Almanack Contributor Don Mellor

Don Mellor

Don Mellor is a climber, teacher, writer, and guide who has spent most of his forty-plus years of climbing here in the Adirondacks. His resume ranges from multi-day ascents of the biggest rock walls in Yosemite to first ascents of ice routes in Newfoundland. Locally, he’s done more than a hundred first ascents, including Big Brother (NEI 5), Airie on Moss Cliff (5.12) and the first free ascent of Mental Blocks (5.12) on the big backcountry cliff of Wallface.

Among his books are four rock and ice guides to the Adirondacks, the instructional Rock Climbing: A Trailside Guide, American Rock, and Alpine Americas. Don also serves as a volunteer for the high-angle rescue team, the peregrine falcon restoration project, and the steering committee of the Lake Placid Outing Club.

But fundamentally he is a teacher, serving as school counselor at Northwood School, volunteering for a local children’s climbing program, and guiding professionally for more than thirty years. These days, he gets more of a kick seeing the light go on in the eyes of a newcomer than in any climbs he gets to do on his own.



Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Climbing Moss Cliff In The Wilmington Notch

Don Mellor climb Nestlings, a variation of Touch of Class, on Moss Cliff Why would a climber want to visit something called Moss Cliff? Though the name conjures up some dank, low-angled slab wrapped in a living green carpet, the reality is quite different. This best of Adirondack cliffs is not so mossy. In fact, it’s among the cleanest, driest, most appealing rock walls in the Northeast — in my opinion, the most Adirondack of all Adirondack crags.

The name probably comes from a misreading of the 1953 USGS topographical map that put the unflattering label on a dirty slab about a mile to the west of the clean and elegantly sculpted wall that we now call Moss Cliff.

Moss Cliff isn’t hard to find. You’ve all seen it looming high above the Ausable River on the Sunrise Mountain shoulder of Whiteface. Zooming by at 55 mph, however, doesn’t give you the chance to pick out the climbers, the colorful little dots who have been playing out the evolution of climbing, out of sight, but in plain view if you ever stop to look. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, August 3, 2016

When Adirondack Climbers Come To The Rescue

The Trap Dike on Mount ColdenForest Ranger Rob Mecus got the call at 3:15 in the afternoon. A climber had fallen on Wallface. Rob had been at his Adirondack post for only a couple of years, but he knew what all longtime local climbers know — that Wallface was the worst-case scenario. It’s the biggest cliff in the state. It’s five miles from the road. There’s no nice trail to the top for a staging area. It’s blocky and loose. Three of the first four Adirondack climbing fatalities happened on this huge, remote piece of rock.

The cell-phone call from Summit Rock in Indian Pass reported that the fallen climber appeared to be hanging from a rope, unconscious. Yet despite the distance and the complexity of the rescue operation, that same climber would be wheeled into the emergency room at Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake at 8:10 that same evening. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Don Mellor On Climate Change And Ice Climbing

Dan-Plumley-ice-climbing2I have been asked whether the freeze-thaw cycles ushered in by climate change will improve conditions for ice climbing. The theory is that meltwater from a thaw will refreeze, rejuvenating ice routes that had been poked full of holes by axes.

First, the Republican disclaimer “I’m not a scientist, but …”

Look at the Catskills: shorter, warmer winter means shorter ice season. No question. Yet freeze-thaw does produce ice, as long as the bedrock is cold. Note that a viciously cold night here in autumn does very little. Yet that same night in March makes for some good new routes, like those Ian Osteyee fast-freeze routes at Poke-O. The drips hits cold rock and freezes, same as in the formation of black ice on roads. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Don Mellor: Climbing OK Slip Falls

Don Mellor on ok slip fallsIt was suggested to me recently that “if God wanted us to climb ice, He wouldn’t have made it so slippery.” Theology aside, there’s probably some inverse truth here: we want to climb ice precisely because it’s so slippery. We shouldn’t be doing it. It defies everything fundamental about the world as we learned it. It breaks some heavy rules.

Still, we put nasty spikes on our boots and grab tight to a razor pair of ice claws—and there we are, halfway up a hundred-foot icicle. Right where we aren’t supposed to be. And the bliss defies words.

This is a piece about the ice-climbing prospects of OK Slip Falls, jewel of a long-awaited land acquisition, one that has gotten a fair amount of coverage in this publication. Just to see this waterfall once took either connections, patience—or stealth. » Continue Reading.


Monday, March 25, 2013

Crane Mountain: The Next Rock Climbing Mecca?

crane1Some people just see clouds. Others see all sorts of things—funny little poodles, wrinkly faces, continents. And once the shapes define themselves in the minds of the beholders, they become real and clear. “What do you mean, you can’t see it?” the visionary might ask. “It’s as plain as the nose on my face.”

Such was my impression when I first looked up at the wooded slopes of Crane Mountain. My host, Jay Harrison, was pointing up. “Those are the Summit Cliffs. Way over there is Beaverview Wall. Down and to the right, that’s the Slanting Cracks Wall.”

To me, it looked like a steep woodlot, punctuated by a scattering of small, rocky areas. To Jay, it was the next Adirondack rock-climbing mecca. » Continue Reading.