Pharaoh Mountain hike/ice climb 2/6-2/7/10

Help Support

This site may earn a commission from merchant affiliate links, including eBay, Amazon, and others.


Active member
Apr 16, 2008
Reaction score
Newtown, CT Avatar: 9,500' on Rainier
"We're not lost...we're just not where we want to be." :D

Picking up the wrong route at the trail junction found us hugging the shore of Pharaoh Lake, which struck me as odd, as my recollection from printing off the topo map was that we should've been heading north/inland towards the climb. Pulling the map out of Paul's pack confirmed that, indeed, we weren't getting closer to our destination, the main ice flow on the south face of Pharaoh Mountain. Now the question was: do we backtrack 20+ minutes to the trail junction or take the direct route and bushwack? A quick consult with map, compass and GPS led us to believe that 'shwacking was an attractive option.

Looks can be decieving.

As our first weekend overnight ice climbing outing this winter, Paul and I had been looking forward to the trip since we put it on the calendar during the holidays. The plan was to drive up right after work on Friday, motel it Friday night, hike in early and climb on Saturday, camp out at the climb Saturday night and then hike out and drive home to CT on Sunday. We kept to that plan, generally, though not without a few modifications.

First, Paul got hung up at the hospital (again) which delayed our departure (again) from 5:30P to around 7:15P. While this meant we didn't have to stop for dinner en route, it meant we pulled into the Maple Leaf Motel in Schroon Lake around 11:30P. We brought in all the gear and I quickly went to bed, while Paul spent some time playing with his new digital camera, which he just picked up that day. (I made him promise not to take embarassing pictures of me while I was sleeeping...)

We hit the trail the next morning around 9:00A, after negotiating a VERY rutted/potholed fire road and getting stopped by some blowdown a half-mile short of the trailhead. The approach called for about 3 miles of trail and a half-mile of bushwacking to the base of the climb. While some ice climbers might look askance at such a long approach for a relatively easy three-pitch climb, we're heading to Rainier in June and welcomed the idea of combining an ice climb with a training hike. 'shwacking with 55lb packs is very different than following an established trail, and adding an additional mile of it to our hike in wasn't ideal, but, mercifully, the snowpack in this section of the ADKs was suprisingly low, making for relatively easy footing. However, the helmets, ropes, crampons, ice tools and other bits and bobs hanging off our packs made attractive targets to get snagged on tree branches, so we had done a good amount of exertion when we located a good flat area to make camp. In the end, our extra distance to the trailhead and additional three-quarter mile of 'shwacking due to the navigational error brought the approach to nearly 5 miles.

Setting up the tent and emptying our packs of non-climbing essentials, we racked up and scrambled through a small boulder field to the base of the climb. Paul led the first pitch, a near vertical 60' or so of fat WI4 ice. A couple good stances let him get several screws in; it wasn't until I was seconding the pitch that I realized how WET it was! (Given that the temps were in the low teens, wet ice was far from my mind, but the climb is south-facing and the bare rock heated up enough to produce running water. Fun!)

Reaching the belay tree, I grabbed the rest of the rack from Paul and we swung leads. My lead was easy climbing (WI2+), though I pulled up short of a fun-looking 30'+ section of near vertical ice for fear of running out of rope before reaching the next belay. I built an anchor and belayed Paul up, at which point he took over the lead again. It was at this point that things got interesting. First off, we realized that we'd better start moving quickly, as the sun was approaching the horizon. Then, a couple pieces above the belay, Paul had trouble placing a screw. After the typical ice climber razzing about my partner being a wuss, he found the source of the problem: several of the screws were plugged with ice! Evidently, one or both of us didn't completely clear the plug of ice from a couple of screws, and the air temperature was so cold (teens) that the screws were plugged up solid. I lowered him back down to the belay and, after spending 5-7 minutes of waning daylight unplugging the ice with a V-thread hook, Paul resumed the third pitch and made quick work of it.

Tearing down the anchor, I followed the pitch as quickly as I was able...which wasn't all that quick, as my hands had started to get cold after belaying for two pitches in a row. About halfway through the pitch I was blessed with the lovely condition of painfully numb hands that ice climbers lovingly call the "screaming barfies." Topping out the third pitch required an awkward high-step traverse left onto a 6" ledge with a vertical wall behind it, meaning there was no place to put a right foot. At this point I was having a hard time keeping a grip on my tools, so I was thankful for a tight belay from Paul! Walking the last few feet up the ledge to the belay, I was able to drop my hands and let the blood flow back into them...which made them hurt so much that I dropped an F-bomb so long and so loud that I'm pretty sure they heard it in Scrhoon Lake. :eek: After the barfies subsided, I was able to snap a couple pics of an Adirondack sunset as Paul tied the ropes together to rap.

