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Old 07-13-2016, 07:10 PM   #1
Resident Slide Junkie
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Join Date: Mar 2007
Location: ADK Mountains
Posts: 137
Grand Central Slide and Talus Galore - Camping in Panther Gorge 2016 June 18-19

Photo Album:

When I head into the wilderness with Loren Swears, I know it’s going to be fun. He’s nearly fearless and up for anything— the Gorge is a good place to get into “anything”. As mentioned in the Galaxy of Tears trip report, I camped for three days and met up with him at the Haystack Trail intersection at the end of day one. We bushwhacked back into the gorge to our bivouac site.

We relaxed and cooked below the Agharta cliff before descending to camp. The melody of birdsongs grew as the sun waned and painted the southern view in soft pastel colors while silhouetting the great buttresses of Agharta and Allen in the distance. At 8:00 pm the moon rose over Haystack making me feel small and fragile. We didn’t speak a lot; silence helped us appreciate the shift to evening.

Down at camp things went smoothly—food was secured in bear canisters, tarps hung and bivy sacks set up. We crawled into bed around 10:00 pm. as the last fluting melodies of the veeries and thrushes faded away. As sleep began to overtake me, I realized that I hadn’t taken a powerbar wrapper out of my pocket. Too lazy to put it in a canister, I tossed it downhill noting the location so I could put it in with the garbage in the morning. I’ve seen bear-sign in the gorge, but more to the south...and that’s when the fight began.

I awoke to a crinkling sound around midnight. I knew what it was, but shined the lamp over to verify. A deer mouse was systematically licking the remnants away. I ignored it, but after about 20 minutes, I knew the noise would go on all night so I extricated myself and put the wrapper in the canister as I should have when I discovered it. I relaxed and went back to sleep. The mouse, however, did not.

The wide-eyed rambunctious rodent ran up my bivy sack and I shifted my left to deter its curiosity. It went away...until I fell asleep. I awoke to the varmint running across the no-see-um mesh over my face. Instinct took over and I flicked the mesh—hard. I vaguely remember seeing the figure of a mouse flying through the air—a bit like E.T. on the bike (the moon was nearly full so I really did see the figure of the mouse). I heard it hit a few branches far behind and scamper off. I figured it would be back with the rest of the gorge’s mouse posse, but the rest of the night was restful save a lone chickadee that cut loose with a loud call at about 3:00 am. Based on the volume it was somewhere near Loren and I. Great...insomniac chickadees and deer mice in Panther Gorge. Thus passed my first evening.


We arose around 7:30 am. and went about the routine of cooking breakfast. I told Loren about my adventures the night before; he accused me of imagining the mouse though he did hear the chickadee. We ate under the protection of headnets inserting food through the smallest possible breach in the netting to keep the blackflies off. The irritation from the 30 or so bites I sustained the prior day was just starting to fade away. I knew there’d be two more days of being blackfly food to deal with, but I realized that going into the venture. It’s just part of the journey.

We trekked south and refilled our hydration bladders at a drainage south of the Huge Scoop area. This was below a 20’ waterfall that Adam Crofoot, Allison Rooney and I passed by last November. The day was warming quickly with a forecast that placed the temperature in the 80’s Fahrenheit. We contoured below various smaller cliffs, some of which I wanted to study for possible rock climbing routes. A combination of moss/water or the short length of my hopeful lines ruled them out. Eliminating potential routes from my extensive bucket list is as important as adding them. It helps focus future outings. No matter how many times I visit the gorge (this was trip 24) there’s always something to learn.

We continued south to Grand Central Waterfall and lounged near the large crevasse splitting the cliffs. Seepage and the deeply inset nook cooled the temperature and deterred the blackflies from entering. The water cascaded and misted us in the mid-morning sun. I could have lounged there all day. My body felt the exertion of the climb the day before.

