Posts Tagged ‘Climbing’

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wallface: A Formidable Climb in Indian Pass

The speed record for climbing the Diagonal route on Wallface Cliff is 3 hours, 14 minutes. I climbed the same route last weekend and I can tell you that the record was never in any danger of being broken by us.

The speed record was set by local climbers Don Mellor and Jeff Edwards, who ran six miles from Adirondack Loj to the cliff, climbed the 700-foot-high route in a half-hour by simul-climbing (with a rope) and placing only a minimum of gear between them for protection. Then they speed-bushwacked back to their car (they were in a hurry because it was their children’s nap time, and presumably their wives didn’t know they had left them alone), according to the book Adirondack Rock.

Since neither myself nor my partner Steve Goldstein have young children, we were in less of a hurry. And that was a good thing, because Wallface is a big, remote place, and if you visit as a climber you should plan to spend the day. Unless you’ve left your kids alone.

Wallface may be the biggest cliff in New York state, but there’s a reason it sees few visitors. The is located deep in the wilderness at Indian Pass, four miles from Upper Works parking lot near Newcomb and six miles south of Adirondack Loj. It’s the deep gash visible to the west from Algonquin and other nearby High Peaks.

I don’t know about the northern approach, but the route from the south has to be one of the worst trails in the Adirondacks — a never-ending slog through mud pits until you get to the climbers’ herd path.

There’s other reasons besides the approach that Wallface isn’t popular: it’s not a pristine cliff. Climbers like clean routes — vertical, devoid of loose rock or vegetation, an obvious line up. Wallface has none of these. It’s a discontinuous face of granite, in some areas chock full of vegetation and loose, low-angle rock, at other spots overhanging and completely lacking in holds. Even finding the base of most climbs is difficult.

Clearly, it’s not a user-friendly area for climbers. “This cliff,” warns Adirondack Rock, the region’s Bible for rock climbers, “must be approached with an adventurous spirit.”

Yet Wallface does have its attractions. For ultra-hardmen, there’s the stiff route called Mental Blocks. For sport climbers, there’s several difficult, bolted routes on a pristine face nicknamed The Shield (Free Ride, rated a hard 5.11, is said to be the “best face climbing on the East Coast”).

And there’s the Diagonal, the most popular moderate route up the 700-foot-high cliff.

After years of talking about it, my climbing partner Steve Goldstein and I finally decided to pack our own adventurous spirits and hoof it into Wallface — the Diagonal our destination.

We left at dawn. After the aforementioned slog, we reached the base around 9 a.m. We eyed our route from below. The Diagonal is rated 5.8, which is just a bit tougher than the average beginner can climb. But most of it is quite easy, and the first third is rather dull.

It follows broken, discontinuous bands of rock up the lower part of the face. Once we roped up, we navigated as best we could through the choss, eventually ascending to the cliff’s most interesting feature.

The Diagonal is named for a 300-foot-high ramp that is the middle part of the route. It’s an easy section, low-angle and chock full of features. Some sections are pockmarked with tiny holes, like coral or cooled lava, which Steve figured were carved by tens of thousands of years of water drops falling from the overhanging rock above. And out before us was the ever-expanding view of the High Peaks.

The ramp ended at a grassy ledge, which brought us to the third section of the route — two pitches of vertical climbing up cracks and corners. I gratefully handed the lead (and the rack of jingling climbing gear) to Steve, the stronger member of our two-man team. And he gracefully made his way up until he was out of sight, cursing at the wet sections along the way.

I followed him up through some interesting and challenging features until I reached him high on a ledge. He had climbed further than the route description called for.

“Sorry,” he said. “I think I stole about half of your pitch.”

“Fine with me,” I said, thinking of the strange and awkward move I had just wormed up, and glad he had gone first.

Then it was my turn to lead. I took the gear and climbed the last 50 feet, making a few well-protected but awkward moves that had me yelling “Watch me!” as I felt for a handhold that ought to have been there but wasn’t.

At the top, we shivered. The sun had long since disappeared behind the cliff, and a constant breeze left no doubt that we were deep in the mountains, not at some roadside crag with a warm car and cold beer waiting only a few minutes away.

Escape from the top of Wallface comes either from walking around (not recommended due to the thick underbrush and blowdown) or rappelling. The top of the Diagonal, being popular, has fixed anchors. You thread the ropes through and then rappel off, pulling the rope after you to set up for the next rap.

For many climbers, this is the sketchiest part of climbing, especially on long, remote routes. The possibility of stuck ropes is always present, and in this location, with darkness and cold temperatures only an hour away, that would have meant for a long and miserable night.

