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Haystack, Basin & Saddleback: March 12

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  • Haystack, Basin & Saddleback: March 12

    Duration: 14 hours 50 minutes; 5:20 a.m. – 8:20 p.m.
    Benchmarks & Summits: Haystack Summit: 11:50, Basin Summit 1:50, Saddleback Summit: 4:00
    Route: The Garden to John’s Brook Lodge to Haystack via Phelps/Marcy intersection at height of Panther Gorge. Back via Orebed Brook Trail and swing bridge near ranger’s station to avoid high water.
    MapTech Total Mileage/Vertical Ascent: 18.5 miles/5,300’ approx.
    Trail Conditions: Packed trail to JBL, moderately broken trail to Basin Brook, Unbroken trail (crust and damp snow 1’ depth to Haystack), heavy ice on Haystack/Little Haystack, Supportive crust from Basin to Saddleback. Moderately broken on Orebed trail.
    Temperature: 20’s F on summits, heavy winds, sleet, snow, heavy cloud-cover
    Partners: 9 in original party to Slant rock, then 4 in alternate group that intersected
    Diet: (calories, sugar, protein): Breakfast of Deb’s pancakes. 3 raw eggs, 6 starburst, 3.5 L water, 2 hammer gel (90,2,0), 2 pieces of dark chocolate, 1 Gu Gel, 2 E-Gels, 2 Powerbars, 1 Chocolate power bar, 1 Luna Lemmon Zest (180, 12, 8), 1 hammer bar (220, 17, 9), 1 kind plus mango macadamia bar, , 1 Protein Plus power bar* (300, 18, 23)
    Clothing: Burton gloves/fleece liners through haystack. OR Absolute zero mitts with loose fitting fleece liners. Capilene with rain pants. Light fleece top with EMS rain jacket. MSR Denali Evo snowshoes with Northface boots and gortex gaiters. Heavy smartwool socks with wright sock coolmax next to skin. (Feet stayed dry for duration). Baseball cap for first 6 miles then fleece balaclava.
    Pack: 35 lbs. with belt pack.
    Other Hiking Equipment: Northface redpoint optimus primaloft jacket, 3 extra mitts, fleece tops/bottoms, first aid kit, emergency bivy sack, balaclava, extra socks and upper body mid layer.
    Picture Gallery

    Background
    I’d been “saving” the six mountains from Haystack to Upper Wolf Jaw for a couple years in hopes of climbing them in combination with a winter Great Range Traverse. The timing just never worked out for me to do them. I whittled the goal down to just the six I needed to finish the winter round. Conditions didn’t lend themselves for that either. Neil’s finish on three of these peaks gave me the perfect incentive to get back on the trail. It would be exciting to accompany him at the end of his quest and boost my proximity to mys goal by three mountains as well. I’d only one thing standing in the way.

    Two weeks prior to this hike I hurt my knee. Thankfully, the chainsaw was off at the time. It was mildly point-tender so I was a bit apprehensive on how much stress it could take. I knew this set of mountains would be physically demanding. A snowstorm six days prior had added another 30” to my yard, after which, it had then rained for a couple days prior to the hike. Conditions would be interesting. I hoped the rain and freezing temps would add a crust thus making the day “easier” and I was partially correct.

    Beginnings and the Walk to Haystack
    The alarm rang at 4:00 a.m. I allowed myself about 7 seconds (literally) to awaken and get out of bed. Three raw eggs, a glass of water, a quick dance with my toothbrush and a kiss on Deb’s cheek found me donning my winter armour a few minutes later. I exited the driveway at 4:25…a new personal record for the bed to driving process. That was good since I was working against Neil’s start time and not my own.

    Alistair was sitting in the Rooster Comb parking lot when I arrived at 4:45 a.m. He said he’d wait for anyone that needed a ride up the icy road leading to the Garden trailhead. Most of the rest of the group, eight in total were already there in a state of near-readiness and excitement.

    5:20 a.m. found our herd migrating at a comfortable pace toward Johns Brook Lodge on the firmly packed trail. Neil set a nice pace over the next 3.5 miles where we regrouped and took care of some necessities. Our firmly packed trail ended at the lodge where it was replaced by a broken, but rather unstable trail of snowshoe prints that gently exercised the ankle muscles needed to keep the shoes from rolling left or right.

