Rogers Rock after the Rain

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Wet rock, full pack. Lukasz likes a challenge.

We found out that one can climb Little Finger when it’s sopping wet. And despite the uncertain footing, occasional fear, and frequent disbelief that our feet would stay put, we had a great time learning the lesson.

With a gloomy forecast for Saturday, and continuously wet weather leading up to the weekend, I originally planned to shift our Rogers Rock day to Sunday, but at the last minute, that day’s schedule got filled up, so when Lukasz arrived Friday night, we were locked into Saturday or nothing. We awoke to fog, drifting cloud, and a light mist. The radar indicated that the precip would soon pass through, so we decided to start at a normal hour, paddle out, and see if the climb was feasible.

We arrived at the campground and put in a few minutes after the mists had lifted high enough to see the lake surface clearly. It was smooth as glass at this early hour. The cloud cover hung 200′ above the water, ragged threads of the stuff slithering up the mountains around us, obscuring our view of the Campground Wall as we paddled out.

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Lukasz below Roger’s Rock

This was Lukasz’ first trip to the Adirondacks, so despite the wetness, he was thrilled with the scenery. And why not? Lake George, before the motorboats start plying the water, is an incredible place to be, no matter what the weather. Early this morning, we shared the lake with a pair of loons, a few canoeists, and a fishing boat or two. Flocks of geese flew past us, lifting off low over lake, a honking chorus of travellers working their wings into shape for the long trip south. Occasionally, a fish broke the surface nearby. And below us, we could see the angular shapes of giant boulders lying deep beneath our hulls as we paddled overhead.

Arriving at the slide, it was streaming wet. There would be no long runout friction climbing today! I paddled up and looked at the traditional Little Finger crack. It was still cascading a thin stream of water along its course. We decided to paddle around in the lake awhile to see if things would settle down.

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There are a few special techniques that help in wet conditions such as this. Most important is choosing a well-protected route. Like it or not, there’s a high chance of slipping, so the leader should place gear frequently, just in case. Notching back on the difficulty is vital: while we can both climb 5.8 without a problem, Little Finger’s  5.5 rating made the climb much less stressful. On the slide, we discovered that the blackish rock is colored by a thin film of algae, and that film is slick as Teflon when it is wet. So is anything green, be it moss or lichen. The only holds of these colors that one can use are horizontal or cut-back, ” Thank God” holds. Clean rock here is reddish with gray banding. We spent a lot of our climbing time looking for footholds that matched this description. Even wet, these provided good purchase.

 We climbed steadily, the conditions making our route seem a few grades harder than its rating, but otherwise we enjoyed it. Our view expanded as we climbed, the clouds continuing to lift above us. More boats began running past us, and the usual cacophony of incredulous people in them when they spied two small specks on the cliff overhead. We even had a cheering section for a short while – I’ve never led off to “Go, Red Shirt! Go Red Shirt!” before, but it was fun to hear coming from the boat parked below.

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At the top of the second pitch, we opted to run the direct finish variation. It is harder than the traditional route (5.7 vs. 5.4), but looking things over, there were much better protection opportunities than the thirty foot runout bit of the standard line. I was a bit uncertain about leading through the overhang, but figured I could aid if necessary. It turned out not to be: except for the feet below the bulge, the key holds were dry enough, and a bomber nut placement overhead helped quell the trembling nerves.

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500′ up and happy to be here

By the time we reached the top of the route, the slabs had dried enough to make use of them on the way down. We would rappel a pitch, then I would belay Lukasz as he climbed back up. In this fashion, he was able to experience the more typical, tenuous friction climbing of Rogers Rock, with an occasional slip on that mint-green lichen reminding us both that things were not all that dry just yet.

It took awhile longer than usual, but we managed the whole climb safely and without incident. It’s not for the faint of heart or the inexperienced to tackle the Slide when it’s wet, but following the line of Little Finger is at least possible. I know a guide who can do it (hint, hint).

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