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Old 01-10-2016, 07:32 AM   #1
Resident Slide Junkie
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Join Date: Mar 2007
Location: ADK Mountains
Posts: 114
Nippletop Slide - 2016 January 2

Round-trip distance: 13.5 miles
Total elevation gain: 4,600 feet
Distance to slide: 6 miles
Length of slide: 3,350 feet
Duration: 8.75 hours

Elk Pass

My first time on Nippletop Slide (aka Right to Life) was almost a decade ago while ill and after descending Blake Slide to the south. I visited again a couple years ago after the rescue in December of 2012. My visits were always in was time for a winter climb. Joining me was Loren Swears—always willing to go out and have some fun on the slides in winter. Preparing for an epic day, but hoping for less we met at 5:40 am. and started the walk in the dark on a well-packed Lake Road.

We exited the road on the Gill Brook Cutoff trail. It too was well packed to Elk Pass. The soft pastel colors of sunrise lit the sky as we walked below the ridge. Any question of whether there was ice on the slide was answered as we looked at the ice flows on Colvin beyond the beaver ponds. We bushwhacked to the right immediately after the drainage stream before the trail hooked left...the usual area at the headwaters of West Inlet Brook into which the slide cascaded in 1973. It was 8:30 am.

The trail seemed easier to follow unbroken in the winter than the summer. Down we trekked as the pass narrowed. It felt good to be back in the tight grip of Nippletop and Colvin amongst the talus and evergreens. About 30 minutes into the descent we found a wall of ice, an area I’d scrambled partway up during the summer to look at the slide. It looked like a nice climb, but we had no rope or protection—perhaps another day. Don Mellor’s Blue Lines mentions a climb in this area as a point of interest.

Above, Crux of the footwall...lots of air below. Below, view from the top of the wall.

Forty-five minutes later we arrived at the base of the slide where the ground levels and the footwall comes into view. It was covered with ice. I normally head up a right-rising ramp toward the ledges on the right. Today it was time to climb it from the lowest point. There was ice on all of it...or most of it. What wasn’t covered in ice was covered in snow. After blunting the tip of the axe the first time, I lightened my swing.

About halfway up I kicked through to running water and climbed a hollow section to the steepest, near vertical pitch near the top. All in all it was a fun climb. Loren filmed a bit and headed to the right. We met at the top. A short bushwhack up the drainage on the right-hand side led to the second “step” of the slide. In summer the low angle slab leading to the vertical ledges is slimy. Today it was an easy walk up to another fun pitch of ice.

Above, Second 'step' of the slide. Below, view of Blake from the top of the ledge.

The thickest ice of the day was here. I could swing without worrying about hitting rock. Atop the pitch we endured another short bushwhack (it’s regrown a bit since it came down) to one of the steeper sustained areas of the slide. Ice bulges and snow climbing made it particularly easy. The zone of rubble was next where progress slowed. There was little ice and crusty snow over stone...a slog as we climbed into the clouds and light snow coming from the southwest.

Above, the slide gets wide and steep. Below, climbing into the clouds and snow covered rubble.

The final pitches of the climb are up a narrow gully with several ledges. Knee deep snow was in the center and a mixture of ice and rock was along the sides. The crux ledge that I normally walk around in the summer was a fun mixed climb. Rime encrusted spruce was next.

We gathered ourselves near a small ledge in the trees and pushed, crawled and climbed our way up through the trees. A couple small ledges led to the crest of the ridge where the forest loosened. It was about noon—we made excellent time and strolled up the ridge to the summit at 12:30 pm. What a beautiful day.

Several people walked up to the summit after our arrival. They didn’t stay long; there was no view. A quick walk down the trail to Elk Pass closed the loop and we followed the trail back to the Lake Road. Back at the sign-in register we ran into two men getting ready to leave a black microspike for whoever lost it.

Loren realized it was his and that he’d lost it somewhere in the bushwhack amongst the talus. One of the people asked if we bushwhacked down. “Yes, we did,” I replied. Apparently they followed our tracks a considerable distance down the pass before realizing the error...they too had an adventure!

Above, Loren works the crux of the gully. Below,...yeah, baby, this is bushwhacking! Brute force and leverage pave the way.

Dance with the swords edge
and the dragon waives its tail.
Victory with grace.
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nippletop slide, slide climbing

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