2017 Rock Season Recap

Buildering on the ruins of a 14th Century Castle in Europe

Buildering on the ruins of a 14th Century Castle in Europe

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… or so says Dickens, and 2017 would echo this assessment. Similar to 2016, there would be a plentitude of ups and downs, highlights to savor and low points to endure. But for me, this season’s bright spots far outshone the bad times. Certainly, there are disappointments; but life is replete with them. No matter who we are or what we do, we are just not capable of doing it all. What I did accomplish this year makes it a banner one by any measure.

Weather or Not!

A wet and drippy cliff; the norm for much of 2017 Rock Climbing season

A wet and drippy cliff; the norm for much of 2017 Rock Climbing season

Ah! The weather for much of it stank; it would rain frequently through May, June, and July. But that did not deter us from getting out often enough to have an impact. In fact, the unfavorable weather seemed to bolster my own personal bull-headedness, egging me on to conquer a couple long-term challenges. Coupled with travels to some far-flung destinations, 2017 will for me be one of my climbing life’s high points, despite some peculiar meteorological twists.

Early Start?

I follow Tom's lead of Stand Your Ground

I follow Tom’s lead of Stand Your Ground

Maybe it’s Global Warming, maybe not. I’m not joining in on that particular flame fest. But I did get out rock climbing on Crane Mountain in February, several times. Admittedly, getting to places like the Jammer Wall involved some snow-shoeing, but I managed it on more than one occasion.

Selfie low on On the Fence

Selfie low on On the Fence, snowshoes waiting at the base of the route.

And I wasn’t alone: I was able to cajole Tom into the foolishness a few times, and at least once, we joined a small crowd up there for a shirt-sleeved day of crystalline crimping.

Tom heads up Firecracker

A bit later in February. Tom heads up Firecracker. Note the snowbank is still at the base of the cliff.

I should extend a cautionary note here concerning Crane Mountain, and specifically its Southeast climbing areas. Places like the Amendment Wall, Jammer Wall, etc. are, if not alpine, alpine-like in regard to objective hazards. On one occasion, while I belayed Tom as he led up Stand Your Ground, a large rock came silently hurdling down toward us, thawed from the slopes far above. An oak branch deflected its path directly toward me, and Providentially another oak tree deflected it back away from me.

A few tons of ice hanging above the Amendment Wall

A few tons of ice hanging above the Amendment Wall

No amount of helmet would’ve spared my life had it hit me. And on two occasions, climbers have witnessed a deadly amount of ice fall landing directly on the base of First Amendment during early season rock climb outings. While no climbing area is safe from such events at any time (I was once almost killed by rockfall while climbing in July in the Gunks), Adirondack Mountain venues are certainly more prone to them.

Late Start?

A cold, damp, foggy day on Recuperation Boulevard

A cold, damp, foggy day on Recuperation Boulevard

After the glee of warm-rock wrangling in February, March was a cold slap in the face. The winter we’d waited for finally came, even if the calendar called for Spring. We would sit out a lot of the month, endure last-minute cancellations weekend after weekend, frustrated runs to indoor gyms for consolation, and even (gasp!) the pricey pilgrimage to the Gunks for a real rock hit or two.

Nearing the top of Recuperation Boulevard in clammy mist

Nearing the top of Recuperation Boulevard in clammy mist

For me personally, March became a preparation period for tackling goals I’d failed to accomplish in 2016. The weather being so frequently too iffy to coax out partners, my days off involved heading toward those sites with projects undone to do.

First up, long ago I’d attempted an onsight ascent of a line up a lovely buttress toward the far right end of the Slanting Cracks Wall. That attempt ended in defeat, as the gear ran out and I sought refuge in a nearby tree. My partner and I would arrange a top-rope to recover gear and test out the line, but the lead would not occur. It would take two decades and some fixed gear to make Call Me Gone a superb addition to the lead routes on Crane Mountain, but by mid-April it was ready for a try, and so was I. The weather was a little better, so Tom joined me during the FA. Another month would see the addition of a neighboring line of equal enjoyability, Call Me Crazy. While these routes lie on a cliff relatively far from the “normal” crags on Crane Mountain, they aren’t so far away that they’re not worth the visit, and since they are close to Canine’s Little Helper and Fifi Fingers, there is plenty to do whilst there.

