2012 May 12
Skylight Bushwhack and its Rubble Slide
Skylight’s eastern side has one dominant tributary that leads to some open old exposure slabs/ledges and a couple small slide tracks.
These tracks are in bowl of sorts…higher it becomes steeper until topping the feature several hundred feet above. Guarding the top are ledges with cripplebursh and cedar growing with branches in a downward sweep. Atop and to the summit is a sea of dense cripplebrush. This was our target…yup, we’re dumber than the slab we climb! As the crow flies it’s about a mile to the summit from Marcy Brook. Add a little for elevation and a bit more to compensate for the fact that ‘whacking up ledges through cripplebrush takes you in anything but a straight line.
We followed the maintained trail south toward the sun and then bushwhacked over to Marcy Brook when the path tracked eastward. Neither of us had altimeter or gps, so it was all line of sight/solar and compass navigation …the perfect day for it. We intersected Marcy Brook farther south than I’d planned. The bowl was far to the northwest. Following Marcy Brook upward for a couple hundred feet we got a good view of Skylight and found a stream that appeared to be about the right size. It was only about 4’ wide at that point, but I knew it tapered and assumed it was probably our target. From what I know, the only other possibility would be one to the north, which I assume exists based on Skylight’s topography…feel free to correct me if I’m wrong here. Anyway, it was a nice rock up on an even grade along a heading of 300 degrees (true).
Typical drainage scene.
We eventually used to woods to climb as the stream became a bit choked. The woods were dense but bent easily to allow passage. The only problem is that we lost our visual guide of the slab. I dropped back into the drainage, which had cleared of obstacles short of boulders and found it was still running true to our target. We stayed in the stream from then forward. Large nodes of labradorite were especially plentiful in this area. Boulder upon boulder we climbed until, an hour later, we reached a mild bend in the drainage and a small sand slide on righthand side. I compared the character of the little slide to a picture I had on hand to find our location. A quick trek southwest then led us to the largest of the slide tracks, a meager run 600’ long and about 30’ wide. It was primarily rubble. Climbing it robbed us of energy as each step moved the unconsolidated debris. Atop the slide we began the true bushwhack. A few steps north in the spruce led to some old exposure faces, an unappealing climb up wet algae and moss encrusted steep slab. Greg made good time to the top of the pitch. I followed and then took to the refuge of the cedars.
Greg (top left in the lens flare) atop the largest section of slab.
In the short time between the rubble slide and slab, I’d lost a lot of energy. My legs began to shake and became apathetic…I needed sugar. After calling upward, I popped a couple starburst, enough to climb up to Greg who was seated atop a small cliff atop the slab. From the comfort of our little perch, we ate something more substantial for the push to the top. Spectacular views of the eastern mountains kept us company. Lenticular clouds piled four high built over Haystack and the Dix Range.
The following quarter mile was beyond horrible, but exactly what I expected…ah, cripplebrush, my friend. Or to put it another way…a climb through Krumholz with ‘Krummholz’! We had to climb out of the bowl which entailed fighting cedar and spruce, the first growing with a downwards sweep of branches. Underneath was either the steep sloper or vertical ledges up to about ten feet in height. Persistent climbing eventually led to a reward, more cripplebrush on the more gently sloping crown of the mountain. Each break, about every hundred feet was accompanied by a check of our heading…310 degrees. The summit cap of rock couldn’t be seen at any time, only a few erratics and eventually some exposed slab as we neared the top. The lenticulars built as we climbed.
In the cripplebrush (top Greg, bottom Kevin).
My original estimate to climb from Marcy Brook to the summit was four hours. We arrived at the top at 4:45 p.m, 3 hours and forty-five grueling hours after the start. It was everything I dreaded and didn’t quite hold up to what I expected. The top bowl just wasn’t as dramatic as I thougt it would be. Far from boring and definitely beautiful the entire way, I think our initial trek up the Marcy slides simply overshadowed the drama of Skylight. We’d been driving hard for 12 hours as we started down the northern trail of Skylight…on a lovely spine of ice and snow. My quadriceps readjusted to the new labor of keeping stable while sliding straight as opposed to off either side. Once at the trail intersection we ONLY had to climb over Marcy to end the elevation gain of the day.We took it deliberatly slow and topped out at 6:15 under strong winds at our backs.
Only a bit over 8 miles remained until we were back in the comfort of our cars at the Garden. Once off the dome of rock, a 3 foot deep spine of snow accompanied us to the Haystack trail intersection just past where we began the bushwhack at 8:30 a.m. The time stood at 7 p.m. Snow and ice would actually hasten the descent to Slant Rock wheres we took a much needed break and found a couple camping and eating. They shared some delicious pasta with us, renewing our vitality for the final push. Nearby, a few feet behind them, a three-toed woodpecker
scampered about. It had no fear of my camera as I approached within 4 feet and took a series of pics.
The push to JBL was a march under a fading sun, each step one toward a more extended break we intended to take. A crew was building some additional steps on the porch. My friend Peggy (MacKellar) was among them. Thank you for the food and drink! After a 20 minute break and conversation we trudged slowly out over the remaining 3.5 miles to arrive at our cars at 11:00 p.m. What a day out with a great hiker who’s not afraid to dive headfirst into anything!