"Kids Outside" Cascade Mountain Trip Report by Ben Nephew
Cascade Mountain in the Adirondacks is the subalpine version of Starbucks, it is the most climbed High Peak by far and at times there appears to be a party on the summit. Last year I bought a book of slide climbs in the Adirondacks, and while I am familiar with many of the major slides, I was surprised to see an impressive looking slide going almost from the summit to end at the massive waterfall spilling into Cascade Lake. While I knew Gavin would love the slide itself, I wasn’t sure how much he would enjoy any necessary off-trail travel to reach the slide. I asked Jan Wellford about the climb, and he said the bushwhacking was not that bad, you just had to get around the near vertical face of the falls, which is a major ice climbing spot in the winter months. I decided that Gav and I would give it a shot while we were in Saranac Lake on vacation, with the challenge of a risk of storms moving in during the afternoon. We would have to move quickly to get off the summit if the forecast was accurate.
The hike started off on the right Oroc as we easily found a path leading to the base of falls, and then a path leading to the left. The incline increased almost immediately; this was hiking on all fours. While the trail seemed to be veering away from the falls, I wasn’t all that concerned as I could not imagine a destination other than the slide and it seemed necessary to head left to avoid slopes that would involve mixed rock climbing. Gavin was doing great, but it was hard to maneuver around all the trees and boulders while dealing with steep, yet soft terrain. When we reached a small outcrop, I suddenly realized we were far from the falls and the bottom of the slide. We had followed a path to the Nubble of Inebriation, where some hooligans had hike a few hundred feet straight up through the trees to have a party. The only thing that tempered my aggravation was the great view from the ledge. Gavin was not excited about descending what we had just climbed, but I told him we would just take our time and go from tree to tree.
After getting back close to the top of the falls, I still could not find a path of any sort that would get us over there. The second attempt once more started to veer towards the Nubble. I then decided we were going to have to full-on bushwhack across to base of the slide. While I tried to clear a path for Gavin, it was still very rough, with fallen trees one on top of the other and thick evergreens. After a good amount of that, I was ready to bail to avoid turning this into an experience that would make Gavin hate hiking. I asked him what he thought we should do, and he clearly wanted to keep heading over towards the slide. We still had a good amount of work to do, but Gavin kept going, asking if I could see anything whenever I got to a ridge.
We felt like we were already at the summit when we finally stumbled out of the trees onto the wide open slide, and not exactly at its base. It was a relief to be out of the brush, but we now had to negotiate several ledges in various states of wetness. I let Gavin pick his routes, and he backed off a couple before I had to use veto power to avoid a high risk situation. Still, there were a couple of routes that were a bit harder than they looked from below. The geology of the slide results in down facing slabs that do not provide great holds, and I almost had to back off one ledge where the holds suited Gavin’s hands better than mine. With more water on the slide, it probably would have been necessary to bushwhack around a couple of the ledges.
The headwall at the top does not look steep from below, but it is basically barren of features and a slip would probably lead to some skin loss. We started out bushwhacking to the summit to the right of the headwall and found some tracks from recent slide hikers. This final pitch was longer than we had hoped (about 500 feet of climbing), but it was much easier going than the lower section. Gavin was pretty beat by the time we got to the summit boulders where we were rewarded with clearing skies and entire eastern edge of the summit ridge to ourselves. The views were amazing, especially the numerous slides raking down the sides of the mountains of the Great Range and Giant.
The hike down was a walk in the park compared to our ascent route, and it was a great surprise to run into a group of hikers from Camp Dudley, where I spent several summers growing up. The walk down route 73 to our car at the end of a long day was not ideal, but we parked at the start, rather than the Cascade trailhead, due to the forecast. I highly recommend this hike to anyone that enjoys steep trails and a bit of adventure. It is a great alternative to the regular trail up Cascade, and one of the more accessible slides. I would obviously recommend staying as far right as possible when heading up through the woods on the left side of the falls, but I’m still not sure of the best way to reach the base of the slide without climbing up next to the falls, which is generally not kid friendly. For plenty more slide climbing options in the Adirondacks, click here!