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 ADK's Upper Great Range HaBaSa Traverse - 6/6 & 6/7/15 
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 ADK's Upper Great Range HaBaSa Traverse - 6/6 & 6/7/15
The three summits for this hike seen from Pyramid last July


The Route. 18.9 miles with 5500 feet of elevation gain


My friend and I headed off to the Adirondacks this weekend for another chip off the NE111 list. We left around two on Saturday and planned to hike Haystack, Basin and Saddleback, also know as the HaBaSa traverse. It is said to be the most rugged and scenic section of trail in all of the Adirondacks so we were especially excited to see the forecast looking good, as we'd planned this trip about a month ago rain or shine, although would have changed our route in the event of bad weather since we still have lots of 18 mile Owl's Head-esque slogs to do on the 46ers list. On the way up we stopped at what is rumored to be the best burger joint in Vermont, and after eating there you won't get any argument out of me. Worthy Burger is located in South Royalton, Vermont and if you ever head to upstate New York or Vermont via I-89 it is just off the highway and definitely worthy of a visit. Grass fed beef as fresh as it gets cooked over a hardwood fire, fries double cooked in beef tallow and an ever changing selection of craft beers makes for a great meal if you're into that sort of thing. We are, we did and will do again.

The best burgers in VT are found in this old train depot


The ever changing list of craft beers on tap, changing right before our eyes


The Worthy Double, fries and a local brew


Finally arriving at the Garden parking area around 7:30 we paid our fee, signed in and headed off up the Phelps trail. In about an hour we arrived at the Johns Brook Lodge at twilight. Similar to the AMC huts but smaller, we checked it out, had a snack and chatted with the caretaker and a few guests before moving on. We still had 4 miles to cover by headlamp to where we wanted to spend the night, and it was a slow go from there. The trail was very muddy and often just hopped from rocks to roots to planks as we climbed up the valley. Around 11 we finally go to the Slant Rock lean-to area which is located just below the 3500 foot height restriction for camping. We went the required 200 feet off trail, set up our hammocks, stashed the bear can under some roots and settled in under a crystal clear sky with more stars than you can imagine shining through the trees.

Signing in and ready to roll


Twilight arrival at the JBL for us and the stars


Took a short break there before moving on


Temps dropped to the mid 30's overnight, so the 40 degree bag I brought (it is June isn't it??) was a bit chilly by morning and my friend only brought warm clothes, so we didn't waste much time when we woke up at 6 getting moving to warm up. As soon as we did the sun came up over the mountains and hit us with some nice warming rays. The first section of trail was wet and muddy again, climbing up to the saddle between Mt. Marcy and Haystack before splitting and drying out but getting much steeper and rougher. A couple minor scrambles and then we popped out onto a knoll near treeline and got our first glimpses of the awesomeness that waiting for us ahead.

Chilly start to the day


The sun warming us up as we pack up




So much more compact and comfortable than a tent and ground pad


Some steep scrambling to get the blood flowing


Breaking out of the trees for the first views of the day


Haystack is an awesome sight. It consists of two rocky summits, Little Haystack and Haystack proper, and the trail follows the rocky ridge over Little and then continues on up to the third highest summit in the Adirondacks. The next half mile, in the arctic alpine zone as they call it, scrambles and climbs roughly above treeline. Unlike the Whites, which more often than not are piles of broken rock and ledge that you can walk right up, the Adirondacks are usually just earth or ledge, so when things get steeper it's hands on scrambling fun, and there were a couple good ones going down Little Haystack and then back up, but with amazing views all around of the Great Range and nearby Mt. Marcy towering across Panther Gorge, getting to the top is so spectacularly scenic you don't mind the added effort of the saddle in between the peaks one bit. It's just more time to enjoy the sights before scrambling up the final 300 feet to the top.

