Summits: Basin NW, Haystack, Schofield Cobble, Skylight, Algonquin
Day 1: Johns Brook Lodge to Basin Brook bushwhack to Basin West Summit, bushwhack to trail (on contour). Trail to base of Haystack West Johannsen Face to summit. Summit to Panther Gorge camp.
Day 2: Trail to elevation…..bushwhack to drainage and Marcy SE (Phelps) Slide. Bushwhack to Schofield Cobble. Trail to Skylight. Trail to Uphill Brook Lean-to.
Day 3: Trail to Lake Colden and trail between Iroquois/Algonquin Col to 3100’ elevation. Bushwhack to Algonquin East (Elevator Shaft) Slide. Bushwhack over ridge to Algonquin SE (Bear Paw) Slide. Bushwhack to trail to summit to ADK Loj.
Trail Conditions: Dry. Portions sandy on trail.
Clothing: Golite Trail Running Shoes, Silk tights under Northface Rainpants, Nylon Long sleeved shirt,
Pack Weight:37 lbs.
Friday: 3 eggs, 2 packets emergenc, ½ big bar, 1 Linguini dinner, 6 starburst, 2 power bars, 1 chewy granola bar, 1 yogurt bar, 2 glucose packets, 5 litres water,
Saturday: 1 power bar, 1 chewy granola bar, 1 harvest grain energy power bar, ½ big 100 bar, 1 emergenc packet, 1 mac/cheese 2 person dinner 4 starburst, 1 chick/noodles, 5 litres water.
Sunday: 2 fruit smoothie powerbars, 1 pb harvest energy, 2 glucose tubes, 1 emergenc packet, 2 starburst, 1 chicken noodle dinner, 1 yogurt bar, 4 litres water.
This trip included, perhaps, one of the most fluid itineraries I’ve undertaken up to the point of leaving. Logistics constantly changed from those who would accompany me to the route itself. Logistics continued to be fluid even during the hike. In the end, I increased the intensity of day one, switched the starting day, changed the camping areas and starting point as well as exchanged slides and bushwhacks. I ended up soloing the route entirely. The largest wildcard of the trip was the energy required and duration of the Johannsen Face of Haystack. It had the potential to affect subsequent possibilities. I’d constructed conservative and best-case routes in hopes of the latter. Reality put me in the middle. It had been too long since I’d embarked on something really ambitious and wanted to get it out of my system for a bit.
I began at the Garden around six a.m. I held my pace back to prevent burning out too early, but still found myself at John’s Brook Lodge in an hour and twenty minutes. Water in most of the streams was very low. The deep pools in Johns Brook were still deep and harboring trout in the main current within. The lodge itself was hopping with hikers filling their bellies and readying themselves for the day as I passed and surveyed the Friday morning mob.
Bushnell Falls and Chicken Coop Brook came and went and I soon found myself nearing my first destination by 8:30 a.m.: the intersection of Basin Brook with the trail. A bit after the land flattened, two small drainages led to a third eight-foot wide dry streambed. Moss covered most of the rocks and the forest floor. The brook originated from the southwest, so that’s where I entered the woods. What began as open forest with young spruce quickly turned to horrendously tight growth and quickly vacillated back to open. The tight trees reminded me to lower the sleeves on my “bushwhacking” shirt. I’ve learned to always hike in long sleeves to keep the micro-cut collection at a minimum. These days it only looks like I got into a losing battle with a bobcat rather than a lion. Blow-down was present as expected, but not problematic.
About one half hour into the journey, I developed a sneaking suspicion that something was amiss, that I didn’t follow the right drainage. I was certain of my heading and that I was on the correct col as opposed to the one leading to Saddleback’s Chicken Coop Slide. The lay of the land just didn’t feel right. As I continued walking, I decided to strike due south for a bit and within minutes, my feelings were verified. The slide appeared, but farther south than I expected it. My mishap was actually a blessing that allowed me to snap some distant pictures of the slide through the trees. I kept walking south and eventually found the open drainage at 9:30 a.m. It was wide and clear of blow-down, at least at this elevation less than an eighth of a mile from the slide.
