Hike and Climb
Along Crane Mountain's
Southeast Flank
9th March, 2008

by Jay Harrison

I continue to be loaded with college work, so I haven't been able to sneak away much. Instead of regaling readers with an adventure of huge proportions, I'm lumping a bunch of little trips, taken over the course of this month, and concentrating on pictures rather than words. Numerous ice storms this season made the Adirondacks both incredibly beautiful and dangerous for hiking. On a couple of these trips, I saw and heard huge branches and entire trees come crashing to the ground nearby, as they broke under tons of ice burden. The pictures, especially from the sunny days, were marvelous.

On with the Story
Hike and Ice Climb on
Crane Mountain's Southeast Flank

9th March, 2008

I Ice-Encrusted Branches 07 had a few hours in the morning to kill this Sunday afternoon, and decided to walk along the southeast side of Crane Mountain. An earlier exploration had turned up a possible climbing route above the rock route Graphite Corner. I wanted to get a closer look and possibly tackle it; so my tools and crampons came along.

It was an unusual day in that it was both sunny and relatively warm. While I really didn't have time for such a diversion, conditions were too good to waste with papers and chores, and I was itching to really get out.

Trees bowed and broken by Icing 12

Much had changed since my last trip out here. A snow storm, a thaw, and a refreeze meant some new challenges to overcome. The woods had been drastically altered by the ice and wind. Almost every tree was bowed low under several tons of ice, or broken, snapped in two.

Snapped Tree 16

Ice-Encrusted Branches 56 The crust was tenuous, so my snowshoes stayed on as I clomped speedily through the woods towards the ledges and cliffs of Crane's southeast side. Around me, trees arched over and low, clustered canopies leaning drunkenly against each other for support while lonesome singles strained to the ground. The path was strewn with branches, twigs, and ice shards, but the destruction wasn't over. Once in awhile, I heard the creak and snap of a tree succombing to its burden. These sounds reminded me to look carefully before plunging through the frequent fences of prickly beech branches blocking my way.
The weather fluctuated between brilliant sunshine and brief bursts of snow; the latter dominating as I neared the side of Crane. I wondered if it was wise to continue when several times, the sky grew quite glumly dark and snow began tumbling thickly out of it. Every time I glanced upward though, a patch of blue would drive me onward, optimistically hoping the clouds would thin and sunshine would break through.

Ice-Fringed Trees 13 Ice-Bowed Trees 14

My path through the boulders at the base of Graphite Corner 24

View from the boulders at the base of Graphite Corner 25

Graphite Corner Icy 09 Reaching the side of the mountain, I turned northward and soon arrived across the brook from Graphite Corner. The lower pitch was gone; in its place a steady trickle of water gurgled audibly downward. It didn't look good, but I decided to cross over and look closer. There might be a way up it after all.
The crossing was tricky, but a recently-downed beech simplified the task. I tight-roped across and clambered through its tangled, prostate crown onto boulders jumbled against the brook's opposite shore. Clambering over these, I then wallowed my way upward on the avalanche cone. Here, the crust often failed to support me, and even with snowshoes on, a leg would break through and plunge over the knee toward the depths. I knew I was walking on top of as much as three meters of snow, so the sensation of a foot suddenly plummeting into the dark was a bit spooky.
Finally up against the corner itself, the way was obviously not advisable. A curtain of ice remained about 10 meters up, but with no dry or ice access to it, and suspicious of its anchorage to the underlying rock, I decided to walk around instead of climbing this section. Farther up, I saw the flows I had spotted on the earlier trip, and they still looked fat enough to warrant closer inspection.
Crack right of Graphite Corner 27I did briefly consider an alternative start, but it didn't look quite safe enough to launch into alone. With a rope and some rock gear, the wide crack system just right of Graphite Corner would go pretty easily. I've soloed this line in the summertime. While it was draped with ice as I stood there that Sunday, the ice wasn't thick enough to guarantee good pick placements, nor the choss under it frozen enough to offer good purchase either. It would have been a sketchy bit of climbing with awful consequences for failure. This remains yet another "next year" sort of thing. Seems I have a lot of them...