The Laboratory

Another place that came under the microscope was found during one of the many “dud” ice season explorations. It was truly a miserable ice season here in the southern Adirondacks, with much of the venues never coming in fully if at all. While scouring for what dregs might exist on Crane, I stumbled – or re-stumbled – upon another cliff I’d perused and climbed upon way back when. I’d given up in frustration, dubbing the entire area the “Wasted Wall”, as it consisted of a vertical chain of small outcrops running a full 400′ up the side of the mountain. On this occasion, I came upon an easy approach to its base, at a point with a fairly decent height for the first crag. While it was obviously broken up at about forty feet, those first forty feet looked viable, given some serious cleaning. And there is another forty feet of decent looking rock after that short section of ledgy terrain.

Since this area is close enough to home for me to walk there, I ended up resorting to it a lot during those rainy months, whenever I didn’t have work to pull me away from Crane. Owing to my skeptical opinion of what would result from said development, I dubbed this section the Laboratory. To date (and given the weather, this is probably all we will put up in 2017), there are six routes here. None of them garner three stars, but half of them are worth a star or two.

Very far-flung from public access, it won’t draw a crowd. What it does offer is a concentrated area to begin a day of exploration upwards, in a place that makes a viable camping destination. With reliable water, level patches of ground safely removed from the steeps, yet conveniently close to them; and being in close proximity to both the Waterfall Wall and the Eastern Nose, the Laboratory is a good weekend basecamp.

I should add that, like many crags on Crane, springtime climbing carries some risk of ice fall. I recently spent a day here, and several times had to duck and cover from large chunks hurtling silently from somewhere far above.

So far:

Slaboratory 5.5 G 100’

Start: 60’ left of the “A-frame” alcove, the cliff’s lower half consists mainly of a low-angle 60’ slab lying under a 40’ steep headwall. This route lies near the highest point of the slab’s base. Cleaned up, it would be worth doing.

P1: Scramble up slab, passing a perched block to reach the bottom of a right-rising ramp. Follow the ramp up right, going behind an oak tree to reach a left-facing corner with a wide crack in the main face. Climb corner to its top and make a few easy mantles to reach a large white pine tree a step left of the top-out.

There are new routes as of February 2018 between the previous one and the next. The next five routes are on the main face, which is the most attention-grabbing section of cliff, visible from across the creek.

Margin of Terror 5.6 R/X 60’

Every crag requires a thrutch-fest.

Start: at a narrow chimney between a 10’ block and the left side of the “A-frame” alcove. The intended finish, running up the large left-facing notch in the overhang above the easy ramp, was postponed by a bee’s nest. The expected easy climbing did not materialize, nor did any obvious protection placements. A fall from the crux would crater, though a Yosemite Monster or Big Bro worked into the wide horizontal crack at your feet might just barely avoid impact, with a diligent belayer.

P1: Climb onto the top of the block. Traverse along a ledge with a wide, horizontal crack 4’ left, and make a committing move on small holds and friction to reach low-angle rock below two loose blocks. Just past them, move right to the white pine tree belay anchor.

White Mice 5.8+ PG 120’

Start: at a left-rising vertical crack right of a 6’ high buttress of rock that lies below and right of the tall, acutely-angled A-frame overhanging alcove.

P1: Climb crack and buttress, stepping left onto face holds as you reach the right outside corner of the A-frame alcove. Reach up for holds in a crack breaking the overhang just right of the alcove and climb up this crack on easier rock, onto the right-rising ledge just left of an oak tree. Above, two right-rising seams break through another overhang, the left one forming an obtusely-angled (flaring) right-facing corner, the right one an acutely-angled left-facing corner. Climb up these two through the overhang, then climb the easy slab straight above them to another pair of cracks 6’ apart. Work up either of these to an oak tree belay.

Lab Rat 5.8 G 80’

Start: at a head-height triangular notch with a vertical crack rising from its apex.

P1: Climb up to and along the vertical crack to its end, then straight up the face to a ledge to the left of a white pine tree. Climb up and left to a face with a vertical tips crack rising right. Climb up the crack until it fades to a seam (5.8- to continue straight up; no pro), traverse left to another right-rising crack, then climb up it, crossing a low-angle slab to an oak tree.

