Posts Tagged ‘Cascade Mountain’

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Jay Harrison: Cascade Pass Ice Climbing

Drivers heading along Route 73 from Keene into Lake Placid can’t miss the activity on the icy cliffs above the Cascade Lakes. Climbers scurry like ants, from dawn to dusk, up and along the major flows that wind down either side of the main cliff. Chances are anyone learning to climb the transient mineral we call ice will end up here before too long in their studies.

This is the most popular ice climbing venue in the Adirondacks. Parking is plentiful, the approach is short, and there is access to the top of most routes for top-roping.

All that convenience makes it a crowded place: come very early or late in the afternoon for the best chance to climb. Roadside conditions are typically inhospitable. High wind sweeps through the pass, making it a bone-chilling place to attempt any chores in the parking lot. Come completely prepared to head directly up the hillside before opening the car door.

There are three main parking areas for the central area of the pass. The western parking lot services the Buster and Sisters flows, the center one is for those intrepid souls venturing onto the main Pitchoff Cliff or Pitchoff Left, the easternmost one services climbers heading for Pitchoff Quarry or Pitchoff Right. The most impressive flow is the Sisters formation. Sister Left rises 130’ from its base, with a lot of 3+ and some grade 4 ice to reach the top. Sister Right is shorter, but presents a greater challenge, from 4 to 5 or even hard mixed climbing depending on the line chosen. While the full length of Sister Left must be climbed from the bottom up, the entire face can be top-roped, using a ledge lying about thirty feet upslope. Getting to the top still requires leading something, Buster being the easiest option.

Buster is a perennial favorite for beginners. The main flow is difficult to walk around for top-rope set-up, but by skirting the right edge, only minimal grade 2 ice is encountered, so it makes a good first lead as well. The front face ranges from grade 2 to 4-, and there is a fixed rappel anchor at the top. Above the anchor, another easy pitch provides a good introduction to multipitch climbing as well.

Buster is often crowded, but there are several nearby alternatives. In recent years, a steep flow directly to Buster’s left has formed reliably, providing 3+ to M4 mixed climbing, depending on its condition. To the right, two more flows (Boozer and Bruiser), both with good walk-around access to their tops and fixed anchors, provide enough room for at least four ropes.

Farther to the right, a large flow called Pitchoff Left begins as a vertical curtain of grade 4 ice, then settles down to easy climbing for the remainder of its length. There is no easy top-rope or lead option for this line, all comers will have to tackle it directly on lead. The good news: it has the fattest, most massive ice of any grade 4 flow in this area. Pitchoff Cliff divides the previous flows from those to the right. There are routes on the main cliff for stout-hearted ice aficionados; most mere mortals just gawk at them and move on.

Pitchoff Right is a heavy draw; it is rare to have this area to oneself. Fortunately, there is plenty of room and variety to go around. There is room for up to nine ropes along this wall, on routes ranging from twenty five to seventy feet tall. Top-roping is easy to establish, via a grade 1 walk-around to climber’s right. Difficulty ranges from the upper end of 2 to hard 4, with plenty of acrobatic mixed climbing potential as well. Be cautious about the pillars that form on the overhangs: while people climb them with reckless abandon, they do occasionally fall down.

The rightmost destination in the area, Pitchoff Quarry, is tucked back just far enough to be nearly invisible from the road. Accessed from the parking lot below Pitchoff Right, climbers walk east along the road for 200 feet, then duck into the alders and meander to the cliff. In good conditions, the quarry has a wide band of very steep ice, ranging between grade 4 and 5. Top-rope set-up is possible via access to climber’s right. The main flow dominates the center of the quarry, with enough room for a couple ropes, and flows to either side provide room for at least four more.

Jay Harrison guides both rock and ice for Eastern Mountain Sports, and occasionally writes about his personal adventures on his own blog.


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Climbing: Cascade Pass’s Pitchoff Chimney Cliff

Located on the windiest spot of Cascade Pass, Pitchoff Chimney Cliff is visible to everyone who stops by. Given the precipitous road, drivers would be forgiven for not giving the wide, bare rock more than a passing glance as they maneuvered through one of the High Peak’s most scenic routes.

But if they pulled to the side and looked up, they would most likely see climbers plastered all over the rock. And with good reason — the cliff contains some of the park’s best moderate routes. It also has something climbers like best: an easy approach.

In late August I spent a day here with partner Steve Goldstein and his teenage son Joe. We climbed several routes, including the justly famous Pete’s Farewell and the lesser-known but quite good route called Great Chimney.

