Archive for April, 2011

King Philips and Highway Blues

Monday, April 25th, 2011

Sounds like a music festival, but no, these are two climbing areas within a stone’s throw of Northway exit 30. We – myself and nine other people – spent Friday here.

Mike Prince, founder of the Facebook Group Adirondack Adventure Club, put the word out and gathered four people to join him at King Philips Spring for the day. After discussing our options, Tom Lane and I decided to join them. We two weren’t in a hurry. We had spent Thursday dangling from ropes on a cleaning mission, so we were a bit slower getting underway. By the time we reached the parking lot, the others were long gone. I noticed their cars were parked a long way from the beginning of the trail, which seemed odd – typically, climbers are lazy enough to covet every extra footstep.

As we began walking away from the parking lot, we found out why: the ordinary trail was completely inundated. An icy megapuddle cloaked over it for a hundred yards, plenty deep enough to overspill hiking boots. Casting around, we spied footprints bushwhacking up the hillside through thin patches of snow, so we followed them. The woods here is a jumble of steep slopes and occasional open ridges; thankfully we found our way to the top of the main cliff without traversing any significant sloppy snow banks.

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Cody avec Mammut the Wonderdog at the top of King Philips Spring Cliff.

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Mike Prince at the top of King Philips Spring Cliff.

 Mike Prince was just finishing a second TR anchor as we scrambled out of the woods onto the open rock. We helped finish that one off and added one more to the mix. Then, all of us began descending, somewhat like an overzealous SWAT team called out in the middle of their New Year’s Eve party: ropes gangled climbers in various conditions of experience and ease.

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Mike rappeling to the base.

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Steve starting out on his first solo rappel.

No matter, we all reached the ground safely, and in no time, we were swarming back up this beautiful, incredibly coarse rock. King Philip’s Spring cliff has some of the best anorthosite in the world for climbing: super-grippy crystals cover the most expansive faces, with intricate crack patterns offering protection and holds between them. While the wall has some bulges, the overall angle is low; coupled with the rock features, this is a beginner-friendly climbing area.

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Go figure: cell service midway up the cliff!

Everyone did well here, and soon we were pushing ourselves to climb the face without grasping or pulling anything. I’ve tried climbing this with only my feet; the bulges are too steep for this sort of thing (works well on Little Falls’ Goat Crack!), so a few clever means of pushing with the hands were necessary to get past the steepest parts. The exercise certainly forces one to think about foot placement.

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Tom heads up the cliff – note the lingering snow pile.

After a couple hours, Tom and I were ready to try something else. While descending, we had noticed the Highway Blues Wall across the hollow, and since Todd Paris was interested in its potential, we decided to give it a look. Tom climbed up once more to retrieve our static line, while I bundled up his rope and then Matt Hagar and I walked over to begin setting up. It’s a bit farther away than it seems, partly because the intervening space is filled with wetland. We had to walk along the ridge above that soggy terrain, then wind up along the drainage to a safe crossing point before reaching the cliff. The cliff itself is taller than it seems from a distance, a 70 meter rope won’t quite TR the whole thing.

The cliff top has burned over recently. Only one tree is solid enough for anchoring, and it sits 80′ back from the edge, shielded by a screen of poplar whippets. I tied the static line off to it, lowered to the first potential pro cracks, judged the distance close enough, and finished building the anchor. Upon dropping our (60 meter) climbing rope, we were still a few yards shy of the snowpile at the base. Hmmm. Hopping on rappel, my body weight brought it close enough for a landing, barely.

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Tom waits to belay Neil up Eighteen Wheeler. Note the necessary rope extension, despite a 5′ mound of snow at the base!

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Neil approaches the top of Eighteen Wheeler.

An anxious cluster of climbers waited at the bottom. Neil Dunkley had arrived shortly after Tom and I, and was eager for a shot at the line. We rigged a haul-end to the belay side of the rope and two of us handled the start. With a belay tool already in place, Neil scampered up ten feet, Tom clipped to the tool, and all was normal for the rest of Neil’s ascent. Which took no time at all, until the last ten feet. Apparently, things got interesting at that point. Neil worked it out, made it to the anchor, and descended happily. In quick succession, Mike, Cheryl, Tom, and Adam took turns going as far as they could before coming down. No one had a lot of time for dawdling, the sun was behind the cliff and it was cold in the shade, but each person was able to push themselves very well. I noticed that Cheryl in particular has come a long way, apparently those indoor gym nights at Rocksport really helped her catch the climbing fire.

