Soul Free (5.9 X) on Big Slide Mountain

Soul Free (5.9 X) on Big Slide Mountain

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 44.18155°N / 73.87055°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Sep 15, 2018
Activities Activities: Trad Climbing
Seasons Season: Summer


A Little History

Guide Orson S. Phelps (ca. late 1800's) wrote detailed accounts related to various topics on the Adirondack Mountains. This included detail weather conditions and slide creations. The following is a quote from The Rivers and Brooks of the Adirondacks, part of the Orson Schofield Phelps Collection at the Adirondack Research Library of Union College. The text relates to the face of Big Slide Mountain, the slide's creation, in fact. I’ve left his words exactly as he wrote them.


The big slides on the north side of Johns Brook this came down in 1830 and is the most extensive slide known. It started from Slide Mt was what gave the Mt its name. It apparently carried the greatest mass of debris to the main valley of Johns Brook of any slide that ever moved. It swept everything in its way for 3 miles 20 or 30 rods wide and when it came to the main brook it passed over it and piled up its mass of debris over acres from 20 to 40 ft high that was left there in a mass to decay.

Stepping back a few months...I never dreamed of climbing this until ranger Scott van Laer asked me to lead him up a route. We turned the thought into a reality during June of 2018. The 5.9 YDS rated climb called Freudian Slip seemed like the most reasonable route even if it was a bit stiffer than he originally wanted. A rescue call came in as we were preparing to rappel from its top. I had time to take several photographs of the large ledge (overlap) that cuts down the face.



Hunting a New Route

The June trip fanned the flames of curiosity and drew me back with Adam Crofoot and Alan Wechsler on September 15. I had a new line in mind and hoped to break through the overlap to the top of the face. Things don’t always go as planned, but that is part of the process. The result of our trip yielded a new route, but something different than I originally envisioned.

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We left the Garden Trailhead at 5:15 a.m. and found ourselves hiking in humid conditions. Vapors were still clinging to the summit at 8:30 when we arrived at the slide’s base. The stone was dry, but I had little desire to climb on unknown terrain in a hanging cloud. I wanted to be able to see every detail—near and far. We relaxed and talked for around an hour before racking up.

While we waited, I studied the face and talked with Adam about the features. It looked similar to Freudian Slip—60+ degrees with a few small features for hands and feet. A left rising overlap/corner high above was the dominant feature of the pitch, an area where there was ample protection. I knew the first “bit” would be somewhat runout; something I’m comfortable with though I didn’t imagine the reality of the situation from the base. This line was my “bright idea,” so I volunteered to lead the first of what I hoped would be three pitches.

The line started roughly 50’ left of Freudian Slip and about 10’ to the right of Mustard Sandwich at a large flake. With a deep inaudible sigh (I think), I started up the flake and placed a solid piece to protect Adam who was on belay. If I fell, he’d be protected. The knobs and small edges looked easy enough to connect from below. Make no mistake, the features were small so climbing was a delicate dance, but I felt confident. Twenty or thirty feet above the cam, I found myself at the point of no return. I couldn’t safely down-climb. Somewhere in this area, I placed a micro-cam behind a fragile overlap; a pointless exercise as falling would have torn the flake off. Adam later described the protection as “pure garbage.”

I hunted for an ideal set of edges directly to the bottom of the corner. I marked a few divots and bumps with chalk and tried a couple of moves to the left, but the only “safe” line seemed to trend right—away from the corner. Adam wondered where I was going as did I for a few moments, but I noticed larger knobs of feldspar up high near the right side of the block/corner. I simply needed to be patient, breath, and maintain a level head while crimping my way up to them.

Time slowed and the lead seemed to take forever, but Adam later said it went fairly quickly. I felt only calm focus as I reached the relative security of the larger knobs. I was about 8’ right of the corner…and 65’ above my last piece of protection on 5.9 YDS slab. The risk/reward ratio was far higher than anything I’ve attempted in the past…and higher than I’ll allow in the future. I was comfortable and “in my element,” but there was no margin for error, and a quick dizzy spell or loose flake would have consequences.

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I carefully traversed the slab to the bottom of a small roof/overlap. I then traversed left by underclinging and placed protection. The feature was a couple of feet thick, 10’ high and wide. How it was attached to the face is unknown. Was it in place strictly by its weight or attached by an area that I couldn’t see? A small tree grew on its top. Above was right rising arch with a hand-crack underneath. I reveled in the feeling of being able to protect the route easily. The slab was somewhat dirty, but there were enough edges for feet where it wasn’t annoying (at least to me). One hundred and thirty feet higher, I set up an anchor at an obvious roof.

Adam climbed next. His movements were fluid as he “connected the dots” and reached my position. “Nice lead,” he said. I sighed and said, “Remind me that that is my limit on x-rated slab.” Alan followed in the third position.

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I’ll take a break here and note that without fixed protection, first 70' is not a safe lead. If you slip for any reason, you fall to the ground. It is a lovely climb, however, so an alternative strategy is to climb Mustard Sandwich to the roof and set up a top rope. Include a couple of directionals near the midpoint of the rising arch.

Pitch two would have led over the roof if it was viable. I offered the lead to Adam noting that I needed to get my head back on straight. He traversed right and intersected the Mustard Sandwich route. The best photos of the day were thanks to Alan. Adam assumed a position on the overlap in search of a good line. The options included following 20-30’ of Mustard Sandwich and then continuing on new terrain to a crack in the overlap or taking the line up over the roof which would involve cleaner, but unprotected rock with a potential fall on the anchor. The continuation of Mustard looked horrendously overgrown. We ended the route, Free Soul (5.9 X) after 130’ at the roof and rappelled.

Our day was not over, however. Alan wanted to lead Freudian Slip. I was finished leading and looked forward to following the route again. Thus he led the 200’ line with Adam and I in tow on separate ropes. The clouds had long since lifted, so we enjoyed stellar views of the Great Ranged and relaxed.Alan quipped, “So why the 5:00 a.m. start?” I snickered, and Adam retorted, “To beat the crowds.” I’ll concede that we didn’t need to start quite as early, but time allows options. We took advantage of the extra time and strolled up to the summit (where dozens of midges mauled me) before exiting over the Brothers. A quick rain shower cooled us as we approached the Garden and ended the day with plenty of daylight to spare.

Adam on the roof/corner of Mustard Sandwich.
Adam on the roof/corner of Mustard Sandwich.
Scouting from the top--a good example of the slope.
Scouting from the top--a good example of the slope.


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