It was a sluggish beginning. A yawn and a stretch led to motivation and the ritual of dressing: a step into the polypropylene, followed by wool pants and a sweater. I go downstairs for something to eat and a conscious thought of food for the trail. Into the pack goes my rope, a few tubular webbing slings and carabiners, an ice piton, 60 cm ice axe, North Wall hammer, and crampons. Goretex parka, more clothes and especially water follow. Don’t forget the headlamp. Finally a trundle into the ole automobile and on the road to the Giant Mountain trail head.
I lace up my new Koflach double boots as the air is broken by the sounds of cars passing on the nearby road. Quickly I begin my trek, away from the cars, the road, and people. I sign in at the trailhead register, noting only one name scribbled in the last week. I follow his tracks up the trail, enjoying the quiet echoes of Roaring Brook. My trail weaves away from the river, but we will soon meet again.
It is November 30, my second forage into the Adirondack snow and ice this year. The past week has been full of rain and a few days of bitter cold has caused a rapid freeze in the High Peaks. So here I am, off on a solo ascent. I had decided that Giant Mountain could be ascended via the Eagle Slide with these interesting conditions.
I hear the gurgle of Roaring Brook and realize that now I must leave the easy going trail and follow the snow, boulders, and alders which line the waterway. I hike three miles, constantly crossing glazed Roaring Brook, dodging trees and rocks, avoiding the energy drain of post-holing, up and up to the Slide. I try to keep a ‘constant pace, all the while watching the cirque of Giant’s West Face open up before me.
I find myself next to the river on a steep slope covered with ice. I look down and realize my precarious position. Quickly I pull out my ice axe and scamper up the icy slope. Now is the time for crampons.
The sides of the stream tower 20′ above my head. I notice huge boulders lodged in the walls. Why have they not begun thundering down on my head? I put my helmet on. Soon the stream becomes ice and I see Eagle Slide open up in front of me. All alone at the base, with frost covered trees encased in ice, I begin my climb up the 10001 of snow and ice. With no partner for a belay, I search above for a place to regain my breath. The slide has many juniper and cedar outcrops where snow has been trapped. These places I come to and rest, off of the ice, breathing, consulting my predicament.
The slide has been covered with about 2″ of ice, but there are pockets of snow in small level basins. It is not very steep, but I have both hands full with ice tools for balance. I must keep a rhythm; a fall now would be a disastrous 600′ down the ice. And there, in a heap, 4 miles from the road, I would be in big trouble. Plant, step, plant, step, I climb on, reaching a snow basin, placing my terror behind me. There is no room for panic. Concentration on my skill replaces my fear and enjoyment continues.
As I near the top, I encounter short 20′ headwalls. I clamber over three of them, praising my Charlet Moser ice hammer for it’s security when the ice under my crampons shatter to reveal rock. Adrenalin pushes me up the final snow slog into the stunted spruce/fir trees on the summit ridge. I turn around, and am struck by the vista which opens before me between the swirling mass of snow and wind.
At the top, everything is encased in ice from the rain storm. I take off my crampons and search for the descent trail. Quickly I find it and start down because the dark and the cold is beginning to settle. I may have made the climb, but the descent is just as tough, even on the trail. Down I go, sometimes stumbling or sliding, struggling with my tired limbs.
What pursued me to go on this venture I do not know, but I remember the peace and solitude I felt, all alone on the mountain’s slope. I guess that is the whole point: an inner peace and calm admist a seemingly hostile environment.