Little Haystack and Haystack


Basin on the left with the Haystacks on the right. Not a bad little view


Where's Waldo on the first of Little Haystacks ledges


Headed down the ledges on the backside of Little Haystack


Some alpine flowers along the way


We eventually arrived to find three others there ahead of us celebrating one of the guys final 46er. We congratulated him and talked for a bit before they headed off for their celebratory milk shake, leaving us the mountain for ourselves. The rocky open 4960 foot high summit has 360 degree views that will wow you. Most consider it the most spectacular summit in the Adirondacks and one of the finest viewpoints, and you won't hear a peep from me saying anything but. The top of NY looms large across a deep chasm wile the Great Range runs away from you to the north. Many of the other highest peaks fill in the spaces in between on the horizon, with unbroken forests and sparkling blue lakes and rivers taking care of the rest. I haven't visited all the summits in the Adirondacks yet, but it's impossible for me to imagine it gets any better than that, so we took our longest break of the day for half an hour to enjoy having this amazing place all to ourselves because who knows when we'll ever be back.

Making our way along the rocky summit ridge


Crummy views of Mt. Marcy, Panther Gorge, Little Haystack and Basin as you go




VFTT. L - R Skylight, Marcy, Basin, Saddleback and Gothics among others


Nice spot to relax and look at what's on tap


We peeled ourselves off the summit rocks in the warm sun eventually and headed down the half mile of hiking heaven that brings you back to treeline. From there we had a steep drop into another saddle before an ever steeper climb up Basin Mountain. From the col the trail climbs 800 feet in the next half mile before finally leveling off and cruising gently to the summit. One large ladder gets you up an otherwise un-passable ledge, and a handful of serious ledge scrambles and tightrope walks along the way keep you on your toes, or hands and knees and clinging to roots and tress as the case may be, but with care you'll make it to the open summit ledges of the 9th highest peak in the Dak's where more awesomeness awaits.

Reluctantly we headed down under the watchful eye of NY's highest peak


Headed for, and then back up, Little Haystack












After a steep hike down to the Haystack/Basin col it was back up a very steep and rough trail filled with ledges and a ladder








Nice view of haystack from the trail




Finally arriving at the open ledgy summit


From our 4827 foot perch we had jaw dropping views of Haystack and Marcy behind us, towering above the other peaks and valleys. Another lengthy stop to look around, rest up and fret over the next section of trail. We poked around the corner to see Saddleback, the final peak of the day, waiting for us with with it's infamous cliffs staring us in the face. The forecast called for clouding up later on and possible rain in the evening, but it was clouding up already and getting breezy, so we moved on just in case it started earlier than forecast to try and avoid wet ledges if possible.

VFTT of Haystack, Marcy and more behind us now




And ahead to Saddleback and it's famous cliffs with Gothics behind that




The trail pushed through some scrub before dropping down another ledge with a 90 degree turn and a 30 foot cliff/drop waiting at the bottom of it. Not a big deal really this time of year but I'd imagine this one is interesting in winter. Then you walk along the top edge to yet another 20 foot drop that required tip-toeing across the top to get a hold of some trees and lower yourself down. A few more spots like that brought us to the col, where the cliffs and summit of Saddleback tower above you through the trees. These cliffs are the undisputed champion of scrambles in the Adirondacks. If you look them up there's enough opinions that they are near certain death to make you worry about them the entire hike before you get there. And after the 11+ miles it takes to get there there's no going back. Well, you could go back, but it would probably kill you also, so take a breath, grab a handhold and start the climb!

Leaving the summit of Basin the trail wastes no time descending steeply to the next col






