For the North Country, the official end of Autumn lies in the dead of winter weather. I held off on posting this in the hope of getting out on rock one more time, to the Gunks at least; but with cold, short days and snow lying 6" deep on the ground, it is time to put the rock shoes away and sharpen the ice tools. Here then, is the summary of a wonderful fall season of rock climbing.
Two uncompleted projects on the King Boulder.
Both are about 40' long.
Fast on the heels of summer as it swished offstage, climbing continued its frenetic pace. As you may recall, I spent the last full day of summer climbing at Padanarum with Jason B. & friends. The next day, I met John C. at the Boulderwoods and together, we played on a few problems, then set top-ropes on the two cleaned, full-length lines on the King Boulder. We spent the rest of the daylight struggling on both of these routes, never managing the one difficult move at the start of one and falling repeatedly on the second or third moves of the other. Our work indicated these were well in the 5.11+ or higher range, thus out of our league. Sometimes, negative information is all you get for your troubles; this is especially true of exploratory climbing.
For awhile, climbing opportunities slackened as urgent fall chores, business, and other matters intruded on the "more important" things in life, while the weather turned foul. Eventually, October ushered in better weather. Crisp, cold mornings heralded cloudless, bright days. With less daylight, I had to find a way to make use of whatever free time I had to sneak a bit of climbing into the schedule.
Jed makes it up for one last try on Stalker.
I returned to the Boulderwoods several afternoons, though during the last week of September the weather was often too wet and raw to dry these woodland behemoths enough for climbing. I used what little time I had to scout for new problems, digging up a nasty little one on the big block southeast of the Brownstone Boulder. While the best lines await braver (and stronger) souls than I on the northern side of this block, That Hideous Strength sit-starts in the triangular cave formed by it and another block on the south side. Painful hand-jamming leads to tenuous side-pulls and foot-stemming in a muscle-fest to pull around the cave opening and up onto the easy ramp above without touching the ground. The worst moves are at most a couple feet off the ground, so no crash pad is required.
The west side of this same rock (I dubbed it the C.S. Lewis Boulder) is an attractive low-angle face, or at least would be attractive if it was clean. Sitting in shade for most of the time, it has accumulated an impressive coat of moss and lichen. These nest in a fantastic array of rounded pockmarks that make pleasing holds. One does get quite far off the deck, but fortunately, the holds get better as one gets higher. After an incomplete amount of cleaning, I managed to work my way up to the top on the left end of this wallf, creating Perilandra. I would return later to climb another line a few feet farther right that is much easier, but the line I really want to finish is on the NW corner. Getting around the low bulge will be the crux, but frictioning up the low-angle nose will take some courage, too. I do need something to call Out of the Silent Planet, after all!
The one project I've been unable to wrap up for years was the Black Arch ArÍte. As the days grew short and the weather appeared to be turning cold for the long haul, I was determined to gain some progress at this crag. It would be no easy task, given that the Black Arches Wall has an arduous approach: one must bushwhack along the base of Crane Mountain eastward, either ascending the slopes at the southern corner or dropping down to cross the little ravine before slanting upward again. In either case, getting to the cliff takes an hour or more.
My first task was getting some equipment to the cliff. I lugged a 50lb. load to the Slanting Cracks Wall and stashed it on a ledge under the Black Arches Wall rappel chute - then spent the next couple weeks unable to return to use it (I did go out to check on the gear at one point, but didn't have time to work with it). Weather or schedule kept getting in the way. Finally however, the stars aligned, and I was able to get out for a couple days in a row to look things over, clean, and rehearse the route.
The initial inspection included an attempt at finding an easier, or at least more sensible, approach to the wall itself. I tried climbing all the way up a gully of the South Corner Cliffs, only to descend over a hundred feet through blowdowns and balsam thickets, finally arriving at the top of my destination. I rappelled down and spent some time scrubbing, but once again my time was limited. What I saw was promising however. Not only was the arÍte itself a gem, but the wall to the left looked intriguingly possible, too. An ugly corner/gully system divides the main buttress from the prow that Eatin' Tripe and Likin' It ascends;
Crack system just left of Black Arch ArÍte.
Most impressive about all these potential lines is the ease with which a climber could combine pieces of several routes to create interesting variations. Horizontal cracks provide linkage at several points on the wall, and although these traverses would be strenuous, the alternative lines made possible would be worthwhile in their own right.
Looking up Black Arch ArÍte.
Note the steepness!
Having made three trips to the BAW without placing a bolt or doing more than TRing with prussics, it was high time to call in the cavalry. Jamie McNeill had some free time and wanted to see this "amazing" route I had waxed on about long and fancifully, so we headed out together to look things over. I still didn't have an obvious choice of approach, but my earlier explorations had convinced me to stay below the South Corner Cliffs to minimize both the arduous thrash and the number of ups and downs enroute. On this, now my third traverse along Crane's south corner, I recognized some obvious landmarks, a hopeful sign that we were finally homing in on the most efficient route to our destination. We made it in one hour on the dot, the best time ever for an approach to the Black Arches Wall.
