Haystack, Basin, and Saddleback (HaBaSa)

HaBaSa. It’s a tough hike for sure, physically, but add the mental part in and it can be a butt kicker. You start the day on my favorite ADK summit, with views of the entire Adirondacks, and then end it with a terrifying climb up one of the most stressful stretches in these mountains! UNLESS YOU DON’T! 😉

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Sunday was a beautiful day in the mountains for Darcy, Rae, and me. We got to the Garden parking lot at 5am and there were a lot of spaces left… weird, right? We’ll take it! We got our stuff together and signed in, then started the 3.5 mile walk in to John’s Brook Lodge at 5:20. Did I mention is was gorgeous already? Headlamps on though!

Love this time for hiking.

It’s just a walk in the woods for a bit, and we reached the lodge at 7am. It was quiet but I popped my head in the door because breakfast smelled awesome, but we didn’t stay long at all. We headed out and up the Phelps trail without seeing a soul, but soon stopped for a bathroom break. A man came up as I waited for Rae and Darcy and we talked about the trail and our destinations. Turns out he finished his 46 almost the same day I did! He was just doing Haystack so I said we’d probably see each other again as we leapfrog. The early morning sunlight was amazing, the temperature cool, and no bugs!

Sunrise in the trees.

The Phelps trail gives you everything… rocks, roots, water, mud (although not much today) and more rocks. We followed it up and up, skipping Bushnell Falls and soon arrived at Slant Rock. You know you’re at Slant Rock when you see it! We stopped for a quick break, took some pics, and then kept on the Phelps Trail toward the Range Trail. If you’re doing this hike, SKIP THE YELLOW TRAIL/SHOREY’S SHORTCUT AND KEEP GOING.

At the State Range Trail intersection we sat an ate a little snack. The trail really starts going up so a quick break was needed. All of us felt great, and our conversations were interspersed with talk about the end of the day visit to the Saddleback Cliffs, or as Darcy calls it, “The Wall of Death”. We have two other High Peaks to hit first, though!

Up and up we climbed, eventually coming out of the trees for our first glimpse of Little Haystack and Haystack. They look far away but as always, the summit is closer than you think. The views of the nearby ranges were already amazing, but you have to keep an eye on your path, too. We went over Little Haystack, dropping into the col between that and Haystack. It seems intimidating at first because of the initial exposure, but it’s not difficult. Soon we found ourselves heading up Haystack with a light wind to help keep us cool. The temperature here was in the low 50’s so we were glad we had layers!

Little Haystack with Haystack beyond.

We summitted Haystack about 11:30 (I think) and I can’t even describe it. The views… they’re just amazing and my favorite of all the High Peaks. You can see all of them! It was Darcy’s first visit that had views, and Rae’s peak #25! I could have napped there but we had others to get to, but that didn’t stop us from hanging out for quite awhile, eating lunch, taking pics, and just soaking it all in. I just love this peak!

Check out a panorama of Skylight and Marcy here!

Of course, we had to get going. Two others joined us at the summit for a bit, and the guy we met earlier made it as well. We wished everyone a safe hike and headed over to Basin. Damn Basin.

To get to Basin you have to go down. And down and down and down… and then up. And up and up an up. This part of the hike is pretty damn tough and, with the afternoon sun starting to really heat things up, we were really sweating now. We passed a few more people, including a young couple that took Shorey’s Shortcut up but had to head over to Haystack (see above!). They were actually doing HaBaSa so they’d be backtracking A LOT. Boy, I felt bad for them and they were pretty upset at themselves for taking that route. Eeeesh.

And up and up and up. Basin makes you EARN it. We passed a bunch of people running down… like, running-running, God bless ’em, and we continued up. After an eternity of rocks and climbing, we finally popped up to the summit where one other person was enjoying the view. It’s a great view, for sure, but what a climb. And it marked Rae’s NUMBER 26!!! I had to eat some more (gummies this time…GIVE ME SUGAR!!!!) and we sat for a little while. Of course this whole time the talk of the Saddleback Cliffs kept coming up, but since the beginning I’ve mentioned there’s an alternate, “Winter Route” climb that I’ve done that 1. I did in the dark 2. in winter 3. during a snowstorm. Yeah, I couldn’t tell you much about it other than it’s not the actual cliff climbing route. It’s an option though, I said.

We packed up and started our descent down the col between Basin and Saddleback, and soon The Cliffs came into view. I could already tell which way Rae and Darcy were leaning, but I kept saying what we’ve done so far today is great toward building up our abilities to climb it. We decided it would be a decision made at the base of the cliffs, and the Winter Route would be the other option.

After descending some crazy amount of feet (Basin is NOT my favorite part of this hike), we started our ascent toward the Saddleback Cliffs. It was a bit more muddy but really not awful, which I was glad. After our last hike Darcy went up to her knees, so I’m sure she was happy about that, too. The mud kept Rae’s and Darcy’s minds off the cliffs, though. Until we popped out of the trees and THERE IT WAS.

