Lichen Grow Back Fast Here | Excerpts from Ice Pond Bouldering Guide

Lichen Grow Back Fast Here | Excerpts from Ice Pond Bouldering Guide

Posted by Gary Goldfinger on 16th Feb 2024

The climbing potential at Ice Pond was discovered by John Kuphal in 2000. More of a trad climber at the time, John had watched a few of Big Up Productions’ films highlighting bouldering, which got him wondering about what could be found near his home. Since he drove the same route to work every morning which went near the Ice Pond Preserve, he couldn't help but notice some exposed cliffs within the preserve. Taking a detour one day, he went to the preserve and walked toward the cliffs not knowing what he would find. While in his work clothes, he ran around to discover a plethora of incredible gneiss boulders, that over the next few years would become a bouldering destination.

John was ecstatic about the potential he was looking at. He told his friend Ben Normann about his discovery and they went there together to take a look. As they walked down the main trail towards the pond, they didn't see any climbable rocks, which made Ben wonder what John was talking about. Keep in mind this was a time before there were any social trails leading off of the main trail down towards the pond. Turning left at the bottom of the road, they quickly saw bigger boulders now known as the Lower Area. Ben finally realized what John was talking about this whole time. Two huge boulders welcomed them to the Lower Area, hence the name The Welcome Boulder and First Boulder, and as they continued walking, Ben saw what is now the Moby Area—a small, densely packed boulder field with many perfect boulders. They both went to work and started putting up what would soon be classics like Tombstone Arête, Moby, and Evolution. Once many of those were done at the Lower Area, exploration started moving uphill. Above The Welcome Boulder in the talus is a hidden cave which eventually became home to The Claw and Diesel. John and Ben continued following the cliff line and discovered what would become future boulder problems. This was an incredible boulder playground that they had all to themselves.

Josh Lowell and Dave Hirschler were the next folks to arrive, adding many more climbs. Josh was impressed to say the least and he soon put up many future classics such as ElevateOfficial, Mercury, and Afterthought in just a few quick sessions. Development continued at a fast rate.

About a year later, Tom Ellis, Andy Gill, and Ivan Greene joined in on the development. Tom actually found the boulders without any help by doing some intense research on the internet. Apparently John must have posted a photo of a climb on one of the few climbing websites back then and when Tom asked where it was, he was immediately shut down. Tom took that as a challenge and after some painstaking research, he found the boulders himself. While he was there, he bumped into John at one of the boulders. John was astonished that Tom had found the boulders. After a bit of a standoff, they became quick friends and Tom started adding his own lines to Ice Pond.

One of Tom’s favorite stories from the early days of development is about a climb John was working on. Slowly putting it together, he finally managed to send The Claw. Soon after, Tom was in New York City and bought a small toy Hulk Hogan and gifted it to John as a congratulations for sending. That small toy ended up becoming John’s daughter's favorite toy for a long time.

Although the Gunks was undergoing a surge of bouldering development, Ivan was intrigued by the potential at Ice Pond. It was still the early days of development and the small intimate group that went there was all about camaraderie and teamwork. They were motivated by someone going out and sending something new, telling each other about it, and then trying to repeat it. Back then it was all about exploration and every new climb felt important. There was nowhere to spray about your send except to the handful of people that knew about the place.

Ivan repeated many of the established climbs and then started adding his own. He put up climbs like Diesel, Drama, No Reason to Live, and Nanotechnology, giving a great range of grades for anyone visiting.

Most of the major development occurred over a span of about four years during which time Ice Pond attracted the attention of a few elite climbers like Jason Kehl and Chris Sharma. Jason, in particular, was on a northeast climbing trip, mostly climbing at the Gunks and Rumney, but had the chance to go to Ice Pond a couple of times. After repeating some already established climbs, he did a few of his own. The Party Pit was one of his additions, a cool little climb in a pit that is hidden in plain sight. In fact, almost everyone walks right over it every time they go to session Official or Diesel. Perhaps his most notable contribution is Mercury in Retrograde (sit). Josh had established the stand start in a previous season but the obvious and challenging sit start was still a project. This was mostly due to a tree in an inconvenient place for the start, and one of the sharpest holds at Ice Pond used for the first move. Jason got on it and within a few tries, was at the top, establishing the hardest climb at Ice Pond.

After the initial period of intense development, things slowed down. Ice Pond had few new visitors and everyone you’d run into at the boulders was a friend of yours. Many old lines were forgotten if they weren’t directly on the trail. Almost everyone knows about Moby, Catharsis, and Diesel, but almost no one has heard of the climbs Snake Eyes or The Graduate. Moss and lichen grow back fast here, swallowing up climbs after only one season. This is the Northeast after all. With the growth of the internet and social media, this small word-of-mouth area started seeing traffic that none of the early developers could have imagined. This brought bigger crowds but it also brought new vision to a place that hadn’t seen new development in a while.

Climbs that were more obscure or less obvious were put up by visiting friends and family during those first few seasons. Folks like Justin Roth, Brett Lowell, Sarah Kuphal, Austin Hoyt, Jason Wein, Dave Hirschler, Diego Rodriguez, Vadim Vinokur, Ally Dorey, Al Diamond, Paul Jung, Mike Wolfert, Jason Danforth, and Cody Gildart added their own legacy to Ice Pond.

At the time of this writing, people have been climbing here for 23 years, yet there are still first ascents to be found if you look hard enough. Folks like Bryce Viola added some incredibly hard low starts and link-ups to older lines such as Diesel and Official. Kevin Valenzuela decided to get off the beaten path and start exploring the talus field above Sloper City and between The Welcome Boulder and The Cave. He spent lots of time scrubbing new boulders with lip traverses, and although they aren’t tall climbs worthy of a magazine cover, he was able to find new things. For example, most of the climbs on the French Boulder were a result his exploration.

I started documenting the bouldering at Ice Pond when I first started climbing here. I had no purpose for this other than to capture how excited I was about the area. I wanted to learn everything I could about it. Fast forward about 15 years—the entire world shut down due to Covid and I found myself with lots of free time at my parents house in Westchester. I thought maybe this was the time to actually put something together. I wanted to preserve the history of Ice Pond while simultaneously providing accurate information, especially with the growing popularity of Ice Pond and climbing in general. I reached out to my friends John and Josh about the idea of writing a guidebook. Concerned about the impact releasing a guidebook would have on access, I started doing some digging. I called the PCLT to ask some questions about the land status and that one phone call turned into a great multiyear relationship.

I had no idea this little project of documenting all the climbs would turn out to be such a journey. The original idea for the guidebook went from a small PDF to an actual guidebook that I'm excited to share with you all.

No one ever expected the growth and popularity of Ice Pond to be where it is today. As mentioned in the Location History on page 12, legal access was granted only recently and it’s exciting to witness the Putnam County Land Trust acknowledge this land as a bouldering destination. This place is special, treat it as such. But most importantly, get out there, have some fun, and become a part of Ice Pond history.