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Adirondack Explorer

Friday, January 13, 2017

Don Mellor Publishes New Ice-Climbing Guidebook

Softcover, 248 pages, $29.95

Don Mellor’s second edition of Blue Lines: An Adirondack Ice Climber’s Guide, published this month (just in time for this weekend’s Mountainfest), is a testament to the popularity of an erstwhile fringe sport.

In Blue Lines 2, the new title, Mellor describes almost six hundred ice-climbing routes throughout the Adirondack Park. In contrast, the 1995 edition of Mellor’s Climbing in the Adirondacks, described about 140 ice routes (and many more rock routes). The initial edition of Blue Lines covered about 350 ice routes.

“Ed Palen told me that once Blue Lines was done in 2006, that would be it,” Mellor writes in the introduction to Blue Lines 2. “We’d be finished. ‘Just about everything’s been done.’ That was almost 300 routes ago.”  (Palen, the owner of Rock and River Guide Service in Keene, published the first Blue Lines.)

Most of the route proliferation has taken place outside the traditional climbing venues such as Poke-O-Moonshine Mountain and the crags along the Route 73 corridor.

Hoffman Notch, for example, does not appear in the first edition. Blue Lines 2 describes thirty-nine routes on nine separate walls. Although only one pitch long, the routes are well worth doing, judging by the photos and descriptions.

“Though lacking the open-air drama of some bigger venues, the climbs here are packed with variety and high-quality climbing,” Mellor writes. “Steep corners, hanging pillars, thick green gullies—just about every kind of ice can be found here, often all on the same route. Isolation, quiet, and a friendly southern exposure add to the experience.”

And then there are the many cliffs on Silver Lake Mountain. The state bought an easement on this land that opened it for public recreation in 2009. Previously, climbers had visited the cliffs on the QT, but with legal access, the number of rock as well as ice routes has exploded. Blue Lines 2 describes twenty-three ice routes.

Perusing the book, I came across many places I had never heard of, like Chatiemac Cliff, Slide Off Mountain, Spectacle Ponds Cliff, and Nameless Knob. One benefit of Blue Lines 2 is that it will induce readers to check out these and other places in the Park outside the well-known ice-climbing areas.

Another benefit is that we get to read Mellor’s writing once more. Mellor, a teacher at Northwood School in Lake Placid, has been climbing (rock and ice) in the Adirondacks for forty years. In addition to his guidebooks, he is the author of American Rock, a study of climbing cultures in different parts of the country, and Rock Climbing: A Trailside Guide, an instructional book. The writing in Blue Lines 2 is polished and often witty. Perhaps more important, it is infused with his knowledge both of the history of Adirondack ice climbing and of the climbs themselves.

In Blues Lines 2, you’ll read about the exploits of out-of-town stars such as Yvon Chouinard, Jeff Lowe, and Alex Lowe as well as those of homegrown climbers such as Joe Szot, Tom Yandon, and Matt Horner. In a section titled “Be Safe, Play Nice,” on the risks of ice climbing, Mellor tells of a close call he had on Chapel Pond Slab:

“Even on the coldest days of winter, water is seeping from the ground and running under many ice formations. Unless there is a way for that water to escape, it will build up and pool, usually on flat sections. Years back, I tapped into one such ice dam near the top of Chapel Pond Slab and was exploded off for an 80’ fall onto the hip belay of a guided client. The day was cold, there was no warning that I could read, and the lesson was a good one for me; I, for one, won’t go back on the slab in conditions thicker than verglas.”

Fortunately, Mellor survived so we can enjoy reading about his accident with bemusement. He says in the introduction that this will be his last guidebook. If so, he is going out in style. Blue Lines 2 is an excellent and useful publication. The text is accompanied by crisp black-and-white photographs, easy-to-read topographical maps, and occasionally hand-drawn maps (by Tad Welch, a longtime Adirondack climber). Steve House, a world-renowned climber, wrote a brief foreword. Kudos to the Mountaineer, the Keene Valley gear shop, for publishing this book.

 

Phil Brown

Phil Brown has been editing the Adirondack Explorer since 1999. When he isn't at his desk, he's usually out hiking, paddling, skiing, or doing something else important. You can follow his adventures and his musings on the Adirondacks in the Explorer and on this blog.

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