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Panther Gorge-Two New Rock Climbs-Pioneer Anomaly and Belshazzars Fate

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  • Panther Gorge-Two New Rock Climbs-Pioneer Anomaly and Belshazzars Fate


    Prior Panther Gorge Trips
    1. Grand Central Slide (w/Mark Lowell)
    2. Grand Central Slide Descent, up the Margin Slide & Skylight Bushwhack (w/Greg Kadlecik)
    3. Marcy to Haystack Bushwhack with Great Range Traverse-Great DeRanged Traverse(w/Greg Kadlecik)
    4. Marcy East Face Circumnavigation (w/Ranger Scott van Laer)-2013 Aug 24
    5. Marcy: Ranger on the Rock-East Face Slab (w/Anthony Seidita)-2013 Sep 6
    6. Haystack Slides and Haycrack Route-Day 3 of 4 days in the gorge (w/Anthony Seidita)-2014 May 1
    7. Haystack: All Things Holy (w/Adam Crofoot)-2014 Jul 12
    8. Marcy & Haystack: New Routes on the Agharta Wall & a Pillar on Haystack-Wreck of the Lichen Fitzgerald & For Whom the Lichen Tolls (w/Adam Crofoot)-2014 Aug 16
    9. Marcy: New on the Agharta Wall-CrazyDog’s Halo & Watery Grave (w/Adam Crofoot)-2014 Sep 27
    10. A Snowy Panther Gorge Bushwhack (w/Adam Crofoot)-2014 Dec
    11. Marcy: A New Ice Route – Pi Day (w/Adam Crofoot & Anthony Seidita)-2015 Mar 14
    12. Haystack: 3 New Routes in a New Area (the Ramp Wall) (w/Allison Rooney and Adam Crofoot)-2015 May 30
    13. Marcy’s Panther Den Wall: Cat on a Wet Tin Roof (w/Bill Schneider)-2015 Jun 14
    14. Rumours of War: Opening a New Area—the Huge Scoop (w/Hunter Lombardi)-2015 Jul 11
    15. New on the Feline Wall: Kitten's Got Claws (w/Justin Thalheimer)-2015 Aug 1
    16. Not Every Trip to the Gorge is Perfect –No Route, but a Good Day (w/Bill Schneider)-2015 Aug 16
    17. Marcy Huge Scoop: The Pride (w/Bill Schneider and Adam Crofoot)-2015 Aug 30.
    18. Feline Wall: Promised Land (w/Dan Plumley)-2015 Sept 19.
    19. Tour de Gorge (w/Adam Crofoot & Allison Rooney)-2015 Nov 21.
    20. Marcy's Panther Den Wall Ice Route: By Tooth and Claw (WI4) (w/Bill Schneider & Devin Farkas)-2016 Jan 30.
    21. Haystack Ice Climbs-Orson's Tower (WI3+) and Fly By (WI3) (w/Nolan Huther)-2016 March 5.

    I realize that most people measure “a long time” in years when talking about visiting an area or mountain. I tend to measure it in months when it comes to specific areas. Those who know me realize where I’m taking this: Panther Gorge. The last trip was in February and I felt the calling to surround myself with singing birds and rugged cliffs in a remote setting away from the distractions of life.

    My wife noticed my tension building over the last several weeks; a tension only relieved by long strenuous days building on a dream that began in 2012. The snow and ice was largely gone and we hoped the rock was dry enough to eek out a new route. Thus we began rock climbing season 2016. Every trip is memorable in its unique way, but this rates among the most relaxing I’ve experienced.

    My season’s wish list contains about a dozen unclimbed lines some of which include those discovered by Adam Crofoot and Bill Schneider. Others I found during prior outings or by studying hundreds of beta photographs.

    The long range weather forecast seemed unstable leading up to May 28. Waiting for perfect weather is fine in some instances, but I’ve found that I often miss out on opportunities that way. The probability of storms was 90% the previous Monday, but had decreased by Friday so we rolled the dice. Our odds in the past have been good. We’ve only been turned back a couple times.

