Monday, July 21, 2014

Gap Daddy

The birth of my daughter is less than two weeks away and I’m making the final push to have everything in order.  Not just diapers, baby blankets, and car seats…but being prepared as a Father, Husband, and in this case here, a Climber.  With my first-born, I found that life didn’t stop with kids.  In fact, it sped up.  However time for personal endeavors, such as climbing, is less and it’s not because I have to be with my family as much as I’d rather be with my family more than anything else.  But I can’t help be driven by instinct to seek adventures and challenges.  If I don’t express myself through outlets like rock climbing every now and then, I feel like a big part of who I am as a person is being suppressed.  Nothing is as satiating or satisfying as walking through my front door, after an exhausting day of rock climbing, to be greeted by my wife and son.  I can rest easy in their company, feeling not only accomplished but grateful.  

I had an opportunity to climb on Saturday and decided that I would visit the Delaware Water Gap since it’s a shorter drive than The Gunks (in case my wife unexpectedly went into labor) and happens to be only a few miles from my best friend’s house.  Unfortunately, my best friend isn’t a rock climber.  Fortunately, however, my friend Dustin is.  Dustin was my partner at The Narrows earlier this year and expressed a genuine interest in climbing at The Gap.  There are two mountains at The Gap – Tammany on the NJ side and Minsi on the PA side.  Although I’ve climbed several times on Tammany, I can’t say that I’m a big fan.  The cliff is right over the highway so noise is an issue, and it receives full sun in the summer making it unbearably hot.  In the cooler months, and on quieter travel days, it’s not that bad to visit.  In contrast, Minsi is definitely the better side in my opinion.  The road beneath it is a relatively quiet country road and the sun does not shine on the cliff directly all day.  There is a seasonal falcon closure on Minsi but it was lifted a few weeks ago and the cliff reopened for climbing. 

Dustin and I agreed to meet at 830am.  I managed to get a decent night of sleep (sometimes before climbing I can be up for hours, restless) and arrived at the cliff a few minutes early, not long before Dustin.  The forecast for the day was a high of 82 and overcast skies.  Rain wasn’t predicted, and the humidity was only slight. Couldn’t ask for better weather in the middle of July!

The short but rugged approach trail up the mountain ends at the base of the Practice Face, which is commonly used as a top-rope site.  Right around the corner is a short section known as the Cat Wall.  My friend Larry has climbed and recommended the route Pussytoes (5.5+, PG), and we decided on this for our first climb.  The route goes about 70 feet until a ledge with a bolted anchor.  Up until a short section below that ledge, the climbing was straightforward and the gear decent.  Just before the ledge I ran into a crux, slightly overhanging rock with a wide crack and some awkward holds.  I had to rest on the rope and make a few attempts before finally figuring out the moves.  The holds were there, it was more of a matter of finding the right body position and balance in order to reach them.
Looking up Pussytoes.

On the belay ledge of Pussytoes.

 We continued along the cliff towards the section known as Land of the Giants to climb a route called Crackpot (5.4+. G).  I climbed this route about two years ago with my friend John.  Crackpot is partially bolted – there are two bolts at the start, a gear placement, and then a third bolt.  From there, a short section of gear-protected rock until the fourth bolt which happens to be in a great spot.  After the fourth bolt, the rock is a gorgeous marble-white color and the route ends just before a roof system with a two-bolt anchor.  I’m going to submit this route as an area classic.  The climbing is easy fun. The route is well protected.  And the views are incredible in this area.  This is a definite must do!


The final moves before topping out.

Straight-up chillin' on top of Crackpot.
While at the base of Crackpot belaying Dustin, there was another party of climbers up and around the corner from us.  I made small talk with the other climber as he belayed his partner.  They were looking for Surprise (5.4, PG) but were on either Crickety Crack or Crackley Corner, (both 5.5, G).  They described the route as being vegetated (common at The Gap this time of year) but seemed like they got their money’s worth out of it.  When Dustin and I finished Crackpot we continued on to Surprise, which is a few hundred feet further along the cliff.  From a belay ledge at the end of the first pitch of Surprise I took this picture of the climbers at the top of whatever route they had been on.  This is a great shot, and really shows not only the height of these routes but the vastness of the area.

