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Old 10-02-2011, 09:59 PM   #1
mudrat
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A Rainy Day and A Trap Dike:10/1/11

Disclaimer

I posted this report and, five minutes later, read about the fatal fall in the Trap Dike the day before we were climbing. My heartfelt thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of Matthew Potel.

----------------------------------------------------------------------


Intro

Selected Pics


St. Lawrence University’s Outing Club annually tries to put a group of students on each of the 46 peaks in an event called “Peak Weekend”. This fell on October 1 this year. For the fifth year, I took on the role of event photographer. For the third year, I chose to accompany the Colden group who were planning an ascent via the Trap Dike. I’d been watching the weather all week and hoped for nice weather, but my gut said it could be a harsh day. I prepared for the worst and hoped for the best. It was 50F at dawn and I thought, “Hey this might not be so bad.” It wasn’t even raining when I left the house.


I put foot to the trail at South Meadows at 7:30 a.m. and the rain promptly began as if I’d stepped on a hidden switch. It was but a slow drizzle so I didn’t bother with a rain jacket. The time passed quickly as I talked with a gentleman heading for Marcy. I was about 30 minutes ahead of the SLU group, but usually hike in ahead to take pics of the group on the hitchup-matildas. By Marcy Dam, the slow drizzle was more of a steady rain and I opted for a rain jacket. The slog from the dam to Avalanche Pass was one of thermal-regulation to keep from sweating. Condensation added to the problems as I climbed into moderately heavy cloud cover about halfway up.

Once in the pass, I opted to climb into the ledges of the Avalanche Mountain to escape the rain. I cozied up with a primaloft jacket and tried to figure out the best photographic strategy since my camera’s far from water resistant. I didn’t have the right equipment for a rainy photo shoot. I knew a climb up the Dike might be a wash as well if the rain didn’t let up. I simply bundled up, relaxed and said a prayer for the best outcome of the day.

Little by little the winds increased and the sky grew slightly brighter. By the time the students arrived, the rain had relented to a slow drizzle again and my heart grew more hopeful. The lighthearted conversations helped to lift my spirits as we walked and talked of the route. t was a coin toss on whether to go up the dike or the trail until I saw the flow of water within the giant cleft. In the meantime, I shot pics of the whitecaps on Avalanche Lake and foam line extending into the distant mist. All the pics had the ethereal glow of heavy weather hiding a sun somewhere above.

We decided to give the dike a try after seeing that the flow was heavy, but not unsafely so. I knew the deep cut would protect us from the wind and reflected upon the prior night’s forecast that said showers would be hit or miss and not “a total wash” at least not according to Tom Messner (Hint…it turned into a near total wash). Once on the slide, I knew the wind would kick back up, but everyone had a rain-jacket to protect them.

Trap Dike
Nature is truly a marvel and I couldn’t wait to climb amongst the new features left by Tropical Storm Irene. A new slide awaited at the top and 8 eager students below. It was a perfect mix. A skirt of debris at the bottom decimated the trees that once stood along the shore…what trees were left from the avalanche a couple years ago. Labradorite and other minerals littered the area catching the eye of one of the geology students.

My job, once in the dike, was to run/climb to the top of a tier and shoot pics of the students’ ascent the repeat as necessary. Photography in the dike can be challenging in the morning sun. Blowing fog made it all the more harder. Keeping the lens clean, the body free of water from the falls and blowing mist and attending to the shutter speed/aperture kept me busy.

The crux was largely untouched other than the utter lack of vegetation and a new rock that effectively divided the flow of water at the top. The safest route for me has always been to hug the northern wall and climb the falls. I’d worn a waterproof armor of rain pants, rain jacket, and pack cover (over a pack liner and waterproof bags for all my gear). It worked well in past years so I confidently began the ascent. It became a climb by feel situation as the strong current washing over my head and face tried to push me from the handholds. Climbing became easier once my head was under the flow…the pressure was downward rather than out. My hands and head quickly numbed in the cold water as I distantly heard the students hooting from below. I’d asked them to wait until I got to the top and unloaded my camera. Water breached my jacket and ran down my back during the final few moves in a late morning wake up call!

