Pharaoh Route, Adirondacks
The standard route on Pharoah Mountain in the eastern Adirondacks is a 3 pitch grade 3 ice climb. The first bit is a little more challenging, with a 30 ft vertical section, but above is a moderate romp up several ice head walls linked by snow fields. The climb is on a south facing cleft in the mountain and is belted by the sun for a large portion of the day. We climbed it late in the season, on probably the last climbable weekend. The first pitch is the most difficult with the initial 30 ft step. Above that there are trees to belay from. I continued up for the full length of the rope and found a belay on a rock ledge to the left. The second pitch went up a small headwall to a large traversing ledge, the left side ascending into a gully that looked to have some interesting lines. This ledge traverses beneath the prominent final headwall. Since my belay was below the ledge I needed to establish a belay about midway thru the final headwall. I kept to the right of the wall seeking to stay on shaded ice and exploit the rock for an anchor. All this upper ice was the consistancy of corn snow and screw placements were melting out quickly. I established a belay on a 1in horizontal crack and put 2 ice screws in an ice pocket. One screw deep in the pocket held up well, but the more exposed screw was very loose by the time my second arrived. The last bit of the climb we zipped up, my wife had gotten lost on her way back to camp we were in contact via radio. From our belay on the right edge, half way up the final headwall it was about 150' to the first solid tree where I established a belay. This last bit was probably only 60' of vertical. The soft ice/snow and easy bulges made for some very fast climbing with minimal protection. At the top there is a trail leading off right which descends maybe 100 ft. The trail lead to a rap station. From here one can rap all the way to the bottom with 2 60m ropes. There is a rap station on a small ledge, I assume its at the proper location for 1 60 m rope but am not sure. The rappel is an exciting descent, on a rock arrete, an adventuresome finish for a great alpine flavored climb. After hitting the bottom,I packed up filled my water bottle with melt water and took off tracking my wife. At the trail on the bottom of the climb I found her boot tracks heading off in the wrong direction. I took off following them for about an hour later.
Our outing got a late start the day before, we arrived at camp, 4 miles from the trail head at around midnight. The hike to the climb was OK but returning to camp, the sun and warm temps had softened the hard snow crust and we were breaking thru a lot. We really regretted not having our snowshoes. We got to the bottom of the climb at roughly 4:30. I found my wife probably 5:30. Backtracking to the climb dark fell about half way back. After refilling the water bottle at the climb, we continued to camp, arriving there roughly 9:30. It was a treacherous posthole hike tired after a long day with heavy packs. There we packed the sleds for the hike out and started on our way. We arrived at the car probably 12:15. The car was packed and ready to go around 1:00 am. A stop for gas, then a stop for a nap after nearly falling asleep at the wheel. We were on the road home at 3:00am, from somewhere north of Albany. We were home shortly after 6:00, after a 1 1/2 hour nap, I was off to work.
The gruelling adventure could have been avoided by the following. Don't get to the trailhead late. Get an earlier start the day of the climb. We probably headed out at 9:00am, the hike to the climb took longer than expected, over 2 hours. Snowshoes in any conditions are a great benefit. The late season deteriorating condition really nailed us on the hike back to camp. Keep your party together, and all groups need their wilderness essentials. Thank God we had the radios.