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Armstrong the neglected.

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  • Armstrong the neglected.


    After I wrote the following TR I got the idea of assembling my reports of each 46er-B hike into an on-line document with 46 chapters. The pictures will be presented in-line and will go with the text.
    Until I get that project up and running here is a conventional report of my Armstrong whack. Future reports will be appended to the growing document
    as I write them.


    Armstrong is a peak that garners little attention. It is but an intermediate bump, a way-station on one's route to Gothics. One rapidly ascends the steep trail from UWJ, catches a view of Gothics, snaps a picture or two then quickly regains the muddy trail on their way to something bigger and better. Or, after enjoying the mighty views of Gothics, Armstrong is just a box to be checked while continuing down the Great Range. This has been my own case on Armstrong on many occasions. I had all of this in mind while approaching along the wild Beaver Meadows Brook which offers extensive views of cliffs on both UWJ and Armstrong. This impression became even more acute while ascending the steep and open expanses of the magnificent east slides. Finally, above the slides, the seemingly impossible and forbidding terrain that rose above me at a 45 degree angle, peppered with cliffs and gigantic boulders put an even more forbidding face on this mountain.

    The efficiency of the typical 46er pursuit is such that most of this sort of awe-inspiring and challenging terrain, of which there is so much within the High Peaks, remains almost completely unexplored, unknown and is rarely experienced.

    So, after a relatively easy bushwhack of Dix, which I had done only 6 days previously via its east ridge I aimed my feet at Armstrong. I had done it via the east facing slides in 2011, pre-Irene but it was raining and I had no views. Back then the long approach up the Beaver Meadow watershed was easy on exposed slabs. The slide was mossy, wet and somewhat steep but it had been a fairly easy climb.

    Therefore, I saw this repeat as a light day.

    At about 2350 feet on the Beaver Meadow trail I passed the sign that marks the boundary of private and public land and proceeded a bit further. Beaver Meadow brook was flowing strong and noisily thanks to recent heavy rains.

    Stepping off the trail was like leaving a long, green tunnel where I had been putting one foot in front of the other with my brain switched off. Suddenly, my mind was on full alert and every step was made carefully and I constantly scanned and assessed the terrain in front of me making myriads of little decisions. I quickly arrived at the drainage and right away I could see I had my work cut out for me. It was a mess of blowdown and boulders with the brook flowing through it. Irene had torn it apart and the steep banks showed landslide after landslide that had brought down countless boulders and trees. I went in and out of the creek bed, detouring around tangled trees, side-hilling in soft muck, dropping back in etc. Progress was calorie consuming and slow. I re-crossed the flow constantly and was always scanning the terrain ahead picking out the best lines. Sweat was pouring off of me and black flies swarmed but rarely stung.

    I had lost my map with some key elevations written on it and my back-up was a B&W thing that was hard to read, especially the key split where I was to leave the main drainage and follow a tributary toward Armstrong. However, at the last minute before leaving my house I had tossed my GPS with my planned route installed into my pack and this was reassuring. I didn't want to miss the slide.

    The hike up the drainage was arduous but the views behind me kept expanding to include Noonmark and RPR, which was interesting because on the east ridge of Dix I had views of the same two peaks. Suddenly, there were no more boulders afoot or tree snags and the creek-walk became a lot easier. My altimeter showed the elevation increasing at a decent 100 feet every 5 minutes or so. In all, the entire hike up the progressively shrinking brook was stunningly beautiful in a wild and crazily chaotic landscape. It was nothing at all like my previous bucolic trip - not even remotely similar.

    I could tell I was approaching the key tributary before I saw it but since I had it, I switched on the GPS for confirmation. Along the trib the woods were steep and open but the ground was soft and Swiss cheese-like. After some steep ascending I saw a grove of slide alder up ahead and went for it. Soon, I was ascending calf-burning and chest-pounding steep terrain in the blazing sun and got myself onto some moss-covered rock. It was extremely slippery, nothing like 8 years ago, and it had been raining on that trip.

    (Here is a copy-paste of my description of slide alder from my 2011 trip report: the Dacks I call them slide alders and these ones were very pretty. They had fresh and tender green leaves and slender, speckled trunks. They grew right out of a thick mass of treacherous rotting tree trunks covered in moss. Alders are symbiotic with nitrogen fixing bacteria and have nodules on their roots.)

