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|09-03-2016, 08:20 AM||#1|
Resident Slide Junkie
Join Date: Mar 2007
Location: ADK Mountains
Marcy East Face Climbing-Panther Gorge-Revelations-2016 August 27
Duration, time, mileage: 21 hours 40 minutes/4:20 a.m. Saturday-2:00 a.m. Sunday/ 19+ miles.
Mtn pro: http://www.mountainproject.com/v/revelations/112110316
Wildlife: bear, toads, salamander, new, garter snake, several angry boreal chickadees
There are no words that can describe the diversity, beauty or utter brutality of this trip. Many outings over the years have tested me, but never to this degree over such duration. It was equal parts mentally and physically demanding. It was truly a perfect storm of adventure. Highlights included helping hikers chase a bear from their breakfast, navigating the talus down to the center of the Gorge, adding a new 600’ line on Marcy’s East Face, leading a nearly vertical face climb with no protection, getting benighted below Grand Central slide, bushwhacking back out through ¼ mile of the aforementioned talus in the dark and watching a bat fly along the Panther Den Wall in lamp light.
My partners “in climb” were Nolan Huther and Loren Swears. Both are familiar with the Gorge and this would be Loren’s first technical climbing route in the gorge and Nolan’s fourth (including 2 ice). The target was a line I’ve been eyeballing since Anthony Seidita and I tried it and got rained off the lower slab start in 2014. I wanted a change from the northern cliffs to something seemingly easier. I was in for a surprise —a revelation of sorts—regarding the grade.
Nolan crashed at my house the night before and Loren met us at Rooster Comb parking lot at 4:00 a.m. Humid weather created a sweaty start, but the temperature was fair. The first rays of sun cracked the ridge after Bushnell Falls. To my surprise and dismay, the trail seemed wetter than I expected. It had rained more than I realized so I began to ponder whether the face would be dry? There’s no place to inspect the East Face except in the Gorge.
The excitement of the day started after Basin Brook. Nolan had been dealing with bear encounters near Chapel Pond/Beer Walls during the week—four times! I spotted fresh bear scat about a mile from Slant Rock and prints a few hundred yards farther along. I suggested we were close to a bear and Nolan balked; he was tired of dealing with them—the novelty had worn thin. ...then we arrived at Slant Rock to a couple who asked if we were “feeling strong.” I had a hunch what was going on.
“There’s a bear,” they stated. We asked where to which they responded, “Eating our breakfast over there (at the rock).” We chased it away—it growled and disappeared into the spruce as we charged it. A few minutes later two men were screaming, “Hey bear, hey bear...!!!” It had taken their pack and disappeared in the direction of Point Balk. It soon circled back to Slant Rock, however. By then we’d filtered water and moved on as the campers continued to deal with the issue. It’s sad when there are so many habituated bears...
We set a strong comfortable pace and arrived at the Marcy/Haystack col at around 8:00 a.m. Our bushwhack would take us much farther than “usual”. Even the deepest of the northern Marcy Walls fall over ¼ mile short of the East Face. To get to the face we had two realistic choices: hug the cliffs including the broken crags all the way to Grand Central Slide or take a more direct line through the talus and skirt the bottom to the slide drainage stream. I opted for the latter option in hopes of finding an accommodating corridor through the forest on more even terrain than the cliff glades offered—I’m always searching for the “best” way to this or that.
We arrived at the loosely knit forest after about twenty minutes of slip-sliding and crawling down the talus. We replenished our water at Grand Central Slide’s base and traversed the East Face in a comical series of trips and falls. The ferns were almost 5’ high and the underlying grass was slippery. I’d watch Nolan slip and disappear just as Loren fell while I laughed...before falling...rinse and repeat for a few hundred yards. Less amusing was what I saw regarding the face...it was seeping heavily in some places. I couldn’t bear the thought of walking this far only to be defeated by water. None-the-less, I was getting excited. We arrived at our quarry at 10:30 a.m.—a 6 hour 30 minute approach. Thank God, it appeared dry from below.
