Adirondacks Lost and Found


Jeremy "Rowdy" Dowdy embraces It's Only Entertainment (5.11+), Spider's Web, Keene Valley, Adirondacks. [Photo] Dave Vuono

Another reason is accessibility. Most of the park sits a long way from a large population center. And the 'Dacks are so big that it takes almost five hours to drive across the park east-west and south-north. Some crags are so isolated from others that development has been region-specific. The climbing community is fragmented into geographical cliques that frequent either the southern crags around Lake George and the Southern Mountains or Keene Valley and the High Peaks.

And the climbing is no sport playground. Infused into the Adirondack climbing experience is a dedication to clean ethics. While there is not a strict ban on bolting or the use of fixed anchors, climbers generally respect the expectation that bolts will be used conservatively, only where no natural protection exists. Some crags, such as the Spider's Web in Keene Valley, have almost no bolts.

The enormity of writing a guidebook to an area of this size required a full-time commitment from the authors. Lawyer alone spent two years on the project and logged more than 30,000 miles in his vehicle, scouting crags and talking to climbers in New York, Vermont and beyond. Collecting information on first ascents was difficult not only because of the park's size, but also because the history, too, was fragmented crag-to-crag and, over time, lost in collective amnesia.


The Explorer-climbers

"The explorer-climber is often a different breed from the typical climber. The explorer-climber studies topo maps to ferret out the steep faces, and systematically visits every squeezed concentration of contour lines until paydirt. A few routes get climbed and they move on; the joy is in the discovery. Subsequent visitors, sometimes armed with more skill or sometimes just a different eye, build on their work and uncover more gems." —Jim Lawyer

Over the last several years, a small but motivated group of explorer-climbers—like Lawyer, Colin Loher and Don Mellor—have been crawling throughout the park, unearthing new crags. Future Adirondacks climbers owe much to these modern-day pioneers.

But still, the relative obscurity of the Adirondacks has delayed development of difficult climbs. The park's first 5.12 wasn't established until 1987, by a visiting climber: Dave Lanman, a Gunks local. A year later, he returned again to bump up the grade with Salad Days, the park's first 5.13. Though Salad Days takes an obvious line at the prominent roadside crag Poke-o-Moonshine, the climb was established more than a decade after the country's first recorded 5.13.

Will Mayo on Fecalator (M10), Adirondacks. The climb was first established by Chris Thomas and is one of the Northeast's hardest mixed climbs. Mayo nabbed the second ascent and was first to place all gear on lead. [Photo] Dave Vuono

Another of the first climbers to bring their 5.13 abilities to the park was southern Adirondack local Fred Abbuhl. In 1995 Abbuhl stumbled onto a beautiful crag in the central section of the park while he and his father were hunting deer. After following his father's tracks for several hours, Abbuhl found his father eating lunch at the base of what would become known as Lost Hunter's Crag. "Howdya like this crag I found for you?" Abbuhl's father reportedly said.

Throughout the 1990s, Abbuhl quietly went on to establish several high-quality routes there, up to 5.13. As far as the record goes, most are unrepeated. "After their initial ascents, these routes have drifted into obscurity due to lack of attention," Lawyer said in an interview. "There are just not enough climbers around here, at least not enough that climb at that level and are willing to walk."

Of the many unnoticed ascents in the park, perhaps most significant was Dave Aldous' 1996 ascent of Zabba (5.13a) at the Spider's Web. Although Aldous later focused most of his time at the Gunks, he says the 'Dacks will always feel like "my place."

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Will Mayo

Great article and photos, Matt and Dave! For the record, Ian Boyer climbed the second ascent of The Fecalator, after Chris Thomas, perhaps the hardest traditional mixed route in North America (I did the third); and, Ian Boyer was also the first to red-point the route; I was the second. Cheers, Will

2010-08-13 01:14:54

O' the Adirondacks! How I love thee. Well done Matt and the new wave pioneers!

Cheers, Jim (Jamie) Cunningham Franconia, NH

2010-03-28 07:40:36

It’s been two decades since I climbed Zabba. I cleaned and worked on it for a couple of days. I eventually got all the moves on top rope but couldn’t do it from the ground without a fall. The weather turned bad and I had to leave. I told Don Mellor it was Adk 12.b. I was scared to rate it any harder that that in deference to the locals. It’s fun to see that it’s now 13.a with a run out crux, I suspect that quarter inch spinner is no longer there.

Good Article,

Chris Gill

2010-03-25 21:46:07
Will R

Great article Matt! Love the history of those hard routes!

2010-03-24 06:30:39
Jim Lawyer

Love the article Matt. I like that it provides perspective on the higher-end developments. In two years, since the guidebook was released, there are about 360 new routes, and that doesn't even scratch the surface. Regarding the guidebook size, yes, it's's a brick. But it IS lighter and smaller than the just-released New River guidebook :-)

2010-03-23 22:11:07
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