Last Hurrah for Dutton Ice

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.

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