For climbers, it’s worth noting that the East Face is foreshortened from below—it appears shorter than it really is. I was home once again and we were about to attempt a route I originally tried in June of 2014 before a thunderstorm chased us off.
I said a quick prayer for a safe climb and began. The first pitch began all too easily on low angled slab leading to a grassy crack. I didn’t bother placing gear since I was basically slide climbing. Instead I waited until it got steeper at a series of overlaps with a hand crack underneath. The climbing was fun and easy though I wondered how the traverse to a giant arrowhead shaped flake would pan out. Nolan called out 150’ all too soon as I neared the end of the protection.
I looked to the right and spotted a few nubs of stone that I could connect and delicately worked my way to the “money pitch” of the lower face. Until now, I’d only guessed about how this giant flake would be to climb. A 4” crack rose upward at a 75 or 80 degree angle to a tiny tree island. Small ledges for my feet and hand holds along the edge of the flake created a fun climb. I set up an anchor above the shrubs after about 190’. It was time for Nolan and Loren to get a taste of the East Face.
Off the deck about 90' at the overlaps of pitch 1.
Nolan before the traverse to the arrowhead.
|09-03-2016, 08:20 AM||#2|
Resident Slide Junkie
Join Date: Mar 2007
Location: ADK Mountains
They climbed without difficulty and I continued up the crack to the top of the flake. Thereafter the angle dropped back slightly and there were plenty of cracks in which to place protection. A combination of slab/face climbing (some wet) led to a last steep move before an almost level terrace. Pitch two was about 130 feet long; its end placed me below a huge overlap. A small shallow crack seemed to be good place to build a solid anchor though it took me time to clean it out. Again Nolan and Loren climbed with ease. Above me was a face without protection, but with plenty of features. It was slightly lower to my left, but climbing it there would require a longer traverse to what I envisioned as the end of pitch 3.
Pitch 3 was the crux, something I knew from studying the face for the last three years. The large bulge I’ve been describing was always the great unknown—how steep, what protection etc. Photographs suggested that there was a corner or crack in the face to the right of the tree island on which to start the line. If there was then I’d have protection which only left the slab beyond it as a question mark. I knew the exposure of soloing the slides for years would help me keep my head if the slab above was runout.
I stepped behind the tree island and studied the nearly vertical face. Divots, embedded feldspar clusters and a couple small edges looked good to connect, but the wall was high and convex so the it disappeared from view after about 15’ or 20’. A few small flakes low to the terrace would do little to help protect me. It looked fun, but not 350’ up the face with a ground fall if I blew it so I went over to the aforementioned corner. There was a 1.5”crack in the dihedral and more protection above. I relaxed slightly as Nolan belayed me over to set a cam. I had only a small rail of grass (slippery in rock climbing shoes) on which to walk.
I asked Nolan and Loren sling to the trees in the narrow island (in hindsight I should have left them at the original anchor, but feared rope drag). As they jockeyed into position I noticed water running out from a seam around the corner from where I placed the cam. I peeked around and noticed that my “bomber” crack was behind a large block sitting in place. If I fell on it, the piece could move or fall—it was basically useless. So much for climbing it.
My only choice upward was to climb the unprotected face so I took a few belly breaths to help focus and committed myself to the task at hand. I slung a tree so if I fell I wouldn’t endanger my partners. I marked some nubs of stone and took a first step. I got about three moves up and ran out of good finger holds. Searching left and right I located possibilities. I was physically committed after the next move—no down-climbing. The initial ascent seemed like it took forever, but was probably no more than a few minutes. I focused on the feel of the rock and denied any negative thoughts entry to my mind. There was no question of if I would make this go, I had to.
A large jug of stone about 15 or 20 feet up set me at ease as I grabbed it. The next two moves placed me on it; here the angle of the face decreased. A few more moves and I’d be able to set my first piece of protection. I remember hearing a sound and realized it was a loud, “Whew,” escaping my lips. I wasn’t exactly comfortable because there was little gear above and wet stone to deal with. The salamander I found along the way seemed to like the wetness...The next 75 feet was on dimpled anorthosite with a few steeper moves over small overlaps.
