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Haystack, Basin, Saddleback, for the win 8/5/2019

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  • Haystack, Basin, Saddleback, for the win 8/5/2019

    The End.

    This was it, and I knew it.

    Today I would be a 46er or it would have to wait another year. I kept telling myself that any pressure I was feeling was completely artificial. “So what if you don’t do it today? The mountains aren’t going anywhere,” but as I stepped out into the blue-gray of dawn, a little part of me knew that there was no mind game I was going to play on myself today that was going to work.
    Six years ago, when I started this adventure, I had promised myself that I would be a 46er by the time I turned 40, and now 40 was only two weeks away. Even closer than that were the first whistles of football camp (I’m a High School Coach), and while they usher in all the excitement of a new season on the grid iron they also usher out my climbing season. So today was the day. “Last chance to dance this year,” I thought to myself as I threw my pack in the trunk, “let’s make it a good one.” And with that I pulled out of the hotel parking lot in Lake George at around 5:20AM, headed for Marcy Field and the relative uncertainty of the Garden shuttle.

    About 40 minutes later I was cruising west on 73 just east of Round Pond. The old school hip-hop station that had been crushing it for just about the entire drive had just begun to lose its grip on the satellites when I saw something so seemingly out of place that I initially couldn’t wrap my brain around what I was looking at.
    There was a spray of black dirt and debris in a long strait diagonal line from the eastbound shoulder to the westbound guardrail, and there against the guardrail was a twisted heap of white metal. My brain initially called out, “refrigerator,” and then reformulated to, “pick-up truck,” when it realized that the large vertical rectangle I was staring at was actually the tailgate of a large pickup truck lying flat on it’s driver side.
    I immediately slowed, and as I did, a headlight flew across the road from somewhere in front of the truck and shattered on the rocks on the far side of the road. It was immediately followed by a young man in jeans, sweatshirt, and ballcap, throwing expletives and punches at the air.
    “You alright man?” I asked as I rolled to a stop next to him.
    “Yeah, I’m okay.” And then, “I [FLIPPIN] FELL ASLEEP!” Half informing me and half yelling it to himself.
    “You’re sure you’re okay?”
    He nodded.
    “There anybody else in the car?”
    “No,” he said, looking back at the wreck and tugging hard on the brim of his cap in exasperation.
    “Did you get in touch with the police?”
    He mumbled something about his phone and then, “Some lady said she’d call.” I assumed he was talking about another driver.
    “Well look man is there anything else I can do for you? Do you want me to stay here with you?”
    “Nah, man. I’m okay. Just call the cops. Thanks.”
    “I will, I promise.” And with that I drove off immediately wondering if there was more I could have done for the kid.

    Minutes later I pulled into the lot at Marcy Field and called 911. The Essex County operator said she had received a few calls about the accident and thanked me for reporting it. As I stepped out of my car an emergency siren blared from somewhere in the distance. It was 6:38AM.
    I tried my best to put it out of my head but the superstitious part of me couldn’t help hoping that it wasn’t some kind of omen as I got into my pre-hike checks and double checks.
    It was chilly (46 degrees by the dashboard thermometer), and if the wreck wasn’t off-putting enough, I did not fail to note the “SHUTTLE NOT RUNNING” sign clearly posted at the entrance of the lot. I chalked it up to my earliness and tried to go about my business.
    Map? Check.
    Water filter? Check.
    Bug dope? Check.
    Spare socks? Check.
    And there was the sound of tires on gravel. I looked in the direction of the sound. I had never seen the Garden shuttle but imagined a short yellow school bus, you know the one, you may have referred to it by any number of derogatory nicknames in your youth. Well in that moment I don’t think I ever wanted to see one so bad, but in leu of my short bus I was greeted by a Subaru driven by a young woman.
    She parked near me, and I was eager to see if she had any information to offer about the shuttle, but she stepped out of her car, shouldered her pack, and headed towards Blueberry Mountain without so much as a look in my direction so I let it rest.
    Back to the checks.
    GPS? Check.
    Headlamp? Check.
    Spare Batteries. Check.
    More tires. Please-oh-please-oh-please. A sleek white van with “Town of Keene” detailed on the sides in big swoopy letters was pulling into the lot. It circled around where I was parked, came to a stop in front of what I’ll call the ticket booth, and killed the engine.

