A Tale of Four Routes – New Routing in Panther Gorge July 12 – August 22, 2020

A Tale of Four Routes – New Routing in Panther Gorge July 12 – August 22, 2020

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 44.11365°N / 73.90843°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Nov 30, 0000
Activities Activities: Hiking, Trad Climbing
Seasons Season: Summer

This summer has been one of work and more work. Where I was once enthused to jump on the computer and write, I found myself resting my eyes and trying to unplug. So, I’m a bit behind in my habit of writing about various trips. It seemed that combining a few Gorge outings into a single report might be the way to go. Enjoy!

Nothing but the Rain and Had the Radish on Marcy

Date: 2020 July 12
Partner: Loren Swears
Routes: Had the Radish (5.8+) and  Nothing but the Rain (5.9+)
Route Lines (lines F & K): http://adirondackrock.com/PantherDenPhoto.jpg 
Photos: https://photos.app.goo.gl/x7xAz8S52EVDV63p9

When Loren and I were last in the Gorge two weeks before this trip on July 12 and put up Practically Roadside, he said pointed and said, “Hey, there’s a line.”

I replied, “Yup, you want it? We’ll do it next trip, if so.” Thus a plan was born.

I knew it needed big gear, so I borrowed 4, 5 and 6-inch cams and lugged the gear in to try the route and perhaps climb farther south in PG.

I originally had my eye on a multi-pitch line, but saw that an area that I call “the always-wet corner” was nearly dry. I’ve stood in this alcove during a few rainstorms and even if it’s not raining, the wide crack is generally wet with runoff. Only the bottom 15 feet had any moisture this time, so I capitalized on the perfect condition of the line in combination with the large gear in my pack and decided to add it to the day’s itinerary. Not surprisingly, ice forms in this corner starting in December and builds the mixed route called Waking Cerberus (WI5/M4).


Loren after the crux of Had the Radish.
Loren after the crux of Had the Radish.

It didn’t take long to ascend Loren’s line though I nearly fell from a tricky layback section on the crux. The wide crack climbing was fun though I avoided applying much pressure to two blocks that teetered, but remained in place…another common obstacle in the Gorge. Loren followed without much of a problem and we moved the rope to the top of the “always wet corner” to rappel and take a closer look.

This line looked deceptively easy from below and intimidating on rappel. The top was a little damp, but manageable. I remembered the overhanging crux from December of 2019 and knew not to underestimate it. Hanging on rappel gave me the opportunity to peer deep into the maw of the mountain. The smooth-sided crack was at least 10-15 feet deep.

I stepped off rappel at noon and ate some food while the wind whipped up the valley and cooled the temperature…much like the previous week. Loren sensed that I was apprehensive, but said nothing. I stood up a few minutes later and said, “Well, I might as well give it a try. We’re here.”

The first 15 feet had no place for gear, but I was tightly jammed in the chimney. Above my first piece of protection was another runout section (since I didn’t have an 8-inch cam). This was a little unnerving since I didn’t fit into the crack—it was a true off-width that only accommodated my leg. Edges, a leg jam, and some intense wriggling got me to a comfortable ledge where I slammed in more protection and breathed a sigh of relief. The rest of the climb was awkward, but easily protectable. An hour later, I was belaying Loren from the top.

Off the deck on Nothing but the Rain.
Off the deck on Nothing but the Rain.

The first, Had the Radish, is positioned the top of the Panther Den and the last named line. While one could probably squeeze something else in, without further vetting, the blocks just seem less stable and the length is shorter. Since the cliff is a bit beaten up we opted for Had the Radish, a Vermont term roughly meaning “broken, beaten up, or worthless.” It’s also the name Loren and his wife Lois’ band. The other route, well…look at it during a wet year and you’ll see nothing but the rain…or at least constant dripping.        

He emerged from the crux at 2:30 PM and said, “THAT was a fun climb!” I agreed. It was well worth the effort.

Our day ended early and we again made it back to the trailhead at a leisurely pace after a nice dinner, and with daylight to spare—15 hours of backcountry fun.