The southwest ascent up the drainage quickly began to veer south as I entered the slide’s rubble zone. The mess was largely composed of dirt, raspberry bushes and small birch with a narrow staircase of water-cleaned rock running up the center. I prayed for a nice harvest of raspberries for my growing hunger…I was granted only one to whet my appetite.
The slide was short (about 4,100’- 4,570’), but interesting which made up for the lack of difficulty. Its lower portion was ridden with ledges and an intrusion of rock that created another convenient diagonal staircase. Rubble, moss and small trees intermittently interrupted the slab on both the lower and middle portions. The dirtiest portion was around 4,300’. I’d guess the average degree of the lower/mid slide was around 30 degrees or less. In other words, it was an easy walk up. As a matter of fact the mid section lessens its pitch briefly before approaching the upper slabs and steep headwall. The first small pitch of the upper section was lined with small dikes and provided a nice perch for a break. As usual, the headwall was the steepest portion…about thirty feet in height, perhaps 70 degrees and spotted with moss. A walk to the left provided an exit route.
The weather forecast for the day was a toss up between a couple possible showers or just partly cloudy. This slide would have been easy if wet, but a bushwhack up Haystack was another story. I was concerned as I watched the clouds coalesce and break apart, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to summit the west knob when I was this close. It didn’t yield easily, though. It was a ledge riddled, cripplebrush-ridden push to the rounded top. Finally at 10:30, I was standing on the dual summit erratics. The immediate area around them was delightfully clear of trees. Upon looking at Basin’s proper summit to the southeast, I quickly decided to forego a bushwhack. Cliffs and a steep climb awaited and I didn’t want to sacrifice the time required. I’d bushwhacked Basin last year, so I had nothing to prove to myself. I did, however, need to get to the trail and the closest way was due south through the trees. I also needed to decide if Haystack was an option based on the weather.
The southeast side of the summit underfoot was a forty-foot vertical wall. I scurried along the top of it through the blueberries, none of which were ripe, and found a way down to the north and into the col…the very thick col. The cliff, now loomed above, composed of interesting layers of anorthosite. A particularly large fracture cave dominated one area. After a few pics, I dove into the trees, which thankfully loosened slightly as I followed the southern heading. I did, however, suddenly loose sight of the sun as I fell into a hole or off a ledge…not sure which. Ledges interrupted intermittently after the first half-hour and forced me off contour, though only slightly. I wanted to stay at the same elevation to intersect the path most expeditiously. Forty-five tiring minutes later (11:30 a.m.), I was dining on a powerbar surveying Haystack and the storm clouds just beyond Marcy.
If anyone has read any of Neil’s Haystack accounts (on adkhighpeaks.org), they’ll know this face is not easy. It’s over 1,700’ of ledges, downward growing trees (mostly cedar at first), moss, some slab and cripplebrush (3,281’ – 4,961’). He nicknamed the last route Johannsen’s Colon. I suppose since I was starting in the main drainage, this could be called Johannsen’s Sinus? My plan from 2007 was to descend to where the Little Haystack/Haystack drainage intersected the trail. I’d ideally begin the ascent in the stream and then cut southwest directly toward the summit via one of the extended segments of slab (and subsequent bushwhack). The slab I had in mind was just north of a small ridge.
I was still concerned, even as I refilled at Haystack Brook, that I would be thwarted again by a situation beyond my control, weather. The clouds looked dark overhead and storm clouds appeared to be building. I didn’t want to be stuck on a steep 1,700’ exposed climb in a gale this time. I desperately wanted to make the attempt, however. I knew getting out of the drainage could be a challenge from Neil and Randomscooter’s attempt that landed them on Little Haystack. Call me picky, but I didn’t want to ‘whack Little Haystack this day.