Fortunately, the ropes pulled smoothly and an hour later we were on the ground, warmer and ready for that beer.

Unfortunately, we still had a long way to go. We raced down the approach path and made the official hiking trail at darkness. Then we spent the next 90 minutes walking by the light of headlamps, searching for ways through the endless muck as Steve regaled me with tales of his misspent college years (“The coolest explosion I was ever involved in was when …”).

We reached the car at 9 p.m., making for a 14-hour day. That three-hour ascent record was safe — after all, we had taken five times longer. But that was fine with us. We had conquered Wallface.

And we wouldn’t be going back for a long time.


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.


Monday, August 23, 2010

Is Adirondack Bouldering Unethical? Illegal?

Glacial erratics are part of the Adirondack landscape. On just about any trail, you can find one of these boulders left behind by retreating glaciers eons ago.

In places, you can find collections of giant erratics. One such place is near Nine Corner Lake in the southern Adirondacks—a major attraction for those who practice the art of bouldering. The guidebook Adirondack Rock describes Nine Corners as the largest boulder field in the Adirondack Park, with more than a hundred “problems” (mini-routes) on about fifty boulders.

Regular Adirondack Almanack contributor Alan Wechsler writes about Nine Corners bouldering in the current issue of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine. You can read the story online by clicking here.

Last week, I posted the link to the story on Adirondack Forum’s rock-climbing section and was surprised that it touched off a debate over the ethics of bouldering.

As hikers know, boulders are usually covered—at least partially—with lichen, moss, ferns, and other vegetation. As Alan’s story notes, climbers often scrape off vegetation when creating routes.

A few people on Adirondack Forum suggested that removing vegetation from boulders is wrong.

One poster wrote: “There are few things more beautiful in the forest than a moss cloaked, polypody fern capped erratic—I know I’d be exceptionally ticked if some climber came along and ‘cleaned’ the moss and other vegetation off of a boulder, which undoubtedly took centuries to accumulate. ‘Cleaning moss’ strikes me as a selfish act of vandalism.”

Another contended that cleaning boulders violates regulations against removing or destroying plants growing on state land.

The critics raise valid points. To play devil’s advocate, however, one could argue that removing vegetation from portions of a relatively small number of boulders in the Adirondack Park does little or no harm to the ecological system. I can’t imagine too many people are bothered by it, as most visitors to boulder fields are boulderers. At the same time, bouldering gives great pleasure to those who do it. Applying the principles of Utilitarianism , you can make a case that removing vegetation to facilitate bouldering is, on balance, a good thing. It adds to the sum of human happiness.

Anything we do in the Forest Preserve creates some impact on the environment. Hikers create erosion, trample plants, disturb wildlife, and so on. But these impacts are small, and no one suggests we should ban hiking. The question is how much disturbance of the natural world is acceptable.

What do you think? Do boulderers go too far?

Photo by Alan Wechsler: A climber at Nine Corners.

Phil Brown is the editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Death of Climber Dennis Murphy

In my last post, I wrote about the risks and rewards of solo climbing. I didn’t expect to write about rock climbing again this week, but I can’t help it.

The death of Dennis Murphy at Upper Washbowl Cliff in Keene Valley deeply affected his friends and colleagues and gives pause to all climbers to reflect on the nature of their chosen sport.

I didn’t know Dennis well, but I often chatted with him at Eastern Mountain Sports in Lake Placid, where he had worked for the past four years. Last Friday, we talked at length about climbing gear and about soloing Chapel Pond Slab, something we both loved doing.

As always, I came away from the conversation thinking this guy is passionate—and knowledgeable—about climbing.

The details of Monday’s accident remain a bit fuzzy as I write this. State Police say Dennis and a friend had climbed Hesitation, a classic 5.8 route on Upper Washbowl, and were preparing to rappel when Dennis slipped. When descending, climbers rappel to a ledge halfway down the cliff and then rappel again to the base. What’s not clear is whether Dennis fell from the top of the cliff (more than two hundred feet) or from the ledge (more than one hundred feet).

Perhaps we’ll learn more today. In any case, the fall was great enough that Dennis probably died instantly. He was thirty-five years old.

Whenever a rock climber dies, questions arise about the safety of the sport. Some people even wonder if climbers have a death wish. It does seem like a dangerous pastime, but most climbers are cautious, and they spend a small fortune on gear meant to protect them in case of a fall.

