Mt. Colden’s Trap Dike is a well-known feature among hikers, climbers and geologists. It is not, however, the only trap dike in the High Peaks. Take notice and you’ll find smaller dikes crisscrossing most of the slides and treeless summits. Most of these are interesting and perhaps photogenic, but irrelevant to climbing.
One of the best-kept backcountry secrets is a large vertical trap dike capped with a diagonal car-sized capstone on Mt. Marcy. It lies in a northeastern facing cliff deep in Panther Gorge and looks like a pencil-thin shadow from the summit of Mt. Haystack. This is Marcy’s Great Chimney.
St. Lawrence University Professor of Geology, Jeff Chiarenzelli, describes the dike as follows, “The dike is composed of basalt, a black, fine-grained rock that often erupts on the surface or is found in feeder dikes to volcanic rocks. Similar basaltic dikes are found throughout the Adirondack region and are approximately 640 million years old. Produced in the Earth’s mantle they intruded into cracks and fractures as the eastern seaboard was rifted apart to form the Iapetus Ocean. The Iapetus Ocean formed during the cycle of continental breakup prior to the opening of the Atlantic.” The basalt in the dike is lighter from weathering. Basalt also differentiates Marcy’s dike from Colden’s whose primary trap rock is gabbro which has larger crystals.
The basalt eroded and formed several vertical to slightly overhanging sections in a deeply inset six-foot wide chimney — the chimney is what originally drew my attention. Unlike Mt. Colden’s Trap Dike which is generally considered a fourth class climb, Mt. Marcy’s dike is a fifth class rock climb rated 5.8 on the Yosemite Decimal System (YDS) of rating. It is worth the effort of visiting, though the nearly 9-mile approach – including a difficult bushwhack through several talus fields – will likely deter all but the most adventurous souls.
I noticed the chimney several years ago when camping in the gorge with friend Anthony Seidita. We didn’t venture near enough to realize it was a trap dike at that point. I didn’t have the skills to climb it, but the dark cleft inspired me. When local climber and friend Adam Crofoot mentioned scaling it as a first ascent, my curiosity jumped to anticipation. He’d noticed years earlier. It was prime real estate for exploration and, in my opinion, one of the most unusual jewels of the gorge.
We tried to climb the beast several times and were turned back by inclement conditions each time. Two attempts during the winter of 2014-2015 were thwarted by thin dry ice. Adam spent two hours trying to break through the crux during the first attempt before we had to retreat and tromp back out of the gorge through knee-deep snow with nothing to show except a few photographs. Marcy wasn’t ready to give it up.
A subsequent trip with Adam and another adventurer, Jaryn DeShane, found the chimney running with water on June 3, 2017 — an aesthetic cascade, but an unappealing climb that might have required a snorkel. It is not a primary drainage area, but recent rains were still seeping from the summit ridge. We settled on adding a different route up a hand-crack as a consolation prize — Slacker Cracker. It is located 100 feet downhill from the chimney. For all things, there is a season and not every outing ends as anticipated, but ascending the chimney had evolved into a battle.
Climbing Marcy’s Great Chimney
Tenacity often pays off in the discipline of climbing so I planned another trip and asked Jaryn to join me. Several days of hot dry weather preceded our trip. Such conditions bode well for climbing the high elevation rock climbing routes of the High Peaks. I prayed for a safe successful climb.
We began our trip early in the evening of June 14 and bivouacked under a moonlit canopy after a five-hour trek from the Garden Trailhead in Keene Valley. The usual late spring serenade of birdsong lulled me awake at 5 am. I contemplated what might happen in the coming hours — not a good habit since it drains energy and blurs one’s focus. Jaryn’s light-hearted quips and amiable personality kept the mood light during the ensuing bushwhack. We reached the Huge Scoop, the last of the large northern cliffs, at 8:30 am.
Our next stop was at a stream to refill our Nalgene bottles. The dry weather had all but dried up what was a flowing stream two weeks prior. We had to climb uphill to find a small trickle that seeped from the mountain. This was a good omen for climbing the chimney; it would likely be dry. Another 20 minutes of threading our way through the forest and navigating moss-covered talus led to a grassy- glade below the Overhang Slide, a slide with two distinct roof systems. Our quarry was several hundred feet uphill.
We reached the trap dike/chimney at 9:15. The area is a dramatic arena to even visit. A vertical cliff harbors the feature — the Chimney Wall sits on the left while a 45 degree gully rises north into the forest. Various other crags sit to the south and east while Mt. Haystack looms across the glacial valley. Click here for the labeled cliffs of the gorge or here for an aerial photograph with rough access paths courtesy of the author and Adirondack Rock.
The sun illuminated the chimney. It was bone dry — perfect! What little moss or algae that grew on the basalt would be easy to avoid. Conditions were finally ideal, but that didn’t mean we had the ability climb it. It also didn’t minimize the objective dangers such as loose rock, my foremost concern. If I committed weight to a hold without evaluating correctly, I could pull a boulder loose on myself or Jaryn. The chimney would direct all rock-fall out its bottom, so we found a protective ledge where Jaryn could safely belay.
