The uncharted cliffs of Silver Lake
Far from the tourist crowds that flock to popular climbing cliffs like the Beer Walls or Chapel pond in Keene Valley, a secluded climbing oasis lies just north of Wilmington—Silver Lake Mountain. Following uneven muddy skid paths cleared for logging equipment, climbers can find looming cliffs with cracks begging to be climbed. Be sure to bring a compass and map because cairns and flags can send confusing signals as they are scattered around the forest on overlapping skid paths.
New York State purchased an easement for these cliffs in 2004 from Lyme Timber, a logging company, in a deal that preserved 260,000 acres. A recreational easement allows the public to use private or underdeveloped land for recreational purposes like rock climbing. Prior to opening up to the public, only hunters with permits were allowed on the property. But as of 2009, the Silver Lake Mountain cliffs opened to the local climbing community.
In the last decade, more than 100 climbing routes have been put up in the area. Yet this exceptional destination has remained a local secret. On Mountain Project, a popular rock climbing guidebook app, only 46 of those routes are documented, few pictures are provided, and there is little information on the climbs.
The Silver Lake climbing area can be found in the newest addition of the guidebook “Adirondack Rock” by Jim Lawyer and Jeremy Hass. According to the guidebook, the area is known just as “Silver Lake,” but local climbers know the climbing area actually encompasses at least 17 cliffs including both Silver Lake and Potter Mountain.
A climbing route’s difficulty is rated in the United States by using the Yosemite Decimal System. Climbs range from class 1, basic hiking, to class 5, technical rock climbing. Class 5 to 5.7 is considered easy, 5.8 to 5.10 is considered intermediate, 5.11 to 5.12 is difficult and 5.13 and higher signify exceptionally challenging climbs reserved for elite climbers. Yet even these designations don’t tell the whole story. In the Adirondacks, most of the climbing routes are “sandbagged,” meaning that grades are actually harder than what the guidebook says. For example an Adirondack 5.9+ would rank as a 5.11 in Red Rocks, Nevada.
Silver Lake contains a lot of firsts. The first all-traditional 5.14 in the Adirondacks (Oppositional Defiance Disorder) and the first 5.13 put up by a woman (Knocked Up).
Jim Lawyer, the co-author of “Adirondack Rock,” explains that climber Jen Edmond, then three months pregnant, spent every waking moment trying to complete the first ascent of the route, Knocked Up, before December 2018.
“She used a blowtorch to thaw the rock and then would towel off the rock,” Lawyer says.
Once Christmas hit, it was too cold to continue and, when spring came, Edmond had her baby. In the summer of 2019, when her baby was 8 months old, Edmond sent the route. When a climber puts up the first ascent of a climb they get to name it, so Edmond named the route Knocked Up.
Will Roth, a guide at Adirondack Rock and River, a lodging facility in Keene, has put up around 10 different routes in the area. He describes Silver Lake as a place where cliffs show off stunning crack lines with challenging climbing routes.
“You’ve got the Center of Progress cliff which has got a stunning telephone pole of a crack,” Roth says.
In late fall, snow blankets the high peaks because of the high elevation in that area of the Adirondack Park. Cliffs become damp and finger numbing, ending the rock climbing season in the high peaks. A slow transition from rock to ice climbing starts.
Silver Lake is in its prime later in the rock climbing season due to the lower elevation in the region. The cliffs avoid the snow and cold just a bit longer, extending the rock climbing season.
Unlike Poke-O-Moonshine or Chapel Pond, there is no big highway wrapping around the cliffs. There are no cars heard from the base of cliffs and sometimes climbers won’t see other groups for the whole day. The hike in, or as climbers call it, “the approach,” to these cliffs is only about 20 minutes. Compared to other remote climbing cliffs like Wallface, which is deep in the Adirondack wilderness, Silver Lake is a quick hike to some great secluded climbs. Climbers are truly out in the wilderness.
“It’s like having your own little adventure,” Roth remarks.
The hardest climb in the Adirondacks, Oppositional Defiance Disorder, a 5.14a, is located at the Tsunami Wall in the Silver Lake climbing area. Peter Kamites “sent” the route back in 2011. The route is an overhanging crack that rips through the Tsunami wall.
“There are still several really hard climbs that haven’t been done yet,” Roth says. And so it may be for the foreseeable future, with Silver Lake holding the rarest of climbing prizes, unclimbed routes wait for an elite level of climber to send them.