Moxham Recon II

Back again, and soon. Despite the long approach, we returned to Moxham Mountain for another climbing reconnaissance.

Mr. Hazard hanging out at the Lower Slab of Moxham Mountain

Mr. Hazard hanging out at the Lower Slab of Moxham Mountain

With the local schools’ spring break fast coming to an end, we’ve been pounding it hard the entire week, searching out some of the places spied by digital satellite before the leaves occlude the view and the blackflies intrude on our blood supply. Two mountains have vied for and dominated our attention this year, one of them being Moxham Mountain. If the last post was missed, the facts are these: 2.5 mile approach over a new, excellent trail, with two main climbing areas near the end of the trail. The Summit Dome lies at the end, and runs between 200 and 300′ in length, most of it easy to moderate slab climbing, with some interesting steep slabs and overlaps. A quarter mile closer and 200′ or so lower, the Lower Slabs run from 50 to 150 feet tall. On the first Saturday of spring break, six intrepid climbers made the hike, and then top-belayed two routes on each of these crags.

Two of the four participants looking for plausible climbing lines

Two of the four participants looking for plausible climbing lines

A party of four managed an early start on the last Friday of April, meeting in North Creek and reaching the trailhead by 9am. Three of us, however, were running on reserves, having worked overly much on projects elsewhere during the week. We were none of us certain how long we could be productive.

Mike H scrubbing on his project

Mike H scrubbing on his project

But we went at it with gusto. Mike H. stuck with his original line; Mike P., Tom L., & I opted to look around a bit instead of tackling last weekend’s item. Once again we had three ropes, two dynamic and 100′ of static. I’d chosen to look around in part because I’d also chosen to grab the short static rope, and soon settled on a plausible crack line of modest difficulty. Mike P. and Tom wandered farther along the Lower Slab, eventually finding an overhang that lured Tom into its maw.

Mike H. fell into the classic trap of double vision, seeing multiple possibilities on either side of his chosen project. He worked diligently, striving to clean at least two separate lines as he descended. I was close to doing the same, as this Lower Slab is so riddled with enticing crack lines that it is difficult to concentrate solely on one route.

Tom scoping out the terrain above his awesome overhang, with Crane Mountain in view on the horizon

Tom scoping out the terrain above his awesome overhang, with Crane Mountain in view on the horizon

Meanwhile, Tom and Mike P. had run into some technical difficulties… well, one technical difficulty: an overhang that registers in at nearly 5.11. None of us are currently up to that ability, especially on-sighting; even on a top-rope. Their efforts would essentially stall (though Tom did manage to work out the moves) and their search would disintegrate through sheer fatigue.

I’d reached an arguably-sufficient starting point for my line by this time, a sloping ledge sparsely supplied with middling oak trees, and made the call for a belay. This would thoroughly complicate an otherwise clever equipment and manpower division, as I had to grab the dynamic rope Mike P. and Tom had been using and kidnap Mike P for the belay, leaving Tom to fend for himself in the quest for a feasible project.

Wild cloud formations and other off-topic topics in the middle of a climbing blog post

Wild cloud formations and other off-topic topics in the middle of a climbing blog post

But such are the vagaries of pioneer work. I tied in, collected something akin to a rack, and climbed my line while Mike P. belayed. I quickly found the crux of it, a traverse connecting the starting crack line with the finishing one. It wasn’t truly hard, but quite committing, and as usual, I’d not cleaned enough to be casual.

I’ve on-sighted a lot of routes, and done a lot of top-down, pre-cleaning as well. Unless one does a very thorough job of cleaning, it’s a toss-up as to which makes for the sketchier send. On-sighting requires a deft eye for what can be removed, where, to make the climb possible, without messing up the holds where one’s feet are struggling to stick. On the other hand, cleaning always makes a mess, one that may not be obvious until tying in to the sharp end. Often, a thin coat of minute dirt and sand grains makes every hold suspect, and requires a lot of lung capacity to secure passage. Generally, the best system is to clean as thoroughly as possible, then give the route a few days, preferably with some soaking rain to wash off that slippery dust, before attempting the send. Obviously, that sort of procedure requires both available time and patience. These are not common climber attributes.