Before this week, the most recent climbing death in the Adirondacks had occurred in 2007, when Dennis Luther fell on Poke-O-Moonshine in a rappelling accident. At the time, Don Mellor, the veteran climber from Lake Placid, pointed out that Luther’s was only the fifth rock-climbing fatality in the region. And technical climbing in the Adirondacks began way back in 1916, when John Case ascended the cliffs on Indian Head overlooking Lower Ausable Lake.

So now we have six climbing fatalities. That’s too many, but six deaths over the span of nearly a century does not suggest that rock climbing is a reckless sport. Far more people are killed in hunting accidents, snowmobile accidents, and ATV accidents.

Did Dennis Murphy make a mistake on Upper Washbowl? Or was he just unlucky?

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. His friends will miss him just the same.

Photo by Phil Brown: Upper Washbowl Cliff.

Phil Brown is the editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Alan Wechsler: Comparing Colorado to the Adirondacks

I recently spent a few days touring around Colorado by bicycle. It was my seventh trip to the state, in both summer and winter.

The trip took me on a few parts of the Colorado Trail, a 450-mile hiking route that follows the spine of the Continental Divide from Denver to Durango. It also took me to some of Colorado’s old mining towns, most of which have been recast as a combination tourist attraction and burgeoning home to the young, artsy and outdoorsy.

The trip got me thinking about the differences between the Rocky Mountains and the Adirondacks, where I first learned to climb mountains and have spent the last 25 years exploring. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

At Chapel Pond Slab: Is Solo Climbing Crazy?

The Empress is one of two five-star climbing routes on Chapel Pond Slab—a route first ascended in 1933 by the legendary Fritz Wiessner.

Empress is long—865 feet, usually climbed in seven pitches—but not especially difficult. It’s rated only 5.5 on the Yosemite decimal scale. It’s mostly friction climbing: you smear your soles on small toeholds to progress upward. There also is an off-width crack in one section.

Click here to a read a more detailed description of the route.

I climbed Empress for the first time the other day and had a great time. My ascent was all the more exciting in that I did it solo, without a rope, without protection against a fall.

Climbers often ascend Chapel Pond Slab solo. A few weeks ago a friend did laps on Regular Route, the other five-star route on the cliff, while waiting for me to meet him. The guidebook Adirondack Rock contains a photo of a solo climber on that same route. The book also tells of a soloist who slipped on a neighboring route and slid far down the slab, ripping the skin off his palms. “He then drove to a bar using his wrists,” the authors write.

To many people, solo climbing is lunacy. In a recent issue of the Adirondack Explorer, however, the Lake Placid climber Don Mellor defends the practice. He argues that we all take risks and that what seems like lunacy to one person is an acceptable risk to another.

“The pleasure of a bushwhack comes from the uncertainty of the outcome,” says Mellor, the author of American Rock and other climbing books. “The slide hike is exciting, not in spite of the danger, but because of it. Appreciating security by tasting insecurity is an elemental human endeavor. The only real variable, I guess, is the size of the dose.”

That said, solo climbers do push the limits. Two years ago, Alex Honnold scaled a 23-pitch route on Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. The sheer-vertical climb is rated 5.12a—too hard for most climbers even with a rope.

Click here to see video of this incredible feat (sorry for the German overdubbing).

If the average climber attempted to solo this route, it would indeed be lunacy. But Honnold obviously is not your average climber, and he knows his limits.

Indeed, climbers usually stay well within their comfort zone when going solo. Nevertheless, accidents do occur, some of them fatal, even to the best of climbers. John Bachar, one of most renowned soloists in the world, died in a fall last summer. He had been solo climbing for decades. Apparently, the odds caught up with him.

What do you think? Do solo climbers have rocks in their heads?

Photo from halfway up Empress taken by Phil Brown.

Phil Brown is the editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

High Peak Hiking: Four Slides in One Day

Many Adirondack hikers go on to explore the many slides of the High Peaks after hiking trails for many years. Slides create a direct approach to the top, combining bushwhacking, easy rock climbing and a sense of adventure.

Then there’s Kevin “MudRat” MacKenzie of Lake Placid, who has taken slide-climbing to a new extreme.

Call it slide-bagging. And recently he got four of them in one day.

About a week ago MacKenzie, 40, an assistant registrar at St. Lawrence University, climbed Giant Mountain — the popular High Peak off Route 73 in Keene Valley. He climbed it, descended it, climbed it and descended it, by himself, going up and down four adjacent slides on the prominent west face.

“I was going to do everything on the west face,” he reported later. “So I put together four of them.”