Nice view of the 120 foot high scramble lying ahead


From the col the next summit towers 400 feet directly above you




Then suddenly you're at the base of the cliffs


Scrambling and exposure don't usually bother me, but overthinking 120 vertical feet of wide open cliffs and ledges was getting to me. So rather than worry about all the what if's (like what if I fall? what if I get stuck) we just jumped right in. The first little move was interesting, but good holds made it possible to climb up and swing yourself over the rocks to a flat spot. Ryan went first in the trickiest spots and I'd pass my heavier bag up to him before climbing up myself. Some vertical climbing up broken ledge in a crack brought you higher still to the base of the largest sloping ledge. Maybe a 60 degree slope with a 4 inch wide hollow crack running 40 feet up that you can use as hand and footholds is the safest way up this section. My friend went first and I waited for some people to come down before climbing up myself. With the right shoes you may not even need the security of the crack because the rock in general is quite grippy in the Daks, but I was happy to use it. Another ridge in the rock at the top and more clambering up rocks brought us to the final tricky spot. Naturally the last one 100 feet above the bottom is the hardest, with no good place to put your feet it's all just one push off and climb up a 5 foot high vertical step with 20 feet below you if you slip. Ryan made it up, took my bag and extended a hand that I was all too happy to have just in case of a slip to finish off the scramble. Really in the end it was no worse than the Chimney on Katahdin (very similar actually but more of it) or the hardest spots in Huntington Ravine, but with that sloping ledge in the middle rather than as your first move, although it's nowhere near as prolonged as that one. And once up you stroll across the top of the cliffs to the 4515 foot high summit of the 17th highest peak in the Adirondacks, Saddleback Mountain.

Good handholds and grippy rock make things interesting but possible


Hikers coming down above us




Continuing the climb up a large steep slab


Letting them come down before I head up


Like I said, steep, but good grip!


Using this crack for hand and footholds is the easiest way to get up this part


A bit more scrambling near the top


Looking down the "trail" with Algonquin in the distance


The trail traverses some ledges with awesome views back to Basin




Views, once again, are nothing short of breathtaking from your clifftop perch. Looking south 180 degree views cover the places you've just been with the slide scarred face of Basin Mountain front and center and Mt. Marcy peeking out from behind. To their right the MacIntyre Range and mighty Algonquin stand tall and the Ausable Lakes and valley far down below to the left. Another hiker came up shortly behind us and chatted for a minute before leaving us with yet another summit to ourselves. One last extended break for lunch and to soak up the warm 65 degree sunshine and we started on our way, only to not be able to take ourselves away quite yet and go back and sit down for a second helping. Eventually we did move on, and the trail passed a few more viewpoints as well as peeks through the trees ahead to slide scarred Gothics and the cable route ascending it's ridiculously steep south face. We thought about climbing up that and then turning back, but time was wasting and we still had 7 miles to the car, so we decided to save it for another day and headed down the Ore Bed Brook trail.

VFTT. Life is good!




Us and Basin


PB & J for lunch on top


Bonus view of Basin and it's basin on the way down


The cable route up Gothics was calling but it wasn't going to happen today


Wet and eroded footing was tough and we didn't make very good time. Halfway down we came to a set of steps alongside a huge landslide. Apparently it fell in 2011, and it was still all fresh white rock, stripped bare of all topsoil and vegetation. It extended maybe half a mile up the mountain and another half mile or so down before ending in a tangled mess of trees and rock. Really pretty cool to see such a new slide, and since the trail was wiped away when it fell they have blazed one on the slide for you to follow if interested or you can take the steps which run along side it for almost half its length. Someone told us there were 380 steps there, which actually seems low to me, but they counted them themselves so I'll file that bit of trivia away for future use, and maybe double check it for myself someday. Once down that the trail followed a mossy brook before leveling off and taking to the woods on a nice, dry earthy track that took us back to the Johns Brook Lodge.

Emerging on the 2011 Saddleback slide created by Irene


You can use it or they have built an incredibly long staircase along side it. We chose option B






After 380 steps you'll hit the bottom and the debris field


Last look back up


Over the river and through the woods to Johns Brook Lodge we go








We took one final break for water and snacks and soaked up the sun in the chairs on the deck. Adirondack chairs of course, and we had them to ourselves yet again. The tops of the Lower Great Range peaks poked above the trees in a near cloudless blue sky. Odd how once I'm off a mountains the weather clears right back up like clockwork, but it does, and it did, and we headed out on the mostly gentle downhill final 3.5 miles of the day. We didn't hurry but finished that off in a little over an hour and arrived back at the car at 4:20, ten hours after we started the day and 14 hours total hiking time on the trails including 5 lengthy stops. 19 miles and 5500 feet of elevation gain were the totals on this one, but we broke it up into 7 and 12 mile days and came out with a spring in our step in spite of the heavier overnight bags and feeling like a million bucks. I guess that is what such awesome trails, sights and summits will do to you! We only saw 12 people on the trails in 19 miles and had all three summits to ourselves for 20 - 30 minutes other than the three people we shared Haystack with for 5 minutes. As I mentioned in the beginning this is said to be the most rugged and scenic section of trail in all of the Adirondack's and, well, after this trip, you wont get any argument out of me!



