OSI Purchases Huckleberry Mountain Parcel, Promises to Improve Climber Access

The Open Space Institute (OSI) has purchased a 1,285 acre parcel on Huckleberry Mountain that connects the state land (with the climbing cliffs) with Johnsburg Road. The property will be held by the OSI until it can be turned over to New York State, hopefully within the next three years. This is exciting news for climbers, as the connection between the state land and Johnsburg Road promises a shorter, more convenient approach to the cliffs of Huckleberry Mountain.

Huckleberry Mountain was once a popular day hiking destination with its attractive open summit and the historic Paint Mine Ruins. It was also a popular climbing destination with 55 routes up to 5.12, with a heavy emphasis on moderate routes. The Huckleberry/Crane massif is surrounded by private land. The historic, 20-minute approach to Huckleberry Mountain from Paintbed Road crosses two parcels of private land before entering state land. The approach used by climbers was the same as that for the Paint Mine Ruins, and has long been described in various hiking and climbing guidebooks to the region. In 2009, the owners posted their property and threatened to prosecute trespassers. Presently, the only legal option for climbers is to park at the Crane Mountain trailhead at the end of Sky Hi road, hike up Crane Mountain, bushwhack down the other side into the valley between Crane and Huckleberry, then go up valley to the cliffs, which takes about 2.5 hours if you don’t get lost. The inconvenience of this approach has, in practical terms, closed climbing at Huckleberry.

The present, legal approach to Huckleberry is described in Adirondack Rock, excerpt here:
http://www.adirondackrock.com/vol2_pages214-215.pdf

The ACC is working with OSI to map out an alternative approach to the historic paint mines and the climbing cliffs. While still not roadside, the new approach will be far better than going over the summit of Crane. Due to funding, the OSI does not allow public recreation on their properties, so this purchase does not mean there will be immediate relief for climbing access. However, the OSI is looking into alternatives that will allow access in this instance, before the property is turned over to the state. The ACC will continue to work with the OSI on this.

Phil Brown of the Adirondack Explorer has an article here:
https://www.adirondackexplorer.org/outtakes/adirondack-rock-climbers

North Face of Pitchoff Ice Climbing Access/Winter Trail Etiquette

The traditional access for ice climbing on the North Face of Pitchoff has been to park at the end of Mountain Lane, then walk along the Jackrabbit Ski Trail until below what ice route you wanted to climb and then head up through the woods.

The Jackrabbit Ski Trail is maintained by skiers for skiing. PLEASE USE SKIES OR SNOWSHOES when using the Jackrabbit Ski Trail to access the ice routes on the North Face of Pitchoff! If you don’t have ski’s or snowshoes the closest place to rent them is Cascade Cross Country Ski Center off Route 73 on the way to Lake Placid or in Lake Placid at High Peaks Cyclery and Eastern Mountain Sports or in Keene Valley at the Mountaineer.

There are many other times, besides accessing the ice climbing on the North Face of Pitchoff, that ski’s or snowshoes should be used. Heading into Avalanche Lake to ice climb is just one area that comes to mind. A good rule of thumb to follow, and in fact the law in the High Peaks, is that anytime there is 8 inches or more of snow, ski’s or snowshoes should be used. Don’t posthole the trails!

ACC Summary Statement on Sentinel Range Wilderness Area UMP

Below is a summary statement that was publicly submitted to the DEC during the 12/7/2017 informational/public comment meeting on the draft Sentinel Range Wilderness Area UMP.

 

December 7, 2017

My name is Will Roth, and I represent the Adirondack Climbers Coalition (ACC). I work locally, year round as a Rock and Ice Climbing Guide for several local guide services and colleges. The rock and ice climbing community is relying on the Adirondack Climbers Coalition to voice concerns related to the Sentinel Range Wilderness Area Unit Management Plan (UMP).

