BackgroundA seed was planted in my mind regarding Marcy’s East Face in 2004 when I first hiked Haystack. A magnificent white scar, as I called it at the time, curved around the large cliff face of the mountain like some giant closing parenthesis. I never imagined that it could be climbed…it looked shear and, honestly, I never thought of climbing slides until WWBF started me on the Whiteface Ski Slides a couple years later.
Planning came as I started hiking more slides and getting comfortable with my fear of heights, especially after soloing the Eagle Slide on Giant the first time. I’ve no technical climbing experience, so my initial impression was that it was impossible to get to the base of the Panther Gorge Slide. I then started studying close-up sections of my pics from Haystack as well as a couple from WWBF. Several different picture angles and pics with the sun at varying heights suggested that, perhaps, there were a few sections I could “claw” my way up. Four possibilities came to mind: From left to right starting immediately at the base of the large cliff face, I wanted to explore what looked like a sizeable crack; 2. a small angled segment with some climbable slab and vegetation between the cliff face and the main crevasse appeared to be; 3. the actual crevasse and; 4 the ledges immediately to the north which I would still like to go back to explore.
I’d pricked WWBF a few times last year and some this year with the idea, but time and other hiking/life priorities never allowed us to explore it, so I suggested the idea to MarkL, who hesitantly agreed after I promised that I would actually use my head and not get either of us into a predicament beyond our skill level : ) of hikers and not technical climbers. The wet weather indicative of this year’s weekends thwarted an effort a couple weeks prior, which ironically would have turned out better than this past weekend. So, the date was finally set for August 9th, 2009.
SE Marcy SlideFull Picture Set
I went into the woods Friday at about 1 p.m. and whacked Gothics via True North slide, took Armstrong’s col slide back down to the Orebed trail and over-nighted at the lean-to. The next morning I awoke with some stomach problems and got a late start at 9 a.m. I had high ambitions for the day, but settled on bushwhacking the Northeast Slide to Saddleback’s summit (large one to the nw of orebed brk). I then decided to take the easiest way to Panther Gorge, which unfortunately, put me walking over Basin and Haystack. I took the opportunity to smell the roses and napped for a bit on Haystack under a blue sky with no wind. It also gave me further opportunity to study Marcy’s East face for a couple hours from differing perspectives. Happily, the slide looked dry and inviting.
I made camp under some pine trees alongside the Marcy Brook in Panther Gorge around 7 p.m. and awaited Mark, who was attending a 46r Trustee function until the evening and planned to hike in from Elk Lake, a “mere” 9 miles. The lean-to was full, so I wondered how Mark would find me since it would be after dark and I intended to be deep asleep. At 9:00 p.m., I set my headlamp on strobe and fell asleep until Mark awoke me at 2:45 a.m. Forty-five minutes later, we were asleep and awoke only to my alarm at 6:50 a.m.
The forecast called for rain later in the afternoon and I saw a mixture of clouds and blue sky as the sun illuminated Skylight and Marcy briefly and for the last time of the day. After breakfast and the usual early morning stumblings, we packed our daypacks and stashed the unnecessary weight in the lean-to with our hearts heavily pondering the “what-ifs” of the following hours. It was 8:18 when we began. I think I speak for both of us when I say we were apprehensive, yet excited if not fully awake. I estimated our rock hop to the base would be about and hour and purposely stepped into the water a few minutes later to free myself of the urge to keep my feet dry. Mark, amazingly, managed to somehow elude the water for the most part. Electricman warned in his report to stay right when we encountered a fork to the west. This appeared about twenty minutes into the walk. It was good advice, but visually the darker and least inviting of the two choices. I took a pic of the confluence and various falls along the way. Only mild beaver activity greeted us and as the stream moderately climbed in elevation, as it diminished in size and flow.
The woods looked inviting and loosely woven at several points, so we actually made better time on a couple occasions paralleling the stream on a carpet of moss. The cliff face appeared and disappeared at various intervals until I could see the top of our target. At this point, the woods look loose, so we simply left the stream on a visual heading, walked about five minutes until happening across a two-foot wide dry drainage. This led to a larger one within minutes and our first steps on the lowest slabs and boulders below the crevasse.
