Rocky Peak Slides and Day 1 East FaceBald: 4.2 miles/2970’
Rocky Peak: 6 miles/4370’
RPR: 6.9 miles/4850’
Camp: 8.1 miles/5000’
East Face Exploration: .5 up/.5 down/1050’
East Face Exploration Day 2: .5 miles about 1050’ climbing day 2, 3.6 miles 1400’
Total Miles/Ascent: 13 miles 7500’
The East Cirque of Giant haunted my thoughts for years, first as dramatic backdrop for photos from Rocky Peak Ridge. Reading articles such “The Dark Side of the Moon” in Peeks Magazine placed it far from my realistic options at first. This detailed an ascent by Jim Close and Mark Lowell. Pictures of the seemingly overhanging cliffs and vertical crack near the north side made it appear insurmountable without technical gear. Over time, my curiosity and confidence grew until when, in 2008, Rico (WalksWithBlackflies) and I discussed plans to at least scout it after we ascended Giant’s Eagle Slide on the opposite face. After a frigid October ascent which including lying in icy runoff and then finding the top 1/3 covered in verglass, we aborted the attempt on the East Face. We tried again in early 2010, but the weather demons turned a 10% chance of rain into an all day event. So, at the last minute, we took our chances with the weather and made our way from New Russia via Blueberry Cobbles, Bald Peak, Rocky Peak and Rocky Peak Ridge.
Our day began at 9:30 a.m., late for us, but Rico drove from Syracuse so it was really quite an early start given the drive. While the 8-mile (including bushwhack) route from New Russia certainly wasn’t the fastest way to the face, it did provide Rico some on trail time to train for his upcoming trip to Colorado.
We were carrying full packs weighing in at close to forty lbs. The day’s total gain would be a little over 6000’ vertical, so it qualified as training! We kept our pace set just above our comfortable limit and ended up on the summit of RPR just before 2 p.m. As a bonus, we met “Skidoc” (and a couple 46 finishers on RPR) while climbing Bald Peak and had some humorous recourse to take our minds off the weather that appeared to be closing in. As a matter of fact, we felt a few sprinkles on Bald Peak. We groaned as we knew rain would abort our slide attempt.
During our extended break on RPR, we discussed route options for the East Face once again and agreed to follow the slab nearest the seam of the east face and steeper slab that angles off on the northern side. I was sure there was a way to pick our way through the ledges and avoid any unsafe exposure. I estimated we should be on the slab no later than about 3:30/4:00…or so I hoped.
The most direct route was to drop down to the col and bushwhack down its drainage or climb part of the way up Giant via the trail and bushwhack to the south slide of the face then descend to the northeast. We chose neither since we wanted to explore two small rubble slides on the west face of RPR. They were short slides, one about 350’ in length and the other only about 190’ in length. The best way to access them a trail descent to about 4000’ and bushwhack on a heading of about 60-65 degrees magnetic north. The trick was to follow on contour to the top while avoiding blowdown and dense tree-cover. That’s easier said than done, but this time it worked like a charm and we found the first portion of the upper rubble after only fifteen minutes of gentle bushwhacking.
Being that they were entirely rubble, Rico nicknamed them Betty and Barney…Rubble. The short northern slide reached the highest in elevation. We carefully staggered ourselves and walked down the unstable pile. I suppose “walked” isn’t really accurate since it was more of a slide, sometimes riding the smaller rocks for a few feet. The area hadn’t received much rain in recent days and the slides were dusty and very loose. Boulders of all sizes littered the surface. As we approached Betty’s bottom, the boulders increased in size where we down-climbed to approach Barney mid-slide. He was a bit thinner than Betty, but a good bit longer. The steep descent tapered into the usual moss ridden stream found on most northern exposures. As we descended, I saw a perspective of the East Face that I’ve not seen before, one that foretold of hope. The face appeared much less vertical than from RPR’s summit.
Our footing was less than sure on the moss covered slab, but this lasted only a few minutes before it took a gentle turn on its continued descent. We began to head east alongside the drainage rather than in it to avoid the heaviest blow-down. The lowest tree covered ledges did not allow us far from the stream, however, until after the first obvious, but overgrown, drainage from the southern most slide of Giant’s east face. We passed two more drainages separated by hundreds of feet of mounded forest…the valleys washed away by the violent slides above in years gone by. Our goal was the fourth drainage, which we found at about 3:15 p.m. It was not clear, but not raining as we found an appropriate place for camp.
Weather was hesitantly on our side at 4:00 p.m. after setting up camp and switching gear, Rico into climbing shoes/helmet and I into climbing shoes. Our trek would take us 1,200’ up over about ¾ mile of slab.
