Traverse Distance:6.5 miles
Duration:6 hours with hour photo shoot
Total Vertical:3500 feet
Data below is based on route lines and ground distance calculated in topographical program.
Minimum Elevation: 3420’
Maximum Elevation: 4440’
Change in Elevation: 1020’
Length: .35 mile
Every hike has a unique feel, meaning and/or set of circumstances. This day was no different. I began at the Roaring Brook trailhead and immediately dedicated this hike to my wife and stepson, Deb and Graham. The bushwhack began with a portion that we did as a family several months ago: climbing up the embankment to the north of the falls. I can’t say that it saved time, but it was reminiscent and a fun way to start. I was also hired by St. Lawrence University to photograph Peak Weekend on its 25th Anniversary. I spoke with a student the night prior and his group anticipated touching the summit at around noon. I gave myself four hours time, hopefully enough to beat them. The final unique meaning to the day was internal. I usually hike slides with WWBF for safety and companionship and Eagle Slide was supposed to be one of the more exposed and difficult slides in comparison to others that I’ve hiked. This was a solo attempt…no one around to give me a hand or foot in the right location to save a slip. I was both excited and slightly apprehensive at the same time at what the eagle might look like from the base. Many slides look nearly vertical from below or from a head on view, but the perspective changes once upon it. I hoped this would feel similar because I was determined to turn back.
Above the falls, the stream boasted several large pools and a paths that wandered alongside for a bit before disappearing. It’s important, at this point, to note that I avoided traveling any herd paths that were evident to keep my impact minimal in this popular area. This was easy since the drainage was barely flowing. What little water that was present, however, made the rocks very slippery.
I wanted to hike the bushwhack at a comfortable training pace. I took no breaks except to verify position. Within an hour, I’d intersected the main path as it crossed Roaring Brook. The woods weren’t open, but the blow-down wasn’t dense. The easiest way was to stay in the drainage, especially given the dry conditions. I knew the main brook meandered for about 2.5 miles to the slide base and that it branched in a couple locations where it led to other slide events. My route, though, followed the main flow. The drainage was a very rocky, stream with sometimes, semi-sized chunks of stone deposited along the way. Most of the drainage was somewhat obscured from overhead view by trees growing along the forty year old scar in the valley. My father barely missed seeing the raw power of this area. He began hunting in the Adirondacks in the 60’s. The road to Keene Valley (Route 73) had been covered by debris from Giant’s flanks only a few years prior.
I followed a side drainage to the south for a few dozen yards and came out to Roaring Brood (red) hiking trail with a roll of my eyes. I decided to hike it for about a quarter mile and plunged into the woods again as I heard the babble of the brook begin to fade. The path continued to ascend the ridge, but that wasn’t my goal. I later found a small cairn marking an entrance to the stream. This must have been about 1.5 miles into the trip. Future hikes where time is of the essence will find me hiking the trail and starting the ‘whack near the cairn.
The farther I progressed, the steeper the general slope of the stream became as well as the slope of its sides. Small side slides began to scar the landscape regularly as trees and boulders tore from above and fell downward. Much of the debris it was still somewhat loose. I stepped on a 600lb (or so) rock in the drainage and found myself taking a ride as it shifted a few feet down. I walked off it in a slightly different trail location and unscathed. If I had any doubt of my overall location, it faded as small glimpses of Giant began to peek through the fall foliage. Four separate boulders (20’ by 30’) blocked the drainage as I worked my way upward. They stood as a testament to the violent slides that are common in these mountains and the power they possess.
Shortly after the stone masses, the slide came into view. It was exhilarating though not intimidating as it might have been a short time ago. The rubble field began at about 3400’. I took a fifteen minute break after two hours and fifteen minutes of steady hiking. The gray day was starting to close in, but the forecast didn’t have rain until later in the afternoon (oops, wrong!). I ate some dried fruit and a few other snacks…a mixture of sugar and protein for my ascent and changed into my water shoes which grip stone incredibly. My trail running sneakers did me no good on this stone. I had just exited a small reddish (algae) slab that took me ten minutes to ascend. It should have taken about two. I may as well have had skates on my feet. It was about 10:30 when I leisurely packed up and began my attack on the steep slope.
The rubble field continued for a couple hundred feet and was interrupted by a small smooth slab. I avoided it until it became a little less steep, about halfway up. I didn’t want to begin the main slab by falling on this warm-up slab. Scratches marred its brownish surface from thousands of rocks that once bounced their way downward. More rubble awaited thereafter, along with a few trees. Abruptly the first section of moss encrusted slab met my eyes. There was no turning back. I had to go up to meet the group for photos and I had no time to turn around. I didn’t want to. Up was all that existed as I surveyed the rock and took my first step. The moss was worn slightly from the steps of others. This is a popular slide for some of the more seasoned hikers/climbers. The slab was rough and the width of eagle slide became immediately apparent. I was careful and kept my hands in contact with the stone on my first major solo slide hike. A slip and the subsequent fall would remove a lot of that pesky skin that covers my body!