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Breaking down the anchors.

Gradually, pairs and pieces of the gang had filtered out during our bout with Eighteen Wheeler, the 5.10b route we were TRing. It was growing colder by the minute as the shade got darker. Since I had to break down the anchor, I took the last call for a ride. Wow, what a nice route. Don’t know about leading it: there are a few key bolts, all of which are quite rusty (ca. 1986?).

Thank you, Mike Prince, for permission to use your photos. These and more are available on the Adirondack Adventure Club’s Facebook site.

More About Tom’s Crags

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

The plural form is correct, btw. While there isn’t a lot of tall to any of the crags, there’s a lot of small outcrops with one or two potential lines worth investigating. We walked the public access route today, in part to get an idea of the time involved approaching these cliffs (1+ hr. to the farthest ones), and in part to get a more complete picture of what is available. Turns out, there is one more small crag between the tall one we found last week and the public access point.

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This crag lies closest to public access. On the right, it continues about 70′, directly away from the camera. 

 It isn’t grand, but I think there is room for six or seven lines, two or three of which would provide decent climbing.

We had come in above this cliff, so when we hit the Main Wall, Tom stayed by it to look around, while I traced a lower path backward to look at the cliff. Returning to him, I passed this boulder along the way. It’s a good sign that you’re five minutes from that main wall.

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Big boulder, plenty of room for sending action. Any takers?

We didn’t spend a lot of time at the main wall, we had already done that last week. Suffice to say, there’s room on this cliff for a dozen routes, spanning (my guess) from about 5.6 to 5.ludicrous. I estimate it is 80′ tall.

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The tallest section of the main wall. Some very tempting possibilities here. 

Heading back to Tom’s Main Wall, we stopped first to reinspect a small cliff for its potential.

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Tom snapped a pic of me during a close inspection of the cliff.

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There is room for 5 or 6 routes on this little crag.

It was Tom’s turn to walk around awhile. I’ve been fighting a bug and was feeling lackluster by then. Tom looked his main cliff over closely, noting that the rock was already dry, despite the rain last night and the cold, damp conditions all day. Earlier posts show these cliffs, so I’ll forego more pictures. 

So there’s a lot available here. Two of the cliffs reach close to 100′. Both are very steep. There are at least a dozen outcrops taller than 30′, probably more like twenty, and a few of these are 50′ or more at their highest. In addition, there are several good boulders, though these are not clustered together tightly. To date, we’ve led two routes, top-roped one other successfully, almost got another on TR, and got thoroughly spanked one more. Plans are afoot to lead a few of these and TR several more lines. I’m psyched!

Making Lemonade…

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

…when life hands you lemons. Winter just won’t let go this year. It seems to be cold all day, every day, with frequent rain and snow. Still, we stout-hearted Adirondack climbers are making the best we can of the situation.

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Todd Paris, the man, the myth, the… missile.

Todd Paris came up to climb Monday. It snowed overnight; Crane wore a thin white veil with fresh icicle trim. Flurries cavorted in the gusts as we walked obstinately out to the Height-of-Land Walls. Arriving at the 5.6 variation to Raindance Roof, a short bit of ice-coated rock at the start greeted us. Undaunted, we climbed the route anyway, tensioning across the glazed section before finishing the route in normal fashion.

At its top, we hauled our packs and struggled up the hillside to Blueberry Ledge. Everything was wet or icy or both here, so we moved left, around the base of the Eyebrow Overhang to the project Todd started working back in December. Hints of sunshine flickered once or twice as the wind tore the clouds away momentarily. Perhaps this was a good sign.

Todd roped up for an on-site attempt. I looked up the line: a nice crack led up to a slanting ledge, beyond that, a slab, several of those knobs Crane is famous for speckled along its length, led in fifteen feet to an obvious weakness. Above that, the angle appeared to ease. Getting onto the slab looked to be the crux. Except for a decrepit stump, I could see no pro for that move, nor any for the entire slab’s length. It looked dirty and damp, given last night’s weather, it certainly was.