zoom in to see the two climbers at the top of this corner route.
Surprise is another classic and probably the most popular route on Mount Minsi.  The climbing and protection is solid, and again, the views from this area are incredible.  The crux of this climb is a sort of an overhanging corner just beneath the ledge where I took the previous photo.  It’s worth noting that you can belay from this ledge using a gear anchor, but if you traverse left there is a bolted anchor where the old belay tree (not recommended) sits.  And even though the second pitch isn’t very long, this route is best done in two pitches to allow sight and communication. The rappel tree up top has a solid wire hanger, wrapped in a rubber hose, with two large links that was placed by Larry a few years ago and should be good for several more years.  As always, please inspect not only the rap station but the tree itself before anchoring or rappelling.

the ledge on Suprise were I took the previous photo.
We continued past Surprise and for me, this was venturing into the unknown.  Surprise is in an area known as Land of the Giants, which leads into the Morning Wall, High Wall, and then the Playground.  The Playground is described as being a single-pitch section, but unfortunately this area has about 30 feet of vegetated 4th and 5th class scrambling before reaching the base of the routes.  I did spy a clean inside corner climb but most of the rock was obscured from view.  I’m interested in this wall, but it will have to wait for the dryer colder seasons to be uncovered.

Further along the cliff we spotted the enormous roof system of the Screaming Eagle Area, which is named for the mega classic route Screaming Eagle (5.12d, R/X).  Just to the left of Screaming Eagle, Dustin found a very interesting line called Full Tilt (5.5, G). Full Tilt follows an oddly angled traverse on a protruding chunk of rock and then turns a corner up a face until reaching the safety of trees to rappel from.  The base of this route, and the Screaming Eagle area, is about 40 feet above the ground on a large ledge. I decided not to climb Full Tilt because I felt very uncomfortable climbing out into the open air – the traverse that seemed to walk out into the sky, and then there was the rather severe drop below. Despite being a rock climber, I’ve experienced a lot of physical discomfort with open-air climbs that lead to vertigo and, very frankly, debilitating fear. Dustin was very understanding of my desire to not want to experience any anxiety, and sent the route himself. He really enjoyed the climbing on the traverse, and noted that after turning the corner and climbing on the face he reached a belay tree with slings but that it’s best to continue past it to better trees up above.  

Dustin, leading on Full Tilt.

An interesting note about Full Tilt, and this section, is for climbers to be very wary of the fall potential from the ledge above.  My shoes ended up rolling down behind me, stopping inches before the drop.  I took a few steps down, and realized that it’s not worth risking my life and decided to wait until Dustin finished his rappel and use the rope.  As I stood, looking towards the ground below, I noticed a large rotted rock that looked like it could break off and crash through the undercliff trail below.  I yelled out “ROCK!” gave the rock a good kick which easily broke it, and heard it crash and tumble for a very, very long time.  It would have been easy for a belayer to accidently step on this rock, possibly injuring themselves or other climbers.  If you do climb this area, please consider tying into a tree.  Again, the belay ledge is very spacious, but the drop is extremely severe.  Not only that, there’s always the risk that the leader could blow a piece of gear and due to the open-air nature of the traverse, end up pitching off of the cliff and taking their belayer with them.

My shoes, just before a drop. Despite being a spacious ledge, use caution!
Despite being spooked by Full Tilt, I still wanted to climb. Dustin and I headed back the way we came and eventually reached the Practice Face and then continued “climber’s right” along the cliff, past Intimidation Wall and on to the Teardrop Buttress.  We climbed Tears are Falling (5.4, PG), which is another classic for its views of Tammany across the river as well as the appropriately named Intimidation Wall.  I felt very much in the groove again on this route and despite its height and exposure, I took my time on rests and good footing to look around and take in the scenery.  I focused on feeling safe, feeling solid, and being able to look out beyond the rock in front of me or at my feet (normally, my eyes stay focused on where I’m moving my limbs to) and appreciate where I was and what I was doing.  I did this while on rappel too, and it seemed to relieve me of the negative feelings I had from before.

Dustin and I hanging out on the top of Tears are Falling.

