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TRIP REPORT: Keeping it close to home

January 23, 2012 - Morgan Ryan
The Haystack Mountain trail between Lake Placid and Ray Brook is probably my favorite trail. For starters, it’s close and really easy to get to. It’s always a good thing when you don’t have to drive a long way to get to a trailhead.

The hike is relatively easy for about the first 2.5 miles, then you cross Little Ray Brook at an old dam and start to climb.

It’s a pretty steep climb. You definitely get your workout in for the day and once you reach the top the views are quite spectacular. You get a good look at the lakes and mountains surrounding Saranac Lake, the MacIntyres, Cascade Mountain with its distinct 7 slide and even Mirror Lake and the village of Lake Placid. The Ray Brook prison is all laid out just a few miles below.

But really the best part about Haystack has to be how easy and convenient it is to get on the trail. I took full advantage of that on Saturday after plans to climb a high peak fell through. With those plans canceled, I puttered around the house for much of the morning before finally getting around to heading out just before 2. I didn’t get on the trail till about 2:10 - not exactly the crack of dawn.

I was interested to see how much snow there was on the trail, hoping that there would be enough to ski one of these days. Turns out there was nowhere near enough. We’re gonna need a real heavy dumping for that trail to be ready for skiing. There was only a light coating of snow over the rocks and roots, and Monday’s rain and thaw isn’t going to help the cause one bit.

As usual, there were very few people on the trail. I ran into two different parties of two people each on the way up. Neither of them went as far as the dam. The second group had planned to climb Haystack, but turned around at the intersection with the McKenzie Mountain trail because it was getting late and they didn’t think there’d be enough daylight to get back before dark.

I thought for sure that I’d be the last one on the trail for the night. I reached the top around 3:45 and dusk was settling in as I made way down off the mountain. On the way down, I ran into a guy who was running up the trail. He wore running shoes, microspikes and just a thin layer of clothing. I actually got a little worried about him on my way out as it got darker and colder. I couldn’t stop thinking about his ankle-high socks and how little warmth they would provide in any kind of emergency. He didn’t seem to have any other gear with him and the temperatures were dipping close to zero.

I was happy to see this guy again when he ran up behind me not far from the parking lot. He told me that he usually runs the high peaks, like Mount Marcy, but he got a late start so he decided to check out the Haystack trail. He regularly drives an hour-and-a-half from Canada to run in the mountains for a few hours then turns right around and drives home after he’s done.

All told, I was on the trail for three hours. It took me about 1:45 to get up and 1:15 to get down. I was home and in the shower by 5:30. Not bad for a lazy Saturday afternoon.

Route 86 to junction with trail to McKenzie Mountain - 2.4 mi

To summit of Haystack Mountain - 3.32 mi

Ascent - 1,240 ft

Elevation - 2878 ft.


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Mirror Lake and the village of Lake Placid