Looking up at the cliffs. Yellow blazes mark the route. Pics don’t do it justice, but the ledge in the middle of the screen with the yellow blaze? That’s about 6′ tall.

As soon as we stepped to the cliffs, Rae and Darcy turned to me and said “Let’s do the Winter Route.” No smiles, no twinkling eyes… just a straight-faced, not-ever-going-to-happen look in their eyes. I pointed out the yellow blazes and said the hard part is right there, and after that it’s not bad at all. Again, no change in expression… “I want to do the Winter Route.” So yeah, we’re doing the winter route. I could already imagine our group on the cliffs and it wasn’t pretty.

We followed the cliff base through the tight brush until we got to the “chimney”. This was the first time I’d seen it in daylight and not covered in ice, and it didn’t look very easy even now. Rae started up the crevice first, followed by Darcy, and I waited. It’s a tight spot and, with my focus on this, I failed to take any pics at all. Rae soon found she couldn’t reach anything to pull up on, so they both moved to the side as I squeezed by. There are a few small footholds and very limited handholds, but being tall (6′-3″), I found I could pull/push/wiggle/flip myself up. The drop is about 15′ so it’s a bit nerve-wracking. I was thinking “the cliffs are probably easier!” But here you’re not as exposed, so the brain gets tricked. Stupid brain! It was just before 3pm.

Staying laying down on my left side, I found a spot to secure my grip and showed Rae where to put her hand in the rock. With a combination of her pulling and me lifting, we got her up over the edge and she low-crawled and scrambled up about 10′. I said the summit is right there if you want, then turned to focus on Darcy. She worked her way up toward me, and still on my side I showed her the spot for her hand and reached for her other. Hoo boy, the look on her face! I said “Trust me!” and grabbed her hand harder and started pulling. At that point her other hand came off the rock and she started grabbing for anything, so I just dragged her up over the edge on her belly. I grabbed her backpack and kept pulling until she said “Okay, you can let go.” I’m laying there on this slope, on my left side. I look toward my feet which are far too close to the edge, see out over the mountains and trees, then look at Darcy, face down in the rock and dirt next to me, frozen. Then I look up at Rae further up the slope… she’s got her arms out wide holding onto the brush, flat against the rock, legs out pinned against I don’t know what, and her eyes are wide as plates. I thought “Oh God, we need a photo of this hot mess.”

With my grip still on Darcy’s pack I pulled one last time and she started crawling on all fours up the slope. Rae turned and started up as well, with me behind. The summit was only about 20′ away and as we popped up, a DEC ranger came out of the woods. Oh, if he had seen that all! We chatted with him a little and then took some pics, and it was only 3:15! Rachael checked off another one on her way to 46… this one being #27!!!

Summit of Saddleback… #27 for Rae!!!

The trip down the Ore Bed Trail was quick and “easy”. Not easy on the knees, and the stairs at the slide is even harder on ’em, but we made it down quickly. After this it levels out a bit, so the going is quicker. As we got closer to JBL, Rae stopped us as she spotted something on the trail. Just up ahead a deer stood, and as we got closer it walked into the woods. We took some pics, and then it looked up and started walking right toward us! It was surreal, and I was torn between enjoying the moment and scaring it away. We stayed still and yes, enjoyed the moment! It was incredible!

A deer… my spirit animal!!!

At JBL we ran into the guy we saw at the beginning of the day and chatted for awhile. It was busy now, with a family playing UNO on the deck, a few people sitting in the sun, and the group of runners soon came out from the Phelps Trail. We said goodbye, then quickened our pace to the parking lot. The sun wasn’t waiting for our finish and the trail is pretty flat and uneventful… just like the walk in.

We got to the parking lot at about 6:45pm, so it was about 13 1/2 hours on the trail. Rae’s track had us at 18.8 miles and over 5,100 of elevation gain. It’s a tough hike and the weather went from cool to cold to warm and then hot, so plan accordingly. Even in summer the summits get windy and a sweaty body cools off FAST! We brought plenty to eat, two Nalgenes that held 4 Gatorades, and had our pack bladders full with water as well. Just in case I bring a Sawyer filter and there’s plenty of water heading up if needed. The JBL also has a faucet outside you can fill up with as well.

We unloaded, I changed my shirt and put on sandals, and we settled in for our next stop… Stewart’s! We drove down to Exit 25, Chestertown for the obligatory pizza, but had to forego the Chicken Bacon Ranch (WHAT?!?!? NOOOOO!!!!) as they only had cheese for me. That and a sherbet cooler for us all, too!

Haystack is such a great hike, wonderful mountain with incredible views. Basin…. great views, TOUGH hike, and Saddleback? Well, I’ll let you google that one.

More photos below in the Gallery, and on our Facebook page of course. Until the next time… Happy hiking and remember – Just Wander!