It was time to get down to business so I organized the gear on my harness — everything from a 5-inch cam to 1/8-inch chocks. I had enough gear to climb a much harder route, but I’d rather be conservative in such a remote venue. I took a few deep breaths and climbed up the grassy slope to the bottom of the chimney. The trap rock was broken and some of the pieces were loose as expected. I knew I’d find a good gear placement in the wall after 15 feet.
I arrived at a slab of trap rock with spots of lichen and a huge crack on its left. The piece overhung slightly as I expected from watching water cascade over it two weeks earlier. A variety of solid hand-holds boosted my confidence as I stemmed upward, one foot on the left wall of the chimney and the other on the right. I pulled up and found a good foothold. Repeating the process several times set me atop the block where placed a cam to protect myself before resting to take in the scenery. I was positioned roughly 20 feet into the cliff. Rugged anorthositic wall framed a sliver of Haystack’s sun-lit slope. I felt strangely secure. The southerly wind created an updraft in the chimney which kept the blackflies at bay, but blew the chalk into my face when I reached in the bag.
The crux where Adam reached in 2014 was roughly 1/3 of the way up and about 10 feet above my stance. I spotted a couple chocks and a spectre ice piton in the wall — the anchor from which I’d lowered him. Maybe this would become a historical artifact in a few decades if we didn’t remove it! He’d spent nearly two hours in this area grappling with the crux. Memories of watching him climb up then back down precariously thin ice on the vertical wall came to mind.
The next large block also overhung slightly, but flakes in the adjacent anorthosite were excellent for face climbing. Thus I was able to ascend above a small roof to another rest in a squeeze chimney. It gave me a chance to take a few photos though dislodging myself was a chore. I couldn’t have fallen out had I tried. I wriggled up to a more comfortable stance inch by precious inch. There were more challenges above, but nothing looked as difficult as what I’d just climbed.
The next section looked like it was plugged with jagged unattached boulders, but I soon realized that this was a trick of perspective. They were firmly locked in place. A small terrace gave me a chance to study the surrounding walls which looked as appealing as continuing up the chimney. A plumb crack ran up the left-hand side. Other cracks and features adorned the right. Each was a potential new route variation. However, I wanted to ascend the pure line of the dike.
Climbing higher also brought the diagonal chock-stone into perspective. It was 12-15 feet long, split across the bottom and tightly lodged in the chimney. It looked like an open door to a tomb. I’d been curious about the stone for years — what would it look like and how would I get around it? Another short climb placed me at the base of the monolith where I found two choices that led up to the forest: ascend the left corner up piled basalt or climb up a vertical crack in the right corner. I chose the right.
It was an exhilarating exit that necessitated using the edge of the chock-stone to apply pressure with my left foot. Twenty feet higher I topped out, built an anchor from a spruce and gave a hoot as a three-year dream materialized. As I previously stated, for all things, there is a season. The route was 165 feet long.
I tossed names around in my mind as Jaryn began to climb. I lean toward naming routes with a Christian theme, but also wanted to note the uniqueness of the feature. Marcy’s Great Chimney (aka Empty Tomb) seemed appropriate.
What had taken me almost two hours to climb while placing 14 pieces of gear took him about 30 minutes to follow. He recorded his climb using a selfie-pack equipped with a go-pro camera (click for video). I made a few quips about the setup, but it worked well in the end. We sat atop the new route and enjoyed the satisfaction that comes executing a plan without mishap.
The dike didn’t look impressive from the top down, but it was a stiff diverse climb that employed an arsenal of techniques — stemming, lay-backing, face-climbing, hand and finger jamming etc. I even used a knee bar to rest. As for the views — they were spectacular from our cliff-top perch. We could scan the entire western flank of Haystack and the largest of Marcy’s northern climbing walls, the Huge Scoop and Agharta Wall.
All Ryled Up
The day was young. It was only noon. Jaryn wanted to lead a route in Panther Gorge so I suggested that we rappel back into the dike so he could lead the aforementioned crack on the left-hand wall. He rappelled first and set up an anchor on the terrace below the chock-stone. I would belay him from there.
Once on belay, Jaryn stepped confidently into the crack and began to climb. It was an appealing hand-crack to its top. He placed cams every body length until reaching two obviously loose blocks at the top. He then stepped left and face-climbed up to the trees. I followed and measured the route at 40 feet long — a nice exit variation. He named his first Panther Gorge lead All Ryled Up which we rated at 5.7 YDS.
We had climbed on a single 70 meter rope which means we could rappel half that length. Double ropes would have made it easy to rappel from trees at the top of the chimney to its base, but not a single rope. Thus we bushwhacked 50 feet south to the corner of the Chimney Wall (the cliff has a southern and northeastern face) where I hoped to find a shorter drop. Nearly an hour later, I realized that there was no easy way off of the corner. I eventually located a stout tree above a large grassy terrace 100 feet below and set up the rappel. We descended past a small free-standing pillar and down an overhanging wall. Two rappels later at 2:30 pm we were back at our packs.