    Our stakes were a little higher this time. Adam and I were bringing Alan Wechsler, a friend/climber/journalist along for the ride. He hoped to participate in a first accent and walk away with photographs and a story for an upcoming issue of Adirondack Explorer. In hopes of beating any possible storms I suggested that we meet at 4:00 a.m. in Keene Valley. Thus I awoke at 3:20 a.m. and switched into high gear to make my self-imposed deadline. We began walking from the Garden soon after. I felt surprisingly awake during the approach as Alan intermittently interviewed us while walking.

    We began the traditional bushwhack from the Marcy/Haystack col at 8:30 a.m. Our first target was on the Agharta Wall, about ¾ of the way down Marcy’s north end. One of our hopeful lines was running with water, but it was not a waterfall as it has been during previous visits. I had several backup lines in my pocket, one of which was perfectly dry and positioned to the left of a huge overhanging buttress to the left of the wall (adjacent to Matt Dobb’s 2016 variation of the Agharta ice route). Adam scoped the possibilities as Alan and I trekked south to explore the seepage (if any) on another line. It looked possible, but slightly wet.

    After discussion we decided to give the Agharta Wall option a try. I was belaying Adam by 9:45 am. and the “game” was on. It felt good to be doing what we love to do. I knew this line followed a right facing corner formed by a huge detached flake of anorthosite. The details were unknown and, like anything not observed first-hand, held surprises. Most of the rock in the gorge is quite clean so we don’t bring brushes, but loose blocks are always possible and we often find them.

    Adam worked his way up the right-facing corner tapping on some stone that answered with a ring. He tossed or deposited small loose stones in recesses or tossed them to the side. Once above a grungy corner, the line was clean and followed a deep hand-crack to its termination atop a pinnacle left of an overhanging series of cracks—a flared chimney, a handcrack and a vertical finger crack. Our route would follow the latter. Meanwhile, Alan photographed from the north.


    Adam set up an anchor and Alan began to climb, happy to be free of a light swarm of blackflies—they weren’t biting, only annoying. He wanted to climb next to photograph from above. Once at the top, the small ledge was more conducive to Adam playing the role of photographer while Alan belayed. It felt good to climb the sharp anorthosite. I climbed pass some loose stone in the corner and arrived at the area that Adam tapped earlier.

    The huge flake resounded like a bell when I thumped it...disconcerting, but it was interlocked with much larger flakes. The handcrack above swallowed my hand and the edge of the 60’ flake was sharp and fun to climb. I was thrilled with the quality of the climb. I crawled up onto the belay ledge below a vertical wall, the next challenge. Adam had built the anchor in the vertical finger crack, the beginning of pitch 2. Our CrazyDog’s Halo line from 2014 was located about 20’ to our left. This, however, was an entirely different line and the climbing was different. The wall was getting more crowded with routes and keeping them independent required forethought and planning.

    Meanwhile, on the ledge Alan was in a partially hanging belay and I was seated overlooking Haystack. Adam led on; he began pitch 2 by climbing the fingercrack. The clouds passed by and silhouetted his form. A small cumulous cloud threatened from the east over Haystack. We watched it closely since the wind shifted and stray showers or storms were possible.

    May you always be a student of the journey. God Bless.

  • #2
    I shot some blind photos of Adams lead, just extending my arm and hoping to frame him by luck. Alan and I had time to chat when Adam climbed out of sight and set up a second anchor 200 feet up the cliff. Alan’s last venture with me was a couple years ago during the winter: a hike over Haystack, Basin and Saddleback.

    The coils of rope disappeared and it was soon time for Alan to climb. I then broke down the anchor and followed about 50 feet behind; Adam belay simultaneously. The fingercrack and dimpled stone made for perfect climbing with airy exposure. A second crack ran to the left, good for placing a cam but not helpful in for hands or feet. The primary crack petered out to the crux move up to a ledge using just the dimples in the face.

