18 January 2014

Big Slide and Yard - 8 Jun 2013

(Final stop: The Garden in June.  Not quite as epic as the Judoon on the moon in June, but c'est la vie.  Allons-y!)

I’m writing this report seven months after the fact, so the details are a little fuzzy.  Here’s what I remember.

Jason and Mike picked me up and we headed up north on a foggy June morning.  When we arrived at the Garden, there were still places to park, and the attendant directed us toward a spot.  A minute or two after Jason parked, she came back over and suggested that he move his car a foot or so, to ensure that no one tried to park next to him, because there wasn’t enough room for a car to fit there, but apparently people get a little bit ambitious in their attempts to park.  No surprise there.

Best View of the Day
Best View of the Day

We got geared up, and as we were doing so, another lady walked over and asked us a few questions, which were the usual questions we got when heading out into the High Peaks with dogs (do you have leashes?, how long are you staying?, where are you going?).  Basic questions to ensure that we were aware of the regulations.  We answered her questions, and we reassured her that we were aware of the rules and regulations of New York’s finest, and heavily used, wilderness.

My favorite part of that conversation was when she first walked over and glanced down to see that I was wearing FiveFingers and gaiters that didn’t really attach fully.  Her eyes widened a bit and she said, “wow, those are some awesome... gaiters.”  I thanked her, chuckled internally, and continued getting ready.

I know that it’s considered standard form to wear boots in the High Peaks, and elsewhere, but I’ve come to really appreciate wearing less footwear on mountain trails.  After wearing boots for 10 miles of rough trail, my feet ache and my toes are blistered and beat.  My pinky toes are screaming for relief, and it takes them days to fully recover.  I still haven’t made up my mind between wearing running shoes or minimalist shoes like FiveFingers, but in either case, my feet are generally better off afterwards.  That said, I fully appreciate that there are times when boots have to be worn.  Around here, that means any outing over an hour or two where your feet will get wet and cold, and any time where there’s a high chance of a venomous snake encounter.  Beyond that, boots are overkill in my mind.

We made our way over to the trail register, and stopped to chat again with the lady who had asked us about the dogs, and a guy who was heading in.  Both were either DEC or ADK employees, but I didn’t look closely enough to figure it out.  The guy and Jason talked about dogs for a bit, and then he also commented on my footwear.  He said that he had been working with a bear expert a few weeks earlier, and that the expert had come across the strangest looking bear tracks he had ever seen.  Fortunately, the gentleman who was leading him was familiar with the other wildlife in the park, and recognized that the bear expert was actually tracking a ferocious Homo sapiens vibram.

We made our way up the Brothers, stopping to assist the dogs when needed.  If I remember correctly, Autumn seemed to fly up the short cliffs, but Indiana hesitated often.  We all worked together to get the dogs up, and I remember enjoying the challenge.  There were several very large erratics along the Brothers ridge, and the northeast ridge of Big Slide, and I remember suppressing the urge to scale a few of the smaller ones.  (I really need to stop holding myself back on these hikes.  Most of the time I’m so focused on pushing on that I forget that it’s OK to wander a bit.)  There was one in particular that caught my fancy that I’ll need to check out the next time I head up; it might have been where the USC&GS marker is that’s labelled on the USGS map (near the NE summit of Big Slide).

The Brothers and the northeast ridge of Big Slide are fantastic.  Aside from the erratics, there are massive expanses of exposed rock.  Combined with the mist that we were walking through, it was an altogether beautiful hike.

After a while we headed back in to forest, and we came to an area with some intense blowdown.  The guy, ranger, whoever he was, had warned us about this.  It was bad enough that we found ourselves wandering through the woods unexpectedly.  We stopped and took a guess at where the trail would be, and I told the guys to wait a second while I went to have a look.  I found the trail about 30’ away, and hollered for them to follow.

Not long after that, we came to the junction that led back down to the JBL.  I knew from my reading that the base of the slide was a short way through the woods, and had wanted to go take a look.  There was supposed to be a herd path, and there was indeed a faint one, but it petered out without getting close to the cliffs.  We walked for a couple of hundred feet, then turned back and returned to the trail.

We continued on up, and soon enough came to a short side trail that led over to a view of the slide.  Jason pointed out that it was unlikely that many people would hike all the way up here to climb the slide.  It wasn’t worth the effort.  The slide was nearly vertical, and looked like it would be a class 5 climb.

We continued on toward the summit.  When we were nearly at the top, Indiana slipped on a 12-15’ rock face.  We had been supporting her and Autumn through a series of them, and they had both been fine, but Jason noticed some blood on her paw.  We got to the summit, and he immediately set about checking out her paw.  There wasn’t much that we could do for her, but the bleeding wasn’t heavy, and it stopped while we were on the summit.  We had initially planned on going for Yard, if we had time and conditions were good, but since Indiana was injured, we decided to head back instead.

