Descending Saddleback's South Slide
Partner: Zachary D.
Descent: 1,328’ over ½ mile
Link to Full Picture Set
This report is a little truncated and two months tardy, but I figured I’d put it on the net regardless of timing. This is part two of an already exciting day involving Gothics’s nw face and prior to the exploration of Basin’s east face the next day.
The trek down Saddleback’s southern slide began by following the yellow blazes toward Basin and in following the herd path to left of the trail. I made sure to stay along the steep southern slabs. Several interesting boulders with circular lichen patterns drew my attentions before I pushed into dense cripplebrush, after which, Zach and I emerged onto the slabs.
They were very rough and I thought, as I looked back up toward the summit, that I could have down-climbed them if time wasn’t such an issue. The mainly moss-covered northwest face of Gothics that I explored earlier in the day still had me apprehensive as to my traction, but enough cracks were present to feel comfortable and enjoy the views of Basin’s east face.
Several cripplebrush-ridden exits were available at the bottom of the slab, but a two-foot wide crevasse (about 15 feet deep) drew my curiosity. I climbed into it and used the corridor to exit to the grass. A short walk led to another tall ledge. It was tall enough to necessitate a climb as opposed to a jump, but covered with moss in all the wrong vertical places. I simply reached for a tree and climbed down. The vegetation eventually gave way to a narrow strip of broken slab until the turn southeast. Dead conifers littered the sides.
The gentle turn southeast about 0.16 miles from the summit, marked increased slab presence mixed with the grasses and moss. Dirty rubble was left behind. Saddleback’s south ridge increased in height to the east and boasted vertical cliffs. The sun was waning and Basin’s bulk cast shadows on the slide making photography difficult: either under or over-exposed. I was tiring and the slide was intermittently steep making the footing precarious because of the moss and water. The cumulative effects of bushwhacking adjacent to the southern slabs of Gothics then circling over the summit and down the northern side, bushwhacking to Orebed Trail and climbing Saddleback made me want find a bivouac site.
The slabs were very diverse and textured in content. They ranged from rough bedrock to smooth slab. Colors range from near white to dark browns. Small dikes were present as were detailed and large xenoliths. Fractures occurred in all directions depending on the slab. About midway down, a large set of ledges were present as well as a water-worn bowl near the east of the slide.
Our route followed the eastern side, which was fine with the use of trees, but we discovered easier less slippery routes while looking back up at the options. Oh well, next time! I never want an injury, but I was even more careful since it felt like we wer descending into the middle of nowhere, in an extremely rugged landscape on all sides. The only exits were up Saddleback, Basin or the trail a bit low to Upper Ausable Lake after miles of bushwhacking. The following day’s traverse across Basin’s east face wore heavily on my mind.
I watched my altimeter for our approach to 3,200 feet. Water mildly increased in volume the lower we progressed as is normal. The slide eventually narrowed and we exited for the evening. In hindsight, a traverse a bit lower would have made the next day’s bushwhack a bit easier. After about an hour at 7:30 p.m., we settled comfortably in a level spot amongst boulders and blowdown…to the creaking of a golden birch blown by constant winds. We awoke the following morning after nearly 12 hours of sleep to attack Basin.