    Several small ledges led to a larger one with a fun move. Using the crack and chunky holds helped make the slightly overhanging ledge easier to climb. Once above, low-angle slab led to the belay station of CrazyDog’s Halo. We decided that extending our present line was impractical; the Cloudsplitter route was close to our right and we’d likely have to join either it or CrazyDog’s Halo to breach the headwall above. We made the call to end our route at two pitches after 350 feet of climbing. Pioneer Anomaly was up. It had taken 3.5 hours to climb: 9:30 am to 1:00 pm.


    We rappelled down the route enjoying the views that make climbing in the gorge so rewarding. Hikers on Haystack looked like groups of ants—our only indication that the “outside” world still existed. Here we felt free. Back at the bottom Adam and I studied another line that was running with water earlier. It had dried significantly, but still wouldn’t go. We ate lunch, I said a silent prayer of thanks, Alan wrote notes and we moved north to the Panther Den.

    Upon arrival, Adam studied a difficult line that was on his tick list. It was too wet in the crux areas so we’d planned it for another day. Underfoot, the glade showed evidence of ice falls and heavy runoff from the winter melt. A significant portion of dirt had been displaced, but grass would grow quickly. We walked north to a 6-foot deep right facing corner, one that seems to be forever wet and grungy. Adam and I had discussed a nearby chimney 20 feet to its right when we passed by earlier in the morning. This was our target.

    It would be a shorter climb than the other; exactly what we look for in a second route during the same day. The time was roughly 3:30 and the clouds were again building. Adam climbed a small face to a ledge then entered a flaring chimney. It looked awkward and fun. He wriggled his way up and switched his position 180 degrees about halfway to a prominent roof. He warned of a small “death block” that needed to be tossed down by the last person. This would make the route safer for the next climbers to visit (however few that may be).

    He broke through the roof and again called a warning about stack of blocks before climbing a crack to finish the route. Finding a proper belay station took time. The krummholz above is dense and the trees are small near the edge—I remember it well from last year. Eventually he reappeared, finding an adequate belay from cracks to the left.

    I climbed next. The moves in the chimney were challenging. Great hand jamming in a crack in the back were wonderful, but finding footholds was difficult—full body tension. I squirmed my way upward to where the holds were better. I neared the roof and moved out onto the face and passed the 10x20 inch block Adam had mentioned earlier. It was precariously balanced on its edge. It must have fallen from above and by luck landed on end. It teetered when I touched it. I continued up the face beyond the roof. A long step left led to a ledge beyond the second set of blocks that Adam described as “gravity defying”. I found myself at a vertical handcrack. Moving up and left onto the adjacent face felt like the crux, though that might have been due to the exposure. I felt more confident in the chimney.

    I clipped into the master point of Adam’s anchor before rappelling partway down to photograph Alan’s ascent. He disappeared into the chimney and re-emerged near the teetering block. He chucked it thus eliminating the hazard. Leaning away from the face I captured some of my favorite photos of the day; Alan climbing the vertical face. The anorthosite fell away to the valley below—dramatic!

    Once Alan climbed past, I rappelled down the face adjacent to the corner, a route of Bill Schneider’s called Puma Concolor. Adam and Alan followed shortly after. We were done for the day and named the route Belshazzar’s Fate. What looked like a fair climb from below was, in reality, much more appealing than we could have imagined. The gorge surprises us over and again—something that keeps us coming back.

    Our typical exit involves refilling our water supply high on Johns Brook after the bushwhack then dinner at Slant Rock. We held to our pattern and relaxed during the exit. I felt reinvigorated and surprisingly full of energy. Under the fading light of the day, we arrived at the trailhead. It was 9:30 pm.—16 hours and 45 minutes after our start.

    I was thrilled to start the season on a strong note. The mountains are ever-changing as is life in general. Christ willing, we’ll be able to continue “chasing the dream” throughout June and during the rest of the summer.


    May you always be a student of the journey. God Bless.