Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Chapel Pond Blahs

(Photo: Climber on Drop, Fly or Die (5.11a).)

I knew it would be wet.

It had been a rainy week, with heavy thunderstorms on Friday, continuing into the evening. I almost called the whole thing off.

But it was supposed to be a beautiful day on Saturday in the Adirondacks and I really wanted to go. Maybe in the afternoon Chapel Pond Slab would be dry? Maybe we'd find some dry lines between the streaks of wetness on some south-facing cliffs in the morning?

I missed climbing in the Adirondacks. I wanted to work on my crack and slab skills. I had dreams, my friends. Dreams bigger than any thunderstorm.

And the Dacks was very convenient for my partner Adrian, who was driving down from Montreal. He'd made the five hour trip from Montreal to the Gunks twice recently. It was only fair to give him a break this time around. I could make the long drive from NYC up to the Keene Valley area.

Unfortunately, I only had Saturday available. My daughter and I both had a piano recital on Sunday so I had to be back. This meant nine hours of driving just on Saturday, and my wife Robin wasn't exactly thrilled about it. It seemed a little bit insane to her. (Just between you and me, I think she worries too much.)

"If it's going to be wet, why don't you just go to the Gunks?" she said. "The rock there dries really fast, that's what you always say."

She was right, but she didn't understand. I needed some Dacks action.

I'll cut to the chase: it turned out to be a shitty day for us on Saturday. We should have gone to the Gunks. The irony was that the weather in the Keene Valley area was absolutely gorgeous. But there had been far too much rain earlier during the week.

I got up at 5:00 a.m. and drove out of Brooklyn. The roads were wet but the sky was clear the whole way up.

As I drove in to the Chapel Pond area I was amazed. Not only was the Chapel Pond Slab soaking wet-- which was to be expected-- it was worse than wet. It had a running waterfall right down the middle. Mostly, it seemed, on the route Empress (5.5. X) but also on parts of the Regular Route (5.5), which I had hoped maybe we could do.

In truth, I knew before I drove up that the Slab wouldn't work out. This was no big deal. We could check out some other options. We walked in to the Beer Walls. These cliffs are low and tucked in the woods, so I had no illusions that they'd be much drier than the Chapel Pond Slab. I thought maybe, just maybe, there'd be some dry sections. But no such luck, the entire Upper and Lower walls were absolutely soaked, not just wet but actively running with water in most places.

We walked back out. The Spider's Web looked pretty dry from the road. So we negotiated the talus field all the way up there to find that it wasn't really very dry. It was okay on some parts of the upper portions of the wall but mostly wet on the bottom. All the climbs I'd previously done there were wet, and all the tens I'd hoped to try were also wet.  There was a party there starting one of the 5.11's (Drop, Fly or Die) which was dry except for the very bottom. But I would need good conditions to be brave enough to lead the tens. There was no way I was hopping on a 5.11.

Having struck out three times, we decided to walk over to some of the Lower Washbowl cliffs. These cliffs are not very popular due to the steep, thickly wooded approaches and chossy rock. But you can get there from the Spider's Web without going all the way down to the road, so we decided to try to cross over to a wall called Lost Arrow Face which wasn't too far away

After a filthy, slippery bushwhack we found the wall and it actually seemed to have some dry routes. We found two women from Montreal climbing there.

It was, by this time, after noon and we hadn't climbed anything. We'd been trooping around looking for dry rock for more than two hours. It was about time to do some climbing! We did Excalibur (5.8) after the ladies told us it was dry enough. This is kind of dirty but it is an interesting route up the left side of a pillar which forms a corner, with some really tricky climbing in the corner. Both Adrian and I thought it was harder than 5.8. Maybe we did it wrong?

(Photo: Adrian heading into the tricky bit on Excalibur (5.8).)