    A gentlemen in his mid 50’s (I’m guessing here) hopped out, coffee cup in hand, and greeted me with a warm, “Mornin’.”
    I “mornin’”d back and abandoning all conversational decorum, quickly blurted, “This is my first time here, and I’m not quite sure how all this works.” Now if I was in his shoes I might have taken the chance to have some fun with me (Cars you mean? People use them to drive from place to place quite often), but the shuttle driver patiently explained the ins, outs, and finer points of the shuttle service to me. Quantum physics it was not.
    He ended his soliloquy with, “You just have to be back at the Garden by 7PM.” And then, “Whaddya’ got planned for the day?”
    “I’m gonna try to get Haystack, Saddleback, and Basin.”
    “You’ve been up there before, right?”
    “Well not up there, but if I get’em this’ll be 46 for me.”
    I half expect him to offer some doubt-laden platitude like the ones I regularly get when discussing my endeavors with my buddies (mostly non-hikers) back in the garden state, but instead I got: “Oh man. You’ll get ‘em! You’ve got plenty of time.”
    I thought to myself, “I love this man.”

    As we conversed one more car pulled into the lot. A fit looking couple, around my age, hopped out of the little BMW. The woman was taking pulls on a cigarette like her life depended on it. The man, tall and thin.
    The ticket booth girl had arrived by then and the friendly shuttle driver called over, “Come on over as soon as you’re ready and we can get going.”
    We bought our shuttle tickets and all piled in for a short ride of amusing small talk. The couple, undoubtedly Eastern European, was from “Brookleen,” as they pronounced it and were planning to climb “Beeg Sliyed.” The woman, whose smile was radiant, marveled over the local fauna after the driver told us he had recently seen his first moose near his camp on Tupper Lake. He then told us he had recently driven the 4 year old 46er, who has since set social media on fire with her accomplishments, to the Garden. He was nothing if not smitten with the kid. “She was rifling off the names of mountains like you wouldn’t believe! I’m so happy for her!”

    The shuttle creaked and bumped over the mostly one lane dirt road to the Garden in the early morning light. As we passed the construction on John’s Brook Road, the driver remarked, “and that’s why you’re riding with me this morning. Supposed to be done by the 15th, but I guess we’ll see.”
    And then we were there. As we hopped out the driver wished us all luck, and reminded us to be back by 7. I signed the trail register and took off down the Phelps trail. It was 7:07AM.
    The three-or-so miles between the Garden and Johns Brook Lodge are rolling and fairly non-descript by Adirondack standards, but there is something about the dawning of the day on trail. The gradual shift from the morning hues of gray and blue to the myriad greens, browns, and yellows that accompany day is a thing to behold. I spent these miles checking my pace, shedding layers, and trying to tune my mind to the forest.

    I passed John’s Brook Lodge at just about 8:20AM. The anticipatory din of adventures-in-waiting ran from the place but there was little activity outside. A young woman grabbed a drying shirt off the front porch and quickly ducked inside without a word, and a group of young men on the back porch discussed pack weight without so much as a look in my direction, so I let them be. “…At least I’m not packing a 15 pack of beer,” was the last thing I heard as I left the clearing and thought to myself, “15 Pack?”

    As I marched along the Northern bank of John’s Brook, I thought of my six year old who loves riding Lake George’s Minnie Ha Ha. The name allegedly translates to “laughing waters,” and what were those waters doing on that beautiful morning if not laughing and tumbling their way over the age-worn, white rocks of the brook. There is a line in an Iron and Wine song: “Blood-of-Christ mountain stream,” Sam Beam sings, and I’m not a godly man, but it echoes in my head any time I’m near John’s Brook.