    Our first real trial of the day was the crossing of Johns Brook. Neil had wanted to conquer saddleback, basin and Haystack in that order. I looked forward to descending the saddleback cliffs in the winter, but was concerned about a brook crossing later in the day since we’d had substantial melting over the past week…as well as substantial snow. In hindsight, we’d have been fine either way.

    The snow bridge was gone…replaced by a thin, but supportive layer of ice. About 6” of water flowed over it and several feet of current flowed beneath the blue mass. The snowshoes gripped well and no was sacrificed to the stream at this juncture. Over the next couple miles of gentle elevation gain, we caught and surpassed a group of four hikers with similar goals. All subsequent brook crossings were eventless and snow covered.

    Slant Rock marked the beginning of a tiresome trail breaking process up about 1,300’ vertical over the course of 1.5 miles. The first goal along the way was the Marcy/Haystack intersection. Each step of breaking entailed punching through a thin crust and into a foot or so of dense snow. As a result, the snow shoes didn’t glide forward but had to be lifted out of the aforementioned hole. As the path gained in pitch, we kept ourselves on a 200 pace rotation. The front person, being well-exercised after their duty, then fell to the back of the 13 person line and enjoyed the then broken path.

    Upon reaching the intersection, it was my turn and we began the trek up the steepest portions after a short route finding conversation. Neil and I led for a bit and took a couple rotations of 25 paces each before letting the rest pass. The moderate grade at the top of the ridge was welcome and we progressed upon a more supportive crust until reaching the base of Little Haystack.

    The wind intensified as we climbed the height of land before the Little Haystack/Haystack Mountain set. The stinging sleet reminded me that I’d not brought goggles, the only true planning mistake of the day. I knew the summit would be uncomfortable, but it in no way jeopardized my plan. I was here, I’d climb it. Winter climbing (or any season) is sometimes about making do with your prior decisions even when wrong.

    The trail descended into an area of moderate protection where we ate, hydrated and donned our various articles of protection against the strong winds and sleet: goggles, hard-shell jackets, layers, balaclavas etc. Without my goggles I knew what waited. Neil and I briefly discussed the option of bypassing Little Haystack or climbing it as is usual. We opted for the latter. The dome of anorthosite was almost entirely encased in ice or snow with a thick crust. This was a stark contrast to Marcy and Skylight a few weeks earlier. Their domes, about a mile away, were mostly bare rock ast the time. Over five hours had passed since our departure from the Garden…a short time given the conditions and a testament to the collective strength of the group.

    Haystack
    The first major gust of wind hit me as I neared Little Haystack’s summit. It felt like walking into a tropical storm and nearly knocked me over, but I counterbalanced and instead lost a hat from my pack. Another gust tore my pack-cover off. It flapped wildly from a bungee cord that managed to catch on part of my pack. Neil quickly pulled it free and we left the hat and cover under a cairn rock that Neil pried loose. It was too cold and blustery to undo my pack and re-organize. I’d have to retrieve it on the way back. Slowly and steadily I walked forward, leaning hard into the wind, but careful to keep a firm bite into the ice with the crampons of the snowshoe.

    The mountain isn’t that broad at the top, so we were on the precipitous downhill portion a few minutes later. Jen and John from our group led the way. Neil followed and then I, “Mr. Grace Under Pressure”, suddenly lost my footing, landed on my side and slipped down a short slope before catching myself. The wind masked my utterances. I stayed low at that point and down stepped each of the pitches. Others descended according to their comfort zones which included a butt slide that cut the time down substantially for the “slidee”. Both Neil and I watched others in the group to make sure they made it safely to the col. The short walk over to Haystack was easy on the supportive snow.
    Last edited by mudrat; 02-25-2018, 09:26 AM.
    May your ambition for the goal allow you to be a student of the journey.

    www.adirondackmountaineering.com

  • #2
    Part 2

    It quickly became a frustrating climb for me. Again the summit dome was solid rock and covered with varying degrees of brittle ice, snow and crusted snow. The SE winds blasted us at varying speeds depending on the level of protection from various stone protrusions. This was no huge surprise and even my numb fingers were no hindrance. The stinging sleet against the bare skin of my cheekbones and around my eyes was the price I paid for leaving my goggles behind.