On The Slab
The walk up and out of the drainage slabs was interesting. The smooth rock seemed to glisten even though it was dry. Scrape marks from fallen rubble stood as testament that the face is forever changing and shedding bits of itself. Two steep pitches led to a more open slab, both more coarse and wider. The drainage from a vertical crack high above marked one possible route…the most northern option. This also marks the point where the steep northeastern exposure meets the eastern slab in a dramatic 45 degree turn. We veered onto the slabs on a slightly offset route to keep out of the trees growing in the crease. Small ledges and concave layers of anorthosite gradually got steeper as we climbed. Varying degrees of moss covered it in portions.
At about 3,500’ in elevation, we veered back toward the drainage crease. It looked more than interesting and didn’t disappoint the curious explorer in me. It was a steep and geologically diverse ascent. Looking up, the stone seem to roll around various curves. Boulders choked the way in some areas while slab ruled others. Weather worn layers of anorthosite defined the area just below the crack.
Finally, open slab with some small vegetation let up to the vertical feature located at 3,950’. We took turns exploring the crack, Rico climbing a few feet up inside. It was weather worn and not climbable from a friction climber point of view.
The main question haunting this trip was, “Could we find a way beyond this elevation due to the ledges and vertical crack?” The answer was overwhelming, “Yes.” We were even awarded several route choices. After a short break we both climbed over from the crack to a small, but comfortable ledge marking a change from 40 degree slab to 65+ degree slab. Rico tested some handholds and tentatively began the climb upward. I took photos as this was out of my comfort zone and I was curious about the section about 100’ to the south.
Once he topped the steepest section, I crossed south and upward toward a fractured piece of the face…a large boulder. The slab nearby was climbable, but steep with mossy sections, so I opted to just climb the boulder. In an effort to save time, I found a 10’ birch growing almost against the side of the vertical edge and climbed its strong branches to my next pitch.
Rico was comfortably sitting atop the huge concave upper pitch watching me comfortably work my way up and across. The slab was dirtier (Moss/lichen) but offered plenty of traction. I’d not want to be caught mid-slab in the rain, however. The area where I crossed marked the far end of the mid-slab ledges. Farther south the ledge sets appeared formidable.
Atop the steep midsection, the slope decreased to about 35 degrees and stretched far up into toward the summit ridge. This section of slab was easily negotiable. Dozens of parallel igneous intrusions ran in white stripes across the expanse. Only slightly raised above the surface, they did little to help with traction. They simply added interest to an already overwhelming amount of feature and expanse.
We saw the top of the slide, but felt little need to explore it as we, again, we felt small raindrops which stopped just as suddenly. Sudden bursts of wind and the ever building cloud-cover warned of things to come, however, and we still needed to negotiate our route back to the camp. We’d been ascending for nearly two hours, anyway and taking our time at that.
My initial plan was to head to the top of the ledges and follow south to the far slide and descend at a diagonal. The route was drawn again using the perspective-skewed pictures in which everything looks near vertical. Reality found us on a far different and more interesting course.
From slide top we crossed down diagonally in a straight line. This took us across smaller sections of lesser slides and two small bushwhacks to the center of the central slide. We took a moment for a quick bite to eat. Rico couldn’t resist exploring the edge of the ledge set located a bit farther below. I was comfortable where I was standing but as I drew closer and followed ever nearer, the yawning expanse seemed to draw me in dizzyingly. Suddenly, Rico exclaimed, “I think we can climb down this!” My hesitant, “You sure?” echoed almost immediately afterward.
Indeed, he was correct. The first step was psychologically the hardest to commit to, since the slope appeared to increase and the nearby ledges were clearly beyond vertical and about 10’ in height on a conservative estimate. My fear of heights is all-but fully desensitized, but this tested my psychological conditioning. Once on the first lower ledge, I could see the ledges were staggered. I quickly gained confidence in our choice as my excitement rose.
A bright white of a freshly broken section of stone (about 3’ by 4’) from the first ledge created a dramatic foreground against the distant mountains. Scrape marks on the surface of the face traced its path to a destination hundreds of feet below. Each successive ledge increased my confidence until we met the steep 45 degree slab. The steep expansive face awaited below, each step put the crease, now up and to the north, farther and farther from view. Intermittent ledges of vegetation grew at the leading edge of each ledge. I’d forgotten to put my trail runners in the pack so, my toes were, by this point, protesting the down-climb in rock climbing shoes.
Each section was a fun challenge requiring thoughtful foresight as to the subsequent option. We did, however, split once on the slab, each exploring the small ledges or cracks of our chosen descent. I took a more southerly route (shone in yellow on the route map) and ended up waiting for Rico far below when all was said and done. As I waited at the main drainage top, Rico came jogging down his chosen slab, switchbacking to ease the grade. He had changed shoes.
Finally, at 7:00 p.m. we arrived at camp, fully exhilarated that we’d picked a route and then modified it to surpass our expectations. The rain had, thank God, been delayed.
Day 2: Slide as a Verb: East Face in the Rain
This next portion of the adventure began in spirit the night before when Rico said, “What do you think about walking low on the slab to get to the trail rather than bushwhacking to the col in the morning?” I finalized it with my response of, “Sure.”
We awoke at 6:00 a.m. after listening to