Rock climbers will have a few more routes to climb this weekend, according to Joe Racette, a biologist for the state Department of Environmental Conservation who monitors the nesting of peregrine falcons on cliffs.
Racette said the Upper Washbowl cliffs near Chapel Pond are now open to climbers. DEC closes Upper Washbowl and Lower Washbowl each spring at the start of the falcons’ breeding season. DEC has ascertained that that this year the falcons are nesting on Lower Washbowl. » Continue Reading.
Over the past two decades, the state has purchased conservation easements on some 750,000 acres in the Adirondack Park. These timberlands are protected from development, and many of them are open to the public for recreation.
In theory, at least. In reality, most visitors to the Adirondacks seldom, if ever, set foot on easement lands. Partly, that’s because they don’t know where they can go or what they can do. The cliffs on Silver Lake Mountain are an exception.
The state purchased easements on the cliffs as part of a massive deal with International Paper in 2004 that preserved some 260,000 acres. Now owned by Lyme Timber, the cliffs were opened to the public—i.e., rock climbers—in 2009. » Continue Reading.
What to put on the cover? That’s always a big question at magazines. At the Adirondack Explorer, our designer, Susan Bibeau, usually mocks up two or three versions of the cover and then lets the rest of us choose. Sometimes it’s hard to decide, but not this time.
The cover of our May/June issue shows Daniel Burdick holding his son, Charlie, on top of the Pinnacle near Santa Clara. It was Charlie’s first climb. Charlie’s grandpa, Neal Burdick, wrote about the hike.
The Pinnacle is on the northern edge of the Adirondack Park, a bit remote for most folks, but if you happen to be in the neighborhood it’s a great little hike. And judging from Neal’s story, it’s an ideal trail for introducing young children to the joys of hiking. » Continue Reading.
Though we have spent most of our time getting out on the various Adirondack trails, my family needs to start working a different muscle group. Our legs are strong, but our arms are in need of a different workout. Though there is still plenty of snow around the Adirondacks, there are other activities that we are able to enjoy. One is getting into rock climbing shape at an indoor climbing wall.
The Crux, in Willsboro, offers the novice and expert a great place to burn off some steam while getting into climbing shape. Under the auspiciousness of Pok-O-MacCready Outdoor Education Center, The Crux is open from mid-October through mid-May. According to the Outdoor Education Center Director Brian DeGroat The Crux’s availability is tailored to accommodate everyone wanting to maintain or improve their skills without climbing outdoors. » Continue Reading.
Some 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.
Fred Beckey. If you’re a climber you know the name. At least you should. But how to convey his legendary status to the non-climbing world?
“He’s Cal Ripken or Gordie Howe, one of these guys with amazing longevity. If there were a climbing Hall of Fame with ten people getting in on the first ballot, he’d be one of them,” says Don Mellor, a well-known climber himself and an English teacher at Northwood School in Lake Placid.
Beckey will soon be making two appearances in the region. On Sunday, he’ll be signing copies of Fred Beckey’s 100 Favorite North American Climbs from 3-5 p.m. at the Mountaineer in Keene Valley. On Monday, he will give a slide show at Northwood School, starting at 7:30 p.m. Tickets for that event are $10 at the door.
Beckey, who grew up in Seattle, started climbing when he was thirteen, and seventy-seven years later he’s still at. That’s right, he is ninety years old and climbs cliffs.
I have driven past Moxham Mountain in Minerva many times and admired its cliffs from afar. Back in the seventies and eighties, rock climbers put up more than a dozen routes on these steep slabs, but because the approach crosses private land, Moxham was omitted from the most recent climbing guidebook.
That must be frustrating for climbers, especially since most of Moxham Mountain lies within the public Forest Preserve. But even though you can’t scale the cliffs, you can enjoy the view from the summit, thanks to a new trail that ascends Moxham on state land from the other side of the mountain.
The Student Conservation Association built the 2.7-mile trail in July under the auspices of the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Starting on a dirt road on the north side of the mountain, the trail goes over a hill, descends to a beaver meadow, and goes up a narrow ridge to Moxham’s 2,361-foot summit.
When I did the hike in August, I wasn’t expecting much in the way of views during the climb, but I was happy to be proven wrong. » Continue Reading.