    The lack of goggles created a larger problem that left me nearly blind and lacking depth perception. My glasses had quickly fogged from exertion and from my breath rising out of the mask. The fog had frozen instantly on Little Haystack’s summit. This gave the driving sleet a base on which to stick over the ensuing 45 minutes. The layer of ice was about 1/16 of an in thick so my glasses were opaque at best. I gleaned a quick glance at Neil’s back every now and again…out of the small crack from between the top of my glasses and either my jacket’s hood or my mitt which I used to protect the windward side of my face. A clear view of anything including my footing was never in the cards. I probably appeared drunk as I progressed forward and up. Either way, it’s all in a day’s climbing and I had fun in spite of my self-inflicted problems.

    The views, even with perfect vision, were only of sleet and a heavy blowing cloud-cover…a blue gray that obscured all but the closest features. Marcy, Skylight, Basin etc. only existed in memory. The only thing that gave me a sense of direction was my recognition of the occasional anorthosite shape along the ridge.

    Our group reached the summit at 11:50 a.m. We were, at this point a group of only six since Gerald, Jack and Alistair didn’t “need” this peak for any particular goal and had begun the descent and subsequent climb up to Basin.

    Our climb down from the summit and back to our gear took only a portion of the time for the ascent as is normal. My vision was better and my eyes stung less with the wind at my back. I glanced to the east down the abyss of the Johanssen Face…well, as far as I could see. The steep slope dropped seemingly into an endless and eerie pit of gray. The ascent of Little Haystack went easily, but with my glasses encased in ice I was unable to find the cairn marking my hat and pack cover. They became a sacrifice to the mountain.

    Once back at the trail intersection and in the cover of the trees, my now warm fingers thawed and chipped the ice from my glasses. The trip had tired me…from fighting the wind and, mainly, from battling my vision issue. It was more of a mental rather than physical drain, though it manifested physically a bit later while climbing Basin.

    Basin
    The hike to Basin first involved finding the trail down to the col. It was already broken by the three party members who departed earlier. Their tracks led the way. The col is narrow at the bottom and quickly begins its steep ascent, nearly constant and sometimes cliffy climb up 800’ to Basin. The protective col gave us time to change base layers, eat and relax for a few minutes. We took the climb slowly and steadily, though I quickly drained of energy after a few hundred vertical feet. This just meant I had to trim my pace back. The view toward Haystack’s east face is normally phenomenal, but it was completely obscured. The northern ridge of Haystack was much closer and its ledges were ominously beautiful in the mist and now light sleet/snow.

    There’s a ladder ascent up a ledge on the southwest side of Basin. It’s normally about 10-15 rungs in length, but had 3 rungs exposed at the top. The rest of it and the underlying ledge was buried deep in the snow and ice. I dropped my pace further while climbing several steep pitches. Each required us to kick our crampons in and let the snow settle before applying weight. I heard Neil uttering something about Van der Waals forces as an explanation. I hadn’t heard that term since reading an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education about geckos. They use the same principle to “stick” to glass. That at their agility make them a challenge to catch as well…they were all over in FL where I lived. Anyway, I was too tired to ponder molecular physics at that point, but couldn’t get the gecko visual out of mind.

    Finally, we caught up with Gerald, Jack and Alistair. What had taken them over two hours to break, took us only an hour to follow. That was a great testament to the harsh breaking conditions on the Haystack side of Basin. One half hour later, we were climbing the icy dome of Basin. We arrived at the summit at 1:50 p.m. I was thrilled with our progress, given the conditions.

    The winds were calmer and the summit experience was much warmer, though a light sleet still fell. After about fifteen minutes of pictures, rest and food, we continued to the far side and steep pitches of the northeast descent. We recognized a few areas of the trail at the top, mainly by the top of a few exposed ledges…encased in ice. I and a few others decided to avoid an icy chute in lieu of a different type of ice…the supportive crust of snow. We down-climbed slowly and deliberately, carefully digging our crampons into the crust. A long steep slope with buried ledges waited below. I hadn’t taken my ice axe out, but used a few scattered trees to add confidence to my stance. One by one we caught up to each other and enjoyed a good butt slide down an icy slope to a level section below.

