Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Slide Climbing: Santanoni Mountain’s East (Twin) Slide

twin_headwall_chiarenzelli_NIK_5402Santanoni Mountain’s Twin Slide (aka East Slide per Drew Haas’ The Adirondack Slide Guide) is a fitting match to the Ermine Brook Slide on the opposite side of the ridge.

The nearly mile long track is filled with diverse and beautiful characteristics including open slab, boulders, overhanging outcrops, double-fall lines and cascades.

All good things come with a price. In this case challenging bushwhacks guard the slide at both the top and bottom.

This stunning slide was once a tempting jewel that was off limits to the public; access from below was blocked by private land. This problem was resolved when the Open Space Institute purchased 1,500 acres on the East Side of Santanoni in 2007. The land was subsequently purchased by New York State on September 13, 2013. Slide enthusiasts are now free to explore its full length. Note that private land still lies to the east so it is important to know and respect the boundaries.


Park at the Santanoni Trailhead just past Sanford Lake in Upper Works. Follow the traditional route toward Bradley Pond and exit at a rock cairn about 3.5 miles from the trailhead. The “Santanoni Express” Trail lies on the left just before the height of land along Santanoni Brook. Cross the brook and begin bushwhacking on a heading just west of south before the trail descends to a beaver swamp.

The scoot begins by climbing up the moderate slope of one of Santanoni’s eastern ridges. Navigate to the south-flowing drainage just after its crest. Thereafter, you’ll descend steeply as you work your way through the variably dense tree growth and ledges near the stream. Cross the stream to stay on heading as it turns toward several beaver ponds; keep to the right of the ponds on more level terrain.

This tranquil area hosts a network of beaver dams and relatively loose tree growth near the shoreline. Continue trekking toward the southwest corner where the slide enters amidst heavy cedar growth and a wash of bleached rubble.

Slide Proper

After leaving the swamp, the stream turns west then northwest as it approaches the first outcrop of anorthosite. A bit higher, the scene is dominated by a story-high wall on the right-hand side. Those with an interest in geology should keep a keen eye out for the fine-grained basaltic dikes that intrude upon the anorthosite just after the wall.

Narrow flumes, cascades, ledge systems and multiple pitches of tilted slab provide a plethora of options by which to ascend. It’s far from technical, but the rock can be slippery. The water-course is natural artistry in motion and photographing each nuance can easily add hours to the climb. Cascade upon cascade, many with a tempting pool of water at its base provide the perfect place for a swim during the heat of summer. Be sure to keep an eye out for the brilliantly-colored red efts or sundew plants that are found in the area.

The slide transitions into a sandy run choked with rubble as one gets closer to the confluence of the slide’s multiple tributaries. Islands of trees, sections of forest untouched by the debris fall, can make navigation a bit confusing so reference satellite imagery beforehand. Ignore the first couple runs that enters from the right at around 3,200 feet in elevation. They lead up a sandy slope riddled with precariously stacked boulders; the slab above is hardly worth visiting.

Follow the left-hand side of the dual tracks (parallel slides that connect at various points) northwest after climbing another two hundred feet in elevation*. Scramble up unconsolidated slopes of sand and rubble taking care not to dislodge rubble onto yourself or your partner. Cross over to right-hand run after the second large island of trees where you’ll find a gully with a hand-crack–one of my favorite features. Just above, tiers of ledges and steep slab form the crux of the slide. It’s about 100 vertical feet from the bottom of the crack to the top ledge so pick your route carefully especially in wet conditions.

A short segment of low-angle slab leads the headwall. Rough flaking anorthosite and overlaps lead up to the forest. Take a last look at the stunning view to the east. Upper Works, Mt. Adams, Allen and a host of mountains lie in the distance.


The bushwhack to the summit is just over a quarter mile away with 450 feet of elevation gain. Expect to fight for the prize once on the ridge top. The push (north) to the summit is through dense tree growth.

Descend back to the trailhead from the summit via one of two options. The shortest route is via the “Santanoni Express” which exits the ridge herdpath to the right a short distance north of the summit. Option two follows the traditional route back to Times Square and down to Bradley Pond. Though longer, it allows you to climb Couchsachraga and Panther Mountain.

santanoni_mosaic_mackenzie_kevin_2013_NIK_7167_smallTrip Notes

Those who haven’t explored a slide with a geologist are missing out on an enlightening trip. It’s difficult to view a slide the same way thereafter.  Dr. Jeff Chiarenzelli, a professor from St. Lawrence University, and students Sam Hecklau (St. Lawrence University) and Ben Valentino (SUNY Oswego) accompanied me with various tools of the trade and their knowledge during the summer of 2013.

I began learning about the minutiae of the slide as we approached the southwestern corner of the swamp, the toe of the slide. Small stones grew larger and larger until we were in the slide track. The size differential was a result of sifting when the slide formed and sorting by the stream thereafter. Further along, Dr. Chiarenzelli set up several “stations” en route where the strike and dip of various geologic phenomena were measured. Basaltic, granitic and feldspar-rich pegmatite dikes were some of more the common features cutting across the anorthositic and gabbroic rocks that made up the bulk of the exposed bedrock.

Things got even more interesting when we stumbled upon a crystal of allanite several centimeters in length located within an intrusive pegmatite dike. Giving it away was a pattern of radiating lines around the darker allanite. A Geiger Counter confirmed his suspicions as the background radiation of the surrounding anorthosite jumped from 32 counts per minute (cpm) to 320 cmp over the allanite. The radioactive material in the allanite (predominantly thorium) had disrupted the crystal structure of allanite causing it to swell, take out water, and fracture the surrounding stone for a radius of a few inches thus creating the radiating lines. Nature is full of little surprises!

Slide Profile

Round-trip distance: 13.25 miles
Total elevation gain: 4,100 feet
Distance to slide: about 5 miles
Length of slide: 1 mile
Elevation gain of slide: 1,600 feet
Maximum width: 90-100 feet
Exit: Difficult bushwhack to summit.

Distances/elevation gain based on route from Santanoni summit to Times Square and Bradley Pond.

Thanks to Richard McKenna, James Close, Dr. Jeff Chiarenzelli, Sam Hecklau & BenValentino for their companionship and expertise. Special thanks to Dr. Jeff Chiarenzelli for the geological analysis of the area and contributions to this piece.

Photo above: Dr. Jeff Chiarenzelli on the headwall of the highest tributary. Below, mosaic of key points on the slide. Click the photo below to enlarge it and see the full slide with inset shots of features along the route.

*Failing to exit to the northwest leads up to the southern tributary’s end. It requires careful foot placement and awareness of one’s position due to the loose sand and rubble. Some small ledges add a bit of interest before it peters out into the woods. This is the closest exit if you’re bushwhacking down to the Ermine Brook Slide.

NOTE: 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.

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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 Climbing, Adirondack Journal of Environmental Studies, Adirondac, Adirondack LifePeeks, 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, board member of the Adirondack Climbers Coalition and member of Climbing for Christ. His passion for climbing slides and pioneering new backcountry technical ice and rock routes takes him to some of the most remote 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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