The last time I climbed with Dustin, he helped me with belaying and lowering with the ATC in guidemode.  We decided to go over and practice some rescue methods which included how to transfer a load off of the ATC (while in guidemode) to the anchor in the event that the seconding climber below was hurt or incapacitated.  And we went over how to do this while belaying from the ground and the leader was hurt or incapacitated.  The latter is much easier than the former, and I’ll need to revisit my Self-Rescue book in order to work through the finer details, but doing this in safe training environment to prepare for the real thing is definitely an important practice.

A short while later, we were off the cliff and said our goodbyes and made plans for the fall/winter to meet up again, climb, and geek-out on technical climbing tricks.  I met my best friend and his girlfriend for a quick bite to eat at Kelly’s, a seasonal roadside burger and ice cream spot that is a must-do for anyone visiting the area.  Riding home to see my family with a sore body, full belly and sense of accomplishment made my quiet Sunday and anticipation of the arrival of my second child, all the more sweet.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Nears

Since my last post I’ve only managed to climb one day - a short, but physical day of climbing at the local crag with partners August and Kyle.  Time is a big issue.  Whether it be having the time to climb, having to be back in time, or timing with partners.  And time isn’t on my side with my wife only a few weeks away from giving birth to our second child.  And after that, there will be less time for time spent climbing. Time is fleeting.  Time is the ultimate commodity. 

I feel a strong urgency to climb while I still can.  But not wanting a pedestrian sort of day at repeatedly climbed nearby cliffs with partners of limited skill and ability (no offence to either) I decided to bite the bullet and enlist the help of a professional in order to scale some big walls.  I’ve climbed nothing but ice with Alpine Endeavors Guide Alan Kline.  We’ve discussed climbing in the Gunks, which he insists is one of the best places to climb in the country (and he’s a well-traveled climber) but like me, he prefers the quieter secluded cliffs.  He’s more likely to tell you about his favorite climbs in the Gunks that aren’t found in The Trapps.  Having already climbed a handful of classics in The Trapps, and knowing that weekends in The Trapps are as crowded as a movie theatre on a rainy weekend, I messaged Alan about going off the beaten path.  We met on a warm blue-sky morning at the intersection of 299 - 44/55, and after admiring my new truck he raised an eyebrow and said “Nears”?

The Near Trapps, or Nears, is the second-most popular cliff after The Trapps in the Gunks.  While not as remote or adventurous as Millbrook, or as secretive as some of the other crags which I won’t mention by name, it’s certainly far less traveled.  Fourth of July weekend is one of the busiest times for the Gunks, as well as the Hudson Valley Region (which I later discovered while sitting in traffic).  Parking lots were near capacity when we arrived just before 9am.  But The Nears were relatively quiet.  I saw several parties of climbers, including a very nice group of Canadians who retrieved and left behind for us a stuck stopper.  But it wasn’t crowded by any stretch of the word.  We were all comfortably dispersed.  The only wait we had was a brief moment of convenience and actually a chance to rest and leisurely rack gear and flake out a rope while a climber rapped off of a route we were looking to climb.  Unlike the busier Trapps, were you can easily find yourself on a weekend waiting in a line for a route, The Nears is usually a safer bet for climbers looking to keep busy.

The first route we climbed was Gelsa, 5.4.  We did this route in 3 pitches with the first two being short due to the traversing.  Pitch 1 was very easy.  Pitch 2 was slabby and thin, with very few options for gear placement. I wouldn’t say this section is sandbagged, but it’s definitely not a pitch of climbing I recommend a new leader to onsight without any beta on gear placements.  Pitch 3 was the money pitch.  From a roofed corner, the climb traverses a short distance to the right and follows a blocky but overhanging corner system.  I was a bit surprised by how steep and exposed the rock was as I climbed with my back fully arched, but the amount of bomber jugs and large holds kept the route well within 5.4 difficulty.

Slab on Pitch 2

View from Pitch 2 Belay

Jug-fest on Pitch 3

After Gelsa, we hiked for some time down the cliff to a short wall densely packed with interesting routes.  King of P, a 5.3 splitter crack.  Miss Mantle, a 5.9 with an infamous mantle move that immediately puts you on a slopping face, requiring quick action and poise to prevent from skidding off.  Whatever, a 5.10a that starts with a tricky boulder problem and finishes with a blank section of sandpaper-featured rock that demands dug-in toes and Yogi-like balance to ascend through.  And Across from the Fruitstand, a fun 5.4.

