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Two-thirds of the Saranac 6. 2013-12-12

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  • Two-thirds of the Saranac 6. 2013-12-12

    McKenzie, Haystack, Scarface, and St. Regis
    Thursday, December 12, 2013

    Prettified blog version with larger photos can be seen here.

    This was a "reconnaissance hike" to prepare for Neil's Saranac 6er Winter Ultra on Saturday December 21st. The six peaks of the Saranac 6 include a few that Neil and I have never hiked so, aside from gathering data, we'd be visiting new territory.

    I was "on the fence" about the Winter Ultra and thought a "sampler hike" would help me decide. I admit that after four peaks I was quite certain I had no interest in a 6-peak "sufferfest". Today, rested and in the bright sunshine, I'm not so sure about skipping out on the "it doesn't have to be fun to be fun".

    The goal of the hike was to sample a few 6ers and gather information about trails, times, distances, location of trail-heads and parking. We theorized about the optimal order of peaks but wanted evidence based on "boots on the ground". Based on the experience, we changed our minds about a few things and learned something valuable about the Saranac 6.

    We left Montreal at 4:30 AM and arrived at Saranac Lake near 7:00 AM. After a quick stop at the local Stewart's to change into hiking gear, we drove to Berkeley Green to see the 6er bell. Having established its location, we drove east to hike McKenzie and Haystack. Along the way we made a mental note of the location of the turn-off for Scarface.

    The 6er bell at Berkeley Green.

    We chose to hike McKenzie via the Jackrabbit trail from Whiteface Inn Lane. Parking opportunities? Practically speaking, none. Solution on December 21st? Use a Russian cab driver named Pickup Andropoff. Fortunately we were the first and only vehicle so we managed to squeeze in without difficulty. It was -22 C (~ -7 F) and a Thursday so that might have had something to do with the lack of hikers. December 21st will be very different.

    I've never hiked McKenzie from the south, along the DEC trail, but have visited it from the east, via the SOA trail, and the west, via a bushwhack. It is a steep route that teases you with a false summit. Being south-facing, and with the paucity of recent snowfall, we found it to be very icy and requiring careful attention to foot placement.

    We were fortunate to have a bright sunny morning and the views south, to the central High Peaks, and east, to Lake Placid and the Sentinel Range, were spectacular. The western lookout was also very scenic but we spent all of 15 seconds there owing to the eye-stinging westerly wind. The drop back to the Jackrabbit trail was surprisingly quick despite the copious ice.

    Sawtooth and Seward Ranges from McKenzie.

    Based on a hot tip, we went off along the Jackrabbit trail in search of a cairn that marked the start of a herd-path to Haystack. The search proved fruitless and consumed 200 feet of elevation and a half-hour. We conceded the cairn had been dismantled because there wasn't enough snow-cover to obscure it. We found a subtle path, which became stronger, and followed it along the ridge to Haystack's summit.

    Haystack has a lovely south-facing lookout with views duplicating those of McKenzie. We thought it'd be an excellent place to return in the summer for a leisurely picnic with folks who love the outdoors, and great views, but aren't willing to walk for miles on end.

    From the Sentinels to the Sewards.

    The total time to ascend and descend Haystack was nearly equal to the time lost searching for the non-existent cairn. Oh well, that'll be a half-hour saved on December 21st! We zipped back to Neil's car along the smooth and wide Jackrabbit trail. Soggy mitts were either swapped or dried on the heater vents while we drove to our next peak, Scarface.

    The Scarface trail-head offers room for a few cars (few is the operative word). Again, you may wish to use the convenience of Pickup Andropoff on December 21st. I'd say this is a trail where the journey is more interesting than the destination. The first half of the trail is dead-level and crosses a railway track and an interesting bridge then winds its way through tall stands of red pine. The third quarter rises to a near-viewless summit and then the last quarter is a seemingly endless traverse across the peak to its true, completely-viewless summit. I called Scarface the "Emmons of the Saranac 6". :-\

    The view from Scarface.

    Seeing that we were limiting ourselves to four of the six peaks, I led a spirited descent of Scarface with Neil in close pursuit. We arrived on level ground lickety-split and Neil indicated that, although fun, it was an unsustainable pace (for us) over six peaks. I agreed wholeheartedly after learning the extra effort saved us a mere eighteen minutes. Over the course of a long day, there are far more efficient ways to save eighteen minutes than dash 'hell bent' down a slope.