The group then ascended over the next twenty minutes as I both photographed and helped from atop. It was a challenging situation with numb fingers, fogged glasses and a shiver in my core. The wet climb up the crux would later confound the hike a bit by soaking the gear of some in the group. Once safely atop, we continued to climb the moonscape of the Trap Dike. The new exposures and changes to the area were amazing. Pieces of slab blocked the water in a few places before the traditional exit a bit higher. Once at the old exit point, I recognized my “normal” lunch slab. The “bent tree” that was once marked the herdpath for the exit, however, was removed from the landslide. Monstrous chunks of anorthosite slab loomed in the mist not far above. They marked the new slide.

Several aerial photographs of the Trap Dike hit the internet in the weeks after Irene blew through. A large piece of slab was evident in them. As I neared the lowest area of the slide, I realized that I was climbing along the new piece. It was some 8 feet thick and perhaps 20’ by 30’ in dimension. It evidently broke loose from a sharp ledge barely visible in the fog above. The facets of the face below the edge assured me that the piece would fit back like a giant puzzle piece. It was firmly in place in the dike and not likely to move soon. Nature is awesome.


New Slide
My eyes sought the easiest way up the foot-wall and based on recent reports, I knew where to look. I assumed the large crack along the left-hand side would serve the group nicely. In rock shoes, I scampered up to it and used some fist jams and under-grabs to climb partway up it. The group followed the ledges up to its start. My hands again numbed from the rain, wind and frigid runoff that also sought the ledge/crack. The problems started when others had also lost feeling in their hands. Some also didn’t have the footwear to scale the 45 degree pitch even though it lessened up above. A new strategy was required.

We climbed down to regroup and refuel. Those who had extra gear helped to cloth those who either didn’t have specialized gear (for the wet freezing temps) or needed dry gear after the climb up the waterfall. Such was the collective consciousness of the group…all helping one another.

We then opted to bushwhack higher along the edge of the face. I found some challenging, but accessible ledges after about 10 minutes in the wet woods. We entered the old exposure of a higher slide, crossed on contour to the strip of spruce and exited onto the new slide. The rain was now a steady drizzle driven by the 30-40 mph winds…and the temperature was dropping due to elevation and the arrival of a front. Blowing fog obscured all views beyond about 50’. I’d long since given up hope of using my prescription glasses…better to see some than not at all.

As an aside, the surface of the new slide was loaded with traction, especially when wearing the right shoes. On a warm sunny day, it would have been a beautiful climb with nice exposure. An interesting dike diagonally crossed the just after the foot-wall, its dark stone a stark contrast to the light gray anorthosite. The slide’s average slope was quite even and, at a guess, about 35 degrees. Occasional steeper ledges, rounded enough to climb, interrupted the slab several times during the ascent, but were easily avoided as necessary. Cracks in the slab also helped.
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Last edited by mudrat; 01-17-2013 at 05:53 PM. Reason: add 1st sentence
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Old 10-02-2011, 09:59 PM   #2
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Part 2/2

Most in the group were quite chilled. Having lost feeling in hands and feet augmented the challenge to an uncomfortable level. I wasn’t happy to see that they’d split into two groups. I scampered back and forth amongst those in the first group (higher up) to help them secure foot/handholds or guide them to the next safe shelf. I was in my element, but not all were. I became an extension of the anorthosite on several occasion to help others up, across, down…whatever. Eventually, the slide narrowed…a good sign though the top was still obscured by the weather.

The last section before the steeper head-wall was marked with increased mud and debris which led to a thick layer of compacted and very slick mud. A few became “one with the mud” which didn’t help their traction and slowed progress. The signs of pre-hypothermia were now also showing in a couple people. My fleece and rain jacket protected me well as I focused on the task at hand. As the occasional snow flurry mixed with the rain, I silently thought, “We need to get off this slide.” Thankfully, we were at the top of the slab. After warming in the trees for a few minutes, we made the final push to the summit in the blustery winds.



Summit and Descent

It had taken about 3.5 –4 hours of climbing, crawling and rolling in the mud and trees to attain the goal. The wonderful shelter of the summit trees revived spirits as people soaked in the accomplishment gained only by perseverance. It was a wonderful group that huddled together for the summit shot! It was also an icy group. Jackets glistened with frozen precipitation as the temps dropped into the lower 30’s/high 20’s.

