Thursday, January 20, 2011

Jay Harrison: Climbing Multiplication Gully

Most Adirondack ice classics line the road near Keene Valley or Cascade Pass, clustered together, but Multiplication Gully stands alone, hiding deep in a crevice along Route 86 near Whiteface Mountain Ski Resort. Breaking the fortress of impenetrable cliff lining the road, that crevice glistens white once temperatures dip below freezing. Only a glimpse is afforded drivers as they pass the fault, so it isn’t surprising that Multiplication Gully wasn’t discovered for so long.

Six years after Yvon Chouinard brought front-pointing and short tools to the Adirondacks, two relative unknowns reported ascending the slot that hides within that crack. Alan Spero and Tom Worthington snagged what has become one of the most sought-after ice climbs in the Park, then they practically vanished to the annals of Adirondack climbing history.

Every winter, I visit this crystalline gem at least once. The combination of claustrophobic crevice and mind-boggling exposure, with its view of Moss Cliff framed by the surrounding rock walls, creates a unique experience. I’m not alone in that regard: Multiplication Gully is one of the most popular routes in the Northeast.

This popularity comes at a price. On weekends, there’s a queue clumping up at the base, often several parties awaiting their chance to head up the ice. Since the route follows a natural channel, anything falling from above heads directly down it, so following parties become the unexpected targets of ice, dropped gear, and plummeting climbers. If another car is parked in the lot, look for climbers already on the route, and if possible, wait until they are nearing the top before hiking up to it.

Climbers should park in the pullout on the opposite side of the highway, about 200 feet east of the boulder marking the start of the access path. While the route appears close to the road, the trail to it winds among a thick stand of conifers, then meanders up a treacherous, icy talus pile to reach it, so the approach takes about ten minutes.

Once at the base of the route, place gear and the belay to the right, sheltered by a rock overhang. Handy trees provide a quick belay anchor and an initial protection point just as the real climbing begins. Be careful to put any gear staying at the bottom off the wet ice in the rock alcove, where it won’t get covered with snowfall or damaged by falling ice. Be mindful that other climbers will almost certainly be arriving; keep your items together and compact.

The first pitch provides a good warm-up for the difficulties to come: it is a moderate WI3 with plenty of rests between steep spots. These ledges accrue a lot of snow, but since the route is popular, they get packed down quickly. Work up the line as desired, but don’t stop at the fixed anchor on cedar trees to climber’s left. Instead, continue up another twenty feet to a wide, level area, then walk climber’s right along a ledge and build an anchor well out of the bomb zone (I usually place a screw in the ice face above the ledge to redirect the belay and provide a first piece of protection for the second pitch).

The second pitch begins with a short, steep WI3 wall, then narrows considerably as it winds up toward the top. Above the first step, the ice rears up briefly, with a dead-vertical pillar on the left and a bulging rock wall on the right. Most parties opt to climb the thread of ice lying between these two barriers, gaining height by chimneying with crampons on the pillar, back against the rock, and tools lashing desperately in the wasp-waisted strip overhead. Another brief respite lies after this, and then the final obstacle: the line, almost strangled by an overhanging wall of rock on the right and a steep rock ramp to the left, twists through a twelve-inch slot. There are two options for this spot: either pick oh-so carefully up the verglas on the ramp to a vertical ice pillar finish, or squeeze along that slot, making the most of rock holds and shallow ice before sinking a tool in the duff on top and working left to the fixed anchor. With two 60 meter ropes, rappel the route, being careful of climbers below. Stay to the left, gaining that anchor near the top of the first pitch.

For more information check out Mountain Project’s Multi Gulley page or pick up a copy of Blue Lines, An Adirondack Ice Climber’s Guide, by Don Mellor; published by Adirondack Rock and River Guide Service, 2005.

Jay Harrison lives in the southern Adirondacks, works as a climbing guide, and occasionally writes about his antics on his own blog.

Photos: Above, climber Travis King on the second pitch; Middle, look for this stone marking the approach path’s start; Below, view of Moss Cliff from the top of Multiplication Gully. Photos courtesy Jay Harrison.

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