Adirondack Hike: Haystack, Basin and Saddleback

Updated on July 30, 2019
View of Haystack Mountain
View of Haystack Mountain | Source

On a Friday in late July of 2019, my hiking buddy and I set our to tackle the summits of Mount Haystack, Basin Mountain and Saddleback Mountain. The three mountains are part of the Adirondack 46 Hiking Challenge that entails hiking the forty-six peaks within the Adirondack Park that are above or near 4,000 feet in elevation.

Haystack is the third highest peak in New York at 4,960 feet, Basin is ninth at 4,827 feet and Saddleback is seventeenth at 4,515 feet in elevation. There are many components that make this a challenging trek, including the total distance as well as the tricky terrain.

A Quick Summary

Just to give those with a short attention span the basics, we started the hike at 7:10 in the morning and I signed out at 6:50 in the evening for trail time of 11 hours 40 minutes. My fitbit read twenty-four miles and 52,000 steps, but the mileage is always high and I figure it's closer to 18-20 miles.

Our Lodgings
Our Lodgings

For these longer hikes, we usually book a hotel in Lake Placid and eat a good meal at the Black Bear Restaurant. The chicken tortellini is our preferred menu selection. But this hike happened to coincide with Iron Man weekend in Lake Placid, so our usual hotel choice tripled in price and moved us over to Saranac Lake and Gauthier's. The room was decent, they have a pool, and the price for the Thursday night was only $129. And they've got Elvis (see below).

The Elvis statue at Gauthier's
The Elvis statue at Gauthier's

Our plan for this hike was to get up early and head over to the parking areas. I say areas because we each drove up separately so we could have a few options after Saddleback. We were going to put one car at St. Hubert's and then drive back to Marcy Airfield to grab the shuttle to the Garden, which would give us the option of going over Gothics on the way out (yellow route from Saddleback below). The flatness of Lake Road sounded pretty good after all the mileage and we had heard about the cables going up Gothics and thought that could be fun.

Loop back to Garden in orange, out to St. Hubert's from Saddleback in yellow, black would be the Roostercomb option
Loop back to Garden in orange, out to St. Hubert's from Saddleback in yellow, black would be the Roostercomb option

So we were up at 5:30 in the morning and out of the hotel by 6:10. We got to St. Hubert's around 6:37 a.m. and found ample parking.

It was only about ten minutes back to Marcy Airfield parking area to grab the shuttle to the Garden trail head and there were some cars, but only a few other people waiting to grab the first shuttle. Since we were thinking of ending elsewhere, the fee was only five dollars each and I paid with a twenty and got ten dollars in change. The shuttle left promptly at seven and I grabbed shotgun.

The hike over to Johns Brook Lodge is only like 2.6-2.8 miles depending if you believe the map or the trail signage. It starts out with some light elevation and then turns into a nice smooth trail with very few issues. There's a nice hill as you come down to Johns Brook and you turn to the right to follow that up to the lodge. We got there at 8:30 a.m. and stopped for a quick snack as people were starting to rise from hikes they made the previous day.

Johns Brook Lodge
Johns Brook Lodge

Just past the lodge is the signage for the trail options. Ore Bed Trail is off to the left and the route we were taking was straight past the sign, keeping Johns Brook on the left of us.

Signage at Johns Brook Lodge
Signage at Johns Brook Lodge

This next section is a 1.5-mile leg and the terrain has a slight ascent as you head up along the brook, eventually getting up above it. It took us forty-five minutes until we reached the sign for Bushnell Falls and decided to head down for the scenery, which was nice.

Bushnell Falls
Bushnell Falls

We went left to cross the stream after Bushnell Falls heading onto the 1.9-mile stretch to Slant Rock. Again, nothing too steep, technical or muddy through here as you wind your way slightly up and back through the woods. This section took us about fifty minutes with an arrival around 10:20 a.m., with a few minutes to let Kory do some climbing.

Kory checking the slant of Slant Rock
Kory checking the slant of Slant Rock

At Slant Rock, there were two options. The first was to cross the little stream on the left and head up to where it dumps you out between Basin and Haystack. We looked at the map and calculated it would be 1.6 miles in that direction. If we stayed straight and headed up the right side towards Marcy, we tallied 1.4 miles. We have a hard rule to not add mileage, so it was an easy decision to head towards Marcy.

Here's where the climbing started and it was a thin creek bed that reminded me of the steep ascent up to Algonquin. On the right, Little Marcy loomed over us most of the way up and let us know we still had a ways to go since Haystack is well above that elevation.

Little Marcy is on the left edge of the picture
Little Marcy is on the left edge of the picture

At 11 a.m., we reached signage to head left and over to Haystack while the trail continues on to Marcy if we stayed straight up. The map says it's 1.1 miles but the signage says 1.0 mile.

Sixth-tenths of a mile up, you come out of the woods right where the left option back at Slant Rock merges and the trail down to Basin comes in. Things open up right after this point.

Where the two options from Slant Rock merge
Where the two options from Slant Rock merge

It was around 11:30 a.m. when things started to open up and we headed up Little Haystack. The views were great and there are plenty of cairn options to help guide you.

Climbing up Little Haystack
Climbing up Little Haystack
Standing on a little rock on Little Haystack
Standing on a little rock on Little Haystack

As we came across Little Haystack, things look daunting as the trail heads down to the left and looks like it falls off the edge of the world. It cuts back pretty quick to the right and across a tricky little ridge as it heads down to the base of Haystack.

Coming down the back side of Little Haystack, trail heads nervously left
Coming down the back side of Little Haystack, trail heads nervously left
The trail cuts back to the right shortly in
The trail cuts back to the right shortly in

We reached the summit of Haystack at 12:15 p.m., with about fifteen minutes of that ascent time used to stop and take photos. There's a hole in the rocks at the top that lets you know you're there. There were about a dozen other people up there and we sat down and got some food in us while we took in the views back to Marcy and over to Basin and Gothics.

