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TRIP REPORT: Big chill on Big Slide
January 16, 2012 - Morgan Ryan
Have to admit, I was a little scared when I saw that the temperatures for Saturday were forecasted to be close to minus-20. That was the day that me and my friend Paul had planned to climb Big Slide Mountain ... but 20 below zero? I mean c’mon. That's ridiculous. When it’s that cold out, you should be covered in blankets in front of a wood-burning stove, not walking along an exposed ridge at 4,000 feet. I questioned the wisdom of the whole venture. There had to be a better day for doing this trip.
When I talked to Paul on the phone Friday, I secretly hoped that he would want to reschedule. At the time, snow was dumping down and blowing sideways. I wasn’t sure if the roads would even be clear enough to drive by 7 o’clock the next morning. Traffic advisories were everywhere.
Paul was undaunted. He was simply calling to finalize the plans and figure out what gear I was planning to bring along. I told him that I would probably start out with microspikes and carry snowshoes. We agreed that it was going to be chilly, but as long as we bundled up and kept moving we should be fine. So that was that. It was on. See ya at The Garden parking lot at 7:45.
So off we went, trekking poles in hand, microspikes afoot and snowshoes attached to our backpacks. I carried trail mix in one pocket of my shell jacket and my camera in the other (this had to be documented, could be my last pictures before turning into a popsicle).
I was all layered up.
Here’s what I was wearing:
Techwick long underwear
Techwick long underwear shirt
Polyester long-sleeve shirt
Heavier polyester long-sleeve
Gore-Tex shell jacket
Techwick liner hat
Vasque Light hiking boots
Heavy winter mittens
It was clear right from the start that we were the first ones on the trail for the day. We would be breaking trail, the first ones to plunge through the foot or so of snow that had fallen in the last two days. So up we went. Up and up and up, the trail climbs right from the beginning and doesn’t let up until after you have passed over each of the three Brothers.
The blood was flowing and the heart was pumping from the start, which was nice because it warmed us up right away. We charged right up the first Brother - 1.5 miles away - without taking a break. I started to think that maybe it wasn't such a good idea to get so sweaty so early in the hike. I knew that once we reached the first Brother, we would be exposed to what we were expecting to be high winds. To be soaked in sweat at the point could be dangerous. I tried to vent my jackets as much as possible to allow air to flow through and tried to moderate the pace as much as possible.
From the First Brother, the views were quite spectacular, the Johns Brook Valley and Great Range to our left and Giant Mountain looming behind us. Surprisingly, the wind wasn’t bad at all. We stopped to take some pictures, then once we started to get chilly, we were off again. Up and over one Brother, up and over another Brother, up and over yet another Brother … geez how many Brothers are there? Must have been a big family. It was fun and challenging hanging with the Brothers. There were some quite steep pitches that required us to scramble on our hands and knees through deep snow to climb up the rocks.
The snow started to get quite deep after we passed over the final Brother. We were still in microspikes and the wind really picked up on that side of the mountain. It was quite cold so we were a little reluctant to stop and change footwear. We postholed for a while before realizing that snowshoes were definitely in order. Each step was taking way too much effort and what the heck were we carrying the snowshoes for anyway. When we stopped to shoe-up, Paul’s thermometer read -18.
This was probably the coldest part of the hike. Not coincidentally, it was also the longest stop we made the whole time. After strapping my snowshoes on I had to put my mittens on for the first time. My fingers were quite numb and I was doing everything I could to get them warm again.
It was here that we saw the first person of the hike. He tromped up behind us just as we were taking off. He thanked us for breaking trail for him and decided to put his snowshoes on too. We were too cold to hang around for much longer, so we set off.
A little while later we ran into the same guy again, pretty close to the junction with the Slide Mountain Brook trail. We decided to let him pass since he seemed to be moving a little faster than us. We figured it was his turn to break trail for a while anyway. The trail got real steep at that point and the three of us scrambled the final quarter-mile to the summit.
On top, there was hardly any wind at all. We were able to clear off a spot on the rock to sit down for a bite to eat. Paul checked his thermometer again and it read -5. It was interesting to see the fluctuation of the thermometer as we moved along the trail. We figured the warmer temperature on top had a lot to do with a cloud that was slowly passing over us as we ate lunch. The temperature was different every time we checked: -10, -12, -5 and that whopping -18.
It was rather pleasant on the summit. We had a nice chat with our new hiking buddy. Turns out this wasn’t his first rodeo. He was working on his 10th Winter 46er round and Big Slide would count toward his 11th. Just another stroll in the park on a sunny January day.
The trip down went pretty smoothly. We had originally considered doing the 9.5-mile loop, which would take us down a different way past Johns Brook Lodge. That plan got nixed when we realized that would mean breaking trail the whole way back and multiple stream crossings over water that probably wouldn’t be frozen over.
We headed back the way we came on the nice smooth trail that we had spent the whole morning knocking out. On the way down, we saw two other groups of two people each. We told them that we were accepting donations for our trail-breaking services. They laughed, but unfortunately no money was exchanged.
It took us about two hours to get back to the Garden parking lot. Four hours up and two down to cover the 7.82 miles. We were eating lunch at Noon Mark Diner by 3 o'clock.
Garden to First Brother, 1.50 mi; to Second Brother 1.76 mi; to Third Brother 2.60 mi; to junction with Slide Mountain Brook Trail 3.71; to summit of Big Slide 3.91.
Total ascent from Garden: 2800 ft
Big Slide Mountain elevation: 4,240
Order of height: 27
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