Throne to the Lions on Marcy with Bill Schneider

Date: 2020 August 1
Partner: Bill Schneider
Route: Throne to the Lions (5.9+)
Route Photo (orange line): http://adirondackrock.com/PantherGorgePhoto.jpg
Photo Album: https://photos.app.goo.gl/EBhA6NoUnoMoR2yWA

The last time Bill and I were in Panther Gorge together was on July 30, 2016 when we added Tail of Redemption which starts just a few feet away from this day’s target…almost 4 years to the day. I had some unfinished business on the Agharta Wall, so we went had one of a couple options in mind. I called one of the options “Orange” simply because I drew a potential route line in orange back in 2015. This was the primary target if it was dry. If it was dry…it often is not during the early season.

Our strategy was to cross a slab then break through the roof system of the center of the wall by linking a series of cracks. This would allow us to access a plumb line that runs from the top of the Agharta roofs to the top of the cliff. Part of the initial plan worked out.

The usual 4 AM start at the Garden placed us at the base of the route at 9:30 AM. The sun was shine with the backdrop of a cobalt-blue sky. Only a few blackflies flitting around our heads. Light winds up on the cliff promised to mitigate that annoyance. Bill racked up thus volunteering to lead the first, most challenging pitch. I was more than happy to follow.

With a single large nut protecting a 15’ traverse across blank 75-80 degree slab, a fall would not be pretty. He could potentially slide off the slab, over an 8-foot roof and onto a lower run of slab before ending up in a corner. Sound appealing? No. Thus, he was beyond meticulous as he worked his way off the initial and only obvious foothold. He explored as much as he could, finding a few scant crimps for his fingertips or side-pulls for balance. In a heart-stopping moment, his left foot slipped. I think we both yelped. In any case, he controlled his breathing, then pulled the trigger and made a few “trust the shoes” friction moves and found himself in a low-angle corner below a small roof where he could place a solid cam and regain his composure.


Bill working the sketchy slab traverse on the FA.
Bill working the sketchy slab traverse on the FA.


A few minutes later, he explored the aforementioned crack system and reported it was mossy and unappealing. The entire crack system of this line drains part of the cliff, so that was no surprise. Thus, he climbed the wall to the right. A series of easy (say 5.7ish) horizontal ledges, dikes, and flared cracks helped the ascent up to a grassy ledge. He belayed from a crack above the ledge, and then it was my turn.

I would have been happy to wait a few more minutes before committing to the initial traverse; a moment I’d been contemplating for years. Now that it was at hand, I wasn’t as excited to move onto the rock! A fall for me would not be much prettier than I described above though I’d likely just scrape my way into the low-angle corner. …the “games” we play and risks we weigh in the name of exploration and climbing.

The initial move was fine. Then came the test. It was every bit as difficult and spooky as it looked while sitting below belaying Bill. I probed with my right foot and found a 1/8” edge. I found a crimp that I could use to stabilize me while I looked for a “happier” position. I found nothing comfortable and decided to matched my feet (really my big ties) on the 1/8” ledge; a strenuous affair while supporting my weight with the fingertips of the left hand pulling from above and those of the right hand pulling from the side for balance. The right would not hold a fall if my feet blew out. Once my left toe was in place, I trusted the rubber and made a couple smearing moves to the right. I too needed a moment to gain my composure. It was both strenuous and heady. The crux of the day was over in a scant 15 feet. We grappled overnight on the rating (between 5.10a and 5.9+) and finally settled on 5.9+R (runout).

The climb up the subsequent wall was fun and very exposed since it was positioned above the lower roof of the Agharta wall. Each move up required a subsequent move to the right along an edge—hence the exposure. This was turning into a prize line—one worth waiting years for. The choice to avoid the cracks to break the roof was a superb choice. Bill was all smiles when I met him on the ledge.


Exposure above the first roof on Agharta.
Exposure above the first roof on Agharta.