Fritz Wiessner, a top climber in his day, put up the route in 1938. Like most of his routes, this one is regarded as moderate in difficulty, but it’s great fun, with interesting problems, thrilling exposure, and spectacular views of Chapel Pond Pass and the Great Range.
The crux (hardest part) comes at the very beginning when climbers have to squeeze past and then surmount a rectangular block. This pitch is rated 5.6 on the Yosemite Decimal System scale, which is pretty easy by today’s standards, but the pitch would have been a lot harder in Wiessner’s era, when climbers wore mountaineering boots instead of sticky-soled slippers. In fact, one of Wiessner’s partners, M. Beckett Howorth, avoided the block altogether, according to the guidebook Adirondack Rock. » Continue Reading.
A wall of rock 1,200 feet high and a quarter-mile wide tends to stand out. Indeed, the North Face of Gothics is one of the most conspicuous landmarks of the High Peaks, drawing the eye whether you’re in downtown Lake Placid or on top of Mount Marcy.
Yes, the North Face is big, and if you want to climb it, plan on a big day. The same goes for the other two rock walls on Gothics: the South Face and the Rainbow Slide. All three offer rock climbers spectacular routes in a wilderness setting to one of the Adirondacks’ most beautiful summits. » Continue Reading.
Paddlers and hikers are excited about the impending acquisition of the former Finch, Pruyn lands for the Forest Preserve, and understandably so. Over the next five years, a number of natural treasures will become public, such as OK Slip Falls, the Essex Chain of Lakes, Boreas Ponds, and stretches of the Hudson and Opalescent rivers.
But rock climbers also have something to be excited about: Sugarloaf Mountain.
Rising above Cedar River Road west of Indian Lake, Sugarloaf sports a massive cliff that, I’m told, offers some of the best slab climbing in the Adirondacks. Judging from the aerial photo at the end of this article, which I took a few years ago, I’m guessing the cliff is at least a half-mile long. » Continue Reading.
I’m a Johnny-climb-lately. After moving to the Adirondacks, I spent most of my outdoors time hiking, backcountry skiing, or paddling. I had no interest in rock climbing—until I finally tried it a few years back.
I quickly discovered there’s a lot to learn apart from the techniques of actual climbing: rope management, gear placement, belaying, anchor building, rappelling, and how to open a beer bottle with a carabiner.
And the language. Like most sports, rock climbing has its own lingo. A bumbling climber is a “gumby”; a perfect climbing route is “splitter”; a route over “choss” (loose, friable rock) is “mungy”; and “deadpoint” is the apex of a “dyno,” or jump move.
All this can be bewildering to a newbie (or “n00b”) who encounters such terms for the first time in articles, books, and conversation. Thankfully, Mountaineers Books has published a guide for the perplexed: The Climbing Dictionary(softcover, $14.95) by Matt Samet, a veteran climber and writer.
The book defines more than 650 terms from rock climbing, bouldering, and mountaineering. Many of the definitions are illustrated by drawings by Mike Tea, an artist who works for Black Diamond, a manufacturer of cams, nuts, and other climbing gear.
In most cases, Samet does more than just define a word; he illustrates usage with humorous quotes and provides word histories that are like small windows onto the history of climbing itself. Did you know that before climbers wore helmets they sometimes protected their heads by stuffing mittens and newspapers under wool hats?
Many of the words are merely useful, such as the names for gear (ice screw, etrier, deadman anchor), but others exemplify the wry, irreverent outlook on life that seems indispensible to people who risk their necks for fun. For example, someone who “craters,” or hits the ground after a long fall, is likely to become “talus food.”
Samet captures this spirit in his definitions and exemplary quotations. Here’s his entry for blog-worthy: “Any rock you’ve ever climbed, videoed, and shot photos of … and uploaded to the Internet. In alpinism, any diversion, no matter how insignificant, from an existing climb is usually blog-worthy.”
Sometimes, though, the author strains too hard at humor, especially in his quotations. He illustrates the use of headlamp with the following: “Dave-o and Sha-Nay-Nay had to open a bivy a half-mile from the car because they spaced their headlamps; then wolves ate their faces off in the night.”
Never mind that the non-imbecilic have no need for a definition of headlamp; the quotation fails to illuminate meaning and it fails to amuse.
That’s OK … we all have our gumby moments. If you love climbing, you should enjoy this book.
