Linking ‘problems’ on Baker Mountain
SARANAC LAKE — Dozens of people regularly make the short trek up Baker Mountain in Saranac Lake. Whether walking their dogs, looking for a quick after-work workout or trying to complete the Saranac Lake 6, Baker is a heavily traveled and beloved mountain.
But one local climber was looking for a bit more of a challenge, and a way to hone his climbing skills when he only had an hour or two to kill.
Will Roth, who is a professional climbing guide for Eastern Mountain Sports and Adirondack Rock and River, decided to hearken back to the old days of bouldering when climbers would put together a series of short climbing challenges.
These challenges — or problems in climbing parlance — are meant to provide climbers with much shorter climbing routes, and are often linked together.
Roth has mapped out a series of six bouldering problems, although, none of the little climbs are on actual boulders — more like exposed bedrock and small cliffs.
Roth grew up in southern New York, about an hour from the well-known climbing areas in the Catskills, but the 37-year-old didn’t try climbing until a trip to the Adirondacks when he was 14.
“My only climbing growing up, my mom and another friend of hers with a son the same age, the two of us came up here and actually went for three days with Rock and River for sort of an intro to climbing,” Roth said Monday evening at the base of the first challenge. “It was really cool, but that was it.
“We went and did that and then that was it. You know, because you’re like 14 and you can’t drive and there’s just no one to take it any further,” he laughed.
Despite his proximity to the Catskills, Roth said he didn’t start rock climbing in earnest until he was at college in New Hampshire.
“So from there, that was where I spent every free moment that I had, and probably even a lot of not-free moments when I should have been studying,” he said.
Roth managed to graduate with an outdoors degree in spite of his admitted climbing addiction, then moved out west for several years. He stumbled upon an article in Climbing magazine that highlighted the opportunities offered in the northern Adirondacks and decided to move back to the Empire State in 2004.
Roth said he lived in a trailer in Keene for a while, climbing as often as he could. As time wore on and Roth’s skills improved, he began helping out on guided trips and eventually earned his own guide’s license.
Since then, Roth said he’s climbing about five days a week, including bouldering on Baker and at other popular spots like the McKenzie Pond boulders.
“This basically came around because there were always short cliffs up near the top (of Baker) that I would always kind of mess around on,” he said of the new circuit. “So I decided to spend some time poking around a little more with the specific idea of trying to link together a whole bunch of different problems all the way up.”
Roth said the idea of linking together bouldering problems came from France, but has sort of fallen out of fashion recently.
“(It’s) more like training rather than have bouldering (be) the end-all goal, they were doing it more as like a training kind of thing,” he said. “I had that sort of in the back of my mind but wasn’t sure if it could happen.
“And so I was poking around and found enough rock that was climbable and good. I didn’t want it to be so hard you had to bring climbing shoes with you. Like, you could do it just in your approach shoes, so it had to be fairly of moderate too because that sort of defeats the whole purpose of being able to constantly move up the mountain.
“The idea was to make it more of a timed kind of thing where you could constantly move up the little mountain here in Saranac Lake.”
Even though Roth is now promoting the bouldering circuit he developed, he admits there was an ulterior motive.
“This was 100 percent selfish,” he laughed. “I did it originally just for me so I had something to do when I only had an hour. And then, the more I was talking about it with local climber friends, people kind of thought it sounded like a fun idea.”
Roth said he had to do a little cleaning of the cracks, including removing dead leaves and dirt to get them into a climbable condition, but said the routes didn’t need any major work.
He said he worked on the various problems over the course of years, but said if he had really put in a concerted effort it probably could have been developed in a day.
“The first ones were super easy,” he said. “It literally just involved me cleaning off a couple of holds and it was good to go.
“I’m sure I’m not the first person to have climbed some of those.”
Roth said several of the problems are located right along the trail or at the summit. The first challenge on the route is about 300 feet off the trail, but the other five can be reached via the marked path.
The first problem is the highest of the six, and is located about a third of the way up the Baker trail from Moody Pond. To the left of the trail, there is a faint herd path that leads to a 15-foot cliff. Roth said in the fall, it’s easy to see but summer leaves help keep it hidden.
From the top of the first problem, climbers can make a short bushwhack back to the trail to continue on the route. Roth said the goal is to do the route up the mountain and then take the trail back down and do the whole thing in 45 minutes.
For more information on the Baker bouldering route, climbers can join the Adirondack Rock Climbing Facebook page.