July 14, 2018
Weather: humid, a little rainy, but also a little sunny!
Well, it has been a while. We haven’t been doing any hiking in the High Peaks these days because we’ve heard about the overcrowding, we’ve had our turn, and there are so many other beautiful hikes in our area! I know I’m going against the name of this blog and its original focus, but I figure there are quite a few of you out there like me who are looking for new challenges, and this one is a great one! I apologize in advance for the limited and quite ghetto iPhone photos – I hadn’t planned on blogging this…
We started off extremely early, way earlier than Greg wanted, but I much prefer hiking in morning darkness than evening darkness. Despite our best efforts, we had probably only slept 4 or 5 hours, but we were feeling fresh and excited for the day’s adventure!
Berkeley Green: 2:53am
*important note: in order to be considered an official Ultra, you have to start and finish at Berkeley Green in Saranac Lake*
St Regis Mountain
from Keese Mill Road
Trailhead start: 3:25am
The bugs swarmed the car lights and our headlamps as we gathered up our gear, adjusted our poles, and left our lonely car in the parking lot alone.
We almost missed the turnoff from the road to the start of the trail, but fortunately we spotted the disk as we were walking past and turned right in time. The trail started off nice and flat, maybe even a little downhill, and we walked quickly – trying to avoid tripping on any roots or crushing the millions of toads that seemed to be hanging out on the trail. Luckily for Greg, I was in front and clearing out all the spider webs for him!
It gradually became more inclined and the trail became a little more confusing, until we were walking up a cascade of boulders. I took my time up the stair master, but it was actually really short – it doesn’t drag on like Ampersand and McKenzie. As we reached the top of this section it started drizzling and we made our way to the bald summit in the rain.
St Regis summit: 4:45am (time since trailhead: 1:20)
I was pleased that we were ahead of schedule, but a little disappointed that we had beaten the sunrise and would be walking down in the dark. We stayed under the firetower for a minute, but since there were no views and it was raining, we headed down.
Luckily the trail is sheltered once you’re off the summit, so we didn’t get too soaked. I was extremely paranoid about staying on the trail, especially going down when you can get momentum and just whiz down on any well trodden path. There was quite a bit of erosion, the trail was wide, and there were plenty of herdpaths; we made sure to pause and look for the few and far between trail markers whenever we were unsure.
After we were back on the easy part of the trail, I turned off my headlamp. It was still pretty dark but it messes with my depth perception and is not particularly comfortable. I was happy it was starting to get a lighter out because the headlamp casts weird shadows and coupled with the weird forest noises, my irrational fears had been building up.
We moved quickly down, but both of us kept feeling like it was taking way too long! I guess when it’s that flat, you can’t really go much faster on the way down. Finally, as I checked my watch, feeling a little miffed that we were going to end up taking as much time to get down as we did to get up, I spotted the trail register and the road.
After we signed out, we were narrowly missed by a truck driving down the road, but arrived safely back at our car just a few minutes shy of our “up time.”
Trailhead finish: 6:00am
St Regis time: 2:35
Total Ultra time: 3:07
McKenzie Mountain & Haystack Mountain
via the Jackrabbit Trail on Whiteface Inn Lane
Trailhead start: 6:44am
First of all, if you are planning to do the Ultra 6er: 10000% take the Jackrabbit Trail AND take the Haystack herdpath!! We have done McKenzie and Haystack from Route 86 and taking the official Haystack trail and it took 6.5 hours (TWO extra hours). Unless you are trying to prove something. Still don’t recommend it though.
The trail starts off rocky / gravelly, but at least it’s a very easy grade and it soon becomes dirt. It took us half an hour to get to the lean to, it had a cute little table but we barely stopped to look at it as we were anxious to conquer the beast that is McKenzie.
The trail descends dips slightly after the lean to, but I barely had time to wonder about making up for the elevation loss when we popped out at the McKenzie junction a few minutes later.
We enjoyed the first little 20 minutes where the trail isn’t too awful, just rocky and muddy, knowing that we were about to be on the hardest section of trail of the day. Having done it before though, we knew it would be a grind but very doable! Just putting one foot in front of the other.
When you look up and see this, you know things are about to get fun!
The entire trail is completely eroded and we got nice and muddy as we scrambled up rocks and tripped over roots. I’m actually shocked as I look back at pictures because in my memory it’s so long and annoying but apparently that section only took about 30 minutes.
Here is where we encountered the first people on the trails – it was a group of 4 casually running down the mountain; they seemed like they were in a rush so we just moved aside and let them pass, but we figured that anyone running down from McKenzie at 8:15 is probably doing the Ultra as well so we wondered if we might see them again (spoiler alert: we did)!
We continued along the much easier trail, up a small bump, then back down and finally up toward the real summit. Just as we were coming out on the views and the last rock scrambles, it started drizzling again. We went straight for the sign at the end of the trail, before coming back to the rock ledge to stop for some well earned breakfast – unfortunately I didn’t feel like getting rain on while I ate so we ended up sitting just off the trail with some tree shelter.
