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Otter Cliffs (Acadia): Getting to base of cliffs w/o lowering or rappelling?
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By Bill Shubert
From Lexington, MA
Jul 29, 2014
Me on Kamakaze 5.10a (Ozone)
I'm going to be spending the first two weeks of August in Maine with a decent sized group, about 2 hours drive from Acadia. If there is interest I thought it could be fun to take some people climbing; they would be beginners, some have climbed once or twice and can TR-belay, but that's it. Otter cliffs seems to have a bunch of TR-able easy climbs with fixed anchors at the top, which would be perfect. The one thing that isn't clear to me is whether or not there is a way to the base of the cliff without being lowered or rappelling. Is there a path that will lead around to the base by walking? I'm OK rapping down, but I don't want to put beginners in that situation.

I know there are solutions involving lowering people down, then either belaying from the top or rapping down myself, but nothing would be as easy as just setting up the TR, walking down to the base, then climbing back up.

(As an aside, if anybody is going to be around Acadia or Camden Hills in that time and wants to climb, let me know. I'll have lots of opportunities in the two weeks to get out on my own and get some climbing time in. I climb sport moderates.)

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By wivanoff
Jul 29, 2014
High Exposure
Bill Shubert wrote:
The one thing that isn't clear to me is whether or not there is a way to the base of the cliff without being lowered or rappelling. Is there a path that will lead around to the base by walking?


It's possible, but I don't recall seeing an easy walk down any of the times I've been there. It would certainly have to be low tide. I've always rapped down.

The local guides and climbing schools take first time climbers to Otter Cliff every day and don't seem to have any problem.

At the climber's right side there are several eyebolts and a staple for anchors at the top. The two eyebolts close by one another are at the top of "In The Groove" a popular 5.4. You'll need gear anchors or tie off boulders for other sections. If not leading, most people TR from the top. Anchoring to trees is not allowed, AFAIK.

I'll PM a link to a Flickr account with over 100 shots of Otter Cliff so you can get an idea.

Another option might be the lower slabs on South Bubble. You should have no problem scrambling on the left side to the ledge and setting a TR. A few bolter anchors there. But, it's a longer walk and there is less climbing for you on that slab.

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By Avi Katz
Jul 29, 2014
There is no walk to the bottom of Otter Cliffs.

New climbers are usually excited about rappeling

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By RobertShaw
From Lyndonville, NY
Jul 29, 2014
I climbed there last year and rapped down. My gf was brand new and a few of the climbs actually have a ledge below the anchor to stand on and "ease" into the rappel. That being said, we walked up and around when we were done. So I would say if you can walk up you can walk down...maybe that logic doesn't work? But I walked up. Anyway, it's a really cool place to climb and I would totally recommend it.

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By J. Serpico
From Saratoga County, NY
Jul 29, 2014
Not to totally argue your logic, but why do people trust someone to top rope belay but not to rappel. In the case of rappel, at least it's them who gets injured.

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By JayMorse
From Hooksett, New Hampshire
Jul 29, 2014
I found that the best way to manage Otter Cliffs is to drop the climber's end of the rope down to get a measurement of when it JUST hits the ground, and keep an alpine butterfly (with a biner through the loop) or your stopper knot of choice on the other side of the belay device. That knot allows your climber to do a single-strand rappel on the climber's side rope that they are already tied into, and when they make it to the bottom they are already tied in and ready to climb. Keep that knot in the rope and it will keep your measurement.

Start at the Wonderwall area. That's a pretty gentle rappel and climb.

If you aren't familiar with managing a top-belay, do lots of research. It's tricky to get it down at first! And PROTECT YOUR ROPE FROM THE EDGES.

It's an awesome place to climb. It's not just a novelty, the routes are great.

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By Nick Goldsmith
Jul 29, 2014
at least one person has been killed by going in the water there. a wave caught his shoe and washed it into the ocean. he jumped in to save his shoe and the currents sucked him into thunder hole or other rocks near by. Knowing that i would be unlikly to unrope in that area personaly.

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By wivanoff
Jul 29, 2014
High Exposure
Here's a few that might be helpful. Check the tide.

Easy Corner, Wonder Wall, In the Groove & The Flake at low tide
Easy Corner, Wonder Wall, In the Groove & The Flake at low tide


Looking down Wonder Wall at low tide
Looking down Wonder Wall at low tide


Jenn leading Easy Corner
Jenn leading Easy Corner


Climbing school on In the Groove. Note possible walk off to the right at low tide
Climbing school on In the Groove. Note possible walk off to the right at low tide


Incoming tide below Razor Flake (?)
Incoming tide below Razor Flake (?)