My target was two room-sized blocks of stone. I hoped to climb a crack between them, but I first had to reach them. The slab immediately below lost its surface features and became a friction climb up soaking wet stone. I felt my legs shake and made the final push to the soaked cracks underneath the blocks. I jammed a large cam in place and knew the worst (or perhaps best) was over. The crack I wanted to climb was filthy and the adjacent stone hosted heavy lichen...not what I wanted. The next option was a sketchy traverse under the right-hand block. I used arm bars to compensate for the wet stone. The far side had blocks jammed in a 2’ crack which created a perfect belay station.
I then realized that I hadn’t protected Loren as much as I wanted so I down-climbed off the anchor using the rope, re-traversed to the large cam and clipped his rope (I’d only clipped Nolan’s rope to the piece). Once that was over I relaxed and focused on belaying Loren and then Nolan. They followed quickly as I enjoyed the views, knowing the hardest pitch was over. There was only one more and it was up more moderate slab to the cliff band and large trees at the top.
Kevin leading/Loren following crux, the beginning of pitch 3.
Loren at the top of the runout overlaps.
Nolan at the huge blocks.
Pitch 4: I asked Nolan if he wanted to lead the final pitch. I’d mentally let my guard down, but could raise it again if necessary...but not if he was willing to top off the route. He agreed and tried a few options. There was a mossy off-width crack or somewhat clean slab before about 80’ of 5.5 yds lower angle slab. He tried a couple options before following the large crack along the block and disappeared. It seemed to take quite a long time before he yelled, “Off belay!” We found out why.
We broke around the corner and found everything to be soaking wet. He said it scared the heck out of him...exposed wet climbing with intermittent protection will do that. A small broken cliff band at the top looked less than pleasant to climb so he’d set up an anchor on the far left. We climbed and I led the final couple ledges to a stout tree where we sorted gear and coiled the ropes.
The most straight forward rappel is to bushwhack a few hundred feet north to a large cleft in the center of the East Face. It would require three 200 foot rappels to pull off. I thought down-climbing the Margin Slide along the south side of the East Face might be easier so we trekked north about 75 feet and found a nearly vertical vegetated ramp up to the next cliff tier. This forced us to solo a 15’ wet slab into more trees.
Was the fun over? No! We ended up in a gully of sorts and the only way out was up another vertical mossy corridor. A few off-the-cuff remarks by each of us added some humor, but we pulled it off and bushwhacked south to the top of the Margin Slide. Its top is low angle and ledge-ridden. I took us into the woods when the ledges became dangerous. Down we went into a narrow mossy gully—again nearly vertical. All forward motion stopped at a cliff.
It was time to rappel—Loren’s first time. A stout spruce served us well. Nolan went first as I explained the procedure. Nolan had the pleasure of unwinding the rope from the trees as he progressed. Apparently 200’ of rope wasn’t enough as Nolan yelled up that we’d need a second rappel. The edge of the slide is loaded with trees which is helpful for our purpose, but makes it impossible to throw the ropes cleanly. We ended up with quite a few tangles before the day was done.
The second rappel was short and we crossed the now low angled slide to the glades one hundred feet from our gear. The climb and rappel in its entirety had taken 8 hours, from 11:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. My original thought for a route name was Arrowhead though we changed it to Revelations; another biblical reference (all glory to God for this one!) and reference to pitch 3.
Loren on pitch 4.
Exiting: It's good we only had to bushwhack a mile and walk another 8 on the trail (facetiousness intended)! We were tired; there was no denying that. I was mentally drained and could have slept standing up. We stumbled our way north through the slippery grass and ferns and arrived at Grand Central Slide’s drainage stream as dusk settled in. We needed water and I needed food. The ensuing 2.5 hours would be physically and mentally grueling. It was talus time...