    On our recent "normal" hikes, where we spent 12+ hours hiking, constant motion with few breaks ensured we stayed tolerably warm. Many breaks were ended by one of us calling out "OK, I'm getting cold". However, this day featured extended breaks in the form of returning to a frosty car and driving to another trail-head. The especially cold day ensured we had plenty of time to sit in a freezing car and notice how cold and damp our clothing had become. With the seat-heaters and defroster on maximum, we drove off to hike St. Regis.

    The St. Regis trail-head, just a few miles west of Paul Smiths, provides room for many cars. By the time we arrived, my leg muscles and joints were experiencing a noticeable amount of "post-hike stiffness" except we weren't "post-hike" yet. Being seated and motionless for forty minutes proved to be an undesirable "cool down" for my body. At this stage, we hadn't hiked more than 14 miles and 4000 feet yet I felt surprisingly tired. I found the combination of cold weather and "start-stop" hiking to be extra taxing on my body.

    Darkness was falling and a light snow began to fall. I topped up my hydration bladder, stuffed a fresh set of hand-warmers in my mitts, and donned my headlamp. I had hiked St. Regis many years ago so I remembered how to find the trail-head and the need to cross a bridge to access the trail. A road crosses a bridge and along the way you veer right to follow the trail. Unfortunately, I forgot where to "veer right".

    Darkness had fallen and we seemed to be heading along the road, marked with "Canoe Carry" disks, for far too long. Realizing my memory had served us well only up to the bridge, we doubled back and quickly located the trail. It was a ten minute mistake that won't be repeated on the 21st.

    The trail to St. Regis is mostly a mellow route. Just when it seemed to be dragging on for too long, we emerged on the wind-blown summit. The fire tower stood like a sentinel in the wind-driven snow. A red plastic canister, marked with the Saranac 6er logo, hung from one of the tower's steel legs. Recognizing a perfect photo-op, I pulled my camera out of my jacket pocket and was greeted with "Charge the Battery". We withdrew out of the wind and I warmed the camera body in a pants pocket, placed the camera battery on my belly, and proceeded to wait.

    Several minutes later I tried again but had no luck. Thoroughly disappointed by my new camera's cold-weather performance, I gave up. Upon returning to the car I tried again only to have the camera operate long enough to extend its lens partially and drop dead. Naturally, after the camera warmed up in the car it worked flawlessly. Phooey.

    Back at the car, we quickly stowed our gear and, in the falling snow, drove back to Stewart's in Saranac Lake for some chili. I remarked to Neil that I probably had a fifth peak left in me but the sixth, Baker, would have been a very unhappy little hike. He concurred it was a surprisingly tiring day and how important it would be to maintain a sustainable pace to complete all six. It was a sobering thought to contemplate that, after four peaks, the total remaining elevation gain, Ampersand and Baker, represented the equivalent of hiking Pyramid from the Lake Road! We headed home with newfound respect for the challenge of a Winter Ultra.

    See all photos here.
    Looking for Views!

  • #2
    Good to read your views of the Ultra... unaware that you had accompanied Neil on his recon mission. Hope to see you on the 21st!!
    “Keep close to Nature's heart...and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”
    -John Muir

    ADK 46-R 7090W
    Saranac Lake 6er (3x) 11U, UW
    Catskill 3500 2265; 921W


    • #3
      Originally posted by Trail Boss View Post
      At this stage, we hadn't hiked more than 14 miles and 4000 feet yet I felt surprisingly tired.
      This sentence made me smile.... for shame! Only among this crowd...

      I've toyed with doing the Ultra next summer, but likely will forgo the 'sufferfest' and do them individually. Good luck, if you decide to go for it on the 21st!


      • #4
        Nice to see at least a few people out there preparing for the upcoming winter hiking season. Was this an all-Microspike (or equivalent) endeavor? After the weekend it looks like snowshoes will be de rigueur. Those anticipated Christmas presents of crampons and ice axe can stay in the box.

        Was your mind still a little foggy from the hike when you wrote the date, 2013-12-13 which actually was 2013-12-12, aka 12/12/13 in USA or 12/12/13 in Canada?


        • #5
          It was definitely a microspikes kind of day; snowshoes were not needed. Crampons might not have been out of place on the steeper sections of McKenzie. Our Trail Crampons served us well.

