CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE. Photo taken from Basin Brook Slide.
I took a run up Chicken Coop Slide (the old one leading to Saddleback’s summit) with St. Lawrence University student Paxton and Ranger Scott on August 2. My last visit to the area was a couple weeks after Irene ripped the new slides down from Basin’s ridge. In hindsight, they are the best and cleanest tracks in the area. The old exposure slide is best left to winter mountaineering adventures.
Departing the Garden at 5:00 a.m., Paxton and I made good time to the Interior Outpost where Scott joined us. We began the bushwhack from the new Bushnell Fall #2 lean-to around 8:00 a.m. I stayed high above the brook on the right side last time so I wanted to explore the brook as an alternative. Again, hindsight is 20/20; I’ll stay high on the right next time to avoid intermittent blowdown and alternating tight tree growth.
We arrived at the toe of one of the 2011 slides at around 9:15 a.m., trekked a few hundred feet up the path and cut east about 50 feet to the grown in debris field of the old Chicken Coop slide (at 3,600 feet in elevation). The mossy track slowly turned upward. It reminded me of True North on Gothics—nice and soft underfoot. It began ascending more steeply and opened to some slab a after the slight bend. “Some slab” is the operative term; the exposed stone was slippery and being overtaken by the forest. Mossy hummocks grew on some of the ledges and alders kept the exposure low.
I saw a gray flash at 3,800 feet in elevation when a dark-eyed junco flushed off her nest. Neatly tucked in a cavern of moss was a delicate nest of grass with three open-beaked chicks screaming for food. The adult berated us while we took photos. Anthony S. and I found a similar nest at about the same elevation in the moss on Mt. Haystack’s western slide in June; only we found eggs. The lesson: pay attention to where you’re stepping in the moss!
Moss continued to be the theme as we worked up to the beginning of the real climbing. The slide opened up with an initial pitch of stone interspersed with moss/lichen/algae, perhaps 75 ground feet of climbing. This led to a ledge. Just above it was an overgrown horizontal crack. Scott went first, cleaning enough moss out of the crack to create traction, its lower edge protruded about 1” from the face. To the right was a nice corner and we had a mind to climb along this until a weakness above where there was access to the adjacent face. Scott tentatively explored the traction of the lichen free areas while I moved up to his left on an edge of the aforementioned crack. I also locked the fingers of my left hand onto a small edge for additional security.
(The following paragraph has been ranger [well, one] approved).
Time then slowed as I heard a scraping sound—the sound of a ranger sliding down the rock. If Scott fell off the ledge just below our position, he’d have likely tumbled down the lower face and stopped in the bench of trees with a bit of road rash and a few bruises as proof. I was secure so I instinctively reached out to catch him. Amazingly I found purchase on his body and slowed his fall. I’d love to say I had the foresight, skill or even luck to grab his pack as the first choice; instead I’d stopped his slide—ahem (clear throat/roll eyes)—by grabbing his a$$ and pinning him to the rock. Not entirely secure on his rear, my hand slipped and hooked onto his pack. In any case, I stopped him in the end—or more accurately, with his end. My therapy sessions began the following Monday!
Scott/Paxton following a corner up the lower portion of the slide.
Continuing with no small amount of laughter and one-liners, Scott and Paxton stayed left of the corner while I ventured out on a more exposed line to another crack that ran up the steep face. The rock was wonderful for a couple hundred feet until it became spotted with moss/lichen under a tree-island. To the left was a newer exposure (possibly from Irene). From a distance the 10-foot wide track looks nearly white and quite vertical. Up close it offered the cleanest line of ascent and fun climbing. The pitch was made of two distinct bulges which easily broke 45 degrees in slope. This was the last clean rock we found. Above were the wet and unappealing headwall ‘cliffs’.
I climbed most of the pitch before bushwhacking through a strip of the trees. I assessed our position on the other side. We either needed to climb directly up the cliffs or traverse right to reach the trail about 100 feet below the summit proper. The first challenge was a mossy/lichen covered strip of stone leading to a 3-foot drop to the adjoining face. I had to break away the tiny bulges of lichen to create footholds. Falling wasn’t an option as I’d slide a short distance before falling over a 10 foot ledge above a sort of a talus cave in a bench of trees. Scott and Paxton followed and we discussed options as we looked beyond.
Lots of this! ...except it's more heavily overgrown above.
Scott approaching the best rock of the day on the white strip (see left side of upper slide in mosaic).
To our south was the last traverse across a wide swath of stone exposed to the full length of the slide. There just wasn’t much rock showing through the rain soaked moss. It’s so easy to get spoiled from the new slide tracks that TS Irene created. It takes a climb like this to remember what old-exposure slide climbing can sometimes be like. In the end, we followed a corner up to the top of another set of spruce. I can’t say it looked much better, it was less exposed.
The next climb up the continuation of the corner was via a slimy wet crack on a slippery 45 degree slope—dicey. There was a nice hand/fist-crack, but I had to jam my hand then wiggle it around a bit to get the rock to dig in since it was overgrown. After about 60 feet I reached another set of trees below an overhanging ledge. I pulled out a rope and belayed Scott and Paxton. We were done soloing.
The final test of the day was a traverse below a wall. Scott belayed me as I worked a short distance up to a flake of stone...not before slipping back down twice. Yes, it was again highly vegetated. About 10 feet up, I used a flake to layback. I could put pressure on my feet and maneuver more securely. Another crack aided the traverse until it petered out. With about 15 feet left, it was all about careful face climbing using intermittent nubs of feldspar as holds. Eventually I made it to the other side, the blazes up Saddleback’s ledges about 30 feet to my south.
I belayed Scott and Paxton next. In hindsight, we were wise to use the rope. I couldn’t see them from my position, but felt the rope go tight as each slipped or fell trying to get to the flake. Once across, we made expeditious time to the summit where we lazed around for an hour enjoying the views. Even after fourteen times, I never get tired of the view. Our exit would be via the Orebed trail. Down below the slide we found nature taking its course—a 3-foot garter snake dining on a large toad. Farther along, Scott stopped at the Interior Outpost where we took another break before exiting via the Southside Trail. It was perfect swimming weather and we didn’t let the opportunity pass as we walked by the flume. Thus ended another adventure on Saddleback Mtn.
Final corner before the upper traverse.
This really doesn't look bad in a photo, but there was very little traction and not something you want to cross unroped. He's approaching a traverse across an area that's lacks any natural protection (unless you count the trees at the bottom of the slide).