Old Forge Preview 2: In-depth on Bald Mountain

Bald Mountain Expedition

Tom nears the top of the stellar route Branches at Bald Mountain's Main Face

Tom nears the top of the stellar route Branches at Bald Mountain’s Main Face

In preparation for this year’s Southern Adirondack Rockclimbers’ Festival, I spent 3 days at Bald Mountain’s main face, exploring, scrubbing, and putting up a new route.

Our first trip to Bald Mountain was in 2014. The gang recognized that this mountain has a lot of potential. Several things hold it back from achieving the status it deserves, but with changing times, this crag could become a major attraction for Adirondack climbers.

Tom leads up the start of Branches, a stellar 5.6 route on Bald Mtn's main face

Tom leads up the start of Branches, a stellar 5.6 route on Bald Mtn’s main face

Currently, the single outstanding route on the main face is Branches, a two-pitch 5.6 with a couple moderate run-outs (PG), an exposed and intricate crux, interesting climbing, and an impeccable view. That route was our first stop this Sunday afternoon. Tom led the first pitch. The route starts by dancing around a dead-vertical seam through a small overhang. Here, protection is slightly below your feet – it is close to a groundfall – but clever use of extension technique may provide a TR piece in the crack above, and the move is more committing than difficult. Once established above that obstruction, gear is available to make the next short, easy run-out to a piton hidden in the shadow of a right-rising, right-facing flake system. The pin is of indeterminate age, but seems solid, and can be backed up in several ways. Another run-out ensues, but there is a bolt twelve feet higher to assuage the nervous, and taller climbers may be able to obtain TR pro by a long reach left to a small crack. The run-out after the bolt is long but trivial, reaching a dirty crack at the foot of a buttress rising above easy slab. Work your way up right to the base of the headwall beneath two parallel thin cracks. Build a gear anchor here, or traverse right to a fixed rappel anchor.

I led the second pitch, which starts with a real teaser. There appear to be a dozen different ways to use those twin cracks from the start of the headwall, but none of them seem to be 5.6. I would describe this move as 5.8 intricacy with 5.6 difficulty – if you find the correct sequence. Otherwise, the move is fully in the hard 5.7/8 range. Fortunately, the gear is almost TR-height at this point. Once into the cracks, the route is a romp, first up steep rock along the cracks, and finally along a left-facing corner as it undulates up a slab and one final steep bit to reach the top ledge.

The beautiful view from the top of Branches. Bring your own fashion model, though!

The beautiful view from the top of Branches. Bring your own fashion model, though!

On my last visit, I’d hoped to get up above this route and clean for awhile, but couldn’t find a way to do so. I’d fiddled with the bottom twenty feet, scrubbing awhile, before moving right to look at the left-facing corner ten feet away. That distraction quickly turned into a project: I was hooked on the potential there. On this visit, one major goal was turning that project into an established route, so on my first full day alone, I set to the upper pitch, scrubbing downward from my fixed rope. I planned to brush downward, jug up, and sweep away the detritus, but quickly ran out of time. I had other duties to perform, so neglected a complete passage of the line. Instead, I descended to take care of other business.

ZigZag Crack. We finally got to climb this line. It is stout!

ZigZag Crack. We finally got to climb this line. It is stout!

The main one of these being a purview of the area around Zigzag Crack, I headed out to that route, jugged up the fixed line Tom and I placed the day before, spent awhile cleaning the upper portion of Cardiac Corner, and then spent more time looking around. I hoped to scramble up the continuing crack system, find a way to get over Ceremony of Innocence, and take time cleaning up that route (Jim Lawyer proclaims it “stellar”), but alas, the going was too stiff for my third-class courage. That route remains in its current condition, which is unfortunately, inadequate for a lead. It is missing a critical bolt, and those that remain appear to be far overdue for replacement. They are not stainless steel, and appear to be from the 90s. Lawyer & Haas do not mention FA data, so I cannot be sure, but the look of those bolts does not inspire confidence.

On the plus side, there is now a directional bolt above Cardiac Corner, so climbers can reach the belay ledge on easier routes then TR that one without risking the rope or a climber’s catastrophic swing into the large birch tree.

Cardiac Corner, a very stout 5.9 left of Zigzag Crack.

Cardiac Corner, a very stout 5.9 left of Zigzag Crack.

It was late, so any other chores had to wait for the next day. I rapped down, pulled that rope, and walked out in twilight to make a very late and very welcome dinner before hitting the bed bag.

