For the third year in a row, we were going to test our luck with the weather on a Columbus Day weekend hike. This time we were going to try a new trailhead that we had never tried before - hiking into Johns Brook Lodge from the Garden parking lot. Today's hike included Hubby, my two sons and one of their friends, Hiking Buddy and her daughter.
Well, to start, the weather wasn't looking very promising for the early part of the day, but the forecast was that it would clear up so we decided to take a chance. We arrived at the Garden at 7 a.m. and the lot was already full (we counted 48 cars, not the 60 it supposedly holds). We thought we could have fit our van in, but apparently the attendant didn't and we were directed to Marcy Field. Fortunately, there's a shuttle bus run by the Town of Keene that will shuttle hikers back to the Garden. It runs fairly regularly during the hiking season, but make sure you have a few bucks on you because there is a charge of $2 or $3 per person.
By the time we finally got to the trailhead, it was 7:30. Shortly into our hike it started raining - the light, drizzly, annoying kind. At 9:05 we came to a split that pointed either to the Interior Outpost or JBL. The Outpost was only about 100 yards to the left so that's the path we took. The small ranger cabin was on our right and it had a covered porch, so we took shelter here and debated whether to continue. We had never been to JBL and I really wanted to see it. Since it was only another .4 miles up the trail, we decided to move ahead and take stock again when we got to the Lodge, which we did at 9:35.
When we got to the Lodge, there were 3 people gearing up to head out. We munched on some snacks, poked around, tried to dry off a bit, checked the place out a little and watched the rain. It sounded much harder than it was because of the rushing brook behind the building. This is a great place to stay if you want an early start or plan to hike several peaks over the course of a weekend. It's run by the Adirondack Mountain Club and, for a fee, you not only get a dry place to sleep but you can also get 2 meals a day and they'll even pack you a lunch! All the supplies are flown in to the Lodge, which is about 3 miles from any road.
We decided to forge ahead. At 10:10 we left the Lodge. At the junction where the trail headed up to the summit or back to the Garden, Hubby and youngest son opted out of this one and headed back to the car. And then there were 5...
The hearty ones continued up along the Slide Brook Mountain trail that parallels the brook. We had to cross it about 5 times, which started to get annoying, especially because my left foot went in almost to my knee at one point. We started to actually climb and were pretty wet. About 30 minutes from the summit, the rain froze and then became snow. We had to use our hands to grab some wet rock and pull ourselves up in spots so they were getting pretty cold too.
We came to what's referred to in the Adirondack guide books as a "ladder", but it was really more like a Lincoln Log staircase built to get us up and over some huge rock. It wasn't as intimidating as we were thinking it might be! We reached the summit at 12:35 and it was COMPLETELY fogged in and windy. No view at all! Plus, we were damp (to say the least) and quite cold, so we took our pictures and decided not to hang around. The summit was not a very large clearing anyway.
At 12:55 we began our descent. Within 30 minutes we were at the junction with the trail that goes to the 3 Brothers. By now we could actually see blue sky peaking through the trees, and we had heard the views from the Brothers were awesome, so we decided to head down this way. Personally, I wasn't anxious to make the brook crossing several more times, so I was good with this decision. In fact, I encouraged it! Rocks are also very slippery when wet, so if we could get out into the sunnier clearing of the Brothers rather than the dense forest we had come up, we figured it had to be a better way.
There was only minimal climbing to go up and over each peak and the views WERE awesome. The foliage was around peak and with the sun finally out, we had the views we missed from Big Slide's summit. From the first peak we could look back and see Big Slide. It had also cleared enough to see Giant and the Great Range. The next two peaks afforded the best views of Keene and the surrounding autumn colors. The sun felt great and we actually dried out a bit.
We got back to the Garden at 4:55 and a shuttle arrived within minutes. We were back at Marcy Field and waited about five minutes for Hubby and youngest son to pick us up. They had enjoyed a nice nap in the van, followed by lunch in Keene. That's ok, we had gambled on the weather and won. It was a great day! We joked later that we had experienced the different weather of each of the seasons in 10 hours - rain, freezing rain, snow and finally, the payoff - sunshine and foliage! It was a nice way to end our hiking season for 2009.
All tolled, the round trip amounted to almost 10.5 miles. Big Slide, at 4,240 feet, falls at #27 on the list of the top 46. It was named because of the - you guessed it - big slide (read "cliff") that we saw from the Brothers.