BEGINNING OF THE WHACK FROM THE VAN HO AND ALAN PARTWAY DOWN WHERE IT FREES UP.
This post is as much about the philosophy of developing a specific route as the adventure itself. When does a potential line become not worth the effort? I can hear some of you thinking when there’s a four to six hour approach. I have a list of potential new routes based on hundreds of photos. I’ve ruled many out by assessing their quality based on these photos, but others require closer inspection. Such was the itinerary on August 11, 2018.
Two potential lines on the Chimney Wall—south of the main walls—deserved a peek. A series of pictures from the climb up the Great Chimney suggested there might be a series of cracks on the inside northern wall. I was too focused during the climb last June to give them any thought or take good photos. Another possibility sat on the northeastern aspect outside the chimney. I hoped one of them would be a viable option.
Alan Wechsler, now a Gorge veteran, and I camped at South Meadows. I slept restlessly in my bivy sack and we cooked a quick breakfast at 3:45 a.m. on Saturday. I felt listless, but I often walk such feelings off. Our approach would take us up the Van Ho and past the Phelps Trail intersection where we’d break off on heading of about 145 true north. I’ve descended this way twice during winter. Summer is another ballgame and, in hindsight, not worth the effort regardless of the time it saves bushwhacking from the north.
The initial 20 minutes was epically heinous with sodholes, interwoven tree branches from stout trees, and rotten tree trunks. The forest loosened considerably as the terrain steepened. I breathed a sigh of relief as my ambition crashed to new lows. I simply didn’t want to be entangled in this trip, my 45th such trip into the region (including a few washouts). How time flies! Alan took it in stride. It took a little over an hour to locate one of the gullies near the Chimney Wall. It was the same gully, the wrong gully, that Jaryn DeShane and I found in January. I redirected us back up hill to search for the rabbit hole atop the 160’ vertical trap dike. I recognized the area as I neared the edge of the cliff. It was incredibly important to mind every step. The dense forest ends abruptly in a vertical drop.
My job was to assess the route in the chimney. I assigned Alan to check out the NE wall. We’d do this while rappelling from the cliff top so we didn’t have to try the route from the bottom up. I had a hunch that there might be issues. Ever so slowly I lowered myself into the maw, my body hanging free. The north side of the wall where I spied several cracks was slightly overhanging. This would make climbing harder. There were several finger and hand cracks leading to a top-out of dirty ledges. Options at the top were mossy and dangerous (strike 1). The cracks, though viable were among chossy interconnected blocks (strike 2). Falling on gear could bring down the house so to speak. Or one could pull a block free while climbing. With such a dangerous prospect I ruled out the option and enjoyed the rappel.
I suddenly heard the distinct sound of something hitting the wall—my knife. Unfortunately, it was in a free fall and bouncing off each side of the dike. I watched it careen off a chunk of basalt at the bottom. Perhaps I could find it after the rappel? Doubtful. If anyone wants a carbon handle Al Mar, it’s somewhere in here…think of it as geocaching!
LOOKIND DOWN AND UP THE CHIMNEY RESPECTIVELY.
Alan pulled up the ropes after I yelled, “Off rappel!”
He threw the ropes off the northeast side of the wall where a dominant flake sat like an attached puzzle piece. His line could work, but not with me on lead with two shoulders on the mend and my low energy level. Alan popped over the edge and found the same grungy conditions at the top. He then found a 20-foot section that was overhanging out and to the right—with a bit of moss behind the crack. Below where three tiers that overhung to the right and small-gear protection at the bottom. He described it as a scary prospect.
New-routing was off the day’s docket. He asked what the Chimney was rated. I replied, “5.8.” He led that while I rested below (after looking for my knife). That’s the second piece of gear that the Gorge has “eaten” this year. The first was a Rab Neutrino down jacket, now a very expensive mouse-nest in all likelihood.
He enjoyed the challenging moves of the chimney. He chose a slightly different exit out the left-hand side of at the top. A large chockstone created a hole of sorts. Since Alan led, I nicknamed it the…wait for it…A-hole.
ALAN SURVEYING THE FLAKE.
ATOP ALL RHYLED UP, AN ALTERNATE EXIT FROM THE CHIMNEY. NOTICE THE CHOCK STONE TO HIS LEFT.
He wanted to top-rope the other route inside the chimney, All Rhyled up, so I found the top and lowered him. It was only 60’ long, so that didn’t take long. The final route constituted his eighth route climbed in Panther Gorge with six being first ascents!
All that was left was to pack up, drag two ropes and 20 pounds of metal out to the Van Ho via that lovely bushwhack. The ascent up the ridge took only slightly longer than the descent, but we drifted a little farther north and ended up on the Phelps Trail at the end. This effectively extended the most difficult part of the ‘whack/crawl. All’s well that ends well, however.
Fog rolled in as we ate a snack and regrouped. I planned to eat a hearty meal at Indian Falls while peering off at Algonquin—without the noise of a drone which was the case on the way in (yes, this is illegal, but it wasn’t ours). It was misting by the time we reached the falls.
My pace withered as we continued the exit. My knee pain had flared up, a by-product of the Sentinels on June 13th. It was 9:00 p.m. by the time we reached the cars. A 16.25 hour day isn’t bad by Panther Gorge standards! Congrats to Alan for another couple climbs in the land of myth and legend.
Post Script: I think Alan may have thought I was more disappointed in not attaining a new route than I was in reality. I’ve long since realized that not every day goes according to plan and I had only small hopes in these lines to start with. I hoped for a surprise, but didn’t bank on it. I looked at the day as one in which I ruled out two more possibilities on a dwindling list. It means that my focus can soon wander to other areas and goals. And then there are the five remaining ice climbs in the Gorge that still have my attention. The days of high adventure aren’t over.
I can count the days I haven’t been enthused about the Gorge on a couple fingers. I later found out why. Two days later I ended up in the emergency room (Placid, Saranac then Burlington) with a case of Lyme. Despite careful attempts to check myself after yardwork or days in the woods, the darn arachnids caught up with me.