Tomcat in Panther Gorge

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 44.11258°N / 73.90629°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Jul 4, 2020
Activities Activities: Hiking, Trad Climbing
Seasons Season: Summer



Tomcat Route Line
Tomcat Route Line


The last route we put up during July was during 2016. It is typically a wet month and the thunderstorms usually increase, which either tanks my weekend options or makes the cracks too wet to climb. The forecast over July 4, 2020 was trending similarly but cleared enough to open a window. Steven and I jumped on the opportunity to attempt a new line. I had eyes on a multi-pitch option or two after the last several weeks when I focused on single pitch routes. Loren Swears, a PG veteran during summer and winter, walked in with me a week prior on June 26 to put up Practically Roadside (5.9) which was 100’ of pure fun. Steven, like Loren, is always game for anything.

Friday/Saturday, July 3-4

We left Keene Valley at 7:30 PM on Friday night. It didn’t take long for darkness to settle, but the full moon was in view by the time we passed Slant Rock at 11:30. The light was brilliant as we bushwhacked into the Gorge and took a break near the Panther Den at half past midnight—4,000 vertical feet and 8.25 miles from the start.

Jupiter and Saturn were low in the sky to the left of the moon, framed by Haystack and the cliff to our right. I enjoyed the break from the heavy camping/climbing pack especially with the most intense bushwhacking ahead. A cloud of blackflies, disturbed by our passage through the tall grass, flew in front of our headlamps until we entered the woods below the Panther Den. Threading through the tree-covered talus at 1:00 AM was a bit intense with a heavy pack, but we found a suitable bivouac site and settled in. We were in our respective bivy sack or hammock by 2 AM…quite the interesting approach.


Saturn, Jupiter and the Moon in Panther Gorge
Saturn, Jupiter and the Moon in Panther Gorge

The first light of day roused me at 5 AM, and I was unable to sleep with the variables of the day rolling around in my mind…not to mention a few mosquitoes trying to breach the no-see-um mesh of my bivy sack. It was nearly 9 AM before we emerged, cooked breakfast, packed, and worked our way through the central drainage of towering talus. We needed water and heard it gurgling below the surface. I found a 3’ wide hole and saw the trickle 6 feet down. I slithered into the hole and filled our bottles for the day’s adventure.

Ascending out of the central drainage up Haystack’s western flank is always a tedious affair, but knowing the way took the guesswork out of the equation. I had a line in mind that we tried in 2019, then bailed on. A different line looked appealing as I wandered below it…a route that incorporated a huge flake to the left of Haystack’s largest technical slab. It looked dry and was convenient (as things go in the Gorge). Steven agreed to the line and began leading the edgy steep slide (5.7 YDS) at 11:30. The usual July blackfly horde followed us, undeterred by repellent or head nets.

Steven stopped at a large cedar and I continued the lead up an easy, protectable gully and slung a large block below the flake (60’ high and about as wide). I’d done enough leading over the previous weeks and wanted Steven to have the money pitch…the flake. I was content with the “Adirondack alpine” pitches. I watched as he jammed a chock stone low in the off-width crack to sling as a first piece. Two larger cams would have also been nice on the lead since he had to “bump” the 4 inch cam up once before the crack narrowed. The edges and hidden holds made the climbing fun especially after the awkward first move to get in the crack.


Pitch 4 of Tomcat
Pitch 4 of Tomcat

The next pitch left me with a choice: traverse across the top of the vast slab to intersect the drainage or climb 10 feet up then step left into a more vertical option. I chose the latter though it was rimmed with moss. In the end, edges and clean rock inside the crack made it a comfortable climb. I stepped through a few cedars at its top and onto easy slab. I ran the pitch out 190 feet and belayed below the upper cliff band. A triangular block, two buttresses, and various blocks sat above making the landscape look askew. It was nearly 3 PM at this point and the sun was high in the cloudless sky and heated the underlying rock. I was hot and had little water.

Steven climbed to my position, looked at the options, then led the final pitch up an obvious corner to the left of our position. This looked like the most exciting ending for the new route. He climbed the corner, passed a couple free-sitting blocks, and disappeared from view. I then followed and noticed that the corner was slightly wet and a little more challenging than it looked from below. At its top, I saw Steven belaying from a tamarack with a smile.

At this point, we didn’t have a name, but the 500-foot/5.8+ YDS route was up.

Our rappel seemed obvious, but the unexpected is normal in the backcountry. We set up atop the northern gully. I rappelled down a wet, mossy corner first and ran it out to the ends of the ropes: 200’. Steven followed as I set up the next rappel from a wide cedar. He tried to pull the rope, then we both did…it didn’t move. Long story short, Steven climbed the rope as I filled our water bottles from two dripping clumps of moss.

The second rappel was more vertical than the first and much smoother. I had the chance to explore a fracture cave to the left of the aforementioned flake of our route as Steven rappelled. I’d been curious about the feature for years, but this spiked in December when fellow climber Brent mentioned it. The cave was 10’ deep, roughly 30’ wide and about as high. A chimney at its top led to a terrace near our belay station. The entire side of the mountain is weathering in huge flakes—some free standing and others interlocked. These interesting features are the hidden gems of the Gorge.  

Another 100+ feet of steep gully down-climbing led back to our packs and closed the loop. It was nearly 7 PM and the blackflies were undeterred. My patience for feeding them was wearing thin and I was hungry myself. First things first. We needed more water and found it in the central drainage deep within the talus. Steven descended into a 20’ cave while I explored an adjacent talus cave. Nine years of wandering PG, and there are still many interesting features!

We arrived at camp as dusk overtook the land and ate in the dark. Slightly lower temperatures settled the blackflies before we settled in for the night. Fireworks boomed far to the south as villages celebrated Independence Day.


Water in the central drainage
Water in the central drainage




Big plans evaporated as we stretched sore muscles from the day before. I didn’t have the energy to lead anything big and pushing out of the Gorge/walking 8.5 miles back to the trailhead seemed like a hearty enough affair; Steven agreed. We hung around the big cliffs and assessed new options before bushwhacking up to the Panther Den for another rest.

I wasn’t just out to climb. I was out to relax, unplug, and soak in nature, so we slowly made our exit with plenty of time to take a swim and cook a meal along Johns Brook. This was my fifth trip into the Gorge in the last seven weeks so, while my body has strengthened, from the weekly sojourns, it was needed a break. The following weekend’s remnants of Tropical Storm Fay provided that opportunity.

I say this every now and again, but these trips never get old. The little “discoveries,” experiences, and feelings associated with each trip keep each one unique. When a new route is involved, the trip feels like being out for the very first time. This and insatiable curiosity (just short of what killed the cat) draws me back whenever I’m able.



Route Line in relation to Paws Off on No Man's Land, copyright 2020 Kevin B. MacKenzie
Route Line in relation to Paws Off on No Man's Land, copyright 2020 Kevin B. MacKenzie


View from the top--Mt. Marcy
View from the top--Mt. Marcy

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