One of the most well-known (and often photographed) waterfalls in the Adirondacks has to be Roaring Brook Falls, which can be seen from Route 73 plunging down the shoulder of Giant Mountain.
Since taking up rock climbing several years ago, I have been drawn to the prospect of climbing the three-hundred-foot falls. This isn’t a new idea: Jim Goodwin described climbing Roaring Brook Falls in a 1938 article for the Adirondack Mountain Club. The falls also are mentioned in A Climber’s Guide to the Adirondacks, the region’s first climbing guidebook, published in 1967.
Adirondack Rock, the modern guidebook, rates Roaring Brook Falls as 5.7 in difficulty in the Yosemite Decimal System. By today’s standards, that makes it a moderate route, but because the rock along the falls is polished and often wet, you should not take this climb lightly.
“The fantastic setting with the views of the Great Range and the pounding water makes this a great adventure, but one that should be undertaken only by those ready for its challenges,” the book says.
A few weeks ago, I climbed the falls with someone who is as ready as anyone for those challenges: R.L. Stolz, the owner, with his wife, Karen, of Alpine Adventures in Keene.
Over the past three decades, R.L. has climbed the lower part of the falls about a hundred times and done the whole route twenty times. Despite its moderate rating, he warns that the route can be dangerous.
“It’s like the rock has been covered with Vaseline; it can be slippery,” he said.
He also noted that sections of the climb lack places to put in cams or chocks that lead climbers clip to the rope to protect against a fall.
A few people have died while climbing near the falls without ropes.
The base of the falls is only a five-minute walk from the Giant Mountain trailhead in St. Huberts. Hikers climbing Giant can view the falls from below and above by following short spur trails off the main trail.
At the base there is a wide expanse of white rock to the left of the falls (where the water runs down a narrow chimney). The guidebooks say the climb begins in the center of the white rock, but the deluge of Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 swept away much of the vegetation near falls, opening up new possibilities for the start.
For our climb, R.L. led me up a line he pioneered shortly after Irene. For the first fifty feet or so, he had no place to put in protective gear. Though the rock was dry, it was indeed polished and slippery, especially at the beginning. We then traversed right and followed a left-facing corner to the first of two soaking pools on the route. By now, we had gorgeous views of the Great Range.
Except for one delicate move over a large bulge, the next part of the climb was mostly a scramble over easy terrain. We then crossed the stream and climbed beside it briefly. Again, the climbing was not difficult, but we had to be careful because the rock was wet.
R.L. set up a belay station by draping slings over two boulders. While I paid out the rope, he re-crossed the stream, ascended dry rock, and angled right to a spectacular finish beside the top of the waterfall just as it spills over a ledge. After I did the pitch, we descended via the hiking trail.
Normally, the 520-foot route is broken into three pitches, but R.L. broke it into five to make it easier to take photographs. Both he and Karen, who followed our progress from various vantage points, took many, many shots. The three printed here are a just a small sample. Look for more photos and a full story in the Adirondack Explorer next year.
Alpine Adventures can be reached by calling (518) 576-9881 or by emailing [email protected].