I would like to first off thank the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) for the opportunity to voice concerns around the proposed changes to the Sentinel Range Wilderness Area UMP. The ACC’s concerns about proposed changes to the Sentinel Range Wilderness Area UMP all revolve around changes that potentially affect rock and ice climbing access. Both rock and ice climbing are acceptable uses of wilderness, under the broader term mountaineering, contained within the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan.

A concise breakdown of wording that the ACC is looking to have adopted has been submitted to the DEC. The following is a summary of our concerns contained within the proposed Sentinel Range Wilderness Area UMP:

Parking– Climbers use parking areas at the end of Alstead Hill Rd, pullouts along Route 73, parking areas at the end of Mountain Lane and pullouts along Route 86 to access cliffs within the Sentinel Range Wilderness Area. Many of these parking areas and pullouts are shared with hikers in both the summer and winter, and skiers during the winter months. Our main concern with these shared parking areas is making sure that climbers needs are    considered when thinking about parking area/pullout usage. Listed below are the top 3 parking areas of concern for us.

East Pitchoff  Trailhead- The proposed relocated trailhead’s parking area is heavily used by ice climbers in the winter for access to the Pitchoff Quarry cliff and overflow parking for Pitchoff Right cliff. During the summer months this parking area is not used by climbers. But if the proposed parking area becomes full from hikers, the next closest parking areas are heavily used in the summer and winter by climbers. We would like to avoid the overflow hiker parking taking over climbing area parking. There is room at the proposed relocated trailhead to expand parking. The ACC wants to make sure that the DEC is aware of this very real possibility of over crowding especially during busy winter weekends when parking space is limited more due to snow banks.

West Pitchoff Trailhead- This series of pullouts is used by climbers lightly in the summer and heavily in the winter for access to the Cascade Waterfall and Top of the Lakes Gullies. Both summer and winter hiker use of this trailhead is very heavy, with hikers accessing Pitchoff Ridge/Balanced Rocks and Cascade/Porter mountains. The ACC strongly opposes options that remove this parking area – since that would cut off climber access. The ACC understands that there are limited resources to work within this area as far as expanding parking. However one possibility is for winter maintenance to be performed on the day use picnic area between the Upper and Lower Cascade Lakes for winter climber access to both the Cascade Waterfall and Top of the Lakes Gullies. This picnic area, along with the Cascade Waterfall and Top of the Lakes Gullies is not in the Sentinel Range Wilderness Area, but since some of the parking for these climbs is in the Sentinel Range Wilderness Area we have included them here.

Mountain Lane- This trailhead is used heavily in the winter by climbers to access the ice climbing on the North Face of Pitchoff. Skiers share this trailhead to access the Jackrabbit Trail. Summer use by climbers is none. If this trailhead is moved from the current end of the road parking, the new parking area must be large enough to accommodate both the heavy winter climber and skier use.

Trails– Rock and ice climbers do not need maintained trails to access the cliffs that they use. However heavily used summer and winter cliffs do see herd paths develop as a way to access them. Also at heavily used cliffs, along with the herd paths, the cliff base and cliff tops see enough use that erosion control is needed.

Currently two of these heavily used climber herd paths are proposed to become designated trails. The ACC is in full support of the official designation of both the herd paths to the Barkeater Cliff and the Notch Mountain Slab.

In addition to these two herd paths, the ACC strongly recommends that the herd path to the Pitchoff Chimney cliff become officially designated.

With the official designation of these herd paths as trails, the ACC strongly encourages the DEC to not mark these trails. Or if marked, to use a trail marker different than the typical trail marker used for hiking trails. Currently there is already a “Climbers Access Trail” marker in the works for use at several heavily used climbing sites in the Giant/Dix Wilderness area. If the trails in the Sentinel Range Wilderness Area are marked, it would be beneficial to keep the “Climbers Access Trail” markings uniform. This would help both hikers and climbers by helping to eliminate trail confusion.