Great spot for a snack before the final 3.5 miles out


Adirondack chairs on the porch of course!


Life is so good! Muddy, but good!!


3.5 miles left of beautiful towering forests and tumbling streams






Back where we started at The Garden parking area 21 hours later


Not the best in Vermont, but a little piece of Americana at the A&W drive up for dinner on the ride home. Double burger, cheese curds, fries and a root beer float. This trip is going to be tough to top!


So that's pretty much the play by play, but if you want to see more or see the pics any larger you can click right here for the complete set. :wink:



Tue Jun 09, 2015 11:09 pm
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 Re: ADK's Upper Great Range HaBaSa Traverse - 6/6 & 6/7/15
Man, that's one rugged looking hike. But love all the ledgey goodness and scrambles. :D That has to be the longest set of stairs I've ever seen on a hike. :shock:

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Wed Jun 10, 2015 5:55 am
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 Re: ADK's Upper Great Range HaBaSa Traverse - 6/6 & 6/7/15
Certainly spectacular! I second the longest set of stairs I have ever seen. Those ledges look awesome! I cannot wait to get out to the ADKS. How many garbage peaks arevthere out that way? All I have seen you do are these epic ones.


Wed Jun 10, 2015 6:30 am
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 Re: ADK's Upper Great Range HaBaSa Traverse - 6/6 & 6/7/15
That is by far the longest set of steps I've ever seen, hiking or otherwise. They probably go continuously for about half a mile.

Total garbage peaks there seems to only be one of two you can't spice up with side attractions on the hike or longer but better routes that people don't really enjoy. Allen seems to top that list. If you did them individually there'd be more duds but most hikes are 15 to 18 miles long and hit multiple summits and viewpoints along the way, so you're bound to see some good stuff even if one of the summits lacks great views. We actually mentioned that we need to hit some of the less spectacular peaks sooner rather than later or we'll have a crummy home stretch, although Skylight is planned to be the grand finale and is one of the favorite views in the Daks. There are definitely more of these epic spectacular hikes than crap hikes on the list.


Wed Jun 10, 2015 8:51 am
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 Re: ADK's Upper Great Range HaBaSa Traverse - 6/6 & 6/7/15
Looks like a combination of hiking goose eye with the ladders, the Huntington ravine trail and offers the remote wildness of the bonds. Pretty spectacular views and unique rock out there. I particularly liked your reference of obsessing about what's to come for 11 miles and then realizing you just have to go for it, looks like some tricky maneuvering that is for sure. Makes it more enjoyable to say "I did that, and that, and that....". Still makes NH look puny when you show pics of your friend off in the distance climbing this gargantuan mountain. Pretty amazing stuff! Love the idea of the hammock, saves on weight and pack space. Had u thought of ditching stuff in the woods and picking it back up on your way out, to save on hauling it all the way around? Seems like your getting out there alot this year, and you had great weather! Congrats on surviving that. Those folks coming down that section were certainly brave! :shock:


Wed Jun 10, 2015 9:07 am
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Wed Jun 10, 2015 10:11 am
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 Re: ADK's Upper Great Range HaBaSa Traverse - 6/6 & 6/7/15
WOW! :shock: Not much more I can come up with. Looks amazing. The 'Daks have moved up my list in the last year or two to get out to, but I don't think I'll get the time this year. But this one looks great!

Love the hammock idea. I recently bought one on sale and intend to try it out soon myself. I sleep poorly on pads on the ground most of the time, so I'm hoping I find it more comfortable. In which case I'll be adding a tarp and bug netting and taking it backpacking!

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Wed Jun 10, 2015 8:53 pm
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 Re: ADK's Upper Great Range HaBaSa Traverse - 6/6 & 6/7/15
I'll say this much -- I can sure see why you like it there. Awesome!