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By wivanoff
Jul 29, 2014
High Exposure
JayMorse wrote:
If you aren't familiar with managing a top-belay, do lots of research. It's tricky to get it down at first!


It's interesting to see different people's view as time goes on.

When I started climbing, most TRs were managed from the top. 'Course that was before there were any climbing gyms. A bottom managed TR was sometimes called a "Slingshot". In fact, I can think of at least one route that was named that because of how it was toproped.

I think that people saw how the ropes were set up in the gym and bottom roping outside started to become the norm. Some of my newer climbing partners are horrified when I suggest top managing....

But, either way works well and either way has advantages and disadvantages.

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By Charles Savel
From Frederick, MD
Jul 29, 2014
I've only climbed at Otter Cliffs once but did do an easy scramble to top of the cliff. It was to the climbers far left past the base of the Great Chimeny. I remember that you go around a corner to another open area that would offer shorter and less desirable climbs than the main cliff. In the right hand corner there was an easy scramble that up that was about a 30 second walk to the main cliff. I'm neither a strong climber or big risk taker and had no issues with it.

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By Bill Shubert
From Lexington, MA
Jul 30, 2014
Me on Kamakaze 5.10a (Ozone)
Thanks for the advice everybody. So it sounds like there is a scramble down, but it's not easy and probably better to not do it. Maybe I'm being paranoid, but if a beginner rappels in I'd want to be at the bottom to fireman's belay in case their speed gets out of control, but that means somebody else needs to be on the top to make sure they thread through the ATC correctly. I've never actually belayed from above, so while I understand the principle and can get an ATC guide easily enough, I'd rather do it the first time when somebody experienced is there. I'll just have to see who is interested in going and decide how to go from there.

(But if we rap down and I belay from the bottom, then I guess I'll have to scramble back up. Well, that's possible I guess.)

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By gio92
From Easton, PA
Jul 30, 2014
Instead of a fireman's you could also use an autoblock and/or do a belayed rappel from the top (using a re-direct through then anchor or off of a guides belay).

Also, there are only a couple fixed anchors on the top of the cliff so you'll need to set an anchor for many of the climbs there. You just need a few mid-size cams and a few nuts and you'll be more than covered.

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By Gunkiemike
Jul 30, 2014
What gio said. Tie off the middle of your rope at the anchor on top. Newbie raps down on one strand (use two lockers on the ATC if they're heavy to provide newbie-comforting friction) while you give them a loose belay on the other strand. When they get to the bottom, they pop the rap device off, you take up slack and BAM they're climbing. This way you are there to oversee their rap set up and tie-in to the climbing rope. And you avoid shredding your rope by lowering over the edge.

However, if they can't make it up the climb, you'd better be able to rig a 3:1 or greater haul.

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By M Bageant
Jul 30, 2014
Bring LOOONG runners for Otter Cliffs. I made good use of a 20' and 30' length when I was there back in the spring. Trad gear is also really helpful for redirects and for setting anchors on some of the climbs on the climber's left side of the cliff (no fixed anchors there).

People have been injured when the rock has cut ropes before, definitely prevent your rope from running on the edge. Extend your anchors or bring a little carpet square or something to protect it! For this reason I would not belay from the top on most climbs there except for the last person climbing out---you'll either have to stand over the side of the edge (hopefully on a ledge) to belay at the extended master point, or you'll have to run the rope over the edge and belay from the top (not ideal for the rope).

Having taken beginners with my outing club, it's a little hairy to get first-time rappellers down on some of the rappels. My best advice is either to to choose the easiest rap set-up line to be the "rap line" and send everyone rappelling down that rope; or set up to lower each beginner to the bottom (helps if you have a partner who can stay up top while you go down).

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By wivanoff
Jul 31, 2014
High Exposure
Bill Shubert wrote:
Maybe I'm being paranoid, but if a beginner rappels in I'd want to be at the bottom to fireman's belay in case their speed gets out of control, but that means somebody else needs to be on the top to make sure they thread through the ATC correctly.


Gunkiemike, JayMorse and Gio posted some good advice. To summarize, this is what I would do: Drop one end of the rope so it just touches the ground. Tie a figure 8 on a bight and clip the rope to your anchor. Have your climber rap on that one one strand that just touches the ground while you belay them from the top on the other strand. This leaves you with plenty of rope on your side if you have to drop a loop to haul them back up.

If you were to bottom belay and can't trust your beginners to rappel correctly or thread the ATC correctly, how can you trust them to safely untie and drop the rope back down to you for the next person? Will you be running up and down for each person? Or will you lower them back down and then figure out how to get everyone back out later?


