Almost Big Slide
Trailhead: Garden, Keene Valley, NY
Date of climb: June 23, 2012
#27: Big Slide, 4240 ft. (to be reclimbed at a later date)
I hiked all of Big Slide today except for the last 20 feet or so to the summit. It was extremely frustrating to have had to turn back when I was so close, but Mother Nature prevented me from reaching my goal today.
When I arrived at the Garden trailhead at around 8:30 am, the lot was already full. The gate attendant told me it’s usually full by 6:30-7 am on weekends, which I hadn’t anticipated. I ended up having to park at the Marcy airfield and take a shuttle to the trail and this mishap cost me about 45 minutes of prime hike time, when the sun was still shining and there was not a hint of rain in the blue sky.
The loop trail going left from Garden was very pretty and surprisingly easy to hike – the elevation gain was extremely gradual with no steep climbing. I’d been hiking for only about an hour when I heard thunder, and in the first 4-5 miles of the hike there were periodic showers followed by brilliant sun, and distant thunder rumbling occasionally in the sky. I was loving hiking in these conditions – rain always has a way of making everything in the woods look pristine and crisp. This weather continued for another 2 miles or so after turning onto the trail toward Big Slide, the beginning of which was 2.3 miles to the summit. Then, when I was just below the peak (but still not above tree line, thankfully), it started pouring – soaking, drenching rain. And then it started hailing. And then it started thundering and lightening.
I stood below treeline for over an hour waiting for it to pass. It finally seemed like it was dying down a bit; the rain slowed to a moderate but steady shower, the hail stopped and the thunder sounded more distant again – but I was still seeing occasional flashes of lightening. I waited some more. Eventually I thought it had finally passed and decided to start up the rest of the way to the summit. I climbed the ladder that had been placed over some steep rocks to protect the vegetation beneath. When I reached the top, I saw another flash of lightening and knew I had made a mistake. At the same time I looked up at the summit and saw the very last hurdle: the steep, verticle boulders, a challenge in dry conditions, were slick from the rain. The conditions for hiking were just too dangerous and I reluctantly decided to retreat.
My initial plan had been to hike Big Slide peak and then loop around over the three Brothers, back to the Garden trailhead. Since the rest of the hike would have put me on open ridges for a good portion, I had to go back the way I’d come… so instead of 4 summits in 9 miles of hiking, I ended up with 0 summits and nearly 11 miles.
A bummer of a day, but I still enjoyed most of it. The trails were beautiful and it was fun going up the open rock slide. There were many river crossings and switchbacks that were much easier going up when it hadn’t poured yet than going down. About 3 miles from the end of my hike, a deer walked out of the woods right in front of me! My camera was buried in layers of plastic inside my pack and I eventually snapped a picture when it was almost too late.
When I was about a mile from Garden at the very end of my hike, the rain stopped and the sun came back out. The sky was brilliantly blue again, and it would have seemed like I imagined all that bad weather if not for the wet leaves and mud puddles everywhere. I will have to return and hike Big Slide again to officially count it as one of my 46.