Veteran climber Don Mellor Moss Cliff in Wilmington Notch as the best crag in the Adirondacks, but it’s not a place for newcomers
By DON MELLOR
Why would a climber want to visit something called Moss Cliff? Though the name conjures up some dank, low-angled slab wrapped in a living green carpet, the reality is quite different. This best of Adirondack cliffs is not so mossy. In fact, it’s among the cleanest, driest, most appealing rock walls in the Northeast—in my opinion, the most Adirondack of all Adirondack crags.
The name probably comes from a misreading of the 1953 USGS topographical map that put the unflattering label on a dirty slab about a mile to the west of the clean and elegantly sculpted wall that we now call Moss Cliff.
Moss Cliff isn’t hard to find. You’ve all seen it looming high above the Ausable River on the Sunrise Mountain shoulder of Whiteface. Zooming by at 55 mph, however, doesn’t give you the chance to pick out the climbers, the colorful little dots who have been playing out the evolution of climbing, out of sight, but in plain view if you ever stop to look.
There’s an unconfirmed story that the first to seriously check out the wall was Fritz Wiessner, the most prominent climber in the world during the 1930s and 1940s. And though he was schooled in the bold style of Dresden, Germany, where the standards far exceeded those in our country, and even though he had nearly succeeded on K2, the world’s hardest peak at the time, Wiessner declared Moss Cliff to be out of reach. The walls were too sheer, the cracks too smooth and too steep to imagine with the rudimentary gear of the time.
Then around 1970, Al Rubin happened upon a copy of Adirondac magazine with a photo of Wilmington Notch on the cover. His friend Rocky Keeler had just opened up a climbing shop in Wilton, Connecticut, and a little New Haven climbing club had…