The real treat however came a few minutes later. A bird fluttered out of the thick trees and landed just off the trail. It perched perfectly on a branch and allowed me to watch it for several minutes. It was a saw whet owl. Saw whets are interesting because they are quite small, only 6 inches tall or so at full size. The owl watched me with curiosity as I enjoyed the sighting and took a few photos. It flew to a further branch briefly before flying out of sight in the dense woods.
|Lower Wolf Jaw|
|Passing through dead trees|
|View from Upper Wolf Jaw|
|Prominent slide on Saddleback with Gothics in foreground|
|Saddleback, Haystack, Basin, and Marcy|
|Hairy Woodpecker I believe|
|Saw whet owl|
|Looking with curiosity|
|Owl on a distant branch|
Not long after the owl sighting, the trail began a rough section enroute to Armstrong. A long ladder negotiates the worst part of exposed rock followed by a steep, rooty section. A few more rocky sections require hands to climb before reaching a nice outcropping at the summit. I took a few minutes to eat a snack while enjoying the view that gives a good look at most of the remaining peaks. Five peaks down and five to go.
|Long ladder below Armstrong|
|View from Armstrong|
|Colden and MacIntyre Range|
|Good look at slides |
Leaving Armstrong, Gothics stands less than a mile away. At 4,736' in elevation, Gothics stands as New York's 10th highest peak and was the highest point so far on the hike. Despite the elevation, the climb to Gothics seemed rather tame. Gothics just barely peeks out above treeline and its bare summit had the best views of the day to that point. Another ledge just beyond the summit looks at the highly scarred slides on the peaks ahead.
|MacIntyre Range |
|Sign below Gothics|
|Lower Ausable Lake below Gothics|
|Dix in the background|
|Lake Champlain in distance|
|The peaks to be climbed next|
|Good look at Colden and MacIntyre Range|
|South from Gothics|
|Nice look at the slides on Saddleback and Basin|
|Slides on Basin|
|Upper Ausable Lake|
|Water south of Upper Ausable Lake|
|Lots of layers to the mountains|
Leaving Gothics the trail drops dramatically down a steep slab. To aid hikers, cables have been bolted to the slab. At places, hose covers the cables to make it easier on the hands. Over time the cables have been frayed and they are broken at a few spots. Even without the cables, passage would be possible, but they make the route safer. In wet conditions, I would avoid the steep slab even with the cables in place.
|Top of the cables|
|Saddleback and Basin|
|A look at the slide with the cables|
|Looking down the cables with hose|
|Looking back up at the cables|
|Near the bottom of the cables, looking up|
Saddleback Mountain is reached just over a mile from Gothics. While climbing Saddleback, there are good views back to the steep descent from Gothics. I passed the 10 mile mark of the day just below the summit of Saddleback. At 4,515', Saddleback sits slightly lower than Gothics and not as open on the summit. Good views stretch from its many ledges however.
|Looking back at Gothics, cables are on the|
narrow strip on ridge
|Large slides on Basin|
|Upper Ausable Lake|
|Basin and Marcy|
Leaving Saddleback, the trail passes one of the most interesting section of High Peak's trails. The route descends a series of steep ledges requiring scrambling and frequent use of the hands. Yellow blazes on the rock mark the route. Reading reports prior to my hike, I expected a tense passage down the ledges. Once I made my way down them, they weren't nearly as bad as previous trip reports made the section sound. I wouldn't want to deal with the ledges in wet conditions, but while dry, they weren't too bad. I may rate the route an easy class 3, but the exposure wasn't too scary. My years of off trail alpine route finding in Colorado put me in much worse terrain.
|Top of ledges on Saddleback, trail walks along this|
|Trail goes down here|
|Trail travels down this near vertical face|
|Paint blazes marking the route on the ledges|
|Wildflowers on the ledges|
|Looking back at the ledges|
The 9th highest Adirondack summit, Basin Mountain, stands less than a mile beyond Saddleback. Once past the ledges, the trail to Basin went by quickly. At 4,827', Basin features a nice open summit. By the time I reached Basin, I had covered more than 11 miles and nearly 7,000' feet of elevation gain. I took a longer break to eat lunch and drink the Powerade I had with me. Roughly 6 hours of time passed since I started my trip.
|Boardwalk protecting alpine vegetation|
|Ledges below Basin|
From Basin, I got a good look back on my route as well as my last two, and highest peaks, yet to come- Haystack and Marcy. The route looked like I had a fair amount of descent and climbing for both peaks ahead of me. While I ate my lunch, a handful of other groups were on Basin. I had seen people on and off, particularly near Gothics, but this was the first summit that I didn't have to myself for at least a few minutes. Most of the hikers seemed to have come up from Johns Brook.
|Haystack and Marcy|
|Alpine vegetation on Basin|
Leaving Basin, the trail descends quite steeply over ledges. A ladder negotiates the biggest drop. The trail bed becomes more consistently rocky, almost like a stream bed. The only campsite and reliable water source up to this point can be found at a low point between Basin and Haystack. Beyond the campsite, the trail climbs over its rocky course to the junction of the Haystack Trail.
|Rocky trail between Basin and Haystack|
Haystack stands about .6 miles from the junction according to the guide book. (.5 according to sign at junction) Despite a relatively short detour to Haystack, the trail gets rather rough. A rocky subpeak, Little Haystack is reached first, with a rough descent before the final climb. Nearly the entire distance stays above treeline with paint blazes and cairns marking the exposed route to the summit.
|Rocky terrain on Haystack|
At 4,960', Haystack stands as the 3rd highest peak in the state. While slightly lower than Marcy, Haystack was my favorite peak on the trip. Its rocky, exposed summit feels more rugged and wild. The views from Haystack take in the entire route of the day with a great look at my last obstacle, Mt Marcy. I started to feel hungry and choked down an energy gel to hold me over until I reached Marcy, still two plus hiking miles away.
