Several years ago, I traversed the bulk of the MacIntyre Range of New York State’s Adirondacks with a college friend. We hiked a loop at a lung-busting pace. It included Whales Tale Mountain, Wright Peak, Algonquin, Boundary and Iroquois Peaks — big mountains for the ‘Dacks. I remember the trip most fondly because it got cut short. We ran out of the means to purify our water (we’re very conservative with our water) so we hiked out early through Tahawus to the south and drove all the way to Lake Placid, found the only place open late and enjoyed the most refreshing beer I’ve ever had.
I also remember it for another reason. While I had been atop Algonquin years before, I was more in shape and alert this trip. I had more energy and taking in the views, despite exertion, was easier. That’s where I took a long look at it: The most distinctive and unique feature that can be seen from Algonquin and Iroquois is the Adirondack’s largest rock wall on the southeastern face of Wallface Mountain down in the valley. I paused gaze at it’s ramparts. I might have daydreamed about it a while too.
I never climbed its face, though I wish I had. I still might. It’s 800 feet of vertical backcountry located at Indian Pass. The Indian Pass Trail, which runs from Adirondack Loj at Heart Lake to Upper Works — the old mining town and the man-made divot of the High Peaks. From the Loj it’s six miles to the Pass and the wall, or four-and-a-half miles from Upper Works.
Don Mellor claims that it’s possible to do an “alpine-style day trip” from car to wall in about two hours. That’s true, if you can find your way to the wall and your route. Bushwhacking is required and several people report that they have underestimated their ability to find the bottom of their climb. Like many of the Adirondack’s better walls, this is a wilderness experience. Help in the case of trouble is usually a day away and the path in is spent dodging the large rocks moved by exiting glaciers a long time ago that now help define the Adirondack woods. On the approach keep moving, because during June and July the black flies are a menace!
Once at the Pass, Mellor recommends in his guide, Climbing in the Adirondacks, going to Summit Rock on the other side of the pass to get a look at the face and determine the route there.
Climbing requires a helmet, and possibly a headnet to keep the black flies at bay, and prevent distraction and even madness if you’re belaying your partner. The helmet is needed because the routes can be chossy at points.
The most popular route is The Diagonal (5.8, 700′). Mellor says it is one of the “longest continuous rock climbs in the east.” The Diagonal should take less than a day. The other notable route is Pleasure Victim (5.11, 700′). It’s more challenging for the skilled climber and includes the luxury of rappel stations, from what I’ve heard unofficially. Mellor calls it “THE Adirondack big-wall free climb.”
Climbing in the ‘Dacks may not be a worldwide attraction like moab, but it’s not the local crag either. It is what it is and it’s special if you take the time to get to know it. Frtiz Weissner, the great German-immigrant alpinist that was nearly the first man to summit K2 in 1939 — two decades before Annapurna’s first ascent, climbed here too. He so respected the area and the history, he encouraged the climbing community to write a guide that covers the rich history — the one Mellor, most recently, has been responsible for compiling.
While Wallface is exciting for being a big climb, there is another that I think is more exciting for it’s setting among the High Peaks: Gothics. I’ll cover that another time. But if you’ve climbed it, I’d enjoy hearing from you.
By the way, this week I heard that Tim Emmett will is on his way to Trango Tower in the Karakorum. I’m hoping for news of a first ascent. There is a rumor that they might attempt the World Record Base Jump to make it the world’s highest altitude base jump. If so, I hope the climb goes well, conditions are right and everything goes according to plan. I just hope he returns safely.