King Philips and Highway Blues

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.

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

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.

Mike rappeling to the base.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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