Defeat at Gothics, Redemption on the Slides

Sat. Oct. 6 – Orebed and Southside Trails

It was a restless night, as always for me when camping. I literally had a nightmare of a bear breaking into the tent for some minor “smell-able,” that I neglected to put in the BC. The bright light of the half moon illuminated the translucent tent fabric between 2 and 3AM, but by 4:30, when it’s time to get up, it’s all dark. Over at the cook site, huddled over my Primus stove, boiling coffee, and munching granola, I’m glad for the printed daily food list. The last thing I want to think about is what lunch & snacks to pack. The menu tells me.

By 7:15, I have finished breakfast, loaded my pack for a day hike, procured water at JBL, and awakened a couple people in the lodge bunk room. Oops. Not a good move. Rain is falling steadily and the trail is very muddy. (Who doesn’t love that black, viscous, organic Adirondack mud? I even like the whiff of it I get cleaning my boots when I’m back home.) I fall in with Carl and Karen from Albany who are HaBaSa bound, as is, it seems everyone going up today. Then are sporting a nifty pair of smallish gaiters: Outdoor Research Bugouts, on closeout from EMS at $20.

Most important lesson learned from this backpacking trip: BRING A DAY PACK. Otherwise, you will be hauling your damn 80 liter backpack all over those peaks. Bring a convenient size day pack. Pay the weight cost.


Arriving at the Orebed Slide, it looks like God’s Razor Blade has sliced the forest cleanly off the mountain slab. Before the stairs, I follow some yellow paint blazes up the slide for about 80 yards, a route that seems quite treacherous for a marked trail. In fact, while the blue-marked trail DOES disappear for a bit, and one IS forced out onto the slide, in a very short distance, blue markers welcome the faint of heart back into the forest. I missed them and blundered on up the slide section, almost to the stairs.

The infamous Orebed stairs are a piece of cake. Not a problem, not for me, not for my dog, not (I think) for an 80 year-old grandmother in a wheelchair. Now the bare open sloping anorthosite to our right, that would be a different matter. As the different segments have different riser spacing, it’s tricky to settle on a routine: some segments are best taken two at a time, others singly. Minor carping to be sure. Above the stairs, the trail goes back into the forest, or rather a trail-gash-slash in the topsoil cover. While confined, the bare rock of this area is tricky to navigate. There are unofficial, braided herd paths and side trails weaving throughout this section. Too bad, because they expand the area of destruction, but at times I resort to them.


Soon after the 4000-foot marker, I hit the Gothics-Saddleback col. In the rain, I plop myself down on the boulder there, and vainly try to cover myself, Halle, and the backpack with the tarp. The rain slats down. At times Gothics is enshrouded in the clouds; other times, the sky opens up enough to reveal a ridiculously acute peak and the wind furiously driving cloud fragments over the ridge. It looks like Mt. Doom. Another HaBaSa-bound hiker joins me briefly and then heads southwest. I wait for half an hour, but the rain does not slacken and no Gothics-bound hikers appear.

I give it up, and head back down. Disappointed, but I’m unfamiliar with Gothics, only know that’s it is very very steep, and nothing that I want to challenge in that weather.


Back below the base of the stairs (and below the yellow-blazed bit I mentioned above), I meet four guys coming up the slide. “How is it from here on down? Can I handle it?” Sure, they reply, no problem. Pleased to salvage something from the day, I move out on the gently downward sloping slide. This is NOT slide-climbing, as real hikers and slide-climbers think of it; this is the boring stuff at the base. But, to the neophyte, quite exhilarating. The exposed raw rock and the tumbled forest debris on both sides is an impressive sight. I follow this down for a few hundred meters, until it gradually turns back into an ordinary mountain brook, with rounded boulders and outcroppings. I “bushwhack” all of twenty meters back to the trail.

The rain slackens, but there’s no sun. Most of the hikers coming up are heading for Saddleback.

I decide to check out the lower sections of Bennie’s Brook slide, following the Southside Trail that way. A cairn marks this popular slide route. It’s equally impressive, but different. This one was made by God’s Power Washer. I went up about half a mile, to a steep falls, over brownish rock. The slides are magnificent, and, in their lower sections, easily navigable. The day is not lost, not that any day spent hiking around the High Peaks area could be a loss.

By 4, I’m back at JBL, spend an hour in the great room, enjoying the hot coffee and a Clif bar. Dominic, the caretaker, looks at my map, and corrects my math. The Lower Great Range loop is 8.2 miles, a number Dom has seen and related countless times. I’ll try again tomorrow. After dinner I meet a young hiker, Billy, who’s wants to do it too. We plan to meet at 6:30AM Sunday at the JBL trailhead sign.

Photos from Oct. 6 on Picasa