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Casual Observer

5.11a, Trad, 200 ft, 2 pitches,  Avg: 3.6 from 23 votes
FA: Dave Furman, July 2001
New York > Adirondacks > A: Lake Champla… > Poke-O-Moonshine > Poke-O-Moonshine Main…
Access Issue: Peregrine closures and approach trail issues Details


For the hidden sport climber in all you trad climbers.

Pitch 1:
Casual Observer starts on what looks to be a dirty face roughly 30 feet to the left of the Fastest Gun. Once on it, however, you will be graced with a technical sequence that leads to a traversing crux directly below the menacing flake/chimney hanging above.

Style your way into the chimney and either place a cam and a nut (a blue Alien works well) or brave the secure, but short, runout up to the next bolt out to the left, right before you exit the chimney.

Pull out of the chimney on steep and pumpy moves in a positive crack system. Place a couple small TCUs (blue, yellow, and orange work best) and continue up the less strenuous face to the chain anchors. (5.10- / 90 feet)

Many parties stop here and rap, but if you want to continue on...

Pitch 2:
Climb up the face on the arete, then trend right into the corner.

Make some difficult, but well-protected moves up the corner, until it is possible to step left to a good belay. (5.10+ / 80 feet) Note: For this pitch carry a single rack of cams up to a yellow Camalot.

Make two rappels to the ground, or carry two ropes and make one, long rappel to the ground.


30 feet to the left of the Fastest Gun on a bolt protected face below a giant flake/chimney.


10 bolts on the first pitch, plus supplemental gear. Carry a dozen QDs and a single rack to #2 Camalot. Be sure to bring #1-#3 TCUs, and a small assortment of stoppers.

Photos [Hide ALL Photos]

Casual Observer, pitch 2
[Hide Photo] Casual Observer, pitch 2
Casual Observer, pitch 1
[Hide Photo] Casual Observer, pitch 1

Comments [Hide ALL Comments]

Dan 60D5H411
Colorado Springs, CO
[Hide Comment] Don't miss out on the 2nd pitch! The bolt arete is very exciting and the gear eating corner would be a worty pitch by itself. At the top, don't be dismayed by the appearance of an old, horrible anchor. A little bit up and to the left are a couple of brand new anchors/chains. Best to have your partner clean the 2nd pitch on the way up since it is not in line with the rap. Oct 12, 2009
Derek Doucet
[Hide Comment] Great route! Excellent, well protected climbing on both pitches. Sorry though, folks. There is no way P2 is 5.11. .10c or d maybe, but absolutely no way is it 5.11! Whatever, it's a great route. Jun 7, 2010
Chris Duca
Downingtown, PA
[Hide Comment] Derek, you are stronger than you think you are, though I would probably agree with the 10d rating. Jun 8, 2010
Derek Doucet
[Hide Comment] Hey Chris,

Like most routes at Poko, I don't think this one has much to do with strength, though I appreciate the kind words!

The crux of The Casual Observer is classic Poko face climbing (albeit on an arete): Off vertical, thin, balancy and technical edging. That style just doesn't seem to be in fashion anymore, and consequently, it seems folks often find Poko challenging. Frequently, there just isn't that much to pull on, which seems to confound many climbers accustomed to steep, postive hold climbing.

Compared to what I would consider benchmark Poko .11a or b (Examples: P1 of Psalm 32, P2 of Amongst the Crowds, ect.), the Observer, while superb, is considerably less difficult. I realize these grades are out of line with Jim and Jeremy's, but with all of the considerable respect due them for producing such an amazing book, I stand by them. Jim and Jeremy call P1 of Psalm 32 5.12 for cryin' out loud! I'm sorry, but there is simply no way! There are other examples of significantly out of whack ratings at Poko in the new book as well, but I digress.

I consider The Observer comparable in difficulty to C-Tips, to provide a frame of reference. You're not going to tell me that's 5.11 too are you?

By the way, I'm not trying to bash anyone or anything, I just firmly believe the tradition of stout ratings should be preserved in the Adirondacks, and I also love to debate this stuff for the pure fun of it! Jun 9, 2010
[Hide Comment] The reprint of Adirondack Rock says this about P1 of Psalm 32, "Some consider P1 to be 5.11b, while others walk away sandbagged; you decide." I doubt anyone would call it .11a. I know of two (!) 5.13 climbers that bailed off that last move, and I know several .11 climbers that got it. Go figure.

Regarding the other "out of whack" grades, check the reprint. Some grades were adjusted by consensus. Remember, the Poke-O grades were given to us by the Poke-O regulars, like Eisinger, Munn, Smith, Meschinelli (perhaps the biggest sand bagger of all :-), and others. Jeremy and I were very reluctant to change grades and did so only with consensus approval.

Regarding P2 of Observer: splitting hairs between .10d and .11a, don't you think? In my opinion, the hard move on P2 of Observer is short, but harder than anything on C-Tips, which is more sustained (and sharper!).

I don't believe ratings should be underrated for purposes of tradition. I think they should be onsight grades, and consistent across the park. Jun 9, 2010
Derek Doucet
[Hide Comment] Hello Jim,

As I hope was clear from my original comment, none of this was intended as criticism of your efforts with the book, and in fairness to you, I have not seen the reprint either. Just to be perfectly clear, I'll say it outright: Your book is sensational. Superb. Amazing in every way. Anyone interested in climbing in the Adirondacks, or who is simply a guidebook aficionado, should buy 2 or more copies immediately.

