Sunday, July 6, 2014

First Ascent Of Tilman’s Arete Was A First For Women

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARock climbing has always been a male-dominated sport, and it was especially so in its early days. But not exclusively so.

The Olympian skier Betty Woolsey climbed in the Adirondacks and Gunks with such pioneers of rock as Jim Goodwin, John Case, and Fritz Wiessner. Circa 1950, she put up the first Adirondack route led by a woman—the Woolsey Route on Rooster Comb Mountain.

The guidebook Adirondack Rock says it’s not exactly clear where Woolsey’s route went, but it most likely followed a corner near a climb established by Wiessner known as Old Route. It is rated 5.8 on the Yosemite Decimal System scale, a tough climb for its time and considerably harder than Old Route.

Trudy Healy was another woman who took to climbing decades ago. She wrote the region’s first climbing guidebook, Climber’s Guide to the Adirondacks, which was published by the Adirondack Mountain Club in 1967. According to Adirondack Rock, Healy participated in at least two first ascents in the Adirondacks: Four Plus (rated 5.5) on the Brothers near Keene Valley, in 1965, and a variation (another 5.5) of the Wiessner-Austin Route on Big Slide Mountain in 1970. In both instances, she was following the leader.

It would be a few more decades before an all-female party made a first ascent in the Adirondacks, a route now considered a classic climb.

On July 13, 1988, Karen Stolz, co-owner of Alpine Adventures in Keene, was relaxing with a client on the beach when she looked up at a sharp ridge of stone now known as Tilman’s Arete.

“Let’s go do that,” Karen said to her client, Cindy Dohl. “It looks like the second pitch will go.”

Tilman’s Arete is usually done in two pitches. The first, which is easier, had been climbed by a number of people. R.L. Stolz, Karen’s husband, recalls seeing old pitons that may have dated as far back as the 1940s.

The second pitch is the money pitch. Although rated only 5.7, the pitch is not for the timid or inexperienced leader. Karen ascended the smooth arête some forty feet on this pitch before she was able to find a crack to insert a chock to protect against a fall. Nevertheless, she wasn’t intimidated by the exposure.

“This is the kind of climbing I do well—unprotected friction stuff,” she said. “It didn’t really bother me.”

And what did her client think of the route?

“She liked it,” Karen said. “I don’t think either of us thought it would become a classic, really. It was just an afternoon climb.”

The two descended through the woods, but nowadays parties rappel from two bolts at the top of the arête. There also is now a bolt low on the second pitch, but a leader must climb a long way above it before placing protection.

Tilman’s Arete is named in honor of Bill Tilman, a pioneering British mountaineer. The neighboring Shipton’s Arete is named after Eric Shipton, Tilman’s climbing partner. Usually, the first-ascent party gets dibs on naming a route, but Karen didn’t name Tilman’s. It’s uncertain who did.

Tilman’s remains one of the few first ascents in the Adirondacks by an all-female party.

However, women are climbing as hard as men these days. Emilie Drinkwater, who graces the cover of Adirondack Rock, has taken part in a number of difficult first ascents in the 5.10-to-5.12 range—routes for experts only. She and her husband, Jesse Williams, own Cloudsplitter Mountain Guides in Keene.

Photo by Phil Brown: Kim Martineau rappels from the top of Tilman’s Arete above Chapel Pond.

This article is adapted from an article in the July-August issue of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine, which also includes an  article about Karen and R.L. Stolz’s forthcoming book on classic climbs in the Adirondacks.


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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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