I set up a rope and rappelled down with another to retrieve the gear stashed far below, while Jamie took a wire brush and went down to scope out both the arÍte and the possibilities beside it. The gear was still where I had left it, so I hauled up the monstrosity, stuffed it in my pack, and lugged it all upslope to the base of Black Arch ArÍte, only almost killing myself once or twice, when the "grosse klettersack" threatened to topple me off particularly steep sections of the trail.
Jamie had been diligently scrubbing and experimenting with moves while waiting for me. He was anxious for a real belay on our objective, so we concocted a "faux-lead" by attaching a prussik to the rappel line, trailing a rope and placing pro on it along the way. I tested moves as I went along, hoping to grasp the best means of climbing it all cleanly, figuring out where bolts should go, and just enjoying the feel of movement on stone once again. I was soon crouched below the overhang, eyeballing those small crimps. Even with a prussik-TR, this was unnerving. It would be difficult to move the prussik in the middle of the crux, so there was some fall potential. To be safe, Jamie belayed while I doubled the pro in the crack under the overhang. The struggle was longer than I had hoped it would be, but I eventually figured out a sequence that got me through. After topping out, I lowered to the uppermost overhang and set up an anchor to use for a real top-rope: here, a 70 meter rope just makes it to the ground with both ends.
Looking straight down Black Arch ArÍte.
Jamie took a turn on the route, and we both worked out bolt sites. Climbing up one more time, with a heavy load dangling off my harness, I reached the first site and began drilling. Or tried to: the drill bit was toasted. Gull Pond had thoroughly trashed the bit, so badly I could not get a quarter-inch deep here. All the work and toil of getting this equipment to the cliff had come down to one small piece of the equation failing us. Frustrated, we packed up and headed homeward.
We were frustrated, but not defeated. At home, I dug around for another bit futilely, then tried honing the scrap of carbide still clinging to the bit with a Dremel tool. That too proved futile without a diamond wheel. On the next scheduled day to the BAW, I recalled that the Leatherman Wave has a diamond-grit file among its utensils. Voilà! A few minutes' honing with that and there was some hope we could place ½", stainless-steel bolts.
Back at the BAW, we set to work again, establishing an anchor, drilling holes - this time, successfully - installing two bolts, and working the line one more time. Finally, we pulled the rope and prepared to lead the route. My run on TR hadn't been perfect. I was tired from the prep-work and multiple approaches, but time was too limited for extended rehearsal.
Other than a near-fall getting over the alcove onto the dihedral itself, I managed the lower part of our route without incident. For some reason, I could not get pro seated well on the step-over, but that move at least, suited my style enough to cause no delay. The slippery moves above this went all-too quickly, and one more time, I balanced on steep rock, placing bomber gear in the horizontal below the overhang. As the next ten feet were crucial, I doubled this placement and used a locking 'biner, just in case. Reaching above the overhang, feeling for the crimps, I moved up, over, a quick shout to watch me, and bump to the arÍte, ahhhh! Foot up, begin the dance steps, foot switch here, step up there, bumping hands up all the while, in no time, I reached the slopey final hold on the difficult stretch. To the left, a finger crack took my smallest cam greedily. With a whoop, I scrambled up the few feet of slab to the final overhang, slapped in gear and made the official move above this to clinch the FA.
Jamie followed without a hitch, and Black Arch ArÍte was complete, and wonderful enough to rig an anchor for both of us to ride a TR once more before packing up and heading homeward. The sun was behind Crane's shoulder by now, and the air was growing chilly. We could not bask in our accomplishments any longer, the memory would have to do.
We would not make it out to the Black Arches Wall again, though I wandered that direction several times. A cold winter wind rides the shoulder of Crane, and the sun slides behind the mountain all too soon at this time of year. I would start out intending to go all the way through, but inevitably found myself either drawn to explore the south corner cliffs some more, or halting near the Measles Wall.
Late October is a gamble: generally by this time of year, if you don't have a very liberal schedule, you are lucky to climb at all. This was a lucky day. Snow flurries were falling on Wednesday well into the night, but as the sun rose, the clouds thinned out and I could see the mountain ridge frosted white. It wasn't supposed to get very warm, but Tim Trezise had the day off and came out to, at the very least, scope out some of the climbing possibilities on Crane Mountain. With one of his students, Haram, our threesome headed up the trail at about 10a.m. We made good time to the Viewpoint Cliff, and though I had originally planned to bypass this one in favor of more time at the summit, we decided to do one route here and give the weather some time to reveal itself. Tim wanted some leading practise, so we went over to Every Creature's Theme and roped up. Every other route on the wall was wet, but ECTh, though still in shade, was sufficiently dry.
