Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Rites Of Passage

Most major climbing areas have at least one route that climber's will agree is an absolute classic. This route frequently epitomizes the climbing style found at that particular climbing area. Climbs like Positive Thinking at Poke-O-Moonshine, Called on Account of Rains at Lake Willoughby, and Repentance at Cathedral Ledge all climb unforgettable, striking features.


The Catskills are predominantly a cragging area, with mostly single pitch climbing. the Steep sandstone found throughout the area breaks mostly in vertical planes, making nearly every ice bulge, no matter how short or long, completely vertical. Steep climbs here are relentlessly vertical, and the climbing rewards climbers with strong technical skills. Without good technique it's hard to find rests on many of the harder routes.

If I was to select one route that epitomizes Catskill ice climbing it would undoubtedly be Purgatory in the Hell Hole (called the Devil's Kitchen in the 2nd edition of the Molitoris guide). This route involves steep ice, thin ice, moderate mixed climbing and fantastic position along a steep face in one of the most rugged ravines on the east coast.

Entering the beginning of the mixed climbing

Joe Szot lead this route using traditional gear, and it took him several hours to complete the 90' tall line. It's hard, and leading the route on gear requires the right conditions and a cool lead head. The route saw several subsequent gear-protected ascents by climbers like Kevin Delaney and Lucho Romero (there were others but I don't have their names). Kevin retrobolted the route without Joe's permission at some point later on. I'm not interested in starting a discussion about retrobolting without first ascensionist's permission here; suffice to say it's not an acceptable practice.

The bolts have changed the character of the route but not it's quality. Purgatory remains one of the finest single pitch routes in the northeast. It's a popular toprope for many weekend climbers, but a lead of Purgatory still feels hard and it's a proud tick for most aspiring Catskill climbers. For these climbers wanting to climb harder mixed and ice lines in the Catskills, it's a rite of passage, a gateway to the fine harder climbing found throughout the region.

Earlier this season, as I stood in the thin ice face crux of Purgatory working hard to chip the bolts out of the ice, I thought about Joe leading this line for the first time. He must have climbed back to the safety of the alcove rest many times before committing to the crux of this route. As I reached a few bigger pillows of ice that swallowed my picks more completely I thought about Joe again. He must have been relieved to stuff a .5" cam in the crack on the right and toss a sling over the tree that used to grow out of the crack here. He must also have known that he had things in the bag at that point.

Silas Rossi beginning his Catskill rite of passage

Silas Rossi, a well-traveled guide who recently relocated to the Hudson Valley spent a day climbing with me in the Hell Hole last week. During the visit he commented that if one encountered Purgatory-like climbing on a bigger route with traditional protection it would probably be rated WI6-. With the bolts we're happy calling WI5-, M5, and it's a relatively safe lead. So, the next time you visit the Catskills give this route a try. It's sure to warm your forearms and put a smile on your face.

Here's a gallery of beautiful images of Purgatory from earlier this season.