On my last day, I still had too long a list of tasks to complete to manage them all; it was time to prioritize. While the responsible thing to do would have entailed a concentrated effort at finding, cleaning, and fixing a hard project for the festival, I had to be honest with myself. Leaving my project unfinished would, psychologically, make the entire outing a failure. I had to do it before day’s end, or face a long, narcissistic funk afterward, so I set-to on that as my last task of the outing.

Despite the extended time breakfasting and breaking camp, I got a reasonably early start on cleaning the first pitch of that project. Still, it took a long time to reach what I knew would be easy ground to the first anchor. I was by then sore exhausted, thirsty, and hungry, so I descended to eat lunch, rest, and check the time.

It was later than I’d thought: well past 2pm. I calculated another two hours to finish cleaning the top pitch, which would definitely preclude an attempt. In my infinite wisdom, I decided to wing it, and take a shot at the whole enchilada without cleaning that upper section.

The first pitch went, as expected, easily. I’d worked out the overhang weeks ago and could pull it ropeless without qualms. This time, I had a rope along for the ride and a rack of gear when needed, though I wished for a belayer. My intended companion was, unbeknownst to me, suffering the pains of food poisoning, so rope-soloing was the only option for doing the route. The flakes are easy enough, and the traverse, while feeling pretty scary, is physically easy. I should point out however, that beginning that traverse too early or too late significantly ups the ante. Pick the wrong place, and you could be in for a frightening moment or two. After that, getting past the point where the crack closes up requires a long reach with small feet, but the hold you are going for is big and incut; the rest of the first pitch is a romp.

The anchor lies at the top of a low-angle slab, where it curls into steeper angle. It isn’t a comfortable stance, but my rope measurement indicated it could not be any lower and still be reached from the top with a 60m rope, nor any higher and make it to the bottom. I was mistaken in this; as it turns out my work rope is short; but I believe it is still barely in reach of the upper anchor with a true 60m rope.

I fixed one end of my rope to the anchor and continued upward. The initial knobs are easy enough, but it is quite exposed and, of course, insufficiently cleaned. I made my way nervously up the slab to easier angled rock and finally to a protection crack at the base of the headwall, near the apex of an inverted “V” notch. The cracks of Branches’ upper pitch crux lay fifteen feet to my left. Initially, the headwall moves of my project are easy: reach for a bucket, grab and pull. A right-rising ramp offers gear and progress, moving into a thin vertical crack. Microcams are a must here, plug a few in and prepare for a run-out. The cracks close to useless seam, at which point a right-rising flake offers tenuous holds to get up onto lower angled rock. I was well above my last piece at this point, and the rock, covered in loose filth I’d left from the day before, made this area a very unhappy place. I kept it together, brushed off a few key holds, and made the final airy traverse left to reach the contentment of a right-facing flake with enough crack to cam, sling, and practically hug. The rest of the line led up and left, unprotected but on excellent holds and easy climbing, topping out just right of Branches.

I had no time to lose; I pulled rope, hung a rappel, and descended, pulling gear and making a very brief pass at scrubbing the high crux. At the anchor, I found my rope barely made it: I literally came off the rope as I clipped the anchor. Pulling and rapping down the lower section, I found I had a lot of rope left at the base. This seemed peculiar, as I’d seen the halfway mark was well below me earlier. This is when I found out the rope had been cut in the past. A new middle had been marked. The original middle mark is still there and well off the new center. It is extremely fortunate I did not use that original indicator for the upper rappel. I would have run off one end long before the other, 85’ or so from the ground. Incidents like this one are a good reminder to check basic things such as the accuracy of middle marks. Providentially, disaster did not strike. I reached the ground safely, packed up, and began the arduous task of pulling three backpacks out of the woods down to Route 28.

Thus my solo expedition to Bald Mountain ended. Looking back, the most notable point of the trip was not any route I did but the potential I saw at the cliff. Historically, Bald Mountain has seen several cycles of interest come and go. Unknown climbers previous to the 70s left pitons for that era’s visitors to find. Bruce Bandorick and Sam Wade, Jamie Savage and Kevin Walker would find that evidence while they looked for their own fresh ascents. Thirty years later, Neal Knitel and Daniel Mosny came on the scene, taking note of Bandorick’s handwritten guide and finding those early signs again. Each time, intrepid explorers found intriguing bits of crack and off-vertical climbing between bastions of overhanging rock. They searched these weaknesses for routes and plied their way up them, usually scrubbing on lead. While a few gems were found, much of these early ascents winding up natural weaknesses also followed natural drainage lines – which meant dirty, vegetated rock, quickly growing back in.

