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Panther Gorge-Predatory Instincts 2016 June 4

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  • Panther Gorge-Predatory Instincts 2016 June 4

    Yes, it was only a week since my prior trip into Panther Gorge. No, I’m not insane though a few friends might disagree. I’m simply intrigued and have finally trained my body to pull off high mileage trips over consecutive weeks. Add a good weather window as incentive and I’m all about pushing forth with the journey and chasing “the dream”.


    Bill Schneider and I had already planned to attack the area when I threw the invitation out to Nolan Huther who came with me in March for a couple ice lines. Our target this day was a long line, possibly the southernmost one, in the Huge Scoop at the end of the northern walls on Mt. Marcy. It was a route about which I’d contemplated most of the winter. I was curious how hard it would be and wanted to view the features up close. They looked interesting and fun—especially some cracks on the left wall of the scoop and the small roofs above the great depression in the face.

    The alarm went off at 3:15 am. and we were driving to Rooster Comb trailhead by 3:40. Bill Schneider hopped in and we drove up to the Garden in moderate temperatures; a contrast to last week’s heat. Our pace placed us at the base of the Huge Scoop before 9 am. Nolan had seen the northernmost wall (the Panther Den) from across the way, but hadn’t walked the base nor had he seen the larger cliffs on which we’d be climbing if it was dry. A week of warm temperatures and little if any rain offered a chance to climb a normally wet area in dry conditions. We’d been turned back before and the Huge Scoop is a difficult area to access for only the views.

    We passed the second wall of Marcy—the Feline Wall—it was wet. I felt my heart sink, but held hope. Continuing, the Agharta Wall was largely dry. I rushed downhill and climbed the last arduous slope to the base of the Huge Scoop. One really can’t see it well until standing at its base; I prayed it would be dry and hooted when it was. I couldn’t hold back the excitement. A long awaited plan coming together is a wonderful thing. I knew Bill would be leading the hardest pitches so I quickly stated that I’d lead the slab portion...I’m comfortable on good slab.

    The blackflies had transitioned from annoying to biting over a week’s time. It was time to donate a bit of blood to the cause. I hoped the wind would cut them down as we climbed, but that was not to be.

    Rumours of War, the obvious central route of the Huge Scoop starts near the center of the slab at an obvious corner that ascends to the headwall. I started the new route at a 4 foot high pancake of rock. This slab isn’t friction climbing, but face climbing where one uses the edges of the features to ascend. It’s too steep to smear the soles and hope for traction. The only issue was a lack of cracks to protect against a fall. Twenty, thirty, forty feet higher I found a small crack and placed the first piece of small gear.


    Continuing, I followed a line up to a small overhang and then up toward the headwall and an overhanging that put a pit in my stomach based on how it looked and its overhanging slope. About 30 feet to the left were the easier and appealing twin cracks on the right-facing wall of the Huge Scoop...the dream line. I set up an anchor under an overlap and simultaneously belayed Bill and Nolan. All the while Nolan had been photographing from below. His eye for perspective led to several dramatic shots.

    It was Bill’s turn. He eyed the overhanging crack and we agreed to give it a try. I belayed as he climbed up to explore. We were climbing on unknown territory save a few photograph so there’s only one way to find out if something works or not—to try it. I knew it looked hard as I watched him work the line. A crux partway up turned back the attempt after several tries. The complication was that the crack was wet and slippery where it constricted. It could be aid climbed, but that’s not why we’re back here.

    Bill estimated the grade at about 5.11a YDS. He down-climbed and we continued to the original objective. I breathed a sigh of relief. I wanted to climb cleanly and questioned whether I’d be able to on an overhanging wet flared crack.

    Bill traversed to the right-facing wall and up to a set of twin cracks. The wall overhung slightly and the cracks tilted to the right about 10 degrees. From my perspective they looked deep. Once Bill gained the cracks, he lit up like the finale of a fireworks show. Phrases like, “This is amazing,” and “This would be a classic at the Spider’s Web (across from Chapel Pond),” echoed around the Scoop. Yes, he was excited which was contagious. Every few feet, he re-emphasized just how good the route was. The holds were bomber up to a chock stone when he stepped left on the face and set up a belay...but not before handing backward by his right hand and laughing. Such was the day!

