Ben and I had an amazing weekend up in the Adirondacks hiking Ha-Ba-Sa (Haystack, Basin, and Saddleback) in the Great Range. On Friday, we parked at the Garden in Keene and immediately connected with a family that included three generations. They were going to do the same as us: hike in 3.5 miles and then stay on the Johns Brook Lodge (JBL) property. The grandparents were 46ers. The grandkids were there, too. The little boy was about four and very excited to start hiking. He even had on brand new hiking boots that he showed off to me. I told him I really liked them along with his bright green dinosaur shirt which just happened to perfectly match his bright green backpack. He proceeded to tell me how smart it is to wear bright colors to fend off predators. Bears be warned.
Getting to the Lodge
The hike in was great and we had plenty of time to relax. It was too late in the day to start serious hiking so we walked around a bit, hung out by the brook for a while, and then went back to the lodge to read and play cards. That night we met a very large group of happy French-Canadians who was also staying at the lodge, bunk-style, just like us and then hiking during the days. We couldn't really understand them but we were very impressed with the quality of food they hauled in, along with a variety of boxed wines, and even place mats. We weren't nearly that fancy but we give them credit for their great style. (How did they carry in all this stuff, anyway?)
The next day we were on the trail by 5:40 am. I'd much rather start early than end late. I like to work in a cushion of daylight...just in case. Plus the weather forecast was a bit iffy for later in the day. We were aiming to complete the Great Range and wanted to hike the Haystack, Basin, and Saddleback loop that day (we had already hiked Marcy, Gothics, Armstrong, and Upper and Lower Wolfjaw on previous trips). We decided that we'd assess the weather and our water situation at each mountain and then we'd decide to go on or not. (A word on water: We knew we had a 12 mile hike ahead of us with lots of very steep ascents and descents. We brought three Nalgene bottles, two 2-liter Camelbacks, one SteriPEN, and MiO flavored drink mix. We confirmed all possible water spots before heading out, too. Interestingly, one water bottle fell out of my pack en route to Haystack. Even though we didn't end up needing it, it's a good thing to take precautions.)
The ascent up Little Haystack before "big" Haystack (the third highest point in New York State) was really fun. Both mountains have large open rock summits that involve some pretty serious scrambling. We met a guy just before we summitted Haystack who told us that although he had summitted Mt. Marcy (the highest point in New York State and also part of the Great Range) earlier that day, he was going to wait for his friends who had gone ahead. He said he didn't want to attempt the scrambling. I looked at his hand and realized why he was staying put: he had a cast on it. We summitted Haystack around 9:30 am. It was very windy!
On our way down from Haystack we met a really happy guy who told us he was a summer and winter 46er and was helping out a friend who wanted to hike her 46. We exchanged pleasantries and took each other's photos and went on our way to Basin. We summitted Basin around 11:30 and met two groups there. One group included two men, one of whom has a daughter who goes to the University of Rochester (where I work). They were hiking the whole Great Range in one day and started at 2 am. We struck up a nice conversation. The other group included three men. One had been trailing behind the other two and we passed him on the way up the mountain. He told us he was always the one in their group bringing up the rear. We met them all at the top though, took more pictures, and became fast friends. That group was attempting six of the mountains in the range that day. One gentleman in that group noted how the clouds were getting a bit darker and a bit lower. We decided to skeedaddle and get over to Saddleback as we knew we'd have a very interesting ascent, one we would not want to do in the rain.
We were right. It was straight, vertical rock we had to climb by wedging our toes and fingers into crevasses in the rocks. At one point, my legs got wrapped around a rock and for the life of me I could not figure out how to untangle them. But I did and I made it up and, man, did that feel like an accomplishment. Our friends from Basin (the one with the college student daughter) were watching us from the top and making sure we were safe. I love how people on mountains always look out for each other. I'm grateful. We got to the top just a little after 1 pm.