Rare Species- The ACC supports the peregrine falcon cliff closures. Although there are not currently any cliff closures in the Sentinel Range Wilderness Area it is worth noting that local climbers involved with the ACC already help to monitor peregrine falcon nesting. The ACC looks forward to continuing to support the DEC with its Peregrine studies.

There is mention in the draft UMP that states, “address potential harm that rock climbing could cause to protected species.”. We are aware of peregrine falcons. And as mentioned above, support the cliff closures. What other protected species could climbers cause harm?

Snowshoe Use- The ACC supports the proposed rule that “use of snowshoes or ski’s is needed with 8 or more inches of snow” on the Jackrabbit Trail section in the Sentinel Range Wilderness Area. The ACC understands the potential dangers of “postholing” and the potential to ruin a trail that is designated for and maintained by skiers.

Fixed Anchors- The ACC looks forward to working with the DEC during focus group meetings surrounding the use of fixed anchors and forming a park-wide policy on their use.

Volunteer Stewardship Agreement- The ACC looks forward to working with the DEC through Volunteer Stewardship Agreements (VSA) on climber related trail projects.

Thank you for your time. Please don’t hesitate to contact the Adirondack Climbers Coalition with any questions or concerns surrounding rock or ice climbing in the Sentinel Range Wilderness Area.

 

Will Roth

 

ACC Specific Comments on Sentinel Range Wilderness Area UMP

Below are specific comments submitted to the DEC on the draft Sentinel Range Wilderness Area UMP.

 

Will Roth

 

Saranac Lake, NY 12983

December 7, 2017

Steve Guglielmi

Forester

DEC PO Box 296/ 1115 State Route 86

Ray Brook, NY 12977

Dear Mr. Guglielmi,

I’m writing you on behalf of the Adirondack Climbers Coalition (ACC) in response to the proposed Sentinel Range Wilderness Area Unit Management Plan (UMP). The ACC represents rock and ice climbers throughout the Adirondack Park.

The ACC has looked at the proposed Sentinel Range Wilderness Area UMP and come up with wording that we would like to see both added and deleted from the UMP. A summary of what the ACC would like the Sentinel Range Wilderness Area UMP to look like will be read and submitted at the December 7, 2017 public comment meeting. Attached below is specifically what the ACC would like the wording in the proposed Sentinel Range Wilderness Area UMP to look like with regard to rock and ice climbers.

Local rock and ice climbers want to make the DEC aware that the ACC wants to be a part of the proposed focus group looking at developing a park-wide policy on the management of fixed anchors on Forest Preserve lands.

The Adirondack Climbers Coalition looks forward to working with the DEC. If there are any questions about the attached proposed changes to the proposed Sentinel Range Wilderness Area UMP please feel free to contact me directly at (C) or (E) . Thank you for taking the time to review the attached.

Sincerely,

 

Will Roth

 

Proposed Changes to the draft Sentinel Range Wilderness Area UMP

 

Insertions in green.

Deletions in strikethrough red.

Page 48

Rock climbing is listed, but not ice climbing. Ice climbing, while under the umbrella of “technical climbing”, occurs in the winter and often uses different cliffs, parking, and approaches. Hence, it should be specifically mentioned and addressed in the UMP.

Known uses of the unit include hiking, hunting, trapping, rock climbing, ice climbing, camping, and cross country skiing.

Page 113

There is an outdated, out-of-print, 22-year-old reference listed, when newer references are available which are more relevant. The DEC now references these sources for peregrine closures. These sources are also up-to-date with respect to cliff descriptions and rock/ice climbing routes at the various locations in the Sentinel region.

MELLOR, D. 1995. CLIMBING IN THE ADIRONDACKS: A GUIDE TO ROCK AND ICE ROUTES IN THEADIRONDACK PARK. ADIRONDACK MOUNTAIN CLUB: LAKE GEORGE, NY.

Lawyer, J and Haas, J. 2014. Adirondack Rock: A Rock Climbers Guide, Second Edition. Adirondack Rock Press: Pompey, NY.