    We’d only just descended the top cone of the mountain and wandered in circles for a bit...looking for traces of the trail buried below. The upper portions of the exposed trees yielded no hints or obvious corridors. We couldn’t see Saddleback, our next mountain or even Basin’s false summit below. We finally acquiesced and accepted the use of a gps on occasion as we headed northeast. With such a supportive surface, the exact path didn’t matter as long as we were travelling along the correct heading. Gerald eventually found the corridor in the first col below and yelled that he’d found a blue trail marker. The snow was not as deep…only 5 or 6 feet. As we descended, the crust continued to be mostly supportive, but the mid to upper branches of the trees hindered progress as they grabbed at various items in our packs…especially the ice axe handles.

    The second steep descent from the false summit to the Saddleback col was the true test of route finding. Gerald, John and I led the way on either two or three different, but parallel variations in search of the true path. John kept saying we were criss-crossing it, but very little looked obvious. We managed to avoid several small cliffs and found a few spruce traps on our travels down the steep terrain. Finally, again, Gerald yelled that he was next to a trail marker. He was quite skilled in finding the right “way”. We could hear the other four hikers somewhere behind our main group working their way down our route as well. I also noticed my beard-sickle building in weight. 2011 had been a great year for these facial ice formations.

    Sometime during the descent, I noticed my previously injured knee reminding me that it had, indeed, been injured. When I was back-stepping the descent, there was no pain, but walking forward on a decline became an increasing problem…one to be aware of, but not worry about.
    Last edited by mudrat; 03-16-2011, 10:49 AM.
    May your ambition for the goal allow you to be a student of the journey.

    www.adirondackmountaineering.com

    Comment


    • #3
      Part 3

      Saddleback
      We began the steep climb through the pines and birches in anticipation of the cliffs and ledges ahead. Within moments, the other four hikers caught up to us. One asked, “Did anyone lose a pack cover and hat?” I’d silently hoped one of them would fine them and reunite them with me. I was quite happy!

      We regrouped at the base of the cliffs, each of us with a camera out at some point. Neil’s original plan was to climb these peaks in reverse order and descend either the cliffs of Saddleback or adjacent to them via the Chicken Coop Slide, depending on conditions. The ice encased cliffs (ledges) didn’t appeal to a climb, so we simply skirted them on the south side and ascended via a chute through the trees and stones at the top. This happened to be the same chute that I used to access Saddleback’s South slide a couple years ago. The ascent was continuous but slow because of the steep slope and combined with the loose snow from thirteen travelers. We put foot to summit at 4:00 p.m. sharp and commenced a celebration of the completion of the three peaks, Gerald’s 46 finish and Neil’s single season winter 46 finish. It was quite the celebration and went off with a bang! I’ve never seen a celebration quite like it…

      The summit winds weren’t as strong as Haystack, but were far from calm, so after about fifteen minutes we began the trek across the saddle of the mountain down to the col. We also managed one quick descent error off the ridge, but corrected ourselves quickly. The crust was thinner on this side and broke under foot more easily. It was not difficult breaking, however, since gravity was on our side. I again noticed my knee and then felt the outer tendon of the opposite knee begin to throb. I must have been unconsciously favoring my right thus affecting the left. By the col to Orebed it was affecting my stride.

      On a positive note, the clouds were lifting slightly as if to say, “It was fun messing with you during the strenuous parts of the climb!” I mentally noted that this was the fourth out of five winter hikes that lacked blue sky and unfiltered sunlight.

      The walk back was filled with great conversation amongst all, but my mind was partially occupied with thoughts for the following day…and a darkening reality. I’d originally planned a two day hike. This day gave me the portions of the Upper Range that I needed and I’d hoped to ascend Gothics, Armstrong and Upper Wolf Jaw the following day to complete my journey for the 46W. I had a feeling by Saddleback that such a plan was in jeopardy. By the time I’d reached JBL again, I’d accepted my plan to call MarkL to cancel for the thirteenth in lieu of the following weekend… if I’d healed enough.

      The dark exit from JBL to the Garden took about an hour and one half at a deliberate and comfortable pace. Even slightly downhill portions were extremely painful after the first mile. I knew it would go away, but wondered about the timing. In all, though, I can’t really complain since it held up through the hardest portions when it was most critical. Retrospectively, the timing was also good…it never really got me down since I was riding high on the accomplishment of Neil’s completion. The memories of the day are wonderful…memories of companionship, humor and two great 46r finishes. The fact that I added another three toward my goal was just a nice bonus that happened to coincide.
      May your ambition for the goal allow you to be a student of the journey.

      www.adirondackmountaineering.com

      Comment


      • #4
        Awesome recap of the hike Mudrat, what an epic day!
        Scotzman
        ADK-#6910
        10/46W
        15/48NH
        66/115
        Every man dies, not every man really lives.

