Specifics & Bushwhacking to the SlabTotal Day Distance: approx. 9 miles
Total Ascent/Distance to Summit: About 1600’ over 6 hours and less than 1 mile
Our camp was located a bit west of Saddleback’s South Slide at about 3200’. Much of the area serves as a rugged drainage for the southern flank of Basin’s false summit. Our flat plot was the perfect campsite amidst the blow down. Our camp was a level patch of soft ground with just enough space for the two of us. Wet weather or spring, however, would not have allowed a camp since we were in a minor drainage. The forecast was clear for days, however.
Parts of this report remind me of a joke: "What route does a crazy person hike?...They take the psychopath." (ba dump bump)
Sunday’s trek up Basin began at 7 a.m. with the first rays of morning upon the eastern slabs. It shone through the woods and, without my glasses, looked like an illuminated weather front. I then thought about the crystal clear forecast and realized it was the looming face of Basin. The comfortable, but very windy evening left me refreshed. Squeaking trees or around the large birch, near which, we slept, only awoke me occasionally and then lulled me back to sleep in harmony with the distant slide drainage.
We were plunging through the dense trees by eight a.m. The area was riddled with ancient boulders and a solid covering of moss creating sod holes of considerable depth, one of which ate Zach’s leg nearly immediately after the start. Twenty minutes later we finally pushed through to the drainage that runs from the northwest from Basin’s false summit along the bottom of the massive slabs. As the southernmost slabs came into view we again bushwhacked west and, after one hour from journey’s beginning, we found the first strip of slab just left of center.
SlabWe ascended just south of center into incredible views of Gothics’ South Face, Pyramid and Saddleback’s lower vertical cliffs. A thin slide ran most of the length of Basin’s false summit. I cringed at the nearly full covering of wet moss. Overhanging ledges paralleled the drainage just below its end near the col. I decided not to bother EVER trying to climb that one before running a 50 gallon drum of bleach down its length to kill the moss…just kidding.
The task at hand was to find a way over the steep sloping slab onto a comfortable grade. I’d originally wanted to get partway up and traverse across to the north, then up the meadows to the summit, not the ridge. Zach talked of climbing all the way up this slab. I agreed and figured we could always cut north. Unfortunately, we picked (what in retrospect) appeared to be the mossiest and one of the steeper lower elevation sections slide. The first rounded ledge yielded a view to the second without hint of what lay beyond. We progressed part way and decided a different tact was in order so I worked across to the north following the contour of the mini-ledges, pits and deformations of the rock. Zach followed, but got uncomfortable with a pack on. A glance downward enunciated the distant top of the steep sloping initial slabs and the heavy spotting of brittle moss clumps. This allowed me to work with rock climbing shoes over to a group of trees to drop my pack and grab Zach’s some 100’ south. Together we worked back to the north and my pack. The whole escapade of about 100’ took close to an hour which sucked 90% of my energy and about half my water. Holding oneself in place and helping another is incredibly draining.
The oasis of trees was adrift amidst more of the same uncomfortable slab, so I looped a rope from the lowest tree and slid down and across to a clump of grass. My body tried to pendulum as I hit a large area of solid moss. Zach came down once I secured the line.
After enjoying a respite on a ledge, we realized that we were centered between the north and south on rather rough bedrock with plentiful ledges. [Upon study, it looks like we were on the lower sections of the “middle finger” (no pun intended)]. The center portions afforded awesome grip, ledges and easy climbing for at least 100’ vertical. It was closing on 11 a.m. and I actually still had a Haystack bushwhack in mind, though it never materialized in reality. The stone for the last bit of the cross-trek on the face looked rough from a distance, but had a reddish brown color. I was still a little rattled from before, so I thoroughly checked the possibilities before committing to the slab.
We took care and headed for a nice horseshoe shaped ledge that afforded an easy slope below it. Again, the anorthosite was rough and pitted, though, it did gather a little moss that didn’t affect grip. The drop off a plummeting slope below caught my attention, but wasn’t really of concern since it tapered off as we progressed.
Sloping Meadows and CripplebrushThis brought us to the next segment of the ascent…the true bushwhack. Our slope started somewhere near 41 degrees on tall grasses, occasional heavily mossed slab sections, ferns and a bit of sphagnum. The East Face slab lay south of us to view in its entirety; each interval of ascent added a different perspective. It was an ideal location under the full sun with small fields of goldenrod attracting bees and butterflies. Again, I expected Julie Andrews to come dancing across the nearby slab singing something from, “The Sound of Music.” Zach and I were poor substitutes and too tired to sing anyway. We picked the ascent off in sections while rationing our water. I’d ½ liter left and only allowed myself a sip every so often. (I was now using a couple bottles rather than the water bladder which I, upon waking, discovered had a hole in it so I had a liter less water than normal). Zach noted that Haystack was probably beyond him for the day. I agreed, more concerned about water and the remaining 700+ feet of ascent. I’d no idea what awaited up higher and after the summit, I knew it was at least another 45 minutes down to the water near Shorey Short Cut.
As we ascended, the grade increased as did the sphagnum under foot, making it slippery in sections, though hardly precipitous. Islands of conifers added distraction every now and then as did small slabs or ledges that presented the intermittent challenge. Navigation was easy as I aimed directly for the summit knob and the hungry krumholtz. Larger sections of slab/ledge near the top presented themselves on occasion. Again, clumps of dry moss covered them enough to create a challenge. I was drained and not in a mood to play “one step forward, two slides back.” A very faint animal path led south and, I assumed, either around or through them. It ended up as a combination that worked well.
The final bit of pre-cripplebrush trees presented themselves at about 4600’ or about 250’ below the actual summit. 12:30 found us staring at a semi-vertical, though layered ledge with overhanging, tightly woven and down-pointing cripplebrush. Oh, what a joy that was! Luckily, it was only a border to the real sea of cripplebrush that I’d define as very thick. I knew it wasn’t a long bushwhack, though, and it the inland sea of evergreens somehow afforded me a bit of comfort. I knew if I fell down any slope, I’d be impaled in short order and thus not fall far! Twenty minutes of conifer crawling found us at the ledge to the south bump. We traversed north along the ledge to where it dropped to head height and swum our way into a renewed sea of…guess what?.. More dense little prickly Christmas trees.
Continuing north, the summit ledge appeared a few minutes later. Its height was about eight feet and it may have been climbable via a crack, but the lichen crumbled and I opted to use a couple footholds on the left-hand side to enter a lower area of trees. The grade lessened as a tampon heralded our imminent proximity to the summit just a few meters away. This sudden intrusion after such untouched wilderness hardly absorbed the excitement of the day, but made me shake my head.
It was 1:30 and we relaxed until about 2:00 before calling my wife to ask for a 6:30 pickup at the Garden. The remaining eight or so miles felt long underfoot, but the sky was still a brilliant blue, so the views were magnificent the entire way. We set a fast pace once the trail leveled until running into a couple people who were “lost” on the Southside Trail of John’s Brook. We led them to the next intersection and jogged partway to the trailhead arriving a mere twenty minutes late.
CLICK HERE FOR SLIDESHOW OF THE EAST FACE