The boulders were an interesting challenge and change of pace which drew enough energy to level my excitement. I should mention that during the preceding hour, the cloud ceiling continued to drop until we were being misted upon at the base of the cliff at 9:20 a.m. (about 3870’). I thought, “So much for pictures with any depth of field or scale.” We looked up in awe and the image that Electricman posted now stood in front of me in three dimensions. My hopes of climbing it withered as I looked at the combination of water dripping from moss on various sections, extended areas of less than suitable handholds and an upper section that was devoid of any “steps”. It also slanted north and appeared to slant back from the mountain. Yup, it was technical in nature, though (even now) the pictures still make it look as if there just miigghhtt be a way up it.
Our second choice due to proximity was the ledge series to our right. I looked up and got queasy. Again, pictures just don’t do the dimensions and scale justice. We did, however, check it out. The initial twenty or so feet is steep, and stepped with rocks and trees that offer plenty of leverage and security. Progressing to the north forces one down while south offers the choice of climbing up a steep slope on the meager security of grasses and other small vegetation. I looked above and knew I could hesitantly climb it, but not down-climb it safely if the following tier proved to be a dead-end. Mark volunteered me to explore it, and I briefly did before using better judgment and succumbing to the gnawing thought in my head, “Don’t die before you see the real slide!” In retrospect and looking at pictures, I think that there is a way up with patience and the time to find it.
So, we skirted down a few hundred feet to the north and crossed the drainage below the boulders to bushwhack up to the slope nearest the sheer cliff face that dominates the east side. We looked at the crack I saw in a picture adjacent to the cliff. It looked similar to a section of the Trap Dike, but I knew not what was at the top and the mist wasn’t getting any lighter. It would have to wait for another trip.
The fourth, final and most realistic option in my mind was to follow the slope consisting of intermittent slab, ledges and vegetation to the top of the precipice and base of the actual slide. Footing was less than sure in the three foot tall grasses and ferns. At 10:20 a.m. we found some slab that offered enough handholds to begin the ascent. It was precipitous and a tight, choked by cedars and other vegetation, ledges, loose sphagnum and occasional sundew carnivorous plants. It was fun! A faint deer path (believe it or not) offered a hint of direction through the mess. We avoided the scat as we crawled at times until I had a feeling we were high enough. A quick push of about ten yards north led us to the tell-tale openness in the trees and a bare slide. The initial climb had taken about twenty minutes.
The white slab of the lowest portion looked similar to what I’d imagined. Our first duty was to relax a bit and hoot with excitement. I took out my camera and, uh, Mark took out a bottle of bubbles and unscrewed the ring. I’m sure he was using it as a technical tool to measure the updraft velocity : )
Pictures from Haystack hinted that the first half of the slide was slab and textured enough to comfortably climb. The top portion looked like rubble. In reality, it had character far beyond what I’d expected. I’d estimate it to be about 40 degrees with obvious steeper segments, but it was not sheer and didn’t give the feeling of exposure. The texture was carved by the elements and rough underfoot. Various stairs, steps and faults offered easy climbing without worry of slippage. Moss spotted the slab only intermittently. Above our position, the slide appeared as sets of steep rounded bumps and below near the lip, the water had worn a diagonal gulley across the stone. Spring melt must be amazing to behold as the water flows to hit the diagonal and be propelled upward and over the cliff into the debris below.
Views of Haystack were restricted to the lower portion just above the gorge since the cloud ceiling was still dropping. It was still not raining, so I’d no reason to complain and don’t think I would have anyway even if it hailed like upon Redfield this past May with WWBF. Even if rain were present the slide appeared to offer enough traction wet or dry. The small flow of water and its pools were easy to walk around or over as well.
After some time, conversation and food, we packed up and began the exploration upward. So much to see and so little time…it was late in the morning and I knew the bushwhack would be tiring. I’d hoped to finish before the real weather rolled in. Mist was ok, rain would be annoying, but lightening would be tense to say the least.
