Thursday, May 1, 2014

A New Variation To An Old Chapel Pond Climb

Phil raps Sebastian webI’d guess anyone who climbs regularly in the Adirondacks has climbed Chapel Pond Slab. For beginners, it’s a great place to get a feel for the exposure and intricacies of multi-pitch climbing. For the more experienced, it’s a place to relax and enjoy the beauty of the stone and the views of Chapel Pond Pass.

The most popular climb on the slab is Regular Route, with a half-dozen interesting and varied pitches. Not much is known about the history of Regular Route. The guidebook Adirondack Rock says it evolved from variations of an early route called Bob’s Knob Standard. The region’s first climbing guidebook, A Climber’s Guide to the Adirondacks, says it was pioneered by the Alpine Club of Canada.

The books disagree on the difficulty. Adirondack Rock rates it 5.5 on the Yosemite Decimal System scale, whereas A Climber’s Guide rates it 5.3.  Given the exposure and verticality of certain sections, I’d go with the 5.5 rating. In any case, the route is considered fairly easy by modern standards.

I’ve soloed Regular Route probably twenty times over the past few years, and I never tire of it. I’ll stop at the slab when I happen to be driving past, or I’ll make a special trip after work. On other occasions, I’ll make a day of it, climbing Regular Route with one or two other routes, usually Empress, another stellar climb, which was established by the legendary Fritz Wiessner in 1933.

Adirondack Rock awards five stars to Regular Route (as well as Empress), the book’s highest rating for the overall quality of a climb. The forthcoming edition of the book will include a new finish to Regular Route that makes the climb even better. The Adirondack Rock website gives a 5.6 rating to the new pitch, called Li’l Sebastian. This is harder than any of the pitches on the standard route. Certainly it’s a more exciting finish than the usual sixth pitch, which is rated only 5.2.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s amazing to think that a new variation could be found on the most popular route on a slab with eighty years of climbing history. Then, again, perhaps it was climbed in the past but not documented.

The other day Kevin “MudRat” MacKenzie and I climbed Regular Route so we could check out Li’l Sebastian. There was still snow at the base of the slab, and meltwater from above was pouring down the middle of the slab, but Regular Route was dry.

Just to give an idea of the variety of the climbing: in the first four pitches, you walk up a wide right-rising crack to reach low-angle rock, friction up textured white stone to an arching wall, surmount the wall (passing a few old pitons), ascend a crack in a left-facing corner to a sloped ledge known as the Twin Cracks Belay, and then follow a narrower crack to the base of Bob’s Knob, a large and steep mass of rock at the top of the slab.

I have always considered the short wall at the base of Bob’s Knob to be the hardest pitch on Regular Route. Unlike the others, this pitch is nearly vertical. There are good holds, but they’re sometimes wet—as they were on the day of our climb. After ascending the wall, you walk around the corner on a wide terrace to an S-shaped cleft of rock, the start of the sixth pitch.

Phil after crux webOn this day, MudRat and I went beyond the S-crack, following a ledge thirty feet to another wide cleft in the rock. To the right of this cleft, we could see a crack angling up a slab. The Adirondack Rock website promised “great handjams and scenic views of Chapel Pond,” and we were not disappointed.

I’m not sure I climbed it in the same style of the first ascenders as I walked up much of the crack, which angled, gradually at first, up and to the right. It was about as wide as a fist, wide enough to comfortably accommodate my feet. In places where the crack took an upward turn, I did make use of hand jams. Indeed my knuckles and the backs of my hands were scratched up by the time I got to the top.

For me, the crux was a spot where the slab overhung the crack in such a way that I couldn’t place my foot.  Once I found handholds, I was able step over this obstacle.  When the crack ran out I continued in the same direction on a little ramp, then angled left up a short crack to a rappel station at the top. In this I might have deviated from the route as described on the website, which advises climbers to “follow a slab straight up” after reaching the end of the first crack.

The main crack offers plenty of opportunities to place cams and nuts for protection. Be sure to bring large cams (one to three inches) for the beginning of the pitch.

Li’l Sebastian tops out on a ledge with views of Chapel Pond, Chapel Pond Gully Cliff, Upper Washbowl Cliff, and, in the distance, Whiteface Mountain—a worthy finish to a worthy climb.

Top photo by Kevin MacKenzie: Phil Brown rappels off Li’l Sebastian. Second photo by Phil Brown: Kevin MacKenzie approaches the start of Regular Route. Third photo by Kevin MacKenzie: Phil Brown  pauses after passing the crux. Photo below by Phil Brown: Kevin MacKenzie tops out with Chapel Pond below.



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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.

One Response

  1. MudRat says:

    That was a great day, Phil. It felt odd to climb it with a rope this time!
    Li’l Sebastian was a really good variation to top out with. Next time out we just need a little more sun and little less wind…