The descent was a slow, controlled, cold (though fun) walk through the mud with talk of the challenges, lessons and accomplishments of the day…a day not soon to be forgotten. En route, I realized that I’d only consumed about a liter of water and eaten only a few bars, 1 e-gel pack and a few pieces of candy. I was in good shape for such low intake. The focus required for a safe climb and the photography took my mind off nutritional needs as I operated in “high alert” mode…with my normal attention to hiking humor, of course. We finally arrived at our cars at about 6:30 p.m.

It was the most difficult ascent of the Trap Dike that I’ve had over the course of seven climbs. I’d always been blessed with sun, so this was unique. Conditions always dictate the challenge of an outing and this one ranked moderately high on my scale. I can’t say I’d run back to do it in the rain again, but I can’t wait get back on the new slide on a sunny day.

Congrats to all that were in the group and great job…I haven’t hiked with a better mix of people! You earned this peak in a way that few can say! It’s definitely one for the Outing Club books!
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Old 10-02-2011, 10:27 PM   #3
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I usually climb through the falls as wellbecause it seems to be the safest route with the best footing.Wow,The trap dike has definately been popular lately.I too would like to climb it on a dry warm day as it would be much enjoyable I can imagine
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Old 10-02-2011, 10:43 PM   #4
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Good that you all had a safe and successful ascent.
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Old 10-02-2011, 10:49 PM   #5
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Thanks for a great report with pictures, and thank you even more for your guidance and help on this difficult climb.
Gnar points for everyone on this trip!
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Old 10-02-2011, 11:08 PM   #6
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You know Mudrat, I was concern about you because what happened the day before , which I learned today (sunday) the news said the leader of a group fell to his death after trying to help a group of students....

I am glad it wasnt you, but also feel terribly sorry for the family and friends of the victim.

To be honest, I do not think the Trap Dike is a place were we should bring a lot of people and coach them the way of the mountains.

But that is only my opinion.
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Old 10-03-2011, 06:18 AM   #7
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You know Mudrat, I was concern about you because what happened the day before , which I learned today (sunday) the news said the leader of a group fell to his death after trying to help a group of students....

I am glad it wasnt you, but also feel terribly sorry for the family and friends of the victim.

To be honest, I do not think the Trap Dike is a place were we should bring a lot of people and coach them the way of the mountains.

But that is only my opinion.
I have to agree. What would have happened to this group if Mudrat hadn't been there to lend a hand. Wasn't he supposed to be the photographer?

A lot of people on these forums consider slide climbing to be part of the natural progression from mountain hiking. In actual fact, slide climbing is part of the climbing sports and participants should approach it that way.

I can't understand why anyone would lead a group on a challenging climb in poor weather when some, if not all of the group is poorly equipped for the route. I saw one climber equipped in a plastic baggy better suited to a boat ride to the base of Niagara Falls on the Maid of the Mist. And there was a least one young lady wearing what appeared to be the equivalent of old running shoes.

I can't understand why someone would lead a school group on a slide climb on anything other than a dry and sunny day. It just doesn't make sense to me. Al
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Old 10-03-2011, 08:54 AM   #8
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A lot of people on these forums consider slide climbing to be part of the natural progression from mountain hiking. In actual fact, slide climbing is part of the climbing sports and participants should approach it that way.
In my opinion (again), there are slides that are pretty easy to climb evn for hikers. All the slides that are grade class2 can be done by hikers. Although this doesnt mean that there is no exposure whatsoever.

Care, prudence and personal judgement will always be needed and they are useful in everidays life.

Following excerpt taken From "Climbing in the Adirondacks" Third edition by Don Mellor

Class1 : Hiking (Trail to Mt-Marcy)

Class2 : Rougher terrain : Cable section on Gothics, slides on Whiteface

Class3 : Handholds necessary, increased exposure, dangerous falls possible

Eagle slide on Giant

Class4 : A rope is used to protect hard sections, but climbers generally move simultaneously

exemple : The waterfall section on the Trap Dike.