We took in the glorious sights and said out loud to each other: we can't forget what this is like. The views continued to be spectacular, and the experience of sheer joy stayed with us all day. There's also this keen sense that one is just a super teeny tiny part of something a whole heck of a lot bigger than ourselves. It's good to always remember that, regardless of whether one's on a mountain, in a conference room, grocery store, or wherever. Hiking helps put me in my place.
Skies were getting darker yet and we started thinking about the Orebed Trail we knew we had to go down. We'd hiked it before and knew that some wonderful trail workers had installed a crazy, huge, and completely helpful ladder system along its very long slide. That ladder is great--especially when dry. We didn't want to hike it wet if we could help it. It did start to sprinkle but we made it down fine, meeting more nice people along the way and wondering about the groups of people we met at the top earlier in the day. The weather started to get a little nicer by then, too.
After the Hike
When we got back to the lodge around 3 pm, we downed some lemonade that the fabulous lodge caretaker had made and we finished up some Oreos we brought with us. We then hung out and began to experience what we would become a very interesting--and humbling--afternoon and evening. We met two lean-to volunteers. These are the guys who fix and move lean-tos so that hikers can enjoy them. One gentleman had hiked the 46 three times and he gives back to the mountains now by doing this volunteer work. They other gentleman just always had a smile on his face. We also met a man and a woman with a happy dog. They were bummed because they didn't have any money and didn't expect the lodge to be there or to have such delicacies as lemonade and brownies. I gave the guy a dollar for both and he was tremendously happy (I remember wishing I had money the first time I came upon the lodge. Lemonade can truly hit the spot after hiking!).
We then saw a big group come by with a bunch of "stuff." I introduced myself to Blake, the group's leader, and then realized this was the young man I'd read about who is making a documentary about hiking the 46. He'd just hiked and filmed Big Slide mountain and had some family and his film crew with him. Fascinating.
And then...we noticed our caretaker moving around quickly. And we heard and started seeing helicopters hover back and forth over the Great Range. Ben and I looked at each other and wondered what was going on. My mind immediately turned to the groups of men we met earlier. By this time, the skies were quite gray over the mountains. We were guessing it was raining up there. After some time, we learned that someone was having heart trouble on top of Gothics, maybe a heart attack. If you've climbed Gothics you know this is the place you do not ever want to be when you are in trouble. One has to use cables to get to the summit and that's where that group was, at the tippy top of the mountain. The weather was pretty rainy by then and the helicopters could not lower a basket to help out the man in trouble. Rescue workers were either with him though or on their way by that time. People were mobilized to help. Luckily, as I heard the following day, the gentleman got some aspirin in him and that made a difference (note to self: always carry aspirin in my first aid kit).
The next morning we learned from one of that gentleman's hiking partners that rescue workers carried the man down the cables (in the rain and thunder), down the wet ladders on the Orebed Trail, and back over many miles to the lodge. There, he was ATVed to a hospital where we think he was doing okay (we hope so).
While this rescue attempt was going on another hiker came into the lodge (it was around 9 pm at this time) and said his friend was back a ways and was extremely dehydrated and needed help. He got some nourishment for his friend (with whom another friend was waiting) and went back to him. Shortly thereafter they all were at the lodge, but the man couldn't hike the 3.5 miles to get out-- he was too dehydrated and exhausted. Plus it was late, dark, and raining. The caretaker took care of him, though, and the man slept in a bunk and felt better in the morning. He just wished he had been more prepared with water. (Note to self: always be prepared for water situations, as we luckily were at the start of our hike.)
Leaving JBL and Heading Home
After that interesting evening, Ben and I went to sleep and took our time in the morning. We got back to the Garden parking lot around 10 am and decided to do a quick hike before heading home. We drove off to Pitchoff Mountain near Lake Placid, not a high peak at 3,600 feet, but it didn't matter. It was glorious. It was a very steep climb to a balanced rock summit with views that were hard to beat. We were alone at the time and it gave us an opportunity to pause and truly be grateful for all we have around us and in our lives and that we had a safe weekend, met bunches of great people, and were able to spend the time together.
We returned home later that night, very, very dirty but also very, very happy.