The start of Lichen or Not, obviously in rough shape.

The start of Lichen or Not, obviously in rough shape.

Today, the focus has shifted from natural weaknesses to the natural strength of rock: the faces. The gear has changed, and more importantly, the mentality has changed. In the Adirondacks, we still admire and admonish a ground-up ethic; but we no longer demand it. Where those tactics do not work, there is room for an alternative.

The overhang area right of Lichen or Not contains at least 3, perhaps 6 potential sport routes

The overhang area right of Lichen or Not contains at least 3, perhaps 6 potential sport routes

We have also grown stronger. As a group, climbers can challenge harder, steeper terrain, mainly due to enhanced training. Here is where Bald Mountain can shine. With fixed protection, many of those overhanging sections of cliff that currently have no routes can provide high-class, challenging climbs. The dirty cracks will continue being dirty, the bushes will grow, the moss can flourish, but climbers may still have a blast next door.

Another wide swathe of overhangs with high sport climbing potential

Another wide swathe of overhangs with high sport climbing potential

Bald Mountain is one of the feature crags we will be near during this year’s Southern Adirondack Rockclimbers’ Festival, hosted by Mountainman Outdoors. Starting Friday night, September 8 at around 6pm, I’ll be manning the grill behind their rental center. Bring your food, cook it there, and share in the climbing news, info, and tall tales of the year. We will have driving directions, info on the best routes, and all the other stuff vertical pioneers like to share. A free breakfast, sponsored by SRCFC, will be served Saturday morning, at which time we will help newcomers to the area orient themselves, maybe even find partners and carpool if possible. The festival runs into Sunday September 10th, when we usually spend a few hours at the most convenient crags for that last bit of climbing before we head home.

Specific Possibilities at Bald Mountain

  1. Crack in the Boulder Cave. A 30’ line is clearly possible on the right outside corner of the boulder cave left of Branches. Starting in a corner, the line runs to a right-leaning vertical crack which writhes to the top of the formation. Although short, it would be an excellent, difficult route. And it is just about ready to roll: twenty minutes of clearing the top-out and ten minutes of scrubbing the initial corner would allow a fair chance of making it an on-sight FA.
  2. The left edge of the overhang section right of Lichen or Not. There are holds to be had through the overhang, and above it, there’s a yummy-looking outside corner/arête that could provide an exciting second pitch.
  3. The right edge of the same overhanging section. And of course, there are possibilities between the two ends for strong, acrobatic climbers. This area – and the rampart of overhanging rock farther down the cliff – begs for a Gunks-style climber interested in projecting hard routes.
  4. The face right of Where’s the Booty? There is an obvious, intermittent seam running up this short, overhanging face; and I believe there’s a hard variant running off WtB that would meet up with it at the top.

    This is the slightly overhanging wall right of Zigzag Crack. A is a possible variant of Where's the Booty; B is a potential line up seams.

    This is the slightly overhanging wall right of Zigzag Crack. A is a possible variant of Where’s the Booty; B is a potential line up seams.

Scion 5.6 PG 5.3 R 185’

Cleaned up, this route would warrant 3 stars. Beware of the dirt-fall that obscures holds and cracks at the second pitch crux; blame it on the inadequate scrubbing by the first-ascentionist. Bring a wire brush and whisk broom.

Start: at a right-facing corner that becomes a left-facing corner at an overhang at chest height, 30’ right of the boulder cave. This is 9’ right of the start of Branches.

P1: Climb up the corner to an overhang. Pass this on the right. Climb a short, right-rising crack to reach a thin right-facing flake. Follow the flake to the point where it fades, between two other right-facing flakes. Use these to get a bit higher, and make a rising traverse left to a thank-God knob in a right-leaning crack. Follow this crack to its end, reaching good jugs to gain an easy slab. Belay at a fixed rappel anchor at the top of the slab.

P2: Climb up the exposed, steep slab on good knobs, making a low-angle run-out to an inverted “V” corner with a steep headwall on the left (crux of Branches lies twenty feet to the left). Climb a right-rising crack, reach for good holds and continue up and right to reach a thin, vertical crack. Take this to its closing, where a thin, right-rising flake begins. Climb up the flake a move, then traverse left to a “thank-God” flake on the slab. Run it out from the top of that flake, moving left to good holds to reach the top-out ledge right of Branches.

FA: August 29, 2017 roped solo.

 

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