          I just logged in to add photos when I noticed the date was incorrect. I was too late to sneak in a change without notice because the proofreader had already caught the error!

          We engineering types like to use the ISO 8601 datetime format: YYYY-MM-DD. It doesn't we mean we get the correct date but the hierarchical format makes it easy to spot errors!

          A big dump of snow is predicted for this Saturday-Sunday and then followed by a warming trend (nice). The only worrisome development is Accuweather is currently predicting ice/rain/sleet for Friday Dec. 20th (not nice).
          Looking for Views!


          • #6
            McKenzie mountain, what a nice view this mountain has to offer, away from the high(est) peaks it provide a very good vista.

            I did not know that Neil want to be an ultra winter, whatever....

            Thanks for TR.
            8000m 0/14


            • #7
              Originally posted by Trail Boss View Post

              I'm not so sure about skipping out on the "it doesn't have to be fun to be fun".
              I think I'm squarely in the camp of "it doesn't not have to be fun to be fun"!!
              Limped thru the Northeast 115...


              • #8
       the trail puck on the true summit of Scarface or is it on the false summit to the west? The true summit is adorned with a carved tree (with an obvious Z shaped S carved on it) at the end of a herd path.


                • #9

                  Here's an excerpt from the following site:

                  The trail at one point stopped at the first landing with open views (unofficial summit), but this is not the true summit, but technically the final view. Many hikers stop here, short of the viewless top. A narrow path continues over the summit and into a much darker forest. The trail meanders through and eventually ends at the true summit where there is a trail disk on a tree marking the top at 3088'.
                  BogHollow had described it something along the lines of "When you think you've reached the summit keep going another mile. There'll be nothing to see." That sums up our experience of Scarface.
                  Looking for Views!


                  • #10
                    easy peasy

                    Hey guys I did all these peaks with my kids. When they were just out of diapers !!
                    But not in winter and all in one day

                    I like the russian conection warm car will be VERY nice.

                    sounds like my kind of fun BTW Mark Twight a renowned big wall climber was the one who came up with the fun quote. I started using it when I started doing more than one mt. range in a day.

                    running down hill to save 18 min Pace ? have some fun burn the treads up, a pile of smokin leather.

                    prisoner of hope

                    MG "in search of Elie Gain"


                    • #11
                      BogHollow had described it something along the lines of "When you think you've reached the summit keep going another mile. There'll be nothing to see." That sums up our experience of Scarface.[/QUOTE]

                      sure looks like you got there, must be the trail puck is a new add to what was once a nondescript summit when I was there only a couple years ago, prolly a victim of popularity from becoming an "official" peak...


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by dRitter View Post
                        ..., prolly a victim of popularity from becoming an "official" peak...
                        It's a curious destination indeed. I agree its inclusion in the Saranac 6 has probably increased traffic to its true, completely viewless summit. If not for the Saranac 6, the western end of Scarface is where most hikers would call the hike "done".
                        Looking for Views!


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Trail Boss View Post
                          If not for the Saranac 6, the western end of Scarface is where most hikers would call the hike "done".
                          If not for the 46, who in their right mind would go to Nye?

                          In spite of the 46, who in their right mind goes to Nye?

                          Scarface who?

                          Adopt a natural resource. Give back.


                          • #14
                            Saranac sicks. Training hike for a trining hike.

                            Originally posted by nangaparbat View Post

                            I did not know that Neil want to be an ultra winter, whatever....
                            Another great TR from Trail Boss.

                            When I found out about the winter-6 ultra I quickly seized upon it as a great training hike with an eye to Project 46. Then with the date drawing near we figured it would be a good idea to do a training hike. Also, the weather was looking to be a bit on the chilly side and we both liked the idea of a series of shorter hikes to mostly protected summits.

                            I'm really glad we went and checked it out. Otherwise, I would have gotten my butt severely kicked on the 21st. Also, we were able to better grasp the logistics of hike 'n' ride and worked out what we thought was a good strategy. Now we'll be watching the weather all week and pondering our gear.


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Commissionpoint View Post
                              If not for the 46, who in their right mind would go to Nye?
                              Anyone working on the ADK-HH list or the NE-777 list.

                              Not sure about col depth though if the ADK-HH list was .75 miles AND 300 feet of prominence. Does Nye even have 200 feet?

                              (Nye doesn't make the Barry-Boomer list which is comprised of the hundred highest ADK peaks with 300 feet of prominence, no distance rule.)