Every slide was different, he said. Every slide had its own character.

Starting his hike around 7 a.m., he hiked the Roaring Brook Trail to a bushwhack that follows drainages to the base of the Bottle Slide, one of a number of bare areas created from landslides years ago.

He describes the slide as one of his favorites, with waves of anorthosite, plenty of cracks and ledges to climb and a pitch of around 39 degrees (he figures this out at home using topographic software.

From there, he descended the Diagonal Slide, which is steeper and covered with algae, making for a nerve-racking descent. “You can’t see what you’re stepping onto,” he said.

At the bottom of the mountain’s headwall, he traversed to the Question Mark Slide, an obscure route that’s steep, overgrown and covered with wet moss. That took two hours, including a lot of bushwhacking through the trees to avoid the perilous, 45-degree wet bits.

Finally reaching the summit at 1 p.m., he was exhausted and decided to pass on hiking Giant’s most well-known slide, the majestic Eagle Slide (the wide and obvious bare section visible from Keene Valley). Instead, he walked down the 600-foot-high Tulip Slide and decided to call it a day.

MacKenzie says he’s done about 30 slides so far, and hopes to one day climb all 100 major slides in the peaks. His next area: Dix, with its dozens of slides, which he plans to attack in a weekend camping trip in the near future.

Readers: What are your favorite slide routes and why?

 


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)


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Current Conditions in the Adirondack Park (May 27)

This announcement is for general use – local conditions may vary and are subject to change. For complete Adirondack Park camping, hiking, and outdoor recreation conditions see the DEC’s webpage. A DEC map of the Adirondack Park can also be found online [pdf].

Fire Danger: HIGH

Memorial Day Weekend
Due to Monday’s holiday and the forecast for good weather, visitors should be aware that popular parking lots, camping sites, motels and hotels may fill to capacity. This is a weekend to seek recreation opportunities in less-used areas of the Adirondack Park.


Weather

Friday: Sunny, with a high near 74. Calm wind becoming northwest around 5 mph.
Friday Night: Mostly clear, with a low around 44. Light north northwest wind.
Saturday: Mostly sunny, with a high near 73. Winds 5 to 8 mph; could gust to 23 mph.
Saturday Night: Partly cloudy, slight chance of showers after 2am. Low around 52.
Sunday: Sunny, with a high near 79.
Sunday Night: Mostly clear, with a low around 46.
Memorial Day: Chance of showers and thunderstorms. Mostly cloudy, high near 79.
Monday Night: Chance of showers and thunderstorms. Mostly cloudy, low around 54.

Biting Insects
“Bug Season” has begun in the Adirondacks so Black Flies, Mosquitos, Deer Flies and/or Midges will be present. To minimize the nuisance wear light colored clothing, pack a head net and use an insect repellent.

Firewood Ban
Due to the possibilty of spreading invasive species that could devastate northern New York forests (such as Emerald Ash Borer, Hemlock Wooly Adeljid and Asian Longhorn Beetle), DEC prohibits moving untreated firewood more than 50 miles from its source. Forest Rangers have begun ticketing violators of this firewood ban. More details and frequently asked questions at the DEC website.

General Backcountry Conditions
Wilderness conditions can change suddenly. Hikers and campers should check up-to-date forecasts before entering the backcountry as conditions at higher elevations will likely be more severe. All users should bring flashlight, first aid kit, map and compass, extra food, plenty of water and clothing. Be prepared to spend an unplanned night in the woods and always inform others of your itinerary.

Blowdowns: Due to recent storms and high winds blowdown may be found on trails, particularly infrequently used side trails. Blowdown may be heavy enough in some places to impede travel.

Bear-Resistant Canisters: The use of bear-resistant canisters is required for overnight users in the Eastern High Peaks Wilderness between April 1 and November 30. All food, toiletries and garbage must be stored in bear resistant canisters; DEC encourages the use of bear-resistant canisters throughout the Adirondacks.

Local Conditions

Lake George Wild Forest / Hudson River Recreation Area: Funding reductions have required that several gates and roads remain closed to motor vehicle traffic. These include Dacy Clearing Road, Lily Pond Road, Jabe Pond Road, Gay Pond Road, Buttermilk Road Extension and Scofield Flats Road.

Moose River Plains Wild Forest: Funding reductions have required that most gates on the Moose River Plains Road System will remain shut and the roads closed to motor vehicle traffic, however crews began clearing the main Moose River Plains Road this week and plan to open it Friday. Roads south of the “Big T” junction (Otter Brook and Indian Lake roads) will remain closed for now.