I have made several silly mistakes this year; all were due to me skimming too fast over a map or a guidebook, or not bothering to read them at all.  On Greylock, I stupidly assumed that it would be easier to use the road instead of the trails, and added several miles over hard (literally hard) terrain that we didn’t have to do.  I was so concerned about the snow condition that we skipped the Farmer’s route up to Mt. Williams, and instead walked the road up to the AT and then hiked up from there.  On the descent, we took the road back instead of the Bellows Pipe Trail, because I thought that there would be a high risk of an avalanche on such a steep looking slope.  The slope looked steep on the map, but didn’t look steep in person, and there wasn’t enough snow or open terrain for an avalanche, anyway.  I let fear get the best of me, and made a long day unnecessarily longer.

On Sawteeth, I didn’t even both reading the guidebook, and just took a few internet reports as enough information.  As a result, I didn’t know what to expect, and couldn’t convey that to my hiking partners.  We ended up stretching ourselves a bit thin on that one; yes, we did make the summit, but we were right on the edge of what we could accomplish.  It could have been bad.

Here, on Big Slide, I read the map way too quickly, and thought that there was a trail that lead down to the JBL out of the Big Slide - Yard col.  I thought that would be the quickest way to get down, so I suggested that we go that way.  Jason agreed, because he didn’t want to take Indiana back over the rocks that had cut her up in the first place.  We got to the summit of Yard quickly (it isn’t much of a col) and I realized that I had made a mistake: the trail I was thinking of was actually back at the junction we had passed before summiting.  I felt horrible, since I was trying to get Indiana down as safely as possible.  The descent off of Yard was rough in spots.  At one point the trail dropped straight down off of a 6’ cliff.  We could get ourselves down fine, but Indiana wouldn’t get close enough to the edge for us to hand her off.  We saw another possible route over to the left, and tried to show it to her, but she wasn’t having it.  While I was checking that out, she walked back over to the trail and let Jason help her down.

Eventually we found the Klondike Notch Trail.  From this point on, we were on mostly level terrain, but decidedly muddier.  Ridiculously muddier.  We made our way over to the JBL, passing a few people doing trail maintenance, and stopped for a rest and some water.  I decided to go inside and have a look around, and ended up buying a coffee each for Jason and I.  Mike chose not to have one.  The coffee was a locally roasted blend called Hammer.  The JBL staff prepared it in a percolator, served it in small ceramic cups.  Payment was collected on the honor system.  The whole experience was wonderful.  I had intended on purchasing more of the coffee, but I never got a chance.  The company that roasted it, Adirondack Bean-To, went out of business a few months later.

Paned o Gaffi
A Cuppa in the Woods

As we were enjoying our coffee, a group of younger, fit-looking men came up to the JBL and plopped down not far from where we sat.  They were visibly exhausted, like they had pushed way too hard for far too long.  It was a bit strange then, and even stranger in hindsight, because they had come from the direction of Marcy or the Orebed trail.  They had to have descended to get to where they now were, and most people don’t get bushed like that on a descent.  The only thing I can think was that they must have been running.

We made our way now along the Phelps trail, aka the Northside trail, which led back to the Garden.  It was fairly uneventful, until we reached a junction.  I had a look at a sign board, and noticed that there was a note, written by a ranger, instructing the members of some party where to find another member of their party.  When we got back to the Garden, we found the ranger and the boy.  I stopped to chat briefly, letting him know that we hadn’t seen the rest of the party on our way out.  The ranger said that the boy had been left behind by the rest of his party up near the col between Wolfjaws, and that he had mistakenly descended in to the wrong valley.  Luckily the boy had his wits about him, and he got help.  As we got our gear off and got ready to head out, the rest of the boy’s party finally showed up.  We heard a bit of the conversation as we headed out, mostly of the boy’s older companions making excuses about why they had left him behind.  I was very glad that it had ended like this, though, with embarrassed excuses, instead of the other way, with SAR and dwindling odds of survival.

Now that I think more about it, I wonder if the out-of-breath guys were his companions, having made a hasty climb back up the AMR side of the Great Range and down to the JBL side?  Or perhaps the boy descended down the AMR side and the ranger brought him back over to the JBL side?  I suppose that makes more sense, since their cars were parked at the Garden.  Anyway, enough rambling.

To end on a positive note: I love hiking with dogs.  Especially these dogs.  Indiana is a Husky and Autumn is a German Shepherd.  If you’re feeling tired, Indiana will literally pull you up the hill, as long as her leash is attached to her harness and not her collar.  It’s instinct for her, and I love it.  On the first hike I took with her, I was dragging far behind, and she kept an eye on me.  It was wonderful.  Autumn is excellent on the trail, too, finding her way very well, even over the steep stuff.  On top of all that, they’re both wonderfully affectionate, and well-behaved.  You couldn’t ask for better trail dogs.

(Thus concludes our trip backwards through time.  I'm caught up on trip reports.  Finally.  Time to go climb something new.)

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