Elk Lake to Pinnacle Ridge and Haystack

Long day yesterday – didn’t realize how much the swampy trails would slow me down, probably should have brought a kayak instead of hiking boots,

In any case, started early from Elk Lake. Trail before Boreas Ridge is in decent condition but from thereon out there was rarely a dry spot to be seen for the day. The Elk Lake trail doesn’t provide one with any views of Elk Lake unless you are trespassing, so the views will have to come from on high. After 5 miles you head to your right into Pinnacle Ridge (Blake-Colvin Range). It’s a shortish climb up to the top of the range. Once on top, you’ll be sure to go the extra 0.2 miles to the Pinnacle and for your first good views of the day (the Dixes and Elk Lake). Actually, definitely do that because of you want a hike that maximizes views per mile, this is not it, at last not until the end. About the only wildlife I saw on this day, much less heard (it was quiet in the HP) was the grouse I scared as I emerged onto the Pinnacle.

In any case, once off of the Pinnacle, traverse the range northward for about 3 miles going over a series of ups and downs – and on this day they were pretty soft (I was expecting them to be bone dry), heading over such famous peaks as “Unnamed peak at 3700 feet.” Don’t let the lack of 46er peaks along the traverse fool you – those ups and downs were more challenging than many of the 46s. Be sure to take advantage of the few lookout spots up there, as the views are nice and when you get the chance to look West, you have an awesome site of a sheer drop down to Upper Ausable Lake and the Great Range looming.

Once to Blake, continued over to the col between Colvin and Blake, a pretty wet and rugged drop, (ran into a nice guy who was doing Colvin, Blake, Nippletop and Dial and who graciously offered me a ride from St. Huberts back to Elk Lake should I choose to bail on my journey).

In any event, dropped left off onto the Carry Trail – I have read that it is very steep and tough, but it was actually pretty decent going outside of a few spots that the trail is washed out in and it is hard to find markers. Made much better time coming down to Upper Ausable Lake than I had planned. Great photos to be had over the bridge crossing the brook that connects the lakes. Walk over to Warden’s Camp from here is on gravel road and very easy going, and fun, though I am always am uncomfortable hiking on this private land. Once to Warden’s camp you are back down at low elevation and the only ways out are to hike up and over Sawteeth back to St. Huberts, retrace your steps and over Colvin out to St. Huberts, or make your way up into the Great Range. The “easist” option you have is hiking up over Bartlett Ridge, itself a really good climb, and then back down into Panther Gorge to connect to the Elk Lake trail.

On this day my target was Haystack. I had initially wanted to add Marcy, but the Elk Lake trails and other approaches were so muddy that it slowed my times down way more than I wanted, so adding Marcy (and Skylight, etc.) will have to come on another day. In any case, the first half of the walk up to Bartlett Ridge is pleasant, allowing options to head over to other parts of the range. I chose to head straight up the Ridge, which is a pretty steady climb for the last mile before it drops you at the base of the Southern approach to Haystack. Again, not too many views along this trail, and most of the day was spent shaded until this point. Got here around 12:30, and since I wanted to be out by dark without worrying about slipping on the mucky trails on the way out (i.e. take my time picking through the rocks and logs), I hurried up Haystack and was on top a little after 1. The guidebooks say this is the steepest climb in the ADKs. I don’t know about that. It was steep, for sure, but if I had not read that note I would not have remembered the climb as being any more memorable as many others. In any case, Haystack was gorgeous on this day – slight breeze, a strange gray-blue hazy sky all around, very quiet with the exception of some large flying insects all around. A few hikers who had come in on Phelps trail to do March, Gray and Skylight had also made their way up there descending Skylight into Panther Gorge and back up to Haystack (very tough!). I could only stay a bit and descended the same way I came.

Back down to the trail intersection with Bartlett Ridge trail, I headed right to the steep drop into Panther Gorge. Pumped two liters of water down in Panther Brook, which like all of the others was raging, and had a long 9-mile trek out on the Elk Lake – Marcy trail. I usually enjoy these long approach trails as they allow you to move fast and reflect on the day. Not today. It was slop most of the way with the exception of a couple of mile between Panther Gorge and the intersection with Pinnacle, and it also contained a very impressive new collection of bog bridges that were built with enormous lumber (3 x 8s I think they were). There had to be over a half-mile of them. It felt kind of random to have them there, about half the trail could have used them if we really were worried about preserving the integrity of the trail. It’s amazing there is such a long trail cut through this very clearly swamp area.

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In any case, it took a heck of a lot longer than I wanted to take on the way out. If it were dry a little around 2.25 hours would have been a nice pace, but it took me 3.25 today.

It was a fun day as always though the muddy track did get in my head. I was bombarded by mosquitos at the end of the day. You might consider this some kind of mini-range traverse – my back of the envelope numbers suggest it was about 26 miles and 7,000 feet of vertical. It includes two full ascents and lots of ups and down, with the last bit of up and down coming as you go over the Boreas Range on the Elk Lake trail on your way out. The best part of the hike is the varied scenery you get over an exposed peak, a secluded range, a beautiful lake, etc.) and of course this is one of the hikes you can do even on crowded weekends and have relative solitude. Be prepared when you go, and be committed, because it’s tough to bail on it unlike other longer treks you may put together in the peaks.

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