Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Perfect Day For Climbing Thanksgiving

Monday was beautiful and sunny, with leaves at peak color. It also was Columbus Day and Canadian Thanksgiving. Not surprisingly, dozens of cars lined the shoulders of Route 73 near the trailheads for Giant Mountain.

Cars also were parked along the highway near Chapel Pond Slab, one of the region’s most popular rock-climbing venues. When Philip Brittan and I arrived at the base of the slab, we saw a party halfway up Regular Route, the most climbed route on the slab. As we put on our climbing shoes and harnesses and tied into the rope, three other parties showed up, all intent on climbing Regular Route.

Fortunately, we were climbing Thanksgiving. Given the holiday, this seemed especially appropriate. Thanksgiving is one of two major routes on Chapel Pond Slab established by the Alpine Club of Canada. The other is Victoria. It, too, is named after a Canadian holiday: Victoria Day.

The Alpine Club also pioneered Greensleeves, a variation of a long route known as Empress. The region’s first climbing guidebook, A Climber’s Guide to the Adirondacks (1967), credits the club with establishing Regular Route as well, but today’s guidebook, Adirondack Rock, says this route evolved over time.

Unfortunately, the Alpine Club’s records were lost in a fire in the 1970s. We don’t know who first climbed Thanksgiving and Victoria or when. “Considering the time period when the ACC was active, an educated guess would be between 1958 and 1964,” Adirondack Rock says.

Thanksgiving is a fine route, but I rarely see anyone on it. In contrast, I’ve come to expect to see people on Regular Route on any nice weekend day.

One reason is that Regular is easier. Adirondack Rock rates it 5.5 on the Yosemite Decimal System scale. Thanksgiving is rated 5.7, or two grades tougher.

I suspect a bigger factor is that Thanksgiving is riskier. On three of the five pitches we climbed Monday, it’s impossible to protect the leader against a long fall. That no doubt scares away many climbers.

It’s also worth noting that Adirondack Rock gives Regular Route five stars, its highest rating for the overall quality of a route. Thanksgiving gets only three stars. Of course, these ratings are subjective. Some might argue that the best pitches on Thanksgiving are equal to anything on Regular Route. Don Mellor did not use a star system in his guidebook Climbing in the Adirondacks. He used a dagger symbol to indicate that a climb was “especially recommended.” In his book, both Thanksgiving and Regular Route received a dagger.

Thanksgiving begins at a rock hummock partway up the slab. To reach it, Philip and I first climbed the start of Empress. This pitch ascends slab beside a left-facing corner with plenty of cracks where the leader can insert a cam or chock to guard against a fall. There are two old pitons on this pitch, but I didn’t clip the rope to them. I suppose it wouldn’t have hurt, but given their age they should not be counted on stop a fall.

On the next pitch, we continued straight up the slab for 150 feet to the top of the hummock. On this line, there were no opportunities to place protective gear, but the climbing was easy.

We were now at the start of our route. In my view, the first pitch of Thanksgiving is the best. It’s also the spiciest: rated 5.7, with little protection. Several years ago, I practiced the pitch on top rope before I dared lead it.

At the beginning, the pitch goes up a short distance to a shallow left-facing corner (Adirondack Rock calls it an “open book”). I placed a small cam in a crack below the corner, the only solid piece of gear on the entire pitch. I ascended the corner by smearing my soles or stemming my feet. At the top of the corner, I reached right to grab a “hueco,” or hole in the rock. Pulling on this, I stepped over the corner onto a coarse slab.

I was able to slip a small cam underneath a flake, not certain that it would hold a fall. I then angled up and right on tiny footholds to a sloping ledge next to the Twin Cracks Belay on Regular Route (where we encountered Karen Stolz of Alpine Adventures, who was guiding a client).

The pitch was 150 feet long, with only marginal protection. The next one was just as long — with no protection. Fortunately, the climbing was easier, rated only 5.6.

Once Philip put me on belay, I traversed left to the end of the sloping ledge, stepped onto a bulge of rock, and continued straight up on fairly easy slab. I set up a belay at a large right-facing corner.

According to Adirondack Rock, Thanksgiving continues up the slab and then climbs around an overhanging roof to the top of Bob’s Knob. The original route, judging by the 1967 guidebook, went up the slab all the way to the woods. We elected to skip the difficult roof and stay on the slab. Although Adirondack Rock rates the slab as 5.5, there’s one move that struck me as a tad harder. Perhaps I haven’t dialed it in.

After the climb, Philip and I changed our shoes on Bob’s Knob, where Regular Route ends. I’ve been on Bob’s Knob countless times but never tire of the view of Chapel Pond and the cliffs across the valley. On this autumnal day, I was especially thankful to the Alpine Club of Canada for putting up such a stellar route.

“It’s a nice, doable climb, with a few adrenalating moments,” Philip replied when I asked for his opinion of the adventure.

One last note: there is a variation to the first pitch of Thanksgiving that avoids the shallow corner. This variation affords no protection. You ascend slab by smearing your soles and pressing your hands against the rock. In keeping with the holiday theme, the variation is called Palm Sunday.

Top photo: Philip Brittan on the first pitch of Thanksgiving. Middle photo: Looking up the second pitch of Thanksgiving, with Bob’s Knob on right. Bottom photo: Philip Brittan finishing the route.

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Phil Brown

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.




2 Responses

  1. Todd Eastman says:

    Good lead Phil!

    Super nice route.