Adirondacks Lost and Found

Posted on: March 23, 2010

Editor's Note: Alpinist 30 is currently at the printer and will be shipped to subscribers and retail stores soon. In this upcoming issue, Don Mellor writes a Crag Report "Told in Stone: Stories from the Adirondacks' Wallface Mountain." His personal history documents a single wall. At 800 feet high, it's one of the tallest in the eastern United States. But Wallface is just one small piece of the park's history: a record that stretches back generations, a record easily erased by time and moss.

Based in Burlington, Vermont, Matt McCormick has made the 'Dacks his climbing headquarters for two years. While Mellor provides a peek into the past in Alpinist 30, McCormick—one of the Northeast's strongest emerging climbers—offers a vision of the future in this online exclusive. Pick up a copy of Issue 30 or subscribe to Alpinist for the full scoop.

The author fiddles with a gear placement before the final runout crux on Zabba (5.13a), Spider's Web, Keene Valley, Adirondack Park, New York. The hard classic is known for its limited and tenuous gear. [Photo] Dave Vuono


The sky darkened over Rumney. Dozens of crag rats scurried to squeeze in pitches before the rain. For once, I was more interested in a conversation than in climbing.

I had spotted a well-known climber from California. Though I had never met him before, word of his hard trad ascents got me excited to chat about the potential for such things outside of Rumney. I introduced myself, and we began talking about projects around other parts of New Hampshire. Conversation moved to the Gunks. Then he asked: "What about that place... the A-dron-o-dacks?"

I cringed. "You mean the Adirondacks?"

"Oh yeah. That place looks sick!" he said. "But I don't think I'll make it there this trip."

This well-traveled visitor is not alone in his Adirondacks cluelessness. I've heard dozens of similar mispronunciations. Once I even saw a classic 'Dacks route featured in a climbing magazine with the caption: So and so sending in the "Nacks of Maine." While the Adirondacks in New York might be foreign to the majority of North America's climbers, even climbers in the Northeast, the area has a rich climbing history. It also has a small and dedicated crew who, still today, continue to uncover new cliffs and envision potential for new lines on the blankest faces.

The Park

The Adirondack State Park of New York is the largest government-protected area in the contiguous United States. To give you a sense of scale, its 6 million acres is roughly the size of New Hampshire. Scattered throughout the park are hundreds of crags. While some are lichen-covered chosspiles, many house some of the most beautiful rock climbs in the country. Splitter cracks stretch hundreds of feet high, rising out of dense forests and thick moss. Slabs lay low; dark roofs overhang ominously. Edges and ledges speckle the cliffs' clean anorthosite—the same kind of metamorphosed granite found on the lunar landscape.

Peter Kamitses on Illuminescence (5.13d), Moss Cliff, Adirondacks. The right side of this crag was predominantly an aid-climber's paradise until Kamitses unlocked this route and Fire in the Sky (5.13c). Both are steep and runout. [Photo] Dave Vuono

In 2008, local climbers Jim Lawyer and Jeremy Haas released a new guidebook to the 'Dacks. The huge 650-page book teems with beautiful topos and detailed descriptions for more than 1,900 routes. Its sheer size, however, has become a standing joke among friends: "You take the rope and rack. I'll take the guidebook."

So, it's a wonder that so few climbers live here, or even travel here. Often, the crags are so quiet that the anorthosite seems appropriate—the experience is so solitary that it's like climbing on the moon.

One big reason is that the climbing is an "acquired taste." Developing new routes in the 'Dacks means dealing with all the unpleasantries that the northeast is infamous for: sticky heat, bitter cold, unrelenting bugs and the dirty process of cleaning.

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