In retrospect, I made three errors that made the day harder. The bushwhack up Basin didn’t add strength. My route then took me 800’ down the ledge and ladder ridden trail from the old Snowbird Lean-to site. The steep descent is interesting, but a leg burner. I then did something that set a pattern to the day. I misjudged and started on the wrong drainage…again! As the trail leveled and became swampy, I crossed a couple little brooks and found a 6’ wide moss covered stream (sound familiar?). It converged with Haystack Brook at the trail and I assumed it was my goal. I could even see the target slide waiting for me high above. After the customary pics, at 12:45 p.m., I pushed upward into the maw of the beast.
The trees were tight and the blow-down only increased with each step. As a matter of fact, I ascended for about 10 minutes on nothing but blow-down…one log after another placed conveniently, one partially-rotten bridge after another (as long as my balance held). Actually, it was probably this situation that allowed me to correct my error. I could see an extended opening through the trees to the south down a bank. I rolled my eyes and diverted my course to intersect what I hoped would be the real drainage. Indeed it was…nice and clean to boot!
I ascended for no more than a few yards when I saw a rivulet of water coming down the steep ledges from the southwest. I connected the dots and I knew the slide was above. This was certainly draining from the slabs I wanted to find. The problem was that the way up was a near vertical small ravine of stepped and fractured rock surrounded by the normal tree growth of the area. Perfect!
This quickly led to Haystack hell. My little staircase led straight to a ledge wall too precipitous and wet to climb. I maneuvered to the right and found myself in a tangle of downward growing cedar. It was fortuitous, however, since it enabled me to climb and crawl up an area on a nearby ledge. The crawling was to become a pattern as I slowly climbed ledge after ledge broken up only by steep pushes through the trees. It quickly exhausted me. I also noticed that the trees were playing the old “how many times can I scratch the same cut game”. I broke one of their limbs as payback.
Anyway, an hour passed before I realized that I should be close to the slide. I didn’t want to parallel it in the brush and come out too high. I consulted a picture that I’d printed and decided to veer north toward an opening in the trees. My feet met the lowest portion of the slide and I breathed a sigh of relief. The elevation was about 3,850, roughly 600’ higher from when I started, yet still not as high as the Snowbird site. Little Haystack looked down from high above. I’d a long way to go and I felt small in such towering features all around.
It was good steep slab, mildly pitted from the elements and thankfully dry. It was far from smooth, but not as rough as I’d hoped. Also, an evil reddish-brown caste told me that it would be very slippery in the rain, which had decided not to come after all. Strong gusts of wind felt good with my exertion. The slab was occasionally broken by a small crack or ledge at various intervals. Most dominant, was a large flat ledge on the south side near the top of the slab. The most interesting features, though, were magnificent views of Basin’s Amphitheatre, the Great Range and a perspective of Little Haystack that could be seen from nowhere else. It was a grand day on the face, but not one I’d want to repeat anytime soon.
The largest areas of slab ended at about 4,150 when it began to bottleneck in the grasses and trees. A narrow path of slick wet anorthosite still allowed me to avoid the trees for a bit, but it became harder and harder as I gained elevation. The same heading through the trees would eventually take me directly to the summit. To make matters worse, the drainage I was followed grew increasingly more concave with each step. This is where the cripplebrush began. Put differently, it got a good bit steeper and the trees fought hard to keep me down. A small area of exposed rock would occasionally give me some respite and an excuse to eat a snack. Only the amazing views and the knowledge that I would eventually win against the mountain distracted me. From slab top to summit, it took a full hour, much of the time on all fours. Finally, after a total of two and a half hours, at 3:15 p.m., I sat in the shelter of several erratics on the summit. The wind gave me no break and battered me if I left my little alcove. I took only enough time to eat, drink and soak in the day’s events before heading off to camp. I said a prayer of thanks that the weather cooperated.
I took my time slowly walking to Panther Gorge, my intended camp. Upon arrival at about 4:40 p.m., the lean-to was taken as were several of the tent sites. I set up my tarp and bivy in one of the southernmost sites and set to refilling my water supply and fixing dinner. The remainder of the day was really just spent enjoying the breeze and low temps that dipped into the lower 50’s by 6:00 p.m. I was hardly alone, as a junko spent the better part of four hours giving me a tongue lashing for, presumably, being too close to her nest. Darkness hushed her grievances as I settled in and solidly slept until around seven the next morning when day 2 of slide exploring would begin.