    Meanwhile, Nolan photographed the scene with my camera which jammed—the gorge had killed a piece of equipment and certainly not the last. Luckily we had Bill’s camera and Nolan’s phone.

    I climbed next. The cracks were as good as advertised. They swallowed my hand and the feet were good until the crux. The crack constricted and the footholds disappeared. To state it more clearly, there were small edges on the wall for the feet, but I had to search to find them as my arms began to lose strength. With a little work I moved past it and found the next huge hold, or “Thank God bucket” in Bill’s words. I did thank God in more ways than one.

    I gained the face, clipped into the anchor and took Bill’s camera as Nolan climbed. He traversed the slab and worked his way up to the crack as I leaned out to photograph. Each of us approached the climb in a different fashion since there were enough hand and footholds to work with. Nolan was soon up to our position and we jockeyed around to find a comfortable stance and discuss the next pitch.



    The broken ledges and roofs were foreshortened from where we stood—a hundred feet looked like about 50. Comparing our position to that of my photograph and studying the cracks and other features guided us to a tentative plan. Bill led the way. Efficiency counts and the day was wearing were the biting blackflies. The wind wasn’t strong enough to keep them at bay.
    The money pitch that Bill dubbed “double chocolate love” was below us; the next pitch appeared to be interesting and even more diverse. I followed once Bill called that he was off belay. Getting onto the line involved a slight down-climb onto 65 degree slab leading to an overlap. Then it got steep. I face-climbed up to a small corner with a finger crack and climbed it to more slab. Interesting pockets in the face led to another crack and an obvious roof.

    I looked up with a bit of apprehension, but decided to just climb rather than make a study of it. This section of the pitch was exhilarating. I buried my hands in the crack between the roof and face and laid back away from it thus pushing my feet into the face. Hand-jams and an abundance of holds and edges kept me in place as I rounded the lip and climbed the crack to another run of steep slab. I saw Bill at an anchor below another roof above a tree island. Nolan quickly followed and we re-stacked the rope for the final pitch.

    Our choices included a short chimney directly above, a corner in the center or another short corner to the right. We agreed on the central corner with horizontal cracks on the left facing wall. It seemed like the most challenging and most aesthetic. Based on the photo this would be the last hurdle to putting up the route. Above was a tree island and low-angle slab, some of which I’d rappelled in 2015. There was no lack of gear in the wall and Bill made short work of it as the clouds blew by. The time was nearing 3:00 pm; we’d been on the wall for a long time. He yelled to be careful of the loose flakes of stone as he stepped onto the low-angle face. The rope kept moving as he climbed higher and set up an anchor.

    I went next using the deep horizontal cracks and crack in the corner. The moves seemed intuitive though I climbed primarily using the corner crack. Within minutes I too was on the upper face dodging the loose rock. I drifted right past a large tree island from which Bill was belaying. I stopped and waited for didn’t take him long to catch up. We then traversed across the top of the island while avoiding a huge ant hill that Bill had stirred up. The little black demons were unhappy and covered about 20 square feet of the face searching for the perpetrator (who was hiding in the trees far away belaying us).


    A large spruce marked the end of the route as we prepared to rappel over the aforementioned roof and down the face alongside Twin Fracture Gully. Two rappels placed us close to the bottom of the Scoop where we could safely walk back to our packs. By the time we returned is was nearly 4:30. It had taken about 7.5 hours to put up the route—a new on-wall duration record for our trips.

    After so many outings to the gorge, you’d think the exit would become easier—no, though the extra exertion could have been from scouting some new route possibilities we hadn’t noticed earlier. If this trip taught me anything , it is that the possibilities are nearly endless and each trip feels as exhilarating as the last. Weather permitting, we’ve two more trips planned during June—I pray each is as fruitful and fun.

    Conversations regarding the route name ensued immediately after the rappel, but that wouldn’t ultimately be decided until Bill rattled off “Predatory Instincts” a few miles from the Garden. He managed to encapsulate the feel of the route once again. As I mentioned, I considered this my dream line while studying photographs over the winter. It didn’t disappoint.
    May you always be a student of the journey. God Bless.

  • #2
    Yet another beautiful first ascent. Great photo's for this one. Looks like a real gem of a route. Congratulations!
    Set out runnin' but I take my time
    A friend of the devil is a friend of mine
    If I get home before daylight, I just might get some sleep tonight. -GD