If you’re rock climbing, you use a rope and wear a helmet (though not everyone does). If you’re hiking, you don’t.
That seems simple enough, but the distinction between a rock climb and a hike isn’t so straightforward. Sadly, this was demonstrated when a hiker died in a fall in the Trap Dike last week. » Continue Reading.
The Fourth Annual Southern Adirondack Rockclimbers Festival begins this Friday, September 9th, at 3pm. This year, participants will rendezvous at the property of photographer Gary Dean, located just north of the intersection of routes 10 and 10A, in the town of Caroga Lake.
This year’s climbing venues include Good Luck, Lost T, and Lost Hunter’s cliffs, as well as several newly-discovered crags. Additionally, location manager Justin Sanford will run a bouldering competition featuring the well-known boulders at Nine-Cornered Lake. SRCFC will again provide a dinner for participants Saturday night. Door prizes and giveaways from Mad Rock, Clif, National Geographic, and many more will be handed out during the event. Begun in 2008, the Festival provides climbers from all over the northeast an opportunity to explore lesser-known crags outside of the Adirondack’s well-known cliffs, and a chance for local climbers to meet, compare notes, and share the latest developments with each other. Past events have been held at Shanty Cliff, Crane Mountain, and the southeast shore of Lake George.
The Rockclimbers Festival is free to all. Free camping sites are available. Overflow camping is available close to many of the climbing areas. No training or guiding is supplied during this event; participants should understand the skills required in climbing, the risks involved, and the methods for dealing with them. Visit the festival website for more information.
Photos: Above, Lost T cliff; Below, A boulderer at Nine Cornered Lake (photos by Justin Sanford).
The Adirondack Park doesn’t enjoy as much cachet in the rock-climbing world as, say, the Gunks and the White Mountains. A recent geology book written for rock climbers, for instance, fails to mention the Adirondacks in its chapter on climbing venues in the Northeast.
That’s OK. We can do without the crowds. But the fact is that the Adirondacks offer superb rock routes and a rich climbing history. On Sunday, Josh Wilson and I got a taste of both at Chapel Pond Slab. Anyone who regularly drives Route 73 from the Northway to Keene knows the slab—eight hundred feet of bare rock that rises above the highway just south of Chapel Pond. It’s an excellent place for beginning climbers to learn how to do multi-pitch routes.
The guidebook Adirondack Rock awards five stars—its highest rating—to two of the six routes at the slab: the Regular Route and Empress. Both were pioneered, at least in part, by legendary rock climbers and both are rated 5.5 in the Yosemite Decimal System. By today’s standards, a 5.5 climb is considered easy. But when the system was created, back in the 1950s, the scale ranged from 5.0 to 5.9, so a 5.5 route would have been regarded as moderate in difficulty. Nowadays, the scale ranges up to 5.15, so a 5.5 is no big shakes.
The Regular Route evolved from another route, Bob’s Knob Standard (rated 5.3), that was first climbed by John Case in 1933. Case, a former president of the American Alpine Club, helped introduce European climbing techniques to the United States earlier in the century. Case’s route was the first on the slab. Over the years, climbers tried variations of the route and eventually developed the more interesting and more challenging line known as Regular Route. The two routes still share the same beginning.
Empress was first ascended in the 1930s by Fritz Wiessner, one of the best climbers of his generation. Among his many accomplishments, Wiessner “discovered” the Gunks and established a number of routes there. He also earned fame as a high-altitude alpinist. In 1939, he came within two hundred meters of K2’s summit—fifteen years before “the Savage Mountain” would finally be conquered (four men died on Wiessner’s expedition).
On Sunday, Josh and I followed in the footholds and handholds of these masters when we did Bob Knob’s Standard, Regular Route, and Empress—altogether about 2,400 feet of climbing. Usually, each route is ascended in six or seven pitches, or stages, but we climbed without a rope except for one wet pitch on Regular Route. Climbing sans rope (that is, without belays or protection) is not recommended, but it’s sometimes done on these routes.
Although I had climbed Empress twice before, I got a little wigged out on its celebrated fourth and fifth pitches. Both involve ascending long stretches of slab with almost no holds. The holds that do exist are Lilliputian bulges, ridges, or depressions. Essentially, you trust the rubber of your climbing shoes to keep you on the rock.