Sleeping attire for all nights was: tights, fleece bottoms, wicking top, 2 pairs of socks, bivy sack, 40 degree sleeping bag.
I wasn’t concerned about an early wake up since I was less than a mile from my next target, Marcy’s Southeast Slide (aka Phelps Slide). I had planned to ‘whack that then descend and bushwhack Skylight, but decided to leave well enough alone and enjoy a more leisurely day. I also wanted to ensure that the sun was already on the slabs for pictures…plus I was a just plain lazy.
The SE slide was a wide swath of slides, some with unique and some with combined trigger points. The ones closest to either side were well defined while the ones in the center tended to be broken a bit more with islands of vegetation. The eastern two slides seemed to have the steepest ascents especially as they gained elevation. I wanted to ascend from the east, climb then cut across to the upper center portion and explore the top. The plan was to then cut diagonally down near the bottom of the defined slide that commenced from Schofield Cobble and bushwhack that nub.
After packing and topping off my water by 7:50 a.m., I walked a mere ten minutes to the first sweeping bend in the west trail up to the four corners. The woods were comfortably loose for the next ten minutes, though littered with ancient blow-down. I was soon on a drainage from the Marcy/Skylight col, but a little too high to see the lower drainage from the Phelps Slide. A one-minute walk down the clear drainage allowed me to see a clearing through the woods, which led in the direction of the lower wall of the eastern slide. It was now 8:10 a.m. and a quick walk through the woods put me on the correct path…a drainage about six feet in width.
I quickly met my first choice of the day when I saw the beginning of the far eastern slab. The low wall that I saw from Haystack wasn’t connected to this slab. I wanted to eat breakfast at the wall and, so, passed the entrance to the first slab. The main flow of water, just a trickle, also came from the second wider slab. The woods quickly opened and I climbed a series of open ledges to eat. Moss and small trees grew in the cracks as usual. The area was about 100’ wide and offered several choices for ascent. I chose one, climbed a bit and had breakfast…soaking in the view of Haystack’s west side and its small steep slides.
The top of the initial wall led quickly into another fifteen minute bushwhack. I berated myself for not taking the first slab as I pushed through and eventually found the rubble zone of the second slide. A set of animal prints led the way. I watched as the vibration of my own footsteps collapsed the defined sides of the tracks. I took another break on the top of the first steep pitch. The anorthosite was heavily pitted with small protruding crystals, both horizontal and vertical cracks and other handholds. In addition, it was free of lichen an moss, so it was easy to climb.
The slab the rest of the way to the top was primarily weathered and scaling in spots. This led to interesting ledges and layers that collected the morning shadows. The layering increased in the top third. I reached the top at 9:30 a.m. and bushwhacked west across a short strip of cripplebrush.
I exited onto the grass and observed the character of the third section. It was narrow and heavily covered in moss with a slightly lower angle. I climbed the remainder of this section, only a dozen yards higher and walked to the third section after, again, crossing some vegetation. This was defined by layers heavy flaking slab and only slightly wider. As I climbed, I quickly reached a seven-foot ledge. Its vertical edge was pitted and shallowly layered. It offered no way for me to easily climb it so I followed the base until it decreased in height. A tree aided me over the edge.
It was nearing 10:15 a.m. as I reached the center of the portion that connects the central collection of slides at the top. Again, the slab became clean and traction sure. This was a more exposed section, but far from precarious. The angle was around 35 degrees and scattered trees and carpets of grass littered both to the sides and below. Small grooves of white, cleaned by flowing water had, over time, eroded into the darker surface of the slab. As I looked down the rolling slab, it appeared that someone had poured an opaque paint on a gray/brown pallet and let it run.
Throughout my crossing, usually at each new section, I’d take a break and either drink or simply soak in the view of Haystack’s western side. Its features became illuminated as the sun rose in the sky. The southernmost slides near the bottom, although steep look navigable after a mild bushwhack from the trail to Panther Gorge. I made a mental note for a future trip.
