DetailsDuration: 16:50 hours; 6:40 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.
Benchmarks: Sabre Tooth East: 10:10-11:10 a.m., Sabre Tooth West: 11:50-12:10 p.m., White Slide: 12:30-1:45 p.m., Bushwhack to Rainbow: 4:25-5:15, Rainbow Slide: 5:15 -7:15 p.m.
Route: Ausable Club Road – Beaver Meadow Trail – Bushwhack to Sabre Tooth East Base and Ascend – Bushwhack to top of Sabre Tooth West and descend – Bushwhack to base of White Slide and ascend – Bushwhack to Upper Wolfjaw Summit – Trail over Armstrong to top of Beaver Meadow Trail (flat section at 4,000’) – Bushwhack to Cascade Brook and follow to Rainbow Slide – Bushwhack to Gothics’ summit – Weld Trail to Ausable Club Rd.
Total Mileage/Vertical Ascent/Calories: 16 / 6,400’ / 11,000
"Trail" Conditions: Dry trails and slides, moderate water supply in drainages
Temperature/Wind: mid 80’s F / none
Partner: Neil Luckhurst
Diet: 5 litres water, ½ loaf cranberry bread, starburst and a bunch of various bars (sorry lost the wrappers at home)
Clothing: Long sleeve wicking shirt for bushwhacking, short sleeve nylon on slides, ems pants, rock shoes for slides, golite trail runners for trail, hat, golight pack (25 lbs).
ApproachI’ll kick this report off with a list of adjectives that describe portions of the day: incredible, unnerving, breathtaking, sketchy, painful, hot, annoying, tranquil, savage, relaxing, brutal humbling, and fulfilling. That’s the abridged list, but words really can’t encapsulate the experience.
This also turned into an experiment on multiple external and internal fronts. Bushwhacks on the Great Range usually entail at least some brutal conditions. For that, I was prepared, but you never know how it will work out in the end…if you’ll reach your goals within an expected time frame. We met the goals, but grossly exceeded my estimated time-frame of about 12 hours.
My internal (and inadvertent) experiment involved sleep deprivation. I was so amped about the climb that I only slept for about 30 total minutes the prior night and even that was in segments. I’ve operated on 2 hours of sleep before, but never less. It contributed to a few mistakes during the day and clouded my mind a bit, but didn’t ruin the outing by any means. I’d have bailed on the day if I was solo, but couldn’t bear to leave Neil hanging even though he’s obviously fine without a partner.
It took an hour to get rid of the shakes and I awoke while we joked back and forth on the Ausable Club Rd. Conversation then turned to our ever nearing bushwhack. The plan involved deviating from the trail just before it turns hard toward the south to Beaver Brook at about 2,800’ in elevation. Neither of us were using electronics at the time, so we played it by feel, whacked into a drainage and through the conifers into another drainage that “felt” correct. Its alignment and the lay of the ridges looked in order.
The open slab of the stream harbored a pleasant flow of water that ran down various features…the minutiae that make bushwhacking so pleasant. I felt a cold sweat appear and evaporate at a particularly interesting ledge when Neil said, “This looks familiar, but the water is on the opposite side.” I snickered internally and sniped a facetious holier than though comment akin to, “I KNOW we’re on the right drainage…I can feel it!”
Forty minutes later at about 9:40 a.m., the slabs to the south looked surprisingly dark compared to the appearance of the White Slide. There was also too much blue sky to the north through the trees indicating that the northeastern ridge wasn’t as tall as it should be. The profile of the mountains to the west, however, looked correct. Abandoning our “purist” hike, Neil pulled out the GPS after commenting on our imposing itinerary.
I quickly agreed with his judgment. Time was burning. The GPS confirmed our subconscious feelings that we were following a drainage to the Armstrong/UWJ col. Our goal sat a ridge over to the northeast. Armstrong’s slabs and ledges suddenly looked familiar from our location. Neil recognized “his” slide from a hike earlier in the year and I recognized the ledges that I’d climbed in 2008. The bushwhacking over the ridge alternated between pleasant and moderately thick.
The lower portion of the eastern Sabre Tooth Slide appeared to be vertical as it came into view once atop the ridge. A steep whack down to the drainage and over to its base found us changing shirts and refueling at 10:10 a.m. The sun was on a heat setting of 10 and my sleep deprivation experiment was manifesting its first signs…a vicious headache. I ignored it and studied the slab.
