Posted on October 19th, 2011 1 comment - Add a comment >>
The new issue of the Explorer (November/December) will include a two-page spread on climbing five new slides created by Tropical Storm Irene in the High Peaks.
I’ve blogged about my climbs of four of them (see links below), but I have yet to write about my climb of the long slide on Saddleback Mountain. I climbed it two weekends ago with Ron Konowitz. It’s steep enough in places that I would recommend rock-climbing shoes or approach shoes.
You can easily reach the Saddleback slide via the Ore Bed Brook Trail in Johns Brook Valley. Starting from the suspension bridge near the ranger’s cabin, hike 1.7 miles to a house-size boulder on the right side of the trail (it’s 0.25 miles past a lean-to). From the boulder, you can see the slide on the right, a short bushwhack away.
If you leave the trail here, you’ll be walking up a scoured section of Ore Bed Brook, a mix of slab, boulders, mud, and pools. In a half-mile, you’ll reach the wide slabs of the slide proper. Your other option is to stay on the trail past the giant boulder: in another 0.8 miles, the trail passes the edge of the slide.
From the second access point, it’s just about a mile to the top of the slide. From the boulder, it’s 1.9 miles.
The ascent is gradual at first, but it steepens considerably as you get higher. Toward the top, you need to climb over or around a rock wall. We went left, which was fine, but we encountered a muddy section just past the wall.
While ascending, be sure to turn around occasionally to take in the spectacular view of the north face of Gothics.
The climb ends with a dike, one to two feet wide, that runs down the middle of the slide. The pitch here is very steep, but the dike is stepped. At the end you’ll need to make a tricky move to gain the woods.
From the top of the slide, you have a 10-minute bushwhack to Saddleback’s summit. We angled left and did not have too much trouble.
Saddleback’s summit offers marvelous views of the High Peaks. Between the slide and the summit, you’ll be sated with scenery. If you return by the Ore Bed Brook Trail, you’ll cross another slide created by Irene. In the aerial photo, this two-pronged slide is to the left of the Saddleback slide.
Following are links to my blogs on other slides created or expanded by Irene:
Posted on October 11th, 2011 4 comments Add a comment >>
On Sunday I climbed the Trap Dike for the first time since Tropical Storm Irene triggered a landslide above and inside the dike. The slide swept away nearly all of the trees inside the canyon and created a new exit, a slab of clean white rock that can be followed to the top of Mount Colden.
Before Irene, the guidebook Adirondack Rock awarded the Trap Dike five stars, its highest rating for the overall quality of the climb. Since Irene, the climb is even better.
The Trap Dike must be approached with caution: it’s considered a third- or fourth-class climb in the Yosemite Decimal System, so a slip at the wrong time can result in death or serious injury. Sadly, this was proven when Matthew Potel, an experienced hiker, was killed in a fall on September 30.
People debate whether parties should carry a rope and other rock-climbing gear. Whether or not you carry a rope, I suggest you wear sticky-soled shoes: either rock-climbing shoes or approach shoes (some trail-running shoes also have sticky rubber). You’ll appreciate the stickiness on the steep sections, which are often wet, and on the finishing slab.
The dike has two waterfalls. The second is considered the crux of the climb. It’s steep and about forty feet high. Potel fell here after helping two companions up the falls.
The climb from Avalanche Lake to the new slide is 0.8 miles. The base of the slide is steep. I started up from the right side, following a left-rising ramp. Two companions, Josh Wilson and Matt McNamara, chose to start up the left side, ascending some cracks.
Once on the slide, we stayed more or less in the middle, following whatever features we could find to give us a foothold or handhold. Much of the slab is pocked with sharp-edged dimples, which also aid traction.
Depending on the slope, we either walked upright, more or less, or scrambled on all fours. I measured the slope in spots at more than forty degrees—steep enough for a long fall. In winter, this should be considered avalanche terrain.
At the headwall, the slide gets even steeper. Matt and I bailed left into the trees just before the top. Josh managed to stay on the rock all the way to the end. All told, the slide is about 0.4 miles long. From the top, it’s a very short bushwhack (20 or 30 yards) to Colden’s summit trail.
To my mind, the slide is just as dangerous as the waterfalls—especially if you’re not wearing sticky rubber.
Before Irene, hikers would exit the Trap Dike onto an older slide. You can still do this, of course, but if you exit the dike too early, you’ll find yourself on a part of the old slide that is as steep as the new one. Some hikers who exited early have become frozen with fear, too scared to continue climbing or retreat.
The Trap Dike may be a five-star climb, but it’s no fun if you find yourself in over your head.
Posted on September 26th, 2011 4 comments Add a comment >>
People driving between Keene and Lake Placid can see dramatic evidence of Tropical Storm Irene: a slide scar in the drainage between the two Cascade Lakes.
