Once again, I decided to venture out of Addison County for a trail run. I have been an avid Adirondack hiker since I began my employment in Middlebury in the mid-80’s, but never really thought seriously about them as a running destination, given the muddy, rocky and generally gnarly condition of most Adirondack trails. In fact, the challenges of overcoming some of the challenging terrain on many Adirondack hikes constitute much of their appeal. That said, another one of the challenges of these mountain trails is their length – most of the popular hiking destinations require long approach hikes on gentler, more runnable terrain. Since I do most of my hiking in running shoes, rather than the more traditional hiking boots, I had gotten in the habit of coming down off a peak, and running in the last few miles at the end of the day. So, when one of my running friends Ben suggested a run/hike to one of the most remote peaks in the High Peaks of the Adirondacks, Haystack Mt, I agreed that at least some of the route would be runnable, and we decided to give it a try.
At first, Haystack would seem like an odd choice for a trail run. While it is the third tallest of the High Peaks, it is far more challenging than Marcy (#1) and Algonquin (#2) due to the length of the hike (about 8.5 miles each way) and the ruggedness of at least some sections of the approach trails. In fact, it is generally not recommended as a day hike for all but the most fit and experienced hikers. On the other hand, the first 3.5 miles in from “The Garden” parking lot in Keene Valley are very heavily hiked and in excellent condition with only modest ascent, and the next few miles beyond this, while steeper and less heavily traveled might also offer at least some stretches suitable for running. I was mildly concerned that Ben planned to bring his dog, Tizzy the labradoodle on this trip, but he assured me that she was an excellent and experienced runner and climber, and I knew there would be lots of water for her to drink along this route. Prepping for the run in the morning, I basically broke every rule in the book for Adirondack hiking, trying to go light. For gear, I brought my small camera, a GPS watch, a 28 oz water bottle, and a windbreaker, allowing me to run with just a fanny back and a water bottle around my waist. Also, for my food, I basically grabbed all the “energy food” in my stash – so I brought along a mishmash of old Gu and Powergel packets, various energy bars, most of which were leftover bits of swag from previous races, and a bar of chewy energy blocks much like Gummi Bears, whose origin I had long forgotten. Oh yeah, and I also brought a few Snickers bars, because everything is better with chocolate.
After completing my 46 Adk peaks a dozen years ago, I have been doing my hiking in a wider variety of areas, and some of my memories of the trails and terrain were a little dated or fuzzy. For example, I was not worried at all about us finding a parking place at “The Garden”, the parking lot for the Johns Brook Lodge and our planned approach. This small but very popular parking lot always requires a very early entry on the weekends, but since this was a Friday, I figured we would be fine. So, when we headed up the access road roughly across the street from the Keene Valley hotspot, The Noonmark Diner, and saw a sign indicating that there was indeed space in the undersized parking lot, I wasn’t surprised. However, as we approached the lot attendant, she let us know that we were lucky enough to have gotten there just in time to grab the next to last spot, and it was only 8:30 in the morning, attesting to the ever increasing popularity of Adirondack hiking.
Setting off from the trailhead at around 8:30 in the morning, the run was as I expected; the trail was in good condition, and the climbing was moderate, and we got to the Johns Brook Lodge, a mountain hut where overnighters can pay for a bunk and meals, after about 3.5 miles. I was kind of surprised to see that we had already climbed 700-800 ft by the time we got to the lodge. After topping off my water bottle from the lodge’s potable tap, we resumed the run, and over the course of the next 3.5 miles to Slant Rock, a very obvious trailside landmark, the trail stayed at its gradual pitch, but gradually got rougher, and muddier, so that we could only really run about half of this stretch. It is funny how early in any trail run, I avoid all the mud through careful footwork, but once my toes get a little bit moist I basically give up and just charge through most of the water hazards, and by the time we got to Slant Rock, my shoes were sloshing. I also noted an odd looking shelf fungus which looked like a bizarre set of lips. Anyone for a kiss?
Kiss me baby!
Given my plan of traveling light, I had neglected to bring along a map, counting on my distant memories of the last time I had passed this way, years ago. I remembered that there were two ways to get to Haystack from here – the short direct path which pretty much headed directly up and over the ridge to Little Haystack and Haystack, and a more roundabout route, the dreaded “Shorey Shortcut” which accomplished the same result, but with a lot of extra climbing and descent – obviously a route to be avoided. So shortly after passing Slide Rock, the trail took an obvious left turn across the brook, and we took it. The trail started climbing much more seriously, so other than a few very short stretches here and there, the running part of our ascent was over. After a long a substantial climb, we started an almost as long descent, and I realized that we had indeed taken the route I had wanted to avoid at all costs. Oh well, what’s a few hundred more feet of climbing in a long challenging day? Once we regained our lost altitude and achieved timberline it was a short steep ascent to the summit of Little Haystack, just north of our destination. I was amazed at this point by our canine companion’s ability to climb and descend some very steep sections of trail. I guess her four wheel drive works pretty well!
Ben and the mountain dog
Finally, we got to the last quarter mile or so to the summit proper, and of course, this was a great place to enjoy the views. In this shot, I am looking west towards Redfield and Allen, two of the more challenging trailless peaks in the area.
A trailrunner enjoys the summit views
From here, we made our descent, backpacking to timberline at the base of Little Haystack, where we found the trail we had hoped to take up from Slant Rock, but somehow missed. Taking this trail, we cut out a lot of extra unnecessary climbing in our descent, but this trail was no bargain either – it was even steeper than the Shorey, with the added benefit of loose rocks and a few sections where the trail was basically a muddy stream. Once again, Tizzy the wonderdog proved the strongest hiker of the party.
By the time we got back to Slide Rock, we were all ready to stretch our legs again with some more running, and despite tired legs from the previous 10+miles, this easy descent was the best running of the day over the last 7 miles. When we returned to the parked car, my GPS registered the day at almost exactly 17 miles. Checking the details of the run after our return, I could see that we had climbed and descended over 3500 ft in the course of the day! I usually don’t mention times and speeds in this blog, as everyone needs to run the trails at the pace where they are comfortable, but I found it interesting to note that we were able to complete this in just under 6.5 hours, whereas my previous hikes here had required more than 9 hours, so we were able to make up a lot of time in the runable sections!
Of course, when we got to our car, we made another anonymous hiker happy, as our departure opened up a spot in the parking lot for someone else to enjoy that section of the backcountry. Finally, all hikes in this section of the Adirondacks are required by law to end at the Noonmark Diner. While some people have sung the praises of their pies, I always go for a milkshake for the drive home. I got coffee this time, but perhaps next time it will be strawberry?
I usually just show the route in my Google Earth projections, but in addition to that, I also created a projection which better shows off the topology around the summit of Haystack. So, the first projection shows the entire route as if it was taken from the perspective of a satellite looking straight down, while the second one would be what one would see from an airplane approaching Haystack from the Mt Marcy side, at low altitude – I kind of like this perspective!