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AP: Climbing guide PDF Print E-mail
Written by MICHAEL VIRTANEN, Associated Press Writer   
Saturday, March 31, 2007

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- A new Adirondack rock climbing guide promises to rewrite some of the sport's prominent history in the New York's northern mountains.
''I think it's part of the history that the history was wrong,'' said Jim Lawyer, who with fellow climber Jeremy Haas began research on the guide a year ago and plan to finish this year -- for the 2008 climbing season. ''The nature of this is that the more you dig, the more convoluted and vague the information gets.''



For example, it appears the first technical climb of Wallface was made in 1920, not 16 years later by the renowned John Case, Lawyer said. An earlier group described using ropes on a zigzag route up the towering backcountry cliff, likely the same or nearly the same 800-foot climb that's named for Case for what was widely believed to be the first ascent.
''It's such a significant claim we're treating it with a lot of skepticism and trying to verify it,'' Lawyer said of the handwritten first-person account found among Henry Ives Baldwin's papers by another author researching skiing history. It describes a 1920 Wallface climb with friends Eastburn Smith and George Happ, saying they used brush and trees to belay.



The authors have turned up other discrepancies in histories of the sport and climbing guidebooks concerning first ascents and routes that overlap, Lawyer said.
People have hiked and scrambled up Adirondack mountains -- all but one under a mile high -- for centuries. In 1916, Case, the former president of the American Alpine Club and summer resident of Keene Valley, was among the first technical climbers to use ropes and modern belay techniques to scale difficult Adirondack cliffs. He is credited with several first ascents.



''I think there's no question in a place like the Adirondacks there could have been all sorts of original ascents that just weren't reported,'' said Jim Goodwin, 97, who as a teenager began climbing with Case. ''I got credit for leading the first winter ascent of Colden Trap Dike, but I'll bet you other people have done that before my day. It's just that I wrote an article about it and got credit.''
''It makes it interesting to try and trace these people. I don't think we should quit doing it,'' Goodwin said of revisiting the histories. ''The best climbing and the most exciting climbing going on in the 1920s and '30s was going on in New Hampshire -- the Appalachian Mountain Club crowd. ... We were comparably late.''
Haas, 33, a Saratoga High School science teacher and part-time climbing guide, said the real interest will likely be in the new routes they identify, especially in the southern and northern regions of the 6-million-acre Adirondack Park, more accessible than the traditional Keene Valley area to many enthusiasts. ''The number of routes are in the thousands,'' he said.
The current guidebook with about 900 climbing routes, published in 1995 by the Adirondack Mountain Club, was written by Don Mellor, a guide and author, who said he was happy to pass along the job he first did for the 1983 edition. He was preceded by Trudy Healy in 1967 and Tom Rosecrans in 1976.
''In the climbing world, the facts -- I say facts in italics -- depend on where and who and whether or not someone likes to write letters and likes to write to climbing magazines,'' Mellor said. ''Theirs is going to be a really accurate, really well researched history. It's not going to have a lot of ragged edges to it.''
Lawyer says there will necessarily be ragged edges, and some of their information could be wrong. He and Haas have climbed many Adirondack routes, and have a spread sheet of climbers for information contacts. They're aiming for accuracy in route descriptions and consistency in difficulty ratings, and plan to provide topographical maps and diagrams that note features including existing hardware.
They are urging climbers to contact their Web site with new routes from the past decade and updates or revised information on other routes. They are also soliciting stories and photographs that would make the book inspiring. They plan to keep the copyright and may self-publish.
The book will include about 170 cliffs but won't list routes for ice climbing -- Mellor did a separate guide a year ago -- or cliffs on private land. It will have some information on bouldering, the authors said.
Retired from his computer software job in the Syracuse area six years ago, Lawyer, 41, said he spent 2005-2006 building a house in the eastern Adirondack hamlet of New Russia. The guidebook is his new project.
''I work full-time on it,'' he said, including calling climbers credited with first ascents. ''Poke-O took the entire summer to document. ... Last summer on Poke-O, there was a party every day, even the bad weather days. ... There's more climbers there climbing at Poke-O than ever.''
They have documented 165 routes on the main face of Poke-O-Moonshine, the steep cliffs visible from the Northway in the town of Chesterfield, compared with 126 previously, as well as 14 routes on its slab, up from 10, and 103 on its upper tiers, compared with 35.
The rock season in northern New York generally starts with the April thaw and ends with snow flurries around late October.
''We're becoming good historians in how much fact checking how many accounts do we need for there to be proof?'' Haas said, noting some questions may never be firmly answered. ''At the least it brings up interesting discussions.''

 

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