Posts Tagged ‘Indian Pass’

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Sandy Hildreth: Finding ‘The Great Adirondack Pass’

During the research I did several years ago about historic landscape painting in the Adirondacks, I came across a painting that took me deep into the High Peaks region, told me a wonderful story, and led me to some interesting discoveries.

In my two earlier posts on this topic, I provided some of the background about the development of landscape painting in the 19th century. While researching, I made several trips to the Adirondack Museum, in Blue Mountain Lake, to look at the many wonderful paintings in their collection. One of my goals was to try to visit some of the sites I could identify and do my own paintings of them – 150 years later.

There is a painting in the museum that really captured my attention. “The Great Adirondack Pass, Painted on the Spot, 1837”, by Charles Cromwell Ingham. It depicts a bare rocky cliff on the right side of the painting and what looks like two gigantic glacial erratics in the center foreground. It will probably not be clear in the reproduction, but in the lower left corner is a small figure of an artist, and at the base of the very dark rock in the center, there is a tiny little person. I noticed these when I saw the actual painting in the Adirondack Museum. I couldn’t help but be amazed at the size of the two rocks. Compared to the person at the base of the dark rock, it is at least 10 times the height of that person, perhaps more. That makes this unique glacial erratic 50-60 feet high. Huge! I decided I would try to find this place.

Reading in “Fair Wilderness: American Paintings in the Collection of the Adirondack Museum”, I learned that Charles Cromwell Ingham was a portrait painter invited by Archibald McIntyre to join a geological survey expedition – the first to make the ascent of Mount Marcy, in August of 1837. In another book I read it was reported that Ingham passed out several times while doing the climb because it was so strenuous. Also on the expedition was Dr. Ebenezer Emmons, the state geologist of New York. Ingham was brought along to visually record the trip as pictorial accuracy was deemed very important – this was before the use of cameras. “Fair Wilderness” also explained that this location is now known as Indian Pass – that I could find!

So one Columbus Day weekend I packed what I needed for a day trip, including the Adirondack Mountain Club “Guide to Adirondack Trails: High Peaks Region”, drove to the Upper Works trail head and hiked the Indian Pass trail. This is a very rugged trail that goes from Upper Works, through Indian Pass between the massive cliffs of Wallface Mountain and the McIntyre Range, and about 11 miles later ends up at the Adirondack Loj trailhead near Lake Placid. “Fair Wilderness” included several quotes that further identified the location. Another artist who visited the pass later in 1837 noted there is “a sloping platform amidst the rocks where the finest view of the whole scene is to be obtained”. He also predicted that the site would soon host resorts and lodges and be more popular than Niagara Falls! Later author Alfred Billings Street wrote “I wish to bear testimony to the accuracy” of an engraving that was done based on Ingham’s painting.

I was on a mission to find those two gigantic rocks. It’s approximately 5 miles from the trailhead to the summit of the pass, an elevation of 2660 feet. It was a brisk fall day, many of the leaves were already off, and I found the trail to be one of the most challenging I had ever climbed at that time. Up and over boulders, steep and narrow – I tried to imagine the expedition in 1837 – before there were any trails or man-made ladders to help get you up through the steep sections. After a few hours of climbing I encountered a small sign and arrow that said “summit rock”. Stepping out onto the bare sloping rock I had the barren cliff of Wallface to my right – exactly as it was in Ingham’s painting. Out in front of me the land sloped downward and in the hazy distance I could just barely see the light reflecting off of Henderson Lake – also in Ingham’s painting. This had to be the spot where he painted – but where were those two gigantic rocks?

I took photographs, did some sketches, and had a snack and then I heard another hiker approaching, coming from the opposite direction. I stepped back onto the trail to meet him, showed him my sketch (based on the painting) and asked if he’d seen a couple of big rocks – and he said he had. I thanked him and continued on past summit rock – which I later learned is not really the summit but does have the best view to the West. It did not take long, maybe another quarter mile, and I found them. There were indeed pine trees growing out of the top of the one on the left and the one on the right had a funny bump on the top – just like Ingham’s painting.

They were surrounded by trees and underbrush and nearly impossible to step back far enough to get a decent photograph of both of them. The hiking trail passes directly next to the rocks. But my big discovery was that they were not anywhere as large as Ingham had painted them. What was he thinking? Supposedly he created the painting “on the spot”! How could he be so inaccurate? By my estimation the rocks were twice as tall as I am, maybe three times – so perhaps 11-15 feet high (not 60!).

I took as many photos as I could and then with daylight waning, headed back down the trail, feeling very successful. It wasn’t long before I did my own painting of the two rocks and the view, based on my photos – only it was a little disappointing. The research and the journey had been so exciting but my painting wasn’t very exciting. Two rocks and a cliff. There was no way to understand the scale of the rocks. In my painting they just looked like two boulders – four feet high, six feet? There was no way to tell.

Then it hit me – Charles Ingham may have painted “on the spot”, but I bet when he got the painting back to his studio to finish, he too probably felt he needed to do something to show the actual size of the rocks. I can imagine him remembering the rigors and challenges of this hike into uncharted territory – I thought it was rugged and I had a marked trail to follow. So Charles Cromwell Ingham painted a little person into his painting – something to give the rocks some scale. And he painted himself in the corner, painting. In his memory, perhaps he believed the rocks to be the size of a 6 story building!

So, with a friend to accompany me, I hiked back through Indian Pass and had a photo of myself taken in front of the rocks. Back in my studio, I did a new painting: “Self-portrait in Indian Pass” , which one of my children will inherit someday. I have great respect for all the artists of the past, but I now understand a bit more about what “artistic license” means. I’m sure Mr. Ingham did sketch and paint on the spot – it would be my guess that he did what he could in a few hours, not wanting to hold up the expedition. He was working with oil paints, so probably did more of a sketch than a complete painting, otherwise it would have taken days for the paint to dry. The canvas was then most likely removed from the wooden stretcher bars and rolled up and put in a pack for ease of transportation. Ingham might have rendered the rocks from that specific location, and he might have also sketched the view from the more open “summit rock”. Then I bet he combined the two when he completed the painting of the “Great Adirondack Pass” in his studio. When he realized there was no way for the viewer to understand the size of the rocks or the ruggedness of the terrain, he added the little figures to the painting, for scale. Mystery solved!

If you visit the Adirondack Museum, look for “The Great Adirondack Pass”. See what kind of story it tells you!


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, February 3, 2010

Extreme Adirondack Cross-Country Skiing

One of my favorite winter trips is what one might call “extreme cross-country skiing.” That is, skiing on routes that aren’t generally considered by the cross-country community. Routes you won’t find in Tony Goodwin’s Classic Adirondack Ski Tours.

Some of these routes are long and committing. Others require the use of snowshoes or skins (unless you’re a member of the Ski-To-Die Club, a group of locals who took extreme skiing to a new height by taking wooden cross-country skis in the 1970s down mountain descents that would give most people on modern alpine gear pause).
» Continue Reading.


Monday, January 18, 2010

Famous Jerks of the Adirondacks

General James AbercrombyToday we were going to list the Ten Most Influential Adirondackers, based on input from you, the Almanack readers. We’ve decided to keep nominations open for one more week (please make your recommendations here). In the meantime, one of you suggested, “How about the Adirondacks’ ten biggest asshats? . . . [T]hat’s one discussion I’d like to read.”

So, scroll through for a list of ten all-star Adirondack jerks and a-hats, in no particular order. » Continue Reading.



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