Saturday, October 22, 2016

Slide Climbing: Giant Mountain’s Diagonal Slide

Giant Mountain Diagonal Slide

Giant Mountain’s Eagle and Bottle slides are two of the most commonly climbed slides on the mountain. There are, however, at least eight other major tracks worth the effort.

One, the Diagonal Slide, lies directly between the remnants of the Question Mark Slide and Bottle Slide. This smaller yet more challenging brother to the Bottle lies on the northwest side of the same ridge. With a southwest aspect, the Diagonal yields a breathtaking view of Giant’s summit and ridgeline below the Zander Scott Trail. Giant’s summit overlooks the track from bottom to top so expect an audience if you’re noticed.

Before Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, scrambling conditions are the rule on this challenging strip of anorthosite. Segments of it are well over 100 years old so one should be comfortable climbing on old-exposure slab with intermittent areas of heavy moss and lichen. If you’re up to the task it is a fun climb with interesting characteristics and varied lines of ascent. Unlike the Bottle, it hosts many small tree islands which occlude the views of neighboring sections. You’ll have to explore to cover all the real estate available, but this offers a good excuse to climb it more than once. The trees also provide areas of natural protection below some of the harder sections. Overall, it offers sustained exposed climbing.

Approach

Begin the approach at the Roaring Brook trailhead in St. Huberts. Take the Roaring Brook Trail up to an elevation of 2,600 feet (about 1.75 miles from the trailhead) where a cairn marks a herd path on the left.  The faint path leads to Roaring Brook. Finding the Diagonal Slide from this point is a matter of navigating multiple drainages. Follow the main stem of Roaring Brook and pass the Tulip Slide which intersects the brook several hundred feet higher on the right.

Follow a subtle drainage stream left at approximately 3,100 feet in elevation. This leads up the central gully. A nearly vertical wall in the drainage stream is a good indicator that you’re close to the bottom of the slide. Bushwhack around the wall unless you’re an adept rock climber. Follow the obvious gully from the top of the wall to a mossy track of slab offset to the left. A short bushwhack up a steep vegetated drainage stream leads to the bottom of the nearly 300 foot-wide Diagonal Slide. Note: if you miss the drainage stream from the central gulley, you may bushwhack north to the proper drainage. Make sure you take a map and compass because the multiple streams of the western cirque may be confusing.

Diagonal Slide

The climbing gets right to business on steep featured slab. The first several hundred ground feet are all about friction climbing on a variety of good lines up bulges, rising corners and overlaps. The slab is spotted with moss and lichen, but it’s easy to pick a good line. Be sure to glance south across the gully where the blocky ledges and the remnants of the Question Mark Slide lead up to the summit ridge.

Diagonal Slide of GiantThe slide narrows and gets more challenging as you climb so be aware of your chosen line. Look ahead and plan strategically. The track gets more blocky, but some areas are precarious and require climbing on highly vegetated slab. By this point, it should be obvious that this is not a beginners slide, but a committing scramble where careful foot and hand placements are necessary.

A small terrace at the halfway point makes a fine perch from which to take a break and enjoy the scenery. Views west include the Great Range with the Ausable Club in the foreground. Tropical Storm Irene scarred Giant’s ridges in many areas. Take notice of the large white strip halfway up the Tulip Slide. This small tributary slide stripped the lower portion of the Tulip and turned it into the beautiful scramble it is today.

Continuing upward is much the same with additional pitches of steep slab along rising corners until you reach a large ledge. This is the crux—about 75 ground feet below the top of the slide. This large multi-tiered ledge is nearly vertical. Attacking it head-on is true rock climbing equivalent to 5.6 on the Yosemite Decimal System  of rating (YDS). The right-hand side offers one of the easiest ways around the barrier. A section of moderately inclined slab above leads to a boulder at the top. Bushwhack directly up to a cliff band and follow it right. Breach the cliff by following its base to the area of least resistance then climbing up to the trail. The summit lies to the right.