The next slab/crack pitch was mine to lead. I knew it would be easier though committing. I know how to keep my head on runout slab. Since we didn’t follow the cracks system leading to the plumb line, I had to find a way to move 50’ to the left in order to obtain the 200-foot long primary crack. The slab of Agharta is highly weathered full of small edges and pockets though the protection is often spaced widely apart (runout).

I racked up and moved up the belay crack then departed from its safety for 20 or 30 feet to an overlap where I gained the first gear. Features or not, it was a heady lead (but only 5.7). A little more climbing placed me at a horizontal crack/rail where I then traversed slowly over to gain the primary crack up the center of the wall. Once in the crack, the climb was intuitive with little route finding. I simply followed it until its end at a small headwall where I belayed Bill. I was 200 feet above his position, but it didn’t take long for him to reach me.

That was the end of the new line, which we named Throne to the Lions—both a Christian reference and note that the lion’s share of long routes of Marcy are in this area. We discussed descent options. The easiest in hindsight may have been to walk to the Feline Wall’s top and rappel. We opted for an “easy” walk below the headwall of Agharta. This turned into a 5.6 traverse so we belayed each other. In the process, we crossed four other lines (Toma’s Wall, Cloud Splitter, Moonraker Runout, and Agharta [ice climb]). Two rappels down the Moonraker Runout route totaling roughly 300 feet set us back at the base of the wall. It was only 2:30 p.m., but Bill noted that it was already a great day. There was no need to push it. Thus, we made a leisurely exit (seemingly a theme this year…maybe due to my age) and got back to the trailhead before dark.


Kevin following P1 on the same wall as the previous photo.
Kevin following P1 on the same wall as the previous photo.


A Day with Slab the Impaler on Haystack

Date: 2020 August 22
Partners: Loren Swears and Katie Vannicola
Route: Slab the Impaler (5.9) on Mt. Haystack
Route Line: http://www.adirondackrock.com/HaystackNoMansLand.pdf
Photo Album: https://photos.app.goo.gl/Ja87L2orUeh1LKD3A

I was out with my friend Rich McKenna on the first known ascent of Dix Mountain’s technical Buttress Slide in 2012. This slide was a gift from Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. Rich’s quick wit prompted him to say, “Wouldn’t ‘Slab the Impaler’ be a cool name for something?” I said, “Nice,” Though, at the time, first ascents were new to me and I was prone to naming based on features…aka the buttress on which this slide was positioned. With his permission, I used the impaler name for this route. It somehow seemed appropriate to have a Dracula-themed name for a route this deep in the backcountry. We’ve certainly bled enough during these little outings.

Katie at the top of the new route, with the Agharta Wall and bushwhack in the background.
Katie at the top of the new route, with the Agharta Wall and bushwhack in the background.

Several storms blew across the area on Friday, August 1. The dry stretches that categorized the first part of the summer and made climbing in PG a delight were getting fewer as the weather pattern changed. Autumn was knocking at the door. I groaned even louder when radar showed an early morning shower drenching Keene. A wet trail and rocks bore testament to the event. I failed to see how we would get much climbing done since the Gorge cracks seep for a couple days after a storm, but I also didn’t mind touring around. I told Loren and Katie that I didn’t hold much hope. They are both easy and touring would have been fine.

We reached the Marcy/Haystack col at 8:30 a.m., dropped into the Gorge, and found it nearly bone dry. I smiled. This happened a couple years ago with my friend Alan Wechsler. Sometimes it pays to roll the dice if the storms are scattered. The grass wasn’t even wet, so I assumed the most recent storms must have drifted north or south of the area.

We found recent rock falls below the blocky area of the Panther Den. They were less than 3 weeks old since they weren’t there on my last trip. Several 15-foot long boulders had released from their perches and ripped muddy swaths 30-40’ through the woods shearing trees in the process. It is always humbling to see an 8-inch diameter tree nearly torn in two and rotated until it splintered. I found the footprints of a friend, Kennedy, who had visited the week before.

