Friday, August 17, 2012

New State Lands: Sugarloaf Promises Sweet Climbing

The cliffs on Sugarloaf Mountain in the Adirondack Park.Paddlers and hikers are excited about the impending acquisition of the former Finch, Pruyn lands for the Forest Preserve, and understandably so. Over the next five years, a number of natural treasures will become public, such as OK Slip Falls, the Essex Chain of Lakes, Boreas Ponds, and stretches of the Hudson and Opalescent rivers.

But rock climbers also have something to be excited about: Sugarloaf Mountain.

Rising above Cedar River Road west of Indian Lake, Sugarloaf sports a massive cliff that, I’m told, offers some of the best slab climbing in the Adirondacks. Judging from the aerial photo at the end of this article, which I took a few years ago, I’m guessing the cliff is at least a half-mile long.

Rock climber's view of the cliffs on Sugarloaf Mountain in the Adirondacks.

“It’s very exciting, since it’s not every day that climbers gain new, major cliffs,” said Jim Lawyer, co-author of the Adirondack Rock guidebook.

Because the cliff is still owned by the Nature Conservancy, however, it will remain off limits to the public until the state buys it. When that will happen is uncertain.

Don Mellor included Sugarloaf in the first edition of his guidebook Climbing in the Adirondacks (published in 1983), saying the little-known cliff promised “great potential for exploration.” It was dropped in subsequent editions, presumably because of access issues. Adirondack Rock, which superseded Mellor’s book, also omits Sugarloaf.

Mellor’s first book described three routes, all four hundred feet long, all three or four pitches, and all rated 5.5, considered fairly easy on the rock-climbing scale of difficulty.

Although Sugarloaf is not in today’s guidebooks, climbers have visited the cliff over the years. I recently got in touch with one who said he once got oral permission to climb the cliff from a member of a hunting club that leased the land around the mountain. The conservancy, however, makes no bones that the public is not allowed on the cliff.

An aerial view of Sugarloaf Mountain west of Indian Lake in the Adirondacks.Bearing that caveat in firmly in mind, climbers may want to know what’s awaiting them when the state does acquire Sugarloaf.

The climber in question has done a number of routes. He sent me descriptions of eight, all multi-pitch routes rated 5.8 or 5.9 (with one 5.10 variation).

“At this point I’d say that we know of about a dozen routes, most of them 350+ ft long,” he said in an e-mail. “There’s room for that many more. The rock quality rivals the best of any slab in the ADKs.”

The best slab climbs in the Adirondacks are found on Chapel Pond Slab in Keene Valley and on Rogers Rock overlooking Lake George. I’ve written about both for the Adirondack Explorer. If the Sugarloaf slabs rival those places, climbers indeed have much to look forward to. And it will give climbers an excuse to visit a different region of the Park.

“It fills the void for climbers in the central and southern Adirondacks and should become quite popular,” Mellor wrote in 1983.

His prediction was premature, but thanks to the Nature Conservancy and the state, it’s likely to prove spot on sometime over the next five years.

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Phil Brown is the former Editor of Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues, the same topics he writes about here at Adirondack Almanack. Phil is also an energetic outdoorsman whose job and personal interests often find him hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, trail running, and backcountry skiing. He is the author of Adirondack Paddling: 60 Great Flatwater Adventures, which he co-published with the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the editor of Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks, an anthology of Marshall’s writings.Visit Lost Pond Press for more information.

2 Responses

  1. Alan says:

    Great article. Readers should be advised, that the terms of the Finch Pruyn leases with the sportman’s clubs do not allow for ‘unaccompanied guests’. We learned that in a meeting with the former FP forestry mgr. He said that the lease terms are clear. Just wanted to clarify that so people understand that it is trespassing to hike or climb on the leased land unless the member accompanies you.

  2. Paul says:

    These clubs may need new members. Climbers should see if they can join the club. Why not?

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