Tom Rosecrans has climbed all over the world, but he’s most at home on Rogers Rock overlooking Lake George.
Have you heard of the legend of Rogers Rock? We’re not talking about Major Robert Rogers, the leader of Rogers’ Rangers in the French and Indian War. We’re talking about Tom Rosecrans, the rock climber.
Rosecrans, 59, has climbed in the West, the Himalayas, and East Africa, among other places, but he’s spent most of his time in the Adirondacks, where he has logged about seventy first ascents, and of all the cliffs in this part of the world, he’s most at home on Rogers Rock.
The 650-foot slab rises straight out of Lake George. Legend has it that, in March 1758, Major Rogers was fleeing Indians when he came to the brink of the cliff. He strapped his snowshoes on backward and retraced his steps to make it appear he went over the edge. He then scrambled down to the frozen lake by another route. When the Indians saw him far below, they thought he had been aided by the Great Spirit and so ended their pursuit.
Rock climbers who scale Rogers Rock enjoy throughout a breathtaking view of Lake George, looking south toward Anthony’s Nose or north toward the foot of the lake. There’s no climb like it in the Adirondack Park.
“Rogers Rock has everything I like about climbing,” says Rosecrans, a retired teacher who owns the Rocksport climbing gym in Glens Falls. “It’s scenic, the routes are generally long, and they don’t scare the bejesus out of me.”
Yet most climbers who come to the Park speed past Lake George on their way to the High Peaks or Poke-O-Moonshine Mountain, the traditional destinations of cliff hounds. This could change with the recent publication of Adirondack Rock (2008), a guidebook that is opening people’s eyes to the climbing possibilities in many parts of the Park.
Rosecrans has seen a steady increase in climbers at Rogers Rock over the years, especially in the summer. The Park’s first rock guidebook, A Climber’s Guide to the Adirondacks (1967) by Trudy Healy, did not mention Rogers Rock at all. Rosecrans published its successor, Adirondack Rock and Ice Climbs (1976), and included three routes on Rogers Rock. Climbing in the Adirondacks by Don Mellor, first published in 1983, offered ten routes there.
Adirondack Rock, though, represents a quantum leap forward, or upward: It divides Rogers Rock into three cliffs and describes forty routes in all—four times as many as the previous guidebook. Twenty-one of the routes are on Rogers Slide, which is what most people think of when they think of Rogers Rock.
Rosecrans is largely responsible for this proliferation of possibilities. Adirondack Rock credits him (and his various partners, who include his two grown daughters, Brie and Erin) with the first ascent of thirteen of the twenty-one routes on Rogers Slide. What’s more, he knocked off two new routes last fall after the book came out. He now lays claim to the first ascents of two-thirds of the routes on the slab.
But he was not the first of the first. That honor goes to Demetri Kolokotronis and Bob Perlee, who in 1971 ascended a 490-foot route dubbed Little Finger, following a crack that in places is just wide enough to stick in a finger. The next year the pair climbed a somewhat harder route called Two Bits.
Rosecrans got into the act in 1973, when he and Tony Goodwin did a five-hundred-foot route they named Tone-Bone Tennys, because Goodwin (whose nickname was Tone-Bone) climbed it in tennis sneakers.
Although there are now many ways to scale Rogers Slide, only Little Finger gets five stars in Adirondack Rock, the book’s highest rating for overall climbing enjoyment. So we asked Rosecrans to lead us up this route on a sunny day last October, when the foliage in the southern Adirondacks was at its peak color. The photographer Carl Heilman came along to shoot pictures.
One of the charms of Rogers Slide is that it is accessible only by water. We put in canoes at a quiet bay at Rogers Rock State Campground. As we paddle away from shore, we turn to admire the Campground Wall, a three-hundred-foot cliff that also has been seeing more action from rock climbers in recent years. In a few minutes, we round a small point next to tiny Juniper Island and spot two peregrine falcons flying near the shore. One alights in a tree and watches as we pass by, then takes off to join its mate. The falcons nest on cliffs near the campground.