Sabre Tooth Slides West & East
The seemingly vertical slab was really only about 55 or so degrees and riddled with hand and footholds…the perfect playground. The texture was rough, though weathered. Larger grains of anorthosite allowed easy passage if you’re used to exposure. Routes were as numerous as one’s skill. The crux at the top of a conspicuous crack involved a small overhanging ledge climb. We down-climbed and traversed to the east side in an effort to stay alive until later in the day. Atop, we found a more moderately pitched slab.
The White Slide, just over the drainage called our names…”MudRat!...Neil!” I think I heard Neil answer it when he thought I wasn’t looking. It too looked nearly vertical…a trick of perspective once again, but foretelling in retrospect. The white mass “flattened” as we climbed higher. Meanwhile, the Sabre Tooth E. was less than spectacular in the mid portion. Alders filled the cracks and moss grew where it could. The exposed slab was, however, delightfully clean. We climbed quickly as we expectantly neared the base of the head-wall. A ten foot wall of vertical slab met our gaze. I played on a couple ramps as Neil followed the face to a lower portion. Failing on my exploration, I followed his tracks…again.
The head-wall was a fun climb up a series of steep rolling ledges. The rock became a bit more brittle as we climbed. I again tried to climb a vertical crack and found the handholds breaking under even a slight bit of pressure…not worth the time or risk on our first slide. Atop the last pitch, we changed clothing into our bushwhacking armor...long sleeves and gloves.
The bushwhack only last thirty minutes, but the steep grade, a few ledges and blow-down made it difficult. Thankfully, the trees were more open than we later found on Gothics. The slide’s rolling ledges of the head-wall obviously continued west and were underfoot…buried by the moss and duff of the area. Footing required care if we wanted to stay bi-pedal.
Sabre Tooth West
The top of the west sabre was less than spectacular compared to its eastern neighbor. The grade and width of the slab and ledges were a bit less as well.
The main point of interest was nestled in the mid-section. A set of “V” channels diagonally intersected the upper and lower slabs from east to west. The grade changed little once on the lower slab and ended in a vertical foot-wall that petered out at the western side. Moss encrusted rubble littered the drainage, but was home to a small trickle of water which allowed us to refill our semi-depleted supply. Our next bushwhack was a 5-10 minute trek up about 100’ vertical through open forest and up a ledge to the base of the long awaited White Slide.
This beast began at a small field of briars surrounded by dead softwoods. I peered to the top and saw an odd split in the trees where the slide apparently wrapped around the false summit’s southern flank. Ah, something to explore even after the real climb!
The initial slab was easy to access because of the grade, at least once you find a way around the small hump of anorthosite. Sandy nodules of garnet encrusted the white stone…a trait that was similar to a couple of Dix’ northern slides. This was a mixed blessing that added crystals for traction, but also shed bits of sand in the process. The wide slab was easy to traverse and provided fantastic views of the Sabre Tooth Slides and valley below.
We surveyed the approaching ledges during the ascent and guessed at possible route options. Wide strips of dark lichen and small clumps of dried moss striped the slide, but were easy to avoid…until they weren’t. This happened at an elevation of about 3,775’ or 300’ above the base. Wide open slab lay below as we approached the first of three challenges. The slab was, by now quite steep, nearing 40 or greater degrees at times.
The first difficulty came alongside a ledge that traversed the slide along a northwestern track. Initially, the ledge was wide enough that I couldn’t grab the top. Twenty feet higher, one of the moss bands of moss met the ledge. There was nothing to stop a fall if it turned to dust under our feet. Thus began a few calorie burning moments of holding ourselves in place to find purchase. I finally began to slowly work my way up the ledge inch by precious inch. One hand meagerly gripped the top while I used a finger jam on the bottom. My hands carried the pressure and lightened the load on my feet. A few minutes later, we’d worked our way over the strip and the ledge had narrowed to where I could hop up on the now clean stone.
Just feet higher, we had to cross left to avoid the steeper portions on its northern side. A short, but featureless traverse across the steep face led to another ledge. Fist jams aided the trek up to an area of ample hand and footholds. Multicolored iron stains draped the slab and its many depressions upon which we sat to catch our breath, control our adrenalin and refuel. Tranquil moments of wilderness reflection replaced desperate thoughts of, “Oh, crap, why are we doing this?”
Another ledge ascended the southern side to the final crux. An alternately convex then concave slope in the center of the, now narrow, slide held little feature. I climbed and tested it. My heart said that the quarter inch contours were enough to ensure safe purchase, but my mind fell to the conservative and I backed down and offered to climb around and throw a rope to Neil. Climbing around it involved belly crawling in some more moss with a substantial shelf of trees below to break a fall…which didn’t happen. I then used the trees at the release point as handhold and side stepped to rela