Tim tied onto the sharp end and began leading up the corner, only to run afoul of the frictiony first crux. After a short tussle, he won the battle and proceeded upward, rapidly climbing to the top of the flaps and striking out on the lower-angled slab above. Out of our view, Tim began deciphering the intricacies of pure friction climbing. The pro is scarce, the holds are - um, subtle, to put it mildly; so his progress slowed some. After the first few steps, a leader tends to whig out a little: with pro receding into the distance, and no secure way to go forward or back, there is a moment of sincere doubt. This passes, deepening into panic or mellowing into a zen-like acclimatization to the work at hand. Tim chose the latter and steadily moved upward until reaching the short bit of steep friction near the top. This is a tricky place, and the lack of good pro gives reason for pause. Tim eventually slung a birch sapling about the diameter of a large finger and then, buoyed by this reassuring anchor, tip-toed his way through the worst of the slab and made faster tracks for the belay tree.
Haram followed while I ferried gear up to the Viewpoint Ledge; once we all reached the top, the weather looked good enough to risk continuing up to the summit cliffs. As we hiked higher, ice was melting off the trees around us, and when we reached the mellow stretch of trail above the short ladder, everything was coated with a thin layer of snow. The sun would be on the prows for awhile by now, I figured, and the air was still, so we should be able to climb at least a bit; all signs were optimistic.
Haram opted to hike to the summit and wait for us in the sunshine, while Tim & I took the short spur trail over to lead Cornerstone. This route turned out to be more to Tim's liking. A committing step up onto a steep face, an increasingly exposed leftward traverse, then a straightforward corner/crack climb to the top, good pro, warm rock, brilliant sunshine...perfection. As Tim assembled a mega-belay (more practise for the AMGA exam!), Haram wandered back down to clean the pitch. I donned my pack, scrambled up the gully route, and awaited my turn on the route, carrying Tim's pack up with me as I climbed for my exercise.
We spent the entire afternoon up there, top-roping Lost in the Crowd,Stoned in a Crowded Corner, Rock of Ages, Toiling Men, and variations to a couple routes. So quickly, we were out of time. The sun, moving fast and low, slid around the prows and the temperature dropped. Tim had places to go and people to meet, so away down the mountain we went. He and Haram would head for Speculator, I would run into the Boulderwoods to say hello to Jeremy Haas and Doc Livingston and take a trip up the new line, Sentry Crack, before racing the sunset home.
I returned to the Measles Wall several times until mid-November, when heavy snowfall would render all hopes of rock climbing futile. I spent quite awhile cleaning a swath of pockets on the rightmost rampart of the wall, and subsequently trying to climb the route. Although not tremendously difficult, this 35' face has no positive handholds for most of its length. As it was newly-cleaned, the rounded holds available were often covered in dust, making them very insecure. I found myself stymied at about 15' several times, drafting the services of a nearby tree whenever working my way down seemed too difficult. Once, I tried varying the direction of the route, only to discover my escape tree was out of reach. I could neither advance nor retreat, as the holds were dirty and insecure. An exciting leap saved the day. I embraced my woody hero and shinnied downward, happy to be whole and healthy.
Two new routes at the rockfall area.
Left: Sweeper 5.5 Right: Swept Away 5.8
I would climb once more on Crane's summit cliffs before the end of the season. On a lark, I hiked toward the summit and ducked into the woods just above the short ladder, making my way to the Rockslide area. I spent some time kicking stones out of the snow and ice to build a small cairn near Sweeper. After taking a few pictures, I wandered east and put another cairn underneath Dividing Line, adding a derelict orange frisbee to the pile here. Continuing toward the big ladder, I was able to find Gunga Din Chin and place it in relation to the other new routes. As Gunga already has a good cairn, I continued east. It was well below freezing, but the sun shone strongly on the cliff above the tree tops, so I decided to clamber up Thank You, Cindy. It was cold going climbing out of the shadows, but the sunlit stone was warmly welcoming. All too briefly though: a few meters higher, and the wind robbed any heat the sun provided. The gloves I had just taken off had to go back on for the upper half of the route.
Once on the summit ridge, it was a beautiful, chilly walk to the top and down the icy chute to the ladder. Plenty of snow covered the ground, icecicles festooned the cliffs, and that raw winter wind claimed the high reaches; winter has taken charge of Crane Mountain. Here's hoping for a great ice climbing season!
Looking back on 2008, this has been the most prolific year on Crane ever. I spent as much time climbing on my home turf as I ever have, and alone or together with Jamie McNeill, established more significant new routes than any previous year.