Elevation: 2,878 feet
Level: Moderately challenging with very steep final ascent
Distance: 3.3 miles one way (6.6 miles in total)
Trail type: There-and-back
I am an unabashed city person accustomed to walking the hard surfaces of broken sidewalks. More the flaneur than trailblazer, I’m still a novice at hiking mountains. Novice or expert, the views at the top never get old, which is just one reason why we do it and come back for more. On a balmy Adirondack day I chose to hike Haystack Mountain in Saranac Lake. It’s one of the Saranac Lake 6ers, so Haystack would be the third accomplished on my list. I began with the shortest —Mt. Baker — which is a great way to work your way up to accomplishing all six. Haystack is known for being more challenging and twice the experience that Baker offers because it’s a longer and steeper trail. It’s not the steepest or the longest of them, though. Its distinction may be the vivid, up close views of High Peaks from the summit. Or, the refreshing dam you have to cross. Or, the fairly level surface of the trail for 2 miles and the impending steep climb in the final stretch to the summit.
My friend, Stef, who is an experienced hiker went with me. Haystack is just a moderate challenge and a relatively short hike for the Adirondacks. Nevertheless, it is still a substantial hike that requires hiking experience and preparation. First time hikers be warned.
Stef made sure to have a backpack with a headlamp, band aids, pocket knife, long sleeve shirt, water, and granola bars. We didn’t plan on getting lost in the dark or hurt, but it’s good to be on the safe side. Much of the hike up Haystack, approximately 2 miles of it, is a gentle walk in the forest, rich with witch hobble, log pathways, colorful fungi, and roosting butterflies. We even spotted some blueberry bushes close to the final ascent. Our hike was a little on the muddy side because of the wet summer we have been experiencing. A canopy of trees protected us from direct sun, and the forest was especially fragrant with pine, a nice reminder that being in nature is an immersive experience.
It was an easy hike with short inclines until we reached the last mile. We recognized we were near the summit because the expansive views started to become visible through the tree tops. We were no longer protected by the forest. This is the mile that kicked me pretty hard. It required scaling rocks and was aggressively steep. This is also that time during the hike when you begin to say, “Damn, I’m actually on a mountain.” I took several breaks just to catch my breath because of the higher altitude and dense air. Stef and I victoriously landed on a nice ledge that we thought was the summit. The view of mountains and lake was gorgeous. Shortly after, though, a hiker walking down informed us we had a little more to go. It was my idea to ask him.
Beyond this ledge was another ten minutes of incline which led to a wide surface of flat rocks perfect for resting upon. This was the actual summit of Haystack. Several hikers claimed different rocks to relax, catch their breath, eat their strawberries, and drink lots of water. Stef and I ate Dutch Knuckle cheese and heirloom tomato sandwiches that I had packed for us. I highly recommend packing a sandwich for the summit. Meanwhile, the breathtaking views of High Peaks can never be overestimated. From our spot, we could also see Scarface and the Seward Range in the distance. If only every person could share in this view to be reminded of how small humans actually are.
As a city slicker it’s hard for me to describe the gratification of hiking to non hikers, especially to those who fear the absence of a bodega with mango La Croix and egg sandwiches on every block, which is an experience unto itself. Hiking, though, allows you to experience the immensity and peacefulness of the Adirondack forest, which is filled with life and constant change, but in vastly different packaging than the dynamism of urban life. It’s the soft carpeting of dried pine needles covering the forest floor. It’s the visible stillness and invisible movement of surrounding life. For me, the reward at the top as the world opens up, as you take that final exhale while plopping on to the ground at the summit, feeling as if you can’t go one more step until you get back up to do it all over again, enables me to viscerally feel all my senses and muscles on this earth. Haystack provided just this. It’s a great half day hike if you are looking for a challenge. Walking sticks are encouraged but not necessary, and make sure to drink lots of water and take breaks along the way. City person or not, hiking an Adriondack mountain is a humbling experience.
I am halfway to my 6er goal:
Ampersand (I hear this is like climbing one giant steep staircase the entire time so I’ll do this last).
Getting there: Heading east toward Lake Placid from Saranac Lake, the trailhead is on your left, off of NY-86 with a small parking lot very noticeable from the road.
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