Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Rock Climbers Discover Boreas Ponds Tract

Kittens and RainbowsThe newly acquired Boreas Ponds Tract has been touted as a destination for backpackers, paddlers, horseback riders, mountain bikers, and snowmobilers. As it turns out, some of the earliest users of the land have been rock climbers.

Within a few months of the state’s purchase of the tract in April, rock climbers established nine technical climbing routes on the southwest face of Ragged Mountain, a small peak that lies less than a mile from County Route 84.

The Adirondack Rock website awards Ragged four out of five stars for the overall quality of the climbing. Most of the routes are hard, with ratings from 5.10 to 5.13 in the Yosemite Decimal System, which ranges from 5.0 (easy) to 5.15 (nearly impossible).

In late July, Sabrina Hague and I visited Ragged to climb two moderate routes, Kittens, Rainbows, and Lollipops and Palm-O-Granite. Both are rated 5.8.

Although both are good, Kittens, Rainbows, and Lollipops, which climbs a crack in a corner and then goes over a small roof, is the superior route. Adirondack Rock gives it five stars and a heap of praise: “simply awesome; one of the best single pitches of its grade in the park.”

Sabrina led the route twice, flawlessly—the first time to set up a fixed rope that R.L. Stolz, the co-owner of Alpine Adventures in Keene, later ascended to take photos; the second time so that R.L. could take photos of her climbing.

“You’ve climbed this climb more than anyone else alive. Do you realize that?” R.L. remarked after her second ascent.

The route is a hundred feet long and ends at anchor bolts, from which we rappelled back to the ground.

Palm-O-GranitePalm-O-Granite is a much different climb. The 5.8 first pitch, just forty feet long, ascends steep slab to another fixed anchor. Though I have climbed a lot of slab, I found this difficult. At one point, I had to rest on the rope to give my calves a break. The second pitch is a whole lot easier (5.3). You go up low-angle slab to a wall, then traverse left using a large handrail crack as security. Adirondack Rock gives Palm-O-Granite three stars.

A short bushwhack from the main cliff is an easy two-pitch climb called Stairway to Lichen (three stars, rated 5.3). Because we were running out of time, we had to skip this one.

On the drive home, Sabrina remarked that if Kittens, Rainbows, and Lollipops were at the Beer Walls, a popular climbing area near Keene Valley, “it would be one of the top climbs.” She compared it to Rockaholic, a celebrated crack climb at the Beer Walls. “It’s aesthetically better than Rockaholic—and more fun,” she said.

Adirondack Rock also awards five stars to two of the harder routes: Invasive Species (5.10) and Runnin’ Ragged (5.11). Two others get four stars.

Ragged Mountain is on the 20,758-acre Boreas Ponds Tract, which the state purchased from the Nature Conservancy. The tract had previously been owned by Finch, Pruyn & Company.

R.L doubts that Ragged will become a major destination for climbers, in part because it’s off the beaten track, in part because the routes are so difficult. Indeed, if a potential route on a giant overhanging roof ever gets climbed (it’s a work in progress), it could be one of the hardest routes in the Adirondacks.

“The problem with the area is it’s a one-trick pony,” R.L. said. “There are a few routes for mortals. The rest are for climbing gods.”

DIRECTIONS: From Northway Exit 29, drive west on County Route 84 (also known as the Boreas Road or Blue Ridge Road) for 7.1 miles and turn right onto the dirt Gulf Brook Road. Go 0.8 miles to a small clearing on the right, about 100 feet past a gravel pit on the left. Follow an old trail 300 feet to a patch of prickly plants. On the other side of this clearing, the old trail turns left, but you should bear right, following a new path. The path reaches the cliff 0.25 miles from Gulf Brook Road, heading generally southeast. When you reach the cliff, turn right and follow its base to reach the climbs.  Adirondack Atlas has a basic map here.

Photos by R.L. Stolz/Vertical Perspectives Photography. Top: Sabrina Hague on Kittens, Rainbows, and Lollipops. Bottom: Sabrina Hague on Palm-O-Granite.


