Friday, October 26, 2012

Saddleback 2012-10-26

Saddleback via the slide!

The days are growing shorter, the temperature is dropping, and Hurricane Sandy threatens to inflict havoc on the northeast. Against this backdrop, Friday's forecast, sunny and exceptionally warm (low 70's), was a siren call. Seeking to take best advantage of this gift of summer weather, I decided to climb a slide. I've not seen Hurricane Irene's handiwork on Saddleback so it seemed like the best thing to do.

I rock-climbed in the distant past but, thirty years later, I was wary of relying on long-unused skills. All I could count on was feeling at ease on steep rock. I brought my old rock shoes (Chouinard Canyon's!) but they simply served as ballast; my trail shoes proved to be adequate for the job.

I left the Garden a half hour after sunrise (7:55 AM) and met a hunter barely a mile out. I knew the hunting season was in full swing, yet I managed to overlook wearing bright colors. I hoped my red pack would do the trick. I was not alone; none of the hikers I met sported "blaze orange".

Shortly past the Orebed lean-to, at a house-sized boulder lying next to the trail, I turned right and descended through open woods to Orebed Brook. I entered the brook on a smooth slab of wet rock. Moss and leaves signalled me to watch my footing as I carefully crossed the thin carpet of water to get to dry rock. Negotiating the brook's many rocks, rivulets, ledges, cascades, and waterfalls would prove to be far more enjoyable than trudging along the muddy Orebed Brook trail.

The volume of water was sufficient to produce interesting water features but not enough to impede my passage. A fair bit of rock-hopping is required because a great deal of the brook is littered with large rocks and boulders. Occasionally one can follow along the banks, scoured clean by Irene, and on stretches of smooth rock. I noticed small plants have started to take root in the silt and will add some color next spring, unless Sandy has other ideas.

If there was nothing more than rock-hopping to get to the slide then, at least for me, it would've become boring. Fortunately, there are many waterfalls en route to prevent monotony. I have no idea if they have been given names so I invented my own. Here are the five most interesting cataracts I encountered:

Serrated Falls
Ledge Falls
Broad Falls
Layer Cake Falls
Ramp 'n Stairs
Above Ledge Falls lies a broad expanse of smooth rock that is an ideal spot for a picnic or just lounging away a sunny afternoon. Beyond Broad Falls, a small stream enters from the north (left hand side when ascending). This tributary indicates where the Orebed Brook trail lies close to Orebed Brook. Like the house-sized boulder, it serves as a marker indicating where one can easily switch from brook to trail or vice versa.

For the purposes of slide climbing, I'd say things become more interesting above Ramp 'n Stairs where one encounters what I call the Amphitheater. The Amphitheater is an imposing, curved, stepped wall. It is fairly easy to ascend but signals a change from the smaller walls and ledges ascended earlier.
Once past the Amphitheater, I saw a huge mound of dark material that I assumed to be earth. In fact, it was a band of dark rock with traces of rust. It may be an ore deposit (iron?) but its appearance suggested a waste product so I called it the "Slag Pile". I had no difficulty ascending it.

Beyond the Slag Pile I had a clear view of the new slide. The entire area is white rock mottled with dark patches giving it the appearance of old, rotten snow. I studied the surface and decided to head towards an easily recognizable landmark, namely a low sloping wall I named "Blackstripe".

Blackstripe Wall
I had brought rock shoes but my trail shoes were providing very good adhesion on the clean rock. Upon reaching Blackstripe Wall, I looked back and gazed at the spectacular view of the Orebed valley. I decided to zag to the left and work my way up to a ramp flanked by a large boulder ("Climber's Delight").

"Climber's Delight"
The ramp proved to be a wee bit taller and steeper than expected but, with a little help from the boulder, I managed to ascend it without incident. Beyond "Climber's Delight" I paused to catch my breath and admire the expansive view of the valley flanked by Gothics.

The next section posed no significant hurdles and offered a broad variety of rock features allowing me to pick and choose whatever suited my fancy. Upon reaching the headwall, I had several options to ascend it. The headwall has two major vertical cracks. The left hand crack is a dike and the right hand one may also be a dike but I didn't investigate it.

I ascended the left hand dike to a point where there is a step in the slab between the two dikes. I ventured to the center of the lower slab, discovered the step was waist-high, moved up over the step onto the upper slab, and studied its surface. It was steeper than expected and didn't have much in the way of dimples, nubbins, or protruding "crystals". Hmm.