Off Trail with Jaryn DeShane

Friend and climber Jaryn DeShane and I were prepared for an ambitious trip to rock climb on Mt. Marcy. Foul weather hampers even the most carefully designed plans; such a remote backcountry venue is no place to chance rain. Giant Mountain’s Diagonal Slide was a less committing, but fun alternative. We set a steady pace on the morning of September 10, 2016. We were rock-hopping up Roaring Brook within an hour. Near drought conditions had reduced the stream to a trickle. There was little water to contend with, but fallen trees intermittently blocked the drainage. We made a left where the Tulip Slide intersected and the “fun” began.

Jaryn calmly said, “Bees.” I scanned the area so I could avoid them when I noticed that he’d quickened his pace. When I’m in pain, I’m fairly vocal—not Jaryn who received three yellow jacket stings while passing a nest that I’d inadvertently disturbed. We stopped to assess his condition. He was good-natured about the incident and enthusiastic to continue—even with a swollen finger. One hundred feet higher I climbed a short section of slab and reached for a sapling to steady myself. I quickly recoiled before disturbing an eight-inch diameter bald faced hornet nest. I yelled, “Back…down…the…slab!” Enraged bald faced hornets would not let us off as easily as the yellow jackets. There’s rarely a dull moment in the backcountry though I didn’t expect hornets to be among the obstacles.

Fast forward to the Diagonal Slide—first timers to the slide should look for the safest, easiest way up. This was my third visit and I wanted to train. Specifically, I wanted to practice climbing dirty slab. That may sound odd, but it prepares me for those times when I unexpectedly climb onto areas that are covered with moss or lichen. Maintaining a calm focused mind is key to a safe climb and “practice makes perfect”. Hence I followed the most challenging lines up the slide even if they were vegetated. I warned Jaryn to follow his instincts and not necessarily my line. He rose to the challenge and followed, though out of skill, not pride.

Climbing such surfaces requires assessing the vegetation (type and wetness) in combination with the underlying features of the stone. It also requires precisely placing one’s hands and feet at the right location with the perfect angle. There’s usually small (half-dollar sized) breaks in the moss. They are islands of safety with good traction. Using them strategically allows a climber to move across successive stances until the obstacle is cleared.

The Diagonal Slide’s other challenge lies in its many overlaps and small ledges. Most can be avoided, but we climbed them directly which increased the difficulty rating from expert level scrambling to “easy” technical climbing (about 5.6 YDS). Cracks and pockets in the anorthosite made the technical sections comfortable to ascend.

The remaining 400 feet of elevation gain entailed linking mossy sections together with various areas of clean slab and climbing short vertical ledges. The 15-foot tall ledge involved a short climb before a traverse to the left. A second more exposed section with rounded holds led to the low-angled slab above. Jaryn took his time while I watched and formed my own plan. I chose a similar line that favored a shorter reach.

Our ascent of the Diagonal was over, but not the outing. We bushwhacked to the cliff above and climbed another semi-technical section before relaxing on the summit. The weather to the southwest looked threatening, but we saw no rain on the horizon. It was only noon so we continued over to the East Trail and down to the Giant / Rocky Peak Ridge col. We then bushwhacked down to the Dipper Slide to make it a two-slide day, but that is another story.

Giant Mountain Diagonal Slide

Diagonal Slide Profile

Round-trip distance: 6 miles
Total elevation gain: 3,700 feet
Distance to slide: 2.6 miles
Length of slide: 950 feet  or 625 feet of elevation gain
Exit: Short bushwhack along cliff base to summit. Follow the Zander Scott Trail to the Roaring Brook Trail and back to the trailhead.


Photos: Top, Jaryn DeShane navigates a mossy section of slab. Middle, view from the bottom of the slide. Bottom, mosaic of key sections of the slab featuring David Gomlak during a trip in 2014. 

Climbing slides is dangerous. A fall in the wrong place could 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 be accompanied by a licensed guide or experienced slide climber.


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. His website and Summitpost forum page contain trip reports, photos and video from many of his explorations.




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