Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Climbing: Cascade Pass’s Pitchoff Chimney Cliff

Located on the windiest spot of Cascade Pass, Pitchoff Chimney Cliff is visible to everyone who stops by. Given the precipitous road, drivers would be forgiven for not giving the wide, bare rock more than a passing glance as they maneuvered through one of the High Peak’s most scenic routes.

But if they pulled to the side and looked up, they would most likely see climbers plastered all over the rock. And with good reason — the cliff contains some of the park’s best moderate routes. It also has something climbers like best: an easy approach.

In late August I spent a day here with partner Steve Goldstein and his teenage son Joe. We climbed several routes, including the justly famous Pete’s Farewell and the lesser-known but quite good route called Great Chimney.

The Great Chimney is a route that all climbers on the face should try, because it gives ascentionists a chance to see what Chimney Crag is all about. While the cliff looks like solid rock from the road, much of the face is actually a thin veneer of stone, detached except for the base from the mountain itself, and separated by a dark, roofless space known as a “chimney.”

A chimney in climbing parlance is generally a crack large enough to fit a body in. Many of these routes require “stemming” both walls, making a bridge with hands and feet and using opposing pressure to climb up. They can be some of the most physically demanding and intimidating routes, and climbers often emerge exhausted, with clothes ripped and bodies bloodied from the wrestling match with granite.

Pitchoff’s chimney is much more friendly. After a single pitch up the outside corner, climbers find themselves in its dark bowels, hidden from the view outside and clambering among a pile of broken boulders at its base. The second pitch is short but interesting. Rated 5.6 (fairly easy on the climbing rating scale), I found it somewhat intimidating and hard to figure out. It follows an overhanging crack up the chimney to a notch, where sunlight poured down from the outside world.

It was my turn to lead. I puzzled over the crack for a few minutes, and finally reached out to the other side and ascended the route in classic chimney fashion. Climbing chimneys can often feel sketchy, like you can fall at any moment, but thanks to a wall featured with indentations, this one was solid. It took a while, but eventually I went through the notch and found myself back in the world of sun and sky.

Joe and then Steve soon followed, each finding their own way to ascend the route, and agreeing it was more difficult than the rating suggested.

After rapelling back to the ground, we reorganized our gear and ascended Pete’s Farewell, a true Adirondack classic. This is a more traditional route that follows cracks and corners up the middle of the face. We were following a couple, and the lady — a French-Canadian named Myriam — was having trouble on the crux.

“Oh, my God,” she said repeatedly in heavily-accented English, before finally making the move with help from pulling on a piece of rock-climbing gear. It was clear we weren’t the only ones to be intimidated by the stout nature of Adirondack climbing.

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3 Responses

  1. Alan Wechsler says:

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