With a murky start to the day in Saratoga, we took a gamble on the weather and headed up to Chapel Pond. I guess luck was on our side because the clouds broke just as we pulled off Exit 30 of the Northway. I keep a mental short list of 4 or 5 crags in the Chapel Pond / Keene Valley area that are suitable for a family climbing session, and seeing no cars parked for the Gems & Jewels crag as we drove by, I hung a quick U-turn and pulled in.
Gems & Jewels fits my criteria for a near-perfect family crag. It's got a short approach, a flat, open base for kids and gear to spread out, and a nice variety of moderate routes that can be set up with a top rope. If Jewels & Gems has a drawback, it's that it's essentially a one party crag. But if you're lucky enough to snag the crag before another party does, it's all yours.
The bottom of the cliff was a bit damp when we arrived, but the sun and a decent breeze dried things out quickly. The highlight of Gems & Jewels is a beautiful 5.6 handcrack - North Country Club Crack - that rises for 70' diagonally to the right. The face to the right of the crack offers additional options in the sixish range.
I don't get out climbing nearly as much as I used to, so every day at the cliff is one to be savored. But as much as I love climbing, I'm content to set up the route and belay Beth and the kids. If I get to climb a few pitches, I'm more than happy. I just love handling the rope, clicking the gear, feeling the rock, being in the mountains, and encouraging everyone.
Both of our kids have been climbing for a few years now, so they've got the ropes down so to speak. Daniel's at the point where I'd really like to take him on an easy multi-pitch climb like the Chapel Pond slabs across the street. So that's a near-term goal. And Sylvie's got great technique and a natural tenaciousness, especially considering the fact that she's just 7 years old.
We messed around at Gems and Jewels for several hours (my rule of thumb is that 4 hours is a good climbing session with kids), then popped our stand up paddleboard in Chapel Pond to take turns paddling around. The SUP is a new addition and seems to be a great way to add some variety to a day of hiking or climbing. Kids are natural climbers, and it seems that kids are natural paddlers too.
The afternoon had gotten warm, so the water felt great. The sky had turned gorgeous, with big puffy cumulus clouds. If there's a prettier spot on earth than Chapel Pond, I can't think of it. There's a resident loon at Chapel Pond, and he popped up quite close to us at various times as we paddled and swam.
Days like this, I don't miss winter one bit.