Scaling those Cliffs!

Before some gorge trails in the Finger Lakes region can be opened to the public, the cliffs overhead must be cleaned of winter-loosened stone. Shale, the dominant type of rock in gorge walls, is easily weakened and fractured by exposure to frost. Clay layers in the shale absorb moisture and water seeps into cracks; when rock freezes it fractures and is poised to come crashing down without warning. In the state parks, teams of “scalers” must systematically remove as much loose rock from cliff faces as they can before the trail can be opened. This typically takes place during April. Scaling was completed at Buttermilk Falls State Park last week and the Gorge Trail is open this weekend!

I took the following photographs in previous years.

Scaler removes rock in the Main Entrance at Watkins Glen State Park, Finger Lakes

A member of the Finger Lakes State Parks scaling team dislodges loose rock from the cliff above the parking lot in the Main Entrance at Watkins Glen State Park.

Watkins Glen State Park scaling cliff Finger Lakes

Scaling loose rock on cliffs requires considerable strength, agility, endurance, and courage.

Scaling the cliffs above the mile-and-a-half-long Gorge Trail at Watkins Glen State Park typically takes about four weeks and often is not complete until May.

Watkins Glen State Park Finger Lakes scaling cliff trail hiking gorge

A scaler works on a high cliff in the "Glen Alpha" section of Watkins Glen, the first full section of gorge beyond the Main Entrance.

Buttermilk Falls State Park Finger Lakes Ithaca scaling cliff

Cleaning off the cliff over the Gorge Trail next to Buttermilk Falls. The trail is now open.

Tropical Storm Lee last September caused flooding that did serious damage to the trail in the rugged upper gorge in Robert H. Treman State Park. Park staff are not sure when repairs will be complete. In the meantime, the section around Lucifer Falls will remain closed.

Robert H. Treman State Park Ithaca Finger Lakes scaling cliff over Gorge Trail hiking

Two scalers work the huge cliff next to Lucifer Falls in Robert H. Treman State Park.

Pinnacle Rock Buttermilk Falls State Park Ithaca Finger Lakes Gorge Trail hiking waterfall

The Gorge Trail at Buttermilk Falls State Park was opened this week. Hikers take pictures on the steps by Pinnacle Rock.

I made the following short video last year. It features the scaling of the big cliff by Lucifer Falls at Robert H. Treman State Park. I think you will find it amazing.

Kathie Notarfonzo, Finger Lakes State Parks Assistant Regional Director, tells me that one scaling crew will continue at Watkins Glen State Park during April and that they are making good progress; and the other scaling crew will work at Taughannock Falls this week and then move on to two other parks where gorge scaling is done–Stony Brook State Park in Steuben County and Fillmore Glen State Park in Cayuga County.

Our thanks go to these great teams that do this hard and dangerous work to make our visits to the gorges as safe as possible!

Find out about my award-winning book, A Walk through Watkins Glen–Water’s Sculpture in Stone.