The large waterfall in this drainage has always been visible—it accounts for the lakes’ name—but it is now much more conspicuous. The rains of Irene stripped the sides of the brook of trees and soil, leaving a wide swath of bedrock.
Because the slide is easily accessible, it’s sure to attract more than its share of hikers and skiers.
Indeed, when I climbed it Sunday afternoon I met Kevin MacKenzie, a passionate slide climber, at the base. At the top of the slide, I ran into Jan Wellford, a sales associate at the Mountaineer, who with his wife was scouting out ski possibilities. And while bushwhacking between the end of the slide and the summit of Cascade Mountain, I encountered Carl Heilman Jr., the son of the celebrated photographer.
I expect the slide won’t be this busy once the novelty wears off, but for adventurous hikers, it will always provide an alternative route to the summit of Cascade—much wilder than the crowded hiking trail. You can follow rock for a mile and a half to the 3,400-foot contour. From there it’s an easy 0.4-mile bushwhack to the 4,098-foot summit.
After parking in the picnic area between the two lakes, I followed a short path to the debris pile at the base of the slide, where Kevin (a k a Mudrat) was taking photos. He took the shots above and at right of me climbing the first waterfall.
Located near the base, the waterfall is by far the most difficult obstacle that slide climbers will face. Many people, perhaps most, will want to ascend via the woods to the left. Since I was wearing “approach shoes,” with sticky soles, I felt safe climbing the rock beside the falls. There were plenty of blocky footholds and handholds, but the rock was wet from the spray. I wouldn’t recommend climbing the falls unless you have climbing experience and appropriate footgear. I’d say the difficulty rating is at least Class 4 in the Yosemite Decimal System.
I encountered a number of smaller cascades and flumes above the first. In between I enjoyed walking on low-angle slabs with ever-expanding views of Pitchoff Mountain, located across the highway, the McKenzie Range, and other peaks.
More than a mile up, I came to a field of mud and rock. This was easily traversed, bringing me to a steep headwall. The headwall is not new: it’s a cliff band that extends horizontally beyond the margins of the slide, forming a T.
Kevin had told me how to find the summit from here, and his advice proved spot on. I went left at the T. This led me to a short, older slide. I went up the right edge of this slide and then bushwhacked through an open birch glade. Eventually, I ran into thicker woods, but soon after I popped out on the open rock below the summit.
When you reach the T, the easiest thing to do is follow the base of the cliff band to the old slide. If you have sticky-soled shoes you can try climbing rock: it’s slabby, with a 55-degree pitch. I was trying to find a way up it when Jan arrived on the scene. He made it up without difficulty, but I was more hesitant. Eventually, I found a miniature dike that angled to the top.
At the top of the old slide, Jan and his wife went exploring the glades, while I made a beeline for the summit (I had preset my compass at 126 degrees but hardly used it). Just as I was transitioning from birch glades to balsam thicket, I heard a loud rustling in the woods: it was either a bear or a human. It turned out to be a bear of man, Carl Heilman Jr. Like his father, he is strong and fit and in love with the mountains. After a short chat, we parted ways. In a few minutes, I was at the summit, taking in its magnificent panorama.
From my car, I had come about two miles and ascended 2,040 feet. Unlike Carl Jr., I descended via the hiking trail. The distance from the summit to the highway was 2.2 miles. From the trailhead, it was a three-quarter-mile walk along the road back to my starting point—making a five-mile loop.
Posted on September 19th, 2011 4 comments Add a comment >>
By now, many hikers have heard that Tropical Storm Irene triggered numerous slides in the eastern High Peaks, most notably in the Great Range and the MacIntyre Range and on Mount Colden.
The western High Peaks did not receive as much rain, and so they survived the storm relatively unchanged. This morning, however, I flew over the western High Peaks region with Jim Knowles, a volunteer pilot with LightHawk, which provides flights for nonprofit organizations (the Explorer is a nonprofit), and noticed what appeared to be a fresh scar on the south side of Seward Mountain.
We were flying over the Cold River valley at the time, some five miles away, so we couldn’t tell for sure if it was a new slide. Does anybody know?
I don’t imagine that many people would want to climb this remote piece of rock, but if it is new, I’m certain somebody will.
Posted on September 18th, 2011 6 comments Add a comment >>
Hikers going to Avalanche Lake might be tempted to explore the new slide in Avalanche Pass. It starts right off the trail, ascends for a full mile, and offers wide vistas that take in a dozen or so High Peaks.
However, it is considerably more dangerous than your average slide and should not be undertaken unless you have plenty of experience on slides or in rock climbing.
I first visited the slide a week ago and saw how steep it is. I returned on Saturday with rock-climbing shoes and ascended the whole thing, then bushwhacked to the beautiful summit of Little Colden.
Even with rock-climbing shoes, I lost my nerve on a steep (and wet) section near the top. I had to down-climb and find an easier route up.