Next I started to lead the 5.9 on the wall (Virgin Sturgeon), which the guidebook authors highly recommend. But I got kind of spooked because I couldn't see the bolt above on a blank face and the route ends at some corners that can't be seen from the base of the cliff. I kept worrying the corners at the top would be soaking wet. I aborted and headed over to check out Sergeant Pepper (5.8), which goes up another big corner to the left. But when I got beneath the corner I could see it was very dirty/licheny and the roof exit at the top was dripping water down on me. Yuck. No thanks.

So then I moved left again and did Chunga's Revenge (5.6+). The two women had done Chunga's while Adrian and I did Excalibur and both of them had sent down some sizable rocks as they climbed! So I tried to be careful. This route has a really interesting move left across an orange face to a tree and a ledge with an optional belay. The holds are there but it is a committing step over. And then it goes up a corner to a roof.

(That's me heading up to the crux move on Chunga's Revenge (5.6+).)

In retrospect, I realize that most people end this climb at the optional belay. But I did not. The corner above was full of junky rock and loose flakes. I passed up many opportunities for gear in the bad rock. The roof too had some loose crap and when I got over it and reached the top I built a belay in a crack because the belay tree (which had ancient crusty slings on it) did not appear to me to be stable. I could see it totally falling down if it were weighted. The rock it is attached to up there is all chossy and crumbly.

I brought Adrian up and he found a bolted rap station about ten feet to the right of the tree so I came over to join him. But I thought it was really bad, with just one ancient button-head bolt and a piton, connected by stiff old webbing in an American Death Triangle. Someone had added a more recent sling to the bolt. This sling was still identifiable as blue and it wasn't stiff but it was quite faded, clearly at least a few years old.

Adrian thought the bolt was fine but the whole arrangement gave me the chills. We decided to add a tricam to the anchor with one of our prussik cords and left this gear behind. We both rapped off and, thankfully, nobody died.

Then we hiked down the loose, annoying talus field to the road. I was glad to put the Lost Arrow Face behind me. What a pile.

(Photo: The Lost Arrow Face as seen from the road, with one of the Montreal women we met visible (in a white shirt) low in the center of the wall, leading Virgin Sturgeon (5.9).)

I suggested we go next to Jewels and Gem, a small wall with moderate routes one minute from the road. If it was dry, well then we could lead some routes. If not, we could top rope. We went there and almost all the leadable routes (the ones that go up cracks) were wet. We spotted a dry one, In the Rough (5.7+). This ascends an off-width crack in a corner, and then goes through a good roof problem. Adrian led it. We both enjoyed it. Hallelujah! A good, dry route. So nice. 

(Photo: Adrian on In the Rough (5.7+).)

It appeared a couple of the other routes on this wall were really good-- if only they were dry. The two 5.6 routes appeared to be great natural lines up easy cracks, but they were both dripping with runoff. The dry routes all seemed to have no gear. I thought maybe I could lead the 5.9 variant just to the left of In the Rough, so I started it... and then I backed off when it appeared there were no placements for a long stretch above the initial crack. 

We considered top roping some other climbs but I checked the time and it was already 5:30. We decided to leave. I had lost the mojo and I had a long drive ahead. 

I would definitely come back to Jewels and Gem some time when it is dry for some fun moderates. It seems like a nice little wall.

We both walked out pretty disappointed with our day. We did a lot of trudging for three mediocre pitches.

And the worst was yet to come. I'll spare you the details, but some car trouble kept us from leaving for another three hours. 

Once that was resolved and I finally got out of there I drove home in an over-caffeinated haze, wishing I'd listened to my wife and gone to the Gunks. The day was largely a waste of time and money. But you know, sometimes taking a chance really pays off and sometimes it doesn't. You gotta play to win and all that garbage.

And even if the day basically sucked we still got a little taste of some adventure. 

Don't worry, Dacks. I still love you and I'll be back. 


  1. Ahhh... Better luck next time :)

  2. There is adventure much closer to home, why hasn't someone as versatile and literate as you spearheaded the opening of the greatest cliff for hundreds of miles here in the metropolitan area; The Palisades !!??