Posted on May 9th, 2013 Add a comment >>
Rock climbers will have a few more routes to climb this weekend, according to Joe Racette, a biologist for the state Department of Environmental Conservation who monitors the nesting of peregrine falcons on cliffs.
Racette said the Upper Washbowl cliffs near Chapel Pond are now open to climbers. DEC closes Upper Washbowl and Lower Washbowl each spring at the start of the falcons’ breeding season. DEC has ascertained that that this year the falcons are nesting on Lower Washbowl.
Upper Washbowl has twenty-one climbing routes, including one established by Fritz Weissner, one of the top climbers of his era, in 1938. There will be a story about the historic Wiessner Route in the next issue of the Adirondack Explorer. Meantime, you can read more about the route on Adirondack Almanack.
Lower Washbowl will remain closed to climbers until the falcons fledge.
DEC hopes to pinpoint soon the location of a falcons’ next on Poke-o-Moonshine Mountain, one of the largest climbing areas in the Adirondack Park. For the time being, most of the routes on the Main Face will remain closed.
RockSport, a climbing gym in Queensbury, recently informed DEC that falcons were nesting on the Main Wall of Shelving Rock, a climbing destination near Lake George. As a result, DEC has closed the routes between Snake Charmer and Wake and Bake.
Click here for updates on climbing-route closures.
Posted on April 19th, 2013 1 comment - Add a comment >>
On my lunch hour, I took a short hike to check out the rock-climbing cliffs on Baker Mountain on the outskirts of Saranac Lake. A few weeks ago, a huge wall of ice hung nearby, with its tongue extending along the base of one of the routes.
Today the ice was gone, and the cliffs were dry. I expect I’ll be climbing there soon, but Don Mellor beat me to the punch.
Baker, it turns out, is on Mellor’s list of cliffs suitable for early-season climbing.
“You’re looking for southern exposure with no drips from above,” says Mellor, a Lake Placid resident who has written several rock-climbing books.
Generally, you want to avoid cliffs with runoff from hills above or with vegetation that holds moisture that then drips water onto the rock.
Mellor’s other recommendations for early-season climbing in the Keene-Keene Valley region include the Beer Walls, Spider Web, Hurricane Crag, and Pitchoff Chimney Cliff.
Will Roth, a guide at EMS in Lake Placid, tells me he’s already climbed at Potter Mountain near Silver Lake, Deadwater in North Hudson, and the Spider Web, and conditions were great in all three places.
Coincidentally, the Adirondack Explorer has a story on Potter Mountain in its May/June issue, which we just sent to the printer’s. The cliffs on Potter and adjacent Silver Lake Mountain were open to climbers only in the past few years as a result of the state’s land deal with International Paper. The photo above was taken on my trip there last September.
Mellor says you also can find dry cliffs in the southern Adirondacks.
Climbers should be aware that a number of climbing routes on Poke-o-Moonshine and Moss Cliff and in the Chapel Pond area are closed during the nesting season of peregrine falcons. For more information on these closures, click here.
Posted on April 1st, 2013 Add a comment >>
A sure sign of spring is when the state Department of Environmental Conservation closes rock-climbing routes in the Adirondacks to protect the nesting sites of peregrine falcons.
Each spring, DEC bans climbing on routes on Poke-o-Moonshine Mountain, Upper and Lower Washbowl Cliffs, and Moss Cliff. Once biologists ascertain where falcons are nesting, some routes are reopened. Sometime in summer, after the falcons fledge, all routes are reopened.
Following is a notice sent out today by Joe Racette, a DEC wildlife ecologist:
Effective today, April 1, 2013, the following Adirondack rock climbing routes are closed to protect Peregrine falcon nest sites.
Moss Cliff – All routes closed
Chapel Pond – All routes on Upper and Lower Washbowl Cliffs closed
Poke-o-Moonshine Mountain – All routes on the Main Face are closed except the following routes described on pages 39-45 of Adirondack Rock: A Rock Climber’s Guide:
2. Goat’s Foot on Rock
3. High and Dry
5. Big Buddha
8. Pearly Gates
10. Battle Creek
11. Static Cling
12. Certified Raw
13. Air Male
14. Son of a Mother
15. Phase III
18. Puppies on Edge
19. Hang ‘Em High
20 Group Therapy
24. A Womb with a View
Current route closure information will be posted at trailheads and online at:
Posted on March 19th, 2013 2 comments Add a comment >>
Fred Beckey, a living legend in the climbing world, gave an interesting and often humorous slide show at Northwood School in Lake Placid last night.
