PREVIEW: OLD FORGE CLIMBING!

SAdkRF 2017 Preview

Eagle Falls Cliffs

Eagle Falls Cliffs

We spent a long weekend in Thendara, taking a look around the western fringe of the Adirondacks to get a feel for the upcoming Rockclimbers’ Festival that takes place the Friday through Sunday, after Labor Day, September 8 – 10 this year. Here’s our take on this corner of the park.

Day 1: Meet the Host: Mountainman Outdoor Center

Parking Lot where SAdkRF 2017 will meet

Parking Lot where SAdkRF 2017 will meet

Driving southwest on Route 28, we drove through the bustling tourist centers of Inlet, Eagle Bay, Old Forge, and finally Thendara, where on the far outskirts of town, we pulled into Mountainman Outdoor Center’s Gear Store parking lot. I met Mike B., one of two Mikes managing affairs at this busy boat and gear retailer. Mike showed me around the complex, pointing out where we would meet and congregate during the Festival.

The Mountainman Outdoor Center's Rental Shop

The Mountainman Outdoor Center’s Rental Shop

And it certainly looks great. We will have a seat next to a put-in on a lovely still stretch of the Moose River. If it rains, we have a roof over our heads a few feet from the grill, and according to Mike, a giant Jenga set and Corn Hole game to keep us occupied while we hang out.

The Hang Out Area, behind the Rental Shop

The Hang Out Area, behind the Rental Shop

 

Launch a kayak right beside the grill!

Launch a kayak right beside the grill!

I also met Doug, who is the driving force behind the shop’s rising interest in climbing. Doug recently rediscovered the Flatrock crag, and has been gradually reclaiming it from the moss, lichen, and other growth that inevitably coats any shaded rock on the western side of the park. We made plans to look over the sights at that crag before I headed home, then I said good-bye and headed out on another necessary task.

Fearless Doug, the driving force for climbing at Mountainman

Fearless Doug, the driving force for climbing at Mountainman

Eagle Falls, Queen of the West

First glimpse of the cliffs at Eagle Falls

First glimpse of the cliffs at Eagle Falls

By far, the best climbing on the western edge of the Adirondacks is at Eagle Falls. If you’ve never been, this is one place not to be missed. It is however, easy to miss: tucked away in a remote location, it’s a full hour’s drive from Thendara. Once you’ve negotiated the drive, the approach is short, but it has its own challenges.

Start of Eagle Falls Approach  Trail

Start of Eagle Falls Approach
Trail

The Infamous Plank at Eagle Falls

The Infamous Plank at Eagle Falls

There is a plank (actually, two of them) that must be crossed to reach the cliff. That board crosses a narrow point in a rapid popular with kayakers, so it must be pulled after crossing. I’m told that there will be kayaking going on during the weekend of the festival, so that board may not be available.

The Tyrolean Anchor

The Tyrolean Anchor

There is now another option: a Tyrolean traverse has been installed, so climbers can make the crossing via that avenue. If you don’t know how to manage that feat, the Festival may be your best chance to learn, since there will probably be plenty of people on hand doing it.

Looking downstream at the crossing options: Tyrolean Traverse or the Plank

Looking downstream at the crossing options: Tyrolean Traverse or the Plank

We did not have a chance to climb at the crag on our visit; time was short. We drove back to Thendara via the “paved” route, which runs west, south, and back northeast to town; and coincidentally takes at least as long and is just as complex. Its major redeeming factor is that most of the driving is on decent paved roads.

Another view of Eagle Falls' Cliff

Another view of Eagle Falls’ Cliff

The rest of our first night involved checking in to our hotel, the Van Aukens Inne, and settling down on their porch to hear the Castle Creek Band slam some fantastic bluesy rock into the evening air. Kim, John, Nate, and Phil are superlative, well worth a listen.

Castle Creek Band Jamming on the porch of the Van Aukens Inne

Castle Creek Band Jamming on the porch of the Van Aukens Inne

Day 2: Middle Settlement Lake

Looking out over Middle Settlement Lake

Looking out over Middle Settlement Lake

For those unwilling to drive an hour to Eagle Falls, there are a few closer crags. Middle Settlement Lake has the closest trailhead from the Mountainman Outdoor Center, at a little less than 5 miles away.

Trailhead to Middle Settlement Lake lies about 4 miles south of Thendara

Trailhead to Middle Settlement Lake lies about 4 miles south of Thendara

We drove the short distance from town to the trailhead. Across the street is a large parking area, so there should be no trouble with that part of the trip. The hike takes about an hour and a half, but isn’t difficult. The steepest part lies at the very beginning, as the trail ascends a moderate grade to a rocky ridge before entering the upland forest. From that point on, it is level or mild ups and downs all the way to the lake.

One of the short, stout routes at Middle Settlement Lake

One of the short, stout routes at Middle Settlement Lake

Once there, expect some challenging, short climbs. There are a couple easy routes, one of which I climbed while there, Amanita Muscaria, but the majority of routes are 5.8 to 5.11, and require passing through large overhangs to reach the top. None of these routes is long, sixty feet tops, with most being 40’ or so; but they all look stout.

Another set of hard looking climbs at Middle Settlement Lake

Another set of hard looking climbs at Middle Settlement Lake

Beneath the cliffs, boulders abound, recently developed by Dave Buzzelli, aka Buzz. I’m not a boulderer, but I’m told there are some classic lines on the rocks around the lake.