I gained some altitude and a bit of comfort as the slab decreased its pitch briefly at the first major shelf. The second slab section began at a small wall about five feet in height. I climbed a golden birch to aid my ascend. The slab increased pitch to the north and stayed formidable to the south. Moss that was present on the first section was now mostly gone and the gray to brown stone of Giant was only host to lichen and any small growth tenacious enough to thrive in cracks. There was also a small horizontal shelf (about one inch) that allowed me to walk over to a more vertical crack up the wall. The stone was a darker brown where water had been flowing and included rather convenient holes that served as hand/foot holds. They were spaced well for my height and about 3” in depth.
This led to the, more or less, continuous slab leading up to the “feathers”. (The “feathers” are the several small slides that begin near the ridgeline and lead to the main slab. The second leads closest to the summit.) The stone was rough and footing was sure in most parts. The view was incredible even with the haze that turned the Dix range blue-gray and was threatening to envelope the mountains beyond. Steep slopes on either side of the eagle slide (more on the north) and exposure made it thrilling to just gaze. Slides on either side of the valley were easy to study for future ventures. I chose to hike the third “feather”. I subsequently found that it emerged from the cripplebrush at the intersection to Rocky Peak Ridge. Photos from the base of the feather were dramatic and showed the steep ascent I’d hiked well.
I came to several vertical ledges in a short time. The first was a challenge and I used a rock to gain a little elevation and climbed a crack to the top. It was a small rock climb of sorts. The top led to another ledge which didn’t have any convenient holds or cracks so I dove into the brush, pushed through and emerged on the final slab that snaked through the spruce. The soil and trees tore a snaking scar downward from a now well worn herd path. I exited the trees at 11:45. The path lasted only about 100 feet before intersecting the main trail to the summit, just .2 miles away.
In all, this was a great slide that was relatively safe for me to climb in dry conditions. I wouldn’t recommend this as a first hike or even a solo, quite honestly. Too many things can happen in too short of a time. My previous hikes with WWBF have taught me much in what to look for and how to be safe on slides. The many shelves, and breaks throughout the route I chose, let me catch my breath in less than precarious positions where I was rooted and could enjoy the scenery. My preference would be to hike this with a partner next time.
Giant's Summit and the Hike Down the Roaring Brook TrailThe .2 mile to the summit passed quickly and within ten minutes of my slide exit, rain began to fall. I was grateful for a jacket and my timing with the Eagle Slide. I’d not want to challenge it in wet conditions. The red algae would not be forgiving. I ate another snack and settled underneath (to others’ amusement) the cripplebrush to await the group of students from St. Lawrence. I readied my camera and set it to manual to compensate for the dark conditions.
I waited for about fifteen minutes before the first of nineteen students appeared. He was jogging. The large group had broken up into several groups of about five. The small groups trickled in over a forty five minute period based on hiking speed. All were in great humor and, miraculously, the sun began to brightly illuminate the summit. I shot a few dozen photos of various groups and lunch from different angles to capture the moment. This was the 25th anniversary of Peak Weekend. It was nice to be a part of it.
I shot several pics of the cirque as well to study later for subsequent slide hikes and meandered into the summit brush to explore one of the many herd-paths. Some looked like they would lead to the collection of slides on the other side of the mountain…another future hike! I collected my gear at 12:30, said goodbye and began my trot down Roaring Brook trail.
Roaring Brook Trail
My descent began at about 12:30. My knee was feeling well so I set a fast pace down the beginning of the 3.6 mile trail. Pace was somewhat limited by the rock scrambles that make the upper portion of Giant’s ridge steep, but more-so by the unbelievable amount of hikers. I hiked about a third of a mile when I saw a faint herdpath that, I assumed, led to one of the side slides. I was correct and hiked down to the top for some pictures of the Eagle Slide. The side slide was moist and slick with algae so I hugged the spruce on the side and descended about 100 feet where the location enabled me to take some angled shots of the eagle’s first and second “feathers”. I quickly reascended and emerged back onto the main path. I had to laugh when a couple that I’d already scooted by gave me a second glance and asked if I was doing laps.
The common question, as always, was, “How much further to the summit?” I answered this about a dozen times with patience and chuckled…my mind was forced to think about my progress down as a result. I think my favorite phrasing of the question came when a woman asked, “How much longer until the hellish end?” The journey passed without incident until the terrain began to flatten. I walked to the area where an imperative exchange of chirps and squirrel sounds was in progress and watched a red squirrel scratching at a hole in a yellow birch. I scared it off. Instantly an chipmonk stuck his head out as if to say, “Thanks.”
As the path softened and I approached the falls from the “normal” trail, I passed a couple that I talked to on my way TO the summit. I again chuckled and opened the door to my car at 2:00 p.m. Thunderstorms and a heavy rain moved into the area within minutes. The group of student who also climbed Rocky Peak Ridge stated that the rain added to the adventure and the main trail was a muddy stream.