|44.11138°N / 73.90935°W
|Jun 27, 2019
|Hiking, Mountaineering, Trad Climbing, Scrambling
Route Description: http://adirondackrock.com/newroutes.htm#Cracks_of_My_Tears
June was a fantastic month for getting things done in Panther Gorge. I visited three out of four, including a bit of soloing on Haystack. Weather and wear and tear on my body don’t usually allow me to trek in there as often, but I felt well, and the weather was dry enough ahead of each sojourn. The month started when Adam Crofoot, Allison Rooney, and I worked the north end. Allison and I (mainly Allison) got a 5.11d top rope put up on the Ramp Wall. Two weeks later I guided Katie Vannicola up CrazyDog’s Halo, and the week after that Loren Swears and I camped for two days with a hefty non-stop itinerary.
June 27-28: As usual, I had a full itinerary with plans to attempt two new climbs and throw in a slide climb on Haystack since Loren’s been picking away at bushwhacking the peaks of the Great Range. I’ve never quite let go of my “shoot high and accept something less” attitude on goals. A deluge on Wednesday, just a day ahead of our entry, all but solidified the order of the climbs. I knew many of the cliffs would host small cascades, and the hardest climb should be saved for last. At least there’d be a surplus of drinking water!
Loren and I reached the Marcy/Haystack col at 9:15 AM, four hours after starting. I’d planned for a longer entry given the weight of the packs which had not only climbing but camping gear. We dropped into the Gorge, deposited our camping and climbing gear (minus rock climbing shoes) and bushwhacked south. Tired from the trek in, the lighter pack (we shared a single pack) felt good. Our target was the southern of two slides on Haystack that meet at their top—the Conjoined Slides. I led us into the talus maze en route. I found the slithering, sliding, and navigation quite relaxing. The eye candy—stacks of room-sized boulders exfoliated or peeled from the surrounding cliffs—formed all sorts of structures. Call it glaciation or gravity, but I often refer to it God’s artwork; His hand in nature. A desire to feel closer to Christ is why I love camping here. It gives me a chance to relax and reflect on the world and myself.
Loren and I sought the largest passages and found ourselves in the same small cave as two years prior. The babbles of a small stream echoed within. Soon after, Loren found the first small deposit of ice and snow. Temperatures inside the caves were much cooler than the ambient temperature outside of them. I found myself relaxing more and more. Looking at the rock formations, hanging moss, contorted evergreens, and listening to the songbird melodies did my soul a world of good.
We soon reached the bottom of the Gorge and followed a tributary of Marcy Brook that led west of the beaver ponds. The forest was tighter than I remembered, which made sense in hindsight since we weren’t following the main branch. A hundred-yard hop east set us on Haystack’s slope, where I recognized the drainage stream from the Conjoined Slides. The narrow rill snaked through the sphagnum. We picked a pool, filtered water, swatted blackflies, and prepared to bushwhack uphill. Dense but supple balsams on a steep slope quickly gave way to the bottom of the slide where we switched to rock climbing shoes.
The southern Conjoined Slide is roughly 600’ long to its release point (a two-foot wide gully). There’s roughly 300’ of superb 5th class slide climbing followed by ledges and rubble. The northern track of the set is rated 5.4 YDS and is home to the Haycrack route. I’d rappelled down the southern track years ago with Anthony Seidita, but never fully climbed it. I knew it would make an exciting solo for someone accustomed to climbing 5.4 (approximately) unroped.
Loren ascended a steep ramp onto the slide proper. The climbing was low fifth class off the deck but offered many opportunities to bail to the side and climb on less exposed terrain. Loren stepped left and climbed while I eyed a finger/hand crack (really a deeply weathered runnel) that ran up the center. My only moment of apprehension arrived when I saw how wet it was from Wednesday’s storms. A little moss in a few areas didn’t inspire confidence, but there was traction and plenty of holds. I stepped into it and climbed it to its end. It felt good to be in my element and back to my “old tricks,” how I began my climbing journey—soloing slides. Loren watched and photographed from the side.