I moved up and paused again. While I studied the surface, it felt like my shoes had been freshly greased. A tingling feeling came over me indicating my confidence was waning, the next move would not be easier, and I was going to lose some skin. I decided that my trail shoes, and rusty skills, had met their match and now was a good time to bail out.

Unwinding my last move was not easy so I chose to move laterally, to the right, to a nearby slanting crack. Now armed with a solid handhold, I lowered myself past the step and stood on the lower slab. Well, that was exciting! I was too lazy to don my rock shoes and decided to find easier terrain. I walked back to the large dike and stepped onto its left hand slab. The grade was a good match for my shoes and I quickly ascended the last few yards to the top of the headwall.

Having appreciated the views earlier, I didn't dawdle on top of the headwall and ducked into the woods following faint traces of a herd path. Within the woods I found a wall and, following Neil's suggestion, headed right. I recalled his words about a precipitous drop on "climber's right" and then heading up to "pop up" on the summit.

I found a precipitous drop, climbed up onto a ledge but failed to discover an easy path to the summit. I was staring at a seemingly impenetrable expanse of cripplebrush. Some of it seemed so tightly knit that it might even support my weight. Upon closer inspection, I was looking at the tops of trees that, if stepped on, would swallow me whole. I looked down at the base of the ledge and found more thick cripplebrush. I was in no mood to plow through this field of wire-brushes and chose to retreat and find a more welcoming route.

I descended about twenty feet, moved to climber's left a few yards and, staying low, followed whatever route allowed me through while aiming for blue-sky seen through the trees. I was wearing long pants but was too lazy to put on a long-sleeve shirt. I moved carefully and did a fair job of avoiding the appearance of having wrestled with an angry cat.

The terrain was much friendlier and, despite what felt like a long time, I emerged a short while later on the trail, a mere 25 feet from the summit. I was rewarded with a spectacular sight: all valleys east of the great Range were blanketed in clouds. It looked like a glacial field extending out to the horizon!

I took off my footwear, laid everything out to dry, and broke out the Clif Bars. I had planned to hike to Basin and return via the Shorey (ain't no) Shortcut. However, for a change, I chose to spend time relaxing on the summit and enjoying the fine weather and views. I spent about an hour and quarter on Saddleback and had the summit all to my self.

I chose to descend Saddleback using the Orebed Brook trail to a point, above "Broad Falls", where I could enter the brook again. Just below the Saddleback/Gothics col, I met a couple from Quebec who were planning to traverse Gothics, Armstrong, and Lower Wolfjaw. It seemed a little late in the day for the chosen itinerary. I answered their questions and even showed them a few photos of the route given that I had hiked it the previous week.

It seems that Mother Nature hates ladders. The extensive ladder-like staircase, flanking the expanded slide on the Orebed Brook trail, was installed shortly after Irene erased the old trail and its ladders. A recent storm toppled a tall spruce tree directly onto the last set of stairs blocking about 25 feet of it. What are the odds of such a direct hit?

I re-entered Orebed Brook above "Broad Falls" and began a comfortable descent back to my starting point. It was fun retracing my steps and, once again, a welcome change from the muddy trail. I walked about a hundred yards past my initial entry point, in order to inspect an interesting cascade and pool, and then made a beeline up the slope and intersected the trail.

The remainder of the hike was unremarkable except for a brief moment when I walked into a branch stub protruding from a fallen log. It had become so warm that I regretted not having brought shorts. I had rolled up my softshell pants and that exposed my calf to the stub which left a nice souvenir of the encounter. 

Between Johns Brook Lodge and the Garden, I met at least four groups of hikers ranging in number from two to six. Two fellows looked like it may have been their first time out for an overnight. Torn jeans and gear lashed on in a mound suggested the trip would be a significant learning experience. A group of three included two fellows hand-carrying full gallon-bags of water. For added exercise? Farther along, I met two groups of young hikers. The boys in the first group, bare-chested, were laden with enormous packs while bright-eyed girls followed in their wake. The second group, all smiles and laughs, had paused in Deer Brook to refresh themselves. For their sake, I hoped the weather would hold for at least two more days.

I arrived at the Garden at 4:00 PM and discovered fifty people had signed in after me. Everyone was trying to squeeze in one more weekend in the woods, in fair weather, before Sandy remodels it. It had been a great day to visit Irene's handiwork and I wondered if Sandy will make her mark as well. 


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