Duration: 12 hours; 6:15 a.m. – 6:15 p.m.
Benchmarks: Sawteeth/Pyramid col: 9:15 a.m., Rainbow Slide Base: 11:15 p.m., Summit: 2:15 p.m., True North Slide Base: 4:00 p.m., Garden: 6:15 p.m.
Route: 13 miles/~5,000 feet elevation gain. St. Huberts – Ausable Lakes via Lake Road – Pyramid/Sawteeth col – Pyramid/Gothics col – Descend to base of Gothics’ East Face – Summit via ledge route – Descend True North Slide to Garden.
Temperature: about 20’s Fahrenheit with 20-30 m.p.h. winds
Trail Conditions: packed snow-4” inches powder on trail, ice & deep snow on East Face.
Partners: MudRat, DeepForest
Diet: 2 brownies, starburst, powerbar, 2 e-gel, 3 litres water
Gear: Capilene, Columbia Titanium snow pants, Rain jacket (shell), Northface TKA100 micro-fleece, primaloft jacket while climbing Gothics, Black Diamond sabertooth crampons, BD viper & Charlet Moser Axar tools, Koflach Arctis boots, OR Absolute Zero mitts.
Pack Weight: 30-35 lbs.
VIDEO: No great music or harrowing action, but it will show a taste of what the area was like.
Vids by Anthony: #1
...portions with a little ice and alot of snow.
Introduction & Approach
My friend NP and I climbed Gothics East Face (Rainbow Slide)
last March beginning at the bottom slab and taking a straight line up an extended gully to the upper slopes and traversing right under a dramatic overhang. This was a derivation of the Goodwin-Stanley Route. The neve we enjoyed in 2012 was replaced with tiers of bare rock and a couple ramps of thin ice. It was difficult to see since wind driven snow and a low-lying cloud obscured line of sight navigation. Anthony and I instead, explored a zigzag route that started on the lowest pitch above the runout, traversed across its top, cut under the central slab face (on the right) before rejoining the central line. Instead of going right (Goodwin-Stanley Route...see Adirondack Rock)
, we ascended to the left of the summit overhang and experienced an arduous and exposed route with near vertical ledges. In the end, conditions dictated both the route and the challenges we faced. Here's our story...
We began our trek from St. Huberts at 6:15 a.m. after leaving a car at the Garden for a Rainbow Slide-True North Slide traverse. The Lake Road was on packed snow road...excellent for skiing. About three hours later we found ourselves at the Pyramid/Sawteeth col. I could already feel that my body hadn't fully recovered from Monday's climb up Pyramid due to mismanaged hydration. The wind gusted over the ridge on Pyramid's south face and I hoped we'd be protected on the east side…hoped being the key word. Views on the summit of Pyramid extended to the edge of the summit rock; no farther so we descended to the Pyramid/Gothics col where we'd begin our bushwhack. The trick is to stay between the more precipitous ledges on Pyramid's ridge on the right and the thick spruce adjacent to Gothics' east face.
Partway up the lower slab. Ledges in the distance can be seen from the trail.
We hesitated long enough to put on a waterproof shell. Anthony asked where we’d begin the bushwhack and I said, “Right about here,” before walking off trail in to the loosely knit trees. I recognized the pattern of opens spaces from last year. The descent is mild at first and then drops steeply for the duration. Snowshoes plunged a couple feet into the soft snow with only a few chest deep spruce traps. Glissades started mini avalanches in the more open bands of forest. Long wide stretches of treeless landscape make it one of the most delightful bushwhacks in the area.
The deep snow eased a bit as we approached some small slides at the bottom. Below 4,000 feet in elevation, runs of ice a hundred or more feet long lead over ledges so we circumvented to the left-hand side. We were, by now, following the exact route of last year. Open ledges on Pyramid’s ridge to the right were visible at this elevation, nearly vertical curtains of ice. By 11:15, about 20-30 minutes after exiting the col, we'd descended some 900 vertical feet and were changing gear at the bottom of the expansive lower slab of Gothics East Face.
The lower slab was 25-30 degrees and a solid field of ice. A few spots of bare stone broke through on occasion. Its wind polished surface held little snow except a few inches here and there. It was unconsolidated drift—so mistaking it as an aid to traction would be a costly mistake even on the low-angle ice. We had to kick in every step. This is one of the most dramatic areas of the slide, an area that’s surrounded by ridges and scalloped ledges. The wind and snow made it feel all-the-more remote.
At the top right of the lower slab, we entered a drifted gully that connects the lower face with the steeper mid-slide face of anorthosite. Three to four feet of snow in the drainage bogged us down. It didn’t contain any significant ledges like the adjacent gully we explored in 2012. None-the-less we took turns breaking to save energy…rather, I asked Anthony if he’d relieve me so I could catch my breath. We exited into a picturesque stand of birch and open field of virgin snow.
The face in front of us at this point wasn’t quite 200' tall, but is almost twice that wide. It offers some fifth class friction climbing in the summer. This day, it was mostly bare with some thin runs of ice and a bit of snow. The wind, now building from the east, blew blankets of snow across the bare face in dramatic waves like sand across an inclined beach. Progress along the base continued to be slow as we plunged through 2-3 feet of moderately consolidated drift toward the upper left-hand side of the face where it gently contoured down to meet the central line of the East Face. Crampons occasionally bit into ice, but usually scraped and then grabbed onto small variations in the face of the underlying stone.