Mellor, D. 2016. Blue Lines 2. The Mountaineer: Keene Valley, NY.

 

Page 48

Climbers definitely use non-standard access points, and it should be noted.

Recreational use is difficult to measure. There are only four developed trail heads in the

SRWA, however the public can enter the unit at various other locations. Hikers, rock and ice climbers and hunters are known to enter the unit from Route 73 at the southern boundary of the unit, along Route 86 and River Road on the western boundary of the unit, and off of Bartlett

Road in the eastern portion of the unit. In addition, Mountain Lane and Alstead Hill Road provides access to the southern portion of the unit in North Elba and Keene respectively.

Page 48

When describing the land resources, a more complete inventory of climbing areas should be listed. The following table shows the known climbing areas and attempts to rate their use (none, low, high).

Area # Summer Routes # Winter Routes Summer Use Winter Use
Notch Mountain Slab 15 0 High None
Sportsman Crag 2 2 Low Low
Cloudspin Cliff 6 0 Low None
High Falls Crag 4 10 Low High
Pitchoff North Face 1 20+ None High
Swamp Rock 1 1 Low Low
Barkeater 42 3+ High Low
Pitchoff Ridge Trail Domes 4 0 Low None
Grand View Cliff 4 0 Low None
Pitchoff Chimney Cliff 45 5+ High High
Pitchoff Quarry 0 10+ None High
Sisters Wall 0 8+ None High
Unbalanced Rock 2 0 Low None
Ice Age Wall 3 1 Low Low

 

Page 87

When considering high-impact climbing areas with high-use approach paths, please consider Pitchoff Chimney Cliff, which is undeniably the highest use climbing area in the Sentinel region.

 

There are several rock climbing areas in the unit that are accessed via informal trails.

Trails to two three of these areas, Barkeater Cliffs, Pitchoff Chimney Cliff, and Notch Mountain Slabs, will be officially adopted by the Department to allow for annual maintenance and any necessary improvements. The trail to Barkeater Cliffs is currently in good condition and requires

only minor upgrading at this time. The trail to Notch Mountain Slabs and Pitchoff Chimney Cliff will require more extensive upgrades.

Pages 101-102

Fixed piton use has all but disappeared in the Adirondacks, and those that are placed (for mostly winter use) are generally removed by the climbing party. We don’t see a need to even mention fixed pitons.

In climbing usage terms, we disagree that these are “low to moderate” usage. Four of the areas should be considered high usage: Pitchoff Chimney Cliff, Pitchoff Left/Right, Barkeater, and Pitchoff North.

The language specifically mentions rock climbers, but ice climbers are equally affected and should be included.

Rock and ice climbing have been a legitimate recreational uses on Adirondack park lands since the 1930s, and are recognized in the APSLMP as such under the definition of “Mountaineering”. Fixed anchors are an inseparable part of that experience. While we support the temporary moratorium on new fixed anchors, be aware that there has been no new fixed hardware added to the cliffs in the Sentinel region for many years now. The historic hardware that does exist, however, is heavily used and in dire need of replacement for safety. For this reason, we recommend that the DEC work rapidly with local climbers coalition to establish a permitting process for replacing aging, dangerous fixed anchors.

  1. Rock and Ice Climbing

Present Conditions

Rock and ice climbing in the unit occur at several locations on Pitchoff Mountain and at

Wilmington Notch. Although climbing use levels have never been measured in this area,

use is believed to be low except at these four locations: Barkeater Cliff, Pitchoff Chimney Cliff, Pitchoff Left/Right, and Pitchoff North.

they are believed to be low to moderate compared to other rock and ice climbing areas.

One exception is the Pitchoff Right Ice Climbing Wall. This is one of the most popular ice

climbing walls in the Adirondack Park due to its easy access from a major road.