    I passed the sometimes reviled Shorey’s Short Cut at 10:04, and as I looked up the first few feet of trail, remarked aloud, “You ain’t foolin’ me, buddy.”

    At 10:34 I hit the junction with the State Range Trail and turned Southeast then South.

    At 11:00 I reached the junction for Haystack. I was laughing to myself about the piece of paper essentially taped to a rock at the junction describing distances to points here and there when a couple emerged from the direction of Haystack. They were a little older than me and just as warm as the day itself. They had just summited Haystack and more than any of the pleasantries we exchanged I remember the brightness of life in their eyes. The mountains bring that out of people I think. The man’s eyes were deep and vibrant-dark, like a deer’s, but under a full cap of salt and pepper, leaning towards the salt. The woman’s eyes were lighter and wide and bright. Electric. And as we parted I wished them well, and hoped to myself that they would both hold that brightness for years and years to come.

    Within minutes the Haystacks were in view, and what a mean looking view it was. There was #44, right in front of me. Just had to go get it now. I practically ran to the top of Lil’ Haystack (its’ 2019, gotta go with “Lil” for the street cred). Once on top of Lil’ H, I wished I hadn’t practically ran. There is a nasty little col between the two that one can’t fully “appreciate” until atop the little guy when approaching from the North.

    At 11:30 I summited Haystack for #44. I was treated with a cloudless sky and a view that stretched to the curve of the earth. The wind ripped through the alpine fauna and my summer-long hair. Words would do what I was looking at no justice, I can simply articulate a bit of what I felt. Six years ago, when I started this thing, it wasn’t to measure myself against anyone else. It was a little bit to measure myself against myself. It wasn’t for patches, although I’ve grown to love them. It was a misguided shot at an intimacy with a place that I love deeply… and I felt it there. I stood atop that mountain and looked on so many peaks that I had already climbed (all but two at that point), all a part of my story now, despite my poor ability to tell it, and felt at the very least that they knew me, intimately, even if I can never really know them. We’ve shared something. Insignificant to them no doubt. I was a fly on their shoulder, or a buzzing in their ear for a moment lost in the ages, but we shared that moment none the less, and I felt the collective weight of those moments then, standing on that mean looking summit in the bright August sun.

    I hung around for about 20 minutes. I was tired but I could tell myself honestly at that point that every step forward, up or down, was a step toward home, and a step toward my wife and kids. Yeah there were two mountains in the way, but still.

    Maybe it was the adrenaline, but I found the ascent of Basin to be one of the easiest of all my climbs. A while ago I settled on my own little High Peak maxim for climbing while tired: “Don’t look up.” I knew the trail would carry me to the summit, and sometimes chasing a summit with your eyes can be pretty defeating, so I kept chin to chest and put one foot in front of the next. I passed an encouraging trio of 45ers heading towards Haystack who told me I was getting close, and a trail runner heading in the same direction too busy for more than a monosyllabic, “Hi.” I don’t blame her. She was cooking. I’m sure she crushed it to wherever she was going. I, on the other hand, was less crushing, and more leaving a slime trail up the side of Basin.
    At 1PM I lurched on to the summit in complete solitude. My second lonely summit of the day. My second lovely summit of the day. In all of my climbs I couldn’t remember a more perfect day. No bugs, no humidity, no clouds, a light breeze and views for miles. The views from Basin are spectacular. Lots of people have said it better than me, so I won’t try to out-say it here. I will say that the views back toward Haystack are remarkably rewarding. It frames what one has accomplished so far in a rather complimentary light.

    45 down and 1 to go, so I didn’t linger. I wandered around the bald portion of the summit doing my best surveyor impersonation in order to find the absolute highest point. Took the requisite pics, and marched on.