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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.

30 Responses

  1. Boreasfisher says:

    Don’t you mean CR84, not 34?

  2. Allison Rooney says:

    Glad this place is getting noticed! However, I do have a few issues with your writeup.

    The Spider’s Web is fanatically popular and almost every route there is graded 5.10 or harder. One should worry less about how hard you can personally climb and speculate a little less. If an area is good, it will get traffic. Only time will tell.

    As for R.L’s comment about Sabrina “climbed this climb more than anyone else alive”, that’s quite an assumption. Those routes have been posted on ADK Rock’s website for months and I personally know of three people who have led it just as many times if not more.

    • Phil Brown says:

      RL was making a joke. I guess that wasn’t clear in my report.

      • Allison Rooney says:

        Gotcha. The sarcasm wasn’t received on this end.

        • Sabrina says:


          RL was teasing me because I had to hang a rope for him to shoot and then climb it again, it was nothing personal to anyone. Fun day out climbing for me and I hope the area does get traffic so the Keene valley gets less congested.

          Hope to see you at the cliffs one day, I wish I could follow the lines you put up, pretty inspiring. Keep it up.


  3. . says:

    Nice write-up, but I know a couple people that have been up it 3 or 4 times…

  4. Justin Farrell says:

    Poor Phil,
    Taking a lot of heat these past couple days for reporting some updated news on this area haha.

  5. Bruce says:

    Am I the only who has a problem with “anchor bolts”? I read this article regarding (bolted) routes and found it interesting.

    • Boreas says:


      I was surprised as well about the anchor bolts. I am not a rock climber, but I would think the analogy in a Wilderness area would be trail stairs or bridges for safety. But those “improvements” are DEC approved. Are permanent anchors? Also, are they ancient or newly installed? Since classification on BP is not finalized, I suppose anything goes.

      • Scott says:

        Title 6 NYCRR 190.8(g) prohibits damaging or defacing even rocks on all DEC forest preserve lands regardless of classification except under permit. There is no exception for rock climbing.

      • M.P. Heller says:

        Fixed protection is basically equipment that has been abandoned. The crux of your question lies in if there was ever any intent to recover said equipment, most of the time when it comes to anchor bolts the answer is no. There is of course also the issue of drilling holes with a rotary hammer drill in the rock face and how or if that squares with LNT and the ECL.

        The best thing climbers and everyone else who uses the backcountry can do is make a conscious effort to minimize their impacts. Not everyone is going to have the same interpretation of what that means nor is everyone going to have the same level of commitment to the idea.

        • Paul says:

          ” Not everyone is going to have the same interpretation of what that means”

          Doesn’t matter – that is why we have rules (laws).

          Ever see all the permanent crampon marks all over summits in the Adirondacks? Surprised that is allowed?

          • M.P. Heller says:

            They aren’t just on summits. They are just about everywhere that there is rock on traveled routes. The last time I was coming off Redfield a young man was demonstrating to his friend how to know where the proper route was based on crampon marks and mud stains on the rocks.

            • Paul says:

              Yes, I said summits just as an example and once you get above tree line they are much easier to see.

  6. Tim-Brunswick says:

    Gee whiz, anchor bolts?? isn’t that in direct contradiction to “Leave no trace” in wilderness areas……….oh, oh!

    • Ryan Finnigan says:

      As a die-hard advocate for motor vehicle access to all places within the park boundary, what the hell would you know about Leave No Trace principles?

      • Paul says:

        A modern snowmobile cruising across snow of sufficient depth, or a boat skimming across the water – leaves much less of a trace than a vibram sole or mt bike tire in the mud. Or a paddle dragging his boat through a wetland on the shore or across a beaver dam.

        • Taras says:

          False equivalency?

          Given the same conditions, namely snow of sufficient depth, the snowmobile and boots (w/snowshoes) leave the same degree of long-term impact.