Josh finished the route first. I waited several minutes while he went to the top of Bob’s Knob to take photos of me ascending the final pitches on Empress. This gave me the opportunity to look down (at that point, I had climbed five hundred feet) and contemplate what I was about to do, mindful of a nasty fall I had taken on the Eagle Slide last summer.
When Josh gave me the OK to start, I stepped onto a small ledge on the slab and began searching for tiny irregularities in the rock on which to smear my soles. Starting up, I had to fight the impulse to rush over the rock to get out of danger as soon as possible. I knew I’d be safer if I proceeded carefully, deliberately. Still, I found myself hurrying toward the end.
After finishing, I had a greater admiration for Fritz Wiessner. Yes, the routes he established are not especially difficult by today’s standards, but advances in equipment have changed the climbing game. Wiessner explored Chapel Pond Slab long before the era of sticky-soled slippers. In those days climbers wore leather boots. I suppose Fritz had on something of the sort when he first did Empress. I can’t imagine how he found the traction—and the nerve—to get up that rock.
As for protection, the old-school climbers hammered pitons into the rock instead of placing cams and aluminum chocks into cracks. And their ropes were made of hemp, not stretchy nylon. If the lead climber slipped, chances are the rope would break when it pulled taut. Hence, the motto of that time: “The leader does not fall.”
Do you think Empress is easy? Try climbing it in hiking boots.
Photo by Phil Brown: Josh Wilson on Regular Route.
Rock climbers call it the sharp end of the rope. That would be the end attached to the lead climber, the one taking the risks. Some say you haven’t really climbed until you’ve been on the sharp end.
Cambridge University Press’s online dictionary defines “sharp end” as the part of any activity “where the most problems are likely to be found.” Having experienced the sharp end of the rope for the first time last weekend, I would say that about sums things up.
Unlike the following climber (the “second’’), a leader risks injury or even death if he falls. Although the leader places protection during the climb, meant to hold him in a fall, if he slips, he will plummet twice as far as he ascended above his last piece of “pro”—and a bit more if you factor in slack and rope stretch. Thus, if he is ten feet above his last piece, he falls more than twenty feet. In contrast, when the leader belays the second climber from above, he keeps the rope taut, so if the second slips, he falls hardly at all. Although I never led a climb before Sunday, I had climbed solo on multi-pitch routes on Chapel Pond Slab. You’d think that solo climbing, with no rope or protection, would be more unnerving than leading a climb. Strangely, I found that wasn’t the case.
Anybody attempting a lead climb for the first time should choose a route well within his ability. I did two short routes — “Return Home” and “And She Was” — on the Roast and Boast Slab in Wilmington Notch (my son, Nathan, belayed me). Both are rated 5.2 in the Yosemite Decimal System. Essentially, they’re novice climbs.
So why did I feel less comfortable leading the 80-foot And She Was (named for a Talking Heads song) than I did soloing the 800-foot Regular Route on Chapel Pond Slab, which is rated 5.5?
For one thing, I think my reaction says something about the subjectivity of the rating system. Most of Regular Route is straightforward slab climbing that requires little technique. And She Was, in contrast, follows a series of cracks. Which route you find easier will depend on whether you prefer slab climbing or crack climbing. I enjoy both, but for whatever reason, I felt more comfortable on Regular Route.
More important, though, lead climbing is simply harder than solo climbing. You’ve got all that heavy gear—wired nuts, cams, and carabiners—hanging off your harness. It tends to get in the way. You’re also dragging a rope behind you. It sometimes tugs at you, and it might even throw you off balance. Finally, you have to stop frequently to wedge a nut or cam into a crack and clip the rope to it, trying to maintain your position on the cliff with one hand while the other fiddles with the gear. To top things off, if you’re new to leading, you’re bound to have doubts about whether that protection will hold in a fall. I sure did.
I suspect the fears and doubts will subside as I gain experience, but I don’t imagine they ever go completely away, and that’s probably a good thing. Fear keeps you alert.
But why climb at all? Why take any risk? I pondered that question after taking an unroped fall on the Eagle Slide last summer. I wrote about the fall briefly in this story in the Adirondack Explorer. In the newsmagazine’s current issue, I describe the fall in more detail with my commentary. Click here to read it.
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