Moss Island is the most popular crag at Little Falls, and a good place to spend a day toproping or to bring new climbers to. The main cliff band is on the southern edge of the island and faces south, making it very hot on sunny summer days. The northern side of the island features several boulder problems, which stay much cooler in the summer. It is often called an "outdoor climbing gym."
I have yet to hear a definitive determination of the rock type at Moss Island. Some say it is gneiss; some say it is black granite. Regardless, Moss Island was victim to severe grafitti in years past, and while the paint is slowly wearing off, some still remains. The un-painted areas offer decent friction properties and a range of small edges and rounded slopers. The angle of the walls is quite varied, with several slabs, vertical walls, and steep overhangs.
Most routes are best suited for toproping, as placing bolts on Moss Island is not allowed and only a handful of routes accept good gear. However, the rock is generally very solid, and holds gear well. For toprope anchors, bring very long webbing or static line (50'+) for trees, a set of nuts and cams for sections where the trees are too far away, and webbing to sling the occasional boulder. Access to the top is easily gained at either end of the cliff, or via one of the many 3rd class ascent/descent routes along the wall.
Routes range from 5.0 to 5.12c, with everything in between. That said, sandbagging is a bit of a tradition here. Every inch of this wall has been climbed at some point or another, don't even think about a first ascent. The now out-of-print guidebook lists around 100 named routes; some good, some bad, some incredibly contrived. Good and popular routes of various grades include:
A permit is required to climb at Moss Island and can be purchased at the town hall.
Follow Route 169 from the NY State Thruway until you reach the large bridge spanning the river (Theodore S. Wind bridge). Just before the bridge, there is a very small road on the left with a small sign. Slow down more than you think, as there's a blind but avoidable hole that your car's suspension won't enjoy! Park in the lot under the bridge and walk up the road to the lock. Walk across the lock and followed the paved road next to the river to the cliffs.
One of the best routes at Little Falls and listed at 5.10+ in the old guidebook, Fred P. Jones is a great, steep, sustained route, probably in the low 5.11 range. The lower section is the route's technical crux, climbing through good crimps to gain a big horizontal jug "rest." The top half of the route gets progressivly more overhanging with big moves through good-but-not-great holds....[more]Browse More Classics in NY
A bit of history: Many of the harder routes were first climbed by Chris Davis circa 1978 - 1982. Chris lived at the time in Clinton, NY where his parents were professors at Hamilton College, my alma mater. We climbed and bouldered frequently in Little Falls in those days and had a blast. Chris is now a film maker living in Paris. There are at least 2 guidebooks to the area, the first co-authored by Chris Davis and RL Stoltz in 1982 and featured Chrisís excellent sketches of the crags. (I wish I still had a copy.)
Chris' first ascents include: Spiderman - 5.11d Windex - 5.11, solo Devil's Corner - 5.11b Help On The Way - 5.10d Little Feat - 5.10d
Thanks for the history, Owen. I've updated the routes I submitted with FA info. If anyone else has any historical info to add please email me and I'll update my existing stuff. And, please feel free to add routes to the database! Although I no longer live in NY, Little Falls was home to many a day trip for me.
A note about permits in Little Falls: The city had temporarily stopped issuing permits to climb here. The overpass providing access to town is/should be under construction, and the permitting process will likely continue after. This doesn't mean the area is off-limits, just that you can't get a permit temporarily. Is this still accurate or are they doing permits again?
Upon climbing the stairs to the lock at Moss Island I noticed a sign asking climbers to get a permit to climb. So,I visited the Little Falls police station to get a permit. The officer at the station said I did not need a permit and that climbers climb at their own risk. I also inquired about climbing at the Diahedrals, apparently the land is owned by the railroad...not any individual. So trespass at your own risk. :)