Once I crossed the central portion, it was time to descend, but continue west toward the lower slab of the narrow slide leading to Schofield Cobble. As I descended, I noticed a small pool of water at its base, filled from the trickle of water down an adjacent slide close to me. I’m always amazed at the little creations that slides can harbor. The running water filled a rectangular pool created by a rift in slab sections and several large stones. Small birch trees laid claim over the oasis.
From the oasis, I quickly made it over to the longest western slide. It was narrow and again changed in character from the eastern or central portions. It was close to the ridge from which it originated rather than the flank of the mountain. The first pitch is a long section of open slab, a bit smoother than the east side but easy to climb. As the elevation increases, the character becomes defined by sections of rolling ledges and finally two larger sharply defined ledges that I decided to climb around rather than over. The top is again open, but wet and narrow until it bottlenecks into a small stream and the bushwhack portion of the climb.
I envisioned a slightly more open trek at the top, but the bushwhacking gremlins had their way with me and I found myself in tight woods once again. Mossy ground sucked the energy from my legs as I climbed seemingly forever upward without a view of the cobble. Over thirty minutes of hard labor later I gained a good view of the cliffs and the cripplebrush maze by which I’d scale it. I was trying to ‘whack directly to the overlook and overshot it by a few hundred feet, yup, a good fifteen minutes of wasted effort when all was said and done. My overestimation allowed me to climb angularly from the base directly below the cobble to the overlook rather than straight up. I don’t know if this really helped in the long run as it was all near vertical. It was also hungry…it tore the lower portion of my trekking pole out of the top portion which I noticed while resting on the overlook at about 12:20 p.m.
I needed a bit of rest, so I climbed Skylight via the trail. The summit was mildly windy, but the eastern side harbored some nice calm nooks. I spent nearly two hours relaxing and talking to some of the people on the summit. I needed to rest my legs for the assault on Algonquin the following day. Around 3 p.m. I made my way slowly to Uphill Brook Lean-to and arrived around 5:00 p.m.
I spent the evening, after unpacking at the vacant Uphill Brook Lean-to, climbing the waterfall and slabs of Uphill Brook. For those who have climbed Redfield, there’s an incredible waterfall after about ½ mile on the left. It’s actually a 3 tributary waterfall made of huge chunks of stone. The main tributary is closest to the path. A small trickle of water was coming down the second, which is hidden from sight on the backside of central boulder set. The third tributary looks like an overflow tributary and is even farther set back uphill. My mac and cheese dinner was eaten on the slabs above, all very dry from the low water levels. I reflected upon the day and realized that Marcy's SE slides are in my top 5.
Mark L showed up at the lean-to about 2 a.m. to hike the following day, but he popped a calf muscle ¼ mile before the lean-to. Not a good thing. It was nice to have the company after two days of climbing.
I awoke several times, never quite as physically comfortable in a lean-to as on the soft earth of a good site. The final wake up was by a female chipping sparrow and a chick calling for breakfast. They scurried about the area and even below the front of the shelter. I was sitting up watching quietly when the female bounced into the lean-to, jumped around my feet and between Mark and I picking morsels from between the floorboards.
After she left, I readied myself and was trail worthy by 7:20 a.m. I again checked to see if Mark wanted company for his hobble out, but he, again, denied. My body was quite tired and Mark’s injury put a bit of a gloomy cloud over the day…I was really looking forward to his company, but I pressed on determined to try and complete my three-day goal set. The Opalescent River was as low as I’ve seen it. The incredible gorge through which it flows set off the gentle cascades in the early morning sun. Details of the stone, often hidden by higher water levels, were now revealed.
I arrived at Lake Colden Dam at around 9:30 a.m. and had breakfast in the warm sun. It was so relaxing that I contemplated skipping Algonquin’s slides…but only for a moment. Another mile found me ascending the steep trail leading to the Boundary/Algonquin col. I only needed to walk to about 3,100’ feet in elevation between two ridges and follow the drainage…simple. I began as planned and a few minutes later entered the woods, thick clinging woods. I looked at the contour map and decided that I’d gone slightly too far and needed to descend to the drainage.
