Salmon River Falls (Ice) Rock Climbing
Main Amphitheater at Salmon River Falls 2008. Two...
A quality ice climbing venue located in Central New York. The one bright spot for climbers living in the Syracuse area. Officially designated a NY State DEC Unique area, ice climbing is allowed down stream from the main falls area. The main falls might look tempting but climbing is forbidden. The Upper Gorge and Amphitheater offer the majority of the climbs in the area are are easily accessible by hiking along the lip of the gorge and rapping in.
When the winters are cold the ice comes in fat, when the winters are mild the ice is pretty sketchy to non-existent. It takes a while for the ice to come in, climbing starts getting good in February unless it has been an especially cold year. The area offers a mix of top rope and lead opportunities from WI3 to WI6 including Mixed routes. Get there early, as the most popular climbs fill up fast.
Jim Lawyer's Salmon River Guide
(Updated December 2016) is the quintessential resource. All of the routes at Salmon River falls have a fish theme, most of them involving Salmon. NEIce
is the best resource for current conditions.
From the south:
Take I-81 north from Syracuse.
Exit 34 (the Mexico exit).
Turn right (east) onto NY 104.
Drive 3.3 miles and turn left (north) onto CR 22.
Drive 4.4 miles and turn right (east) onto NY 13.
Drive 0.1 mile and turn left onto CR 22.
Drive 4.5 miles (past the fish hatchery and giant wooden water tower) and turn right onto Falls Road.
Drive 1.4 miles and park on the shoulder on the right.
From the north:
Take I-81 south from Watertown.
Exit 36 (the Pulaski exit).
Turn left (east) on Richland Road (CR 2).
Drive 6.2 miles to Orwell and turn right (south) onto Lacona-Orwell Road (CR 22).
Drive 2.7 miles and turn left onto Falls Road.
Drive 1.4 miles and park on the shoulder on the right.
There is a parking area here for the Salmon River Falls Unique Area, but it isn't plowed in the winter, forcing you to park on the shoulder. Watch for deep ditches.
There is a kiosk to the left (when facing the river) side of the parking area with a map of the Unique Area and the sign in sheets for climbers. Every individual must sign in!
From the parking area walk back on the road 100' and locate an old forest road (that has a gate). Follow this road (deep snow!) downstream along the rim of the Gorge less than a quarter of a mile. There is often a broken trail to the tops of the climbs. Be aware of snowmobiles as this road is used [illegally] by snowmobiles.
Rappelling to the river from the top of the Gorge is the easiest way in. The base of Salmon Steak can be reached with a 60m rope, from there it is an easy scramble down to the river. Some parties bring an old rope and fix it to a tree to use as the rappel-approach throughout the day.
Note: If you rappel in, do so only where there is ice to the bottom, or rappel in the Amphitheater where it's steep so the rappel is free-hanging. The low-angle sides of the gorge contain a number of rare and endangered plant species.
Another option is to use the Gorge Trail. This is the only walk-down approach to the ice climbs. In deep snow, it is arduous, and risks falling into the river if you're not careful. The Gorge Trail begins at the information kiosk and heads down a steep trail to the base of the Main Falls. From here head downstream, staying to the right side of the river. Note: This trail is barricaded and sign-posted off-limits. Ice climbers, however, are allowed given they are property equipped (helmets, crampons, etc).
There are several access notes:
Very important, make sure that every
member of your party signs in at the kiosk. It saves time to print these forms before you arrive (and maybe fill them out in the warmth of your car). Here's a link to the registration form.
Then, once you arrive, drop them in the box in the kiosk.
Do not climb on the ice on the main waterfall, or the walls immediately around the main waterfall. These are off limits! These climbs are documented in the online guide for historic purposes only.
The Gorge Trail that starts at the kiosk is the only walk-down approach, and although barricaded and sign-posted as off limits, is available for use by registered (sign-in at the kiosk) and properly equipped ice climbers (helmets, crampons).
Eats & Sheets
The best place to eat in the immediate area is the Maple View diner just off the Mexico exit on 81 (exit 34). It is part of the truck stop on the North side of route 104 on the east side of 81. The baked mac and cheese dinner on Friday nights is a meal and a half and a deal to boot. If you are staying close to Syracuse and are hankering for good beer don't miss Clark's Ale House in Armory Square. They offer 20 some odd craft and microbrew beers, darts and just one sandwich. The sandwich is hand carved roast beef on an onion bun with sliced cheddar cheese and onions. The Blue Tusk also in Armory square has the largest selection of craft beer, but no where near the sandwich.
It is Central New York and winter, if the ice is in so is the snow. Salmon River Falls is located on the Tug Hill Plateau which receives upwards of 200 inches of snow a year. This and the fact that DEC campgrounds are closed during the winter months makes camping out of the question. The town of Pulaski has a number of small motels if you aren't from the area and are looking for some place to stay. Otherwise Syracuse is about 1.5 hours to the south and offers the most options for entertainment during the long winter nights.
Sharing and other advice
A few notes about climbing here:
- Don't make a basecamp below free-hanging columns in the Amphitheater. They drop for no reason. These columns are the size of vans, and there have been several near misses.
- If you rappel in, bring an extra/old rope and leave it for the day so others can rappel in also. Make sure it doesn't hang over something other people will want to climb.
- It is very tempting to set topropes for beginners on the slabs below the columns. Please know that these slabs are the starts of the more-difficult columns above. A good example are the slabs below Salmonella; once topropes are set here, nobody can lead the columns above. Please share, and consider setting topropes on the beginner climbs right of Salmon Steak instead.
- It is very tempting to set a toprope on, say, Mate, Spawn, and Die, then take up the route for the entire day. Be aware that many of these routes rarely form, and people travel hours to lead them. Please share!
Climbing Season For the All Locations area.
Weather station 1.5 miles from here
6 Total Climbing Routes
['4 Stars',4],['3 Stars',0],['2 Stars',1],['1 Star',1],['Bomb',0]
Featured Route For Salmon River Falls (Ice)
A Pitch Called Wanda
WI6 M7 New York
: Salmon River Falls (Ice)
A testpiece of steep, overhanging ice columns followed by totally horizontal moves out a shale roof. Yikes!Begin 25' left of Mate, Spawn, and Die, at an ice column that reaches down to the river. Go up the column (possible rock pro), then up unrelenting columns and mushrooms to a thankful rest at the top of the ice. Dry tool right, then through the roof, and finally back left to the trees....[more] Browse More Classics in New York
BETA PHOTO: The Amphitheater at Salmon River Falls.
BETA PHOTO: State markers at Salmon River Falls.
BETA PHOTO: The kiosk next to the parking area. Make sure to s...
Amphitheater right, late 2011 conditions.
Amphitheater left, late 2011 conditions
Amphitheater and upper gorge from upriver. Salmon...
Amphitheater perspective - This is where the good ...
Upper Gorge, climbs in view Salmon Ladder, Don't C...
Main Falls - closed to climbing for now