Looking up King of P.

Looking up Whatever. Alan, to the left, attempts to clean some of the organic matter. Route ends on ledge just past the bright sun glare.

View of Hudson Valley from ledge above. Despite the wall being short, we're already at elevation and can see out to the horizon.

After completing that series of routes, we hiked back to where we started to climb a long 5.6 route called Grease Gun Groove.  The route starts with a serious boulder problem and follows thin splitter cracks to an inside corner and then edges and ledges before reaching a rappel tree. I really enjoyed this route and would definitely like to repeat it.  Alan put in extra work and climbed the route a second time only to move left instead of right to a 5.8 roof variation which he explosively and acrobatically shot through.

This is me, Top-Roping Grease Gun Groove. Route ends at large tree.

I decided to end the day there and head back on home.  On my way back I stopped at Rock and Snow to pick up the Dick Williams guidebook for the Nears and Millbrook.  Alan and I discussed meeting up in the fall for either Millbrook or an undocumented crag that contains mostly 1 pitch routes.  Between now and then, I’m hoping for at least one more day of climbing before my next child, a daughter, is born. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Initiated, 2014

Nearly up until the end of March I was still getting asked to go ice climbing. The winter of 2013-2014 was truly epic for ice climbers. 

I ended my ice season at The Narrows. It was a great season. The most days I've ice climbed in a single season, and the most place I had visited in a single season. And I even managed to get on the sharp end and lead two pitches. But the days are cold and hard, the drives are long, and the time away from the family isn't easy. So I decided to end things on a good note. I honestly thought the season would come to a close within a week or two of my Narrows trip.  Little did I know the cold and ice would linger for more than another month. Heck, on Tuesday (4/15) I woke up to snow on the ground! This is after it was nearly 80 degrees over the weekend.

Since it was such a nice weekend I managed to get in a lot of time outside.  On Saturday, I brought my wife, our son, and our two dogs out for a hike on the Appalachian Trail.  And on Sunday, I took a friend from work, Kyle, out for his first ever day on the rocks.  Similiar to last year, I opened up the climbing season by introducing another gym climber to actual rock climbing.

We went to Ricks Rocks, a popular beginer crag.  We began on with One Bowl Gulley, an easy 5, and later moved over to the Main Wall to climb Princeton Crack, a 5.6 route.  We were only there for about 3 hours.  Just enough time to introduce Kyle to the fundamentals of anchoring and to climb some real rock. He got to experience for the first time jamming his hand into a muddy crack and inching up slab friction smears, something the gym can never truly replicate with resin "climbing holds" and plastic walls.

I'm expecting my second child in a few more months. Trying to get life in order and prepare for a new edition to the family is going to be difficult to balance with rock climbing.  I'm not expecting to have a busy Spring-Summer-Fall rock season, but I'll take what I can get.  One thing I learned about rock is that unlike ice, it's not going anywhere. 

Happy Climber.

Princeton Crack.

Kyle, high up One Bowl Gulley.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Narrows Video

On my recent trip to The Narrows I wore a GoPro helmet camera.  Not the entire time, because I didn't want to look like a total dork.  But I had it on for a few pitches, including Pitch #3 of the Main Flow (WI3, 185').  Total climbing time was 28 minutes but I managed to chop the video down to less than 5 and include some music as well.  Enjoy!

