Fish Mountain

Neal Knitel and I have been trying to climb together for almost two decades. We finally pulled it off last Friday when, along with Tom Lane, we met at a crag near Lake Pleasant that Neal discovered recently, a short way up the side of Fish Mountain.

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Neal Knitel styling up the face route on Fish Mountain

 

When Tom and I first arrived at the cliff, we were less than inspired. It was short, dirty, and wet. After a quick survey, I quipped that we should head for the quarry to get some real climbing in before going home. We were here for the time being however, so we chose a decent-looking crack line and set a top-rope on it. Neil arrived shortly after we began, so the three of us worked the line hard.

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Neal tackles our first line

And it was hard. The initial ten feet are relatively straightforward: side-pulls and high-steps, sort of easy liebacking up a tapered right-facing corner; but from there, insufficient underclings, off-balance back-steps, and insecure jams combine in an odd and strenuous mixture for the rest of the way. The total line is less than forty feet, but I fell several times and was pretty pumped by the time I worked out the sequences.

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Tom works the face route’s intricate crux

After all three of us gave it a go, we shifted the rope six feet left to try climbing up a hairline seam in a steep face. We didn’t hold out much hope on this one, and in moments, it was obvious that a direct assault was impossible for us. We shifted slightly right, availing ourselves of edges close to our first route for our right side whilst stretching for that seam with our left hand. Desperate bumps yielded progress this way, gaining a good horizontal, but the final bulge above it was Spartan, to say the least. A left-rising seam provided one uninspiring crimp, and a similar seam above might offer something for farther progress, but our attempts to get to the upper one failed. That one crimp slants the wrong way for shifting up and right, not offering enough purchase to bring the body’s center of balance above it. Eventually, we worked an alternative, laying off left of the crimp with the right hand and stretching way left to reach a rounded side-pull with the left hand. A series of blind foot-hops, relying on those skimpy handholds, allowed enough progress to reach a vastly-improved crack line to the left, bringing the difficulties way down to 5.8 or 9 before reaching the top. We took a long time to work out the sequences for this route.

We set another top-rope farther left, this one on a crack that dwindled to nothing six feet before reaching the ground. I could just barely reach a tight finger lock above my head, but the crack itself faded in and out for another four feet before settling on a consistent hand/fist size. Footholds were paltry at best: a direct start demanded a one-hand, one-finger haul on small feet, a long reach to another finger-sized slot, this time backed up by truly awful smears, before reaching secure hand jams. We worked on this direct line for awhile, each of us suffering significant digital damage in those initial jams. Tom eventually got it, while Neal and I both opted to look for another way.

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Arriving at the bomber hand jam

A short right-facing corner appeared to provide that easier access, but as it turned out, not by much. Utilizing it from below the crack is extremely awkward. We ended up starting from the corner’s left, side-pulling its edge to reach the sloping shelf at its top. A tipsy move to stand up on that shelf gained a stance even with, but disconcertingly far left of the crack. Transitioning to the crack was yet another difficult move, after which that secure, pumpy jamming began.

We all managed to reach the top eventually, so we judged this the easiest of the three routes we had so far climbed here. At hard 5.9 or perhaps 5.10a, easy wasn’t the best adjective perhaps, but the line offered feasible protection along its entire length and was at least within our abilities.

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The short-lived effort at another steep crack line 

I set a top-rope on another crack line, this one cutting through a slightly overhanging face near the right end of the cliff. Tom took a short stab at this before giving up, and neither Neal nor I was interested in thrashing ourselves silly on it.

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Neal on his way to another Fish Mtn FA

Neal was stoked to attempt a lead of the previous crack, so we turned our attention back in that direction. While it didn’t go easily, it did go. Neal managed to hang on and send the line, establishing another lead route.

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Victorious

I was inspired to try sending the face climb, but alas, after several hangs and one substantial fall, surrendered for the day. I hope to return soon for a rematch.

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An ultimately-futile attempt to lead the face route 

We finished the day on the established line, Just Chum-Me, climbing its 5.9- variation. A few wet spots remained, but the rock in this section had dried up considerably over the day. I found the route challenging, with a lot of interesting moves, fortunately requiring less strength than technique – I hadn’t enough left of the former, after flailing around on that face climb and all the other routes.

The sun was close to the horizon when we finally packed our bags. After the short walk out, we said our good-byes. We headed east, Neal went westward. Tom and I both reviewed the day’s activities, both of us observing that Fish Mountain’s short cliff packed a lot more wallop than we had expected possible when we arrived.

Bottom Line
It won’t become a major Adirondack destination, but as we discovered, Fish Mountain has plenty enough to keep a party busy all day. In conjunction with a trip to the Lake Pleasant quarry, a dawn-to-dusk vigil of forearm-thrashing pump can be had.
Fish Mountain has a short cliff band, thirty to fifty feet tall and about 200’ wide.
The view from the top of the cliff is excellent, taking in the landscape and lakes to the southwest.
The rock is sharply abrasive, so bring plenty of tape for hands and fingers.
There are currently 2 established “led” lines and another five top-roped routes, with a few more possible options to be had. Difficulty currently ranges from 5.7 to 5.10b, and clearly there are harder lines available.
Top-rope set-up is complex: the upper part of the cliff is steep slab, sparsely supplied with solid trees. Bring a 50’+ (ideally 75’) static line, a cordalette, and padding to protect the soft gear. Ensure the rope runs safely over the bend. Be extremely cautious while up there, and consider rappelling down to the top edge of the steep face and devising gear anchors there.
More information about Fish Mountain, as well as updates on the progress there, can be found among Neal’s Facebook notes.

Approach (15 minutes): From Route 8, south of the hamlet of Lake Pleasant, take Fish Mountain Road to its end. Park beside the cemetery, walk past the DEC gate and take the trail that bends back sharply left a few paces past the gate. The trail climbs gently for five minutes, then levels off for a couple hundred yards. Where the trail begins to descend, cut off to the right (north), through open woods with some blowdown, descending slightly to a marshy spot before ascending steeply 100 yards to the base of the cliff.

Bugs: we had plenty of blackflies, so May and early June are probably not premiere months to visit. The marshes below intimate that mosquitoes may be a nuisance at times, though we had none of them. With its southwest exposure, the cliff is open to the prevailing wind, so visiting on breezy days will minimize the pest problem. We saw no wasps.

Potential
There is a 60’ slab that may provide an easier technical avenue to the top; although it was wet during our visit, Neal assures me it does get dry. Of the five top-ropes done so far, three look to have protectable lead lines. A few more lines can be squeezed in on the main face, and the left side of the cliff, although cut by a low ledge system, has plenty of room for routefinding.
Neal tells me there is a bit more similar-sized cliff farther along. Above the main cliff, we saw a lot of short bands that might provide decent bouldering.

Thanks to Neal and Tom for photos provided for this post.
And a long-overdue thank you to Mike Prince for giving me his old camera to use/abuse on these outings!

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