What more needs to be said, perhaps in our society, where everything move fast, where you have to be excellent, where you should always have experience, .... Well we should take the time to acquire the necessary experience, the Trap Dike may sit high on someone personal list of acomplishment, but it is still and will always be dangerous for someone who has not develop the necessary experience to determine , when and how to climb it.

BTW an accident can happened even to an experience climber.

Be prudent.
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Old 10-03-2011, 09:45 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by Altbark View Post
I have to agree. What would have happened to this group if Mudrat hadn't been there to lend a hand. Wasn't he supposed to be the photographer?

A lot of people on these forums consider slide climbing to be part of the natural progression from mountain hiking. In actual fact, slide climbing is part of the climbing sports and participants should approach it that way.

I can't understand why anyone would lead a group on a challenging climb in poor weather when some, if not all of the group is poorly equipped for the route. I saw one climber equipped in a plastic baggy better suited to a boat ride to the base of Niagara Falls on the Maid of the Mist. And there was a least one young lady wearing what appeared to be the equivalent of old running shoes.

I can't understand why someone would lead a school group on a slide climb on anything other than a dry and sunny day. It just doesn't make sense to me. Al
Thanks altbark. Yup one had a poncho that worked well for him with his other layers (he’s one who lent his jacket) and there were some running shoes which they changed into from hiking boots.

In all fairness, I need to put a little context here. The trip leaders immediately pitched this as an "expert climb" at the meeting to the 7 who were interested. I chimed in and said to bring rope, shoes with soft rubber, rain gear etc. and tried to see if anyone had fears of heights/exposure. (That was a situation a couple years ago in perfect weather that necessitated me down-climbing the crux partway several times to help others who were “stuck”).

Anyway, I sat in avy pass watching the weather for a while from the ledges as it rained. I'd have really pushed the trail if it kept up as it was (and I found out they were considering that as well). The last forecast I saw had things clearing a bit and "not a wash" (famous last words especially in the 'daks). The wind then came in and pushed off the dense fog and cleared it nicely for about 500' above the lake. The rain quit as well…briefly. It looked like a good trend/window of clearing. I was still concerned about the water flow since I hadn't seen it yet. We talked and the group was ready to take the trail if the flow was unreasonable...it was strong, but not a torrent by any means. The crux went off w/o a hitch other than the wet factor.

As things happened, the trip leaders dealt with them well and the group really “pulled together”. The parting of ways on the slide was ok as one of the leaders and I coordinated and helped our respective individuals. The weather was only one of a few more internal issues (and relatively unforeseeable issues) that made the day a bit intense. In all, I’d fathom that everyone learned something about themselves, the wilderness and grew from the experience. All that being said, I don't think there's a person in the group that would repeat it in given conditions
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Old 10-03-2011, 10:24 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Altbark View Post
I can't understand why someone would lead a school group on a slide climb on anything other than a dry and sunny day. It just doesn't make sense to me. Al
Al,
Having done this climb only once, I am not an authority on it. I have, however, been on a number of wet slides. The rock one finds on that face of Colden has an enormous amount of texture, like really coarse sandpaper at 50x magnification. Even on an old slide, if one is ascending a section where running water is not an everyday event, a little bit of water can actually make this kind of stone grippier. I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but the flow cleans it of dust and loose grit. The section this group was climbing, if I have understood the report, was new, clean stone, recently scoured by tons of passing debris. It is unlikely a little water would have added significantly to the risk. In short, the slide part of the hike isn't the first thing I would be focusing on if I was concerned about the dangers of a wet-day climb.

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A lot of people on these forums consider slide climbing to be part of the natural progression from mountain hiking. In actual fact, slide climbing is part of the climbing sports and participants should approach it that way.
Travel on slides ranges from easy hiking to technical climbing and everything between. The standard routes of several 46er ascents include slides for which a special "climbing-sports approach" is unnecessary. There is, therefore, no basis or useful purpose for generalizations like "slide climbing is part of the climbing sports." Obviously, some is and some is not.