    Shortly after leaving the summit area of Basin, the Saddleback Cliffs come into view. They don’t look that bad from a distance, but as with all things, this is a matter of perspective. Most of the col between Basin and Saddleback is lost to my memory. My mind was stuck on the fact that I had one mountain left and as the crow flies, it was less than a mile in front of me. I wondered how I would feel when I got up there. It was no longer an if. Would I get emotional? Would it be transcendent? Would it feel like an ending or something else? And then I hit the base of the cliffs.
    As I stood there huffing and puffing and looking up I laughed out loud. To finish with this nasty little scrambley-scrape would be the perfect ending to my little story. So I started up and within seconds found myself marooned, hands firmly planted with legs sprawled and swinging like one of those old Elvis clocks, boots scraping and searching stupidly for purchase on either side of me.

    “You gotta be sh*tting me,” I laughed to myself as I settle back down for a moment to reset and recalibrate. Within seconds I was climbing again, and in minutes I was there. I rounded the open ledge just below the summit marveling at the view and then I stopped for a second, closed my eyes, and took a deep breath. “This is it,” I thought out loud and then I opened my eyes and took a few steps up to the summit…
    … Where I found 5 college kids and their instructor sleeping right on the summit. I had to laugh, and as I did, one of them stirred. “Is this it?” I asked.
    “What? The summit? Yeah.”
    “Alright man. You’re gonna have to do me a huge favor and take my picture. I just finished my 46 and you and your boys are sleeping all over my victory.”
    “Yeah man. That’s awesome. Sure.” We were both laughing at this point.
    As I handed him the camera I said, “Feel free to cut your boys out of the picture. Whatever works.”
    He smiled and took the phone from me. I stepped onto the summit, raised my arms in a V, clenched my fists and smiled back.
    At 1:48PM, on August 5, 2019, I became a 46er.

    The big to-do had roused a few of my summit buddies, including their instructor. Turns out they were all students from SUNY Cortland enrolled in some sort of outdoor education course. We exchanged a little summit small-talk, all the usual stuff, “What did you do? Where did you start? What are you doing next?” And then I wished them luck on their travels and headed out.
    As the conversation was going on I noticed that one of the kids on the summit was probably dead. There was only one of them that didn’t move or speak at all the entire time. We’ll call him “Jimmy Saddleback.”
    The last thing I remember hearing as I left the summit for my descent was the instructor asking, “Okay Jimmy Saddleback, on a scale of 1 to 10, how bad is it?”
    Jimmy Saddleback: “Seven.”
    And with that the whole crew broke into laughter.
    One had to wonder if Jimmy didn’t get into the 15 pack that the kid at JBL was talking about.

    At 2:19 I hit the Orebed Brook trail, and shortly thereafter ran out of water. If there was any part of the trip that edged close to “not fun,” this was it. I hate running out of water and I hit the top of Haystack with 2 full 32oz. Nalgene bottles but you know how it goes. Ridges are hard and ridges are dry, and now, so was I. I still enjoyed the hell out of the Orebed Trail. The slide is testament to the severity of nature and the staircase is just super fun going.
    The pisser about the Orbed Brook itself is that you hear it before you see it, so your mind tells you that you are near water, and then you see it, and your mind tells you, “Ain’t no way we’re drinking from that.” In its higher reaches I wouldn’t describe it as picturesque. Not in the least. But the promise of water is there.
    By 3:30 I reached the junction with the Woodsfall trail, which I would take back to the Phelps Trail. Somewhere before the junction the Orebed takes on the look of a proper stream, and at the junction I filtered greedily and drank deep. I was saved.