McKenzie summit: 8:35am (time since trailhead: 1:51)
We took a nice 15 minute break to enjoy our iced tea, sandwiches and Clif bars (we hadn’t been able to eat breakfast before this but now that it was a decent hour and we had climbed two mountains, we were hungry!) before turning back down.
We moved pretty quickly until we reached the false summit and had to start down the eroded mess.
We were curious to know how quickly trail runners could move along this, because we were pretty sure we were going as slow, if not slower through this section. It took us an hour to get from the summit back down to the trailhead, but we were about to find out just how wonderful the Haystack herdpath is and it really lifted our spirits!
Jackrabbit / McKenzie junction: 9:48am
We continued along the Jackrabbit Trail toward Haystack; my eyes were darting all around because I had been told there was a cairn at a height of land and I was extremely nervous about missing it. The trail was a very easy grade and a nice dirt path, and 12 minutes later we spotted the little cairn on our left (about 10 feet past the “height of land”). It is impossible to miss – after this point the Jackrabbit Trail turns into a tiny path and the well traveled Haystack herdpath branches off clearly on your left.
Now that we had overcome the first hurdle, my next concerns were: how easy to follow will this be & how steep is it going to be? I CAN’T BELIEVE I WAS EVER NERVOUS ABOUT THIS / CONSIDERING NOT TAKING IT. The path is beautifully carved out through the forest, and honestly even easier to follow than eroded trails on St Regis or McKenzie! And it is such a gentle terrain and incline, even compared to the official trail. I was in shock and couldn’t stop raving about how easy the path was to follow and how I was crazy to even consider doing the whole backtracking along the trail from the 86. I was even more shocked and thrilled when we came out onto the ledge after less than 15 minutes on the herdpath (for reference: in a previous hike it took us 1:12 to get from the JR/McK junction the Haystack summit when we backtracked along the 86 trail and took the official trail up).
Haystack summit: 10:13am (time since trailhead: 3:29 / time since Jackrabbit & McKenzie junction: 25 minutes)
We spent a few minutes hanging out at the summit before heading down. It felt like we were flying down the herdpath and back onto the JR Trail and we were back at the junction in 17 minutes. From there it was more of a grind; our feet were pounding as we walked out the last couple miles. If anyone has knee problems like I do – bring your poles and use them on every mountain start to finish. Since it was now late morning, we started running into quite a few people! Good thing we had arrived early and didn’t have to worry about parking.
It felt really good to sign out of this register, 3 mountains down, ahead of schedule! We decided we had earned ourselves a lunch break / pit stop.
Trailhead finish: 11:14am
McKenzie & Haystack time: 4:30
Total Ultra time: 8:21
**break for snacks and to use the bathroom of Maplefields gas station**
from Route 32
Trailhead start: 11:44am
As we signed in, we noted that my parents had signed in about an hour before us and were on track to meet us on the summit! They were kind enough to choose the mountain with the worst view to meet up with us and hang out for a few minutes 😀
So I had never done Scarface (or Baker) and Greg had warned me that Scarface sucked so I was really prepared for the worst…and pleasantly surprised! It was a beautiful trail through an enchanted forest. The trail was soft dirt with pine needles and the sun was shining through the lush forest.
We crossed over railroad tracks, passed the memorial bench and crossed over the boardwalk, stopping for a moment to enjoy the views over the water, before continuing on.
Just after some ancient rusted equipment, the trail takes a 90 degree left turn and after that we start to climb gently.
The started following a stream up, and the trail got gradually steeper and steeper. It was still pleasant walking though, no big steps or obstacles. We heard voices and then the 4 runners from McKenzie appeared; they seemed less rushed so we chatted with them briefly – this had been their #3 and they were now headed out to St Regis. We wished them luck and told them we’d see them on Ampersand and/or Baker!
A few minutes later we reached the ledge, which had a nice window of views, but we hardly even paused.
The last half mile really dragged on, it was basically flat but I was also excited to meet up with my parents so it probably seemed longer. Then I heard my dad’s voice: “I wonder where they are” and I quickly answered “we’re here!” as we rounded a turn and saw them standing on the summit.
Scarface summit: 1:24pm (time since trailhead: 1:40)
We sat down and hung out with them for 15 minutes. It helped revive us a little to chat with people other than ourselves! We had already been awake for 11 hours!!
They wanted to take their time on the descent so they said goodbye, and we told them we’d see them in a few hours! The descent was the easiest of the 6 (in my opinion). The pounding wasn’t as heavy and it was that perfect incline where you can move quickly and controlled. On the way up, the pine needle section hadn’t felt like we were going up that much, but it made for a really nice walk hike down.
We signed out at the register and I left our finish time with a ❤ xo for my parents…it did occur to me later that other hikers might find that extremely weird but whatever!! We were 4/6 and I knew the last two were very manageable!
Trailhead finish: 3:01pm
Scarface time: 3:17
Total Ultra time: 12:08
from Route 3
Trailhead start: 3:32pm
If you are doing the Ultra during the summer / high season – definitely leave it until earlier or later in the day. We were lucky to get a spot in the parking lot because groups had already started leaving by this time – since the trailhead is a little isolated it would be really unfortunate if you couldn’t get parking and it messed up your plans.