We rejoined at a series of short ledges split by cracks and other solid holds. We climbed through them to the final area of slab which involved true friction climbing before a series of cracks (for which I was quite thankful) broke the blank slab. Loren found an alternate route while I worked my way toward the cracks with Allen Mtn. over my shoulder to the southwest. A vertical headwall capped the main slide track. I stepped onto it and found it too wet and down-climbed after vocalizing, “There are acceptable subjective risks and stupid ones. Committing to this wall would be a stupid one especially 9 miles in.” (Commence the online conversation on subjective risk).
A short bushwhack brought me to Loren’s position. We picked our way up a series of ledges and chossy chutes to the woods. Haystack’s summit was our target; the peak guards itself well. Thankfully, we were sharing a single pack, so we could trade off as needed to ease the burden. We could also get water anywhere given the seeping flank of the mountain. We bushwhacked up to the release point of the slide and contoured up and left over the ridge in search of some open slab I’d noticed earlier. This was no easy task given the downward sweeping cedar branches and tightly knit evergreens. We were swimming through the branches.
It wasn’t long before we stumbled on a new rockfall that removed a swath of forest. Room-sized boulders had released from a ledge and tumbled down before stopping after roughly 75’. The freshly uprooted trees were still green. Small chutes and ledges kept the ‘shwacking challenging as we ascended. Loren spotted an extended run of anorthosite to which we side sloped. As usual, I aimed for a weathered line up the center. I was not, however, wearing rock climbing shoes, but sneakers.
Loren laughed as I struggled up the steep exposed section wearing the pack with gloves in my mouth, moss underfoot, water running over my fingers, and scant traction underfoot. I snickered when I safely reached the top. I craved water, so we found a small pool to filter from as we rested below one of Haystack’s many rock knobs. I photographed the intricate tamarack branches while Loren filtered. The minutiae of the plant life in combination with the sweeping views of Marcy’s East Face was breathtaking. I sat for a moment and soaked in the feeling of freedom and gave thanks for the moment. Sharing such times with a good friend was priceless.
We continued with our second wind, entered the krummholz and eventually the anorthositic tracks below Haystack’s summit. We intersected the trail roughly 100’ to the south of the summit and shared it with two other people. Moderate winds kept the bugs at bay while we joked and re-nourished. The time was 2:45 PM. I had to do a double-take since it only took two hours of steady pushing to the summit from the slide top. We were back at camp by 4:30 and cooking dinner while the blackflies feasted on any exposed strips of skin. Thus I sat in a headnet and fleece hoody with my pants tucked into my socks. My body felt worn; the approach and bushwhacking worked us.
Watching the long-shadows on the nearby mountains cast by the setting sun is one of my favorite parts of camping. In this case, Marcy’s shadow darkened Haystack. The last touch of sunlight on the summit signaled our retreat to our bedrolls. I didn’t bother with a tarp, but set up my bivouac sack and drifted into a semi-restful sleep occasionally interrupted by wind gusts or the scurry of a mouse.
The primary technical climb of this trip was a line on Marcy’s Feline Wall. It was soaked on the morning of June 27th, but significantly drier by the evening. I hoped that another 12 hours would dry it further. We ate breakfast, and I silently contemplated the details of the route with hopes that it would “go.” It had been in my sights for three years and each year the season set without an opportunity to try it.
We approached it with full gear at the ready, including a headnet over my helmet, deet on the exposed places, a fleece hoody (pulled up under the helmet) sunblock, and chalk. The little demons were up early, and the sun was hot. The climb started on a steep slope along the buttress of the wall, which is roughly 100’ shorter than the main wall. A series of cracks, especially a lightning-bolt shaped one at the top, particularly pulled at my curiosity. There was only one problem. I needed to get past the first 20’. Galaxy of Tears, a route that Dustin Ulrich and I added two years prior, began at a finger crack 10’ to the left. I wanted to keep the routes independent, but all that I could work with was a thin seam with a few small pockets and the seemingly blank face on the nearly vertical wall. We rarely tie in while belaying, but Loren tied himself to a tree in case I blew the first moves and the protection tore free.