Yet more rock to drool over!

Yet more rock to drool over!

I returned to the parking lot within four hours of leaving; adding four hours of climbing (on top of the one I did) would make a good full day. It would take a strong party to check off all the routes at this small cliff in one day, but it could be done.

And still more cliff pics from Middle Settlement Lake

And still more cliff pics from Middle Settlement Lake

My next stop was Flatrock Crag. Doug, Mike, and two more Mountainman crewmembers, Brittany and Matt, showed me around the place. The approach is trivial: moments from the car, one runs into a small cliff band.

The Mountainman Gang heading in to Flatrock's Little Cliff

The Mountainman Gang heading in to Flatrock’s Little Cliff

The frequent rain over the past few days (much like this entire summer) unfortunately precluded getting on any rock in the vicinity where the gang has been cleaning. We would spend a little time attempting to top-rope a 30’ arête about a hundred yards to the right without any success.

Our 1 TR attempted. That's Mike B posing in front.

Our 1 TR attempted. That’s Mike B posing in front.

Whether this is an established line or not is hard to say from the descriptions in the book. While the cliff is quite long, it is very short; 35’ is probably its lengthiest. Currently it is very, very dirty. The cliff is completely shaded and faces northwest, so it doesn’t see any sun, and there appears to be plenty of moisture seeping from the top this year. Doug is determined to reclaim this cliff from the encroaching vegetation, and may be able to get it ready in time for the Festival. If so, this will be an excellent place to unwind for any climbers who have a couple hours to finish the day. It is only four miles from Thendara, and as already pointed out, moments from the road.

Update: The cliffs I saw are NOT the documented Flatrock ones. They lie slightly farther southwest of the part I visited.

Day 3: Alternative Entertainment and Bald Mountain

OK, we took some time off from cliff-inspection to stop and smell the "roses"

OK, we took some time off from cliff-inspection to stop and smell the “roses”

On Monday morning, we checked out of our hotel, ate a huge breakfast, and stopped by one more time at Mountainman Outdoor Center. We decided to rent kayaks and paddle awhile on the Moose, so for two hours we enjoyed the sunshine as we wound up the undulating river to the base of Indian Rapids and back again. I hoped to find a secret boulder or cliff, but alas, no such luck. Who knows though? The Moose River meanders through a huge floodplain; anything could be hidden within it.

A great diversion from cliff-hounding!

A great diversion from cliff-hounding!

 

Is there a secret mega-boulder stashed somewhere along the Moose's Shores?

Is there a secret mega-boulder stashed somewhere along the Moose’s Shores?

Returning our kayaks, we said good-bye to the Mountainman staff and began driving back eastward; but before leaving the area, I had one more crag to look over.

Bald Mountain

Some of the potential on Bald Mountain. There are no routes breaking through these overhangs.

Some of the potential on Bald Mountain. There are no routes breaking through these overhangs.

I’ve climbed at Bald Mountain before, and if there is a premiere cliff close to the Festival, this is it. Many of the routes suffer the typical problem of fast and furious moss and crud accumulation this region is prone to, but my inspection revealed that someone has been taking care of a few of the climbs toward the far right end of the main climbing area.

ZigZag is in good shape

ZigZag is in good shape

Some of the nicest looking cracks are in good shape, including King Crack and Cardiac Corner, the two stellar 5.9 routes on the main wall. ZigZag and Where’s the Booty? Are both in decent shape. Finally, there is the four-star route Branches running up the face toward the left end; no one should skip this stout 5.6 line. I spent some time playing around at its base before finally conceding that it was time to go home.

The base of Branches, Bald Mountain's four-star route

The base of Branches, Bald Mountain’s four-star route

 

Access to Bald is via a short walk on a private road to reach the herd path. Do not go beyond the herd path!

Access to Bald is via a short walk on a private road to reach the herd path. Do not go beyond the herd path!

Keep in mind that the access to Bald Mountain runs up a private access road. Walk it only as far as the property line posted signs, which begin just beyond a large double “bald spot” of rock in the road. At that point head right, into the woods along a herd path that parallels the boundary.

Plenty of parking across Route 28 by Hollywood Road

Plenty of parking across Route 28 by Hollywood Road

Do NOT park on that road; there is ample parking in a pull-off across Route 28, by the intersection of Hollywood Road. The far left side of the cliff lies on private property, so climb only on the State Land side, to the right as you reach the trail.

The herd path runs along the boundary. Please don't trespass. Don't climb on the private land (climber's left) of the boundary.

The herd path runs along the boundary. Please don’t trespass. Don’t climb on the private land (climber’s left) of the boundary.

So there you have it: our first look at the climbing around the Old Forge area. While the best climbing lies an hour from our host’s base, it is still a reasonable day trip, and one that should be taken if you haven’t yet been to Eagle Falls. For those who want to stay closer and do long technical routes, Bald Mountain is the obvious choice. For those who want close to the road, let’s hope the gang can clean enough of Flatrock to make it a fun place to wall-crawl. I hope to head out that way again soon and get a good view of the bouldering possibilities around town, and possibly find that mysterious new crag lying on the banks of the Moose River. You never know.

 

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