Lake George

Lake George
Lake George - from Tongue Mtn Range - 11/11/2011

Saturday, June 16, 2012

A Most of the Great Range Day - 6/15/12

My intention for Friday was to climb 3 Adirondack High Peaks:  Haystack, Basin and Saddleback.  I parked at the Garden in Keene, NY at 5:20 AM.  I paid my $7 parking fee, signed the trail register and I was on the trail at 5:25.  I was the 2nd one to sign the register that morning.  One other group of 2 had signed in ahead of me with the same itinerary.

Little Haystack from Haystack

The weather forecast for the whole Northeast was looking great and I had no weather concerns.  My plan was to hike the Phelps Trail to Slant Rock, then take Shorey's Short cut to the State Range Trail.  I would then turn right and follow the Range Trail for a mile up over Little Haystack to Haystack.  I would then come back on the Range Trail and continue the other direction over Basin and Saddleback.  After descending Saddleback, I would drop down the Ore Bed trail to Johns Brook Lodge (JBL) and return to the car on the Phelps Trail the way I had come in.

Mount Marcy and Panther Gorge from Haystack

In the back of my head I thought that if I reached the Ore Bed trail junction early enough, and still felt great, I would not drop down, but continue on over Gothics, Armstrong and Upper Wolfjaw before dropping down the Wedge Brook Trail and out the Phelps trail.  I didn't think this was likely, but the thought was there.

The summit of Haystack

As it turned out, I made great time.  I passed JBL in just over an hour.  I was at Slant Rock in 2.5 hours.  In 3.25 hours I was on the State Range Trail and in 4 hours I was on the top of Haystack (9:30 AM).  There were no bugs!  I sat on the summit for 30 minutes without seeing a sole.  I ate a breakfast and enjoyed the fantastic views in all directions.

Basin and Gothic from Haystack (Saddleback is hidden behind Basin)

At 10 AM I left Haystack (4960') and headed for Basin (4827').  The col between the two is at about 3900', so the trail drops about a thousand feet before going back up.  I took advantage of a water source in the col to fill my 2 water bottles and I treated them both with my SteriPen.  I reached the summit of Basin at 11:20 AM.   Still no bugs and I was enjoying every minute of the hike.  Next up would be the Saddleback Cliffs.  I had not climbed them before and I had read that they are the most difficult climb in the High Peaks, especially in winter or when the rock is wet.  I had also read advice that they are easier to ascend, rather than descend, so that is why I chose to do this hike in the direction I did.

The summit of Haystack

I reached the cliffs and began scaling them with my daypack on my back.  I found them to be manageable, with only the one tricky spot that everyone talks about.  I would not want to go down them though.  I think the height would bother me looking down.  After the cliffs, I finished the ascent and was on the summit at 12:10.

The only flower type I could find on Haystack.  They are beautiful though...

I dropped down the back side of Saddleback and it was decision time.  I reached the Ore Bed Trail junction  at 12:30 and I still felt great.  I calculated that I could be back at the car at about 3 PM if I dropped down the Ore Bed.  On the other hand, by continuing on the State Range Trail, I would add a couple more miles to my hike and also a couple thousand more vertical feet.  If I continued on, I would probably get out about 5:30 or 6.  My biggest concern was my water.  It was almost gone and I would have to hike about 3.5 miles before I could get water again.

People seem to be obeying the signs

I stared at the sign that said Gothics summit 0.6 miles and decided to go for it and continue on.  After all, I had spent 4 hours hiking up to the ridge, I might as well walk on it for awhile.  I pressed forward and shortly I reached the cables on the side of Gothics.  They were not needed on this warm dry summer day, but I'm sure they come in handy in wet weather.

Skylight and Marcy from Haystack

As I was moving up through the cables, 2 guys approached from the other direction.  They told me they were doing a Great Range Traverse and had started at the Rooster Comb parking lot.  They planned to hike the entire Great Range and exit at the Garden (where I had started).  As I continued on, I began to think the Great Range Traverse would be a great thing to do.  In the end, by hiking the way I did, I hit 7 of the high peaks in the Great Range.  If I had added Marcy in the beginning, I would have done a full traverse.  I'm sure this will stick in my head for the future.

