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Adirondacks Lost and Found


All ascents of Zabba (5.13a) have followed a line of crimps left of an obvious crack line at the base of the route. Nick Wakeman has been projecting the direct variation, which will most likely bump the grade to 5.13b. [Photo] Dave Vuono

"I've spent hours and hours of time hanging on the side of some new cliff with a wire brush in my hand scraping off lichen just so I could see if it would go," Aldous said. "That feeling of solitude, I guess, is what I really like."

The Spider's Web is a contender for one of the best single-pitch crack-climbing crags in the country, and Zabba is one of its finest routes. For its relatively short height (80'), the route packs a punch right off the ground with a section of flaring 5.12c tips to the route's crux, a balancy hand-foot match with the last gear several feet below. It took Aldous more than a month of obsessive toprope-soloing to work out the moves and gear placements before he returned to redpoint Zabba on lead. So unknown was his ascent that, in 2005, Vermont climber Peter Kamitses believed he had made the first free ascent. Despite its caliber, the route has likely seen fewer than 10 redpoints in 15 years.

For the past decade, Kamitses has been humbly amassing an impressive list of hard 5.14+ sends throughout the country. Having gotten a taste of what the 'Dacks had to offer, Kamitses turned his abilities to a 300-foot overhanging "aid wall" called of Moss Cliff.


This black- and tan-streaked wall in Wilmington Notch in the Adirondacks is split by three amazing crack systems that would appear more natural in Yosemite than northern New York. Kamitses had seen a photo of the wall and heard many rumors about its free-climbing potential, but he did not make the trip from Burlington until 2006, when he climbed Creation of the World (5.11b, 4 pitches), the infamous offwidth that climbs the left side of the big-wall section of Moss Cliff.

New Hampshire-based climber Dave Sharratt joined Kamitses in September 2006 with hopes of freeing the steep aid lines. Together, they free climbed Fire in the Sky (5.13b, 4 pitches). The route combines sections of two aid routes called Children and Alcohol, and Mosscalito via a series of overhanging cracks and face climbing. Kamitses returned a week later to eliminate a hanging belay between the last two pitches creating a monster 140' 5.13c pitch. He logged several 30'+ falls onto solid but well spaced cams battling the pump near top of the pitch.

Not finished with the wall, Kamitses established Illuminescence (5.13d)—just right of Fire in the Sky—a month later, in October 2006. He returned yet again to link the crux pitches of both routes, creating Ill Fire, the park's first 5.14a in September of 2008. This wall remains one of the most impressive pieces of rock east of the Mississippi, yet Kamitses' routes have seen only one repeat by Quebecois strongman Jean-Pierre Ouellet, who repeated Fire in the Sky soon after its first ascent. In the summer of 2008, Kamitses established Brass Balls, Sticky Rubber and Steel Nuts. This 5.12+ route tackles a beautiful arete with several well-spaced #3 rp and purple C3 placements for gear. It may come as no shock that this route, too, remains unrepeated.

Peter Kamitses 50 meters into the crux pitch of Illuminescence (5.13d). In September 2008, he combined the crux sections of this route and Fire in the Sky to establish a 5.14a variation. [Photo] Dave Vuono

Peter Kamitses has ushered a new era of hard trad in the 'Dacks. Before his arrival, few climbers of his ability—if any—had spent significant time in the park.

Inspired by Peter's ascents at Moss Cliff, I turned my own sights on a line on the Upper Washbowl Cliff in the Adirondacks' Keene Valley. Upper Washbowl is an imposing 350' wall that towers above Chapel Pond Pass, a popular after-climbing swimming hole. I had often looked at a perfect left-to-right arching dihedral that tracked up the wall's prow. For many years, I assumed there were good reasons it had never been climbed. Finally after some inquiries, I found that the route had been passed off as "too hard looking." And to local climbers, the steep and crackless first pitch just "didn't look all that appealing."

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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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