Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Climbing the Nippletop Slide

From the Elk Pass Lycopodium Ponds herdpath to bottom of Nippletop Slide slide is, but for a few short sections, extremely easy to follow. This .75-mile section took us 40 minutes while enjoying the beautiful scenery of this miniature canyon. Starting out and walking around a good size beaver pond it was mostly flat, but turned steep starting from the outlet. In places the numerous and large mossy boulders reminded us of Indian Pass. Walking in the drainage itself never appeared to us a better option; we were able to stay on the same East bank side all the way. Actually it was never enticing, only pretty to look a every step of the way.

The first part of the adventure was much easier than anticipated and, glancing at the steep base of the slide, the four of us Pete, Elizabeth, Inge and I, assumed that we would easily zigzag our way up as there seem to be many steps and handholds. Water was only running down in places. Well, it took at least 60 seconds to find out that even where dry the rock was so smooth it barely let our foot anchor and, where wet, an instant reverse gear device.

Trying to convince ourselves we were dreaming, we gingerly made it 2/3 up before hastily retreating out and to the right into a very steep but relatively open forest. We soon reached an easier grade of the slide only to find out the easier the grade the worse the slime, naturally. Maybe we were on Allen!

Very quickly following the drainage, we entered a rather long overgrown section which was a bit slippery but that we could manage gracefully. Then we came out in the open… to another and much shorter wall, which we tried to scale but to no avail… so we backtracked down (I don’t think it took more than 30 minutes for each step backwards…), crossed over to the left, hugged the trees for dear life the trees and went into the woods again. Now we had just found the pretty open birch forest of Nippletop Mountain!

Able to speed up to a crawl we inched upwards to the slide’s next plateau 30 yards away. Once again it looked great at first sight, treading carefully and being now kind of done with the cozy bushwhacking we decided to walk on the rock, do or die. Well, the orange slime quickly told us that the die option was the only one available. Back to reverse gear followed by a slow motioning to the woods to the left. Now we are into grade-2 open birch forest, more precisely 15-foot alders knitted as tightly as can be.

That section, which would occasionally open, seemed to have lasted forever but all of a sudden and a bit discouraged we reached a very large and very long expanse of the slide. The views were pretty phenomenal. There were Close Gentians blooming everywhere, the rocks was dry and the grip much better. We were in heaven! Little do we know that we would soon get a bit too close to it. We sure did not want to go back into the woods, so up we went.

It was extremely steep and after a while, backtracking is not a viable option. There are still places that were slimy, giving one very little route choices, the steepest way is the safer! Upon reaching the next plateau we were completely drained and could not believe we managed to climb the long wall at our feet. After a long rest we moved along the last third of the slide, the grade much easier. In parts the slab is clear in others there is ample gravel and sand mix.

At the very top of the slide we never found the herdapth to the left we had been told about, so we kept scaling slippery boulders intertwined with insanely tall ledges while snaking at a snail’s pace through open birch forest (in what are called straight-jacked conditions) till the summit ridge. That last section took us forever and we were pretty pleased to find a well trodden herdpath the last .15-mile to the summit proper, which we reached after a mere 3 hours of slide climbing!

We are proud and delighted to have been there but we are not going back. Ever. We descended by way of the trail.

Photos: Above, view of Blake Peak, slide to the left and summit to the right; Below, Nippletop Slide.

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Christine Bourjade is a member of the Adirondack Mountain Club. She is a lean-to adopter and long time trail steward.

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