On 2 different climbs, clouds and haze block stellar views
Text and photos by Mike De Socio
No matter what I do, the glorious views from the summit of Haystack are determined to elude me. I saved the notoriously beautiful peak for the finish of my 46er last summer. I imagined it would be a triumphant, beautiful moment in an otherwise bleak year.
And while summiting my final high peak was exhilarating, it was hardly beautiful. I arrived at Haystack’s highest point in a dense cloud, barely able to see a few feet in front of me.
This time, I was determined to do it differently. I waited all summer, through a unseasonably rainy July, for a bluebird day in August. I drove up to Keene Valley the night before, and woke up the morning of my hike at the first ring of my 4 a.m. alarm. I set off from the Garden trailhead under the cover of darkness and watched as the golden sunrise slowly illuminated my path.
I flew down the Johns Brook Lodge Trail at a feverish pace, mostly thanks to the flat, dry and smooth surface that gave me early momentum.
But soon that wonderfully flat trail turned challenging: a combination of rocky staircases and squishy mud patches that made the remainder of the route up to the summit feel like drudgery.
As I emerged above the treeline, I caught a glimpse of Haystack that was breathtaking in the truest sense of the word. I had barely seen the mountain on my last ascent, and had hiked it from the other side. So approaching it this time on a clear day, its sheer scale was incredible to me.
I’ll admit that, in my naivete, I found myself fooled by Little Haystack and daunted by the rocky climb down and back up again before I reached the actual peak.
But every last step was worth it. I arrived at the summit in awe of the view I was denied one year ago. Marcy loomed large to my right, while the expanse of the Great Range stretched out to my left. Dozens of other peaks, not all of which I could identify, surrounded me on all sides.
It took me a moment to realize, however, that something wasn’t right. Once the high of reaching the summit wore off, I noticed that my photos were coming out sort of hazy. Was it a lingering cloud that would soon burn off? I had summited at 9:30 a.m., so maybe it would clear up.
That hope was dashed when another hiker arrived at the peak and confirmed my lingering suspicion: This wasn’t a cloud, but a haze that had drifted over from the perpetual wildfires out west.
At first I was disappointed — actually, a bit frustrated — that all of my effort to see Haystack’s infamous view had once again been thwarted. That even when I did everything right, mother nature had other plans.
But as I spent more time on the summit, drinking in the view that I did manage to see, a different feeling bubbled up. One of deep gratitude that Haystack would continue to challenge me, push me and demand that I come back to her summit once again.
My descent back down the way I came felt much longer than it did on the way up, as is so often the case. The long stretches of mud and rock felt never-ending, like a final reminder that Haystack’s summit would always be hard-won.
By the time I reached the Garden lot, more than 10 hours and 18 miles after I had started, I felt totally drained, but satisfied. Proud of myself for tackling Haystack once again, and getting one step closer to seeing her views in their full glory.
I couldn’t go home without rewarding myself. So as I drove back down Route 73, I pulled off by Chapel Pond, threw on my swim trunks and jumped in. A swim has never felt so refreshing and well-earned.