Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Waterfall Wall: A Southern Adirondack Ice Route

Mention Adirondack ice climbing and most people think of Keene Vally or Cascade Pass, Pitchoff or Pok-O-Moonshine. But there is a plethora of ice tucked away in the park’s southern reaches, “must-dos” for any climbers willing and able to manage the approach. The Waterfall Wall on Crane Mountain is one of these classic lines.

Crane’s Waterfall Wall lies well east of the State trailhead. Fortunately, a well-worn climber’s path leads from the trailhead parking lot in this direction, making the start easier than it used to be. The path winds through the Boulderwoods, a summertime bouldering area, then continues eastward along the base of Crane for awhile.

If you cannot reach the parking lot – often the case in winter – just walk down the trailhead road about 150′ then cut into the woods, toward the mountain, when you see the first state boundary sign. You will run across an old ATV trail, turn right on this to skirt private property. When you see power lines, cut across straight toward the mountainside until you come to the climber’s path, then take it to the right.

The path parallels the mountain for awhile, then cuts uphill, heading for a rock crag called the Measles Walls. Cut off here, continuing eastward and staying low until the mountain swings away from your heading.

From there, cut uphill along any of several gullies, keeping a constant distance from the mountainside. You will eventually reach a ridgetop overlooking a small, steep-sided ravine blocking the way ahead. To your left, the ridge rises to join the flank of Crane Mountain, to your left, it runs down to private lands. Drop into the ravine and climb up the opposite side to reach another ridge. This one parallels Crane’s northeast flank; you’ve turned the corner of the mountain.

Follow this ridge, staying in sight of Crane, as it runs along level at first, then begins descending. At times, you will have to choose between walking down a boulder-strewn streambed close to Crane, or going farther east to avoid the worst difficulties; just keep the flank of Crane in sight.

After dropping several hundred feet, the ridge levels off. The stream exits the boulders and winds around the flat area before entering another bouldery copse. The Waterfall is directly left of this point.

Pitch One is a wide swathe of ice slab 115′ tall. It rates WI2 to 3+, depending on which line you choose to climb. At the base, the ice on the left is thin, the center is adequate, and just right of center is the fattest section. Right of this, thin ice (or bare rock) leads to the Tempest variation, the hardest option for this pitch, as it climbs through a short, vertical headwall. Farther right, there is often a strip of ice that flows along the right side of the headwall block; this is narrow but very easy, perhaps WI1.

The top-out is a roomy, wooded ledge. Most parties belay from a tree near the cliff edge so they can see their partner’s progress. Convenient trees provide TR anchors for the Tempest variation, but a 70m rope is required. A 60m rope can be used for rappel-descent off a small oak tree to climber’s left of the ice slab. If this is used, be careful of a rock crevice, often disguised by snow, at the bottom next to the slab.

Pitch Two‘s climbing begins a few steps upslope. A mound of ice with minimal WI2 climbing leads to a long, low-angled run of about 140’ up to a good ledge with a belay tree below a short headwall. Alternatives range from climbing the steep slab right of the ice mound (often too thin for screws), drytooling a right-facing rock corner farther right, or choss-stabbing up a large right-facing corner to the left of the mound. The traditional way is by far the best. Descent options range from a circuitous walk-up to the Pitch Three escape, or a 30m rappel off the belay tree that will barely reach easy ground (70m rope recommended).

Pitch Three is a the short flow directly behind the belay. On the left, it is a WI1, stepped corner, but one can also climb directly up the headwall for a harder start. Be aware the the corner takes screws, the headwall is usually too thin.

Pitch Four is non-technical. Coil the rope and walk up the streambed about 70′, then cross to its left side and walk uphill and left, toward the obvious flow high above. Climb a wooded ramp to reach the beginning of pitch five’s technical ice. Do NOT stay in the streambed; this leads to a remote section of the mountain.
To descend: walk off clmber’s left, descending a wooded ramp until near the bouldery streambed, then curl back to the base of the Waterfall.

Pitch Five is thin WI2. While not difficult, timid leaders will struggle here. The ice is thin and may be hard to find if the slab is covered in snow. Generally, begin near the slab’s low point, climb up and left to reach a narrow band of ice in a right-facing corner. At its top, move right below a bulge, then follow another right-facing corner up, keeping tools tight in the corner or even on the face above. Step up left on top of the corner and continue up easy slab to trees below the steep last pitch.
Alternatives are: weave along a narrow, technical ledge leftward then up to circumvent the pitch, or dry-tool a low-angle open book to the right.
Descent from the top of pitch five can be by rappel off the lowest oak trees (WI 1 to reach these), or a long walk-off climber’s left.

Pitch Six’s most obvious line is WI4-, and runs about 100′ from the belay trees at the bottom to the huge pine at the top. There’s no mistaking the crux here: the main ice sheet flows down a steep wall and drops a curtain in front of an overhang about 50′ up. One can climb up to the left, utilizing handy trees to pull a WI3 (thin ice) lead to reach the top, or pass up the sharp end altogether and walk left to get around and top-rope the beef. There is an obvious mixed option to the right of the main flow, which has been TR’d and is estimated MI4 or 5. Other possibilities, yet to be tried, lie farther right.

In case of emergency, cell phone reception is surprisingly good for this area, but don’t depend on it. The usual rules for escaping unfamiliar woodland do not apply here: following drainages will take you far away from help. If you carry (and know how to use) a compass, follow a bearing due south to hit Sky High Road.

More information can be found at Mountainproject’s Waterfall Wall page.

Illustrations: Above, the author leads up pitch one (Kevin Heckeler photo); middle photos, Patrick Gernert climbs the second and third pitches respectively; below, Jason Brechko leads the highest, hardest pitch of the route, WI 4-. (Courtesy Jay Harrison).

Jay Harrison of Thurman guides rock and ice climbing excursions in the Adirondacks, Catskills, and Shawangunks, and records his antics on his own blog and website.


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