The Finger Lakes region, especially the area around Ithaca and Cayuga Lake, is blessed with a number of waterfalls that come in pretty solidly every year during the endless winters of central New York. Unfortunately, the City of Ithaca has made all climbing within city limits illegal. Granted, this would make sense for rock climbing, considering the geology of rock in the area is terrible, being chossy, dirty shale (it would also make sense to deter gung-ho college age climbers...). However, the ice climbing is solid all the way around. The only way to climb the ice within the area is if you link up with Cornell Outdoor Education as part of one of their formal ice climbing programs.
Given the legal ramifications of ice climbing in the area, you can turn elsewhere; all is not lost. Many people opt for the destination of Salmon River Falls, which is a bit of a drive. But there is some good ice climbing within an hour of Ithaca proper, one of the places being Tinker Falls. Tinker Falls is only a 50 minute drive from Ithaca and only a 20 minute drive from Syracuse.
Tinker is really easy to access: all you need to do is park your car in the lot and hike for about .25-.5 mile to get the base of the falls proper. Hence, it is occasionally crowded with climbers from Syracuse and Ithaca. However, there is plenty of space to set up your own little space of operations behind the falls where you can stay high and dry in the event of snow and rain; the falls flows over a cliff with a very significant cavity behind it, in which you can easily walk around and observe the ice from behind.
Take 81 to Exit 14 and proceed east on Rt. 11 through Tully. Make a right onto Rt. 91 heading south. You will pass Labrador Pond on your right. Tinker's Falls will be shortly after on your left.
From Ithaca: Get onto NY-13 North/North St. You will stay on NY-13 North through Dryden and Cortland. IN Cortland, you will take a left on Church St. and a right onto Clinton Ave. (also NY-13), and continue until you reach Truxton (about 10.7 miles). Once you get to Truxton, you will turn left onto NY-91. You will pass Labrador Mountain Ski Area on your left. Keep an eye out for a small parking lot on the left side of the road at about 4.8 miles. The trail up to Tinker Falls will be on your right, just across the street from the parking lot.
From the parking lot, the falls is just a short .25-.5 mile walk along a trail to the base of the falls.
There exist a whole variety of routes of varying difficulty ranging from WI2-WI4. The main falls tends to come in well given the cold Central New York winters. However, the lower part of the main falls can sometimes become a steeply sloping pile of snow and ice, making the main falls easier, for the most part than the left and right sides.
To set your toprope anchors, scramble up the incline on the left side of the falls. The path will be well worn by other climbers. Make sure you have your crampons on BEFORE you head up to set the anchors! The scramble up the trail will be covered in ice. While it can be done without crampons, there are some icy sections where you's wish you had the crampons on. The slide/fall back down is longer than you think...
Main Falls: WI2-WI3: Looking straight back down the trail towards the road;
offers some variety of ice climbing difficulty.
This year, the center of the main falls has a large pile of snow, ice, and some rime at the base, making it a bit mushy, but easier to access for newer ice climbers (one more experienced climber easily soloed his way up).
The very left extent of the main falls had ice running all the way down to the base of the falls, and was about WI3.
Left Falls: WI3+-WI4: The left side of Tinker Falls can feature a prominent pillar that comes in solid when the weather settles into its cold Central NY pattern.
. The front of the pillar can be about 35 ft. of solid ice with some thick icicles hanging from the sides, which offer some potential for more acrobatic moves to get up the pillar.
The pillar itself is completely vertical, and is arguably one of the harder features at Tinker Falls. This year, the side of the pillar also formed a chimney feature that was accessible using the same toprope set for the front of the pillar. There is also some vertical ice to the left of this pillar, but it is shorter, though it also vertical and features similar (though possibly slightly easier climbing).
Right Falls: WI3-WI4, M4-M5:
The right side of the falls is shorter in height and does not get as thick ice as compared to the main falls and the left side
The ice tends to be thinner in places, but the exposed rock can offer some opportunities to try some mixed climbing.
Note: All of these routes are normally done on toprope. However, this has does not preclude the opportunity to lead at Tinker Falls. There are definitely some challenging features at Tinker Falls that an ice leader might find good training for longer, more formidable ice climbs such as Gothics in the Adirondacks or Salmon River Falls.
This area primarily for toprope ice climbing, so bring all of your anchor gear. The trees around the falls grow surprisingly close to the edge as well as around the creek that feeds into Tinker Falls. If you want to set multiple lines, bring a two or three lengths of static lines, if you have a long length, the number or clustered trees can take care of that (and even provide for really bomber setups).
- Static line (multiple lengths depending on how many dynamic lines you decide to haul to the base).
- Ample number of locking biners (we brought 12 in the event we had to extend our anchors closer to the edge).
- 1, 2, or even 3 dynamic lines if you have them
- Ice tools
- Normal winter climbing gear
- LUNCH!: Tinker Falls, being super accessible, is a great place to spend an entire day climbing and being in good company!
- Optional: Ice screws; the area is mostly for toproping, but if you are into leading on ice, Tinker Falls can definitely accomodate some single pitch ice climbing. Besides, the hike into the falls is so short that brining along a few ice screws won't make a difference in what you'll have to carry.
None. Tinker Falls is on, I believe, public land. I am not sure about regulations on camping, but considering this area is so close to the road and the drive home, it makes much more sense to just drive home to a nice warm shower at the end of the day.
Basic info on the falls itself: http://nyfalls.com/tinkers.html