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Narrows

Soaring up to 400 feet above the Delaware River (about an hour’s drive south of the Delaware Water Gap) stand the Nockamixon Cliffs, better known as The Narrows.  Composed of absolute garbage rock (I believe it’s Brunswick Shale) this area is NOT climbable unless it’s frozen solid and covered with ice.  When it’s in, however, oh boy is it in!  Ironically enough, I used to live about 5 minutes away from The Narrows in the small village of Riegelsville and would drive past them on my way to Bucks County Community College back in 2003-2004.  But I was years from becoming a rock and ice climber, and besides a quick glance I never paid the cliffs any mind.  Fast forward to the present, and I’ve known of and been interested in this area for years.  But finding partners with knowledge of the area and skill to ascend the routes (it’s not a walk-up around and build a top-rope area) has been difficult so I’ve been unable to climb there.  In addition to that problem, The Narrows are about as far south as one can really expect ice to realiably form.  So some seasons are a bust.  However, this winter has been wonderfully wintery.  The Narrows have been getting plenty of action this season from locals as well as out-of-state climbers who are known to come as far as New England when conditions are good.  I saw a Facebook post by New Paltz (Gunks), New Yorker Doug Ferguson showing him climbing thick and huge lines of ice and asked if he’d like to partner up next time he’s around.  Doug, ever the hyper caffeine-infused climbing enthusiast was totally game, and brought along bearded rope gun Dustin Portzline to have a go at the ice.  I sharpened my Nomics and broke out the brand new Petzl Lynx crampons and prepared myself for what promised to be an amazing day.   A post on the night before said, in all caps that The Narrows were “HUGE”, and indeed they were.

Little me standing at the base of Main Flow. You can see a climber up top but you really can't see the top out of this route, it just goes and goes and goes!

The first route we climbed was the Dead Dear Gully, which begins with a long WI2 pitch and ends at a headwall.  The headwall contained a handful of routes but we opted for quick ascent on a WI3 line, about 60 feet tall, just to get ourselves warmed up for the Main Flow.

Looking up Dead Deer Gully

Dustin, approaching the headwall.


The Main Flow IS the prized line of The Narrows.  It’s comprised of 3 pitches and stands over 300 feet tall.  Pitch 1 is straightforward WI3.  Pitch 2 is the crux pitch and is somewhere in the 4-/4+ range.  Dustin lead up the far right corner and clipped a screw about halfway up to get a rest and warned me I’d be climbing through a drip.  I followed for about 20 feet before I entered the wet section and got completely hosed and very frustrated (and truthfully a little scared by the height) while trying to remove draws and screws.  I had to be lowered off twice to get my bearings and swap out my soaking wet gloves and "batten down the hatches" before making a clean ascent.  Past the drip, the route was steep but I powered through without falling or resting once I got into the groove of climbing.  Pitch 3 was a monster!  The climbing was WI3 and I didn’t have any difficulties but I climbed for nearly 30 minutes!!!  I had thought I could see the top, but I kept climbing and it just seemed to keep going and going.  I was exhausted at the top out from the sustained climbing and the fear/excitement of the height.  I didn’t look left, right, up or down the entire time.  I focused on the immediate task of getting a solid tool placement, being on solid feet, and moving to the next position.  It wasn’t until I rappelled I took the opportunity to look around to enjoy and appreciate where I was.

Pitch 1 of Main Flow.

Pitch 2 of Main Flow (we climbed on the right side).

Pitch 3 of Main Flow (top nowhere in sight).

Dustin and I moved on to The Main Gully.  Similar to Dead Deer Gulley, the route is a long WI2 climb until reaching a curving headwall with more route options.  Feeling confident in my abilities and sound in skill and technique, I opted to lead up the gully.  Main Gully is two pitches, each ending with a bolt station.  I wasn’t nervous on the sharp end, but I moved with a sense of purpose knowing that each stick and kick must be secure before going for the next one.  There was some walk-up, but there were definitely vertical sections, the highest probably around 10 feet.  I wasn’t too worried about taking a fall, because I KNEW that I wasn’t going to fall and that is the key to leading ice, being 100% sure and confident.  Before heading up, Dustin discussed belaying with me and asked how I would do it.  I said I would belay off the harness and redirect through the anchor.  He suggested I belay off the anchor with the ATC in guide mode.  I’m familiar with how to, but this is something I’ve ever done before.  But a quick tutorial and demonstration refreshed my memory and before Dustin followed we communicated to each other ensuring everything was correct.  I belayed the same for Pitch 2 as well.

Dustin looking up Main Gully Pitch 1.

Dustin following and cleaning screws on Pitch 1 of Main Gully.

Dustin suggested I belay off of this tree instead of bolts for the top of Pitch 1 of Main Gully. Belaying off the anchor, ATC in guide mode.

