Thursday, June 27, 2013

Grace and Spotted (Great Slide) 2013-06-27

Late Wednesday afternoon, Neil inquired if I had hiking plans for the following day. Thursday's weather forecast was the best of several days to come so I suggested visiting Grace by way of the Great Slide. Neil had seen this route many times before but agreed it would make for a fun day.

We parked on the eastern side of route 73, just past the bridge over the North Fork Boquet river. The morning was warm and very humid so we both switched to T-shirts and shorts. Trail-runners were the ideal footwear for the day. At 7:40 AM we began our hike along the southern bank of the river.

After passing two designated campsites, we continued along the smooth herd-path, until we reached a crossing. It looked like a viewing spot along the river bank and I had passed it and continued along the distinct herd-path. Neil called out to me and pointed to a cedar on the opposite bank marked with a faded red paint-blaze. The "viewing spot" was indeed a crossing and we rock-hopped across to pick up the herd-path on the northern bank. The path rose above and away from the river.

We crossed smaller brooks, headed left at a fork (right leads northwest), crossed the North Fork Boquet River, passed a side-trail to Lillypad Pond, veered away to pick up the South Fork Boquet River, and paused briefly at a campsite. The campsite (could not find a designated campsite marker) is located between two parallel brooks, one is the South Fork Boquet River and the other a major tributary that leads west to the Beckhorn Slide.

Idyllic pool along the South Fork Boquet River.
We followed a distinct herd-path rising out of the campsite but it ended abruptly. I had seen a cairn at the southwestern end of the campsite but assumed it led elsewhere. Figuring it had indicated the proper path we simply cut directly south, about 50 yards, and picked up the desired herd-path following the course of the South Fork Boquet.

We reached an intersection of three brooks that Neil, based on a description offered by Glen (Mastergrasshopper), called "Four Corners". We passed one more tributary and, a few minutes later, the herd-path veered away from the brook and began ascending Grace. We stopped to sterilize some water since we didn't expect to find any until we finished our traverse of Grace, Spotted and Elizabethtown #4.

Neil on herd-path to the Great Slide.
No sooner had we started up the path, we spied a deer, no more than forty feet up the trail, motionless and staring at us. As we moved forward it crossed the herd-path and stopped to look back at us.  We moved again and, violating its forty foot 'personal space', it sprinted away into the woods. No time for photos but captured as an indelible memory.

Upon reaching the first exposed bit of rock, we left the herd-path and began ascending it. Whatever was wet was dangerously slippery and forced us to remain on the 'dry and narrow'. How wet was it? Wet enough for frogs!
Emerging from the primordial ooze on the Great Slide.

Neil follows the 'dry and narrow'.
The lower portion of the slide is reverting back to woods and so we threaded our way from one exposed patch of slick rock, through woods, and on to the next. Eventually the woods receded and gave way to an open slab offering cleaner, and drier, rock as well as grand views of Hough and Dix.

Neil, Hough, and Dix.
The ascent of the slab went smoothly and was over all too soon. We found ourselves back in the trees and searched for an easy means to regain the upper portion of the slide. After a bit of exploration, we corrected our direction and resumed the ascent. Upon reaching the base of the final cliff we opted to climb it as opposed to ducking to the right and using the herd-path.

About ten yards below the summit, we found a broad chute featuring a hand-crack along the left and a V-shaped trough along the right. Neil and I chose our preferred routes and topped out on the cliff's head. I thought it was the best bit of climbing of the entire route!

Upper terminus of the Great Slide.
It took only a few seconds for the black flies, and deer flies, to find us. We quickly changed into pants, long-sleeve shirts, and "caps with curtains" to fend off the hungry hordes. Free of our packs, we proceeded southwest along a herd-path to tag the true summit of Grace. A new summit disk has been nailed to the rock and continues to offer a choice of appellations: East Dix and Grace.

Returning to the cliff, we took one last look down the Great Slide, and shouldered our packs. Accompanied by the persistent "light-saber" buzzing of deer flies, we began our descent east to double-humped Spotted Mountain. The herd-path frequently petered out and required some bushwhacking to thread a route from one stretch of open rock to another. Blueberry shrubs lined the periphery of the open stretches but their fruit wasn't ripe.

Spotted was a delight. Its two humps provided a good blend of interesting rock, woods, vegetation, and commanding views of the Dix Range. At one point we were mesmerized by nine turkey vultures soaring high above us. Their aerial gyrations were accompanied by the flute-like music of nearby thrushes and inquiring calls of white-throated sparrows. Like one radio station overpowering another, nature's symphony was soon overshadowed by the bag-pipes of deer flies. Our cap-curtains kept them at bay but did little to muffle the whine of their eager dentist-drills.

Neil atop Spotted's southwestern summit.
Elizabeth #4 lies about 750 feet below Spotted and our eyes confirmed the height disparity. We started the descent along a herd-path but eventually followed whatever course felt right, mostly by traversing from one bit of exposed rock to another. The final rock outcrop offered some fun scrambling and, after emerging from an intervening col, we stood on "E-town #4".

Neil descending to Elizabethtown #4.
The summit harbored a picturesque pond surrounded by smooth rock and luxuriant moss. It seemed like a lovely spot to bivouac under the stars. Well, maybe not this evening because we noticed the cloud-cover was descending and breaking over the summit of Dix. Heavy rain, possibly a thunderstorm, was predicted to begin in the coming hours and we wanted to be, at the very least, off the summits and in the valley before the deluge arrived.

Still-life on E-town #4.
Neil pointed to his topo map and indicated E-Town #4's northern side might offer a good descent route. The map indicated it had an open expanse of rock that could offer less resistance for our descent. It proved to be an ideal route and appeared to have been used by others. We found a few bits of weathered flagging and evidence of cleanly-sawn trees and branches. The "trail-clearing" led past the base of the rocky slope and into the woods for about 200 yards before we lost it at a steep drop-off. By the height of the flagging, Neil guessed it might have been a route cleared for skiing. The remaining stretch of forest, to the South Fork Boquet, offered open woods and an easy descent.

Easy bushwhack down to South Fork Boquet River.
We emerged on the Boquet and sat in its midst to tank-up on water, have a snack, and just lounge in the river and watch the water go by. Neil spent time photographing various water features while I sat happily munching my way to the bottom of my bag of "dog kibble". The flies seemed to sense it was time to leave us alone and I appreciated their cooperation.

A few yards up and out of the river brought us to the main herd-path. The remaining miles, a playback of the morning's travels, slipped by with little effort. We knew we were close to the highway when we heard the sounds of people enjoying the flumes and pools of the North Fork Boquet. Their laughter signaled the end of my first trip along the length of this valley and to the Great Slide. I'm already eager to return and discover its many other treasures.


See all photos.

Neil's Photos.

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