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 February 15th, 2012 6 comments Add a comment >>
We sent files for the March/April Explorer to the print shop Monday, so I took the next day off to ski to Avalanche Pass and, given the dearth of snow this winter, was surprised at the quality of the skiing.
I also tried out our new Go Pro video camera during the descent of Avalanche Pass. It worked much better than my old system of strapping a point-and-shoot to my chest during my downhill schusses. You can check it out here:
We may get rain this week, so the conditions could change, but for what it’s worth, here’s my report on snow conditions on various parts of the trip.
South Meadow Road. The ski from Adirondak Loj Road to the start of the Marcy Dam Truck Trail is sometimes icy, but on Tuesday, South Meadow Road was ideal for skiing: well-packed snow with a veneer of powder.
Marcy Dam Truck Trail. Thin cover near the start and bare sections near the trail register and Klondike Brook. But most of the trail had good cover.
Marcy Dam to Avalanche Camps. Still lots of rocks poking through the snow, but they are easily avoided.
Avalanche Pass Ski Trail. Not as much snow as we should have, but plenty enough for an enjoyable run. In three places, surveyor’s tape flags rocks or roots that might trip up a skier.
Avalanche Pass to Avalanche Lake. Good cover. But on one of the descents, a signpost points left to a section of trail rerouted after Tropical Storm Irene. There is a big rock just as you make the turn. If you’re skiing, go straight on the old trail to avoid the rock.
Avalanche Lake was frozen solid. Most of the snow had been blown off, exposing bluish ice. I skied to the base of the Trap Dike and was startled by its lack of snow. When I climbed the dike last winter, its waterfalls were largely buried in snow. Yesterday they were exposed, revealing long columns of ice. Too difficult for me to climb, I thought.
Coincidentally, on my ski out I encountered Don Mellor, the author of Blue Lines: An Adirondack Ice Climber’s Guide. He had just climbed the Trap Dike with a client, and he remarked that in its current condition the dike is “a real ice climb.”
Posted on April 8th, 2011 1 comment - Add a comment >>
The Explorer‘s intern, Evan Williams, climbed Mount Arab recently with his father and captured the adventure on video. Arab is a small summit west of Tupper Lake. It’s a great destination if you’re looking for a short, easy hike. The hike to the 2,545-foot summit is only a mile. The Friends of Mount Arab have restored the fire tower, which offers a panoramic view of the western Adirondacks. But enough of my words. Watch Evan’s video.
Posted on March 8th, 2010 Add a comment >>
Backcountry skiers who think it’s now safe to ski the Angel Slides on Wright Peak should be aware that an avalanche risk may still exist.
Two skiers were caught in an avalanche on the wider of the two Angel Slides on February 27, but they escaped with minor bruises.
Last Friday, Jesse Williams of Cloudsplitter Mountain Guides dug a test pit on the narrower slide and concluded that the snow pack was unstable. As a result, Williams decided against taking skiers to the slide as part of last weekend’s Adirondack Backcountry Ski Festival.
Below is a video of the avalanche tests.
Posted on March 8th, 2010 Add a comment >>
Hundreds of people lined the main street in the tiny village of Saranac Lake on Friday afternoon to welcome home gold-medal skier Billy Demong and other local athletes who competed in the Winter Games in Vancouver.
Saranac Lake and nearby Lake Placid, which hosted the Winter Olympics in 1932 and 1980, sent a dozen athletes to Vancouver, including two who won medals. Not bad for two villages whose combined population is about 7,600
Many of the athletes had moved to the Lake Placid region to train, but Billy Demong grew up outside Saranac Lake, in the rural community of Vermontville. He won a gold medal in the Nordic combined individual race and a silver medal in the Nordic combined team relay. The events feature cross-country skiing and ski jumping.
Amazingly, as a youngster, Demong competed on the same local cross-country-ski team with two other future Olympians: Lowell Bailey and Tim Burke, both of whom competed in the biathlon in this year’s games.
After the parade, Demong addressed a large crowd inside the town hall. “I feel like my life came full circle today when I drove up here from New York City …” he said. “This is the place where I grew up, in Vermontville, and at one point in my lived down the road from Tim Burke, three houses away and six miles or whatever.”
Demong, who will turn thirty this month, proposed to his girlfriend, Katie Koczynski. a few hours after he became the first American to win a gold medal in Nordic combined.