Looking up Pitch 2 of Main Gully, bolt and chain station of Pitch 1 on the huge rock.

Belay on Pitch 2 of Main Gully.  ATC in guide mode.

Dustin following up Pitch 2 of Main Gully.

At the Main Gully’s Headwall, Dustin lead a WI3 route on the right side.  From the top, the view of the amphitheater was spectacular, highlighted by an ominous rock wall with cascading ice falls that dared any climber with the guts to attempt an ascent.  As I mentioned before, the rock quality is extremely poor and mixed route options are very unlikely.  So unlike the Catskills were almost every inch of rock and ice is climbed, The Narrows have many virgin sections that may never see a successful ascent.    

Right Side of Main Gully Headwall.

Me, topping out on the Right Side of Main Gully Headwall.

Amazing view from Main Gully Headwall!
From the top of the headwall, Dustin and I traversed across the top of the bowl to set up a top-rope above an ice route on the far left side.  Here, Dustin showed me how to lower a climber with the ATC in guide mode, something most people have trouble with due to its auto-locking nature which is great for belaying but difficult for lowering. Turns out, again, it was much easier and straightforward than I expected.  As I lowered off, loose snow and ice rained down and I was a bit sketched out to climb this route due to all the powder covering the ice.  I climbed until I reached what looked like a ski slope and lowered off from there instead of postholing through it.

Using a carabiner to open the ATC in guide mode in order to lower a climber.

Left Side Route on Main Gully.
That was Monday, President’s Day.  It’s Friday now and temperatures are nearly 50 degrees and rain is steadily falling outside.  This weekend it will continue to be warm and although there’s talk of cold late into next week, I’m wondering if the ice season is finally coming to a close.  If my trip to The Narrows was the last of the season, I can rest a happy man.  It was a fantastic day spent with good people, climbing on great routes, learning new skills, and truly testing myself.


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Respect The Small Stuff

This past Sunday, August and I got together for a quick early morning ice climbing session at the local crag.  Because of its close proximity for the both of us, a short approach (careful crossing of a running stream), and quick set-up, we can get away with 2-3 hour visits and still be home in time for lunch.  The two of us met at 730am and we’re back in the car by 1030am.  It really doesn’t get any easier than that.

Aside from the logistics, however, the climbing on Sunday was not as easy.  The Plush line was as steep and as featureless as I’ve ever seen it.  The Lower Wall is slightly canted to face North West, and the day time sun angles just enough to not shine on the ice directly.  It does shine directly on the ground above the ice, right where the drainage that forms the ice flows sits.  The daytime warm sun on the snow above combined with the nighttime chill over the past few days created a shell of clear ice, smooth as glass.  The right side variation was now nearly vertical and with several rounded bulges.  There were no ledges to allow you to rest your weight on your feet.  And the in-your-face bulges, which may not be obvious in the pics, forced us to weigh our upper bodies on our tools.  So despite its height, these attributes made the route incredibly strenuous and a challenge to climb continuously.  Right side variation, easily 4+.   
Steep and Smooth.
 The left side, which is a thin pillar flanked by a rock face, was not much easier.  If you stem (one leg on ice, other leg outstretched on the rock), it’s not too difficult.  If you stay on the ice the entire time, it’s a narrow climb and dead vertical for about ten feet.  Past the vertical section, and only a few feet from the top, there are more options for feet and stances become wider.  We finished up the day on this route, August ended by running three straight laps up and down without unclipping from the rope in order to get the most burn for his buck.

Easier variation a few feet to the left (Not Shown - we had placed a directional extending the rope left).  Obvious missing chunk of ice in the middle (this was taken just after I rappelled down). 
Even though our day was just a lot of laps on two short routes, something interesting and worth mentioning happened just before starting.  To build the anchor, the two of us walk around and then up the cliff.  It’s steep and icy, but not really treacherous or anything sketchy.  But, it’s definitely easier and quicker going up then it is down.  So, normally we rappel from the top instead of walking back down.  While rappelling, a huge chunk of ice broke off and landed on my shin. It was pretty painful, but I was able to walk it off and climb without it bothering me.  However, that ice could have fell on my head or neck and even with a helmet I might have been seriously hurt.  For one, I ALWAYS wear a helmet while climbing and near a cliff.  Rock or ice.  Two, while rappelling (no matter how short of a rappel) I always have a Prusik below my belay/rappel device which functions as a dead-man’s hand in case I were to lose control of my rappel or become unconscious.  And it’s worth noting, while rappelling I was moving at a slow and controlled pace and checking for weak ice that would be over our heads and could break while we’d be climbing.  The piece of ice that broke off came unexpectedly just moments after I had touched it.  It’s important to remember that ice is dangerous and unpredictable and should always be respected.   
August, who stands over 6ft tall, holding just a part of the huge chunk of ice that fell on me.