    There is little else to tell about the trip back. A young woman with a stack of milk crates strapped to her back, JBL bound no doubt, who laughed when I said, “I had to blink twice. When I first saw you I thought you had a trail register strapped to your back.” A trio on the Orebed trail who called me a “Rockstar” for doing all three peaks. My response: “I didn’t feel like a Rockstar when I was going up.” An unleashed dog, who bristled and growled before being told that he didn’t “have to herd” me by his owner. And finally, me, successfully resisting the urge to tell ever friggin person on the trail that I completed my 46.

    I signed out at the register at almost exactly 5PM, a 46er. I waited less than ten minutes with a family of Canadians and the owners of the dog who mistook me for a sheep of some sort, before the shuttle arrived.

    As soon as the shuttle bus driver saw me he asked, “Did you get ‘em?” And when I responded that I had he met me with a sincere congratulations and a firm hand shake. I thanked him and loaded in.

    The driver and I chatted like old friends all the way back to Marcy Field. Brian was his name I think. What a good guy! I tipped him 5 bucks because it was all I had on me, but it didn’t feel like enough.

    It was close to 5:30 by the time I finally pulled out of the Marcy field lot. It had been a big day, one of the proudest of my humble little life. I couldn’t wait to hold my kids.

    Special Thanks:
    To anybody on this forum who ever offered encouragement or advice. Especially Trailboss for his unparallel knowledge and Canadian Charm.
    To my two kids, GG and Fizz, for endless inspiration and curiosity.
    To my wife, who never understood why I needed to do this, but understood that I needed to do this.
    And finally to my father who never had time for a lot of things but always had time for a fishing trip or a walk in the woods.


  • #2
    I’m so damn happy for you, Jer. The mountains returned your love on this amazing day. What a way to finish! While your humble TRs pull us in with two parts eloquence and three parts woodman’s sense and wit, you’re four parts bad ass with your monster climbing days that always somehow make time to take it all in and make quick connections with everybody on the trail. With #46, you tied the knot. May your amazing relationship with the high peaks last a life time.

    Thanks also for being my local ‘Trail Boss’-like info source at our school. Your hiking info is priceless, but you’ve also helped inspire me to fall back in love with the ADK woods and peaks during these last three years.

    Thanks for all you’ve contributed to the mountains and the forum. May your hikes and stories continue to flow with the joy of John’s Brook.

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk


  • #3
    Great TR, and congratulations!
    ADK 46/46W + MacNaughton, Grid 271/552
    Photos & Stuff


    • #4
      #8335W, Solo Winter 46
      ADK Grid 304/552
      Catskill 35 (SSW) #1235
      ADK Quest #119
      NE 111 113/115

      One list may be done, but the journey is far from over...
      Half Dome, 2009


      • #5
        congrats and well done eyes.
        39/46 (33 solo)
        12/12 solo 12'ster #382
        4/12 W solo


        • #6
          Rivetting TR! congrats!

          What would you say was your most challenging hike and/or section of a hike?

          Have you decided what peaks you will put down as most favorite/least favorite?


          • eyesofthesouth57
            eyesofthesouth57 commented
            Editing a comment
            Tough Questions!
            Most Challenging: Most of the hikes that I found really challenging were due to my own expectations or poor planning. My first day ever in the High Peaks was Wright, Algonquin, and Iroquois with a 35+LB pack. I had no idea what I was doing back then, but descending Algonquin with that pack after biting off more than I should have tried to chew sticks out in my mind. I also did Rooster Comb and the Wolf Jaws on an excessively hot day. The hike itself is very do-able, but I pushed it too hard for the heat, and that was one of the first times I had to physically stop, not just slow down. I needed to park the rig because I felt like I was going to die.

            Fav: Ask me 5 minutes from now and my answer will change. Can I say "my next one"? Wright was my first peak ever and I'll never forget the way I felt up there. Haystack definitely ranks. I had the Skylight summit to myself and got to watch rain clouds blow in and swallow Marcy's summit. I climbed Cascade with my dad... It's so hard to pick one.