The moves off the ground required study—where to place the gear (very small nuts [I used I.M.P. brass nuts]), where I could place feet and hands. There wasn’t much to work with, and I didn’t know if it would work out after a couple attempts. I finally worked my way through it and latched onto a jug made of large crystals. Pockets in the face allowed for some nice rests before I traversed right to the bottom of a series of hand and finger cracks. I looked at the lightning-bolt crack, but it was wet and mossy…another time. The wall increased in slope until it was vertical below the final moves that led to some small ledges where I set up an anchor. An hour after starting, I’d made it to the top. The wind kept the blackflies under control.
Loren was up next. He was dwarfed by the expansive view of the slab below and to the side. Haystack’s flank was in full shadow, which made it feel even more dramatic. I contemplated the grade as he climbed. The bottom, the crux, wasn’t so much of a crack climb as a face climb protected by gear in the crack. I’d wandered left on the face to find a few widely spaced foot and handholds. They required big moves on small holds and were much harder than the 5.9 we put up on Big Slide last year. A grade of 5.10a seemed appropriate though the grade of the upper cracks varied between 5.8 and 5.9.
My mind wandered back to Loren as he got ever closer to the top. Good jams allowed him to climb comfortably (from my perspective). He got to the belay ledge, tied to the anchor, then I bushwhacked nearly vertically in search of stout cedars from which to rappel. We had a 70-meter rope which gave us a little leeway. In the end, we rappelled to the end of the rope…perfect.
Loren had mentioned Cracks of My Tears as a play on the song title Tracks of My Tears the day before. I looked at him and said, “Cracks of My Tears is up!” He smiled. The name was perfect as the wall is riddled with cracks and was weeping the day before.
Our day was far from over. We had to pack up camp and lug heavy packs back out to the Garden (and walk down to Keene Valley since the trailhead was closed to parking). It was a slow exit with many breaks, but the blackflies slowly thinned as we dropped in elevation. By Slant Rock, they were nearly gone.
We ran into Katie T. from the DEC and her friend near Bushnell Falls Lean-to 2 on the way out and a nice chat, took a dip in Johns Brook, and had a conversation with Jay Whitbourne who was on a mega-tour of the surrounding High Peaks (working on the Bob Marshall traverse). While I often say that I go far into the backcountry to escape the crowds, I love seeing people that I know or putting a face to a name that I only know from online interactions…making new friends.
Our trip was a memorable outing during which we made full use of the time—including time to relax. The day trips push us to the maximum with little time to simply unwind. Camping allows that if even for a day. Soloing the slide brought me back to my slide-climbing roots and the freedom of movement I love so much when I’m untethered and not fiddling with gear placements. My friend Neil Luckhurst recently asked if I was bored with slide climbing. Nope, I’m not!
The “Tears” route helped me to realize that my hangboard training is working though I have a long way to go until my finger strength is where I hope it to be. Exploring the Feline Wall scratched an itch I’ve had for three years—I can now retire that beta photo. I know what’s associated with that wall—the unique views, movements, types of cracks, etc. That’s why I keep going back—not to tick off a list, but out of curiosity.
My first visit to Panther Gorge was in 2009, so I’m within months of visiting for a decade; this being my 50th trip (over 57 days). Time flies. It’s a little mind-numbing to reflect upon. Loren and I talked on the way out about the meaning of all of this, not just the Gorge, but broader goals, etc. Amongst the constant joking back and forth, we often have serious conversations. Upon reflections, never did I think my personal journey would follow the path that it did after I became a 46er. God is good, and this has been the experience of a lifetime.