The other local medalist was Andrew Weibrecht, who won a bronze in the men’s super G slalom and then made the cover of Sports Illustrated. Lake Placid, where he grew up, held a parade in his honor last week.
Another local hero, Peter Frenette, is still a senior at Saranac Lake High School. Frenette, who just turned eighteen, was the youngest member of the ski-jumping team.
The other regional athletes were: Ashley Caldwell, freestyle jumping; Haley Johnson, biathlon; John Napier, bobsled; and Mark Grimmette, Chris Mazdzer, Megan Sweeney, and Emily Sweeney, luge.
You can read more about these local athletes on the website of the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, Saranac Lake’s newspaper, which sent two reporters to the Olympics. Click here to read their coverage of the games.
Below is a video of Demong’s address to the crowd in the Harrietstown Town Hall.
Posted on March 5th, 2010 1 comment - Add a comment >>
Yesterday I skied Mount Marcy with Alan Wechsler, one of the contributors to the Explorer. I had skied Marcy just a few weeks ago, but I never tire of this trip.
We had great weather until we emerged above tree line. The summit was a complete whiteout, and the wind was fierce, with wind chills below zero. Descending the summit bowl, we couldn’t see the bumps in the terrain or any landmarks to gauge our position. “It’s like skiing blind,” Alan remarked.
It took us a while in this ghostly atmosphere to reconnect with the hiking trail. Once we got below the clouds, we could see again, and the skiing was terrific.
One of my favorite stretches of the Marcy trail is along Phelps Brook. By the time skiers arrive at the brook, they have descended all the steep, difficult sections. Now they can relax while cruising the 1.2 miles between the two brook crossings.
I took a video of Alan skiing this part of the trail. I was right behind him until he took a small spill toward the end. The camera was strapped to my chest.
Posted on February 21st, 2010 1 comment - Add a comment >>
On Sunday, I skied to Whiteface Landing for the first time in a few years and was pleasantly surprised by the state of the trail. I’m not talking about the snow conditions, although they were superb. I’m referring to improvements made in recent years by Tony Goodwin and his volunteers at the Adirondack Ski Touring Council.
The council removed boulders, built bridges over streamlets, and, perhaps most important, fixed the drainage problems that sometimes left the bottom of the trail’s biggest hill bare and/or icy.
It so happens that we encountered Tony on the trail on Sunday afternoon. On the way out, we videotaped him as he descended the big hill, following him as he made graceful telemark turns in lightweight cross-country gear. I was impressed. Watch the video, and I think you’ll be too.
By the way, the three-mile trail from Route 86 to Whiteface Landing is rated as a novice tour in Tony’s book, Ski and Snowshoe Trails in the Adirondacks, but some beginners have trouble coming down this hill. If you’ve never skied to Whiteface Landing, the video will give you some idea of what to expect.
Posted on February 1st, 2010 4 comments Add a comment >>
The Jackrabbit Ski Trail offers lots of great skiing over its twenty-four miles, but the best part is the six-mile stretch from Whiteface Inn Road in Lake Placid to McKenzie Pond Road outside Saranac Lake. The highlight is a mile-and-a-half downhill run from McKenzie Pass to McKenzie Pond.
On Sunday, I did a round trip to the top of the pass from McKenzie Pond Road. It took me nearly forty-five minutes to climb the hill (after skiing two miles to its base) and just five minutes to descend. That might seem like a lousy pain-to-pleasure ratio, but the schuss makes up in exhilaration what it lacks in duration.
I made a video of my descent with the Adirondack Explorer Chest Cam (a point-and-shoot strapped to my chest). You’ll hear me narrate as I ski (btw, the Hemingway story I refer to is titled “Cross-Country Snow”).
I wore a GPS watch that measured my progress. I averaged 14 mph and reached a top speed of about 25 mph.
Posted on January 13th, 2010 4 comments Add a comment >>
This YouTube link takes you to my second attempt at making a short backcountry ski video. For this one, I strapped my camera–an Olympus 1030SW–to my chest and skied down a small peak outside Saranac Lake. The clip is only a few minutes long. Unfortunately, when I converted it to QuickTime for the Web it lost a lot of resolution. That’s why the titles at the start are blurry. I’m still learning. I hope to post more in the future.