Cataract Brook Falls, Eleventh Mountain

No photos today: in my rush, I forgot the camera. Aargh! Hopefully, my partners in crime will post some of theirs on Facebook so I can steal ’em.

Couldn’t miss church today: big Christmas program. I love these things, especially since Robin & I don’t “direct” it anymore! The kids were wonderful, the Christmas message loud and clear. But the sun was shining outside and there were friends heading up the falls on Eleventh Mountain, a climb I’ve wanted to do ever since first seeing it more than 15 years ago. When the closing bells rang, I trotted to my car, said good-bye to Ra, and sped northward to Route 8.

Turning south (west? southwest is most accurate), I drove past Baker’s Mills toward the Thirteenth Lake trailhead. Quizzically, this lies in the shadow of Eleventh Mountain. A long bushwhack northeast leads to the base of the obvious falls visible as one passes the old farmhouse surrounded by stony pasture. Look for it before attempting the bushwhack, and mark carefully any signs you can for the correct cirque.

Once in the main creekbed, it’s not hard to pick the main flow, just follow the widest ice. I came upon the brook well below any technical sections, and tromped upward rapidly, trying to catch up with the gang. I had spied them as I drove by, already halfway up the flow; so I had to hurry.

I dropped my pack alongside theirs just below the first technical flow, a short WI2 step of about 15′. A stretch of grade 1 walking led to another steep spot that I zig-zagged up the easiest parts of, and in turn another, slightly steeper, easy bit led up around a bend to the first significant pitch. Climbing up this, the familiar bark of Mammut announced my presence and signified mine to the group standing below the first grade 3 section. Kevin (on his second ice climbing day ever), Val, Mike P., Mike G, and Worth were working out a few ways around or over this wall.

I joined the fun, climbing up an easy bit, then moving to the base of a fine-looking flow issuing from a rock notch about 20′ up. A rope was offered, and screws, too; I accepted them all and climbed up wonderful sticky ice, a bit soft from the sunshine, but comfortable enough with a piece or two for good luck. A swathe of level ice between the top of this and one more short, steep bit, and that last a bit thin as well: I sniffed out enough ice to get me up it and slung a tree for belay.

Soon we were all on this fine bench, surveying the next blockade: a sun-rotted vertical rampart bounded on the right by a pasty-white cleft. I took one swing at the steepest part and backed away: my pick sank to the handle and easily tore through the slushy, sun-baked goo. I moved left and availed myself of more solid, easy ice in a low-angle gap replete with perfect ice steps.

A stout little spruce offered belay potential at the top of the easy-angled stretch above the rampart, so I belayed Worth and Val up, then Worth took over the station while Val and I explored the remaining flow. All of about 8′ of it, as it turned out: just above one last sketchy bit, the creek wandered into the dense spruce forest typical of the Eleventh Mountain upper plateau. We wandered around in the thickets awhile, looking for signs of other potential climbing venues, but got nothing for our efforts other than an occasional dumping of light, frigid snow down the back of our jackets. Out of the sunshine, it was definitely cold.

Speaking of which, we now had seven of us (Todd had also caught up with the group shortly after I did) high on the side of the mountain, and it was almost 3 o’clock. It would take awhile to descend. After rigging the first rappel anchor, we began that process, thankfully with Worth’s double ropes, making each pitch close to 200′ long.

It was very close to headlamp time when the last of us exited the woods, but no one complained. One more wonderful day on ice, here in the Adirondacks.

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