Two Strikes

Two days' meandering yield no worthwhile climbing, but a pleasant short hike and a potentially fantastic ski trail

Two days’ meandering yield no worthwhile climbing, but a pleasant short hike and a potentially fantastic ski trail

During Presidents’ Week, friends and I did a little ice climbing and a lot of exploration. The following covers two day’s worth of near-fruitless searching for that “Next-Great” crag. Pictures are few, stunning discoveries none, but this is the way exploration goes.

Groff Creek Ravine

One of our Presidents’ Week excursions took us on a long hike into the hinterlands west of the Sacandaga River, in the no-man’s land north of Benson Road. The objective was a curious, unnamed box canyon north of Groff Mountain, a mysterious locale that looked, at least on the limited maps of “TOPO!”, like it might have ice flows in it. After reaching Benson Road, we almost instantly turned north onto River Road, which we drove for over four and a half miles to its winter end, nearly across from Wells.

The land on either side of the road is thickly adorned with posted signs; there is no mistaking the owners’ wish that you keep to the road right-of-way as you walk through. After a brief level stint, the road descends to a bridge over a stream, rising slightly again before leveling off and continuing along a high, ancient flood plain, now overgrown with large trees. The posted signs continue to keep you on the road until finally, a sign declaring “No Motorized Vehicles” indicates arrival at the State Land boundary.

A peek into the mysterious Box Canyon we didn't get to - from the next day's hike up Scribner Mountain

A peek into the mysterious Box Canyon we didn’t get to – from the next day’s hike up Scribner Mountain

I’d forgotten my map, so at this juncture had to conjure up what little recollection of it I could mentally. As it turns out, my memory was sufficient to the task. I recalled that Groff Creek came out of its own ravine, then paralleled the creek we wanted to follow briefly before the two diverged again on their ways down to the river. However, the terrain had other plans: the rain of two days ago had so swollen the Groff creek that I could not see a safe crossing. We decided to continue on the old roadbed heading into Groff Creek’s ravine.

I hoped to shortly find an obvious crossing, but the trail ran gradually higher and higher up the south slope of the canyon. Soon we were close to a hundred feet above it, with steep, ice-encrusted terrain in between. Having come this far, we opted to see what might be up this ravine. I couldn’t recall the outlook from the actual map, but with the sketchy descent necessary to reach the creek, and no obvious crossing in sight, we committed to making a visual inspection.

There isn’t much to say about this hike in regards to climbing potential. We passed nothing worth pulling out the ice tools we carried all day, nor did we go by any cliffs that might make good rock climbing in the warm months. We did walk up what could be one of the best backcountry ski paths in this neck of the Park, enjoyed a brisk sunshiny day, and accumulated more than enough exercise to offset a decent meal. However, there is no great cliff, no hidden bevy of boulders in that ravine. After hiking to its top, almost to the end of the old trail, we turned back toward Tom’s truck.

As we trudged the miles (about 2 ½ each way) back to our vehicle, I continued to wonder what might be hidden in our original objective. We had come so far to come up empty-handed, but then I’d known once we veered from the box canyon that the odds were against finding any climbing possibility. As we descended the slope leading out of the canyon, I briefly considered attempting to cross the creek and follow the other one, but fatigue and lateness quashed any chance of that. We did meet up with a couple also out for an excursion, which came as a surprise to both of us. This region is not known as a hiking destination, and the abundant signs along the road make it seem almost off-limits to the public. We chatted awhile before they followed our footprints upward and we headed outward.

Reaching the vehicle at the end of our excursion, we saw outcrops on the side of a small mountain across the Sacandaga River from our parking place. From afar, Scribner Mountain looked like it might have some worthwhile vertiginous rock, so we made plans to go there for a closer inspection someday.

Scribner Mountain

That day turned out to be the next one. Another fine day, cold enough for ice to have more opportunity to rebuild from the fifty-degree rain a few days earlier, so we headed for the small mountain we’d seen during the previous day’s hike. We parked along Creek Road, which breaks off from County Route 7 northwest of Northville and swings west to end at Route 30. At the height-of-land on this road, we parked the car and hiked north, down into an open drainage, then walked WNW, gaining the ridge that forms the base of Scribner Mountain.

Yawn: a midget outcrop with nothing to recommend it. This is among the best "cliffs" we found on Scribner Mountain

Yawn: a midget outcrop with nothing to recommend it. This is among the best “cliffs” we found on Scribner Mountain

Soon, we passed ledges, which seemed to be getting larger as we moved along, gradually gaining elevation as well. However, none were tall enough to consider climbing potential. We split up, Tom taking the high road above one ledge, I taking an intermediate ledge in order to scope out both the upper and lower crags on either side. Tom was never much more than thirty feet above me. The outcrop below was a little taller for a short distance before it too faded into the general slope. Nothing worth coming back for here, but farther up and over, just around the bend, we could tell the side of the mountain dropped off very steeply. We chose to stay high, walking the gradually-rising ridge to the top.

Tom at the summit viewpoint of Scribner Mountain

Tom at the summit viewpoint of Scribner Mountain

We soon reached the top of the mountain, or at least the uppermost section of the southern flank of it. At the top, the drop-off was considerable, but the slope dropped away in a series of ledges below us. It was impossible to tell if, under the lowest one we could see from the top, lay a taller cliff.

Fifteen feet of low-angle ice flow, about the best we found on Scribner Mountain

Fifteen feet of low-angle ice flow, about the best we found on Scribner Mountain

We walked over to the north side of the ridge and began dropping steeply, first to walk farther WNW to check another pine-covered promontory (nada), then to backtrack and look at the lower cliff. What we saw did not impress: the “ledgy” steps continued all the way down the crag, breaking up what otherwise would have been a fairly tall cliff into short faces, none of which were tall. There may have been one section of consolidated wall approaching fifty feet tall, but that would be giving it the benefit of the doubt – of which there is plenty to go around. In short, for the second day in a row, we ended up empty-handed.

We found this good bouldering ledge well below the summit ridge

We found this good bouldering ledge well below the summit ridge

Too bad, too; as Scribner lies in a large blank spot on the map of Adirondack climbing areas. Tom’s find of five years ago, the Rods’n’Guns Wall, is well to the east, and the Arietta gang’s collection of “Lost” Walls lies even farther away to the west. To the south, the terrain to the Park boundary is unsullied with climbing routes, while it is a long ride to reach Snowy or Crane to the north.

Same bouldering ledge, looking left from its end

Same bouldering ledge, looking left from its end

Scribner Mountain is not a difficult hike, although there is no trail, nor evidence of anything but wildlife traversing the ridge. It probably sees hunter traffic, since it affords a good view of the surrounding hollows, and is littered with deer sign; so ambling on it in early November may be sketchy. Otherwise it is probably good for a short, quiet hike away from the crowds. The view is limited to one open area looking west, toward Groff Mountain and the ravine of the same appellation to its north, with a good peek inside the box canyon I still want to explore, farther north.

Looking WSW from Scribner Mountain, over at Wallace Mountain

Looking WSW from Scribner Mountain, over at Wallace Mountain

Our day would degenerate into a vehicular tour of almost every little back road we could find. The good news is we found some cliffs that just may have climbing potential. The bad news is that will require another day’s exploration to reveal any details. Stay tuned.

Looking W from Scribner Mountain, over at Southerland Mountain

Looking W from Scribner Mountain, over at Southerland Mountain

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