The difficulty of the slide lies not in its elevation gain. It gains 1,160 feet over its length—less than the new slide on Wright Peak (which I call the Angle Slide). Rather, the difficulty lies in its double fall line: the slide is sharply tilted to the left as you climb.
A small stream runs between the slide and steeper terrain (small cliffs) on the left. The easiest, safest way to ascend the slide would be to stay next to the stream, but I suspect many climbers will want to get out on the clean white rock in the middle of the slab. Those who do should expect to encounter steep rock when climbing away from the stream.
I measured the slope angle in numerous spots. It usually was in the vicinity of 35 degrees, but it frequently topped 40 degrees and on occasion approached 50 degrees. I employed a variety of rock-climbing techniques, such as laybacking, stemming, toe jamming, and of course smearing.
Toward the top, the slide loses its leftward tilt, but the forward slope remains quite steep. About 0.7 miles up, I found myself on a wet 45-degree slab in the middle of the slide. It appeared that the slope would soon steepen, and I started to worry about falling. I carefully down-climbed, traversed to the edge of the slide, and continued my ascent. At the very top, I picked up an old and parallel slide for a short distance.
Overall, I’d say the difficulty is comparable to the Eagle Slide on Giant, which is considered a fourth-class climb. At least the way I climbed the new slide. Because I wore rock-climbing shoes, I did not seek the path of least resistance. Indeed, I welcomed rather than avoided the technical moves and steep friction climbing demanded by the route I chose. If you take on this slide, I recommend you wear rock shoes as well—not only for security, but also for the fun. A helmet also would be a good idea.
At the top of the slide, I bushwhacked through nasty stuff to the ridge, where the woods opened up a bit, providing occasional views of Mount Marcy, Gothics, and Giant. I followed the ridge south to Little Colden’s summit, with its magnificent vista. The photo below, taken from Little Colden, shows the new slide on Mount Colden that begins at the Trap Dike. The entire bushwhack was 0.35 miles.
The drainage of the slide I climbed lies between Avalanche Pass Slide created by Hurricane Floyd in 1999 and Otis Gully. I’m not sure if the drainage has a name. Perhaps it was skied by someone sometime and given a nickname, but it does not appear in The Adirondack Slide Guide by Drew Haas. Given that the slide and nearby terrain resemble an open book, with a crease in the middle, I thought Crease Monkey would be an apt name to distinguish it from the first Avalanche Pass slide.
Posted on September 12th, 2011 2 comments Add a comment >>
In 1999, Hurricane Floyd created two slides on Wright Peak that have proved popular with hikers and skiers. Irene has created a third—and much longer—slide next to those two, providing easy access to the others as well a new skiing/hiking route.
Josh Wilson and I climbed the slide from top to bottom on Sunday. It’s almost exactly a mile long. Finding the slide was quick and easy. From the Memorial Lean-to (named in honor of Ed Hudowalski, an early Forty-Sixer) near Marcy Dam, we bushwhacked a quarter-mile, heading south of west, and came out on the base of the slide.
The first part of the slide is mostly clean rubble—white rocks of varying sizes. In the early going, we did maneuver around downed trees occasionally, but overall the hiking was easy and enjoyable.
A quarter-mile up the slide we passed through a small canyon with twenty-foot-high walls. “This’ll be wild to ski in the winter,” Josh said. “Shoot the chute!”
That is, if it doesn’t fill with ice.
After a little under a half-mile, the slide split. The left fork looked cleaner, so we went up that and soon encountered a massive wall of trees. It appeared impassable, so we cut over to the right fork. After threading through downed trees and tromping through mud, we made our way to steep bedrock.
We recommend that you take the right fork when you reach the split. You’ll encounter some trees at first, but after working through them, you’ll find clean bedrock on the right side of the fork.
After a short distance, the forks join, creating a wide slab of steep bedrock. The right half of the slab is fairly clean, but the left side has a lot of mud and fallen trees. Over the next 0.3 miles, to the top of the slide, we gained 650 feet in elevation. To give you an idea of the steepness, a hiker climbing such a slope for a full mile would gain 2,165 feet. In contrast, a hiker climbing Cascade Mountain from Route 73 gains 1,940 feet over 2.4 miles.
The new slide is separated from the other two slides by a narrow strip of woods. Come winter, skiers will be able to visit all three in a single outing, and when they’re ready to leave they can descend via the new slide almost to Marcy Dam. In the past, skiers returned to the dam through the woods.
The older slides are called the Angel Slides, in memory of Toma Vracarich, a backcountry skier killed in an avalanche in 2000. It occurred to me that a good name for the new slide would be the Angle Slide, given the sharp turn that the slide takes.
