Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Climbing: A Rock-fall At Shipton’s Arete

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe other day my neighbor Tim Peartree and I went to Shipton’s Arete overlooking Chapel Pond for some early-season climbing. When we got there we found mud, stones, and a few broken trees at the base. It was the debris from a huge rock-fall that wiped out much of the wooded area above the cliff.

We moved a tree and several branches from the base before beginning to climb. I climbed a 120-foot route called Shipton’s Voyage with the intention of setting up a top rope. Upon reaching the top, I discovered that the rock-fall had damaged the cedar tree used as a belay and rappel anchor. The tree had three trunks, and one of them had been sheared off, leaving a jagged stump.

Though damaged, the remaining tree seemed pretty solid, but I backed up the anchor by tying some cord around a second tree about six feet back. I then rappelled down, and Tim and I each did a few laps on the cliff.

Afterward I had second thoughts about using that tree as an anchor. A rock-fall powerful enough to shear off a third of a tree must have jarred the roots of the remaining tree. Given the thin soil and the cedar’s location near the cliff edge, I don’t think the tree is a reliable anchor. Evidently, it was strong enough to hold several top-roped climbs, but can it withstand repeated use and heavy rains and winds?

Unfortunately, in my judgment, the tree we used as a backup is in a poor position for an anchor as it is not in a direct line with the climbing routes. It may be possible to balance it with another anchor.

I’m not saying my observations are necessarily correct, but anyone planning to climb Shipton’s should be aware of the situation. The arête is fairly popular with novice and intermediate climbers.

Photo of damaged tree by Phil Brown

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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.

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