Avalanches pave paths to summits
By Phil Brown
The guidebooks are silent on the view from Nye Mountain. There’s nothing to see. Back in the 1920s, Bob and George Marshall, the pioneering 46ers, ranked its view dead last among the High Peaks. So did James R. Burnside in his captivating 1996 book Exploring the 46 Adirondack High Peaks.
But when I climbed Nye on a summer day I looked down on a wonderful scene of the Chubb River winding through a marshy valley.
Same mountain, different results.
Most people climb Nye only if they’re intent on bagging all 46 High Peaks. When I visited Nye, I had no interest in reaching the summit. I merely wanted to climb a slide.
Like many hikers, I had often marveled at the white stripes on Dix, Giant and other High Peaks. I never thought to scale them until I picked up Don Mellor’s Climbing in the Adirondacks and got sucked in by his description of slide climbing:
It isn’t really hiking; it isn’t really rock-climbing. Climbing these slides is, perhaps, closer to classical mountaineering: it generally entails a long approach hike, some steep scrambling on open rock, discretion in route choice, tremendous exposure, perhaps a little rope work for the tricky sections, and best of all, a finish not in some lowland forest, but on one of the Adirondacks’ glorious summits.
I’d rather be a classical mountaineer than a plain old hiker any day, especially if I don’t have to invest in any fancy gear. So I set off down the Northville-Placid Trail from Averyville one morning in search of the slide on Nye’s western slope (those going to the summit take an entirely different route). After nearly five miles, I left the trail and headed upward. I wasn’t sure where the slide was, but I soon noticed a light in the forest, as if from a clearing, and made for it.
After thrashing about the woods, what a relief to step out onto bare rock! Instead of staring at spruce branches in front of my nose, I was gazing at a magnificent valley framed by forested mountains as far as the eye could see. I found a rock to sit on so I could admire the scenery while eating lunch. From my lonely perch, I followed the progress of a pair of canoeists wending their way up the Chubb and wondered which of us had the better view.
Most Adirondack slides develop after a torrential downpour washes the trees, rocks, soil and everything in their path downslope, leaving the bedrock exposed. The Nye slide is unusual in that it was created by an earthquake in 1983. The ascent up this 1,400-foot route – which is not entirely clean of rubble and vegetation – was not at all difficult, just a steep walk. I never felt in danger. I felt exhilarated. At each moment, I knew that if I turned around, I’d be treated to a gorgeous view, and the higher I got, the better it got.
The Nye slide ends at the edge of a thick evergreen forest at least a half-mile from the summit. I didn’t try to bushwhack to the top. Rather, I walked back down the slide and enjoyed the scenery all over again, and this time I didn’t even have to turn around.
Over the next few months, I climbed several other slides in and around the High Peaks. Some were harder than others – at times the ascents verged on rock climbing – but I encountered nothing that an experienced hiker in good condition couldn’t handle.
Hardly anybody hikes to the summit of this 3,892-foot peak in the Sentinel Range west of Lake Placid – there’s no trail and little to see – but the slide climb is superb. As you ascend, great views open up of Wilmington Notch, Whiteface Mountain and McKenzie Mountain Wilderness. If you’re intrigued by slide climbing, this might be the place to start. It’s a fairly easy climb that can be done in a few hours.
Park in the Monument Falls lot on Route 86 several miles northeast of Lake Placid and climb the embankment on the other side of the highway to find an overgrown road in the woods. Follow it about a mile to a giant pile of trees and other debris from the landslide, then turn right and follow the stream. In a few minutes, you’ll reach the slide’s dramatic headwall. Ascend the headwall by way of a natural staircase on the left side. This is the only tricky part. After the headwall, it’s mostly just a strenuous walk up clean, bare rock. Toward the top, it gets too steep to walk.
The downpour that followed Hurricane Floyd last year created several new slides in the Adirondacks, the most prominent on the northwest face of Colden. It appears as a wide, white gash easily visible from Marcy Dam or from Route 73 near Adirondak Loj Road.
From the Loj, follow the state trails as if going to Avalanche Pass. After about 3.5 miles, you’ll run into a massive pile of trees, rocks and mud. Find a way through the debris to get to the base of the slide. Once on the rock, it’s fairly easy walking. As you ascend, views open up of Wright, Algonquin and the rest of the MacIntyre Range. There are several other slides on these peaks. To the north are Mount Jo, near the Loj, and the pond behind Marcy Dam. From the top of the slide, it’s possible to bushwhack to Colden’s north summit, where you can pick up the trail to the main summit.
This 4,857-foot peak is a slide climber’s paradise. The parallel white stripes running down its slopes are a familiar sight in the High Peaks. The mountain looks as though it were clawed by a panther.
Take the Dix trail from Route 73 and you’ll run right into the slides after 5.8 miles. They are magnificent slabs of rock, providing wonderful views of Nippletop and other peaks. At one point, I had to use my knees to brace myself on a steep section, but such predicaments may be avoidable if you are more careful in choosing your way. By the time you get to the top of the slide, you will have gained more than 2,000 feet in elevation. If you plan to bushwhack to the summit, stick to the routes on the right. It makes for a long trip, but the vistas from the summit should not to be missed.
You can drive to the top of Whiteface or go up one of the hiking trails, but if you feel like real adventure, you’ll be drawn to the long, narrow slide that scars its western face. Getting to the slide is not easy. You have to hike nearly four miles along the trail from Connery Pond, cut left to bushwhack to Whiteface Brook and follow the brook to the base. (If you have a boat, you can cut out 2.5 miles of the hike by disembarking at Whiteface Landing, on the north end of Lake Placid.) Soon after reaching the slide, you’ll encounter a steep section that’s a scramble, but that’s the only tricky business.
As you get higher, the vista widens until you see all of Lake Placid below. Of the surrounding mountains, Moose and McKenzie are especially prominent. On the day I made the trip, there were lots of tourists on the summit walkway, and many of them were gawking at me rather than the scenery as I neared the end of my climb. If I seemed strange to them, it seemed strange to me to end up, after such a rugged and solitary journey, atop a mountain with a gift shop and cafeteria.
Mellor writes of Whiteface, which is the fifth-highest peak in the state: “Civilization is always in view and the top of the mountain is packed with people who have arrived by car and elevator. But where else can you [climb a slide] . . . and finish with a chili-dog and a Coke?”
Only in the Adirondacks.