|Page Type:||Trip Report|
|Lat/Lon:||44.11170°N / 73.90556°W|
|Date Climbed/Hiked:||Jun 9, 2018|
Partner: Steven St. Pierre
Route: Paws Off (5.8/400')
Duration: 4:30 AM-12:30 AM
Distance: 18 mi.
Temperature: 50’s-60's Fahrenheit
While every Panther Gorge trip is an exploratory journey to some degree, some trips are more densely packed with learning. The more one visits a cliff, the more familiar it feels—common sense. This outing was to a wall that we’ve only walked along once since 2014. My memory was a bit fuzzy regarding the layout of the features along its base, and no beta exists regarding the features of the cliff itself except photos taken from the opposite side of the Gorge. Was it broken with deep cracks or simply shallow flaring seams? Was it vertical or of lower angle? I had a few educated guesses in mind, but that doesn’t always translate into something useful. Those questions stoked my curiosity a couple of years ago, but I didn’t have time to act on it until this trip.
Steven St. Pierre was interested in heading over as well. We knew it would involve a bushwhack across the central drainage—loaded with big pieces of talus—and some gnarly bushwhacking up 75-degree, treed-in slopes. Adam Crofoot and I scrambled up this before putting up All Things Holy on the V Wall to the south. I surmised that Steven and I could pull off a climb or two and turn the day around in 16-18 hours…less than the usual 20-21 hour trips that Steven was involved in last year. I’m trying to avoid such long days, really!
As usual, we were walking by 4:30 AM. The temperature was a nice 50ish degrees as we trekked up the trail from the Garden and reached the Marcy/Haystack col at around 8:15. The requisite bushwhack south to Marcy’s cliffs found the grass in the glades at mid-shin level. Bluets decorated a few areas before we dove into the real bushwhacking. Like a few years before, we started via a drainage stream at the base of the Feline Wall and used line-of-sight navigation to intersect the drainage stream below an obvious slab on Haystack. The dark rock was a welcome sight after threading through the talus.
Has anyone bushwhacked up a 75-degree slope with a full pack of metal, rope, layers, etc.? Hopefully not since it feels as heinous as it sounds. In all seriousness, we carefully crawled up through the adjacent woods on some of the steepest non-technical terrain I’ve experienced. We reached the narrow glade below the broken cliffs of No Man’s Land—a name I felt was appropriate given its location. Some six hours after leaving the trailhead, we arrived to prepare for the climb (or a nap).
STEVEN ON PITCH 1
This was when the learning took place. It took about 20 minutes to orient myself with the location of the proposed routes by comparing my beta photo with the features of the cliff. A distinct white mark about 20’ high was the most distinguishing feature. It was a matter of counting cracks to the left and to the right to establish context. Once we had a mental map of the lower wall, we got down to business.
The temperature was cool, and a light wind kept us from getting hot, not to mention that Marcy was in the sun while our aspect was somewhat shaded. Steven chose to start via a large corner with a dominant crack. It was 10:30 AM when he placed the first piece of gear in the wet mossy corner. We hoped it would be better above the start, but that was not to be, so I lowered him, and we moved on to other, drier options.
The aforementioned white mark from a rockfall served as the next starting point. Steven tried another line, a hard line up the center before moving to the right. In the end, he took a break and offered the lead to me. Happy to have the exercise, I led the first pitch up an obvious corner with good cracks until the protection got thin. There was plenty of traction, but the obvious holds were awkward below a small roof. Things got more difficult as I moved right and up onto lower angled stone between opposing corners (what is called an open book). I wanted to see Steven while climbed, so I set up a belay. In hindsight, it would have been just as efficient to belay after another 30 vertical feet at a small wall. Fifteen minutes and several grunts and groans later, he appeared in the cozy belay station before leading up to the short wall.
A COZY BELAY FROM WHICH TO START THE TRAVERSE
He tried another line directly above but was turned back by wet stone. The driest lines dictated the direction of the route though we ended up following my original vision (one of several obvious options). The crux was over, so I relaxed to enjoy the views. This hard-earned position boasted spectacular views of Marcy’s largest cliffs. They were lit in all their splendor as the sun finally cut through the haze that characterized the first few hours of climbing.
I looked up at a partially wet wall then south along a curving, overhanging cliff. Areas like this make exploring fun and draw me time and again. The landscape was more dramatic than I imagined. Steven paid out the rope as I ran out the line to the south on easy terrain. It got steeper as I rounded the curve and climbed on dimpled rock toward a chossy gully with overhangs and a balancing block to my right. I set up a belay after 150’, and Steven came up behind.
BEAUTIFUL VIEW ALONG THE TRAVERSE
He then tried leading a gully directly overhead, but we decided that it wasn’t a good choice on account of loose rock and poor gear. He then walked behind the balancing block (really three distinct blocks when viewed from behind) and disappeared around the corner. He found a nice vertical corner that led to low angle slab with few areas to place gear. I soon heard a distance, “On belay…!”
I looked up from the top of the crack and saw the rope disappeared up another small ledge after the runout section. Steven was nowhere to be seen, but the trees moved from his tight alcove. We then rappelled along the southern side over vertical walls and moderately angled sections of slab. One could climb some short easy lines in this area if one had the interest. A second rappel placed us back at our packs at 5:00 PM.
With the multiple starts and route finding issues, our climb lasted 6.5 hours. With the route behind us, it was time to pack, eat, and contemplate the bushwhack back to Marcy. I tallied the hours in my head and knew we were in for a long day.
We reached the Marcy walls at around 6:30 PM and the Phelps Trail around 7:00 where we ran into a large group of scouts en route to Slant Rock. We scampered by them after a quick chat and reached the great glacial erratic as darkness crept over the land. The low hiss of the stove and a warm of a meal (and coffee) revived us for the haul back to the Garden.
It was 12:45 AM when the parking lot fell underfoot. I tallied the average for the trips with Steven over the last two years: 20.5 hours. Someday we’ll enjoy a day of fewer than 20 hours. When? I don’t know, but hopefully soon.
This wrapped up the exploration of one of the last major walls in the Gorge that has drawn my attention. We spied other lines, but the area now has a moderately familiar feel. The new route, Paws Off (5.8 YDS) was the perfect first addition and demonstrated that it is a harder wall than I first thought. We learn a lesson about the area or, more importantly, about ourselves new during every trip.
BALANCING BLOCK AND COOL VIEW SOUTH
safely. The weather was warmer than forecast—nicely in the 20’s or 30’s with full sun and a light wind. This is how I want to end every ice climbing season!
Prior Trips to Panther Gorge