But Josh and I do not have naming rights. On the way up, we noticed footprints, so we were not the first up the slide. We also found a cup and a water bottle high on the slab. It’s hard to believe that wilderness hikers, perhaps the first ascenders, would leave litter on a brand-new slide.
Irene created many new slides in the High Peaks. Aficinados love slides because they provide wild and rugged routes up our mountains. Let’s keep them free of litter.
Posted on September 8th, 2011 1 comment - Add a comment >>
Hurricane Irene triggered a number of debris slides in the High Peaks. Because the High Peaks Wilderness was shut down the day after the storm, few people have seen the slides up close, but Brendan Wiltse managed to get up a new slide on Saddleback before the hiking ban took effect. As he neared the top, he snapped this photo of his friend. The view is toward Gothics and other peaks in the Great Range. Most of the trails in the High Peaks Wilderness were reopened today. The state Department of Environmental Conservation is not prohibitng people from climbing the new slides, but it warns that debris on some may still be unstable.
Click here to read a more detailed report on the new slides that I posted earlier today on Adirondack Almanack.
Posted on February 28th, 2011 5 comments Add a comment >>
The March/April issue of the Explorer contains an article about skiing the Kilburn Slide outside Lake Placid. I went with Josh Wilson, a backcountry snowboarder, shortly after a big snowfall that prompted an avalanche warning for the region. One purpose of the trip was to test the avalanche conditions on the slide.
The greater purpose, though, was to ski (or snowboard) the thing. Josh went down in superb fashion, carving big curves in the snow and at one point gliding off a small cliff. I skied badly, however. I’m just not used to skiing slides. Most of my backcountry skiing is on trails or in powder-filled glades.
I returned to Kilburn yesterday to try to redeem myself. No one had been on the slide since our last big snowfall last week. I turned around a little short of the top and looked back at a white slope broken only by my ascent track.
Starting down, I fell almost at once, but I got my act together and made it down the rest of the slide without any trouble. The powder was heavier than earlier in the month, but it was still powder, and the setting was wild and beautiful.
Then I came to the top of the sixty-foot wall at the base of the slide. On our earlier trip, Josh snowboarded off the wall. He angled halfway down, made one turn, and glided to the base in a slough of snow. Click here to watch a video of Josh.
On my solo trip, I thought I’d traverse across the face and then try to side-slip down or do a kick turn and ski down to the base. Although there was maybe a foot of snow on the face, ice lurked underneath. In the video below, you can hear my edges scraping the ice as I step into position for the traverse. Watch the video to find out what happened.
Posted on January 12th, 2011 2 comments Add a comment >>
The fifteenth annual Adirondack International Mountaineering Festival comes to Keene this weekend.
Most of the classes are full, but there are still openings for classes in ice climbing, slide climbing, snowshoe mountaineering, and avalanche training. Check the Mountainfest website for updates.
A variety of sponsors, including Black Diamond, Outdoor Research, Patagonia, and La Sportiva, will have gear available for testing in the field.
In addition to the classes, the Mountaineer is offering lectures and slides shows on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. All of the presentations are open to the public, with a $10 admission for each.
On Friday, alpinist Freddie Wilkinson will talk about his recent expeditions and his new book, One Mountain Thousand Summits, which he will sign after the show. The presentation will start at 8 p.m. in the Keene Central School.
On Saturday, Exum guide and Teton legend Mark Newcomb will give a talk, which will be preceded by raffles and a trailer for Jeff Lowe’s new film. This event begins at 7:30 p.m. at the school.
On Sunday, Vermont climber Matt McCormick will present slides and video at 7:30 p.m. at the Keene Valley Fire Hall.
In addition, the Keene Valley Fire Department and Lake Placid Pub and Brewery will host an all-you-can-eat spaghetti dinner at the fire hall starting at 5:30 p.m. Saturday. Admission is $15.
Proceeds from the Mountainfest are donated to local nonprofit organizations.
The Mountaineer also will host the Adirondack Backcountry Ski Festival the weekend of March 5-6. Details will be released in February.
Posted on September 24th, 2010 5 comments Add a comment >>
Anybody who pays attention to the photo credits in the Adirondack Explorer knows how much we rely on the work of Carl Heilman II to enliven our pages. In our next issue, we plan to run Carl’s photos of the Eagle Slide on Giant Mountain–which many people regard as the most spectacular slide in the Adirondacks.
I climbed the Eagle last month with Carl and Eli Bickford, a twelve-year-old boy who loves slides. Besides taking photos, Carl shot the video embedded below. The short clip shows me ascending a crack near the top of the slide. I advise those wondering about the steepness of the Eagle to watch it.
Just a background note: I climbed the crack twice, because the video recorder was not turned on the first time. At the start of the clip, I am getting in position for the second attempt. Also, I had badly scraped my fingers in a slip earlier in the day, so they were more or less useless at this point. I relied on my palms and my feet to get me up.
Look for a full report in the November/December issue.