A ladder on the way up Basin

I reached the fine summit of Gothics at 1:10 PM and took my 2nd break of the day to eat lunch.  Gothics is another of the better summits to enjoy.  After lunch I continued my journey.  The trip to Armstrong was easy.      There isn't a deep col between Gothics and Armstrong.  I didn't stop on Armstrong but continued on to Upper Wolfjaw.   I had been on Upper Wolfjaw last December and it seemed more majestic on a crisp winter morning.  It was still nice though.  The far off views of Giant and Rocky Peak were beginning to look closer.

The summit of Basin

I dropped down to the deep col between Upper and Lower Wolfjaw.  It was now 2:50 PM and almost time to go down the Wedge Brook Trail to Johns Brook.  I finished my remaining water and thought about Lower Wolfjaw.  It doesn't have a view to speak of, but if I went up I could say I climbed all the high peaks in the Great Range.  I guess Marcy isn't technically considered part of the Great Range, although it is include in a "Great Range Traverse".  Maybe someone can clarify for me...

Saddleback and Gothics from Basin

Anyways, up I went.  I dropped my day pack so I could scamper up more quickly.  I began to think this wasn't a bright idea climbing this peak with no water left.  I was getting thirsty.  I reached the top and did an about face back to the col and my pack.  it was now 3:35 PM.   

From L-R, Haystack, Skylight and Marcy from Basin

I shouldered my pack and began a rapid descent.  After about 10 minutes I hit a water source and gladly filled my two water bottles.  I used the SteriPen on them both, drank one and refilled it.  The descent was quick as the Wedge Brook Trail was in good shape.

A close up of the Saddleback from Basin

I reached the trail head for the South Side Trail at 4:20 PM.  From there I had 2.7 miles of nearly flat walking back to the car.  I one point there was a small reroute necessary where one of the slides had taken out the trail.

Slides on Basin from Saddleback

I completed the last 2.7 miles in one hour and was back to the car exactly 12 hours after I started.
This was my most epic hiking adventure, but now I have to consider doing this again and including Marcy to have a full Great Range Traverse.

The trail up Gothics is visible from Saddleback

I felt surprising good when I reached the car.  I was quite thirsty of course so a milk shake from the Noonmark Diner disappeared rather quickly.

Looking back towards Saddleback and Basin from Gothics

By adding 4 more peaks to the original 3 in the itinerary,  I climbed 7 of the 8 peaks in the Great Range.  It was a day to remember.  I had perfect weather, very few bugs and just a nice day out.  The trails were a little muddy in spots, mostly near Armstrong and Upper Wolfjaw, but not too bad.

The summit of Gothics

Hike Stats:
Hike Distance:  20.2 miles
Hike Time:  12 hours (including stops)
Total Vertical Feet:  8080'

Gothics summit marker

One of the slides observed on the way out from the South Side Trail

My GPS route of the Great Range at EveryTrail

My route shown in blue
An enlarged view of my route (very beginning and end is cropped out)


  1. Looks like an epic adventure, nice report/pics!

  2. Wow, awesome hike Mike and great pictures.

  3. Awesome pics. I loves being on top of those peaks in the great range!

  4. I loved reading your account. I just hiked nearly the same route with my daughter on July 24th, except we didn't climb Haystack or Lower Wolf Jaw. We left the Garden at 7:20 am and got back at 7:40 pm. The ascent of Saddleback was quite exciting and I was amazed that I had hiked "down" that way with a full pack 44 years ago, when I was 15 years old. Your pictures are great. You had a super day to hike. We got rained on twice, but still had sunny skies for Saddleback and Gothics.

    1. I really enjoy the great range. I have decided that I want to do the full travervse, including Marcy, Hedgehog and Rooster Comb. Hopefully I can plan it for next year near the summer solstice.

      Thanks for reading my trip report!

  5. My 9 year old wants to plan this for our first late spring high peak hike!!! I think we may have to split this is up and hit haystack, basin , saddleback and the others for another day!!! Did u run lol!! I love your blog and have used your info on many of my trips!!!

    1. Thanks for your kind words! I don't blame your son for wanting to do this hike, but I'd definitely plan on breaking it into 2 trips. It would be a really tough day for a 9 year old. Plan it for nice weather days. The views are great, but so is the exposure to weather. Thanks for reading, and good luck!