What I like about all these Saranac 6er mountains is that they all start off gentle and then start climbing. We moved quickly enough along the gentle dirt trail and passed many many groups of people, all going the opposite direction.
The rock hopping started as the trail started to get steeper, until we reached the steep rock steps section. At this point, we were very sweaty, dirty, and looked totally exhausted. We laughed at how ridiculous we must look pounding along with our poles and looking like super serious hikers who were defeated in the first 1.5 miles. Many kind strangers gave us encouraging words and told us not to give up (although after the 10th person said that – I wanted to yell that we were on our 5th mountain!! but I just smiled and said thanks!!!!)
It felt like we were going soooo slowly. We only took a couple 30 second breaks, but it felt long, the bottom of my feet were hurting and my wrists were aching from putting weight on the pole straps.
In some places, we couldn’t help but cheat and follow where many other people had around the giant boulder steps. We reached the last little steep part, where the trail splits, we always go straight up to the right – and then regret it slightly when we have to duck under a fallen tree…but then the trail finally flattens out!
Just below the summit, there is a reroute marked by some ribbon, not sure what the story is there but it feels a little more direct and I didn’t complain! We scrambled up the rock face up onto the bald summit and were amazed to see that we were the only ones there! We made our way to the benchmark on the summit and collapsed down for a nice break.
Ampersand summit: 4:52pm (time since trailhead: 1:20)
We relaxed for 12 minutes, enjoying the views and basking in the sun. We knew we weren’t done yet, but the goal was feeling very attainable at this point! And even better, I was feeling pretty confident that we could either catch a mountaintop sunset on Baker or walk down in sunlight. Either one seemed wonderful to me, although when Greg pointed out later that Baker’s lookout didn’t face the sunset I was pretty happy to not feel pressure to stick around for it and just walk down and go get my milkshake ASAP.
As expected, the pounding down was even harder than the pounding up, but there was a spring in our step! I carefully lowered myself down the big boulders, putting a huge strain on my pole straps and it wasn’t long before we were back on the easy trail. I was worried it would feel like St Regis and go on forever, but it actually went by really quickly! We only took breaks to drink iced tea from the Nalgene, I still managed to spill on myself, but at that point I was so dirty it didn’t make a difference.
A few minutes from the register, we passed the 4 runners who looked as fresh as if it was their first peak…my only hope was that we would at least reach the summit of Baker before them – considering they started hours after us. (We were disappointed that we actually didn’t run into them again, they were very nice and it would have been cool to share experiences a bit, but hopefully they had a nice finish!)
Trailhead finish: 6:10pm
Ampersand time: 2:38
Total Ultra time: 15:17
from Moody Pond
Trailhead start: 6:35pm
We had a nice surprise driving up to the trailhead when we spotted my dad’s car parked on the side of the road! We had been texting him from each summit to let him know our progress and we had invited him along but I hadn’t been leaving my phone off airplane mode long enough to receive texts so I didn’t know he had decided to join us!
Greg had said that Baker was “a cake walk” and that had helped keep my motivation up, but it is no joke. Although, once I thought about the elevation for a second (0.9 miles + 900 feet) it kind of made sense.
My dad still had a full pack, but Greg and I had dropped ours and I was only carrying my phone, a coconut water, and my headlamp around my neck. The trail was steep up and on rock faces but we had a last burst of excited energy! We were stiff but we couldn’t wait to reach the summit (and get back down, and ring the bell, and get a milkshake). We came out to the view, a few people were sitting there, we quickly said high and then rushed on to reach the highest point.
Baker summit: 7:09pm (time since trailhead: 0:34)
We hung out for 10 minutes, chatting with the other group on the summit, taking some photos (of course) and having a mini celebration but we were anxious to get down!
We walked as slowly and carefully as we could; we hadn’t brought our poles either, which might have been silly – but I didn’t even bother taking my dad up on his offer to use his (the idea of pulling them out, setting them to the right length, etc seemed like it would take longer than the descent itself). As we walked through the tall grass right before the trailhead, our feet were throbbing and the bugs were attacking in full force…but excitement was high!
Trailhead finish: 7:45pm
Baker time: 1:10
Total Ultra time: 16:52
Berkeley Green: 7:52pm
Total Ultra Time: 16:59
St Regis Mountain, 2,874 feet
round trip: 6.6 miles
elevation gain: 1,266 feet
McKenzie Mountain, 3,861 feet
round trip: 7.2 miles
elevation gain: 1,940 feet
time: 4:30 with Haystack
Haystack Mountain, 2,878 feet
round trip from junction: <2 miles
elevation gain from junction: ~700 feet
time: 4:30 with McKenzie
Scarface Mountain, 3,088 feet
round trip: 7.6 miles
elevation gain: 1,480 feet
Ampersand Mountain, 3,352 feet
round trip: 5.4 miles
elevation gain: 1,775 feet
Baker Mountain, 2,452 feet
round trip: 1.8 miles
elevation gain: 900 feet
Total miles: ~30.6 miles
Total elevation gain: ~8,061 feet
Total time: 16:59