1/18/11 - In 1996, Jeff Lowe and Ed Palen scratched up the first ascent of Gorillas in the Mist, a 500-foot thin-ice testpiece at Poke-O-Moonshine in the Adirondacks. The line was immediately repeated by Alex Lowe and Randy Rackliffe, and since then it has never been climbed. But last weekend, after several attempts, three top Northeastern climbers completed a variation just to the right of Gorillas, which they called Endangered Species (3 pitches, M6+ NEI5+ R).
Local climber Matt Horner had tried this route a couple of times, including an after-work ascent where he ended up having to lower off his tools in the dark, because there was nowhere to build an anchor. Matt McCormick tried Gorillas a few days later, "and the line has been in my head ever since," he said. Horner and McCormick had attempted the route earlier this year but were stopped by a poorly protected transition to ultra-thin ice on the first pitch. Last weekend, McCormick said, "we came armed to the teeth," with a prototype offset cam and homemade micro-stubbies (sawed-off ice screws only 4cm to 6cm long). Partnered with Horner and Bayard Russell from New Hampshire, McCormick tried the first pitch again. After repeating the M6+ corner shared with Gorillas, he managed to get in some gear and make the transition rightward to the ice, where he placed micro-stubbies until he could chip out a bolt from a summertime route and then run it out 25 feet to the end of the pitch.
"This was an unusually satisfying and intense route for all of us," Russell said. "It was really spooky, it looked really intimidating, and doing it with those guys was very special. The whole day, looking down at this wild line, we kept just saying, 'I can't believe we're here right now.' "
Russell led the second pitch, "which didn't look bad from the belay, but turned out to be steeper and thinner than we thought." He found rock pro every 10 feet or so during the first half of the pitch, but the ice was so thin in the second half that even Horner's "super stubbies" were bottoming out. "I just kind of battled away at it for who knows how long with a bunch of really shitty tied-off short screws. On a ledge at the top of the pitch, with basically no gear left, I was relieved to find another bolted anchor." Horner got the final pitch, heading to the right into a steep dry-tooling corner that breached a roof—better protected, but still hard.
Much of the first two pitches of Endangered Species may have shared ground with Gorillas, but Lowe and Palen headed sharply left and up to finish their route, while the new line broke right.
McCormick echoed Russell, saying, "I'm just starting to wrap my head around this line. The overall experience was way more intense and challenging than any other multi-pitch winter route I've ever done. Each pitch was kind of mind-bending mentally, and challenging physically as well. It was awesome to have the opportunity to climb this line with those guys."
Date of Ascent: January 2011
Sources: Bayard Russell, Matt McCormick, Jim Lawyer