All that said, I'm not implying that Poko should be rated any differently than any other part of the Adirondacks, only that I lament the fact that many routes were upgraded in the book at Poko and elsewhere. It's your right as author to do so, and I respect that. I also respectfully disagree in a few cases, and genuinely enjoy debating this stuff. It's all intended in good fun, I assure you.

As for Psalm 32, we've had this discussion before. I don't think it's .11a either, but I also don't think it's any harder than .11b. I have a friend who's upper onsight limit is mid 5.11, and he hiked it onsight the other day. The other thing to consider is its difficulty relative to P1 of Southern Hospitality. Do you find Psalm 32 to be the more difficult of the two? If so, you're the first person with whom I've spoken that does! I think the folks you mention having trouble on it missed a key hold on the upper crux. Which side of the final bolt one chooses to climb makes a huge difference on the exit moves. Had they seen the path or least resistance (it's only about 2' to one side of the bolt), I'm quite sure they would have walked up the thing! By the way, I think it was Mesch who called it .11- when I originally asked him about it, and while I have a long history of being sandbagged by him and the rest of the Poko crew, I never felt like this one was too egregious an example! Maybe they've warped my sensibilities over the years. Now that 2nd pitch is another (desperate)story...


Derek Jun 10, 2010
[Hide Comment] Personally, I found P1 of Psalm 32 to be harder than P1 of Southern Hospitality. Not that it matters, but I onsighted P1 of SH, and failed on the last move of P32...even on TR, I couldn't figure it out. Anyway, the reprint makes it clear that some people find it easier.

I have to admit at being a little defensive about the "cryin' out loud" comment and the "significantly out of whack ratings at Poko" comment. We've tried to strike a balance in grading by listening to as many people as possible, including yourself (which resulted in the adjustments in the reprint). We'll continue to refine the grades as more people do these routes. Jun 10, 2010
Derek Doucet
[Hide Comment] Hi Jim,

Sorry if my posts came off as truly critical. Tone is so hard to convey and interpret in this medium, a fact all too easy to forget sometimes. I assure you that everything I wrote was written with a smile on my face, and in the time honored tradition of campfire spraying and grade debates, though in rereading it, I can certainly see how it might have been interpreted more harshly. Note to self: this sort of thing is best done in person with a tasty beverage in hand.

Thanks for the wonderful book, and nice job on P1 of Southern Hospitality... I know of a few solid climbers who've fallen on onsight attempts on that one! Jun 10, 2010
Derek Doucet
[Hide Comment] In a funny and ironic twist, after spouting off about the second pitch in these comments, I went and did it again on one of those 85 degree, sauna like days we've been having, and got worked. In many, many previous ascents, I've never come remotely close to falling off this thing, but this time I barely squeaked through without pitching in two spots! I was chuckling to myself, thinking of my posts here the whole time! Jul 19, 2010
Matt Glue
Boulder, CO
[Hide Comment] Poor placement for last bolt on the right. Easier to clip it, downclimb a few feet, and then traverse left. Aug 16, 2010
Derek Doucet
[Hide Comment] Superb, highly recommended linkup:

P1 & 2: Climb Casual Observer to the top of the 2nd pitch, .10b and .11a.

P3: Thrash briefly up and right (4th / easy 5th, but watch for loose rock) to join Fastest Gun at the top of its 2nd pitch. There are several options for belay stances here, but all require care: This section of the cliff is little more than a pile of giant hollow blocks.

P4: Climb P3 of Fastest Gun, .10a

P5: Several options are available here. Possibly the best are P4 of Fastest Gun (5.10), or P5 of Shark Week (.11a), among others.

This linkup makes for a clean (except for the loose blocks mentioned above), direct route to the top of the cliff, with excellent climbing throughout.

Recommended gear (YMMV)
  • 12-14 runners / draws
  • Single rack from RPs to 3", doubles from .3"-1.25"

3 raps with 2 60m ropes from the Sharkweek anchors. 4 raps with a single 70m rope would probably work as well, and perhaps a 60m rope would even do.
Jun 5, 2011
Nick W
Orford, NH
[Hide Comment] I think that 5.11a seems reasonable for P2. Not as sustained as C-Tips, but those few moves are thin and more technical in my opinion.

Do the second pitch!!!! Nov 21, 2011
Colin R
Ottawa, ON
[Hide Comment] 11a seems totally appropriate to me as someone who doesn't climb regularly in the area but is capable of the grade. Would be 11b/c in many other areas I have climbed in.

btw Derek - I respect your old school grades and for the record while I may not agree with them at least you are consistent.

Anyways, yeah about this route - I pitched a couple times literally right before pulling into the dihedral - probably would have had the onsight otherwise (just screwed up my feet a bit). The groove feels about 10a/b in its own right and is spectacular. Finally you get to the finish and have yet another 10c move to pull to yield the anchor. Really really enjoyed this and it pushed my to my limits as this was my first trip to Poko for rock climbing since about 1998 (when I couldn't lead anything there). May 13, 2012
Colin R
Ottawa, ON
[Hide Comment] Also got on shark week (11c) at the end of the day on TR. Now if that is the standard for 11c at Poke-O then perhaps Casual Observer is only 10d except that Shark Week felt like 12a. May 13, 2012