Cue dramatic music... today was the day: Saturday, February 23: the day to attempt our final winter Adirondack 46R peak.
After much careful thought and aligning of plans, of re-doing certain peaks and avoiding others, today arrived. As much as possible, we tried to engineer the conditions for our final winter 46er peak climb: Jenn and myself and Ewart all finishing on the same peak; a decent weather forecast so that we could get the maximum chance of having a sunny, unobstructed view from the top; and finishing on what I consider to be the best peak with the best views in the entire High Peaks region: Haystack Mountain.
The forecast for the day was for clouds in the morning, then becoming 'mostly sunny'. I liked the sound of 'mostly sunny', and it was a deserving forecast for a peak like Haystack.
Jenn and I, having just completed Marcy, Gray and Skylight just a week before
, were at 45 out of 46, with only Haystack remaining. Ewart had two: Basin and Haystack, and so in order to accommodate this, we co-ordinated with Ewart so that he would start out on the trail an hour before us, summit Basin, and then join with us on our ascent of Haystack (for those of you who don't know, Basin is a peak adjacent to Haystack).
Also along for the adventure today was Phuong, a co-worker of mine and an avid, aspiring adventurer. "A brand-new quarter", she advised us she was. shiny and ready to go. Phuong (and her husband Scott) were with us a few weeks ago on an ascent of Cascade Mountain
. Today would be her first long Adirondack hike. And a fairly challenging one it would be, too.
Ready to depart
As you may or may not recall from last year, we helped our new friends Mark and Linda Perry finish their last few winter 46er peaks (links to those writeups here: East Dix, South Dix and Macomb
, and Dix and Hough
). They wanted to return the favour this year when Jenn and I neared the completion of our own winter 46er quest. Unfortunately, various events conspired against them, and they were unable to join us on our final hikes. I had a final conversation with Mark the night before this hike, and they said they might try to make the hike, but if not - look for them in the parking lot at the end of the day. It was too bad that we likely wouldn't be hiking together, but it would be nice to see them again!
With all the preparations out of the way, we got up early and drove to the Garden Trailhead, aiming to start hiking at around 6:30am. Ewart was to have started ahead of us, around 5:30am, and we'd look at the entry in the trail register for his timestamp. We both had FRS radios tuned to channel/sub-channel 13-7, and we would try to initiate contact at some point as we approached Slant Rock, so that we could gauge our relative positions and speeds.
Like peas in a pod
With spring fast approaching, it was noticeably light out as we started out on our hike at exactly 6:39am (you got an extra nine minutes out of us for free, Ewart!). There was a light dusting of fresh snow, perhaps an inch or so, and the trail was well-packed.
The sky overhead was gray, and it was very lightly snowing, but I felt confident enough in the forecast to not be too worried. Sure enough, as we hiked along, the sky brightened, turning a yellow-y color, and before long we could see breaks in the overcast to our south. It wasn't long after that that the skies cleared completely, developing into a calm and beautiful sunny morning.
We hiked at a good pace, reaching the 'Warming Hut' just before Johns Brook Lodge about one hour and forty minutes later. We stepped inside for a good long warm-up, and chatted with Bob and the other caretakers inside. Those sausages sure smelled good!
Admiring the morning glow
We a promise to stop by on the way back (we'd told Bob and the others that this was our Winter 46 completion hike, and he said we had to stop by on the way back for a 'celebration'), we stepped back out into the cold of the morning. We still had a long way to go.
With clear skies still with us, we trudged along towards Bushnell Falls. A lone hiker came up behind us. Turning, I immediately recognized him: Jason - one of the two Jasons from last week's hike on Gray, Skylight and Marcy. He had said that he was interested in doing Haystack with us, and sure enough, there he was - he had started an hour after us and had motored along to catch up. It was good to see him, and his trailbreaking help would come in handy should we encounter unbroken trails. So far, though, we had an excellent broken track to follow.
We hiked along together for a bit, but I knew that Jason was quite a bit faster than our pace, and so we invited him to go on at any point. After hiking with us for a short distance, he did just that. We would no doubt meet up again somewhere ahead, in any case.
Phuong was experiencing a bit of a food bonk, and as a result we slowed our pace a bit and stopped for several restorative snack breaks. I established contact with Ewart, and it sounded like he said he'd already done Basin. Wow, fast, I thought. We had agreed to meet at the junction of the Shorey Shortcut trail and the Range Trail. I'd better get my butt in gear, I thought. I proposed that I Jenn and Phuong stay on the main (and shorter) Phelps trail up towards Haystack. I would branch off on the Shorey Short cut to where Ewart would be waiting, and together he and I would make our way up the Range Trail to Haystack, and we'd meed where the two trails joined just below the open terrain on Little Haystack. Seemed like a plan.
As we climbed towards Slant Rock, I could see wisps of cumulus-y clouds start to form to the west. Probably normal daytime heating, I thought, and hoped that these clouds wouldn't develop into the full-blown overcast that enveloped us on Marcy's summit the week before. The forecast said 'mostly sunny', I repeated to myself.
Shorey Short Cut
At the Shorey Shortcut, we parted ways. I gave Jenn and Phuong my FRS radio, so that they could be in contact with either Ewart or myself for any direction-related questions. I repeated the instructions to stay left at the saddle between Marcy and Haystack, where the Phelps trail junctions off to the right and the trail to Haystack to the left. My assumption would be that the trail would be broken out, especially since Jason had just gone charging off ahead of us.
Shoulder of Basin
The Shorey Shortcut trail was steeper and tougher than I remembered it (It had been a long time - perhaps 10 years). Ewart's tracks seemed the only ones on the trail - apparently he'd had to trailbreak from here. I had been hoping for this trail to be broken out, too. It was tough trying to sprint up the steep, almost unbroken trail, and I was quite out of breath when I reached the height of the rising traverse the trail makes. Above, the scattered puffy clouds had all but coalesced into a gray, uniform mass, and the summit of Basin, which I could see from my vantage point, disappeared into the clouds. I was not impressed and let the forest around me know it.
As I started to descend towards the junction with the Range Trail, I called out ahead to Ewart, figuring he had been waiting there for me for some time. Instead, I heard a response across from where I was, high on the flanks of Basin. I'd misheard the radio conversation from earlier - Ewart hadn't summitted at that point at all. In fact, he was still trying at this point to reach the summit of Basin, citing the tough trailbreaking conditions. He urged me to go on without him. Although I couldn't see where he was, we argued, as we often do in such situations, yelling across the gulf between us. I said that it was only fitting that he should finish along with the rest of us, and we were willing to wait. I would go down to the junction where he'd left his pack and break trail for him up towards Haystack. He was non-committal but seemed willing to not rule it out. Draw.
Range Trail Junction
Wanting to make as much time as I could now that I knew that there was potentially slow, unbroken trail to come, I scurried down the steep bit to the junction with the Range Trail and where Ewart's pack was hanging on a tree. There was no time to waste, so I turned right, and headed along the Range Trail towards Haystack. The route was indeed unbroken, and the faint previous tracks I was following made the underlying hard layer very uneven. It was slow going - although not as hard as the trailbreaking conditions from last week near Lake Tear of the Clouds. And even though this was a signed trail, I could only make out a few of the trail markers - the snowpack was so deep, they were mostly all covered!
Turning back, I could see a very distinct black dot moving down from the summit of Basin. Ewart had just summitted his 45th winter peak!