Chapel Pond Slab

An Adirondack Friction Climbing Playground
By Jeff Edwards
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Friction climbing has become a lost art of sorts in recent years as radically steep sport climbs have come to dominate climbing's collective consciousness. Such a sport climbing focus has eliminated the precision footwork and psychological demands of unprotected slab climbing from the learning curve of aspiring leaders. Fortunately, the bold tradition of ascending into the vast unknown is alive and accessible to the novice climber on the broad sweeps of gray rock on Chapel Pond Slab in the Adirondack Mountains of New York.

Chapel Pond Slab requires a mere hundred yards or so of easy strolling to reach its base. The prominent location on Route 73 just a few miles north of exit 30 from the Adirondack Northway makes it a magnet for climbers from all over the northeastern United States and eastern Canada.

The slab's 700 feet of vertical provide routes with six to eight pitches of climbing on terrain that is engaging but rarely unsettling. Novice leaders can frolic on the coarse anorthosite with the knowing security of modern sticky rubber beneath their feet. Such was not always the case as the earliest ascentionists took on the slab's challenges with all manner of footwear from lug-soled hiking boots to ultra-flexible wrestling shoes. One local guide was even convinced that Tom McAnn slip-on lounge loafers were the ultimate friction climbing tools. He looked more likely to amble off for a game of shuffleboard at the local senior center than to climb a daunting piece of rock.

Spanish shoe rubber, introduced to the climbing world in 1982, has made the shoe decision irrelevant now. The legendary Boreal Fire shoe revolutionized rock climbing, giving almost everyone the confidence to tread upon tenuous terrain. Today, every major shoe manufacturer offers some sort of miracle rubber. The result is that anyone who learns some basic friction climbing technique can follow a competent leader up Chapel Pond Slab for hundreds of feet of climbing pleasure.

The key element of friction climbing technique is maximizing contact of the shoe sole with rock. Achieving this requires a body position that is not particularly aesthetic but certainly efficient. Butt high, heels low, and palms of hands skillfully plodding rather than grasping are keys to success. Edging or front-pointing the feet will cause skidding and paddling. Don't bother looking up for handhold destinations; there aren't any. A seasoned friction climber spends most of his time looking down.

Chapel Pond Slab is peppered with sharp crystals, shallow dishes, and coarse scales for the feet. The most skilled will take this downward focus further by pushing with the palms of their hands from below. With the fingertips pointed down the pitch, pushing from below can often be the key to unlocking a featureless expanse. The entire effect is one of rhythmic plodding punctuated by occasional moments to rest burning calves, soak up the views of Giant Mountain, or contemplate the lack of protection for the leader.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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