Our First Moxham Ridge Expedition

Tom belays on the lower trailside slab, with the Summit Dome in the background.

Tom belays on the lower trailside slab, with the Summit Dome in the background.

In ancient times (the early 1990s), I climbed once or twice on Moxham Dome, a large roadside slab near Minerva. As I would wind my way homeward, I always looked up to the summit dome and wondered if there was good climbing up there. Well, a few years ago, the DEC built a hiking trail to it. Mike P. and Tom L. headed up there shortly after it opened up, and told me it was fantastic. So we just had to put a posse together and give it a go…A quick perusal (not easy to do on dial-up) and I thought, the summit cliffs are on private land, but that lower slab is on State land, so maybe we could scope out the big dome quiet-like, then do some official sniffing around on the lower stuff.

The gang near the start of the trail

The gang near the start of the trail

It’s a relatively long approach, 2 1/2 miles, but the trail is very well laid out. While it does rise and fall along the way, the slopes it crosses are never even moderately steep, and those undulations wisely avoid damp passages and marshes that would otherwise quickly turn a trail into a quagmire. While there isn’t much in the way of views along most of the trail, it hardly matters once one hits the ridge. There, the views are fantastic.

The view from the summit, looking south to Crane Mountain, no less.

The view from the summit, looking south to Crane Mountain, no less.

It did not seem like a long while to reach the open ridge, but it was probably an hour of mild hiking. The last ten or fifteen minutes climbed the only moderately steep bit of the trail, the final ascent to the summit.

Time to gear up and do some climbing!

Time to gear up and do some climbing!

Once we had rested, taken in the view, and recuperated awhile, we geared up and began to explore the technical side of our target. I still believed the summit dome slabs were on private land, so I wasn’t overly enthused about the potential here. Even though the slabs are over 250′ long, I thought they were liable to get posted at any time, now that a public trail was so close to them.

Tom heads down to assess our first Top Belay Set-Up, which was a no-go

Tom heads down to assess our first Top Belay Set-Up, which was a no-go

Since there were six of us, we figured our time was best spent descending from the top and getting a belay back up, rather than trying to on-sight anything from the bottom up. With two teams of three, that would’ve taken a long time.

Mike P. set his 60m rope on a spruce tree closest to the end of the trail. I strung a line on the next decent tree about 60′ back along the ridge, and spent the next hour figuring out this was a bad spot. 110′ down, a large, sharp-edged overhang presented an dangerous obstacle, one that would cut the rope if a climber fell attempting to mount it. We shifted our effort another 100′ back, and this time came up with better fare.

While my line turned out to be OK, over a full 70m long and incorporating a few tricky overlap moves, Mike’s was the Money. While the lowest part was near-trivial slab, and the finish interesting but mild friction and overlaps, the middle was a low-angle face riddled with small cling holds for 60’+, almost every move of which was 5.7 or 5.8. With the backdrop being a view of the vly immediately below, North Creek in the middle distance, and Crane Mountain on the horizon, it was top-notch scenery with top-notch movement. With two parties struggling to communicate between belayer and climber, Mike’s line resorted to primitive ululations of questionable merit to signal each other, resulting in the name Gibberish for their route. I dubbed ours Overflops for the means I used to pass the crux locales on it. Both are 5.8, the former being a 4 or 5 star line, the latter a 2 or 3 star effort.

Mike H. looks over the possibilities on the lower slab

Mike H. looks over the possibilities on the lower slab

Time was running out, and still under the belief that state land lay farther back along the trail, we opted to descend and check that area out. From the summit, we carefully assessed our options, planned a line, then Mike H. headed down as the final few of us took runs on the last rope still anchored at the top (Mike P’s line) before following suit.

Coming up my lower slab route

Coming up my lower slab route

Mike H. found an excellent route right off, and Mike P. pointed out a promising one as I arrived with the other rope. Sure enough, that too was a decent run. Everybody got at least one of those two before the angle of the sun indicated we best be on our way.

The hike out seemed longer than the one we took in, despite being mostly downhill; how does that always seem to be the case?

Scoping out the summit dome from the lower slab

Scoping out the summit dome from the lower slab

For hikers, the Moxham Ridge trail is more than worth the stellar view at the end. For climbers, it is worth packing a rope for the climbs on the summit dome – which, by the way, are entirely on public land. The easiest method remains anchoring the rope at the top, rappelling to the end. Tie in to the other end so you won’t rap off it, and bag the rope so it doesn’t get stuck or pull off a loose rock. And wear a helmet; this is wilderness, “alpiney” terrain.

Looking out to Gore Mountain from an early viewpoint along the Moxham Ridge Trail

Looking out to Gore Mountain from an early viewpoint along the Moxham Ridge Trail

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