DeepForest ascends diagonally up the bottom of the middle slab.
Nearing the center point of elevation gain we crossed over to the southern side of the slide where the climbing got more serious. Again, it was a field of polished yellow-brown ice with pockets of powder snow. Planting the crampon points firmly on each step was again critical as we worked up to a small shelf of conifers. The ice field plummeted about 200 feet down a 35 degree run. It would only get steeper over the next 400-500 vertical feet of elevation gain. Anthony commented like a good climbing partner to ensure I had my head about me—warning me to plant my feet carefully! There was some very thin ice and hidden rock mixed in to make it even more interesting. You’ve got to love the single-minded focus a climb like this creates.
The next pitch of note was at about 4,300 feet in elevation. The incline broke 40 degrees. I led, first cleaning some snow off the slope in front of me with the side my ax to see what lay beneath...bare stone. Testing gently nearby, I felt metal meet ice...better. Committing myself I followed up and left along a thicker ice flow that thinned about 40 feet later. I was again on 1/4 inch ice. I climbed toward an outcrop of trees and found a good place to photograph Anthony's ascent while I shook off my nerves. He basically sprinted the pitch…impressive!
Ascending 40 degree ice, a couple hundred feet below the ledges.
No camera tricks...it's this steep. This is the roof of the Rainbow Slide, perhaps 100' to the right of our line. An overhang lies just beyond this slab. By now the wind is driving snow onto the camera lens and clouds are settling in.
The wind driven snow seemed to increase with the pitch. A cloud had also settled on the peak so we could barely make out the stone 100’ away…so much for navigation by sight. I’d studied the network of ledges from afar over the previous week so I was fairly confident of its layout. I didn’t worry about our position so much as focus on the task. Route finding and solving problems is half the fun of this for me anyway.
Another pitch of breaking through deep snow (held fast by islands of spruce) led to the crux of the day—a series of nearly vertical ledges broken by sections of 50 degree slab. I was counting on the interspersed islands of trees to give us some natural protection. Thankfully Anthony broke “trail” through many of the snowier segments; my recent trip up Pyramid was catching up to me. I was tired, but revived after some e-gel, food and a brief rest.
We were soon staring up at a thirty foot tall ledge weighing the choices; a dihedral
on the right, three tiers of downward-sloping stone in the center or a steep ramp leading to a 5 foot vertical corner of ice and snow on the left. After attempting (and failing) on the dihedral, I traversed left to the corner. A good ax stick in the ice above and some careful front pointing cleared me of the obstacle. Anthony followed in good form. Nearby to our right, like a ghost in the clouds sat the roof of Gothics’ Rainbow Slide, a large bulge leading down to an overhanging roof. The pitched looked like about 75 degrees and was mostly free of ice. By now this was beginning to feel like a fight with the mountain rather than just a climb (we were still having a blast, thought).
What I considered the crux of the climb.
More exposed climbing led to what I consider the true crux of the climb. Hundreds of feet of slab lay below as we approached about 4,550 in elevation and a cliff band. Anthony climbed the 60+ degree slab, but shattered the thin ice in one section with his crampons. It was exposed to a long fall below. I briefly felt boxed in, but traversed left, putting myself between a large spruce and a nearly vertical section of ledge about 15 feet high. I stared at the thick ice flow. Small shelves of rounded ice tapered the 80 degree slope ever so slightly above the vertical curtain that rose to my shoulders. Anthony called from above in support. I said, "This may take some time."…I’m far from a vertical ice climber. I regained my composure and studied the setting; behind were several trees that would protect a fall to the slabs below. Above was the ice and higher was a thick band of krumholz. The first swing of the ax and bite of the front points of the crampons was all I needed for confidence. I climbed the rest fairly easily if not carefully. Pushing through the trees was harder especially in my tired form.
Some climbing through waist deep snow led to more 45 degree slab, mostly bare of ice. We climbed around and into more krumholz. A battle of less than 100 vertical feet led to an opening of the trees and the ridge path. Seventy-five feet to our right (and about 5 vertical feet higher) sat the summit. I think its proximity surprised us both. It was 2:15 p.m. and took us three hours of consistent climbing from the base.
True North Slide Descent
Since we had plenty of daylight left, we opted to take the True North Slide down to the Orebed Trail. I've been on it enough that it feels like my second home, though this was by far the iciest I've seen it. After descending the headwall backward using axes and crampons we met a group of four people on the ascent. A couple hundred feet of ice on the steepest parts led to deep snow as we followed along the braided trail of two snowboard tracks. The descent went without complication as we listened to the wind assaulting the peak high above. After a few more hours on trail, we arrived at the Garden at 6:15 p.m., 12 hours after our start.
I know we're still waiting on final confirmation, but congratulations to all this day who contributed to the effort to place a group on all of the 46 High Peaks for Winter Gathering 9!
Anthony in the thick of the bushwhack. The trail is near. This is about 30 vertical feet below the summit.