The weather in the High Peaks this summer has been dominated by cold rain, high humidity and afternoon thunderstorms. The trails have never really had a chance to dry out since the snow melted and the rocks and exposed roots that are prevalent on the trails are soaked and slippery. The conditions make for very slow hiking, with careful steps and heavy boots coated with mud.
On Tuesday, though, the weather was perfect when I hiked to Cliff Mountain and Mount Redfield from the Adirondack Mountain Club’s Heart Lake trailhead.
I signed in at the trail register at 7 AM and made it to the Feldspar Lean-to by 10:30 AM. A few minutes later I spotted the cairn that marked the start of the “herd path” trail to Redfield. I met a group of teens and their counselor from a nearby summer camp at the summit and visited with them briefly while they finished their lunches.
After leaving Redfield, I turned left at the cairn marking the trail to Cliff. The hike to the summit is relatively short but starts on a flooded trail that leads into scrambles up long and steep rock faces. There’s not much to see at the summit and I headed back home after finishing another sandwich and visiting with a mother and son who arrived at the summit just behind me.
On Thursday I met Andy and Adam at the Noon Mark Diner. We had reservations at the Johns Brook Lodge and planned to stay there through Sunday. Adam and I hiked together two summers ago during a backpacking trip over Giant Mountain and along the Dix range to Elk Lake. He brought his father Andy along on this trip before heading to California to start graduate school.
It started to rain shortly after we signed in at the Garden trailhead register and we were soaked by the time we reached the lodge. We were assigned three bunks in the ten bunk room and spent the evening visiting with the other guests and talking about the hikes they had taken and the ones they hoped to take in the days ahead.
The lodge runs on propane fuel and the electricity generated from four small solar panels, which is stored in car batteries and powers the pumps, filters and chlorination system that sanitize the drinking water drawn from the nearby brook.
A helicopter is used each spring to transport to the property the cylinders of propane used for lighting and cooking and the empty plastic barrels that are used in the latrines. The helicopter returns at the end of the season to retrieve the empty propane tanks and the latrine barrels that have been filled during the summer. Perishable food is backpacked in as needed by the staff who cook the meals, change the latrine barrels and maintain the property.
On Friday we hoped to climb the “Ha-Ba-Sa,” by first hiking over Little Haystack to Haystack before backtracking to summit Basin and then Saddleback by climbing up the Saddleback Cliffs.
The trails were wet and muddy from the rain the day before and it took us much longer than estimated to reach Haystack. We waited to watch the clouds lift and reveal Mount Marcy to us for the first time during our trip.
Dark clouds were forming on the horizon when we left Haystack and thunder followed a short time later. Rather than push on and risk finishing after dark we decided to turn back for the lodge and to return on Saturday to pick up where we had left off.
Unfortunately, it started to pour shortly after dinner and it rained steadily into the next morning. By the time we awoke the trails were drenched and too slippery for hiking so we decided to leave Basin and Saddleback for another day, cut our trip short and hike out to our cars.
I had planned to hike to three peaks during the visit to the lodge, but settled for only one. And while some could say that the trip was a washout, one of the lessons I’ve learned along the way on this journey is that the mountains will be here forever and it is okay to leave a summit for another day. Especially because there is nothing more spectacular than to be on the top of New York after the clouds have lifted away.