Guinea Pig 5.7 PG 80’

Start: At a left-rising ramp of flakes leading to a left-rising crack system, 10’ right of the triangular notch mentioned for Lab Rat.

P1: Climb up flakes to the crack. Take it to its end, reach up and left for good holds, then weave up along good shelves to a stance right of a white pine tree. Climb up to the right of two right-rising, left-facing corners and climb it to its end, then up low-angle slab to an oak tree belay.

Shattered 5.6 PG 80’

This would be a great pitch, were it not for the questionable rock along the way.

Start: Directly by the large ash tree at the outside corner of the wall.

P1: Climb up stacked blocks leaning on the outside corner until it is possible to step left onto a stance on the main face. Climb up the edge of the main face using a tips crack on the left and small holds to a ledge. Climb up a narrow hand/fat fingers crack onto a block stance. Go up a steep ramp along the outermost edge of the corner. At the top of the ramp, move right on a right-rising, narrow ramp leading up an overhanging face. Stretch for good holds and weave up along more large in-cut holds to the top of the wall.

The Scenic Route 5.6 PG 200’

This is an exploratory scramble with a fair amount of technical climbing, starting above the first tier of cliffs. It did not reach the top of the entire cliff, but as with much of this area, precisely when one is at the top is unclear. Along the way, note the possibilities; all of them short, but interesting.

Reach the first major tier of sloping, sparsely wooded slab via any lower route – it is possible to make a long traverse into this area by hiking partway up to the Eastern Nose area, then traversing along occasionally sketchy terrain back nearly a quarter mile, but it’s easier to climb up from directly below – such as Guinea Pig or Lab Rat. This line explores the area left of center. Its first pitch is bits of mountaineering moves – chimneying, traversing, and clawing – to reach another sloping, wooded ledge that lies climber’s right of a very steep, 30’ wall. From here, wander up drainage, then step left to climb a groove in a right-facing corner (crux). On the steep slab above this, move up and left and follow a crack running along the outside edge of a large, right-facing corner until it is possible to move left along other cracks to a good exit gully. Go up the gully and low-angle slab above to a good perch on the left. Rappel off trees.

Trips Near and Far

If there was one emphatic highlight to the season, it involved getting away from home base. Not that Crane doesn’t make one heck of a fantastic place to live, but I’ve found myself gravitating to it – or to other backwater crags – a lot; to the point of almost consciously avoiding any of the mainstream climbing areas of the Adirondacks or the Northeast in general.

Here in the Adirondacks, there are a few crags long in the public eye that I’ve missed, or hardly touched, in my lifetime. Near the top of this short list is the Hurricane Crag, home of the vaunted route Quadrophenia. I finally made it up that route this year, enjoying a sunny day out with Tom and Mike H.

On that same day, we filled in the available daylight with a run to Pitchoff Cliff. Familiar territory for me; back in the day I guided here frequently. But Tom hadn’t visited it for about two decades, and neither he nor Mike H. had climbed The El, so the three of us roped up for that route. I’d only done the route once before, ten years ago, so it was largely unfamiliar territory for me as well.

Chapel Pond slab is another special place for me. Back in the day, this was my go-to run for those days when I guided but didn’t get quite enough personal climbing during the day. I would run – almost literally – up then crab walk down The Empress or Regular Route to get some rock mileage. Early in the 2017 season, I would get some more mileage on the slab, as we met Ranger Robbi Mecus and spent a few hours running rescue drills on the first pitch. It was a cold, gray day, so we didn’t do the upper pitches.

A complete run of The Empress would wait for late spring, with Garth, Tom, and Mike H. That was a fine day to run the slab. It would be Tom’s first run of that route, as previously he’d only climbed The Regular Route on the slab.

Bozeman Bullet

Bozeman Bullet

I also made an annual visit to Deadwater Cliff along with several of the usual suspects. Paul had never been, so right away we put him on the sharp end to lead Bozeman Bullet. I would take a stab at leading what I’m certain is one of the more sandbagged routes at this crag, Desperado. Indicative of just how screwed up the YDS gets post-onsight era, this route is far harder than the 5.10a rating it receives in the guidebook. I would place it at a full number low; others have considered it a couple letters off. Go ahead and try; see if it doesn’t compare equally with almost any 5.11a out west.

