East Face Slide
I found myself on rather open ridge top after a pleasant whack through some very bendable trees and mild blowdown. The real trial came on the lee side where the trees were denser and blowdown was more prevalent. The trees bit back, however. I branch which I unknowingly bend downward, release hitting me square in the face nearly knocking me backwards. I began a string of cursing which I quickly cut off. A total of fifteen minutes bushwhacking led to the top of the right hand “cliffs” …really ledges at 45-50 degrees…exactly where I wanted to be to take pictures of the central line of ledges on the east face.
I really wanted to survey the area where Rico climbed last year and where we picked our way over and through the ledge set. I’d tossed around an idea of exploring the ledges this day, but decided against it since I lost time with the bushwhacking mistakes earlier. I, instead, opted to exit onto the fir right run of the slide and cross to the middle where it runs west to the summit.
I got lazy and kept my trail runners on. At this point, they’d been completely torn down the sides and the tread on the bottom was negligibly effective. The right side has a decent amount of moss at spots near the top. I boxed myself in about six feet from the edge and braced myself as best I could. I thought, “One good jump and I’ve can get to the edge.” My problem was that I was actually lying on my leg to retain traction and the moss was wet. I threw myself to the best of my ability and touched the edge capturing a bit of sphagnum in my hand before sliding down the slope…but only for about 10 feet before I rolled closer to grab a tree. After berating myself, I cut across to the central slab…a relatively moss free swath of anorthosite laden with weathered and breaking pieces of slab.
The top led to the woods and, after about fifteen minutes bushwhack up to the west, I popped out on the summit at about 12:40 p.m.…with a dozen other people. I’d jokingly written my itinerary for my wife and put “5 minutes’ rest”. The crowd cut it down to two minutes before I walked to the Giant/Rocky Peak col and the peacefulness of solitude. I was just in the mood to be alone at that point. During the descent, I noticed the sky getting cloudier. A distant rumble reminded me to keep perspective on the situation and watch the weather. It was supposed to be clear, but I put my instincts before a weather man’s forecast. In the end, the forecast was correct.
I reached the col at 1:12 p.m. The Dipper, on the SW ridge of Giant, starts below the path intersection of the Ridge Trail and the trail to Rocky Peak Ridge. The plan was to start at the col and bushwhack to the base of the first slab or drainage just below. The 300’ descent began in the relatively loose woods of the area until the descent began in earnest. It closed at that point and challenged my energy. Gravity was on my side; however, I exited the woods a few feet below the first pitch at a point where a boulder had lodged at the end of a flat section of the drainage. The stream continued to descent southwest and out of sight. The drainage was about 20’ wide and about 15’ deep. It was a dramatic gulley. A steep wall of wet and intermittently mossy stone faced me from the north. It was steep with plenty of contour and I was happy at the site.
I’d surveyed the mid to upper portion of the slide from RPR and had a vague idea of what to expect. Setting foot to stone can give the slide an entirely different perspective, however. The first challenge was a near vertical face with a boulder lodged against it…the perfect setup to climb using the two faces. Ledge upon ledge waited thereafter. The old rock has lichen and algae to contend with, plenty of feature allowed for plenty of traction. Alder grew in the cracks as usual.
I mentally defined the slide into four distinct pitches, each involving by several sections of slab or ledges. The first pitch opened to a run of slab and then several wet rounded ledges. I took care as I chose my route, of which there were many. A few sketchy moves in the water with my feet surrounded by algae gave me pause. I backed out of one situation that would have required a leap of faith. After my small slip on the east face, I decided not to take a chance. The outcome would have been a graceless tumble down 50’ of rough ledges.
Additional runs of roughly textured and contoured slab continued as the slide got wider and drier on the second pitch. The slab widens like a three-pronged pitchfork at this point. The center terminates in a mossy grown in stream that leads to another dramatic wall. The transition represents the most grown-in portion of the slide which is quite short.
The next wall was steep and spotted with moss on the center and east side. A dramatic diagonal ledges cut up and west which made a perfect route by which to ascend. I played with a few options at that point and decided to cut back toward the center. The surface was so rough that I felt comfortable with the exposure. Views of Dix’s Beckhorn and northern slide set opened with the climb as well as the Rocky Peak Ridge and a crowd of people on its summit.
I was tired by the top of the third pitch and sat to enjoy the views and lack of blackflies. They’d been a bit troublesome while changing shoes in the drainage, now far below. That was the first and last time of the day; the wind was strong enough to keep them at bay.
The final pitch was a climb of great beauty on open wide slab with a steep looming headwall watching from just above. Footing was sure, at least on the dry slab with rock shoes. I mentally noted that I was tracking toward the intersection with the Ridge trail/RPR trail intersection from whence I came just over an hour earlier.
I really did savor the time on the slab and enjoyed the changing perspective of Dix and the north slides that I’d routed together last October. On the upper portions, the west is the steepest area and the east is not what I’d consider flat by any means. I figured a herd path would appear at the top, but didn’t see one…nor did I look very hard. The ascent up the last hundred or so feet through the cripplebrush was perhaps the hardest bushwhack of the day, but mild compared to many. A lingering dehydration induced headache didn’t help.
Eventually I popped out on the trail and immediately replenished the water in my hydration bladder with the backup Nalgene bottle. I set the bottle down while anticipating a sweet drink of the liquid, right before I knocked it over. Reflexes jumped to action and I only lost about ¼ of the liter. I’d been conserving water anyway, so I’d have to conserve more conscientiously. It didn’t occur to me while fighting the blackflies at the bottom to check my supply…lesson learned (again).
The top of the Tulip and several tributaries of the Eagle are fairly obvious to spot from the Ridge trail. It wasn’t the same with the Finger slide, at least to my tired mind. It was roughly 500’ west down the trail based on my research. I looked for a bit and eventually dove into the woods near a ridge top erratic. The narrow slide hid itself well. I first located an outcrop between the Eagle and Finger. It was steep and disappeared into the woods nearly immediately. I knew the Finger was unbroken by vegetation. I surmised that I was too far east and cross trekked before finally coming to a dramatic near the steep headwall of the well contoured slide.
I’d changed shoes for the ‘whack and for the fifth time of the day, changed again before descending. I’d entered the top just under a large boulder, held by a smaller one trapped underneath and adjacent to the final headwall. A vertical ledge about 30’ in length, but only 2’ in height, began and dropped sharply down. It was a beautiful feature that kept my interest as I picked my way slowly down, careful not to slip on the loose rocks and spotty moss I found underfoot from time to time. The top is the flattest section before it breaks into ledge after rounded ledge. They’re only six or 10’ in height, but down-climbing is challenging when you can’t see the next step.
To exemplify, I found what looked like a nice section to drop from if I could find a foot hold. I hung over and searched by feel only to find the edge of the ledge overhung the next area of anorthosite. My balance shifted and my body swung only slightly down, but enough to grind my shin into the sharp edge. I crossed to the center, thereafter, and picked my way down with hand and foot holds aplenty.
By 3:50 p.m., about 20 minutes later, I was standing in a zone of heavy rubble and smooth flat slab. I’m not sure of the stone, but it was orange and not as granular as the normal anorthosite. Pieces of the rubble (4’ to about 1’ in diameter) shifted as I stepped on them.
I would next cross a thin band of trees to the Eagle and make the second summit of Giant.
GOTO PART 3