Raquette River Boat Launch: The Raquette River Boat Launch along State Route 3 is closed at this time as DEC is rehabilitating the boat launch. See the press release for more information. It is expected to reopen in mid-June.

Pok-O-Moonshine Mountain: A peregrine falcon nest has been confirmed on The Nose on the Main Face of Poke-o-moonshine Mountain. All rock climbing routes including and between Garter and Mogster, are closed. All other rock climbing routes are open beginning May 12.

St. Regis Canoe Area: The carry between Long Pond and Nellie Pond has a lot of blowdown. Also beavers have flooded a section of trail about half way between the ponds. A significant amount of bushwhacking will be needed to get through the carry, so be prepared for a real wilderness experience.

Chimney Mountain / Eagle Cave: DEC is investigating the presence of white-nose syndrome in bats in Eagle Cave near Chimney Mountain. Until further notice Eagle Cave is closed to all public access.

Giant Mountain: All rock climbing routes on Uppper Washbowl remain closed due to confirmed peregrine falcon nesting activity. All rock climbing routes on Lower Washbowl in Chapel Pond Pass are opened for climbing.

Opalescent River Bridges Washed Out: The Opalescent River Bridge on the East River Trail is out. The cable bridge over the Opalescent River on the Hanging Spear Falls trail has also been washed out. The crossing will be impassable during high water.

High Peaks/Big Slide Ladder: The ladder up the final pitch of Big Slide has been removed.

Calamity Dam Lean-to: Calamity Lean-to #1, the lean-to closest to the old Calamity Dam in the Flowed Lands, has been dismantled and removed.

Mt. Adams Fire Tower: The cab of the Mt. Adams Fire Tower was heavily damaged by windstorms. The fire tower is closed to public access until DEC can make repairs to the structure.

Upper Works – Preston Ponds Washouts: Two foot bridges on the trail between Upper Works and Preston Pond were washed out by an ice jam. One bridge was located 1/3 mile northwest of the new lean-to on Henderson Lake. The second bridge was located several tenths of a mile further northwest. The streams can be crossed by rock hopping. Crossings may be difficult during periods of high water.

Duck Hole: The bridge across the dam has been removed due to its deteriorating condition. A low water crossing (ford) has been marked below the dam near the lean-to site. This crossing will not be possible during periods of high water.

——————–
Forecast provided by the National Weather Service; warnings and announcements drawn from NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.

The new DEC Trails Supporter Patch is now available for $5 at all outlets where sporting licenses are sold, on-line and via telephone at 1-866-933-2257. Patch proceeds will help maintain and enhance non-motorized trails throughout New York State.


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Phil Brown on Climbing: To Bolt Or Not To Bolt

Last weekend, Josh Wilson led my friend Mike Virtanen and me up a historical rock-climbing route on Rooster Comb in Keene Valley. Fritz Wiessner, one of the best climbers and mountaineers of his era, pioneered the route in 1949 with Jim Goodwin, his frequent partner on Adirondack outings.

The Old Route, as it’s called, is rated 5.4 in the Yosemite Decimal System, which is easy by today’s standards, but Weissner availed himself of a variety of interesting features as he meandered up the cliff: a ramp, a narrow chimney, corners, ledges, and wide cracks.

Wiessner was involved in the first ascent of at least eighteen rock-climbing routes in the Adirondacks. The hardest, on Noonmark Mountain, is rated 5.8. That’s considered moderately tough, but it doesn’t come close in difficulty to many routes put up since Wiessner’s heyday. Josh, for instance, has climbed 5.11 routes. III Fire, the hardest climb in the Adirondacks, is rated 5.14a—which once would have been thought impossible.

So are modern climbers that much better than Wiessner?

Not really. Changes in footwear have enabled climbers to ascend ever-harder routes. In the old days, climbers wore boots or sneakers. Today, they climb in lightweight shoes that resemble ballet slippers with sticky rubber soles. These shoes allow climbers to get a purchase on steep slabs and tiny nodules of rock.

Protective gear—“pro,” in the sport’s lingo—also has greatly improved. In Wiessner’s day, climbers hammered metal pitons into cracks to hold their rope in the event of a fall. Nowadays, climbers carry lightweight nuts and cams that can be wedged into almost any crack. The new technology makes climbing difficult routes safer.

On Rooster Comb, we saw three or four old pitons on the Old Route. We wondered if they had been pounded in by Wiessner himself. Although no longer needed, the pitons are artifacts of a bygone era and should be left in place.