Bill Shubert wrote:
I've never actually belayed from above, so while I understand the principle and can get an ATC guide easily enough, I'd rather do it the first time when somebody experienced is there. I'll just have to see who is interested in going and decide how to go from there.


OK. This talk about an ATC-Guide makes me nervous. If you have never belayed from the top, please do not start off using any device in "guide mode". There have been too many accidents because lowering in guide mode can be a cluster. I'd tie in tight to my anchor, sit on the edge where I could see the climber and belay off my harness/rope tie in loop. (Or redirect off the anchor if it was close enough). All this needless worry about 'yer gonna die' if you belay from the top and your rope runs over the edge..... What do people think happens on multi-pitch trad routes?


Bill Shubert wrote:
But if we rap down and I belay from the bottom, then I guess I'll have to scramble back up. Well, that's possible I guess.)


Bill, I have to tell you that, in all the times I climbed at Otter Cliff (since 1978), only a few times did I see anyone bottom belaying. All the guides I've seen out there belay from the top. And most seem to bring about 30' of static line to build anchor.

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By Jeffrey LeCours
From New Hampshire
Jul 31, 2014
I second the "protect your rope over sharp edges". Bringing 50ft of webbing wouldn't be a bad investment - you can girth hitch that huge block on top and for an easy anchor above the corner near Wonder Wall.

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By M Bageant
Jul 31, 2014
wivanoff wrote:
All this needless worry about 'yer gonna die' if you belay from the top and your rope runs over the edge..... What do people think happens on multi-pitch trad routes?


Sure, it happens, but Otter Cliffs are particularly sharp, and you don't usually have a bunch of people top-roping a rope over a sharp edge on a multi-pitch trad route. Just last summer a rope cut, seriously injuring two people and requiring a rescue.

I just want him to go in prepared, he can of course make decisions as he sees fit.

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By J. Serpico
From Saratoga County, NY
Jul 31, 2014
wivanoff wrote:
OK. This talk about an ATC-Guide makes me nervous. If you have never belayed from the top, please do not start off using any device in "guide mode". There have been too many accidents because lowering in guide mode can be a cluster. I'd tie in tight to my anchor, sit on the edge where I could see the climber and belay off my harness/rope tie in loop. (Or redirect off the anchor if it was close enough)..


I was thinking the same thing. Guide mode wasn't really intended to be used like this. Lowering is a little bit complex, you need to rig up a way to lower and you are supposed to back up the device in some way during a lower, though I've been lowered unbacked up and didn't die (not sure if that was luck or not, if it was I'm down to 4 lives).

I'd either direct belay off the harness or redirect off the anchor from the top.

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By Bill Shubert
From Lexington, MA
Aug 1, 2014
Me on Kamakaze 5.10a (Ozone)
People, calm down about the ATC guide and read my post again. First, I only mentioned the guide in the context of belaying from above, not from lowering, and second I said I didn't want to do it unless there was somebody else there who had done it before. It's funny how half the people here say "just do X, Y, and Z, it'll be easy," and the other half are saying "yer gonna die." I won't be doing anything unless either I've done it before or have somebody else there who has, so to group 1, the advice is great but I'm not going to experiment, and to group 2, calm down!

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By J. Serpico
From Saratoga County, NY
Aug 1, 2014
Just do it, yer gonna die (anyway)

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By wivanoff
Aug 1, 2014
High Exposure
Bill Shubert wrote:
People, calm down about the ATC guide and read my post again. First, I only mentioned the guide in the context of belaying from above, not from lowering


OK, we're calm. But, remember, no one here knows your skill/knowledge level.

You wrote that you:
1) Are taking beginners.
2) Have never actually belayed from above.
3) Specifically mention an ATC "Guide" instead of just ATC.

I did not think that you planned to lower people in guide mode because you mentioned rappelling as an option. However, because you specifically mentioned ATC guide, I thought that you might belay them back up in guide mode after they rappel. And then I thought: "If the climber gets stuck mid route and he has to lower them back down while he's belaying in guide mode.... maybe I should say something."

And just to reiterate, I'm certainly all for padding sharp edges or repositioning the rope away from sharp edges. I just think that, at Otter Cliff, it makes more sense to top manage the belay rather than bottom belay an unattended anchor. But, do what you're most comfortable with.

I think you're going to have a great time. It's a wonderful place and unique experience.

For your beginners there's a great experience climbing "Great Chimney" by the seastack. And there's an easy route just left of the Great Chimney. BUT, same gear anchors for both - no bolts or block to sling in that area. Glad you liked the pix I PMed. In those pix, the anchor with the yellow cord was the gear anchor I used at Great Chimney. Feel free to ask about the routes.

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