SRCFC Conference 2009

Christian Climbers Converge on the Adirondacks

by Jay Harrison

Despite uncooperative weather, this year's conference attendees managed to explore a fine selection of Adirondack crags. It was also a wonderful time to make new friendships, learn from each other, and corporately examine our shared interest in a spiritual context.

Todd Paris, Adirondack SRCFC Representative, organized the conference, and Magic Pines Campground hosted us. Situated just a few minutes south of Poko Moonshine Mountain on Route 9, the campground was a perfect location for the event. We convoyed to that crag several times, both for long stretches of roped climbing and short bouldering sessions. It was also easy to head for other regional destination favorites, and various contingents visited the Spider's Web, Chapel Pond Slab, Pitchoff Cliff, and McKenzie Pond Boulders during the four days of the event.

I was unable to attend the conference on Wednesday; having prior duties involving preparation for this year's SAdkRF, but talking with the folks who made it, the afternoon's weather was good enough for a visit to Poko. Parties hopped on several high-quality lines before darkness pushed them down and off, back to camp.

Thursday: Chapel Pond Area

and a Visit to the Poko Boulder

I arrived Thursday morning, under questionable skies and an ambivalent forecast. Rain looked to be inevitable at some point during the day, but regardless, after breakfast and morning devotion we headed for Chapel Pond Pass as two groups, one going to the challenging face of the Spider's Web, the other to the wide-open spaces of Chapel Pond Slab.

Todd and I acted as hosts on the Slab. Pastor Ken, from Durkeetown Baptist Church, and Tim, an Australian on a work stint in Maryland, accompanied us up The Empress, an 800'+ undulating rock carpet draped steeply on the mountain along Route 73's south side. As we roped up at the bottom, we could see far above us the route's signature crack breaking the left edge of the slab's steepest section. Fortunately, the friction is good and the climbing familiar; even with a large group, we made great time. I led the first pitch, set a solid anchor, and belayed Todd up so he could take over belay duties while I continued ascending to the next pitch. Reaching the next belay, I brought up Ken while Todd belayed Tim up the first pitch. We continued in a similar manner, hopping pitches quickly, until we regrouped under the big crack. That pitch allows a bit more gear, so I took the opportunity to place pro often. We hopped the next pitch as before, and under glowering skies decided we were high enough.

There is another walking pitch to the official top of the slab, but being near a rappel anchor, we opted to go down. Ken was introduced to rappelling in perhaps the best way possible: long, complex, in deteriorating weather. The ropes jammed once, but the fix was easy enough, we veered off course at one point, and the rain soaked us all, but everyone reached the ground safely and happily.

The Spider's Web contingent had already vacated, so we drove back to camp. Calvin whipped up an awesome batch of tacos, we devoured them greedily, and then several of us decided to make use of the remaining daylight to boulder up at Poko. A big boulder lies near the Poko campground's parking lot, and we spent an hour or two playing on it, even setting a TR on the V1 problem along its tallest face. Darkness finally put an end to our folly; we headed back to camp for evening devotion led by Pastor Ken and his son, Zack.

Todd Paris on the left, Pastor Ken Prater on the right.

Pastor Prater spoke on the role of stalemates in life. It's frustrating when we come to these points of conflict, where no clear winner is apparent, no willing subordination is offered, and no solution is in sight. Ordinarily, teamwork and cooperation are the best means to progress. But as Ken pointed out, God uses these stalemates to further His own aims. Refering to the argument between Paul and Barnabas, Ken showed how two talented people expanded the early Church despite their division.

Friday: Pitchoff & McKenzie Pond Boulders

Tim reaches the crux chockstone of Pitchoff Chimney.

Friday morning, Calvin led devotion, handing out the SRCFC Member's Handbook and going through it with the group. I've got to say, as a Christian looking to explain my faith to other climbers, this booklet is the best resource I've ever seen. Without getting into complex Theology or overbearing metaphors, it is chock full of good advice and pragmatic methods for describing Christian faith.

The forecast was not quite apocalyptic, but it was closer to that than anything climbers would want to hear. I had listend to VPR that morning as the Eye in the Sky forecast waxed poetic about oncoming torrents of rain. Fortunately, another attendee, Matt, had checked some Doppler radar images before leaving home that morning, and it looked like we had until 3 o'clock or so to do some climbing. We elected to head for Pitchoff Cliff.

The group stayed together as one until we reached the cliff, at which point we split into three divisions. The stone masters wandered over toward Roaches on the Wall to warm up for harder stuff, I led up Pitchoff Chimney, and Todd set up TRs on the Practice Wall.

Zack on Pitchoff Chimney Matt on Pitchoff Chimney Tim on Pitchoff Chimney

Zack on Pete's Farewell
I belayed several folks up the Chimney, Todd worked the TRs, and other members hopped back and forth between these two venues and (in a few cases) the harder stuff the other contingent set up on the left side of the cliff. It spat a drop or two occasionally, but the weather held well enough that, when everyone that wanted to had climbed the chimney, I rapped down and headed up the first pitch of Pete's Farewell, then belayed people up either the standard, easy route or the direct face start, according to each person's taste. As Zack and I stood on the belay ledge while Tim worked the direct route, it finally began to rain, if not earnestly, at least sincerely. A short bout of rope managment was required to get him lowered once the rain dampened any hope of climbing the direct start, and I had quite a time downclimbing the pitch, but we all arrived back at the vehicles safely...just as the rain stopped.

Ken Prater on Pete's Farewell

With another window of opportunity open to us, we decided to visit McKenzie Pond Boulders. This would give the visitors a glimpse Lake Placid's Olympic attractions and cell phone reception for a few homesick techaddicts as we drove past the town.

Jackson styles a problem at the Second Set
Once at the boulders, we headed to the Second Set and warmed up on a couple V0/V1 routes. The rock was too damp to push hard sends, but the easier lines were dry enough to tackle, and fun enough to run through multiple times, exploring different techniques as we did. As an old foggie, bouldering is not a familiar or preferred pasttime, but I thoroughly enjoyed the sociable aspect of the sport. While "traditional" rock climbing is a team sport, much of one's activity is essentially personal, separated from partners by varying lengths of rope. Bouldering is much more team-oriented. Each climber uses the cheers, taunts, and beta of his/her spectators to work the problem, and everyone gains the benefit of rest while waiting for their next turn at a problem.

Rain returned, earnestly this time, promptly at three o'clock. We fled to our cars and drove out in rapidly-increasing downpour. Some went to the Lake Placid Eastern Mountain Sports store, while I drove back to camp and dropped off the Praters before winding homeward for the night.

The guys bouldering at McKenzie Pond Boulders Matt bouldering at McKenzie Pond Boulders

Saturday Wrap-Up at Poko

I had to work in Lake Placid on Saturday, but drove out to join the gang for the culminating evening. After a spaghetti dinner provided by Caleb's parents, Jean & Lee, we sat together for the last devotion Geoff Smith, a major force of Poko climbing during the 70s and 80s, spoke about his faith and its relationship to his climbing efforts and other endeavors throughout his life, and admonished those of the next generation to consider their climbing in context within their Christianity.

So the weather could have been better; it could have been worse, too. In the end, a chance to talk climbing with people of like passions as well as faith made the event perfect. We may be separated by hundreds of miles and wildly different talents, but we all have that bond of being a "peculiar people" in Christ.

Hitting the anchors at Pitchoff