Wed Jun 10, 2015 9:52 pm
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 Re: ADK's Upper Great Range HaBaSa Traverse - 6/6 & 6/7/15
GG,

Wow! I follow the ADK board pretty regularly in addition to this one, but I have to say this is one of the best I've ever seen on this topic (you should post it there if you haven't already). Those details on the pitches and scrambles are what every hiker planning this trip would want to see. It's almost as good as being there. It's "hiker porn" lol ! (And it also makes me realize that becoming a 46'er is not in the cards for me.)

After this I'm sure you gained a newfound respect for those who do the full Great Range traverse (often on a regular basis). And double respect for those who do it in the winter :shock:

Gonna be hard to top this one.


Last edited by wp_hiker2 on Fri Jun 12, 2015 5:31 am, edited 1 time in total.



Wed Jun 10, 2015 9:55 pm
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 Re: ADK's Upper Great Range HaBaSa Traverse - 6/6 & 6/7/15
I'm sure the bug netting could come in handy on a hammock Matt. Never thought about it really other than bringing a head net, as there were virtually no bugs on this entire hike. I wouldn't do it with this cheap thing anyhow but I really like it and am looking into better ones for the future. Really I don't see any need for a tent other than in winter I like it so much. Highly reccomended to anyone who likes to backpack and not stay at established sites.

WP I follow that too, but more when I am planning a trip there. The reports I've posted in the past can only have ten pics max or I could just cut and paste it. Maybe I'll edit it down and do that. I'd like to think my posts could be useful to people if they ever pop up in a search so thanks for that. I would feel like a carpet bagging forumite however, as I rarely can/do contribute much to that board so I don't post often.

And yes, between doing this and the lower range last year I certainly have respect for those who do the whole thing as a day hike, and while some of the people seem superhuman most have to build up to it, so I hope someday to do them both myself. I haven't done either as a day hike (yet :D ) but I think Backpacker got it reversed when they ranked them the 3rd and 2nd hardest day hikes. This one is so much more hands on and rugged often with horrible footing and some tricky ledges. Slightly shorter but more elevation jammed in on very steep ups and downs between almost every peak In the range except maybe Gothics/Armstrong. Pemi Loop has almost no hands on stuff, and certainly nothing close to these scrambles and ledges. You can probably argue either way, but that's my take on it. Both certainly make spectacular hikes, even in sections.


Wed Jun 10, 2015 11:31 pm
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 Re: ADK's Upper Great Range HaBaSa Traverse - 6/6 & 6/7/15
Interesting and detailed TR. I doubt we'll ever make it to those (not a list we are doing. :lol: ), but I do enjoy following along in your reports. You captured it nicely with all your pictures. Very Cool!
We are looking into hammock vs. tent right now. Trying new pads first, then might get a cheap hammock and try it.

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Thu Jun 11, 2015 6:34 am
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 Re: ADK's Upper Great Range HaBaSa Traverse - 6/6 & 6/7/15
Now having a go pro on your head going down some of those scrambles would have been pretty cool for sure! Would give u that live experience.


Thu Jun 11, 2015 10:07 am
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 Re: ADK's Upper Great Range HaBaSa Traverse - 6/6 & 6/7/15
I'll leave the gopro to HWC! :D I can give him good directions to this one. Funny you mention that though, as there is very very little video of this one out there. Usually you can find a ton of it on just about anything, but not this.


Thu Jun 11, 2015 3:43 pm
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 Re: ADK's Upper Great Range HaBaSa Traverse - 6/6 & 6/7/15
The only time I've been on Haystack is in winter when I was helping a friend finish up her Winter 111's. As sometimes happens, doing a peak in winter can be easier than in 3 seasons.

The ADK's are tough compared to the Whites in NH.


Fri Jun 12, 2015 7:36 am
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 Re: ADK's Upper Great Range HaBaSa Traverse - 6/6 & 6/7/15
Those long approaches, that are often like a mile long brook crossing with all the rock/log hopping, are definitely easier in winter. The backside of Little Haystack seems like it would be pretty hairy stuff covered in ice. Doubt I'll ever see that or the Saddleback cliffs in winter, at least not without a rope.


Fri Jun 12, 2015 1:03 pm
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