The slab continued on a similar grade and character until about one third of the way up where it got a bit steeper and even more interesting. A small dike partly crossed it diagonally offering the easiest way up out of a multitude of choices. Various minerals exposed themselves in the face of the stone. At its top (about 4000 feet), we reached the cloud ceiling and the mist blew either by us or up past us obscuring the view slightly. The higher we climbed, the more eerie the scenery became until we appeared to be hiking into the maw of a Tolkienish world. We took pics of each other surrounded by the gloom. Mark had an almost ethereal glow behind him in one pic and I looked only half present as obscured by the fog while standing under a dead slanted tree in another.
Anyway, the slab continued for some time and lessened slightly in grade as the worn white stone became more sharply stepped and littered with rubble and vegetation. It narrowed at various points as can be seen from Haystack before reaching a bit of a transition zone. A large chunk of the base rock at about 4300’ marked the slide’s turn farther up the ridge and its transition into large rubble/slab. The slide continued a bit more steeply until the top and also continued to narrow as the large rubble tapers to a dirtier/sandier rubble.
Nearly all the rubble was loose underfoot, including many of the larger pieces. For safety, we walked side by side rather than one behind the other…no need to play “friction climber bowling.” Finally, the slide ended in a gulley of slab and boulders at about 4500’. The very last boulder had a feldspar orange tinge to it before the mess of moss and tangled trees caught my attention as the next draw of energy.
Full Trip Report and Thread on ADKHighPeaks with additional info.
Bushwhack to SummitI know this sounds sick, but I thoroughly enjoyed the two hour push through the trees and cripplebrush at the top…not sure what that says about my sanity, but at least some had to do with our continual bantering of humor. The push to the ridge lasted about twenty minutes and was tiring, to say the least. There was no trace of a herd path. Trees, for the most part, allowed our shoulders through and only a couple small ledges blocked our progress. Even a brief open section allowed us an ideal area to take a drink. The increasing mist and wind obscured vision enough to the point that only a compass bearing led the way. I couldn’t see the approaching ridgeline. Only a decrease in grade marked the area where we needed to turn up the ridge toward the summit (about 280-290 magnetic). The growth was typical for what I’d expect and we encountered no fir waves. Another hour of pushing led us to intermittent blueberry covered-erratics and occasional slab. The cripplebrush eventually began its choke upon us as we gained altitude before reaching the summit crown and summit rock (with its three summit stewards) at 1:30 p.m. I felt incredible excitement!
Getting OutThere was little rest at the top. Both of us had to remove our fog covered glasses to have any depth perception. Strong winds blew the fog unrelentingly and I began to chill until we started our walk to four corners. I’d never ascended or descended Marcy from that direction, and I still can’t say what it really looked like other than stone. Half blind from fog and the inability to wear glasses until tree-line made us both look like decrepit hikers poking our way about looking for blazes while trying not to fall. Yes, it was humorous!
I can’t really summarize all the hilarities that went on between Mark and I, but dry wit, outlandishness and the strenuous nature of a bushwhack all combined to create a day that went quickly, not only because of the interesting nature of the area, but because of personality interactions.
We reached Panther Gorge lean-to at 3:30 p.m. and began the now nine mile walk to Elk Lake at 4:15 p.m. after repacking and eating a bit. The rain began more earnestly and we never escaped the fog, not until the trailhead. Nine miles went slowly, but the trail was a beautiful if not tiring walk, especially the ascent up the Pinnacle Ridge that stood between Marcy Swamp (through which I’m quite sure that Gollum was stalking us) and Elk Lake. Mark estimated it at about 800’ elevation gain after accounting for all the ups and downs. This ended a twenty-two mile hike for Mark over a day and a three day trek over about twenty five miles for me beginning at the Garden. We reached the trailhead at 8:15 p.m. and to my surprise, my parents and Deb were waiting with a hug and some food! They’d been tracking us on my SPOT website and had made a mad dash to beat us to the lake. What a day!