Haystack, Basin & Saddleback (November)

Not having hiked these three together (colloquially referred to as ‘HaBaSa’) since July of 2014, I wanted to reacquaint myself with them before winter. Of my 6 remaining peaks for my official ‘W’ designation, these three are the most challenging. I would get a good taste for potential conditions.

But outside of the hike itself, this was a trip to try out some cold-weather hammock camping. I spent a nice, cool late summer night under clear and calm skies earlier this year, but even then became chilly where the sleeping bag compressed against the underside of the hammock. One tip I received after then was to insulate underneath to offset the compressed sleeping bag.

So I drove up Friday night, and found a good spot to hang for the night not far from the road. The lows were expected to be 25°F. I inflated my sleeping pad and tossed it in the hammock.

Right away, things went sideways. I had secured a tarp on top of the hammock and tied the uphill side down to my backpack. I settled into the hammock, when I hear a far-off rumbling, like an overhead airplane. Moments later, a gust of wind hits and the trees I attached to sway, and the backpack is flung downhill. There were successive erratic blasts for the next hour, some of them lifting the tarp mightily, before it finally calmed and the tarp gently placed itself down in an eerily perfect position.

The sleeping pad did the trick, and I slept wonderfully. It was 28°F when I headed to breakfast at 6AM.

The walk up to Haystack from the Garden is straightforward: The Phelps trail climbs 7.9 miles to the Range Trail. From there, it is 1.1 miles to the summit of Haystack. The crossing of Johns Brook was over ice-covered boulders, so I put on the Hillsound Trail Crampons at that point. Little Haystack and Haystack were mostly cleared of ice, and the tricky spots were easily navigable.

Haystack panorama (l-r): Basin, Gothics, Giant/Rocky Peak, Sawteeth, Dix Range, Colvin Range
Haystack panorama (l-r): Basin, Gothics, Giant/Rocky Peak, Sawteeth, Dix Range, Colvin Range

After an extended stop to enjoy the view, I backtracked to the Range Trail again and over to Basin. The approach to Basin had some iced-over patches which weren’t too difficult. I stopped again to enjoy Basin’s lovely summit views, before the cold wind sent me over to Saddleback.

Descending the northeast side of Basin was all together worse than anything up to that point. There were long pitches of ice, with the only hand holds iced over as well. It required faith in traction. Saddleback’s notorious ‘cliffs’ were thankfully clear, again with ice descending the east side towards Gothics.

I was able to remove the traction about halfway down and enjoyed the rest of the walk out. It was good to get a small dose of real winter conditions, but I’m looking forward to completing these in December to finally get my W.