Shanty Cliff has a great view of the southern Adirondacks, but the cliff doesn’t see that many visitors. That’s probably because you have to wade the East Branch of the Sacandaga to get there.
Nevertheless, Shanty is known to rock climbers. Over the years, climbers have established 45 routes on the cliff, with a wide range of difficulty. The guidebook Adirondack Rock gives the cliff four out of five stars for the overall quality of the climbing.
I went there on Saturday with Alan Wechsler and his girlfriend, Beth Koessler. We hooked up in a parking area on Route 8 south of Bakers Mills. They drove up from Albany, while I drove down from Saranac Lake. It’s worth noting that though I live in the Adirondacks, I had the longer drive. It’s a big park we live in.
I had been to Shanty a few times and knew the way. We walked up the road a piece, then turned down an old woods road that brought us to the river.
In the past the river had been about ankle deep. Now it looked too deep to ford, especially as the water was ice cold. Evidently, beavers had built a dam downriver, creating a long stillwater. We ended up walking upriver a few hundred yards to cross in some shallows. A herd path leads to the base of the cliff.
Dick Tucker—whose family owns the famed potato farm in Gabriels—was one of the first to climb at Shanty, back in the early 1980s, according to Adirondack Rock. Over the years, he took part in the creation of eleven routes, sometimes with Jay Harrison, the prolific route developer at Crane Mountain.
One of the better Tucker-Harrison routes at Shanty is Flying Friends, which has two cruxes, or difficult sections. The first comes at the very beginning, where you must jam your hands in a crack to pull yourself over a small overhang. The second comes at the end, where you shuffle your hands up a right rising crack and reach around a corner, with virtually no holds for the feet. In between the cruxes, it’s easy as pie.
Alan led Flying Friends admirably. Beth belayed, while I took photos, including the one above. I later did the climb on top rope.
An even better climb, Alan and I agreed, is Soweto. Again, Alan led, this time with me belaying. After he finished, I did the route on top rope.
On Soweto, the crux is near the start, where you traverse left, jamming your fingers of your right hand into a crack on the right while reaching for a hold on the left. As with the traverse on Flying Friends, there is little for the feet. I tried to make the move several times and was on the verge of giving up when my left hand found a “jug”—parlance for a great hold. Once I grabbed that baby, I knew I could do it.
After the crux, the route was straightforward. It was steep, but there were good holds the whole way. Just fun climbing. And to make things more interesting, climbers pass within a few yards of a giant raven’s nest (unoccupied) that sits on a ledge beneath a big roof.
Adirondack Rock gives three stars each (out of five) to Flying Friends and Soweto. In terms of difficulty, the book rates Flying Friends 5.7 and Soweto 5.8 on the Yosemite Decimal System scale. That suggests Soweto is a tad harder, though both are moderate routes.
Shanty also boasts a number of harder routes that rate three stars, including Rocinha (5.10c), Hooverville (5.10d), and Hard Times (5.11c). But more than a third of the routes at the cliff are in the 5.2 to 5.6 range, making Shanty a good place for beginners.
All of the routes at Shanty are short (one pitch), but there are plenty to keep you occupied for hours, regardless of your level of ability.