Late Season Climbing Tips

The Night at the End of the Tunnel

A season's edge run up Stand Your Ground, the Jammer Wall's premiere 5.7-

A season’s edge run up Stand Your Ground, the Jammer Wall’s premiere 5.7-

No doubt we will scrounge our way up a route or two before snow flies and it gets too doggone cold to climb, but there is equal certainty as to the direction things are taking. There’s a night, a long winter’s one, at the end of this tunnel – and there isn’t much left of the tunnel itself. However, autumn’s onslaught of short days, frequent rain, and low temperature have taught us some things about climbing here on Crane, tips that may help other bummin’ climbers make the best of waning opportunities.

Get Outa Bed!

With the end of daylight savings time, it gets dark early; moreover, along Crane’s southeast flank, the rock begins to chill by late afternoon. A late start will result in a much shorter climbing day. There is no need for Alpine grogginess – the rock needs time to warm up – but a “crack’o’noon” arrival is sure to disappoint. Hitting the trailhead at 930am is highly recommended. This provides plenty of time to hike in and rack up, enjoy a lot of climbing, then use sunset lighting (or headlamps) for the hike out.

An early start also allows greater choice in destination. An long approach in the frosty early morning hours of late autumn is actually more enjoyable than it is in the summer. If the destination is sunny and sheltered, late season climbing there may be preferable to any other time of year.

Weathering the Weather

If it rained during the night, expect some wet spots here and there on most routes; but if the sun is shining, the crags mentioned already will have something tolerably dry to climb. Typically, late autumn leaves a lot of condensation on the rock even if it doesn’t rain, so gravitate to Crane’s cleaner venues: the Jammer Wall, the Amphitheatre section of the Black Arches Wall, the Belleview Slab, or the right end of the Isobuttress.

If previous weather has been particularly sketchy, consider top-roping for the day. This will further limit destination choices, especially on Crane, but it’s a rather wide-ended restriction: the South Corner Cliffs provide easy TR setup for a lot of routes.

There are many routes that are too wet to climb in the morning, but dry up adequately by noon or so. If one of these is on the day’s tick-list, climb nearby and check on conditions as the day progresses.

Weigh the Wind

Even cloudy skies lend a little warmth, making it possible to climb with minimal discomfort into the forties (Fahrenheit), but add a breeze and what little relief gained from filtered sunshine is lost to the wind. While the rock may be warm enough to hold regardless of wind, the rest of the environment will not be comfy without a lot of additional insulation. Look for areas protected from the wind when you head out in late autumn. For most of the northeast, this means choosing sections of cliff that are exposed to the sun but sheltered from the wind, alcoves facing east or southeast under normal conditions.

Track the Sun

At the start of the day, head east for the cliffs that see the sunrise. On Crane, this generally means starting out on the Upper Walls of the South Corner Cliffs (particularly the Jammer Wall) or the Amphitheatre of the Black Arches Wall. These two areas dry rapidly and warm up quickly with even intermittent sunshine. They are both protected from the wind and have large ledges for those wiggly warm-up jigs necessary on chilly days.

As the day progresses, backtrack west to prolong your climbing day. Once the sun brushes the shoulder of the mountain at the Jammer Wall, for example, it will start to get cold. Packing up and descending to the Measles Walls combines part of the walk-out with a short climbing break before calling it quits. Parenthetically: it also saves your toes and calf muscles from being sore all day long – divot-stepping is tough on the legs.

Dress Up

Bring extra clothes. That Puffy Jacket in your ice climbing kit could use some preseason exercise, along with light gloves and a knit cap to take the edge off those long belays. If the rock is cold, limit contact by choosing short pitches, easier grades, and faces over cracks.

While it won’t be quite as easy or natural, climbing with a light pair of snug-fitting, latex or nitrile gloves may conserve a little comfort without nullifying your ability to cling to the holds. Nor should they hurt your budget: you can find cheap versions of these at most Stewarts Shops for under $10. These types of gloves are especially helpful for climbing cracks. They should fit very snugly, require some effort to put on, and resist slippage as you climb.

What About the Summit?

Matt Wood makes a cool-weather run up Thank You, Cindy on Crane's summit cliffs.

Matt Wood makes a cool-weather run up Thank You, Cindy on Crane’s summit cliffs.