          Given the same conditions, namely mud and rocks, the snowmobile will cause greater impact by leaving parts of itself strewn along the trail. 😉

          There’s also the matter of the snowmobile’s stink and noise. You need a platoon of bean-eating frat boys to match the output of a single snowmobile. 😉

        • Boreas says:

          Not to pile on, but the “boat skimming across the water”, if motorized, does make noise and leaves a wake and emissions behind. And that is if we are ignore invasive species from hulls, bilge, etc. Human activity always leaves a mark – one needs to only look, sniff, and listen.

    • Bruce says:


      I think fixed anchors are seen by members of the climbing community the same as new trail shortcuts are seen by hikers in wilderness areas…as a necessity so they can better enjoy the “wilderness experience.”

      Boreas Ponds has roads going to the prime spots. It doesn’t need a new trail.

      • Boreas says:


        If hikers/hunters want to get from point A to Point B they will do it one way or another. If they do it by bushwhacking, they eventually create herd paths that are not necessarily laid out in an environmentally friendly way. Flagging tape, multiple paths, multiple dead-end paths, wetland damage, lost hikers, etc. are all associated with herd paths. DEC and hiking clubs usually take the stance that a marked, well laid out trail is a better environmental option to mitigate hiking damage. But I agree, I suppose leftover anchor bolts and crampon scrapes could be seen as the flagging tape of the climbing community.

        • Bruce says:


          Yes, proper trails help, but where you have good internal roads, are “shortcut” trails, really needed, as has already been suggested for Boreas Ponds by at least one environmental writer.

          I do agree about irresponsible bushwhackers who feel they need to cut and mark a trail a moron could follow. This correlates with the fact that not all hikers stay within the boundaries of marked trails, either.

          Not all bushwhackers leave trails, flagging tape, blazes, etc. I’ve been a bushwhacker for years, and even in places where I have gone on a regular basis, you would be hard pressed to find signs of my passing. I use the lay of the land, vegetation and natural game trails as my guide.

          • Boreas says:


            The problem with road access as roads usually are routed away from cliffs, the rock pile, and often wetlands below them, for obvious reasons. So there usually is a need for some type of path. Then, when you get to the base, there are many different approaches and routes up the face, so another trail is born parallel to the face.

            There aren’t tons of climbers in this area, and they are spread over a lot of different climbs. And generally, they try to be a low-impact group. But no group is perfect.

  7. Charlie Stehlin says:

    I am an adventurous spirit by far but never would I have the nerve to climb rocks as described above and in other instances. I respect you folk for your enterprising spirits….it says a lot about ya’s.

  8. Paul says:

    Do these climbs have legitimate trails to them? Or are people just bush whacking around there to do these things? It won’t take long to wreck this place. Shouldn’t we keep these places closed up till proper trails are planned and built? Is is a good idea for people to be advertising it her and at this other website till that happens? The cliffs are not going anywhere.

    In my opinion these places should not have any equipment left behind just like Gothics should not have cables and Ore Bed Brook should not have a ridiculous staircase in it.

    • Boreas says:


      Most rock/ice climbing routes are bushwhacks or herd trails off of hiking trails. Trails cut specifically for climbing would be few and far between. Luckily, rock/ice climbers typically have good backcountry ethics and are quite responsible. People with careless, give-a-damn personalities don’t tend to fare well with climbing…

      • Paul says:

        Sounds to me like they just leave there stuff there in the rocks. If you have too many people bushwhacking into these places its gonna be a mess. We say here we want to see guidance and management then we say – oh never mind that group knows what they are doing. I am sure there are careless climbers just like there are careless hikers and careless what ever. In fact I bet some of these climbers are more adrenaline junky than environmentalist.

  9. Pete Nelson says:

    This article support my contention that the Boreas Tract has much more to offer than the ponds. The topography and views make a worthy addition ot the High Peaks (and hopefully a pressure release on overuse elsewhere).

    Ragged South has no trail… yet. if the Adirondack Wilderness Advocate proposal gets adopted it will – it is a tremendous view. A properly built trail is a great idea for this tract.

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