Pitons may be relics of the past, but steel bolts are not. Like pitons or other pro, fixed bolts are used to hold the rope in a fall. They are usually found on blank faces where it’s impossible to place pro or at the top of a cliff or pitch where climbers clip in the rope to rappel.

Since they alter the natural environment, bolts are controversial. Don Mellor notes in his book American Rock that attitudes toward bolts vary among climbing communities in different parts of the country. Climbers can get quite worked up over the issue. Mellor once told me, after we climbed Wallface, of a guy who used to carry a hammer to destroy any bolt he encountered.

In the Adirondacks, climbers frown on the overuse of bolts. Dominic Eisinger writes in the guidebook Adirondack Rock: “For existing routes, no additional protection or fixed anchors should be added without the consent of the first-ascent party. Fixed anchors have been installed by the climbing community where necessary for safety and preservation of fragile terrain and trees” (since they obviate the need to wrap slings around trees during a rappel).

But the guideline is not always followed. Tom Rosecrans, a longtime climber, complains that routes he pioneered on Rogers Rock years ago have since been bolted.

Some might ask whether it’s ever appropriate to fix bolts to a cliff in the forever-wild Forest Preserve. It’s a legitimate question: state regulations forbid defacing “any tree, flower, shrub, fern, fungi or other plant like organisms, moss or other plant, rock, soil, fossil or mineral or object of archaeological or paleontological interest found or growing on State land.”

Nonetheless, bolts do happen. Of course, many forms of outdoor recreation—whether hiking, snowmobiling, or camping—leave an impact on the wilderness. The question is whether that impact is acceptable.

Eisinger says Adirondack climbers strive to minimize their impact in all respects, not just in their bolting practices. “Scrubbing lichen from holds, cleaning dirt from cracks for protection, breaking the occasional branch to squeeze by a tree, or removing a dangerous loose block are all accepted practices,” Eisinger writes. “Scrubbing an 8-foot wide swath and cutting trees are not only illegal but aren’t accepted by the climbing community.”

In truth, no one but climbers will see a bolt on a cliff. And most climbers don’t mind a well-placed bolt. So the aesthetic impact is negligible.

Bolts are to modern climbers what pitons were to early climbers: an occasional necessity. And what climber would not take delight in seeing a piton put in by the great Fritz Wiessner? It’s a reminder that the sport hasn’t changed that much.

Photo by Phil Brown: Josh Wilson on the Old Route on Rooster Comb.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ice Climbing: Reflections on the Season’s End

A few days after we had climbed the Chiller Pillar, a one-pitch ice route near Whiteface Mountain, my ice-climbing partner Steve Goldstein of Latham called me up.

“If I had seen this article in Rock and Ice, I might not have led that route,” he told me.

“What article?”

“A climber was critically injured in Colorado. He was climbing an ice pillar and it collapsed under him.”

“Oh. Would that have kept you from climbing the route?”

“I dunno,” he said. “Maybe.”

It’s easy to ponder the transitory nature of ice when you’re climbing it. Rock-climbing routes rarely change. You can climb a face once, come back ten years later and the holds will still be the same. In fact, a critical hold breaking off a popular route often makes news in climbing circles.

Ice routes change not only year to year but week to week. In fact, ice can change even as you’re on it, turning softer and wetter from the sun. And it’s quite common for large pieces of ice to fall off as you ascend, hacking and skewering your way up the face.

Ice climbing is surely more dangerous than rock, and never more than when the temperature goes up. In February, 2002 a climber was killed at Pok-O-Moonshine while climbing the Adirondack classic testpiece Positive Thinking. The route detached from the wall when the climber about a hundred feet off the ground.

The first pitch is thin to begin with. It’s more of a veneer of ice, pasted to a featureless rock slab for a hundred feet. It also faces east. “A few hours of strong sunshine causes the ice to detach from the smooth, crackles rock,” reports Don Mellor in the book Blue Lines, the region’s ice-climbing guidebook. Even in the best weather, he adds, “the first pitch is often a frightening, crackless shell.”

As the weather warms, ice routes disappear. At this point, there’s only a few routes left – thick, protected from sunshine and at higher elevations, according to Rock and River’s climbing site. We climbed at Pitchoff Mountain’s North Face last Saturday, in fact, and Central Pillar was in fine condition, albeit soaking wet.

Warm-weather ice climbing has its advantages. Pick placements are easy to make in the soft ice, and you don’t risk frostbite while belaying. On the down side, you get sponge-wet gloves from dripping routes. And routes tend to disappear quickly.

