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Monday, November 2, 2009

Soloing Chapel Pond Slab

The view of Giant Mountain from Chapel Pond Slab. Photo by Phil Brown.

The view of Giant Mountain from Chapel Pond Slab. Photo by Phil Brown.

After days of cold rain, we received some sunshine in Saranac Lake on Sunday. On the spur of the moment, I decided to solo Chapel Pond Slab, perhaps my last rock climb of the season.

By solo, I mean I climbed it without a partner and without ropes or protection. I did wear a helmet, and I let a friend know what I was doing.

Some people see soloing as foolhardy, but if you stay within your comfort level, it’s not as big a risk as it might seem to a non-climber.

The base of the slab.

The base of the slab.

In my case, I combined two easy routes. I climbed the first three pitches of Regular Route and then traversed right to Bob’s Knob Standard. The two routes join near the top of Bob’s Knob, a prominent bulge that overlooks the slab and Chapel Pond. By combining them, I avoided the hardest pitch on Regular Route.

Was I nervous? Yes, a little, because I haven’t done much soloing. During the ascent, I listened to Keith Jarrett’s Koln Concerton my iPod. I thought his piano solos would help relax me. And it’s great music.

Despite the recent rains, the slab proper was mostly dry, so I had no trouble avoiding the wet spots. Climbing this part of the slab is largely a matter of smearing your sticky soles against the rock and finding small toeholds.

The hardest part of the climb came later on Bob’s Knob Standard. At the base of the knob, you must execute a tricky move to get onto a rocky prow and then ascend through a chimney. It’s not terribly difficult, but on this day, the prow and chimney were cold and wet. As I felt around for small holds, my fingers started to get numb.

After the chimney, I enjoyed some more slab climbing to the top of the knob, with its wonderful view of Chapel Pond and Giant Mountain. The knob is named for Bob Notman. He and John Case, a pioneering climber, ascended Bob’s  Knob Standard, the first known route on Chapel Pond Slab, in 1933.

I descended through the woods, coming out on the highway near Chapel Pond. Keith Jarrett was still playing. It occurred to me that Koln Concert was the perfect choice for my climb. Jarrett was soloing, too, and improvising. Of course, Jarrett is an artist. I was playing Chopsticks.

Phil Brown

Contributor Phil Brown was editor of the Adirondack Explorer from 1999-2018. When he isn't at his desk, he's usually out hiking, paddling, skiing, or doing something else important.

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