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Daks

Adirondack Park is nearly 6 million blessed acres of wilderness.  I went there for the first time in my life and it was beautiful.  My wife and I spent two nights at The Stagecoach Inn in Lake Placid, and would wake every morning to the smell and warmth of baking bread.  The Inn's Keeper, Mary Pat, also made homemade yogurt and granola and it was like nothing I've ever had.  But that was just the appetizer.  Following a bowl of fresh fruit she brought out an "Irish Breakfast" that consisted of homemade sausage patties, ham, bacon, grilled tomato, diced potatoes, and seasoned eggs.  At around 5pm, just before guests would head out for dinner, she offered wine, cheese, and conversation by the fireplace. Two of the other guests we met there were older women, late 50's or early 60's, but both in fantastic shape.  They spent their days cross-country skiing the areas World Class cross country ski trails.  I should mention Lake Placid is home to the United State's Winter Olympic training grounds and truly has it all.  But that relates to the Inn as well.  The owner's husband, Tony, is part of the local Olympic Committee and was preparing to leave for Sochi for this year's Winter Olympic games to judge.  If you're not already getting the picture of this being a winter wonderland destination take a look at this photo below.  I should mention I took it in the middle of a snow storm that dropped 12 inches...this is the snow storm we drove in, for nearly 4 hours!  But it gets better.  We had started driving the night before right after leaving work, for two and a half hours, stopping at a hotel in the Catskills (which is about halfway) in order to get a head start on the blizzard.  Turns out that was a wise decision because we might not have made it if we didn't.

But besides the Inn, Lake Placid also has ice climbing.  Lots of ice climbing!  We're up north in the mountains, after all.  And here were the temps the morning of...
I had Alan join me for this trip.  We had originally planned on Chapel Pond but decided to head over to an ice crag just across the North Face of Pitchoff Mountain (which has ice routes too).  We found a thick large flow about 70 feet tall and 50 feet wide that offered numerous lines and variations.  On this face, we did 4 route and they were all in the 4 to 4+ range of difficulty.  And because this crag faces south we were in the sun all day which was wonderful since the temps that morning were the coldest I've ever been out ice climbing in.
Fantastic Daks Ice!

Thick, and steep!

Snow Crust made for interesting climbing.
Starting up another one of the various lines.
Getting a brief rest on a slope before heading back into the vertical.
But that wasn't all.  To our immediate left was an interesting looking pillar of ice that Alan and I kept glancing at.  Both of us were wondering just how solid the unbonded middle section was.  I wondered if it was strong enough to climb on top-rope while Alan was having thoughts of leading it.  We decided that I would try it first on top-rope, just to see how well it would hold.  The route was steep but it did offer good footing and hooks for tool placements (instead of pounding them into the fragile ice).  I was able to climb it and told Alan he should definitely go for it, as the climbing was incredible.  The ice felt strong.  I didn't hear it groan when I weighted it and was able to carefully tap my tools and crampons into the middle section a few times.  Alan took his time on lead, putting two screws into the cone below the pillar, and then one just off to the right outside of the pillar on ice that had bonded to the rock.  Although it was a short route, Alan said it was definitely a WI5 lead due to its dangerous nature (probably 4+ for top-rope).  I got to give the man credit, as it was an incredible route to lead onsight!
Looking up the route. The main flow is about 30 feet, but there's at least another 30 feet of 4th Class climbing on a snow crusted ice slope.
Just below the snow cone, where the ice becomes vertical.

Searching for hooks and footing on delicate ice. The next ten feet is fragile!