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And there was a least one young lady wearing what appeared to be the equivalent of old running shoes.
Careful Al: my approach shoes look exactly like old running shoes to the untrained eye. Are you sure enough about this to critique her choice of footwear? Given Mudrat's last post, you may be right about this, however.

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What would have happened to this group if Mudrat hadn't been there to lend a hand. Wasn't he supposed to be the photographer?
From what I saw, he performed his function as photographer exceedingly well. (Great pics Kevin!) If he also helped to keep the group safe following their decision to make a wet-day climb, that is certainly praiseworthy. I don't know enough about the abilities of the climbers involved to assess how they might have fared without his help. I'm just glad he was there. Where the preparation of this group seems to have been less than stellar is in dealing with the wet and cold.

Anyway, your focus on the danger of slide climbing seems misplaced in this context. (Are you perhaps classifying the dike part of the hike as slide climbing?) The quality and relevance of your commentary on this practice might be enhanced by a little more experience with it If you ever want to try some entry-level slide climbing/hiking, I would be glad to go with you—on a sunny, dry day!

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Old 10-03-2011, 11:16 AM   #11
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Gregory, thanks for the comments. I can't argue with the logic. However, when I see a pic of a young lad climbing through a running stream of water, when I read a report of how cold and challenging the conditions are, I have to wonder how it was decided that that was a good day to be climbing Trap Dike and the slides beyond.

The point is well taken with respect to the varying difficulty of the slides in the High Peaks area. After all, I have climbed Allen and managed to slip, fall on my side, sprain my left wrist on the Herbert Brook stream bed. The Trap Dike route seems to on another level of difficulty.

I thank you for your kind offer to take me up a couple of slides. The problem for me is geographical. I would take you up on your kind offer if I was able to join a climbing club in the Trenton Ontario area, build up some skills in an organized manner and practice locally. I'd then get some of the gear needed to make the game a little safer. Unfortunately, none of those opportunities exist in my area.

A forum dedicated to the loftier pursuits of slide climbing might serve to separate the hikers from the climbers and insure that those thinking of moving beyond the trails and herd paths understand that they are starting to play another game. Al
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Old 10-03-2011, 11:21 AM   #12
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I won't say I have a lot of experience climbing the dike, but I have done it a half-dozen times, once in quite wet weather. I think Greg's comments are both accurate and insightful. This really was a tragedy, but in any situation like this, it's very easy to micro-analyze every aspect of it, and try to find the "error" that produced the result. Sometimes it's not that clear cut.
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Old 10-03-2011, 12:59 PM   #13
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Quote:
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A forum dedicated to the loftier pursuits of slide climbing might serve to separate the hikers from the climbers and insure that those thinking of moving beyond the trails and herd paths understand that they are starting to play another game. Al
There is a slide climbing, an off-trail navigation and a hundred highest forum and they are not visible to guests nor to those members who haven't activated them (ie. have not joined the user group via their control panel).
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Old 10-03-2011, 01:48 PM   #14
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There is a slide climbing, an off-trail navigation and a hundred highest forum and they are not visible to guests nor to those members who haven't activated them (ie. have not joined the user group via their control panel).
That being the case, maybe the moderators should move all slide related TRs to that section?
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Old 10-03-2011, 01:51 PM   #15
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Gregory, thanks for the comments. I can't argue with the logic. However, when I see a pic of a young lad climbing through a running stream of water, when I read a report of how cold and challenging the conditions are, I have to wonder how it was decided that that was a good day to be climbing Trap Dike and the slides beyond.
Well, I think the decision to try it that day was made long in advance and they kept open the option of using the trail all the way up to the final decision right before entering the dike. As Mudrat says, with 20/20 hindsight they would probably not make the same decision. So the answer, I guess, is that no one ever decided that was a particularly good day to be climbing the dike! The decision was made as it had to be: on the ground with the dike in front of them; there isn't really anyone to blame. It's a good thing they were up to the challenge.

