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Old 06-17-2012, 04:08 PM   #1
Neil's Avatar
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 6,118
Houghie the Toughie. Bushwhack and Slide Climb.

The plan was, as usual, simple on paper, somewhat more challenging once one's feet were on the ground with no trail to follow. Actually, that's not quite true because we followed the Elk Lake-Beckhorn trail as far as Lilian Brook to begin the bushwhack. It was there, still on the trail that the uncertainty began. Uncertainty that would inhabit our little team of three for several hours. The trail and brook crossing in relation to the confluence of Lillian Brook with the unnamed brook to its immediate north seemed to be incorrectly indicated on the map. Nothing new there, every bushwhacker quickly finds out that man-made things such as trails and lean-to's are rarely correctly indicated on the USGS quads.

Of course we could have checked with the GPS except the GPS was sitting in a closet some 125 miles away. Not knowing whether we were following a split in Lillian Brook or un-named trib we followed the left bank and kept a close eye on 3 things: the compass, the map and the brook itself. Before long the data jived and we decided to put 50 yards of inconveniently thick and scrubby spruce trees between us and the brook. I eye-balled a bearing off the map, dialed it in and we kept our ears pricked for the sound of water to our right. Alistair, who is fitter than ever, was out on point and from time to time I had him veer this way or that. By observing the lay of the land in relation to walking a fairly straight line and by keeping track of the time we managed to keep a rough idea of where we were. But, it's always interesting to live the huge difference between looking at a whack on the map and executing it when you have no views of any sort of landmark and have to feel your way along and navigate by hypothesis.

It seemed like we were getting too high up on the little 3100 foot hill ENE of Dix Pond and doing too much side-hilling so I ordered a course change so we could cross the drainage and get into better looking contour lines. You can see the obvious direction change on this Spot tracing. We were definitely not going in the desired direction! I was supposed to be in charge of getting us to the slides on Hough but I constantly consulted with my companions NP and Alistair and explained the reasoning behind my decisions so that we were always of one mind. I was the only one keeping track of the map and compass and the decisions flowed outwards, such that agreement and understanding were quickly reached and we moved along fairly efficiently. The woods were rarely easy to whack through, right from the get-go. Copious blow-down, uncertain footing and tight conifers kept our forward progress to about .5 mph.

Then we got a big break. At the crossing of the drainage Alistair looked up and saw the Beckhorn. We already knew we were at the drainage, which showed on the map as gently veeing contour lines. As a result a compass bearing to the BH pin-pointed us on the map, which turned out to be very close to where we figured we were. After that, we had frequent views of the BH and it became animportant navigational landmark. At the same time, we were constantly in doubt as to where we were in relation to the Hough slides. I had deliberately not lifted the coordinates off of Google Earth and marked a conveniant X on the map for the simple pleasure of creating a more challenging riddle to solve.

The drainage split in two and we followed the right-hand split, which we concluded came down from the Hough-Beckhorn col, which we could see from time to time. We were up in very steep woods and had by now committed to an area on the map where I was pretty sure the slides would be, based on the pics people had posted last week. What we had going in our favor was that the slides formed a rather broad sweep as opposed to a thin line.

We inched our way along and the bearing to the BH very slowly decreased from 20 magnetic to 15, to 10 etc. I noticed quite a bit of sky in front of us and said to Alistair that *maybe we should go check it out. Then after a few minutes more we suddenly went from absolute doubt to absolute certainty. We intersected the southernmost aspect of the slides 150 feet from the base. It had required 3 hours of bushwhacking to get there. What a great feeling it was to break out of dense woods onto a broad sweep of open rock with unique views of the Beckhorn and its slide. We were a fair ways below the level of the Hough-BH col still. After sitting and eating, we changed into rock shoes and while Alistair soaked up the sun and the views NP and I duck-walked down the grippy, clean white igneous rock to the bottom and tried to figure out the pattern of the slides and where the summit might be. We also evaluated the quality of the rock, which would be our principle criteria for our route choices.

We ascended several hundred vertical feet of steep but very clean rock, stopping often to catch our breath and check the rapidly expanding views. I found it to be pretty steep and on occasion when we traversed some dirty rock my arms got a workout. It was my first time ever using rock shoes and I was amazed at how well they stuck and offered purchase on the tiniest nubbins, as long as those nubbins were clean. You have to really trust the contact, which may be no more than a small area under your big toe. You also have to have good control of your calf and foot muscles as well as keep your weight balaced just right over your contact. Going straight up is the easiest and your eyes continuously sweep the surface looking for every little irrgularity and using it to your advantage. I had a tendency to lean too far forward and use my palms but when I fought the tendency and walked more upright it seemed easier. However, when the slope got too steep I had to use my hands.

Anyway, I believe we ascended the left-hand side of the right-most lower slide in Cory's pic and then crossed over a band of trees and ascended a narrow strip of good rock to the base of the upper, steeper slides. These uppermost slides were quite steep and they were covered in lichens and wet moss. Here we changed back into normal footwear but not after having to re-traverse a steep and dirty section of slide lower down to retrieve my GD camera. Along our way up the slides we had phenomenal and unique views of the High Peaks. Extra-special were the views above the Hough-Beckhorn col straight through to the slides on Giant, which no one photographed.

We didn't know where the summit was exactly but we went straight up through very steep woods that proved to be fairly easy until we saw daylight to our SE. We concluded that we had climbed up to the intersection of the east-west ridge towards which the upper slides are headed and the short and final SW-NE summit ridge of Hough. We climbed through some fascinating terrain and crawled under a massive chockstone (or glacial erratic) and then I heard Alistair talking to someone just above me. We were at the herdpath with about 2 minutes of what now seemed to be extremely easy walking.

It had taken us 6 hours to reach the Summit from the Lillian Brook lean-to. Observing our route from the summit made it look like a piece of cake. We spent most of our time looking down on the slides and trying to piece our route through them together. It was late and we were tired so it was an easy decision to not exit over the Beckhorn and we spent 45 minutes lounging on Hough, something I have never done because Hough is often treated as just a way-station amongst 4 other summits. Having done the whack, of course none of us will never look at Hough in quite the same way.

We all found the Lillian Brook trail to be beautiful, especially once you drop down off the steep upper section. Eventually though we began to find it a tad long. We enjoyed a nice long break at the Slide Brook lean-to before picking our selves up and heading out to the parking lot. Alistair surprised us by jogging out the rest of the way. The total time was 11:15 hours and I observed that 10-12 hours seems to be the rule for bushwhacks of the High peaks and that usually includes using trails for ingress and egress, which of course simplifies things greatly.

PICTURES that may require full-screen viewing.

The pics are both NP's and mine mixed together with an attempt at first to blend them in proper chronological order. I hope you enjoy looking at them as much as we enjoyed taking them!
The best, the most successful adventurer, is the one having the most fun.
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Old 06-21-2012, 12:55 PM   #2
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Join Date: Mar 2012
Location: Orwell NY
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Thanks for the trip report, I have enjoyed reading about your climbs on other slides too. The pictures are beautiful, though the terrain looks a bit steep for me. I am planning to climb the Ermine Brook slide on Santanoni in August, but from what I saw of those pictures it doesn't look as steep. Thanks for the inspiration.
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