            Least Fav: This is such a loaded question! It was only my 6th peak and it was on a crummy day, but Table Top held little charm for me. Looking back on it all now, I loved the whole damn thing so much that whatever I put down as my least favorite will be a little bit of a lie. I also found Blake, as a peak, on the low end of memorable. The more I think about it I'll probably go Blake on this one...

            I'm in no rush to do the paperwork. lol

        • #7
          Congratulations Jerry!! and quite a nice piece of writing on the TR.


          • #8
            Huge congratulations on finishing your peaks! This was a really enjoyable trip report. Any ideas for future hikes?
            We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing ~ Satchel Paige


            • eyesofthesouth57
              eyesofthesouth57 commented
              Editing a comment
              Thanks so much, and too many ideas for future hikes! There is so much I haven't seen! I guess it's just the way my mind works but once I got into the 46 I hiked very little outside of the 46 (in the Adirondacks, that is. I hike a ton in NJ). I want to see all of the lesser peaks. I've never done a fire tower. I want to hike the Catskills some.... And maybe, just maybe, do another round of the 46 before I turn 50!

            • debmonster
              debmonster commented
              Editing a comment
              Excellent! I think the fire towers are a great way to explore other areas, and the Catskills are much closer to home as well.

          • #9
            Congratulations to you! Nice going, and...nice writing too.

            "A full appreciation of mountains is not to be experienced by merely looking; that is why men climb." -Francis S. Smythe, British mountaineer


            • Makwa
              Makwa commented
              Editing a comment
              BTW... you used a phrase in the title for your 46er finisher trip report that football coach eyesofthesouth57 would be jealous of (especially if he's a defensive coach)...

          • #10
            Congrats on your finish! Well done beating the clock and ending with a classic hike like HaBaSa.

            Originally posted by eyesofthesouth57 View Post
            Shortly after leaving the summit area of Basin, the Saddleback Cliffs come into view. They don’t look that bad from a distance, but as with all things, this is a matter of perspective. Most of the col between Basin and Saddleback is lost to my memory. My mind was stuck on the fact that I had one mountain left and as the crow flies, it was less than a mile in front of me. I wondered how I would feel when I got up there. It was no longer an if. Would I get emotional? Would it be transcendent? Would it feel like an ending or something else? And then I hit the base of the cliffs. As I stood there huffing and puffing and looking up I laughed out loud. To finish with this nasty little scrambley-scrape would be the perfect ending to my little story. So I started up and within seconds found myself marooned, hands firmly planted with legs sprawled and swinging like one of those old Elvis clocks, boots scraping and searching stupidly for purchase on either side of me.
            Funny you write this today as I was just sharing my story of seeing the Saddleback cliffs for the first time with an aspiring 46er that I met on the trails yesterday who was concerned specifically about the cliffs and about the longer hikes in general. I too laughed out loud when I saw them - but as I was coming down Basin. I wonder if that's a common response. I recall looking at them from there and wondering how in the world I would scale them.

            And I too was puzzled by that first move to start at the bottom of the cliffs. It took me a few tries to figure it out.


            • #11
              Congrats, Jerry! A great, inspiring effort and a wonderfully written TR. I hung to every word. I’m at work and it’s hard to tear away when an order come soon in to fill. I had just one chance to get McKenzie on Saturday. Same as you. Turn back and it would another year before I could bag it. Maybe, that’s why I ignored the urge to quit. Three big mountains in one day. I doubt I could ever do it, but you pulled it off! Great job! I wish I could have celebrated with you. You know not to stop here. Many more Adirondack adventures ahead. Keep me in mind for any, whatever they may be.
              Nothing like being in the woods.



              • #12
                Congrats on the 46, awesome TR for your great hike to get there with, what a terrific challenging choice with amazing views. Plus never going to forget that day for obvious reasons, including unexpected mva on the way there.
                35er #3133

                "The Kingdom of Heaven is not a place, but a state of mind."
                John Burroughs