We bushwhacked down to the Agharta Wall to work on a closed project. Only a few drops of water seeped from one crack. None-the-less I had a heavy, inexplicable feeling. We climbed the lower slab to a level area and Loren put me on belay. This was the “failure to launch” part of the day. I tried several times in various ways to start the route and get traverse to a roof where Adam Crofoot reached several years ago. I just “didn’t feel it.” I should have listened to my gut, but I finally admitted defeat for the day and had Loren lower me. We packed up and set our sights on the large shield of slab across the valley in the No Man’s Land area of Haystack’s cliffs. I was moderately certain that there was a line that I could make “go.”

With the navigational guesswork taken out of the equation, the bushwhack through the overgrown network of talus blocks and ledges took less than ½ hour. It was Katie’s first time traversing the Gorge, so Loren and I joked with her about the horrors. Her worst was a rainfall of dead needles down the back of her shirt during the start of the ‘whack. Once on Haystack, we had to climb out of a gully and up nearly vertical forest to reach the base of the slab…always a fun event with a climbing pack.

Our target was an obvious crack with large tufts of grass growing out of it. From a climbing perspective, the dirty crack itself is completely unappealing. I had a hunch that the true line would be a face climb to the left of the fissure. The crack itself would simply allow me to protect against a fall. It didn’t take long to don the pre-racked harness and start the climb. Katie put me on belay and I was off.

Beginning of Slab the Impaler
Beginning of Slab the Impaler

The slab climbed exceptionally well and the crack, between tufts, was clean enough to accept gear at regular intervals. There were a few areas with little feature and tricky moves which merited a 5.9 rating; it was harder than it looked from below. I climbed until the crack petered out where it allowed one final bombproof placement. I knew the fun was just beginning…the rest of the climb would involve true route finding since I didn’t know where the features would take me or if I could protect the climb. I only knew that photos suggested that there might be other cracks to use as protection. I also kept in mind that in the worst case, I’d have to retreat to my last placement to bail off the route.

I carefully stepped left along some flaky edges until I reached a small corner. There were small, loose pancakes of weathered rock when I tapped to test each handhold. I took much care on the flakes as I climbed on, but they were thick enough and numerous enough where I felt comfortable. In the end, there was enough to work with and I found a cam placement after roughly 15 feet. I then climbed the corner to a small blocky ledge and rested while working a small brass nut into a flared seam. The climbing was slightly easier along the seam. There was another rest below a bulge with a vertical face. I breathed a sigh of relief when I placed a 4” cam in a large crack. The grippy, positive edges of the crack allowed me to make a bold move to another rest. The slab above lessened in grade and led to a blocky gully where I set up an anchor.

Loren then Katie climbed in turn while I enjoyed the light wind and incredible view of Marcy’s cliffs. I sat at a height nearly even with their tops. Many of the walls looked vertical for their entirety, which was a trick of perspective. There are vertical portions, but not from bottom to top.

I reflected on the blessings of the season. Work had been brutal…the hours and rebuilding of various computer systems. Days like this countered some of the stress even if I was guiding. The dry weather made each days out fruitful, not just long walks with a rope in tow.

Loren crested the crux and came to rest below me. We chatted and bantered as Katie climbed. We heard her yelling a few times, but her words were carried away by the wind. Her rope was tight and I knew she’d work out whatever she “ran into.” Her head popped over the cliff a few minutes later; Loren played photographer while I belayed. She was sitting nearby and tied to the anchor some 20 minutes later. I then gave Loren enough slack to find us a belay point to the south. Two boulders created a bombproof pinch point. A 200’ rappel placed us at our packs at 4:30 p.m. This was Katie’s first rock climbing first ascent in the Gorge—my job was done.

Given our position, it seemed prudent to plan our exit. All we had to do was bushwhack back over to the Feline Wall and then north along the walls. A restful walk out along the trail and dinner in the dark at 9:00 placed us at the trailhead at roughly 11:00, some 18.5 hours after the start.

Kevin atop Slab the Impaler belaying Katie.

Loren cresting the crux.
Loren cresting the crux.

Katie's lunch: Impossible whopper with smashed blueberries and jolly rancher gummies. We'll end with that image!

Other Trips in Panther Gorge


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