Heading down from Marcy, we turned right at the trail junction high on Marcy's east ridge (picture with caption Convicts? or Hikers...). The trail from here heads steeply down to the notch at the head of Panther Gorge, which separates Haystack and Marcy. It was along here that we met our first other hikers of the day, two backpackers heading up towards Marcy.
By 6:40am we had made it down to the very bottom of the notch. From here the trail heads up very steeply to the first of a few good viewpoints of Marcy and Haystack (picture with caption Marcy from below). Haystack is a peak I'm particularly fond of - I've always said that it is the nicest of all of the Adirondack 46. This becomes apparent as you near it - it is pointy, alpine, in a beautiful setting in relation to nearby mountains, and has a very nice little rocky sub-summit called Little Haystack, which really should be a peak in its own right! (pictures with captions The Haystacks, and Haystack and Little Haystack).
We are at the summit of Little Haystack. Totally open, and with a most excellent view - of the final ridge to the summit of Haystack, of Panther Gorge, of the entire Great Range. And in the early morning light, even more spectacular. Everybody should make the effort to get to this wonderful spot really early on a beautiful day. Off in the distance, tufts of valley cloud interspered with wooded ridges provided dramatic backdrops to the nearer peaks. And again, not a soul in sight except for us!
Everybody seemed to be doing pretty well on the hydration and energy side of things. We really emphasized pro-actively looking after energy and water levels, and this approach seemed to be working, no one was bonking, and we were more or less all together, despite our fast pace.
Meanwhile, Ewart was to have gone around to the Garden parking lot and should have been on his way to the previously-agreed-upon meeting point. His initial plan was to come up John's Brook Valley and hike over Basin and Saddleback, meet us at the col between Saddleback and Gothics, and then return down to the valley. We had given him an FRS 2-way radio and were figuring that we'd start to have a chance of contact shortly after 7am. So, I dutifully starting checking on the radio starting at that point, and sure enough, we soon heard Ewart's voice, plus some amount of static, on the radio. Turns out that he had decided to just summit Saddleback instead of doing Basin and Saddleback. A wise choice, considering the 50 some-odd pounds of water and food he was carrying for all of us!!!
A quick stop atop Little Haystack for a sunscreen application break and then we were off, down-scrambling the very steep western face of Little Haystack. The trail from here on to Haystack is practically all alpine, wandering through little plateaus, up steep slabs, and around rare alpine vegetation. The cool, sunny morning was devoid of bugs, as well. Delightful!