The talus fields of Panther Gorge are beautiful...during the day. They span the far northern end from Marcy to Haystack and form a broad dense band along the slopes of Marcy thereafter. Our position gave us choices. We could either climb to the waterfall and side-slope our way back to the north above most of the talus or follow north below the talus field before crossing it on a northwesterly heading. I couldn’t bear the thought of climbing the drainage and keeping my bearings as we arced our way north above it and decided to try and cross it from Grand Central...BIG mistake.
With headlamps aglow, I took us up a small drainage and stayed on contour. I immediately led us into some of the largest talus in the area. There are 90’ pieces here and deep holes. After stepping over such a hole (surrounded by moss), I decided to descend east since progress elsewhere was difficult. It was now completely dark under a moonless sky. Slowly we crept down through the corridors until the rocks loosened their grip ever so slightly. Just when I thought we were in the clear, we found ourselves surrounded by more. I knew our approximate position and internally grumbled; we needed to continue lower which would make the exit even harder. The terrain eventually flattened and our way became more clear as we hooked north.
I set my focus on quietly counting drainages to keep track of our progress—I didn’t bother bringing a GPS and my compass was in the pack. I’d take it out if needed, but using my “mental map” was working thus far. Several slides and gullies drain the cliffs from the west. Each time we crossed one, I noted where we were in relation to the cliffs. A large one signified we were somewhere below a slide south of the Huge Scoop. On cue the terrain began to get steeper. We were in for a beating. The forest closed in and piled rocks became the norm. We were climbing again, sometimes up rocks and sometimes using trees to gain the next ledge while avoiding the caverns beneath. The balsams were dense enough that the headlamps illuminated the needles making it hard to see the rocks looming overhead. Every now and again it would become less dense and our lights would shine on a 20’ foot monolith blocking our way.
Against all odds I rounded a stone and found myself in a small talus cavern...one that Loren and I visited in June. I knew exactly where we were...below the Huge Scoop. Instead of making a hard left at the next passage I stayed right hoping to correct a previous error from June and point us in the direction of the more northerly cliffs. Some twenty minutes later we found a dry streambed and followed. There was enough glow in the sky that I recognized an arch in the silhouetted stone—Agharta. I led us up and eventually found the “herdpath” leading out. It was 9:30 p.m. when we reached the Panther Den and took a break. Without lamps it was black as death. Loren turned his headlamp on and we relaxed as a bat patrolled north to south and back again. It’s nice to see them after white-nose syndrome nearly wiped them out.
Following the intermittent herdpath was a challenge in the dark, but we eventually emerged on the Phelps Trail somewhere around 10:00 p.m. I hoped that the bear had found other places to haunt. Like Nolan, I wasn’t in the mood to deal with it.
Our pace was slow and deliberate. Even on the path we traded leads. The exit through the talus was absolutely mind numbing. I think I speak for each of us when I say it sapped much of our will to continue. Now leading on the path even seemed like a mental burden. Words were few between us; long periods of silence were the norm. If one of us took a break, the others quickly sat or reclined. By Johns Brook Lodge our pace was still steady steady, but we staggered every now and again. Time seemed warped and elongated as we neared the Garden at 2:00 a.m.
The climbing, companionship and adventure was incredible. As I noted in the introduction, as a whole this was the hardest day I’ve experienced to date. I’ve never been on a climb longer, on a longer hike or led a headier pitch. Our limits were certainly tested and tempered however unintentionally. It took me about a week to fully recover (16-17 hour days take me about 36 hours). Time for the next journey...
|09-03-2016, 08:49 AM||#3|
Join Date: Apr 2007
Next journey! Really I have to take a nap and check my blood pressure after reading this.
Congratulations to all, what an incredible accomplishment!
"Climbing is about freedom. There's no prize money; there are no gold medals. The mountains are all about going there to do what you want to do. That's why I'll never tell anyone else how to climb. All I can say is, This is how I prefer to do it."
|09-05-2016, 08:38 AM||#4|
Resident Slide Junkie
Join Date: Mar 2007
Location: ADK Mountains
|mt. marcy, panther gorge|
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