Don Mellor’s second edition of Blue Lines: An Adirondack Ice Climber’s Guide, published this month, describes almost 600 ice-climbing routes — a testament to the popularity of an erstwhile fringe sport.
The growth in ice climbing is mirrored by the growth in the heft of previous guidebooks.
In 1976, Tom Rosecrans published a slim guidebook called Adirondack Rock and Ice Climbs. Though rock and ice received equal billing in the title, only nine of the 124 pages were devoted to ice climbing. Only a few ice routes were named and described.
In the 1980s, Mellor came out with a bulkier guidebook, Climbing in the Adirondacks, with a substantial section on ice climbing. The 1995 edition described more than 140 routes.
Mellor published the initial edition of Blue Lines in 2006, the region’s first guidebook devoted exclusively to ice climbing. It described about 350 routes.
“Ed Palen told me that once Blue Lines was done in 2006, that would be it,” Mellor writes in the introduction to Blue Lines 2. “We’d be finished. ‘Just about everything’s been done.’ That was almost 300 routes ago.” (Palen, the owner of Rock and River Guide Service in Keene, published the first edition of Blue Lines.)
Most of the route proliferation has taken place outside the traditional climbing venues such Poke-O-Moonshine Mountain and the crags along the Route 73 corridor.
Hoffman Notch, for example, does not appear in the first edition. Blue Lines 2 describes 39 routes on nine separate walls. Although only one pitch, the routes are well worth doing, judging by the photos and descriptions.
“Though lacking the open-air drama of some bigger venues, the climbs here are packed with variety and high-quality climbing,” Mellor writes. “Steep corners, hanging pillars, thick green gullies — just about every kind of ice can be found here, often all on the same route. Isolation, quiet, and a friendly southern exposure add to the experience.”
And then there are the many cliffs on Silver Lake Mountain. The state bought an easement on this land that opened it for public recreation in 2009. Previously, climbers had visited the cliffs on the QT, but with legal access, the number of rock as well as ice routes has exploded. Blue Lines 2 describes 23 ice routes.
As editor of the Adirondack Explorer, I thought I had visited or read about just everyplace in the Park, but as I flipped through Mellor’s guidebook, I came across many places I had never heard of, like Chatiemac Cliff, Slide Off Mountain, Spectacle Ponds Cliff, and Nameless Knob. One benefit of Blue Lines 2 is that it will induce readers to check out these and other places in the Park outside the traditional ice-climbing areas.
Another benefit of the book is that we get to read Mellor’s writing once more. Mellor, a teacher at Northwood School in Lake Placid, has been climbing (rock and ice) in the Adirondacks for 40 years. In addition to his guidebooks, he is the author of American Rock, a study of climbing cultures in different parts of the country, and Rock Climbing: A Trailside Guide, an instructional book. The writing in Blue Lines 2 is polished and often witty. Perhaps more important, it is infused with his knowledge both of the history of Adirondack ice climbing and of the climbs themselves.
In Blues Lines 2, you’ll read about the exploits of out-of-town stars such as Yvon Chouinard, Jeff Lowe, and Alex Lowe as well as those of homegrown climbers such as Joe Szot, Tom Yandon, and Matt Horner. In a section titled “Be Safe, Play Nice,” on the risks of ice climbing, Mellor tells of a close call he had on Chapel Pond Slab:
“Even on the coldest days of winter, water is seeping from the ground and running under many ice formations. Unless there is a way for that water to escape, it will build up and pool, usually on flat sections. Years back, I tapped into one such ice dam near the top of Chapel Pond Slab and was exploded off for an 80’ fall onto the hip belay of a guided client. The day was cold, there was no warning that I could read, and the lesson was a good one for me; I, for one, won’t go back on the slab in conditions thicker than verglas.”
Fortunately, Mellor survived so we can enjoy reading about his accident with bemusement. He says in the introduction that this will be his last guidebook. If so, he is going out in style. Blue Lines 2 is an excellent and useful publication. The text is accompanied by crisp black-and-white photographs, easy-to-read topographical maps, and occasionally hand-drawn maps (by Tad Welch, a longtime Adirondack climber). Steve House, a world-renowned climber, wrote a brief foreword. Kudos to the Mountaineer, the Keene Valley gear shop, for publishing this book. It can be purchased at the Mountaineer or on the store’s website.