Friday, August 10, 2007

Great Head - Acadia

I grew up in Bar Harbor, Maine and went climbing only once while growing up. It was during one of my summer day camp outings, when I was six or seven years old, and I cried like a baby because I was so afraid of letting go of the rock. Ten feet off the ground was a long way for me then (still is a bit today). My death grip may have left a permanent impression on the rock. It was a bit embarrassing, too, because I was bragging (read: lying) to a cute counselor about how I was a great climber and had done a lot whilst living in Hawaii. She found out that it wasn't true as soon as I got to the "crux" of the climb. I'm not sure how much she liked me bragging to her after that. I didn't climb again until I "learned" in Scotland many years later (grad school), and wouldn't climb in Acadia again until I came home from school.

Even then, I haven't climbed much in my hometown. It's odd because there is so much climbing here. I just haven't had the opportunities or partners either willing to come here or living here already. When I come home, I'm usually here to visit family and go on hikes and stuff (that's what my current vacation is like). I've always wanted to explore more, and yesterday I did just that.

When I came back from school, a friend from the UK (Kevin - the gentleman with whom I learned to climb with), flew over and visited for a few weeks. The goal was to climb, a lot, and we did. We hit Otter Cliffs, Precipice and South Bubble nearly every day. But that was before the "new" Acadia guide by Jeff Butterfield came out. I'm not sure who wrote the old one, but I don't remember being able to find much information on Great Head Promontory. I knew the cliff was high, but I had always believed it was slopey from the top to the sea. I honestly thought there wasn't a spot on Great Head where one couldn't walk from the top down to the water. This is so odd because I used to help my uncle from time to time on his lobster boat. We certainly fished around Sand Beach and Great Head. I know we fished off Egg Rock Lighthouse (an island just across from Great Head), and yet I never gathered the information I was seeing: a tall, burly 100-foot tall cliff rising right out of the cold Atlantic Ocean.

I set out yesterday to find this cliff, and not get lost trying to do so (if anyone knows the Great Head trails - stop laughing. I've honestly gotten lost looking for these cliffs before. I've always ended up at Sand Beach. I can't explain it. I'm local to the area, and can't explain it). My cousin and her husband were up from Providence visiting and wanted to tag along (I've just recently found out that they have discovered climbing as well, and was going to take them out. They had to leave early that afternoon, however, so scouting was going to be it that day). Despite both of them growing up in Bar Harbor as well, neither of them had climbed in Acadia either. For certain, they had seen the climbing at Otter Cliffs, have hiked the Precipice and South Bubble (oh yeah, those rungs on South Bubble that are all rusted out mid-way up the cliff, that used to be a hiking trail. I did that for the first time with my dog when I was three or four years old. It wasn't a scary hike then, but today it looks as if it was back then). It is easy to see climbers on those cliffs because they are all high-profile locations. For one, all three are, for the most part viewable from the Park Loop Road. They are also high-visit areas. This is mainly because of the views they offer, though accessibility doesn't hurt either. Great Head, on the other hand, despite it's prominence along the coast and viewability from the Park Loop Road, isn't really as accessible. It is somewhat off the beaten trail, and the cliffs are not viewable from Sand Beach, the most common place from which to view and / or approach Great Head.

Another thing to consider is the fact that, as a kid growing up, I've always been familiar with the hike on Great Head to and from its parking lot to Sand Beach. This is because this approach to the beach is a back way in when the beach is crowded and you don't feel like paying the tolls just before the beach's entrance. In other words, the Great Head trail has always been a means to an end: getting to the beach (because who in their right mind would go swimming at Great Head?).

Anyway, we got to the Great Head parking lot and headed in. Within ten minutes we were sitting on top of the cliffs and all three of us were questioning our identities because, as I said, these cliffs have been here all along and we had no clue. But there they were, and we were rather excited to see them, even if discovering the cliffs made us feel a little like tourists, if only for a few moments.

There are three main areas to Great Head: Left Wall, Cavern and Alcove. The latter two are accessible only by rappel, and one must take care to watch the tides because the belay area is either underwater at high tide or is so damn close to being underwater that one might get washed out to see by a rouge wave (See Michael Reardon). But Left Wall seems to be pretty accessible during all tides and has quite a range of climbing (5.7-5.11). The Cavern is mostly advanced climbing with most routes being in the hard 5.10 to 5.11 range. The Alcove has some easier routes, but it is also on the harder end of the spectrum. We found that the area is mostly mixed in terms of pro; some routes are bolted, some are not and some are bolted only where needed. There are many bolts at the top of the routes for top-belaying and / or rappelling. The Left Wall is approachable by walking down the slabs to the right (if on top of the cliff facing the sea). We were amazed at what we were seeing. The routes simply looked stunning, clean and obvious.

One thing to always consider, however, is just how intimidating the rock and ocean are. Even on easy climbs, the rock always has this feel of the elements polishing it off. Stability is something I've always feared whilst climbing the sea cliffs of Acadia. Maybe, however, that's because I wasn't a very strong climber when I first and last climbed here. But the roar of the sea against the shore? That never goes away. And yes, rogue waves are common here. They do wash people out to see. It's happened many times in my lifetime. One almost feels better climbing than on belay. I remember belaying at Otter Cliffs for the first time with one eye on my climber and another on the waves crashing behind me, and that was at low tide when the waves were a good twenty feet away from the base of the cliff. Great Head is much more intimidating than Otter Cliffs are, so understand that you've been warned.

In any case, no climbing for me this week, but I'm glad I got out to scout and see the routes. I've been doing a bit of that lately, and it feels good. I feel as if I'm taking another step toward advancing my climbing skills. I'm not sure what it means now that I'm taking day or side trips to scout crags and not climb them, but I'm happy with the development. I hope to be climbing Great Head for the first time soon.

1 comment:

LonesomeDove said...

Nice TR... Now you have to go back, do Morning Glory, and write about it!