        Comment


        • #5
          Excellent trip report Mudrat, it was great to hike with you!

          Comment


          • #6
            Kevin, I should have gotten you to ghost write my 46W recap.

            Incredibly detailed report.

            Comment


            • #7
              Saddleback and Basin

              Back on Martin Luther King Day, BrownCow, Brad, and I did those two mountains on a very cold crisp day with bluebird conditions. We didn't do Haystack, a great mountain. Basin was stunning. On Saddleback two of us chose to go up the traditional route, bare rock with little ice, our partner chose to go to the right. He tried to climb a chimney but got stuck. He finally got up. Climbing Saddleback and looking back you get such a steep perspective, much steeper than it really is.

              Love the report, great day, and as always, great detail.
              What lies behind us, and what lies before us, are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.

              Ralph Waldo Emerson

              Comment


              • #8
                A first-class trip report! A thoroughly enjoyable read of a truly remarkable hike.

                Congratulations are in order to you, and all other team members, for hiking these peaks in fine style and in such foul weather. I know you folks all have lists to maintain, and weather be damned, but the views from these peaks must be awesome on a beautiful day. Perhaps a re-do in April?

                Sorry to hear about your knee. I hope it heals quickly without complications. The remaining peaks will wait for you and think how sweet it'll be to finish up in no time at all next season.
                Looking for Views!

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Trail Boss View Post
                  A first-class trip report! A thoroughly enjoyable read of a truly remarkable hike.

                  Congratulations are in order to you, and all other team members, for hiking these peaks in fine style and in such foul weather. I know you folks all have lists to maintain, and weather be damned, but the views from these peaks must be awesome on a beautiful day. Perhaps a re-do in April?

                  Sorry to hear about your knee. I hope it heals quickly without complications. The remaining peaks will wait for you and think how sweet it'll be to finish up in no time at all next season.
                  Thank you!
                  Yeah, the views are spectacular in this especially rugged area...been over them 4 or 5 times (not in winter) before and it's one of my favorite view sets! I was hoping for a blue bird day for the entire range, but when neil's finish and the opportunity of a mass traverse came up, it was just too tempting
                  May your ambition for the goal allow you to be a student of the journey.

                  www.adirondackmountaineering.com

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by RTSpoons View Post
                    Back on Martin Luther King Day, BrownCow, Brad, and I did those two mountains on a very cold crisp day with bluebird conditions. We didn't do Haystack, a great mountain. Basin was stunning. On Saddleback two of us chose to go up the traditional route, bare rock with little ice, our partner chose to go to the right. He tried to climb a chimney but got stuck. He finally got up. Climbing Saddleback and looking back you get such a steep perspective, much steeper than it really is.

                    Love the report, great day, and as always, great detail.
                    Thank you RT. That chimney is steep, but the snow depth made it fairly easy to climb out of. I actually thought we'd just ascend the trad. route until I saw haystack's shroud of ice. Bluebird day....ahhhhh.
                    May your ambition for the goal allow you to be a student of the journey.

                    www.adirondackmountaineering.com

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Neil View Post
                      Kevin, I should have gotten you to ghost write my 46W recap.

                      Incredibly detailed report.
                      Thanks, Neil. Hmmm, the possibilities with ghost writing....
                      May your ambition for the goal allow you to be a student of the journey.

                      www.adirondackmountaineering.com

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Scotzman View Post
                        Awesome recap of the hike Mudrat, what an epic day!
                        Thanks. It really felt epic. Loved it!
                        May your ambition for the goal allow you to be a student of the journey.

                        www.adirondackmountaineering.com

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by mtnhiker View Post
                          Excellent trip report Mudrat, it was great to hike with you!
                          Thanks. Great hiking with you as well!
                          May your ambition for the goal allow you to be a student of the journey.

                          www.adirondackmountaineering.com

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Another very enjoyable read Kevin Always looks forward to the next one!

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