At one point, he showed a photo of Fishhook Arete, a narrow, curving ridge on Mount Russell in California. At 14,086 feet, Russell is one of the highest mountains in the Sierra Nevada, so you wouldn’t expect an eight-pitch rock climb that ends on its summit to be a walk in the park. Indeed, the climb itself takes five to seven hours. With the approach and the descent, the trek can take fifteen to twenty-one hours, according to the SuperTopo website.
This is where we point out that Fred Beckey is ninety years old.
Beckey, who grew up and still lives in Seattle, started climbing as a teenager, and he’s still at it. He is thought to have put up more first ascents—both rock-climbing and mountaineering—than anyone in history.
His slide show covered his climbs in the Sierras, the Rockies, Cascades, Tetons, western Canada, and Alaska, among other places. In one video, shot before the advent of sticky-soled climbing shoes, he is shown ascending a steep route in Keds sneakers. “They really worked pretty well,” he said.
The presentation was loosely based on Fred Beckey’s 100 Favorite Climbs, a gorgeous coffee-table book published in 2011 by Patagonia Books ($79.95). It’s beautifully designed, with large color photographs and hand-drawn climbing maps. Beckey is a fine writer. In each chapter, he recounts the history of the route, captures the allure of the climb, and provides useful information for those who want to do it. The book is a delight to flip through even if your only intention is to enjoy these routes vicariously.
At the end of his show, Beckey put up on the screen a well-known photo of him hitchhiking with a cardboard sign that says, “Will belay for food.”
“If you see this guy on the road, don’t stop,” Beckey warned.
Posted on October 19th, 2012 Add a comment >>
Fritz Wiessner, a top climber in his day, put up the route in 1938. Like most of his routes, this one is regarded as moderate in difficulty, but it’s great fun, with interesting problems, thrilling exposure, and spectacular views of Chapel Pond Pass and the Great Range.
The crux (hardest part) comes at the very beginning when climbers have to squeeze past and then surmount a rectangular block. This pitch is rated 5.6 on the Yosemite Decimal System scale, which is pretty easy by today’s standards, but the pitch would have been a lot harder in Wiessner’s era, when climbers wore mountaineering boots instead of sticky-soled slippers. In fact, one of Wiessner’s partners, M. Beckett Howorth, avoided the block altogether, according to the guidebook Adirondack Rock.
“Having observed his labors in circumventing the block, and being naturally lazy, I found a way to traverse from the sloping slab to the top of the block, thereby avoiding the crack, much to Fritz’s disgust,” Howorth wrote of the climb.
Wiech got over the block so easily that I have no doubt he could do the route in mountaineering boots if he chose. I managed it, too, though with not nearly as much finesse.
The second pitch is considerably easier (rated 5.4): we ascended a wide chimney-like feature with generous footholds and handholds. This led to the start of the Slanting Ledge, a wide ramp that bisects the cliff. We more or less walked along the ramp for 150 feet to the base of a right-facing corner. For the finish, we ascended a crack in the corner. This pitch is only thirty-five feet and is rated 5.5.
Wiessner pioneered dozens of routes in the East and indeed throughout the United States and Canada. In the Adirondacks, his route on Chapel Pond Slab, called Empress, is a classic. Adirondack Rock awards it five stars, its highest rating for the overall quality of a climb. The book gives only three stars to the Upper Washbowl route, but Wiech likes it just as much, if not more, than Empress—in part for the magnificent views. “It’s a treat anytime you get to climb this cliff,” said Wiech, who often takes clients here.
Click on the video below to listen to Wiech talking about the route at the end of the climb.
Incidentally, another EMS climbing guide, Will Roth; his friend, Monique Wicks; and Josh Wilson, a photographer, were climbing ahead of us on the route. Look for Josh’s photos in a future issue of the Adirondack Explorer.
Posted on September 11th, 2012 1 comment - Add a comment >>
When is summer over? When the calendar says? When the temperature drops to the low thirties overnight (as it has in Saranac Lake recently)? Or when you go to Barkeater Cliffs on a sunny weekend and find no one there?
