Recreational hiker, novice trip report writer, nature lover.
On August 4, I made the trip up to the Adirondacks to start knocking off a few mountains on one of the many challenges the area provides. The previous year, I had ventured up later in the Summer and knocked off the Tupper Lake Triad. This year, in doing some research, I discovered the Saranac 6 Challenge which included Haystack, McKenzie, Baker, St. Regis, Ampersand, and Scarface Mountains.
Haystack is listed at 2,874 feet and McKenzie is formidable at 3,861 feet, but I had been up on 29 of the high peaks in the area in the last 15 months, so I felt fairly confident I could handle the hike solo.
I had seen the parking area and sign for Haystack and McKenzie often since we drove by it on our way into Lake Placid. Whoever decided there needed to be a Haystack Mountain and a Mount Haystack (high peak) in the same area didn't think that one through very well.
The trailhead is off route 86 after you come out on the east side of Saranac Lake, on the left side. There were about fifteen cars there when I arrived at about 2:20 p.m. and I was all geared up by 2:30 p.m.
For this trek, I had my hiking pack and poles, three liters of water, a few peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, two apples, and five granola bars packed away.
I took a photo of the sign-in book and then started on trail at 2:35 p.m. I actually had to walk back as I forgot to actually sign in and then remembered before I got too far. I noted the last entry before mine was also a single hiker and then hit the trail.
I noted right away that the trail markers were in blue and the trail is pretty easy to follow in terms of the markings.
The early section of the trail is pretty wide open forest and is easy to navigate, but the scary thing for me was that I could hear some thunder in the distance as I got started. It was in the eighties, temperature-wise, so I wasn't worried about getting rained on, but I've never liked lightning. Especially when carrying a set of metal poles in the bag.
I was determined to get a hike in though so I pressed forward and came across four or five groups of people scampering back to beat the rain that was in the area.
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The trail weaves in and then starts heading west and somewhat downhill for a while. I like to note certain markers at thirty-minute intervals whenever possible, and this little stream hop and shredded tree were at that time point.
About a minute after I took the photo, I saw a flash of lightning as the wind picked up and some light showers came through the area. I took shelter under a huge boulder off to the right for a few minutes, debated turning back momentarily, but eventually pressed on.
The trail stayed downhill for about twenty-five minutes with a couple of additional stream crossings, but the terrain is pretty easy. Eventually, it did start to angle up, but it was moderate.
An hour into the hike, I came to the split for the trails to McKenzie and Haystack. McKenzie heads off to the right and is an orange-marked trail. I figured with the unpredictable weather around me, I would start with the shorter summit of Haystack and at least get one in case I had to abort later on.
I came across a couple that was coming down and they told me it was a bit of scrambling near the top and they estimated an hour to the summit still. I veered left and started a light climb upwards.
A couple of minutes after the split, there is a stream crossing. Right after that, the trail starts to increase its pitch a bit. For the first twenty minutes, the trail goes up for about four minutes, then gives you a flat section to catch your breath. There were three of these right in a row, so it's nice to be able to recover after a little incline.
After that third flat section that's twenty minutes from the split, it becomes all uphill and with some good elevation. This section took me about twenty minutes to navigate before reaching the summit, with the part that looked like a stairway (see below) at the thirty-minute mark after the split.
I ran into the other solo hiker in this section and he let me know I was close and that he was also doing McKenzie, so that gave me some goals to try and catch him at some point.
Just after that steep section, you get a lookout point where you can look out to the south and see a lake, the Seward Range, and bits of the area to the east. From this point, the summit was only another ten minutes.
I hit the summit at 4:15 p.m., so about an hour and forty minutes from when I left the parking lot. I only spent about ten minutes up there but was happy it was clear. I knew that I'd be pushing it in terms of sunlight and had left my headlamp at home, so I was going to need to keep a healthy pace.
The descent off of Haystack took twenty-six minutes before I was back to the split for McKenzie and Haystack at 4:55 p.m. I wasted little time and made the turn and started heading up. From the view on Haystack, you could tell this was going to be a long gradual ascent at first and the terrain was moderate to start and then gets a bit flatter after the initial part.
You're still heading up, but it's a very gradual incline for the first thirty minutes until you come to a point where four trails converge. There is a sign there pointing the way back and the mileage and the way forward are well marked.
The terrain gets rocky right after the four corners and then you come to an area with some tree roots. Shortly after that, the ascent begins. This is a pretty steep ascent, much steeper than I had thought it was going to be. It reminded me of the trip up Phelps, honestly. It was steep and rocky.
I was getting a little bit nervous because I knew I was the last one on the mountain and the terrain was a bit damp, and with the steepness, I knew I was going to be all alone on this ascent. It was the first time I was going to be the last one on the mountain, so I knew I was going to need to be careful.
The hike up to the top of this section took me a good fifty minutes. I ran into the solo hiker about fifteen minutes from the top and got an overview from him of what the summit was like.
I ended up at the top of this point and made the decision to turn back at 6:15 p.m. without making the summit, but not before grabbing some video of the lookout (see below).
On a return trip to actually hit the real summit, from the point of the lookout, it's about ten minutes across this plateau. As you head back, views open up to the actual summit of McKenzie (see below).
Once across the plateau, there's a nice steep decline which you'll want to be careful on, then another twenty minutes of climbing until you actually get to the summit of McKenzie.
There is a really nice lookout point just before the summit, off to the left. I recommend making a stop there before heading back down.
The trip back during my second hike took me thirty minutes to get from the summit to the point of the top of the initial elevation where I bowed out during the first hike. After that, I hiked socially on the steep part with some members of a military group until we got down to the crossing for the Jack Rabbit Trail.
From there, I went at my normal pace and made it back to the car. From McKenzie's summit to the car was approximately two and half hours, with about fifteen minutes of that being time spent being social.
This was my third solo trip in the mountains with the Tupper Lake Triad and Looking Glass Rock (NC) hikes being my two others. This was definitely the most challenging pair yet alone. The late start, inclement weather, and difficult terrain made me bow out of hitting the summit the first time.
After making a second hike up to actually complete McKenzie, I found this hike to be a very enjoyable, yet challenging hike. Even as a solo, McKenzie had my knees a little sore at the end.
But, that completes the Saranac 6 for me. Bring on the Fire Towers!
Other Saranac Lake 6'er Mountains Trip Reports
- Adirondack Hike: Scarface Mountain
A detailed trip report from an October 9, 2020 hike to the summit of Scarface Mountain in the Adirondack Park in New York.
- Adirondack Hike: St. Regis Mountain
A trip report from a hike to the summit of St. Regis Mountain on June 15, 2019. St. Regis is part of the Saranac Lake 6'er Hiking Challenge and the mountain resides just to the north of the town of Saranac Lake, N.Y. in the Adirondack Park.
- Adirondack Hike: Ampersand Mountain
A trip report from a hike to the summit of Ampersand Mountain on June 15, 2019. Ampersand is part of the Saranac Lake 6'er Hiking Challenge and sits on the west side of the town of Saranac Lake, N.Y. in the Adirondack Park.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.