American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Climbing in the Adirondacks: A Guide to Rock and Ice Routes in the Adirondack Park

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  • Publication Year: 1990

Climbing in the Adirondacks: A Guide to Rock and Ice Routes in the Adirondack Park. Second Edition. Don Mellor. The Adirondack Mountain Club, Inc., Lake George, N.Y., 1988. 318 pages, illustrations, charts, route diagrams, map, bibliography. $24.95.

The Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York are the centerpiece of a vast preserve, the largest in the country outside of Alaska. The preserve is a patchwork of public and private lands, small towns and large tracts of wilderness. Dispersed within this area is one of the most extensive, most attractive, and least visited climbing areas in the Northeast.

Despite a history of rugged mountain exploration dating back well into the last century, with the first “technical” climbs occurring in the first decades of this one, and despite a wealth of excellent cliffs and superb climbs, the Adirondacks have managed to be left somewhat out of the mainstream of climbing in the region. This is probably because they are just that much farther from the major population centers, the harsher weather and legendary black flies. The climbing invariably seems to be less tame and more demanding than it is in more popular areas and thus has not attracted more than a handful of devotees.

For a long time, there was strong resistance to the publication of a guidebook to the area. The locals feared that the cliffs would be overrun. Well, it didn’t happen. The first guidebook appeared in 1967, followed by another in 1976. Don Mellor published his first guide in 1983, with a supplement a couple of years later. Now we have Don’s newest and excellent offering, which like the previous guides have plenty to lure people from the Gunks or New Hampshire. Not only does the book provide almost up-to-date information on the better- known crags, such as Pok-O-Moonshine, Chapel Pond and Pitchoff, but it also includes first-time descriptions of many newly-developed cliffs throughout the area. Don made a decision to include only those areas on public land (with just a few exceptions), thereby excluding several of the best cliffs. The guide reveals that the locals, and a few visitors, have been very active. Numerous new routes have been done, often of very high quality and many of considerable difficulty.

All this activity, on ice as well as rock, has been chronicled with reasonable accuracy. There are undoubtedly some errors in route descriptions, and even a few concerning the best way to reach some of the rocks, but that is to be expected in a guide of such wide geographic scope and is in line with the wilderness skills required by the area. The crag photos are adequate. The grading appears to be relatively consistent, though undoubtedly anomalies exist. Quality ratings, a common feature of most modern guides, is done by means of a “v” next to recommended routes. This is the most subjective part of any guide, and I must admit surprise that several of my personal favorites, such as Slim Pickins on the Spider’s Web and Touch of Class on Moss Cliff, were not amongst those recommended.

In his introduction, and often in the text, Don makes a strong plea to maintain the wilderness ethic of Adirondack climbing. He exults in the behind- the-times feel of much of the Adirondack climbing experience and urges that the march of progress be tempered by a desire to keep this area unique. Yet he displays some ambivalence here, an ambivalence shared by many of the locals, when he acknowledges the quality and difficulty of some of the few recent routes put up by modernist methods of rappel and power bolting. In the end, his message is that what has been done is enough, but no more. This philosophy appeared to have general acceptance within the local climbing community. Unfortunately, since his book was published, some vehemently anti-modernists have chopped bolts on these routes, eliminating some put up by traditional methods in the process, and damaging the cliffs and the climbing experience far more than did the bolts themselves. It is a reflection of the changing times in our sport and deep ethical divisions among climbers that even a wonderful backwater like the “Daks” cannot be spared the negative fallout.

Al Rubin

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