I wandered first down and then across the short, steep cliff along the base of the mountain, then began wallowing up the ramp to gain a wooded bench leading back left. It wasn't easy: the snow was deep and the crust alternately unsupportive or bombproof and skittish. I had to dig in the toes and grab saplings and branches to gain height.
Finally I reached a point where an easy bit of climbing would lead me back left above the lowest cliff. I switched from snowshoes to crampons and axes, waded through snow and tree limbs to that easy gully, and ascended.
At the top of the gully, I hauled myself up onto the wide, sloping shelf to find my path blocked by a maze of freshly-fallen tree limbs littering the entire bench. The ice I wanted to inspect lay across and above about a hundred meters away, but I could see it would take awhile to get there. Being so far committed, though, I didn't want to turn back. I began working my way across the ledge, through screens of ice-glazed oak branches, pine limbs, and shattered striped maples. The snow was very deep in the frequent incidents where the crust wouldn't support me. That short traverse took over ten minutes to negotiate.

Fat Ice Above Graphite Corner 33

Finally, I arrived at the fattest line of ice. It looked pretty "cooked," but as it only had a short bit of steep leading to lower-angled ice above, and with soft ice offering fine placements, I judged it solid enough to climb. The vertical start eased off quickly from grade 3 to 2 to 1, but as I pulled onto a facile ramp, I could tell the ice was not well-bonded. Climbing up to the next vertical pitch, one leg broke through at the junction of ramp and wall, and I could see the ice I stood on lay a a foot above the rock. Apparently, thaw runoff had pulled taken everything but the icy crust of the lower-angled slopes. I was walking on eggshells, so to speak; but by this time, retreat was no safer than carrying onward. I inspected the options: to my left the ice became thin and the going was vertical; right I might sneak past a tenuous bit up to a low angle slope; directly ahead, a short vertical bit led to a staircase of small steps to a pine log jutting out from easier-angled ice. After whacking at the wall in front of me, I deemed it solidly anchored to the rock still - the worst places were the gentle slopes. Away I went, straight upward.

I have to admit a sense of relief when I finally wrapped my arms around that pine log. Pulling through the transition from steep to slabby ice involved tip-toeing on suspected blister-shell with a long spill below if it blew out. I hauled upward along that log until I could climb onto it and look back on the route below.

Looking Down from the Top of the Ice Climb 35 Looking Down from the Top of the Ice Climb 34

The going became very difficult above, though the angle eased a lot and I was no longer ice climbing. It was still very steep, and the way was incredibly tangled with ice-garbed limbs and broken trees. It wasn't easy at all.
As I struggled upward, small openings occasionally allowed a peek out at the view, and in those moments when position and sunshine coincided, it was worth the effort just to be there.

View down toward Johnsburg Road 39

View up along the side of Crane Mtn 32 I intended to head south to the ramp beside the Waterfall Wall, but first had to climb another 70 meters higher to get around a spine of rock, through the mess that the ice storms created. After managing this, a short leftward traverse led to another cul-de-sac, and once again I had to wrestle upward. Finally, I stood on the ridge that I knew headed downward toward the top of the more familiar Waterfall, a full 30 meters higher than my destination.
The walk down was uneventful, though nearly as much a tangle as anywhere else in the woods. Slipping, sliding, post-holing and beating through branches, I returned to what is left of the trail and headed homeward.

Next Day: Photo Shoot
11th March, 2008

Below are assorted additional photos of this trip.

A view out from the SE Side of Crane Mtn 43 Looking Back down my trail up the SE Side of Crane Mtn 44

Small Pine on the SE Side of Crane Mtn 45 Tree on the SE Side of Crane Mtn 51

View down toward Johnsburg Road 47

View down toward Johnsburg Road 48

View down toward Johnsburg Road 49

View down toward Johnsburg Road 55

Icy-Encrusted Tree on SE Side of Crane Mtn 40

Bowed Trees on the SE Side of Crane Mtn 50

Next Day: Photo Shoot
11th March, 2008

C'mon folks, help put me and my kids through college!
Act Now! and all that stuff.
518 623-2062 or jayclimbs @ yahoo.com for more info.
I've decided to offer several of my photos for sale. I hope to arrange an online purchasing system shortly, but in the meantime, feel free to email me or inquire via phone if you know my number and email. The photos here have been scaled down considerably so they won't enlarge well, but the originals are seven megapixels, so they can be enlarged up to 10"x14" or so without pixellation.
I'm also offering a CD with twenty photos 1280 pixels in their longest dimension for $10. These will fill the standard screen dimensions today, so they make great desktop scenes. If you let me know what resolution your screen is set at, I can adjust photos to fit it perfectly, but the highest resolution for this 1280. Thanks!

Next Day: Photo Shoot
11th March, 2008