The latter weeks of winter 2022-2023 in the Adirondacks had been snowy and cloudy, to say the least. After I helped Brian with his 23rd and 24th winter 46R peaks back on February 18th
, we'd been waiting for another nice weather day - but it had been endless days of cloud and snow - with some serious accumulation. Finally a small weather window opened, and as it happened, not on a weekend. Given my pledge to help Brian with his winters, I decided to take the day off to join him on his 25th winter ascent. We chose something moderate this time - an ascent of Big Slide from the Garden. Happily, when I mentioned I was doing this to some of my work colleagues, they seemed keen to join. So, even though it was a work day, we had a pretty good contingent of hikers: Brian, myself, Gino and Chris Hatko.
Bright Garden Morning
We arrived on a cool and clear morning at the Garden parking lot at the lower end of Johns Brook Valley. Even on a winter Monday, it was half-full, and I was quite surprised at this. These trailheads are getting so busy that even on off days like this, there are a lot of cars. I shudder to think at trying to park here on a weekend day.
There are several options when summitting Big Slide mountain. One can hike up along the main Johns Brook Valley arterial trail, then branch uphill to Big Slide just beyond Johns Brook Lodge. Another alternative is to take a ridgecrest trail that leads over the scenic sub-summits known as The Brothers. Yet a third way is to circle around from the back over a non-46R peak called Yard Mountain. The first and third variants were longer and less scenic. We chose The Brothers route.
We headed off at about a quarter before nine in the morning, immediately branching off and heading uphill on The Brothers trail. Although the temperature was decently below zero, the bright and elevated sun made it feel springlike. A fresh snowpack covered everything, but, fortunately, the trail itself was well-packed out. In fact, well-packed out enough that we opted to start off in microspikes.
Heading into bright glade
The tracked-out path remained firm and well-suited to microspikes even as the grade got steep while ascending up to the level of the First Brother. One of the many nice things about the trail over The Brothers is that the distance from trailhead to first lookout is quite short - less than a mile of distance (about 1.3 kilometres). At this point, the trail begins to contour along the top edge of some rising cliffs (the cliffs comprising the lower, First Brother). Excellent sightlines of the snow-draped lower Great Range came into view, as well as a just-peeking-around-a-corner view of Mount Marcy - highest mountain in all of the state of New York.
Approaching first lookout
Brian arrives at nice stuff
The views and the interesting bits of trail continued nonstop from the initial lower ledges. The trail stayed on westward-facing ledges as it rose higher and higher, soon coming completely out into the open and offering ever-more panoramic views. The snowpack was thick and fresh, and there was no ice and no bare rock (typically on The Brothers there is a lot of bare bedrock upon which one hikes). Today, virtually all of it was covered and - for the moment - quite hikeable in microspikes, so long as one stayed on the packed track.
After meandering around through various beautiful open stretches, the trail brought us to a short but steep scramble, where a little bit of bedrock was actually exposed. This is part of the ascent up to the Second Brother, and it was an easy enough one-two-three move to scramble up. Afterwards, we resumed hiking on steep but snowpacked trail, winding around through more scenic lookouts and in general charting an interesting and fun course upward.
Scramble up to Second Brother
Winding up to Second Brother
The form of Second Brother is that of a long and narrow hump, and as we neared the top, the terrain started to fall away more definitively on both sides, creating a little bit of a nice ridgeline effect. This more open terrain also revealed that there's a fairly chilly and gusty wind coming from the north, and when it blew, there was a cool blast of snowy spindrift that streamed off the exposed snow-covered cliff edges.