Although the summit cliffs lie highest on the mountain, several problems crop up as rock climbing season wanes. The temperature up high stays colder all day long, and gets colder at night, so it takes longer for the rock to warm up, and it warms up less than lower cliffs. The rock is exposed to much more wind, as are the belay stances, so it is usually uncomfortably chilly, even in full sunshine. Most of the cliffs on Crane’s summit face southwest, so they don’t get the benefit of direct sunlight until afternoon. The summit cliffs, while certainly not the dirtiest, have a fair amount of lichen on them, which holds moisture and stays slippery far longer in late autumn conditions. Finally, the dense conifers at the base of the cliffs shade the bottom of most routes, keeping them damp for most of the day. We have climbed on the summit well into November, but our success rate doing so after mid-October has consistently been low.

Calling it a Wrap

Sooner or later, it’s time to quit. When that is is dependent on a few variables: the when of available time and timing, the how as in “how much” climbing is enough to justify the travel and expense, and the why of “why bother?” If the crag is next door and you have a schedule that allows you to access said crag at the warmest time of day, then you may never really close out rock season, only whittle it down to an occasional foray on the nicest days. For most of us, there’s a reality intruding on such sunny fantasy worlds. Work (that irksome four-letter word) lionizes daylight hours, with little or none left for the necessary transport time to reach good climbing. Climbing by headlamp when the temperatures drop below freezing is good Alpine training perhaps, but risking frostbite for fun or bragging rights isn’t worthwhile. The next question is how much climbing in a day is worth all those sacrifices (I generally figure 1:1 is the absolute minimum travel:climb ratio, for example). If the time it takes to prep, drive, and hike takes up more time than the actual climbing, it’s a question of value to continue. Finally, if your goal is to tick off another climbing day on the calendar, it’s all well and good, but is it really worth it? For the great majority of us, rock climbing is supposed to be fun – so if the expense, travel, and discomfort take out all the enjoyment, pack away your shoes.

Recommended Late-Autumn Crane Mountain Routes & Crags

Bella Vista   5.7    G    490′

Yours truly at the top of Bella Vista.

Yours truly at the top of Bella Vista.

Easy, long route with great views. Somewhat exposed to wind. The crux headwall can be circumvented, reducing the overall grade to 5.5. The climbing on this is definitely more recreational than challenging, so if it’s too cold to push your ability but you want to cover some terrain, this is a good destination. If it has rained very recently, the bottom may be untenable: either scramble up the gully to the right or begin up and left, by the start of Benediction. If you have time and energy after this climb, tag something on at the Belleview Slab. or Measles Walls.

Belleview Slab

With an emphasis almost entirely on friction climbing, this crag is a limited venue, yet it packs a good variety in its 9 routes. Convenient anchors and easy walk-ups make top-roping a ready option. Most of the routes are well-scrubbed, decently-protected, and have enough unique character to distinguish themselves from their neighbors.

Jammer Wall

Close-up of the Jammer Wall and its neighboring crags, high on Crane's South Corner.

Close-up of the Jammer Wall and its neighboring crags, high on Crane’s South Corner.

Large selection of quick-drying, sheltered, sunny climbs high on the South Corner Cliffs. Grades from 5.3 to 5.10, most of which can easily be top-roped. The only downside is the approach, which culminates in a steep hike and over a half hour approach from the trailhead parking lot.

Amphitheatre Wall

A climber floats up Broken Broom late in the season.

A climber floats up Broken Broom late in the season.

Another sheltered crag, but somewhat more limited in scope than the Jammer Wall. Very little top-roping available, someone has to lead (at 5.8- minimum) to get up to the anchors here. Once that is accomplished though, there are a couple gems in the 5.9/10 range here. Once the sun nudges the shoulder of the cliff, you will want to move back west to finish up the day.

Measles Walls

Todd Paris on the FA of H1N1 in late-day October sunshine.

Todd Paris on the FA of H1N1 in late-day October sunshine.

With the shortest approach on Crane Mountain, this cluster of crags receives any late morning to late afternoon sunshine available, has several convenient fixed anchors, and offers a peculiar, one-of-a-kind style of climbing that is guaranteed to improve your skills elsewhere. With routes registering from 5.0 to 5.11, trad to sport, there’s a lot of choice in this compact cluster of crags. Downside? Much of it gets wet and stays wet late in the year, that peculiar style of climbing is not for everyone, and the climbs are all short, with not much of a view even after the leaves are down.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.