Soon we’re passing a part of the Rogers Slide called Jolly Roger Slab, which shoots steeply out of deep water. Some climbers do a short ascent on this slab without ropes; if they slip, they push off and jump into the lake. Not recommended, but it’s done. A few minutes later, we pull our canoes onto a small piece of level land beyond Jolly Roger Slab and poke along the shore to the start of Little Finger. As Tom and I rope up, Carl scrambles up and off to the side to get in position to take photos.
The climb is rated 5.5, which is easy by modern standards. Originally, rock climbing’s scale of difficulty ranged from 5.0 (easy) to 5.9 (very difficult), but it now goes up to 5.15. The first pitch of Little Finger follows a crack 180 feet to a small ledge. Tom goes first, while I let out rope as he ascends. In several places, he inserts cams and other gear in the crack to hold him in case of a fall. When he reaches the ledge, he tethers himself to a fixed bolt and calls for me to follow.
As I ascend, Tom pulls in rope, keeping it tight. If I were to slip, the rope would prevent a bad fall. I’m still new to climbing, but I feel no fear. Little Finger strikes me as a step up from slide climbing, something I have done a lot of in the High Peaks. A fall without a rope on Little Finger would be much more dangerous than a fall on a low-angle slide, but with a rope, and with Tom on belay, the climb seems perfectly safe.
Everything is ideal: mild temps, no breeze, no bugs, spectacular vista. Below us, the lake is as calm as can be, a sheet of deep blue, and rising on both sides are peaks carpeted in red, orange and yellow. “There aren’t too many bad days out here,” Tom says when I reach the belay station. “They’re all fun in their own way.”
Did I mention that we have this place all to ourselves? The only other human in sight is someone in a rowboat, looking up at the nuts on the cliff. In summer, it’s not unusual for a flotilla of boats to anchor near the slab to watch the show. You’re also more likely to run into other climbers in summer.
Carl is below us now. He had been planning to go home early to work on other projects, but he can’t resist the lure of Rogers Rock and decides to join us. So I belay Tom as he traverses across the cliff and tosses a rope down to Carl.
The next pitch is shorter, about 130 feet. Again, Tom goes first. When he gets to the next belay station, Carl starts up and I follow, removing the protective gear as I progress. (Carl and I are using separate ropes, both connected to Tom’s belay device.) There is one slightly tricky move to get over a ledge, but otherwise it’s mostly a matter of smearing the soles of our climbing shoes against the rock.
The last pitch is about 180 feet. We elect to do what’s called the Direct Finish, which is rated 5.7+. It’s harder than the normal finish, but Tom is confident that we can manage. The rock proves to be a little steeper, but the sticky rubber on our feet enables us to scramble up without a problem.
From the top, we can see much of the north basin of Lake George. After a short rest, we prepare to rappel. After tying the ropes together, Tom threads one through a fixed bolt and then tosses the two rope ends down the cliff. There are now two strands of rope running down the face. Once we feed the ropes through our belay devices and clip in, we’re ready to descend. Tom goes first, walking backward. When he gets to a ledge, where the cliff drops off, he leans out perpendicularly, his body silhouetted against the water far below. He takes another step and drops out of sight. When he arrives at the first rappel station, he shouts up for Carl and me to follow. We’ll rappel three times to reach the bottom of the cliff.
Later, I ask Tom if he feels any regret that more climbers are going to Rogers Rock. One thing that bothers him is that later climbers affixed a number of protective bolts on routes he did without bolts—a practice he regards as bad form. “I climbed there for twenty years and put only one bolt in,” he says.
On balance, though, he doesn’t mind the change. The climbers have opened new routes and help keep all the routes free of dirt and lichen.
“It’s not the solitary experience it once was,” he says, “but now that I’m retired, I can go on a weekday with you guys.”
DIRECTIONS: From Northway Exit 24, drive east on County 11 to NY 9N north of Bolton Landing. Turn left and follow NY 9N to Rogers Rock Campground, about three miles north of the hamlet of Hague. To get to the canoe-launching site, follow to the end the campground road that leads past campsite 260. When open, the campground charges a $6 day-use fee.