The key to safely navigating around the cliffs and up Grand Central Slide (,-73.91387,16z,map ), which ends at the waterfall/cliff, is to descend from the waterfall until the terrain s allow passage to the south. Bushwhacking 100’ then places you at the foot of the debris field from a 2012 rock-fall on the north side of Marcy’s East Face. There are other ways to the immediate north, but I haven’t explored them.




We climbed the rubble and scrambled (4[SUP]th[/SUP] class) up to the cedars. I opted to ascend via a harder line which dead-ended me. I suggested that Loren use a more friendly though still exposed ramp to gain the trees. I down-climbed and followed. A short bushwhack led to the slide. I’ll forego an in depth description since I’ve already described it HERE.

I’ll never tire of the sweeping view that unfolds at the top of the waterfall, however. The overhanging cliffs, multi-colored greenery of the canopy and views of Haystack are inspiring; bringing friends who haven’t seen the area is equally inspiring. We scrambled up the slide proper, each with our own preferred line. I used the hardest options for practice, but that takes some work since the slide isn’t difficult regardless of how arduous the approach is from the trailhead. Only short sections that can be avoided for those who just want to scramble provided technical terrain. Various dikes and features in the stone allow one to simply walk up if so desired.

The slide curves left and climbs Marcy’s eastern ridge about 2/3 of the way up after the first area of re-vegetation. The alders were slightly larger than I remembered during my visit in 2012. A drainage stream enters from the right—an obvious mossy green carpet into the evergreens. We followed this and I navigated by memory. In hindsight this was a mistake since my goal was to bushwhack up the bowl not ascend into the tight growth atop the ridge.

What started as a beautiful bushwhack through loose-knit trees quickly transformed into a maze of tightly knit tree growth. I redirected our heading multiple times, but I was having fun doing it by feel and didn’t bother to take out the compass. After about 2 hours, I grew tired of breathing in the pollen and covered my face with a bandana. Given the heat and exertion, the bushwhack seemed akin to high-altitude training. On a positive note, the blackflies seemed apprehensive to join us in the tight growth.


After about 3 hours, my grumbling commenced. I was tired from the prior day and clawing through the trees is a full-body workout. By then we could see where we were going (we were taller than the trees) and I realized my error. I set my line of sight on a series of glacial erratics near the summit ridge. We rock-hopped our way to the Van Hoevenberg trail about 300 feet north of the summit, dropped our packs, extricated pine needles from various orifices and sat for a couple hours.

The breeze and sun set the scene for a relaxing wilderness respite. The 200 people yelling back and forth, dogs barking and general chaos set the scene for spring break in southwest Florida. I chuckled and fended of some other biting insects until we decided to descend.

We set a leisurely pace down to the northern pass to Panther Gorge joking about the possibility of hikers following us in (like they did when we climbed Nippletop Slide last winter). Instead of following my normal path, I led us on the eastern side of the drainage on a direct line to the free-standing pillars. I’d spotted another possible climb on the largest of the set.

Once there, I studied the cracks and realized that it would likely be the death of me if I fell even using protection. The cracks I’d spotted in a photograph were actually spaces between flakes of stone held in place by the pressure of the capstone. If I happened to fall on a piece of gear placed in it, the piece could blow out. An adjacent line up a smaller pillar also appeared dangerous. That effectively ruled out 4 possible climbs.

We followed the flank of Haystack down toward the central drainage after passing and exploring two large boulders forming a cave (where I visited with Adam and Allison back in November). We were hunting for water. We found a pool a few hundred feet lower and rehydrated before making our way back to camp for dinner.

We climbed back up to the Agharta Wall and spent another relaxing evening watching sunset and moonrise over Mt. Haystack. Back at camp, I slept a mouse-less sleep of the dead!



Day 3
I gave up on all climbing ambitions for various reasons. Galaxy of Tears and the bushwhack up Grand Central slide was enough exertion for two consecutive days. I proposed a “play day”. There’s nothing more fun and relaxing than exploring the talus fields and valley floor along Marcy Brook.

I guided us south below Agharta and descended directly toward the floor. This took us into the monster pieces of stone fallen from the Huge Scoop. As with most of the gorge’s talus, they were covered with trees and moss. The stacked blocks formed talus caves through which we could crawl or walk in many cases.