 

Rock and ice climbing is not a wilderness dependent activity; it is a terrain dependent activity,

however significant rock climbing areas have been classified as wilderness. Some rock

climbers may seek a wilderness climbing experience, but for the majority the closeness

of a climbing route to a parking area may be a more important consideration. Therefore

most rock and ice climbing occurs along the periphery of the unit.

 

The use of fixed anchors as a method of protection for rock climbers has become an

issue in numerous Forest Preserve units, including the SRWA. Fixed anchors have been

installed on several climbing routes in the unit. This plan will support the

recommendations from the Dix Mountain and Giant Mountain Wilderness Area UMPs to

establish a temporary moratorium on the placement of new, or replacement of existing,

bolts or fixed pitons; inventory all known climbing walls in the unit for existence of fixed anchors; and

convene a focus group (including Department and APA staff, members ofthe climbing community,

environmental organizations and other interested parties) to

develop a park-wide policy on the management of fixed anchors on Forest Preserve

lands. The DEC will work with the local climbers coalition to develop a permitting system

for replacement of worn existing fixed anchors.

 

The placement of bolts, or other fixed anchors which involve drilling or defacement of the

rock is a violation of Department regulations (6 NYCRR 190.8(g) — “No person shall

deface, remove, destroy, or otherwise injure in any manner whatsoever any . . . rock,

fossil or mineral…”). The APSLMP does not discuss the appropriateness of fixed

anchors.

Page 102

Add Pitchoff Chimney Cliff to the list:

Access trails to the Barkeater Cliffs, Pitchoff Chimney Cliff, and Notch Mountain will be formalized and upgraded where necessary.

Page 102

We would like clarification on what is meant by “protected species”. We are fully aware—and cooperate fully—with the state’s efforts to protect peregrine falcons. We are unaware of other protected species.

Address potential harm that rock climbing could cause to protected species.

Potential actions that could be taken could include providing interpretive

information or closing problem routes (seasonally or permanently). Any action

taken should be done in collaboration with the rock climbing community.

 

Page 122

 

Add Pitchoff Chimney Cliff to the table of “Class III Primitive Trails”.

Pages 48

Be aware that the parking at the end of Mountain Lane is very important to ice climbers, as it provides parking and access the north side of Pitchoff, one of the most popular ice climbing venues in the park.

In addition, Mountain Lane and Alstead Hill Road provides access to the southern portion of the unit in North Elba and Keene respectively.

Page 94

In the following paragraph, a parking area for the jackrabbit trail is proposed near the intersection of Mountain Lane and Route 73. We support the maintenance of the existing parking area (at the end of Mountain Lane), as this would help climbers and not affect skiers.

A trailhead for the Jackrabbit Trail is being proposed in the draft Saranac Lakes

Wild Forest UMP off of Mountain Lane near its intersection with Route 73 in North

Elba. Parking for this trailhead will be developed on the south side of the road on

lands within the Saranac Lake Wild Forest and on the north side of the road on

lands within the SRWA. Total parking capacity at this site will be 11 vehicles, with

room for six vehicles on the south side of the road (Saranac Lakes Wild Forest),

and room for five vehicles on the north side of the road (SRWA).

Pages 72, 106

Alternatives 1-5 show closing the east Pitchoff Mountain parking and relocating the parking and trailhead nearer to the lakes, to an existing lot. Climbers use this lot to access climbing on the north side of the road (in the Sentinel Wilderness region), and the south side of the road (not in the Sentinel Wilderness region). We are concerned that, in summer, the lot will fill to capacity and force overflow into the pullouts along the lake, which are now used by climbers for access to Pitchoff Chimney Cliff, a high-use climbing destination.

 

Pitchoff Mountain Trailhead (east)- This trailhead is located on a curve that limits

visibility for approaching traffic. This traffic is also traveling down a steep hill. The

parking area is on the opposite side of State Route 73 from the trail.

Alternative 3 and 5 close the west trail to Balanced Rock. This is a climbing destination, and closing this access makes this cliff very difficult to access.