Every so often I saw what looked like where the drainage should be. The trees vacillated between thick and open sections. After twenty minutes, I questioned myself and looked at the gps. I didn’t have time to dilly dally as the clouds looked threatening and above awaited unknown slab. I called myself various names when I realized I was only feet away from the trail between Avalanche Lake and Lake Colden. Seconds later I was walking back to the intersection to contemplate reclimbing the col trail. I was frustrated, tired and grumpy. I needed a break to reassess. I even contemplated making an early retreat to the trailhead and resting the rest of the day.
Mentally, I was bordering on my limits of enjoying the hike and it becoming tedious and all-together frustrating. Physically, I was nearing my limit and I just burned one half hour’s energy on an oversight. I took in some sugar, which helped clear my mind. I decided to try and find the proper drainage. I’d check the weather at that point and decide on an action. I could bail out any time until on the slab. So, once again, I climbed the same ledges and stone steps until I was beyond where I entered the woods forty-five minutes earlier. I crossed and recrossed the stream until I was on the trail following along the left side. I saw another small stream paralleling it and also saw Avalanche Mountain in its proper place relative to where I thought it should be for the bushwhack. As the path veered away I followed the main stream and then the a right-hand branch that veered slightly away.
Three minutes later I was on the edge of the swamp, now a meadow with tall grass. The right-hand site held a little water, fed by a winding mud-bottomed stream that wound like a brown serpent hidden from sight until you stumbled upon it. The dry conditions were ideal to simply walk across the soft moss around the ridge to the southeast. Hidden from sight and inset into the mountain was my goal the SE (Elevator Shaft) Slide. As I again reached the edge of the marsh, the mud-bottomed stream gained a little elevation and took on hints of a mountain stream…lots of rocks, most covered with moss at first.
I quickly gained elevation and the rocks became boulders. Labradorite was plentiful in the area, its blue hues playing in the intermittent sun. The boulders eventually forced me back into the woods to circumvent and large ledge choked with room-sized rubble. Huge chunks of anorthosite and a distant opening promised that I was nearing the base about twenty minutes later. It appeared that one of the chunks had fallen from the face and cracked in the center. Others formed a small pool at the bottom of the most awesome sight I’d seen all year: the sheer wall that yielded its namesake. It was 10:30 a.m. as I stared at the spectacle.
Words can’t describe and pictures just don’t do the hulking wall justice. I’d guestimate the height at over 100’ of near vertical anorthosite fractured like in straight lines with a diagonal trap dike that is technical in nature. The trap rock was not eroded below the surface much if at all. It can only be compared to the base of Marcy’s east face slide. The southern wall was ledgy and gained vegetation the farther from center my eye moved. The opposite side was sheerer and had sharper lines. The central shaft portion was sheered in beautifully straight lines. The rubble below once had a home overlooking Colden. I knew, I had no hope of climbing the wall, so I chose my bushwhack…up the left side I went.
The bushwhack or actually crawl through the woods reminded me of last year’s route around Marcy’s east face crevasse. It took forty-five minutes on all fours to get up to the top. The precipice was always just a few yards away as I used trees to pull myself upward and over the blowdown, ledges and through the tight growth. A ten-foot ledge signaled the top and I followed the base to the right and onto the top of the slab at 11:00 a.m. The main flow of water obviously drained over a channel on the side that I climbed and down the dike to the bottom. Colden’s Trap Dike and slide series was even with me as I looked through the thickening air.
If the bottom was amazing the slide proper was anticlimactic. It’s slope fell to a minimum and it was host to moss and small birch. A hundred feet upward the slope decreased to nearly level, but filled with hundreds of linear feet of blowdown and debris from the three branch slides above. I immediately regretted walking over the rotting pile of balance beams and not around them. I was only about six feet above the ground, but it a fall could be painful. Even large logs threatened to break underfoot. I spotted open slab after ten minutes of log hopping.