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The point is well taken with respect to the varying difficulty of the slides in the High Peaks area. After all, I have climbed Allen and managed to slip, fall on my side, sprain my left wrist on the Herbert Brook stream bed. The Trap Dike route seems to on another level of difficulty.
I think you may be drawing the wrong conclusions from your experiences. Because of my adventures in slide climbing, I would now likely carry approach shoes on a trip up Allen. My slide experience makes me far more cognizant of the dangers on "ordinary" hiking routes and of how safely to address them. Also, the comparison of the Allen or Herbert Brook hikes with the Trap Dike is inappropriate because the difference isn't a matter of degree, it's apples and oranges. The Trap Dike is scrambling with exposure, not climbing inclined slabs. The cliffs on Saddleback might be a better comparison.

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I thank you for your kind offer to take me up a couple of slides. The problem for me is geographical. I would take you up on your kind offer if I was able to join a climbing club in the Trenton Ontario area, build up some skills in an organized manner and practice locally. I'd then get some of the gear needed to make the game a little safer. Unfortunately, none of those opportunities exist in my area.
I think you have some misconceptions about what is required in climbing slides. First of all, you have already been doing it in your 46er hikes, as you point out above. If one starts with easy and moderate ones, there are no special skills required and no particular training one could expect from organized instruction in a club setting. It really is just something one tries for oneself, with appropriate care and prudence and perhaps in the company of someone more experienced the first few times out.

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A forum dedicated to the loftier pursuits of slide climbing might serve to separate the hikers from the climbers and insure that those thinking of moving beyond the trails and herd paths understand that they are starting to play another game. Al
As noted above, it isn't really changing games. Everyone who has done the 46 necessarily has had some experience climbing exposed slabs. Practicing it in a purer form and with the right footwear and awareness just makes everything else one does in the mountains safer. In fact, I think a little experimentation with easy slides might well be regarded as a prudent prerequisite for hiking Allen, Seymour, Grace, etc., rather than as some sort of specialized challenge for those with advanced training. For these reasons I think it is good that non-technical slide hikes are posted in the general TR area. They are instructive for anyone learning to deal with exposed slabs, which, in one form or another, are a quotidian feature of our hiking in the Adirondacks. I certainly benefited from reading such reports over the years and I probably wouldn't have gotten to them were they posted somewhere else.

Last edited by Gregory Karl; 10-03-2011 at 02:15 PM.
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Old 10-03-2011, 01:54 PM   #16
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Originally Posted by TFR View Post
That being the case, maybe the moderators should move all slide related TRs to that section?
This is certainly worthy of consideration and has been brought up previously.

I wonder if by doing so it could be construed to be a recognition of responsibility, legally speaking.
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Old 10-03-2011, 02:45 PM   #17
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Originally Posted by TFR View Post
That being the case, maybe the moderators should move all slide related TRs to that section?
The recent fascination with the new and expanded slides along with this tragic incident have been reported here and in other publications both in print and online. When trying to set the parameters of "all", things can get rather complicated. That being said I am sure that both the moderators and hopefully those who post will be mindful of the audience and in turn that the readers understand that there is risk involved in doing almost anything in the mountains. Some higher than other albeit but risk.

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This is certainly worthy of consideration and has been brought up previously.

I wonder if by doing so it could be construed to be a recognition of responsibility, legally speaking.
Anyone see 60 minutes last night? Solo free climb (no ropes or protection) of Halfdome. I do not think that if the next person to try this and fail (death) would legally be able to find CBS responsible for airing the report.

Again any loss of life is tragic and my sincere condolences go out to the family and friends of Matthew.
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Last edited by ADKJack; 10-03-2011 at 02:48 PM.
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Old 10-03-2011, 03:07 PM   #18
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Originally Posted by TFR View Post
That being the case, maybe the moderators should move all slide related TRs to that section?
I do not agree with this. That being said, I think that some people like to read TR about slide climbing, in the end if you create a sub-forum for slide climbing nothing will prevent anyone to go there and read the TR.

I am sure that neither Neil or whoever will or run this forum , will take the time to evaluate if someone "deserve" or has the experience to be member of a group or if he/she can access the slide forum.

In the end it is the individual who is responsible for his/her ownself, safety in the mountains included.
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Old 10-03-2011, 04:24 PM   #19
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On a totally different note (I meant to put this in the report), I also wanted to thank Cory D for his post earlier on the "Trap Dike Before and After".
Your pics and report were most helpful!
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