No matter, Todd headed up, moving easily up the crack, placing one cam in it, to the ledge. Having nothing else, he slung that stump, which flexed visibly when he tested it. He toyed with the next moves for awhile before committing to the step up, moving flawlessly onto the slab. A hidden horizontal provided real gear, allowing him to gain a quick six feet more, but the going got tough again. The knobs diminished for a body length; Todd could stretch to reach a sloping one above his head, but his feet would have to use more subtle purchase, all of it dirty. He brushed and scrubbed those dimples as best he could, eyeing as he did the alluring safety of knobs galore just beyond his reach. A few false starts, and then he committed to the moves. He stepped firmly on the slab and moved up a bit more. He stood just out of reach of those big knobs, one move away, his last pro six feet below. Finally, Todd stepped up, smearing lichen-covered, sloping rock, straining to reach those holds.

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Todd attempting his project in wet conditions. He made it about 6′ higher. 

Suddenly, he was off, sliding to the horizontal that held his pro, tumbling head over heels, and bouncing across the ledge system onto the slope below. I was yanked six feet upward, coming to a stop just a few feet lower than Todd did. In all, Todd had fallen twenty feet. His last piece held firm, and miraculously enough, the bounce had probably saved him injury from hitting that ledge.

We weren’t about to try that trick again, so we took the smart way, walked around, and spent awhile scrubbing wet crud off the route before taking turns TRing it for fun. It’ll be there for another day, and now it isn’t quite so mucky at the crux.

The hints of sunshine had passed, once again flurries were swirling in the air. A breeze kicked up, making those low-40s seem much colder. We both decided to head lower on the mountain. Those Measles Wall routes seemed like a good place to wrap up the day. We walked down the BAW path to the Upper Measles Wall, and I led Hydrophobia, then set a directional over Cat Scratch Fever. The flurries were quickly coalescing into real snowfall as I descended.

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Todd sets out on Hydrophobia.

Todd cleaned Hydrophobia, then we took turns on Cat Scratch Fever. By the time Todd’s turn for the latter route came, snowmelt was beginning to slicken the rock – which makes 5.9 friction quite difficult.

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Clawing his way up Cat Scratch Fever. Yeah, that’s snow, lots of it.

It had become ludicrous to continue. We deemed ourselves done for the day. Enough lemonade already, let’s get on with Spring!

Moby Grape!

Monday, April 18th, 2011

This is an article I began directly after our trip, back in early August. I’ve only just finished it enough to post now. Somewhere, there are a few more pictures to add; if I find them I’ll do so. In particular, a photo of the mushroom rock is a critical visual aid in following the descent route. 

Jamie McNeill and I made a crazy-rush drive out to Cannon Cliff on the last day of July 2010, to climb Moby Grape. After a couple trips out there way back when (as in, the 1980’s), all of which were complete washouts, I swore never to go back unless the weather guaranteed no rain. Which Saturday’s forecast did. So five hours of driving and minimal planning later, the two of us stood around the car at the Profile Lake pull-out, culling two racks down into one barely manageable one sporting a #4 and two #3 Camalots. Talk about Heavy Metal!

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Racked and Ready to go, with Cannon Cliff waiting in the background.

At 10:30am, we were on our way, hiking briefly on the trail, then weaving upward through a dense forest, over unstable boulders in the talus field, and onward to the base of the route.

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Yeah baby, that’s what I’m talkin’ about!

I’m usually pretty good about sharing leads, but one look at the first pitch and I couldn’t just let it go. One hundred feet of hand crack are too tempting; Jamie no doubt felt similarly. I won the toss and took that lead, promising Jamie the crux pitch as a consolation. With minor modifications, we swapped rope ends for the entire route.

Moby Grape starts out with that wonderful crack for the first pitch, then weaves around an exposed outside corner for another 80′ to a bolt belay at the top of the second, two pitches that run straight enough to combine. After that, Jamie took over, scrambling a short class 3 stretch where he opted to take a direct line to the next belay, yielding some good 5.7 climbing very close to the corner once again. Belaying at more rappel tat, we stood below the triangle roof, the crux of the route.

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Watching the action across Cannon’s face while we wait our turn at the crux pitch.

The previous party – there’s always a previous party on Moby Grape – had struggled on this one; they were both at the belay stance above ours, waiting their turn as the party ahead of them continued up the fifth pitch. We relaxed a bit, figuring we were late enough to be the last crew on rock there, but soon, I spied another party flaking rope at the base. I thought we were climbing fast enough to take it easy while we waited, but the leader of the lower party clipped the anchors below us in minutes. This guy was either real familiar with the route, climbing way below his ability, or both. We decided to move on.