Yet with an end to the season well in sight, it’s hard to say no to one more trip.

Which brings me back to Steve and the article he saw in Rock and Ice, a popular climbing magazine. The article told of a severe injury on The Fang, a freestanding pillar of ice near Vail, Co. A climber, who had spent 15 years preparing to ascend this Rocky Mountain jewel, fell a hundred feet when the six-foot-wide ice formation collapsed beneath him.

It was a dangerous route, but very different from Chiller Pillar. Still, it was just as well Steve hadn’t read the story yet. And we approached our route with caution.

The Pillar had a strange look to it – more like white frosting than blue water ice. And there was a horizontal crack only a few feet from the top, which meant the climb had settled at some point, detaching from the final few feet.

Yet is was a cool day, with no sunshine to cause undue melting. The route was thick, and tapered from the bottom to the top. The wall around it looked dry, and the ice itself held the test-screws we placed at the base.

“You can top-rope it,” I told Steve. That meant we could scramble up an easier way and set up a rope on the top, which would hold him in case the ice collapsed.

“I should be OK,” he said, and began to tie into the rope to prepare to lead.

Safe ice climbing is about knowing the conditions, and making judgment calls. At the end of the day, though, there’s a bit of faith involved. You believe you are strong enough to climb to the top, and you believe the ice is strong enough to hold you up.

In this case, both climber and ice rose to the occasion. But I stood far back from the route as I belayed him. Just in case.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ice Climbing: A Keene Valley Classic

The Keene Valley area is home to dozens of well-known ice climbs. But there are few moderates more classic than Roaring Brook Falls.

There’s certainly no finer way to show off for non-climbers. Roaring Brook, a 300-foot waterfall split into an upper and lower falls, is visible in both directions on Route 73, just east of Keene Valley. There’s a parking lot at the base and a pull-off right on the highway, so anyone who sees those dark spots on the ice can pull over and shiver at the thought of someone actually ascending such a route.

Last weekend I finally had the chance to climb this famous line. And, for the first time, I lead an ice route — meaning I was the first to go up, placing screws into the ice at regular intervals to protect me in case of a fall.

Two weeks ago, Roaring Brook was a brown Niagara, teeming with runoff from the late January thaw. But last Sunday it was in fine condition — fat, blue and begging for an ascent.

We were not the only ones to hear the call. The route was a veritable highway of climbers all day long, with their helmets, ropes, ice tools, stiff boots and crampons.

Best of all, the route was so well frozen over that the usual “window” at the top of the falls was sealed. In leaner times, climbers have to gingerly ascend past this open window, nearly 300 feet up, as gushing water splashes only a few feet away. In fact, Don Mellor’s climbing book Blue Lines warns, “A fall into this would be FATAL.”

The route is rated WI3+, which means it wasn’t quite vertical. Still, the first pitch was a bit dicey, with a series of overhanging bulges that made me glad my partner, Steve Goldstein of Latham, was leading. I volunteered to take the lead for the second pitch, a short climb to a flat, snowy spot below the final 170-foot second tier of the falls.

You can never quite forget that you’re climbing a live waterfall. At the base, there was a clear ice tube, about a half-inch thick, that sealed off a section of running water. It flowed silently below the ice until I chipped a hole and the sound of water had a place to escape. Soon after I started the climb, I ascended past a giant black maw where the ice met the bare rock. Part of the waterfall was visible here too, and the icicles that formed looked like the mouth of a giant beast.

When our team of three arrived at the base of the last pitch, Steve aske me:
“You want to keep leading?”

“Why not,” I said. I had been practicing placing screws and have led rock for years in the summer, but never ice before. With its forgivingly gentle terrain — but a steep gulley in the middle to offer a little challenge — the top of Roaring Brook seemed like a good place to start. I was feeling confident and strong, so I loaded up on ice screws and grabbed my axes.

The ice was perfect — thick, solid and soft enough to get a pick in easily. Near the top, the ice turned to snow, and I had to be more careful that my tools were solid. Again, the sound of flowing water was audible through the ice.

When I reached the top — with just enough rope left to anchor myself to nearby trees — I was sorry to see it end.

Interested in climbing ice for yourself? Several guide services offer climbing classes. While you may not be able to start on Roaring Brook your first time out, it wouldn’t take long to develop the skill. Try:

Adirondack Mountain Guides

Adirondack Rock and River

Alpine Adventures

Cloudspitter Mountain Guides


Monday, February 1, 2010

A Short History of Adirondack Avalanches

Photo of Angel Slides on Wright PeakYou can see the Angel Slides from Marcy Dam: two adjoining bedrock scars—one wide, one thin—on the southeastern slopes of Wright Peak. They are a well-known destination for expert backcountry skiers.

