Premature Expectations

Saturday morning, the sun shone unhindered from a cloudless bluebird sky. I packed my regular winter gear, but stuffed a pair of rock shoes in as well, thinking to break trail to the Jammer Wall. We’ve had a lot of snow over the last three weeks, gradually building from a few crusty old inches left from January to over a foot and a half on the ground. I knew the trek would be difficult, but this sudden warmth made me too antsy to sit around. Shortly after 9a, I was on my way.

Looking up at the Animal Charm Wall in February 2017

Looking up at the Animal Charm Wall in February 2017

It may be early yet.

East Path in February 2017

Low along the East Path in February 2017

The initial hike runs along the base of the mountain, and since I’ve already run this once or twice, snowshoeing through it was only moderately difficult. As the East Path turns up toward the Measles Walls, I still had pre-trampled passage, but the angle made things more aerobic. Soon, I stood at the LMW, perusing ice options there. While they probably were still negotiable, the onset of warmth and sunshine yesterday took a quick toll on them. I snapped a picture or two, but passed on climbing anything. A few minutes later and a bit higher, I did switch to ice gear to climb the one feasible line on the UMW, the swath that clings to the dimpled surface right of Cabin Fever and left of El Muerte Rojo. It was clearly suffering from “bakage”, but sounded only slightly hollowed as I easily thwunked my way to the sloping ledge 25’ up, then shifted left slightly to down-climb the same formation.

LMW Ice in the morning

LMW Ice in the morning

That would be all the ice I would climb that day. From the Measles Walls, I continued along the faint remains of the trail I’d broken a week ago. The sun was beginning to make itself felt; wherever the snow lay at an angle perpendicular to it, it stuck to my snowshoes, clumping as it tumbled down the slopes. A thin crust lay 7” beneath the surface, sometimes stopping my footfall, other times trapping a shoe deep underneath; but overall I had little trouble making progress.

Quite steep going to the Upper Walls

Quite steep going to the Upper Walls

Until, that is, I reached the juncture with the Upper Walls path. I turned off there, which meant leaving any trace of pre-packed trail, as well as an increase in angle, which made the going very difficult. But the sun made the woods so lovely I did not mind the work. I just took my time, resting as needed, plodding slowly and meticulously forward. At the corner of the Blueberry Ledges, the slough-off from them created an eight-foot sloping wall of snow. Somewhere under it lay the actual path, so I had to one-shoe stomp my way through that fortification.

Crane Mountain's Amendment Wall

Crane Mountain’s Amendment Wall

Breaking through that barrier, I came in sight of the Amendment Wall. I would do no climbing up these 5.10 friction routes: both wore dark water streamers coursing down their lengths. While dry patches promised hope for the middle of the week, I had to keep slogging if I were going to find any dry rock.

Selfie low on On the Fence

Selfie low on On the Fence

Below the last route on this wall, On the Fence, I looked up. It too had a lot of wet tracking down it, as well as plenty of ice in the ramp; but I thought I might manage its mild grade. I was able to snowshoe up what would normally be an impossible dirty rock slab to reach the base of the route, where I removed my pack and readied to do some “real” climbing. I opted to begin in my hiking boots, as things were snowy on all the ledges down low.

The ramp of On the Fence

The ramp of On the Fence

The ice in the corner of the ramp required some deft kicking and occasional clawing-out to make progress, but soon I stood on the ledge beneath the “real” stuff, the cracks leading up to the top. Here, I deemed it time to switch footwear.

Time to change footwear

Time to change footwear

The rest of the route went as usual, even though the cracks were icy and near the top the rock was striped with meltwater rivulets. Topping out was perhaps the hardest part of the climb, as a layer of wet snow over a crust of ice made the going treacherous. Fortunately, the crust was not so thick I couldn’t easily kick steps up to the lonely belay tree.

Looking south from near the top of the route On the Fence

Looking south from near the top of the route On the Fence

I’d dragged a rope with me to make the descents, which was a very good thing: down-climbing would have been terrifying. With the comfort of that rope, I could look around and enjoy the scenery. And what a view it was! This is the sort of day that makes climbing not just exciting and physically challenging, but also akin to a walk along God’s Art Gallery. Stunning, stellar, every superlative in the book.