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Jamie about to lead the crux roof pitch, the business end of which is upper left in this photo.

Jamie led up to the roof, placed a solid piece in the lip, and began pulling up around and above it. Looked strenuous from my stance. After a few moments planning his moves, he worked through the difficulties and worked the crack leading up to the right. Soon, it was my turn. And yep, it was strenuous. Pulling the roof is a mirror image of climbing the overhang on Torcher, just a bit easier and without the 5.10a move afterward. It is, however, quite runout once the crack fades. There’s a stretch of slabby friction to reach a ledge, and another slightly sketchy run to gain the belay alcove.

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Heading for the crux overhang.

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A good stance below the roof provides opportunity for equally good pro.

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Let the battle begin!

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Careful rope management is important after passing the overhang.

Pitch after pitch of 5.7 to 5.8+ climbing follow each other; to be honest, the order of pitches isn’t clear to me already. Pitch-by-pitch descriptions can be obtained here or here or here.

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Leading the next pitch, climbing up onto a broken arête.

Mine was an easier pitch, 5.7ish, heading up and right to an arête, swinging onto its right side, then up to the next belay stance.

Jamie got the famous Finger of Fate pitch, another runout affair with plenty of exposure. I feel bad for the poor bloke that’s riding this pony when it finally falls down. Getting off the thing back onto the main face is another sketchy affair, poorly protected and delicate.

I don’t remember the lead above this, but I recall that our pursuit had caught up and was forced to wait at every belay stance while we worked through the moves. Jamie and I decided to eat lunch and let them pass. Turns out this was guide Art Mooney with a client. We picked his brain for a few vital facts: how best to finish the route and how to find the descent route. The latter turned out to be real valuable, it’s not an easy path to find.

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The Finger of Fate pitch.

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Ride ’em, Cowboy! Note the runout…

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Our pursuit catches up with us.

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Jamie heads for the cave; another difficult and runout crux high on the route.

Pitch after pitch ensued. The Cave Pitch, a particularly frightening, runout 5.8 affair, was once again, Jamie’s lead – thank God! It frightened me following it. Art recommended finishing in a large, left-facing corner called Curt’s Corner, and that was my pitch to tackle. Art said it is 5.7; my impression is that it is 5.7 – for about one hundred feet. Slightly awkward, slightly strenuous, slightly scary moves seemed to go on and on forever. With 800 feet of climbing behind us, I was ready for easy going; this wasn’t it.

One more pitch, this time truly easy, if runout, slab climbing led to level ground. Level, mushy ground: our shoes got soaked entering the vegetation zone. But we were safely on top of the ridge. It was cold, threatening weather, so we didn’t dawdle, only long enough to snap a picture or two, before following Art’s excellent directions for getting back down to the parking lot.

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Victorious at last, on the top.

Definitely worth it.

Second Gunks Blitz of 2011

Monday, April 11th, 2011

The weather lords waffled all week about the weekend, so until early Sunday morning, Jamie & I were up in the air about where to climb. When a final spin of the wheel indicated our best bet was New Paltz, we put our money there and landed ourselves at the Trapps by about 11am. In the final rush to reach vertical terrain, I forgot to bring the camera along. Sorry folks, no photos this time.

We walked down to the area just beyond the current falcon-closing turf and began our day on Thin Slabs. Both Jamie & I have climbed this route before; experiencing a near-epic on the direct finish way back when, so despite being a bit stale in our memories and a bit run-out as always, we were able to climb the first pitch without incident.

We headed farther north, walking past the huge peregrine-inspired off-limits section before climbing back up to the area near Three Doves. I’ve climbed this before, once some time back in the early 80s; Jamie hadn’t ever done it. With two pitches of stout 5.8, effectively unfamiliar terrain for both of us, this proved challenging, but we were both up to the task. Rapping down from the top, we had ample time for Jamie to lead the upper pitch of Annie O and me to lead that of Limelight before hunger and cold drove us back to the cliff base.

There, we mulled over options before deciding to look farther north. Several of our intended destinations turned out to be loaded already, but we noted that the High Exposure buttress was curiously unoccupied, notably Directissima. So it was that we ended the day climbing three pitches there: the first two of Directissima (using the “direct” line through the crux in one pitch, then climbing to the GT ledge), and the final pitch of High Exposure itself.