We started our descent down from Haystack at 12:35 p.m. and were able to make it across Little Haystack and back to the Basin trail junction in thirty-three minutes.

View of Little Haystack from Mount Haystack
View of Little Haystack from Mount Haystack

After about seventeen minutes of steep, rocky descending, there is signage and then five minutes after that you come to the trail merge if we had gone to the left at Slant Rock. We were rather thankful we did not go up that way and have to climb what we just came down, it would have been rough.

Signage for Basin
Signage for Basin

Right after the seventh-tenths of a mile sign to Basin, the climbing begins. It's big rocks for a while, they throw in a ladder for fun, and the trail has some zig-zag as it winds up the mountain. In this section we got caught by a lone hiker and saw two groups that were coming down from the other side.

Making new friends along the way
Making new friends along the way
Getting there
Getting there
Still almost getting there
Still almost getting there

We reached the summit of Basin around 2:30 p.m., caught up to the lone hiker (Bekkha), spent ten minutes up there taking photos and enjoying the views back to Haystack. They are nice and keep the view out to Saddleback shielded by some woods. All three of us started heading down together as a group.

The view back to Haystack from Basin
The view back to Haystack from Basin
Peak number 43 of 46, although we decided to throw the 34 sign out there
Peak number 43 of 46, although we decided to throw the 34 sign out there

The drop down from Basin is steep and rocky, but doesn't take very long at all. There isn't much flat ground to recover as the climb up towards Saddleback starts immediately. It's like the trip up to Basin at first, thin and steep as you wind through the woods.

Coming down Basin
Coming down Basin

And then you reach the cliffs of Saddleback. Someone had drawn up the route that is laid out and I thought it would be good to include that down below. The people at the bottom of the photo give you some perspective on how big that climb is.

The route up the cliffs
The route up the cliffs

The first section is a tricky little climb of cutting across from right to left, then up to head back to the right and up a crevice in the rock

Kory making me take a photo on Saddleback
Kory making me take a photo on Saddleback
You can get a feel for the steepness here
You can get a feel for the steepness here

At the top of the crevice, there's another cut back to the left with a little bit less handholds, and then up through a gap in the rocks where things start to lessen in intensity. We hit the top of the cliffs at 3:45 p.m. and took a few photos.

Look!  Crazy people!
Look! Crazy people!
Summit number forty-four
Summit number forty-four

We left Saddleback at 3:55 p.m. and the descent down was only like sixteen minutes until we arrived at a junction point of multiple trails. The yellow option leads up to Gothics and the blue trail heads down to Johns Brook Lodge and 2.8 miles.

I was pretty spent after that climb up Saddleback and could tell I was not going to enjoy climbing Gothics, especially with just a week to recover from the hike we had done to Marcy, Skylight, and Gray on the previous weekend. Both Kory and Bekkha were feeling good and wanted to experience the cables on Gothics. They were both experienced hikers, so I felt confident to make the decision to bow out and head down from this point.

With only 2.8 to Johns Brook, multiple solo hikes under my belt already this year, and plenty of emergency supplies on board, we all felt comfortable with this decision.

Signage to head up Gothics or down Ore Bed Trail
Signage to head up Gothics or down Ore Bed Trail

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The Ore Bed Trail Descent

The descent starts out steep and stony for the first ten minutes but eventually cuts over and dumps out at the Ore Bed, which made for a really cool visual.

If I had had some Led Zeppelin, I would have played it as I headed down the wooden stairs. It knocked off a lot of the elevation right away and there were some wet spots just after the stairs ended that were tricky.

The Never-ending Staircase
The Never-ending Staircase

After the trail gets out of the creek bed section, it's a nice (long) gentle walk in the woods for about forty-five minutes. I didn't see anyone until coming to the Ore Bed Brook lean-to, and from there it was seventh-tenths of a mile to signage to Johns Brook Lodge, and another three-tenths still from there.

I made a quick stop to fill up my two mini gatorade bottles with water at Ore Bed Brook, managing to drop one in the water, then slipping a foot completely into the brook while retrieving it.

I arrived at the lodge a few minutes later at 5:42 p.m. and started doing some math. It took us an hour and twenty minutes to reach the lodge on the way in from the Garden, and the shuttle stops running promptly at 7 in the evening. If you miss the shuttle, you add two extra miles to the hike.

Accurate visual of how I looked racing to get to the shuttle
Accurate visual of how I looked racing to get to the shuttle

Nothing like adding a time component to a death march after you've already done sixteen miles of hiking. I got my giddy-up on and managed to make it back to the sign-in book at 6:47 p.m., shaving fifteen minutes off the original time, knowing there was going to be a big blister on the wet foot I had from moving so quickly. But feeling pretty good about that effort nonetheless.

Meanwhile, Over at Gothics

Bekkha schooling Kory on cabling
Bekkha schooling Kory on cabling
Cool terrain shot
Cool terrain shot

It's only half a mile up Gothics, with the first part heading through the woods then arriving at the cables. Kory and Bekkha got some good photos and video of their hike up to the summit.

Kory with HaBaSa in the background
Kory with HaBaSa in the background
New Spartan training exercises
New Spartan training exercises

After I got back from the shuttle to Marcy Field, Kory rolled in about twenty minutes later and we started talking about the differences in the trails we took and how much I enjoyed that 5k run to end the hike. I still think I preferred it to climbing over Gothics.

All-in-all, a good day and this gets us to one last hike to Whiteface and Esther to compete our first round of the Adirondack Forty-Six Hiking Challenge.

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