Another Selfie, this from the top of On the Fence

Another Selfie, this from the top of On the Fence

After gawking at the scenery, I took time for one more selfie before descending. While on rappel, I mused over my options. The surrounding rock was a mix of not-so wet and way-too wet; I would have to inspect any other routes I hoped to climb, and hope to spot any trouble before getting in too far to escape.

Looking over at Stand Your Ground. Dry enough to climb?

Looking over at Stand Your Ground. Dry enough to climb?

Changing back into boots at the midway ledge, I post-holed over to look at Stand Your Ground. Like my first route, the crack in this one was stuffed with snow and ice near the bottom. But I know that section or rock can be climbed without the crack; plentiful face holds to either side make it easy. So I pulled my rope, made the final tromp over to its base, kicked steps up what would normally be the first ten feet of climbing, then stomped another ledge for shoe-changing.

Stymied by ice and snow near the top of Stand Your Ground

Stymied by ice and snow near the top of Stand Your Ground

Along the crack, I had no problem; but where it abruptly ends, trickles of water were running down among and around the crux holds. I had to concentrate on these moves, but with good focus and care, I continued climbing. I reached the second bolt, well past the crux, but here I was stopped cold. Literally: the ledge five feet above it was covered in ice and snow, at an angle that perfectly matched the slab above it. I might be able to punch or kick holds in it, but with the wet footholds, any slip would send me 85′ to the base of the route and likely much farther, as my buffeted body would slide down the snow slope, off the short cliff below, and in all probability continue that trend to the base of the Provando Wall 200′ beneath me. Not a good image. I clipped a carabiner to the upper protection bolt, spent awhile playing narcissistic photographer, then retreated on the rope.

Looking straight down Stand Your Ground from the top bolt

Looking straight down Stand Your Ground from the top bolt

Looking northeast from the top of Stand Your Ground

Looking northeast from the top of Stand Your Ground

A view into the ravine below Stand Your Ground

A view into the ravine below Stand Your Ground

One more selfie from Stand Your Ground

One more selfie from Stand Your Ground

I thought I might be done now, but slogging over to the base of Provando’s third pitch, I decided to sneak one more in the list. I wore hiking boots to the midway ledge, then changed into klettershue to climb the finishing face. This time the top-out was dry enough to complete – good thing, since there are no protection bolts on this route – so I soon stood on the large ledge, looking out at another grand view.

Final Selfie of the day, from the top of Provando

Final Selfie of the day, from the top of Provando

One thing I noted while hanging out on the cliffs today: a large ice flow hangs high above the Amendment Wall. Last May, Steve and Tom came up to climb on that wall, but decided to warm up on the Jammer Wall first. Moments after their decision, tons of ice came tumbling down, smashing into and past the base of Amendment Wall had they been there, they would have died. This is something to keep in mind for those of us who climb here in the early season.

A few tons of ice hanging above the Amendment Wall

A few tons of ice hanging above the Amendment Wall

Finally, I felt like I had enough rock for one day. It was then I realized I’d left my hiking boots on the midway ledge. It was a stimulating descent in climbing shoes to get back there, where I thankfully swapped footwear one more time, glissaded the rest of the way to my rope, which still hung off the bolt of Stand Your Ground.

It was in some ways a more difficult exit than entrance. The snow was by now very heavy, and clung to my snowshoes. An attempt at walking with just hiking boots led to several hip-deep plunges and was quickly aborted. I did, however, manage to break trail for a short way farther along the East Path before turning about and heading to the car.

Thinner and looser than it was on my first pass this morning!

Thinner and looser than it was on my first pass this morning!

I stopped only to take a picture of the ice flow on the LMW I’d looked at earlier; it was now an anemic, bedraggled whisper of what it once was. With the forecast calling for an entire week of warm weather, this may herald the end of southern Adirondack ice climbing.

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