The central slide portion is a series of ledges with occasional intrusions of other minerals. The ledges were wide and served as the common connector to the diverging slides a couple hundred feet away. It was a dirty area of rubble, soil and vegetation reclaiming the area. All portions of the slide from the top of the shaft were climbable in wet or dry weather due to pitch and its granular surface.
My upcoming bushwhack route entered the trees from the southwestern most slide so I didn’t bother to explore the other two. This marked the first truly open slab of the day and was an easy walk straight up. Veins of garnet bulged slightly above the mean surface. The top of the slide increased in slope to the normal 35 or 40 degrees. The central slide was connected to the one I climbed at the top. Upon exploration, it looked nearly identical in nature, but with a bit more growth. The combined view of Colden and Lake Colden over Algonquin’s ridge made the climb worth the effort though the clouds were still tightening their grip.
The next portion was the final extended bushwhack of the trip and began about 11:40 a.m. I planned to walk to the south slide (Bear Claw) and meet its slab low then cross trek to the top and bushwhack to the summit. It required directional changes as I rounded the ridge. The plan seemed good on paper…it always does.
The woods were similar to most at that elevation. Blowdown was troublesome close to the slide but declined as I moved away. It was simply a matter of maintaining my energy with sugar to maintain the push through the trees. After twenty minutes, I checked the gps and found myself lower than I wanted so I redirected. The problems began as I was always needing to go a little more west than I actually did in reality. My correction placed me too high twenty minutes later when I decided to stay on contour to meet the slab…anywhere. The story continues as so many tiring ‘whacks do until I saw what looked like a break in the treetops a few dozen yards below. I’d trusted my eyes a couple times and they betrayed me, so I decided to add one more leap of faith. It was a good guess. At 12:45 p.m., I found myself standing on the upper eastern portion of the Bear Claw. It was steeper than I imagined…and mossier where I sat down.
My errors cost me an extra half hour in the woods and I bypassed the lower eastern most slide portions. They were really a mixture of slab and islands of trees. I decided that a summit bushwhack was out of the question and focused on how to attack the slide from on high. I first descended to a shelf of grass and climbed west on contour to take pictures of the now open slab, much of which was free of moss and rough underfoot. I then made the decision to climb higher since I was already over halfway up.
My conservative side fought my desire to play and I cautiously found crack after crack to hold myself in place from sliding or tumbling down the hundreds of feet of slab below as I made my way to a larger island of bushes. A quick skirt around and up allowed me to surmount the convex final pitch. Certain areas around the headwall seemed to reach beyond 40 degrees. Above lay the “claws” of the slide. Upon exploration, they were really filled in with grass and wet moss as the slope decreased down a bit. The wet mosses solved another problem. I was almost out of water. The top layer of moss was saturated which allowed me to squeeze and drink the sweet tasting water and rejuvenate my body. I’d been rationing since the start of the bushwhack.
The slide and trail nearly touch near the bottom west slab. This was my goal and consequently the easiest entrance point for those wanting to do the slide without a bushwhack from the SE slide. It was a simple descent from the western “claw” to the exit point and a bushwhack of no more than about 100’. Cracks, divots, vegetation shelves and the rough surface made the descent easy. I couldn’t help but stop at various times just to look at the slab to the east and Mt. Colden beyond. It was a picturesque view.
I reached the trail at 1:45 p.m. I’d only a few mouthfuls left in my nalgene bottle and less in the water bladder on my back. I’d rationed it for the climb up to the summit. If I jumped up and down, I was able to pull a quarter mouthful out of the bladder on occasion…there must have been a tiny amount in the bottom, but the pack contents were compressing and creating a dam against easily sucking the liquid from within. I needed only climb to the col, up Algonquin and down to one of the cascades past the Wright intersection. I needed to climb to gain a cell signal to call my wife for a ride home or I’d just have gone downhill to the stream for a refill.
The climb was slow and eventful. A blackburnian warbler and purple finch kept me company on the other side, bouncing parallel with the path amongst the trees. I reached the trailhead at 4:55 p.m. and ended three perfect days of slide climbing.