    Something didn't feel right and I remembered on satellite view a field of alder that led to nowhere. I had been neglecting the compass so I dug out the GPS again and saw I was about 100 yards off to the left of the main slide. The ensuing steep traverse was an experience all of its own with massive-looking cliff walls, inevitable blowdown and huge boulders to skirt.

    It didn't take long to get onto the real slide track and contrary to 2011, when there had been channels of grippy rock it was now a carpet of green and black, with some tiny exposed islands. I tried going up it but soon I got stuck and had to retreat painstakingly to avoid going into an uncontrolled slide. This abused my leg, trunk and arm muscles greatly. My heart was racing and sweat poured off me in rivulets. I wanted no more of that so I ascended 100 feet in decent woods alongside the carpeted rock and then I traversed over to the main body of the slide. I was greeted by an open expanse of gorgeous green and sopping wet carpet. Trying to ascend it was like climbing a banana peel. On a couple occasions I was able to ascend narrow fingers of rock but it was a bit like Russian roulette because if the rock finger ran out I would be stuck and have to descend. So, I played it very conservatively thinking how quickly the **** could hit the fan and spoil my day.

    It was an amazing place to be and I was in no way disappointed at having to forego the slide climb. Ascending either directly alongside the open rock grabbing trees and kicking in or heading deeper into the woods was all good. It was still before noon only 500 feet below the summit and I had all day.

    At the upper head-wall I paused, gawked and took pictures before traversing under it and entering crazy-steep woods. I dawdled and examined both the woods and cliffs above me, craning my neck, looking for seams and potential views. It was impressive and I felt not a little awestruck. I was one puny human in a beautiful and malevolent place. Any normal person, if faced for the first time with such forbidding terrain of tangled blowdown, rotten soil, interlocked branches and rows of cliffs, would declare futile and insane any idea of attempting to progress through it. And yet, I knew I could do so. I saw some massive cliffs to my right (north) and although they would block my path I went across to them to try and get some pictures. Then I looked up and thought I saw a cleft. Indeed two separate cliffs met in a narrow head-high vee with enough trees that I was able to heave my way up onto flatter terrain. I used the GPS extensively to determine contour line distance and evaluate my position relative to the trail and summit. I wanted to hit the trail directly across from the final steep climb to the top and this I was able to do thanks to the GPS.

    I staggered out onto the summit, thirsty and out of water, filthy and soaking wet. My glasses were covered in pollen. After putting on a dry t-shirt and a shell I took a short break in the wind before making my way to the Beaver Meadow Trail.
    Last edited by Neil; 06-09-2019, 08:42 AM. Reason: Typos

  • #2
    Nice trip!

    Decades ago, we bushwhacked all the way down the Beaver Meadow drainage from the UWJ-Armstrong col. (This was an unplanned route - it was late spring, and in a novice mistake we had not brought snowshoes. LWJ and UWJ were slow but OK, but when we neared Armstrong it was getting late and the snow was getting very deep, so we bailed out. It was a good call; in a few minutes we were out of the snow, and the going was fast and easy all the way down to the trail.)

    So I may have missed it, but is "46er-B" an official "project" for this year? IIRC, haven't you already done the "bushwhack 46" a few years ago?

    I can certainly tell you some routes to avoid!


    • #3
      Originally posted by tcd View Post

      So I may have missed it, but is "46er-B" an official "project" for this year? IIRC, haven't you already done the "bushwhack 46" a few years ago?
      More of an unofficial project. And yes, it's 46-B2. This is a sort of re-visit. I'll be mixing new routes (ie. Dix) with re-do's of older routes that I particularly enjoyed. Such as Armstrong. The trail system rules out many approaches.

      I can certainly tell you some routes to avoid!
      I will definitely hit on you for beta. When looking at Armstrong I dismissed an approach from the Johns Brook/Orebed side as being without much interest, especially compared to the East slides. When I looked at the vegetation from the viewing rock I was very happy not to have gone that way.


      • #4
        Allen from the south? Looks tempting from Boreas, but my guess is that it is brutal


        • #5
          great stuff as always neil! love the green tributary pic as well as the one showing the snowfield on (i think) marcy.


          • #6
            Nice to see Armstrong getting some love. It's always been one of my favorites. The views from (and around) that slide look spectacular, I'm glad somebody is crazy enough to take photos of them for us!