I only made it to one other “local” crag, Stewart’s Ledge, this season. Usually, I will hit one or more of the other Lake George climbing venues (New Buck, Shelving, The Ark, etc.), but weather got in the way several times. In the end, Stewart’s Ledge provided what it so often does: a good place to go after work and pump until dark in the waning days of October.

Of course I made early season runs to the Gunks. Two of them, in fact, and like the incredibly foolish mortal I am, on the second trip I purchased a season pass. The weather had closed up rock climbing in the Adirondacks for what looked to be several more weeks, so I bit the bullet. But I did not return until November. The hard-pressed folks at Mohonk preserve may just make a profit off that decision.

I also made my annual pilgrimage to Little Fall’s Moss Island. This is a great little day-crag, certainly worth a visit on its own merit; but the usual draw for me is visiting with longtime guide and friend Bruce. We couldn’t connect this time, as he had business in Syracuse to attend to. Robin belayed me up the usual lines during our short stay en route to other travels.

Across the Pond

...and if you look to our left you will see the huge cliff I'm going to drive us off of. Mind your seat belts!

…and if you look to our left you will see the huge cliff I’m going to drive us off of. Mind your seat belts!

The real traveling would commence in September, when Robin and I finally made the big puddle-jump across the pond to visit our children and grandchild in Germany. We’ve been wanting to do this for a long time, and finally pulled the trigger.

Cliffs everywhere we turned - and we didn't see any "world-class" places.

Cliffs everywhere we turned – and we didn’t see any “world-class” places.

Just another Chossy Wall.

Before going farther, don’t expect a detailed account of climbing willy-nilly across the Continent; I would only climb in two places, and only a smidgen at each of these. We mostly toured the tightly-packed nations of Western Europe, spending a couple days in Belgium and making a whirlwind visit of Luxembourg, Switzerland, Austria, Liechtenstein, and a whiskery nip into France as well. Suffice to say that trip left me hungry for more.

OK, I did a little more climbing on my trip than I wrote about!

OK, I did a little more climbing on my trip than I wrote about!

The one true day of climbing, or true half day at least, was in Freyr, Belgium. Lying a bit upriver from Dinant, Freyr comprises several limestone outcrops up to 400′ tall. The routes are almost all bolted, but in a very old-school, necky style; a rack is not necessarily essential if you are the gung-ho death-defying type, but there will be some “don’t fall” episodes if you neglect to bring one. I satisfied myself on a short 5.6 on the smallest outcrop of the bunch, toward the southern end. While I found the fixed gear adequate, I feel pretty solid at 5.6, and noticed that in a couple places, a fall would’ve landed me on a ledge.

The only additional climbing took place on a minute crag in Germany. My family went on a Culinary/Beer-Tasting hike – yes, that’s a German-style outdoor adventure! – and during our wandering, I found a cliff. At most 50′ tall, parts of the cliff bristled with a motley mix of fixed gear, from gnarled rusty soft-iron pitons to solid-looking bolts. Ra and I returned and she belayed me while I flailed on a couple lines. Fun, and very close to my family, so I may drop by again if I manage to make another trip over there; but by no means a major attraction.

Ooo. Maybe no one will notice this bit broken off the 13th Century Castle Wall...

Ooo. Maybe no one will notice this bit broken off the 13th Century Castle Wall…

Back to Work!

Returning home, I set to on a long, long time project at my secret crag dubbed “IRC”. There’s this pretty little line, merely 50′, but oh, what a sight: a thin crack runs up through a steep slab, then the face reflects on itself, becoming an overhanging wall for 25′ to the top, with that little crack continuing through it. I’d discovered it in 2013, cleaned and worked it a bit the next year, and spent years flailing off it.

Tom follows the FA of No Springs Attached

Tom follows the FA of No Springs Attached

To make matters worse, I gradually concluded that the right way to make this ascent was with trad gear, and not just any old trad gear, but passive gear only: nuts and hexes. Without a doubt, this restriction made the ascent harder, but honestly not by much. In fact, for many of the placements, passive pro works better than cams. The best gear spots tend to hold these small items better than they would cam lobes.

In any case, Tom, the main sufferer through those years of struggling with this beast, belayed me on the successful lead in mid-October. We finally put it to rest.

Cold in the Air

Our season would end much as it began, with one last-ditch effort at climbing. I noticed that I was just a little shy of climbing 200 different routes for 2017



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