Monday, September 9, 2013

Basin and Saddleback 2013-09-09

Two guys, two peaks, and one shortcut. 

Bib and I were looking for a relaxing day in the High Peaks and, among many options, chose to hike to Basin and Saddleback. My suggestion to proceed over Sawteeth and up Haystack Brook was considered to be less than relaxing, so we opted for the most direct route, namely from the Garden trail-head, up via Shorey Shortcut and down via Ore Bed Brook. Monday's weather promised to be sunny and, with visions of great views in our heads, we left Montreal at 5:30 AM.

It was a nippy morning at the Garden. Bib, the optimist, arrived wearing shorts. I wore pants and, after some consideration, tossed a pair of shorts into my pack where they'd remain all day. Pants; summer was on the wane!

We left the Garden at 8:00 AM and proceeded along the very dry Phelps trail. Within a few hundred yards, a nagging thought obliged Bib to return to the parking lot to confirm his car was locked. The thought was right; the car wasn't locked. With one less worry, off we went.

En route to Johns Brook Lodge, we passed two groups of backpackers heading out to the Garden. JBL seemed so lifeless and deserted that we peered through its windows wondering if it was closed for the season (it wasn't).

Beyond JBL, the water-crossing at Bushnell Falls was an easy rock-hop. As we approached the lean-to, I motioned to Bib to stop and pointed to a deer ahead of us. It was calmly grazing in front of the lean-to. I reached for my camera, enabled it, and its start-up tune spooked the deer. Within a moment it was gone. Time to disable that tune! The lean-to had a tarp affixed to its roof presumably to improve its water-proofness. While I inspected the roofing, Bib checked out the nearby outhouse.

Bushnell Falls lean-to.
Approaching Slant Rock, we met a pair of hikers, bound for Haystack, filtering water from Johns Brook. Slant Rock looked inviting so we scrambled to its top to see what views it held. The best summary of the experience is "It's like the view from the ground, only higher."

The Shorey Shortcut has a reputation for being misleading. Although it does provide a shorter route to the Range Trail, it accomplishes this goal by losing some of the elevation one gains. During a winter ascent of Saddleback and Basin, I descended via Shorey Shortcut and, owing to the deep snow, found it to be a smooth and pleasant route. The day had heavy cloud cover and so I saw none of the surrounding scenery. Today's weather was fine and I was hoping to experience the trail's notable ruggedness and its unique view of Haystack.

I'd say most of the Shorey Shortcut is no worse than the average Adirondack trail. There is one exceptionally steep pitch but it only runs for a few yards and lies just below the highest point on the trail. The view of Haystack is indeed unique but, assuming one is heading to Basin, better views are nearby.

Steepest pitch of the Shorey Shortcut.
The climb up Basin is a fairly steep ascent of 600 feet followed by a more gentle 200 feet of elevation gain. A ladder spans the steepest section. We met one hiker, ostensibly a trail-runner based on appearances and speed of travel, at the ladder and then had the summit to ourselves. We stopped for lunch and to enjoy the excellent view of Haystack.

Ascending Basin.

Bib bags another peak.

We spent 45 minutes atop Basin and then proceeded north to Saddleback. The trail descending into the col has its share of interesting features. Shortly past the summit lies a ramp that used to lead to an exposed stretch of trail running along a precipitous cliff. The ramp remains but the exposed stretch collapsed into the void and has been re-routed a safe distance away from the cliff's edge.

Once in the col, we had a clear view of Saddleback Cliff. If one is unaccustomed to scrambling (uses both hands and feet to ascend) on smooth rock, Saddleback Cliff can be quite intimidating. Otherwise, it is an exhilirating change from trail-walking and is one of the few "trails" in the High Peaks that demands sustained scrambling.

Saddleback Cliff. An impressive slope of smooth rock.
The "trail" runs up the center of this section.

I went left, Bib via the center, the winter route is on the right.
We met two hikers on Saddleback's summit. They had arrived from the Adirondack Mountain Reserve (AMR) trail-head by way of Sawteeth and Gothics. There's no quick route back to their point-of-entry and, based on our conversation, they appeared to be designing their route on-the-fly. Anyway, they were young and fit, didn't ask for help, and none was offered.

The view from Saddleback.
Descending the Ore Bed trail, we emerged onto Ore Bed slide with its elaborate wooden staircase. The trail enters the debris field then skirts around the worst of the carnage. I noticed that the "debris bypass route" has been re-routed slightly and a ladder has been added to descend a slick section of rock. The iron leaching out of the rock imparts a rusty color to the water and infuses the air with a nasty odor (possibly the byproduct of the iron-loving bacteria breeding in the water).

Ore Bed staircase and slide.

Approaching the debris field.

We took the first opportunity to exit the Ore Bed trail and step out onto Ore Bed Brook. Hurricane Irene had scoured the brook in August of 2011, stripping it of vegetation and making it a broad highway. The first time I visited it, in October of 2012, the brook bed was pristine and the water was crystal clear. Now the bed had organic growth and the water was somewhat cloudy. Nevertheless, it remains a more scenic route compared to the Ore Bed trail.

We rock-hopped along the boulder-strewn brook until we arrived at a gently sloped waterfall. The rhythmic lapping of the water made it sound like a washing machine. At this juncture we headed back into the woods, picked up the trail and continued on to the refurbushed Ore Bed lean-to. After a brief pause we picked up the pace and headed back to the Garden.

Rock-hopping along Ore Bed Brook.


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