|Marcy across Panther Gorge|
|Haystack view toward Upper Ausable|
|Alpine terrain along Haystack|
|Basin is the pointy peak and Gothics is the rocky mountain|
with Giant Mountain in the distance
|Basin on the right|
Leaving Haystack, the trail descends to around 4,100'. From the low point, it's 1.3 miles and 1,200' to the summit of Marcy. Despite the steady elevation gain from the Haystack- Marcy col, the climb to Marcy never seemed too difficult, even with 15 miles on my legs. I think it was the easiest climb of the day of the 10 summits I visited. As I approached Marcy, I passed numerous groups that were descending and could see quite a few on the upper reaches.
|Approaching Marcy from alpine meadow below summit|
|Cairn below Marcy|
|Just below Marcy|
|Marcy summit plaque|
|Looking across Marcy's alpine summit|
At 5,344', Mt Marcy stands as the highest summit in New York. As the high point, it sees more people than many of the High Peaks. Talking to the summit steward, she said she counted around 100 people visiting the peak for the day and was probably the busiest weekday of the summer.
|Despite the good views, the day was somewhat hazy|
|Closeup of the neighboring peaks|
|View over Panther Gorge|
By the time I reached Marcy, I was quite hungry. I ate a second lunch after taking a bunch of photos. The summit features a large alpine area and excellent views in all directions. The busyness distracts from its beauty a bit however. I left Marcy around 245PM. I had 9.1 miles of trail ahead, not including the road at the end, but it was all downhill.
|Algonquin I believe|
|Haystack with Dix in the distance|
Majority of Marcy hikers use the Adriondack Loj as there starting point, so I lost most of the summit traffic when I headed down the Phelps Trail toward the Garden trailhead. The first several miles of descent traveled over rocky footing, slowing me down a bit at first.
I knew the Phelps Trail followed water much of its route and planned to take advantage of it. About two miles below Marcy, I sucked the last bit of water from my Camelbak. As promised, water flowed much of the way and I refilled near Slant Rock. I immediately drank a liter and put another 1.5 liters in my Camelbak. Once at Slant Rock, frequent campsites are found along the Phelps Trail to the Garden trailhead.
Once past Slant Rock the trail leveled and became less rocky. I took advantage of the terrain, running where I could. Up until this point, there was very few stretches I could utilize this strategy due to rough terrain. I stopped occasionally to take a photo. Despite a very steep trail, I took the .2 mile diversion to enjoy Bushnell Falls. I highly recommend Bushnell Falls to anyone passing by.
|Closeup of Bushnell Falls|
|Johns Brook runs nice and clear|
Most of the remaining trail went by quickly as I ran on the mostly flat terrain the last several miles. I reached the Garden trailhead at 547PM. From the Garden, I ran the last 1.6 miles until I reached Route 73. Along 73, I walked the last .2 miles to the Rooster Comb trailhead to cool down. I reached my car at 610PM.
|View descending Marcy|
Going by the guide book, my total route covered just shy of 27 miles while climbing in the neighborhood of 9,500 feet. My time totaled 12 hours 40 minutes including breaks. I didn't know initially how my body, particularly my knees would feel at the end of the day. Surprisingly, my knees didn't even have the slightest discomfort. I even went on a two mile walk with Puma and our dog Choya when I got home. My Presidential Traverse left my knees throbbing. I used poles this trip and I think that made the difference. Even the days following the trip, I had tired quads, but no knee issues and was running the following day.
|20 foot drop of Bushnell Falls|
Overall I really enjoyed the trip. I wouldn't recommend an undertaking like this as a day trip unless you know your capabilities and are conditioned. Like I said early, I had nearly 1,400 miles on my legs this year alone prior to the trip. I have successfully tackled several other long distance and high elevation gain day hikes over the years. I routinely cover 20+ mile days on my backpacking trips and have done 50 mile trips as overnight hikes. I was aware what my body can handle going into the hike.
Knowing how to manage food and water for an outing of this length takes planning as well. I carried more water than I wanted given the rather warm conditions and didn't regret it. I consumed more than 7 liters of fluid on the hike and took advantage of water along the trail. This trip would make a nice backpacking trip and most of the peaks would be worthy as shorter day hikes. There are numerous trails on both sides of the Great Range that would allow for more reasonable day hikes.
|Clouds over the tundra|
I know this hike often gets compared to the Presidential Traverse in New Hampshire. If weather cooperates, overall I would say the Presidential Traverse may be slightly less difficult. The Presidential Traverse passes multiple huts and the Mt Washington summit buildings, which all offer water and often food. The structures also offer some refuge from the weather if needed. Water is limited on much of the Great Range and shelter doesn't exist until lean-tos are reached well below the summits. The Presidential Traverse runs slightly shorter with the climbing spread out more evenly.
I personally liked the Presidential Traverse a littler more however, since much longer stretches travel above treeline compared to the Great Range. The scenery is more consistently far reaching. Either way, both trips are worthwhile and among the best in the Northeast.
|View on Gothics|
|Southern half of the Great Range from Gothics|
For similar long distance, day trips that I have tackled, click the links below to read past posts on my blog.
Six Peak Adventure in Missouri Gulch and Basin- 6 summits including 3 14ers and 3 13ers in Colorado with 8,000 feet of climbing
Barren-Chairback Marathon Hike- Nearly 30 miles with 6,000 feet of climbing in Maine's 100 Mile Wilderness
The Presidential Traverse- 23 miles with 9,500 feet of elevation gain over 8 4,000 foot peaks including the 5 tallest New Hampshire summits
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