Over 650′ of climbing in eight hours, not bad for two spring-pale climbers barely beginning their season. Yesterday was a reminder of how great it was – is – climbing with Jamie. Rock on, man!

New Southern Adk Crag

Monday, April 11th, 2011

Tom Lane, loyal member of the Cadre of Crazy Route Finders, began telling me about a cliff he spied near his home in Day. He said it looked promising, and rose above the treetops, so it had to be tall enough to have something worth checking out. Looking at my handy map program, I could see that the cliffs were on state land, but that public access would be a tad long, involving a mile of trail, a mile and a half or so of bushwhacking, and a fair amount of elevation gain to boot. After acquiring permission to walk across a much closer parcel of private property, we decided to give it a look anyway.
This year’s snowpack required snowshoes for the initial quarter mile, but reaching the start of south-facing slopes, we chose to doff them and hop from clearing to clearing instead. Soon, we were walking easily on open ground – how good that felt! – and before long, we saw the steepened end of the ridge that was our destination. Here and there, a boulder dotted the gentle slope below it. Some of these would be worth playing on, but bouldering was not our main concern today. To our right, we could see outcrops; it definitely looked promising, but rather than leap in that direction, we chose to head west to make a thorough inspection of possibilities.

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Tom inspects one of the westside outcrops. 

Sure enough, we soon found worthwhile climbing. As the ridge curled northward, several buttresses poked out, likely composed of harder rock than had once filled the intervening gullies. The outcrops all have possible lines, discontinuous crack systems and occasional rails that might yield both holds and pro. There is some choss to be dealt with, but in general the rock appears clean enough to make minimal prep work. None of them are tall, I estimated fifty feet at most, but there is enough to establish half a dozen decent lines.
Things appeared to taper off the farther north we walked, so after a quarter mile or so, we turned back to check the more likely side of the ridge. Rounding the south bend once again, we passed our initial approach, and walking past a wide section of easy slope, dropped into a hollow below a tall, impressive cliff; the crag Tom had first glimpsed. About a hundred feet wide and perhaps as tall, the middle of this cliff is barred by a large roof system. A network of seams runs through the obstacle, but unless there are a plethora of unseen holds up there, this is high-end climbing.

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Tom stands at the base of the main wall. The roof is barely visible above him.

We chose to continue on for awhile, and found ourselves heading upward along a ramp. Soon we were on a gently-sloping bench on the east side of the ridge. As we walked north, the snowpack gradually accumulated, but signs of ice and rock ahead spurred us on regardless. We postholed through increasingly deep snow, slogging our way up toward some short ice flows on a cliff that is perhaps twenty-five feet tall. Three or four steep white curtains still clung to the rock, and between them a few corners looked interesting to climb, but they are too short to provide a real “destination” feel to this higher cliff band.

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An easier stretch of postholing; earlier Tom was sinking over his knees.

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The crystal-studded face of the smaller boulder. It’s about 15′ high.

We began plodding south, higher than we had come up, in order to look at some boulders. These are worth checking out. There are two main ones: a twelve to fifteen foot high one with a handcrack on the south side and a dihedral and crystal-studded face opposite is the smaller one. The other, probably thirty feet tall at its peak, has a lot of possibility, the most obvious being a chimney/offwidth on its northern side. As we passed over the ridge, we noted another cliff, possibly forty feet tall, to the south.

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Hey Maw, Look what I found! 

We inadvertently walked too far west before dropping back down the ridge, but in little time we were back at our packs, sitting on warm rocks and enjoying the sunshine. Tom’s boots were filled with snow, so he chose to rest there while I scouted farther right below.

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A nice, fifty foot dihedral lower along the ridge.

Traversing across and down the slope, I rounded a bend of scruffy cliff about forty feet tall, passed a wider, cleaner, but shorter cliff not far past that, then came to an attractive, fifty-foot high silvery-gray cliff with an appealing handcrack starting in a dihedral. This crag appeared to be the end of the line, but rounding another bend, I could see yet another outcrop farther below me, so there may be more yet to find here.
I turned back, intent on getting a climb or two in before calling it a day. Tom’s socks were drying in the breeze still, so we racked up and chose a line as close to the main wall as we dared attempt. It’s a steep, scruffy corner just right of the Big-Boy stuff, and it wasn’t at all certain to go.

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Tom starts up our first route. 