The slides got their nickname following the death of Toma Vracarich. Ten years ago this month, Vracarich and three other skiers were caught in an avalanche on the wider slide. Vracarich died under the snow. He was twenty-seven. The other skiers were injured.

It remains the only avalanche fatality in the Adirondacks, but it put people on notice that the avalanche risk here is real. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Adirondack Weather: A Wet Break From Winter

Amazing how fast the winter landscape can change. On Sunday we were hiking Algonquin in the High Peaks, with winds so strong rime ice formed on our clothes as we made for the summit.

A day later, Roaring Brook Falls looked like Niagara, as 1.5 inches of rain turned the Adirondacks into a tropical rainforest with snow.

While the weather put a damper on winter sports, it shouldn’t take long to get things back to normal, say those in the business.

Gore posted this on their Web site on Tuesday: “Although recent severe weather in the Northeast has limited the opening of several trails today, please stay tuned because groomers and snowmakers are getting Gore back in great shape as soon as possible!”

Meanwhile, Whiteface optimistically described its frozen, rain-saturated snow as “loose granular,” and promised 73 trails a day after the storm. No doubt, both mountains will be blowing snow to improve the damage, and snow showers predicted over the next few days may help make the slopes more user-friendly.

As far as backcountry skiing, you’d better be good. “Those trails are going to be really ice,” said Ed Palin, owner of Rock and River guide service in Keene. “It will be fast.”

Speaking of ice, the rain decimated some of the most popular ice climbs in the park. But other routes — those not below major runoff channels, or fat enough to withstand the one-day warm spell, should still be climbable, he said.

“With all this water running, we might get some climbs we don’t see for a while,” he said. In the meantime, good bets for climbers include Multiplication Gully, Crystal Ice Tower and the North Face of Pitchoff, he said.


Monday, January 18, 2010

The Jackrabbit Trail and Other Epic Adventures

The other day I skied the Jackrabbit Trail from end to end, a twenty-four-mile journey starting in Saranac Lake and ending at the Rock and River lodge in Keene. When I got to Rock and River, I told owner Ed Palen of my heroic feat. “Oh, yeah,” he said. “I do that every year.”

OK, I’m a far cry from Herman “Jackrabbit” Johannsen, the legendary skier for whom the trail is named. But for me, it was an epic day. And it got me thinking about other epic adventures in the Adirondacks.

What’s an epic adventure? First off, it must be long, arduous, and exciting. The best give you a quintessential Adirondack experience—one that can’t be topped.

The Jackrabbit qualifies as there’s no other ski trail like it in the Adirondacks. It traverses wild landscapes while connecting human communities. Tony Goodwin and the Adirondack Ski Touring Council deserve our thanks for creating and maintaining it.

Following are a half-dozen other Adirondack epic adventures that can be done in a day. If you have other suggestions or comments, please let us know.

Mount Marcy Ski. If you’re a backcountry skier, it’s hard to beat schussing down the state’s highest mountain. Of course, you have to climb seven and a half miles before the descent begins.

Eagle Slide. A number of High Peaks are scarred by bedrock slide paths. Many climbers regard the Eagle on Giant Mountain as the best. It’s wide and steep. I’ve done it in hiking boots and rock-climbing shoes. I felt much more comfortable in rock shoes.

Trap Dike. The deep gash in the side of Mount Colden, first climbed in 1850, is a classic mountaineering route. It’s steep enough in spots that some people bring ropes. After exiting the dike, you climb a broad slide to the summit.

Wallface. The largest cliff in the Adirondacks. To get there, you must hike several miles to Indian Pass in the High Peaks Wilderness. You don’t have to be an expert climber to scale the cliff—if you have a good guide. The Diagonal is the most popular route to start on.

Hudson Gorge. Several outfitters offer rafting trips through this wild, scenic canyon, but if you have the whitewater skills to canoe or kayak, go for it!

Great Range. Backpacker magazine describes a trek over the entire Great Range as “possibly the hardest classic day hike in the East.” Starting in Keene Valley, you summit seven High Peaks, ending on Marcy. Total ascent: 9,000 feet. Distance: 25 miles. You’ll need lots of daylight, water, and stamina.

For more stories about outdoor adventures, visit the Adirondack Explorer website.

Photo of McKenzie Pass on Jackrabbit Trail by Phil Brown.



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