We discussed climbing another route, but there was a weather change in the forecast and the clouds were coalescing to the south. Instead, we bushwhacked back to camp and cooked a hearty meal. We felt the first drops of rain at 8 pm and endured a steady rain until noon the following day. We exited in a blowing fog at 3:30 pm. The weekend was cut short, but this mattered not. We’d accomplished our mission, explored new terrain and created memories that would last a lifetime. Marcy’s Great Chimney is a 4-star climb, perhaps you will be the next to climb it!
Video of Our Ascent: https://youtu.be/aPIrTJd6jgo
Full Photo Set: https://goo.gl/photos/H1EYgm6giFNzAJwn9
Additional Trips to Panther Gorge
- Grand Central Slide (w/Mark Lowell)
- Grand Central Slide Descent, up the Margin Slide & Skylight Bushwhack (w/Greg Kadlecik)
- Marcy to Haystack Bushwhack with Great Range Traverse-Great DeRanged Traverse(w/Greg Kadlecik)
- Marcy East Face Circumnavigation (w/Ranger Scott van Laer)-2013 Aug 24
- Marcy (East Face) Ranger on the Rock-East Face Slab (w/Anthony Seidita)-2013 Sep 6
- Haystack Slides and Haycrack Route-Day 3 of 4 days in the gorge (w/Anthony Seidita)-2014 May 1
- Haystack (V Wall) All Things Holy (w/Adam Crofoot)-2014 Jul 12
- Marcy (Agharta Wall) & Haystack (Free-Standing Pillar) Wreck of the Lichen Fitzgerald & For Whom the Lichen Tolls (w/Adam Crofoot)-2014 Aug 16
- Marcy (Agharta Wall) CrazyDog’s Halo & Watery Grave (w/Adam Crofoot)-2014 Sep 27
- A Snowy Panther Gorge Bushwhack (w/Adam Crofoot)-2014 Dec
- Marcy: A New Ice Route – Pi Day (w/Adam Crofoot & Anthony Seidita)-2015 Mar 14
- Haystack: 3 New Routes in a New Area (the Ramp Wall) (w/Allison Rooney and Adam Crofoot)-2015 May 30
- Marcy (Panther Den) Cat on a Wet Tin Roof (w/Bill Schneider)-2015 Jun 14
- Rumours of War: Opening a New Area—the Huge Scoop (w/Hunter Lombardi)-2015 Jul 11
- Marcy (Feline Wall) Kitten’s Got Claws (w/Justin Thalheimer)-2015 Aug 1
- Not Every Trip to the Gorge is Perfect –No Route, but a Good Day (w/Bill Schneider)-2015 Aug 16
- Marcy (Huge Scoop) The Pride (w/Bill Schneider and Adam Crofoot)-2015 Aug 30
- Marcy (Feline Wall) Promised Land (w/Dan Plumley)-2015 Sept 19
- Tour de Gorge (w/Adam Crofoot & Allison Rooney)-2015 Nov 21
- Marcy (Panther Den) Ice Route: By Tooth and Claw (WI4) (w/Bill Schneider & Devin Farkas)-2016 Jan 30
- Haystack Ice Climbs-Orson’s Tower (WI3+) and Fly By (WI3) (w/Nolan Huther)-2016 March 5
- Marcy (Agharta & Panther Den Walls)-Pioneer Anomaly & Belshazzar’s Fate (w/Adam Crofoot & Alan Wechsler)-2016 May 28
- Marcy (Huge Scoop)-Predatory Instincts (w/Bill Schneider & Nolan Huther)-2016 June 4
- Marcy (Feline Wall)-Galaxy of Tears (w/Dustin Ulrich)-2016 June 17
- Marcy (Panther Den)-One for the Boys (w/Bill Schneider, Adam Crofoot & Allison Rooney) 2016 June 25
- Marcy (Agharta Wall)-Tail of Redemption (w/Bill Schneider & John Pikus) 2016 July 30
- Marcy (Panther Den Wall)-Climb After Slime & You Moss Be Kidding Me! (w/Alan Wechsler) 2016 August 6
- Marcy (East Face)-Revelations (w/Nolan Huther & Loren Swears) 2016 August 27
- Haystack (V Wall)-Psalm 23 & Windjammer (w/John Pikus & Jaryn DeShane) 2016 September 17.
- Haystack (North End)-Kitty Cake (WI2) & 2nd ascent of By Tooth and Claw (Marcy) (w/Doug Ferguson & Walker Wolf Bockley) 2017 January 14.
- Marcy (Feline Wall)-Chimaera (WI3-) (w/Matt Dobbs & Jace Mullen) 2017 February 18.
- Haystack (North End)-Ride the Lightning (WI5-) & Skip the Lightning (WI3-) (w/Alan Wechsler) 2017 March 10.
- Marcy (Chimney Wall)-Slacker Cracker (5.9) (w/Adam Crofoot & Jaryn DeShane) 2017 June 3.
Photos: Top, the chimney/dike as viewed from below; Second, Jaryn looks at the Chimney Wall from the glade below the Overhang Slide; Third, MudRat leading the chimney; Fourth, looking down the chimney from partway up; Fifth, Jaryn leads “All Ryled Up”; Bottom, route mosaic.