Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Slide Climbing: Mt. Marcy Grand Central Slide

Greg Kadlecik stand on top of the waterfall of Grand Central Slide. Most people who know me are familiar with my fascination with Panther Gorge. Its isolated location draws me annually like a moth to a flame. The site is home to some of the most intriguing and rugged Adirondack terrain—technical cliffs, beaver ponds, tranquil streams, shadowy talus fields and a beautiful slide that sparked my initial curiosity.

If you have climbed Mt. Haystack then you may be familiar with Grand Central slide, at least from a distance. This predominantly southeastern aspect slide delineates the east face slab from the steeper cliffs farther north in the gorge. Its release point begins in a sea of dense evergreens near the crest of Marcy’s southeast ridge. It ends 700 vertical feet below at the top of a cliff split by a right-leaning crevasse with a waterfall. Like nearly all venues in the gorge, the view from its curving track surpasses words.

Exploring this remote route up New York’s highest peak takes perseverance, navigational skill and a love of bushwhacking. Expect to claw your way for at least to hours through dense krummholz to reach the summit.

Round-trip distance:   18.25 miles
Total elevation gain: 5,600  feet
Distance to slide:   9.75 miles
Length of slide:  1,400 feet
Elevation gain:  725 feet
Maximum Width:  50 feet
Exit:  Punishing bushwhack to summit

Approach

Park at the Adirondack Loj and hike to 4-Corners via Lake Arnold. From 4-Corners between Mt. Skylight and Marcy, descend over a mile to Marcy Brook in the south end of Panther Gorge. During the descent, you’ll pass the Old Slide on the south side of Marcy. This historic slide was used by Orson “Old Mountain” Phelps as he guided people up to the mountain during the 1800’s. Once at the bottom of the gorge, a single lean-to and several nearby campsites make ideal locations for an overnight stay.

The bushwhack begins from the intersection of Marcy Brook and the trail. Grand Central Slide-Forest Ranger Scott van Laer near the central section of the slide.Navigate along the brook as it meanders north into the gorge between Marcy and Haystack; be sure to follow the brook right at the first fork lest you end up at the base of the Old Slide. After a little over ½ mile, Grand Central becomes visible to the northwest. The stream-bed becomes noticeably narrower as it approaches the drainage of Grand Central Slide. The narrow (a few feet wide) drainage enters from the left at roughly 3,500 feet in elevation.

The slide drainage stream gets wider over its 900-foot long course through areas of mossy forest, blowdown, erratics and talus. Follow it up to the base of the cliff at 3,850 feet in elevation. The route to the slide lies slightly downstream, but  it’s worth taking the time to visit this backcountry jewel. Overhanging walls and a 100’ high waterfall add context to the words “rugged and beautiful”.

Access the slide by descending a couple hundred ground feet from the waterfall and bushwhacking slightly south to a recent (2011) debris field. This is located at the bottom right-hand side of Marcy’s East Face between the slab and the waterfall. Scramble up the vegetated ledges, bedrock and cedars near the top of the debris field. Trend right after about 200 vertical feet of elevation gain to intersect the slide above the cliffs. Caution: do not to end the bushwhack too soon or your first step will be from a 100-foot drop.

Mt. Marcy Grand Central SlideSlide Proper

The slide begins just above the lip of the waterfall on an exposed platform that seems to draw you into the valley; not a place to be careless in your footing. As a matter of reference, the chimney you viewed from below descends along the overhanging wall to the south. Tilted terrain and a stunning profile of the northern edge of Marcy’s East Face cliffs make the landscape feel askew. Across the way lies an inspiring view of Mt. Haystack.

From the cliff top, climb a steep blocky ledge to a diagonal gully, one of the most picturesque areas of the slide. Once away from the edge of the precipice, there’s little sense of exposure due to the narrow slide track. The quality of the stone is excellent with limitless hand and footholds.

Blocky slab, small corners, stepped dikes and rough bedrock create a mixed bag of textures under foot. The steepest areas of the slide are grouped in short segments–no sustained pitches. The slide decreases slope and becomes more vegetated after an obvious right-leaning dike about halfway up. Beyond, it opens up as the stone becomes more heavily stepped—your personal stairway in the wilderness. A small unnamed slide formed during 2011 (mainly comprised of ledges, but fun none-the-less) nearly intersects Grand Central from the south. This offers a brief diversion from the main track should you have the ambition and curiosity!

The slide soon becomes wider as it transitions to mainly rubble. A large boulder at 4,300 feet in elevation coincides with its gentle arc toward the south. Take care not to loosen any stones on yourself or your partner(s). The final pitch is a mixed climb up loose rubble, boulders, soil and sand until it terminates in a narrow gulley at about 4,500 feet in elevation.

Exit

The bushwhack up to the summit is punishing, but if you’re on this adventure then you’ve likely anticipated this. Gain the crest of the ridge and follow it up. There is no herd-path, so the routes are as varied as one’s imagination. It takes a strong bushwhacker around two hours to navigate the ½ mile distance through unrelenting balsam and spruce. From the summit, descend back to the Loj via the Van Hoevenberg Trail or turn the trip into a traverse to St. Huberts, Elk Lake or Upper Works depending on where you have placed a second vehicle.

Grand Central Slide mosaic.
All photos by author unless otherwise noted. Top, Greg Kadlecik at the top of the waterfall above Panther Gorge. Photo 2, Forest Ranger Scott van Laer on the central section of the slide. Photo 3, aerial of the east face with approach from Marcy Brook. Note the differences between this and the bottom photo–the lower right-hand side of the east face slab was deforested by a rockfall and a small slide near the top of Grand Central was added. Photo 4, reference photo with insets featuring Mark Lowell.


Special thanks to Mark Lowell for his companionship during my first exploration of this slide.

Additional resources on Grand Central Slide

Note: Slide climbing is dangerous. A fall can result in serious injury or even death, and help may be hours away. Slide climbers should be familiar with off-trail navigation, comfortable with high-angle scrambling, and prepared for backcountry emergencies. Novices should climb with an experienced slide climber or licensed guide.


Kevin "MudRat" MacKenzie

Kevin MacKenzie is an Adirondack writer and photographer, licensed to guide in NY state and is associate registrar at St. Lawrence University. He lives in the Lake Placid area with his wife, Deb (also a freelance photographer). His articles and photographs have been featured such magazines and journals as Adirondack Journal of Environmental Studies, Adirondac, Adirondack Life and Adirondack Outdoors. Many of Kevin and Deb's photographs are featured on the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge and Rehabilitation Center's website.

Kevin is an avid slide climber, rock/ice climber, winter forty-sixer and member of Climbing for Christ. His passion for slides and backcountry technical climbing takes him to some of the most remote backcountry areas in the High Peaks. Kevin has climbed over 100 of the area's slides during all seasons. His website and Summitpost forum page contain trip reports and photos from many of his explorations.




One Response

  1. NoTrace says:

    And who knows what bodies lie undiscovered in the netherworld of Panther Gorge?