Looking up the start of "pitch 2" of my route. It jogs right at the end of the lower crack, climbing through the small overhang to reach another crack

Looking up the start of “pitch 2” of my route. It jogs right at the end of the lower crack, climbing through the small overhang to reach another crack

Regardless of the difficulties, the line I climbed is perhaps 5.6, with its crux at that key traverse. By now, the rain we’ve had over the past week has probably tamed it down a bit, perhaps enough to peg it at 5.5, but we’ll have to wait and see.

When Mike P. arrived at the top, having seconded my route, things began to fall apart rapidly. He was exhausted. After resting on the top for a half hour, Mike decided to pack up and head home. Looking over the group’s resources, we figured that would be fine; but ten minutes after he began trotting down the trail, Tom realized his essentials – including his car keys – were in Mike’s truck. He decided to race out after him, and suddenly our party was down to two. And I was in none too energetic a state myself. Mike H. was nearly done with his line, though, so I decided to rest while he finished up.

While scrubbing, I found this intriguing hole in the cliff. Inside, it is nearly circular, and goes back over a foot into the rock.

While scrubbing, I found this intriguing hole in the cliff. Inside, it is nearly circular, and goes back over a foot into the rock.

We had been joined by another party, actually, a quite large one, but in this case clearly not welcome: black flies. One of the spurs to Mike H’s exodus was the onslaught of these pests, as they made resting anywhere impossible. While the top of the slab offered some refuge in the form of a frequent strong breeze that kept the bugs at bay, the base of the cliff was quickly becoming uninhabitable. After a brief attempt at covering and cloaking myself from them, I chose motion as my best means of defense.

My line ended on the left edge of a ledge 40′ above the base of the cliff. I noticed that a decent crack line led directly up to my route’s starting point, starting above an open book on an easy slab, running through an overhang and bulge before topping out in a clump of striped maple. I decided to see about climbing this while Mike H finished up. That went well enough. After moving into the open book from the right, the crack offers bomber hand holds all the way through to the tree clump, so I reckon my route (whatever I eventually name it) now has a first pitch – though be forewarned, it has had not-quite-zero cleaning.

Mike H begins his first Moxham FA.

Mike H begins his first Moxham FA.

Mike H. was ready by the time I’d finished fiddling around, so we pulled the remaining dynamic line and he tied in. Coiffed in long sleeves, long pants, safety glasses, gloves, and bug hat, I belayed.

Commenting once in awhile on things he wished he had cleaned a little better, Mike regardless made sure and steady progress upward. The route follows attractive crack lines up through the initial steep crack, which is the crux, passes one thinly-protected gap, where fortunately the climbing is not difficult, then finishes in another fine system of cracks.

Moving through the midpoint of Mike H's route

Moving through the midpoint of Mike H’s route

Following the route, I found it very good, a three-star route in the Adirondack quality classification scheme. I too wished for a few cleaner spots, but that is the way of the game. Future climbers should be prepared for a little wilderness scrubbing if they climb here.

One last look up at the Summit Dome before we go home.

One last look up at the Summit Dome before we go home.

We had daylight left, but not much; nor did we have the energy to force another line. I already shuddered at the thought of the march out, but knew we had to do it. We rappelled a steep gully Mike P. had discovered – the least technical means to reach the bottom – packed the rest of our gear, and trudged out, inspecting the cliff bottom as we bushwhacked to rejoin the trail. Neither of us saw anything on the cliff to climber’s left of the area we’ve already climbed on that looked good for climbing.

With Spring Break over, Black Fly Season in full swing, and the usual busy days of May upon us, it may be some time before we return to Moxham Mountain. But if the legs are willing, it’s a sure bet we will return.

Gore Mountain from the Lower Slabs

Gore Mountain from the Lower Slabs

As always, if you wish to comment on this post, please email me first, else your comment may get lost in the ubiquitous spam of modern blogging. – JH

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