Rock-climbing guide Will Roth was rappelling down a cliff near Chapel Pond with two clients this week when they saw a bear below—climbing toward them.
The climbers yelled and clapped their hands, but the bear kept coming, its claws scratching the rock like fingernails on chalkboard.
When the bear got within fifteen feet, Roth tossed a small rock and struck its shoulder. The bear seemed unfazed but nevertheless wandered away.
“It walked off the side of the slab into the trees and then reappeared. It was standing at the top of the slab, staring back down at us,” Roth said.
He described the bear as a juvenile. Last summer, a mother bear and two cubs often pestered rock climbers in the same general vicinity, so much so that the Beer Walls, a popular climbing cliff, was jokingly referred to as the Bear Walls. The bears would raid climbers’ backpacks for the food inside. Roth surmises that the bear he saw this week is one of cubs, now a year older.
“It had to know that people meant food,” he remarked.
Evidently, the bear is habituated to humans. “I’ve seen a lot of bears, and I’ve never seen a bear where as soon as you yelled at it and clapped at it, it didn’t run away,” he added.
Roth and his clients were rappelling open rock above a climbing area known as the Aquarium, located across Route 73 from the start of the Ridge Trail, a well-trodden route up Giant Mountain. They were not far from the descent trail for Chapel Pond Slab, one of the most popular climbing areas in the Adirondacks.
Roth said one of his friends—Matt Wiech, another climbing guide—saw a small bear a week or so earlier at the Beer Walls. Wiech was at the base of a climb after setting up a top rope. Suddenly, the rope started moving, and then the bear appeared at the top of route. “It was literally messing with the ropes up there,” Roth remarked. The bear wandered off to other parts of the cliff, eliciting cries from other climbers.
Roth advises people climbing at Chapel Pond Slab, the Beer Walls, and other cliffs in the area not to leave packs at the base of their climbs.
Incidentally, he estimates the bear was climbing slab that would be rated 5.3 or so on the Yosemite Decimal System scale of difficulty. That’s easy for today’s climbers, but it’s probably harder with claws.