The Great Chimney is a route that all climbers on the face should try, because it gives ascentionists a chance to see what Chimney Crag is all about. While the cliff looks like solid rock from the road, much of the face is actually a thin veneer of stone, detached except for the base from the mountain itself, and separated by a dark, roofless space known as a “chimney.”

A chimney in climbing parlance is generally a crack large enough to fit a body in. Many of these routes require “stemming” both walls, making a bridge with hands and feet and using opposing pressure to climb up. They can be some of the most physically demanding and intimidating routes, and climbers often emerge exhausted, with clothes ripped and bodies bloodied from the wrestling match with granite.

Pitchoff’s chimney is much more friendly. After a single pitch up the outside corner, climbers find themselves in its dark bowels, hidden from the view outside and clambering among a pile of broken boulders at its base. The second pitch is short but interesting. Rated 5.6 (fairly easy on the climbing rating scale), I found it somewhat intimidating and hard to figure out. It follows an overhanging crack up the chimney to a notch, where sunlight poured down from the outside world.

It was my turn to lead. I puzzled over the crack for a few minutes, and finally reached out to the other side and ascended the route in classic chimney fashion. Climbing chimneys can often feel sketchy, like you can fall at any moment, but thanks to a wall featured with indentations, this one was solid. It took a while, but eventually I went through the notch and found myself back in the world of sun and sky.

Joe and then Steve soon followed, each finding their own way to ascend the route, and agreeing it was more difficult than the rating suggested.

After rapelling back to the ground, we reorganized our gear and ascended Pete’s Farewell, a true Adirondack classic. This is a more traditional route that follows cracks and corners up the middle of the face. We were following a couple, and the lady — a French-Canadian named Myriam — was having trouble on the crux.

“Oh, my God,” she said repeatedly in heavily-accented English, before finally making the move with help from pulling on a piece of rock-climbing gear. It was clear we weren’t the only ones to be intimidated by the stout nature of Adirondack climbing.


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Adirondack Family Activities’ Diane Chase: A Hike To Owl’s Head

By Diane Chase, Adirondack Family Activities ™

Trailhead to Summit: 0.6
Ascent: 460 ft

Owl’s Head, located between Lake Placid and Keene, is a perfect hike for the entire family. It takes approximately 45 minutes round trip for an average hiker though we always plan for a bit more than an hour each way. The ascent is 460 ft., and very easy for even the smallest climber. The summit is semi-wooded, and has spectacular views of Cascade, Pitchoff and Giant Mountains.

For most families it is unfair to put a time limit on a hike due to frequent pit stops, wildlife sightings and herding of imaginary friends. Not that I wish to besmirch the herding of imaginary friends but sometimes it is enough just to get the children focused without having to gathering troops of people only visible to those under the age eight. Though it may sound tedious to some, we want to be able to take our time and instill the joy of the outdoors to our children.

This time of year scrubby blueberry bushes are in flower and line the path to the summit. Mark the calendar for a return trip midsummer when wild blueberry bushes will be in peak and ready for picking. Feel free to factor berry eating into the time factor as well unless a previous hiker has picked the trail clean.

The trail is a series of ledges, rock faces and switchbacks. To the west is Pitchoff Mountain and to the southwest, Porter and Cascade. To the east look for Hurricane Mountain’s fire tower as well as other smaller mountains and Giant Mountain to the southeast.

Local rock climbing companies use Owl’s Head for training so an added treat is to catch climbers repelling down the craggy ledges. Snacks or lunch and plenty of water are imperative. This time of year, don’t forget the bug repellent.

From the intersection of Route 9 and 73 in Keene bear north on Route 73, about 3.5 miles, turning onto Owl’s Head Lane. Continue 0.2 miles until you come to a Y. The trailhead is directly in front. Park to the left, off to the side. There isn’t a parking area. Please be considerate. The Owl’s Head trailhead and surrounding land is mostly private property.


all photos and content © Diane Chase, an excerpt from Diane’s guidebook Adirondack Family Time:Tri-Lakes & High Peaks: Your Four-Season Guide to Over 300 Activiities (with GPS Coordinates), covering the towns of Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake, Keene/Keene Valley, Jay/Upper Jay and Wilmington. The other three books in the Adirondack Family Time guidebook series are: Adirondack Family Time: Lake Champlain from Plattsburgh to Ticonderoga (2012), Adirondack Family Time: Long Lake to Old Forge (2012), Adirondack Family Time:Schroon Lake to Lake George and just beyond (2013)