Five of us started out on a hike to nab a winter finish for our friend Adam. Four would finish. Much hard work, cussing, a little crying, second guessing, and a some creeping fear as the snow, temps, and sun fell. Just wanted to GTFO of there on this one. Glad we hung together and lifted each other when we needed it. And a huge congratulations to Adam H. for finishing his W46.
We were heading out to summit Basin and Saddleback, with Basin being the final Adirondack 46 winter peak for one of our group. At about 7:30 we started out (a little late) from The Garden, signing in at the same time another group heading to Lower Wolf Jaws did. The snow was steadily falling and we took a short break before John’s Brook Lodge, arriving there about 9:30am. There really wasn’t much sun, but occasionally it peeked through the clouds.
At some point before 10:30am Skylar turned back due to hip pain while Alicia pushed on to get a little jump on the next section. The trails were well established and we were doing pretty well still… they were a bit broken out even as the snow continued to gently fall so our pace was still good.
Somewhere we missed the intersection for Shorey’s Shortcut. We had climbed a little bit beyond our correct trail and had to turn around, 20 minutes beyond where we should be. About 30 minutes later, finally on the Shortcut, we found deep snow and nothing of a trail. From here we took turns breaking trail but it was now noon.
The snow and trail-breaking wasn’t getting any easier. For every step up, we’d slide back four it seemed. Alicia was at times in tears with frustration, and we were still not on the summit of Basin at 1pm. By now were were literally fighting for every foot.
At some point we lost the trail and had to do a few circles to get back on. Francis’ GPS kept us close until we found it, but it took a little time off the clock. The stress of losing the trail was also mentally draining.
We finally reached the intersection to head to Basin (or Haystack). It’s .7 to Basin so we paused for a quick break. At just about 2pm we began our final push to the summit of Basin. The climb was hell for a lot of it, with loose snow and some wind, and the constant falling snow as well. Still a bit from the summit, we hit some pretty difficult areas where we were having traction issues. The snow was deep. I think at this point my toes were getting cold, even with toe warmers in. My hands definitely were, and the steady snow kept everything wet. It was only 2:45pm.
Our legs were burning from breaking trail that was at times hip deep. Visibility became pretty poor just before leaving the treeline, but we knew we were at least close. We made our way to the summit, at this point exposed to the wind and snow. It was head down and get up time.
We finally summitted at 4pm, almost no visibility with wind and snow and a quickly disappearing sun. We too a quick group photo, then headed back into the trees toward Saddleback. From there we were hoping to find a trail blazed to Saddleback already. We crisscrossed a few places, but as we were descending, the option to go back up disappeared. We continued down into the col between Basin and Saddleback, thinking we could use the evac route from the previous Saturday rescue. Unfortunately, the new snow covered every bit of it. With the sun going down, we had the option to push up over Saddleback or bushwhack/blaze a trail down through unknown territory. It was a crapshoot, and we didn’t want to decide wrong. Nobody wanted to be out there overnight.
At just before 6pm with dark skies overhead, I can’t say my spirits were high at this point. I was glad for the people that were out here. We all wanted to get moving. Francis had loaned me extra mittens so my hands were doing much better, but my feet were getting starting to tingle by now. I could feel my body temp dropping as well. It was still snowing, and now the sun was gone. We still had one peak to summit to get out of here.
The push up to the base of Saddleback had to be some of the worst I’ve done. I questioned myself, thought about sitting down, tried to motivate and stay motivated, and keep moving forward. We were all still going, but there was an air of worry on everyone’s face. But nobody was quitting, that was for sure.
At the base of the Saddleback cliffs, we found the winter route (to the right of the main route). Adam and Francis switched to crampons here, but Alicia and I pushed into the trail further. I had to keep moving as I was getting cold, and Alicia’s frustration was… noticeable.
We moved up the treeline, hugging the cliffs until we got to the “chimney”. It was a straight shot up so we put our crampons on while Francis moved up to check the top. There was a rock face about 15′ high to scramble up, so he came back down to discuss turning back. Adam went up and looked but said the summit was right at the top of it. We were sooo close. The four of us made our way up the chimney, and hunkered down while Adam chipped a step into the ice on the left. I found a foothold on the right and, using the strap of my pole to hook a branch higher up, was able to scramble up to the top of it (long legs helped too). Adam came right up after. The wind was brutal. Francis threw a rope up and I climbed back down a bit to get it. We secured it to a small tree and got Alicia into a harness, then pulled her up while Francis pushed. Once up, her and I continued up to the summit while Adam got Francis up. At the top we used Adam’s Sat-Phone to call our families so as not to not panic. I changed my socks and placed plastic bags into my boots, then we all switched to snowshoes and got moving. The time at the summit was a little after 7:30pm, it was still snowing, and now very dark.
Coming down Saddleback, the trail was well broken out and wonderful. Our spirits were lifted, and the butt slides down Ore Bed were fast. At one time I became airborne, but I really wanted to get back. Our pace was really good getting to JBL. At JBL the lights were on and we asked if we could take a break there. The group there were incredibly nice, letting us warm up a little and even fixing hot tea for us. We spent about 45 minutes resting, eating, and talking. It was around 9:45 at JBL I think, and we still had a few miles ahead of us. Thankfully we were a bit warmer and happier now.
We finally reached the parking lot at just after 11:30pm. The euphoria of making it back was palpable. Skylar was waiting in the car and told us he had gone up the Ore Bed, summitted Saddleback that way, and then came back and waited. We were all happy to be back in the cars and head home that day (well, the following day. It was after midnight when we rolled out of there!)
Truly an adventure. Stay alert, go prepared, stay together, and have a plan!