Paul rapped first and almost immediately disappeared from view, as the third pitch doglegs to climber's left. I heard a faint "off rappel" and quickly threaded my rappel device, backed it up with a Prussik, triple checked everything and started my rap. At this point it was getting pretty dark, and I was happy to see Paul's headlamp as a beacon as I approached the end of the rap...a FULL 200' rappel with no rope to spare. I pulled my headlamp out of my pack and helped Paul pull the ropes, as we both prayed aloud that they wouldn't get stuck.

Of course, they did. :eek:

Thankfully, they got stuck a mere 30' above our anchor, so I quickly put Paul on belay and he climbed up to free them. Now it was pitch black, and (of course) Paul's headlamp developed a short-circuit and kept going out about every 15 seconds or so. With limited illumination, Paul started the second rap and got down to firm ground and I followed, thereby completing my first night rappel. All we had to do now was get through the boulder field back to camp. We were able to follow our tracks from the approach and made it back to camp in about 10 minutes. We boiled up some hot water to make our dinners and we were in our sleeping bags by 8:30P.

The next morning we ate, broke down camp and started the hike out. We 'shwacked out the originally-planned half-mile and were unable to find the trail, so we continued to bushwack until we hit the lake and, though we had to backtrack a bit, we were then able to pick up the trail and get back out to the trailhead. The last half-mile from the trailhead to the car felt like an eternity, but we made it back in one piece and were able to get back down the fire road without getting stuck!

Key piece of gear: My trusty ol' 2001 Dodge Durango. The fire road between the end of Pharaoh Road and the trailhead had MAJOR moguls/potholes and there was no way a non-4WD vehicle could have made it through. Having to park at the end of Pharaoh Road would have added another mile to the hike.

Lessons learned:
-Climbing gear is heavy when you have to hump it five miles into the climb.
-Clean out ice screws ASAP after removing them, esp. in extremely cold weather.
-Always keep checking the map, even if you "know where you're going". :rolleyes:
-The screaming barfies suck.

Full photo album.
screaming barfies do suck. take time to shake out. i recently bought some black diamond climbing gloves in the range of $60 after experimenting with several $30 glove combinations all last year.. it was well worth the money. my hands haven't numbed out since. what time did you start climbing? rapping at night can be super fun if you still have energy and got no place to be that night! nice TR. i'll be checking out the pics a little later on. and yeah, clean the screws out! elementary! ;)
Good for you. A successful and remote climb with minimal issues.

Even on the coldest days I've found that screws can be blown out the moment you pull them from the hole. Slipped into your jacket at belay will usually soften up any stubborn ice or a firm barehanded grip will melt them quickly.

I also believe that scraping them out will only cause greater future issues as the scratches give future ice more purchase.

Chip said:
Just Man-Up, Dub and shove those screws down the privates !

Like, um...OUCH!! :eek:

Dude, if I follow your advice, I'm not sure how much more "manning-up" I'd be able to do in the future. (My church choir is a bit short on sopranos, tho...)

Chugach001 said:
I also believe that scraping them out will only cause greater future issues as the scratches give future ice more purchase.

That was my concern, as well, and mentioned it to Paul as he was going all Roto-Rooter on my screws. (Next time we use HIS gear!) Unfortunately, we didn't have a lot of time to wait around for the plugs to melt out, regardless of where we stuck 'em.

I checked out the screws as soon as I got home and started hanging everything up to dry. (FYI, SWMBO loves it when I come home from a climbing trip and there's ropes, sleeping bag, tent, tent fly, climbing rack, jackets, boots, etc. all strewn about the fambly room drying out. :rolleyes:)

I'm happy to report that the bores are all as smooth as a baby's butt -- the hook on my DIY V-thread tool actually curves back beyond parallel with the handle, so only the curved part would make contact with the inside of the screw, not the pointy-part.

Lesson learned, though. I might also give the screw tubes a shot of WD-40 right before the next trip, too.
Love that Pharaoh

Thanks Dub, great pix. Doesn't look like much snow pack for SS types (so far).

Holy electrical shortage, Batman! What an adventure you had. I'm glad that it had a happy ending, and learning from outdoor experiences is always a plus. Thanks for sharing!

You mentioned drying ropes. Not sure if you do this but draping them over and back on an interior door works very well for me.

Any other drying tricks from the crowd?
I clean the screws out when I pull them by banging them on the ice; works pretty good. Back in the day when the rack was Lowe RATS and Snargs, a Snarg fit nicely through the inside of a RATS and made a great cleanout tool. (It was probably better for that than it was for gear...)

Pharaoh is a fun climb, nice work! I've only done it once, but I have thought that it would be fun to amp up the adventure by skiing in, hauling the skis to the summit and then skiing down the N side of the mountain. Needs to be done.