The Barkeaters are popular climbing cliffs in Keene. They’re reached by a half-hour hike from the Rock and River lodge, up the Jackrabbit Ski Trail and a herd path. The two previous times I visited, I saw plenty of climbers. When I returned this past Sunday, a week after Labor Day, I was alone.
It was kind of eerie, as if I had stumbled upon a deserted village. Where did everyone go?
I set up a top rope and practiced climbing on two routes, Yakapodu and Good Dough. Each time I set up an anchor and tossed the rope over the cliff, I yelled “Rope!” to warn any climbers below. That’s protocol, but I felt a bit foolish. Maybe the trees heard me.
Yakapodu is a wonderful one-pitch climb, clean rock with diverse features: slab, cracks, corners, overlaps. Adirondack Rock gives it three stars (out of a possible five). Good Dough ain’t bad either, but it rates only two stars.
I enjoyed wonderful views from the top of the cliff and while climbing. No signs of civilization, just forest and sky. I felt guilty hogging down all that the scenery by myself. So I thought I’d share a little of it with you.
Posted on October 11th, 2011 4 comments Add a comment >>
On Sunday I climbed the Trap Dike for the first time since Tropical Storm Irene triggered a landslide above and inside the dike. The slide swept away nearly all of the trees inside the canyon and created a new exit, a slab of clean white rock that can be followed to the top of Mount Colden.
Before Irene, the guidebook Adirondack Rock awarded the Trap Dike five stars, its highest rating for the overall quality of the climb. Since Irene, the climb is even better.
The Trap Dike must be approached with caution: it’s considered a third- or fourth-class climb in the Yosemite Decimal System, so a slip at the wrong time can result in death or serious injury. Sadly, this was proven when Matthew Potel, an experienced hiker, was killed in a fall on September 30.
People debate whether parties should carry a rope and other rock-climbing gear. Whether or not you carry a rope, I suggest you wear sticky-soled shoes: either rock-climbing shoes or approach shoes (some trail-running shoes also have sticky rubber). You’ll appreciate the stickiness on the steep sections, which are often wet, and on the finishing slab.
The dike has two waterfalls. The second is considered the crux of the climb. It’s steep and about forty feet high. Potel fell here after helping two companions up the falls.
The climb from Avalanche Lake to the new slide is 0.8 miles. The base of the slide is steep. I started up from the right side, following a left-rising ramp. Two companions, Josh Wilson and Matt McNamara, chose to start up the left side, ascending some cracks.
Once on the slide, we stayed more or less in the middle, following whatever features we could find to give us a foothold or handhold. Much of the slab is pocked with sharp-edged dimples, which also aid traction.
Depending on the slope, we either walked upright, more or less, or scrambled on all fours. I measured the slope in spots at more than forty degrees—steep enough for a long fall. In winter, this should be considered avalanche terrain.
At the headwall, the slide gets even steeper. Matt and I bailed left into the trees just before the top. Josh managed to stay on the rock all the way to the end. All told, the slide is about 0.4 miles long. From the top, it’s a very short bushwhack (20 or 30 yards) to Colden’s summit trail.
To my mind, the slide is just as dangerous as the waterfalls—especially if you’re not wearing sticky rubber.
Before Irene, hikers would exit the Trap Dike onto an older slide. You can still do this, of course, but if you exit the dike too early, you’ll find yourself on a part of the old slide that is as steep as the new one. Some hikers who exited early have become frozen with fear, too scared to continue climbing or retreat.
The Trap Dike may be a five-star climb, but it’s no fun if you find yourself in over your head.
Posted on October 2nd, 2011 9 comments Add a comment >>
A student at Binghamton University died Friday morning in a fall in the Trap Dike, a classic mountaineering route on Mount Colden.
Matthew Potel, 22, of Croton-on-Hudson was climbing the Trap Dike with seven other members of the school’s outdoors club. Although details are sketchy, sources say he fell on the dike’s second waterfall, the crux section of the climb.
Forest rangers, with the help of local rock climbers, recovered the body.
State Police Investigator Steve Ansari said the coroner ruled that Potel died of a cerebral hemorrhage.
Potel’s was the third climbing death in the Adirondacks in four years. Last year, Dennis Murphy died in a fall at Upper Washbowl Cliff. In 2007, Dennis Luther died in a rappeling accident at Poke-o-Moonshine Mountain.