Exploring is about paying attention to all of one’s senses. I know my way around the gorge, so during daylight I don’t really have to think about my position which leaves me free to appreciate the other aesthetics. The visual aspect is the most obvious component, but there’s so much more. The smell of the stone and duff in combination adds a second dimension. The feel of the stone is yet another—sharp edges, rough surfaces and smooth weather worn corners. From an auditory perspective, our movements as well as each natural sound echoed differently depending on the combination/depth of the passages and the growth on the stone.

The heat was already building. We descended into the first cave and the temperature significantly dropped. We emerged back into the heat and into another cave a few feet away. Scrambling down, we found the floor and looked around the corner. I slid down onto an 8 inch thick sheet of ice. This was refreshing in the 85 degree heat!


The rest of the descent was similar. We slowly poked our nose into every nook and cranny that captured our fancy. I’d been wanting to do this since my camping trip in 2014. We eventually emerged from the talus fields moved into more even terrain. This area harbors many-a blowdown field and, depending on where one bushwhacks, can be pleasant or tedious.

Glacial erratics large and small litter the floor. Legend, or rather Alfred Billings Street’s words, has it that Street and another’s names are carved in one of the “tallest stones” in the north end of the gorge. Given the Big Blow of 1950, weathering and the moss covering many of the stones, it seems a lost cause to try and find the carving. Any volunteers?

The terrain levels before the drainage stream from Grand Central slide. Once at the stream it’s an easy trek along Marcy Brook to the beaver ponds—what I marked as the southern-most border of our outing since we still had to pack and walk 9.5 miles back to the trailhead. Open spaces of sphagnum moss, opalescent labradorite in the stream and the splendid views of Marcy’s East Face provided spectacular scenery. I spotted a small path and followed it to the first of the beaver ponds.

The rodents are slowly rebuilding their home in the gorge since the dozen ponds were decimated after Tropical Storm Irene (assumedly from the storm). Another of the ponds was full, one that was dry in November of 2015. “Rebirth” is an amazing process. Newts and their eggs (little jelly-like clusters slightly larger than frog eggs) were respectively on the shore and in the water. Tadpoles swam in the water. The place was alive with creatures of every sort.

After poking around the ponds for an hour, we made our way back to Marcy Brook to refill our water supply and walk north. It was time to end our days in the gorge. I checked on my camping spot from 2014 and it seemed intact though it showed signs of being wet during times of extreme rainfall. Once again I navigated by line of sight. Unlike Marcy’s ridge, I recognized many landmarks within the gorge and led us back to our packs.

Instead of trying to retrace our descent track, we struck a heading that led through a different area of the talus. The easiest way up through one particular talus-ledge system was into a stone/moss womb and up through an exit hole. I climbed up and got out the camera—Loren looked like a cicada emerging from his 17-year sleep!

The trek out of the gorge with heavy packs was as arduous as expected—the price one pays for such an excursion with climbing and camping gear. We took our time and reached the interior outpost at Johns Brook Lodge around 5:00 pm. where Ranger Scott van Laer was relaxing on the porch. We caught up on old times and I took a swim to wash of the accumulated dirt of the last 3 days.

Adventure is all about exploring. Exploring is all about modifying plans and adapting to change. My original itinerary began as expected, but several of the climbs didn’t pan out. Nor did my energy level. To push forward and climb in the wrong “headspace” can be tedious at best and deadly at worst.

Grand Central Slide is a grand adventure by almost any standard and very few slides provide such a dramatic or rugged view. I was thrilled to share it with Loren. We got to spend some quality time just hanging out and watching nature’s cycles unfold around us as the guard changed from day to night. Getting caught in the gorge in an uncontrolled situation (like getting lost) can be a nightmare. Spending a few planned days and nights under the gaze of Marcy and Haystack, however, is heaven on earth.


May you always be a student of the journey. God Bless.
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bushwhacking, mt. marcy, panther gorge

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