Tom took the sharp end, working easily up the initial blocky groove to a right-facing corner where the going gets steep. It also got dirty. Employing a nut tool to extract mud from a crack, he sought protection for few stiff moves, stemmed up the initial bulge, slung a sapling along the way, then inched up farther, heading for a widening notch on the left. It was stiff going, I could tell, so when Tom suddenly lurched, a hold flying away from his hand and hurtling down to my left, I thought he might take a fall on that slung bush. But he clung to his other hold and managed the move without further incident, scrambling into the protection of that notch. The last twenty feet of low-angle face needed some cleaning before he could finish the route, so for awhile, dirt, sod, and the occasional rock crashed into the talus below, before he could signal off-belay.

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The main wall: humanly possible?

I cleaned the gear, estimating about 5.8 for the crucial moves. This on outer edge of the really hard stuff! I imagine that face six feet to the left goes at a minimum of 5.10c; and the real midsection, well, if possible, only world-class climbers need apply.
At the top, we walked left about fifty feet to an oak tree situated close to the cliff edge and clearly on the other side of the roof area. Our rappel line made it down to the base with about ten feet to spare on either side, indicating the slightly taller midsection is over 100’ tall.
We took turns top-roping our rappel line, which, if one takes the easiest start, is 5.9+ or so, and would be worthwhile route as well.
It was getting late by the time we recovered our rope, and we were tired. Twenty minutes traipsing out of the woods in wet boots, searching for our snowshoes, then slogging out to the car was enough exercise remaining to make us both look forward to a hot shower and warm bed.

First Gunks Blitz

Monday, April 11th, 2011

With three days of work under my belt this week, there wasn’t a lot of guilt about taking a day off, so when, during a phone call, Tom mentioned he hadn’t been to the Gunks in over a decade, the Plan was hatched. I had just talked with Bruce about possibly heading south on Thursday (weather had nixed our Monday plans), so a few quick calculations, more phone calls etc. etc., and by Wednesday night, we had a foursome planning to meet at the EMS store at the base of those shimmering golden cliffs.

I got up and out early, but I also got lost on the way to Tom’s. There’s a big detour on the way to his house, a lot of twisty roads, and a bleary, impatient climber behind the wheel; but all turned out well. Our late start allowed the cliffs some time to dry, as the overnight weather was rainy there. We congregated at the store, chatted with Eric Waldron awhile, then headed for the cliffs around 10am.

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On the TR of Apoplexy

With four climbers, three ropes, and three racks, we planned a day with a lot of climbing. Since this was the year’s first real outing, we would take it easy on the sharp end, but chose routes that we could access harder TRs nearby.

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Dangling on Junior

To start the festivities, Bruce led Rhododendron while I led Horseman. With the help of a 70m rope and a great anchor in the block above it, I set up one end of my rope on Apoplexy. Bruce and Janet finished their route, so they left the rope up (ah, fixed anchors!) and Janet took on Laurel. Soon, the four of us were swapping lines and running up all those routes, plus Clover and Junior to boot. Gotta say, Junior repelled me once more. Aargh. I will get that route this year. I hope.

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Bruce spots Janet on the sharp end of Laurel.

Tom and I ran through the entire lineup before Bruce and Janet could finish Junior and get on our rope, so we pulled Bruce’s original line and walked down to Son of Easy O. Being my favorite climb at the Gunks, and one I’ve done countless times, I was able to lead it without looking too shaky. After Tom took his lap, Bruce and Janet had not yet arrived, so we began investigating the wall to the left. Squeezed between Easy Overhang and its stiffer prodigy, we thought we could make out a possible line, so off we went to work out the moves. Many falls later – many, many falls later – we worked out the sequences and wearily made our way to the anchors. Bruce dubbed this (or maybe the newer guidebooks dub it) Queasy O, a fitting name for a route that tears the tips so thoroughly.

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Heading up Son of Easy O.

By the time I’d had my lap on that bit, Bruce and Janet joined us. I belayed Bruce while he led Frog’s Head, while Janet belayed Tom on that 5.10 TR. Reaching the anchors, Bruce threaded rope and walked left to thread the chains above City Lights. Now we had another two routes to climb. I cleaned the lead, and then we all took a last run on whatever we liked to top off the day.

Most of us managed nine routes, Tom and Janet hit double digits, sending ten. We reached our cars before six o’clock. Not bad for an eight-hour day at the Gunks.

