By Tooth and Claw

A new climb in the remote Panther Gorge, Adirondacks NY

by Kevin MacKenzie

By Tooth and Claw (WI4)

Panther Gorge, Adirondacks NY

Date: January 30, 2016
Climbers: Kevin MacKenzie, Bill Schneider & Devin Farkas
Duration/Mileage/Elevation Gain:
 15.75 hours /18+ miles /5,300 feet
Approach: 8.5 miles from the Garden Trailhead, Keene Valley

The first views, Panther Gorge

The first views, Panther Gorge

I needed my Panther Gorge fix and the warm January temperatures in the valley prompted me to consider how much ice might have formed up in the gorge. The low snowpack made it even more tempting given the 8.5 mile-long approach. Panther Gorge veteran Bill Schneider and Devin Farkas, assistant director of the Outdoor Program at St. Lawrence University, jumped on board. It’s nice to have friends that like to suffer! We met at the Rooster Comb parking lot at 5:00 am to sort gear and drive a single car to the Garden Trailhead. Temperatures hovered at 15F though they were forecast to rise to the mid-thirties in the valley.
We hoped to have a firm crust on which to bushwhack from the Phelps Trail to the climbing walls. It was 10:00 am. when we stepped off trail at the Marcy/Haystack col. I sank to my knees in snowshoes…so much for easy. I broke trail to the Panther Den wall while dodging snow bombs from the balsams. Bill and Devin emerged soon after I crawled out of the last, particularly dense section. This was Devin’s first visit to the “promised land”—God’s country—and he wasn’t disappointed based on his reaction.
A large right facing corner, usually wet during the summer, held ice though it was thinner than I expected. Haystack was decorated with fat ice flows from nearly every ledge. Linking them could be an interesting route for the future. We continued lower to southern end of the Panther Den wall. Continuous tiers of ice led up to the vertical wall that Bill and I climbed this past summer when we put up Cat on a Wet Tin Roof (5.8). Enticing as it appeared, we wanted to explore deeper in the gorge.

Looking up pitch 1 from a tier or two up the route.

Looking up pitch 1 from a tier or two up the route

Bill broke trail to the Feline Wall where Devin took over. A smear touched down though it was partially delaminated and thin. The line was fatter in November when Adam Crofoot, Allison Rooney and I spotted it while bushwhacking along the Haystack side. Longer days of sun on the black rock had taken a toll. A nearby gully held interesting possibilities.
We climbed up along the left side of the Feline Wall; Bill and Devin continued down to the Agharta (NOT pronounced AgarTHa) Wall where the Agharta ice route was fat and tempting. There were no options for a new independent line so we re-ascended to the aforementioned ice at the Panther Den Wall (44°6’49.4”N, 73°54’23.9”W). The approach and exploration had taken seven hours. It was 12:15 pm and time to climb.
The first strikes of Bill’s tools shattered the ice. It was very dry. We’d hoped that the recent rains at lower elevations might have kept the water moving up high. Apparently the precipitation was snow at 4,000 feet in elevation. Yes, it gets colder with elevation, but temperature inversions have been common lately. Moderate winds swirled the snow as Bill climbed out of sight. I considered the possibilities as he climbed—would it be more of a snow/ice mountaineering route or consistent ice? The gorge is a roll of the dice, summer or winter so I hoped this would turn out to be a good choice and go the full length. About an hour later he set up an anchor and pulled up the slack.
I started via a short vertical pitch into a narrow gully and up to a tier of thick white-yellow ice. The tiers continued to a large right facing corner. Another higher vertical section led to the belay station 150 feet from the base. Any concerns about the quality of the line evaporated. It was interesting, consistent and had a killer view.
Valley temperatures in the 30s Fahrenheit didn’t make it warm on Marcy where the ambient temperature was probably around 20. Strong winds accompanied the ascent and dropped the wind-chill to somewhere around zero degrees. Devin followed and we regrouped on the spacious terrace. An ice filled chimney (a mossy dripping mess in the summer) sat in a huge corner on the left side of the terrace—the money pitch.

Bill in the crux chimney, about 170 feet up

Bill in the crux chimney, about 170 feet up

Bill led again. Delicate strikes kept falling plates to a minimum. The wind strengthened and cleaned nearby snow covered ledges. Smaller pieces of falling ice combined with the spindrift and took flight to the south. Devin belayed while I photographed and studied the ice flows on Little Haystack. It would be a war to get to them, but a couple could be worth the effort.
It was impossible to hear anything except Devin who was only a few feet away so three tugs on the rope from Bill signaled that it was time for me to climb again. A series of awkward moves in the chimney led to another terrace. A lightly iced corner led to a committing step up and left to lower angled ice below a right facing corner. Twenty more feet led into the krummholz and into a talus cave, Bill’s man-cave. He’d found a protected nook about 30 feet deep and was belaying from a pinch-point between two pieces of talus. The 250-foot By Tooth and Claw route was up.
Two rappels later found us back at the base at 4:30 pm. Only a bushwhack out of the gorge and 8-mile walk back to the trailhead stood between a hot dinner, cup of coffee and comfortable bed. The steep climb out of the gorge was in sync with a setting sun and still-increasing winds that whipped through the pass. The previous effort of trail-breaking paid dividends during the exit; it had consolidated into a supportive trail. The best adventures begin and end in the dark and this was no exception. We arrived back at the trailhead at 9:05 pm, 15 ¾ hours after starting—about average for day trips to the gorge.


Prior Panther Gorge Explorations:

  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 Exit via a nighttime climb of Haystack from the south (w/Anthony Seidita)-2013 Sep 6
  6. Haystack Slides and Haycrack Route– 4 days camping in the gorge (w/Anthony Seidita)-2014 June 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: The Pride (w/Bill Schneider, Adam Crofoot)-2015 Aug 30
  18. Marcy: Promised Land (w/Dan Plumley)-2015 Sept 19
  19. Tour de Gorge—North to South Exploration with a Nighttime Climb of Marcy (w/Adam Crofoot & Allison Rooney) 2015 Nov 21


On Mountainproject:…claw/111600381


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