The other day I hiked to the summit of Noonmark Mountain, celebrated for its knockout views of the High Peaks. I enjoyed the views, but my real reason for hiking Noonmark was to check out some old rock-climbing routes first ascended by Fritz Wiessner and friends in the 1930s and 1940s.
In his heyday, Wiessner was one of the best climbers in the country. He discovered the Shawangunks and put up routes all over the country, including the Adirondacks. The July-August issue of the Adirondack Explorer contains an article about a climb of the Wiessner Route on Upper Washbowl in Chapel Pond Pass.
Despite Wiessner’s skill, most of his routes are considered rather easy by today’s standards. Improvements in equipment–sticky-soled shoes, nylon ropes, fancy camming devices–have enabled climbers to ascend routes that would have been thought impossible in the 1930s. Nonetheless, one of Wiessner’s routes on Noonmark is still regarded as a difficult test piece.
The climb, like so many of his others, is called simply Wiessner Route. The guidebook Adirondack Rock rates it 5.8+ on the Yosemite Decimal System scale of difficulty. When the scale was established in the 1950s, it ended at 5.9. So in the thirties or forties, a 5.8+ route was about as hard as climbs got.
Adirondack Rock also considers the Wiessner Route on Noonmark to be one of his best Adirondack climbs. For the overall quality of the climb, the book gives it four stars out of a possible five. The route follows a widening crack straight up for ninety feet. As with all the Noonmark climbs, it ends on the very summit.
It’s not unusual to find old pitons on early climbing routes in the Adirondacks, but the piton on the Wiessner Route is most unusual. It’s not a piton at all, but a lag bolt (one inch in diameter) pounded into the crack about ten feet off the ground. It’s long been something of a mystery.
“Too low to use as reasonable protection, when climbing the opening moves, it is very tempting to stand on the bolt, so perhaps it served that function for early climbers,” Adirondack Rock says. “Being the purist, it is unlikely that Wiessner placed such an aid.”
Wiessner Route is one of six climbs on Noonmark’s summit. The others range in difficulty from 5.3 (Crack Chimney) to 5.9 (High Noon). The later is a modern variation of another route, Center Climb, which is rated 5.7. There also is an Old Route (5.4), one of four Old Routes in the Adirondacks first ascended by Wiessner.
I was by myself on Noonmark, so I didn’t think it prudent to do any rock climbing. I’m looking forward to returning to do a few of the routes. Even if the climbing doesn’t go well, I’ll be able to soak up the scenery.
Click here to see photos of all the routes on Noonmark.
If you want to read about the Wiessner Route on Upper Washbowl, click the links below (PDFs).
Photos by Phil Brown: the bolt on the Wiessner Route on Noonmark (above); the start of the route (below).