Thank you, Tom Lane, for the photos!

Last Hurrah for Dutton Ice

Friday, April 1st, 2011

OK, I went a bit extreme these past two weeks, obsessively drawn to Dutton Mountain. Perhaps I was venting the frustrations accumulated over an ice season during which very few of my intended Crane Mountain projects formed. Perhaps it was making the best of a bad situation. Whatever. I found one more willing victim for the slog out there and grabbed that chance to climb the last obvious line in the Dutton Cluster. And we had time to add a bit more to the list as well.

Valerie sent a mass email to her climbing friends, asking if anyone was open for Thursday. At first I thought, nah, she would never want to lug a pile of gear out there. Not at this time of year, when everyone is thinking rock, not ice. But I figured if no one else was available, she might be willing to suffer yet one more indignity in the name of ice. Indeed, no one else was able to get the day off, so the adventure began.

It barely reached freezing during the night, so Thursday morning, our hike out was that aggravating mixture of occasional post-holing with just enough snow-top walking to deter changing into snowshoes. I didn’t help matters by attempting a different approach, culminating in a forced climb up to the proper mountain level for reaching the ice. Two weary souls attained the base of their objective after 1 1/2 hours of soggy ups and downs getting there.

I gave Val a quick fingerpointing tour: to our left, Wolf was the fattest obvious line, about forty feet from our target. Chipmunk was hidden a short distance past that line, farther upslope. Twenty feet to our right, Eagle’s base lay below us, almost hidden by a rock buttress. The last unclimbed line slithered up and left under that outcrop, to join fatter ice above.

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Val has just worked around the rock overhang of Otter, WI3.

We ate a bit, then commenced climbing. The option of that vertical ribbon was out, too thin and warm to attempt today, so after turning the tight spot below the rock (using a couple cams in good cracks and slinging a few ludicrously small “trees”), I continued moving up and left with the fat ice. By the time I reached a well-located anchor tree, I was pushing half the rope length, and still on grade 2 ice. It was an uncomfortable stance for rigging a top-rope, but once done, I lowered as far as possible, then hung while Val prepped and walked up to the base of the climb. These routes are deceiving: they appear to be only about fifty feet tall, but they’re all close to 100′ long, with more ice available above that height.

With Otter sent, my to-do list was finished for the year. Neither of us were ready to call it a day, however, so after discussing our options, we chose to wander farther south and look for another possible line. We slogged side-slope across talus blocks and snow drifts to a point where, high above, we could see some fat patches of ice.

In full conditions, there may be a flow reaching all the way to the ground, but this late in the season, the bottom hundred feet were bare wet rock or dirty scree. I led up a dirt cone rife with loose rocks and blocks, most of them fortunately frozen into the ground. After loosing one small rock and watching it whiz a few inches away from Val’s head, we paused to move her belay to a safer locale before I continued upward. At a good ledge about a hundred feet up, I anchored and Val climbed up to join me. We then traversed left to an offwidth crack with a thankfully huge handhold on the wall to its right and a frightfully loose boulder above it, that we had to yard on to escape the crack. Diagonally left of that, a short stretch of grade 2 ice led to a small, icy ledge with a good red pine for belaying.

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Val works her way up the WI2 finish on the 2nd pitch of Whitetail. 

From there, we climbed up another patch of ice to an ice-stuffed rock notch, for an excellent 2+/3- move to easing angled ground on the terraced conifer slopes above. In all, Whitetail is 400′ long, M3 at that offwidth crack, and WI2+/3- in that one spot. Expect a bit of chossiness down low, unless that ice does form all the way to the base. This route is indicative of a lot of the potential here for many excellent mixed lines; perhaps the best area I’ve found in the Adirondacks for extensive climbing of this style.

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1.6 trailless miles from the car, 6:50pm. Got Headlamp?

Rather than lose the elevation gained, we had lugged our packs along for the climb, so we were able to walk along the open wooded bench, staying with it all the way north, across the side of Dutton Mountain, before dropping into the basin between it and Venison Mountain. As so often happens with these excursions (fair warning to anyone who accompanies me!), night was chasing our footsteps as we headed out. In dimming twilight, we sorted and stashed gear before driving warily back into civilization. Among the deer we saw as we motored homeward may well have been a few we had driven from their hideouts somewhere among the glades of Dutton Mountain.