The Trap Dike, a long gash in the northwest flank of Mount Colden, was first climbed in 1850. It is ranked as a fourth-class climb in the Yosemite Decimal System. Although falls on fourth-class terrain can be fatal, the climbs are easy enough that ropes are regarded as optional.
Don Mellor, a veteran climber from Lake Placid, believes this was the first rock-climbing fatality in the Trap Dike, but he said he has taken part in several rescues in the dike over the years.
“It’s in that space between hiking and technical climbing,” Mellor said of the Trap Dike. “People get in trouble on those kinds of routes.”
Potel was not using a rope or wearing a helmet, according to Ansari.
In August, Tropical Storm Irene swept away most of the trees in the Trap Dike. Ron Konowitz, a climber from Keene, said the storm did not alter the holds on the crux of route.
“The waterfall section is basically the same,” Konowitz said, “but higher up there is a lot of loose stuff, and people need to be careful.”
The victim’s father, Mark Potel, said his son slipped while trying to help a fellow student up the dike, according to a Gannett website. “This was his love, his passion–what he wanted to do with his life,” he said. The victim’s mother called him a hero for risking his life to help another.
Potel, a former counselor at Camp Pok-o-Moonshine in Willsboro, was the co-president of the university’s outdoors club. He planned to graduate in December with a degree in environmental studies and a minor in comparative literature. He frequently made the dean’s list.
University President C. Peter Magrath called Potel’s death “a shocking tragedy.”
“He will be missed by our entire campus community,” Magrath said. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to his friends and family.”
Click here for more information about the Trap Dike.
Posted on April 27th, 2011 2 comments Add a comment >>
Every spring, the state Department of Environmental Conservation closes routes on popular rock-climbing cliffs where peregrine falcons are known to nest. Once it’s determined exactly where the falcons are nesting, some routes are reopened. Recently, DEC biologist Joe Racette said it has been confirmed that falcons are nesting on the Nose on Poke-o-Moonshine Mountain. As a result, fifty-four climbing routes in the vicinity will remain closed. But more than two hundred other routes on Poke-O will be open to climbers starting tomorrow (Thursday, April 28).
Racette said all routes on Moss Cliff in Wilmington Notch and the Upper and Lower Washbowl Cliffs near Chapel Pond will remain closed until further notice.
Click here to read a story that appeared in the Explorer about climbing Catharsis, a popular route on Poke-O Slab.
Following is a list of the closed routes on Poke-O. The numbers are the numbers of the routes found in the guidebook Adirondack Rock.
28 Junior Varsity
29 The Snake
30 Roof of All Evil
31 Slime Line
32 Firing Line
35 Creaking Wall
36 Blinded by Rainbows
37 Forget Bullet
39 Freedom Flight
41 Remembering Youth
42 Sound System
44 Autumn Flare
47 Superstition Traverse
49 The Howling
50 Salad Days
51 Climb Control To Major Bob
59 Snake Slide
63 Summer Break
64 Wild Blue
65 God’s Grace
66 Home Run Derby
67 Karmic Kickback
68 The FM
69 Nose Traverse
70 Sky Traverse
71 Silver Streak
72 Spectacular Rising Traverse
73 The Body Snatcher
75 The Snatch
76 Knights in Armor
77 Great Dihedral
78 Half Mile
79 Sea of Seams
Posted on September 3rd, 2010 3 comments Add a comment >>
Bluff Island is a well-known landmark on Lower Saranac Lake. It’s easily reached by a short paddle from the Route 3 bridge west of the village of Saranac Lake. Head north through First Pond and enter a channel. As you emerge from the channel, you’ll see Bluff Island straight ahead, less than a mile from the highway.
The south side of the island features a seventy-foot cliff that rises straight up from the water. Occasionally, rock climbers scale the precipice. The guidebook Adirondack Rock says of Bluff: “it’s one-star climbing in a five-star location.”
Bluff Island is probably better known for cliff jumping. In fact, the silent-movie serial The Perils of Pauline included a scene in which the heroine leaped off the cliff on horseback.
Most people don’t jump from the top of the cliff. Once you get up there, you realize that seventy feet is a long way down. You could get hurt. And people have.
Nevertheless, daredevils continue to take the plunge. Chris Knight, a reporter with the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, recently shot this video of his friend leaping from the top. We recommend that you enjoy the jump strictly as a vicarious pleasure.