Following are some sample pages from the North Conway Rock Climbs climbing guide. They include the complete introduction, an area overview map, and random pages showing the various maps, topo's photo-diagrams, and descriptions used throughout the book.
By Jerry Handren and Tom Moulin
The bulk of the crags in this guidebook are in the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF). For information such as road and cliff closures,
campsite information, recreation passes, and so forth check the WMNF website:
Alternatively, the Saco Ranger District office has this information as well. Their phone number is (603) 447-5448. The office is located about 100 yards west of Route 16 on the north side of the Kancamagus Highway.
The following climbing-specific standards are outlined in the 2005 White Mountain National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan:
Some cliffs, such as Square Ledge, Wild River Crag, and Stairs Mountain, are in Wilderness. These federally designated areas have special regulations intended to reduce human impact. In general, group size is limited to 10 people. Specifically for rock climbing:
Cathedral Ledge and Whitehorse Ledge are in Echo Lake State Park, which has its own set of rules that mostly relate to the opening and closing of access roads, but that have few restrictions on climbers.
The cliffs in the Evans Notch and Bethel areas are a different story. Some of the cliffs are in the WMNF, but most are on private land. The inclusion of a cliff in this guidebook in no way implies a right of access, and the descriptions should be considered nothing more than an attempt to document the climbing that has occurred for historical purposes. Where climbing is tolerated, and to ensure continued access, climbers should show due consideration and respect to the wishes of the landowners at all times.
Perhaps the most important restriction on climbers relates to peregrine falcons. Peregrines almost became extinct due to the widespread use of the pesticide DDT after World War II. DDT's effect on the birds' eggs caused a precipitous decline in the population. Once the problem was recognized and DDT banned, the falcon population slowly recovered. Part of the recovery process included giving nesting birds a wide safety zone by restricting access to the parts of the cliffs where they nested. There are nesting birds on several of the cliffs in this book: Cathedral Ledge, Laughing Lion, and the Painted Walls to name three. Where the birds nest, portions of the cliffs around the nests are usually closed until nesting season ends in late July or early August. The closed areas are clearly marked, using posters on prominent trees. The specific closures sometimes change from year to year, depending on where the birds nest. In order to maintain good relationships with the land managers, it is vitally important that these closures be respected. Thankfully, peregrines are no longer on the Endangered Species List and restrictions may well be lifted as the population continues to recover.
Many of the access roads in the area are not maintained for winter travel. Bear Notch Road, Passaconaway Road, Evans Notch Road (Route 113), Sawyer River Road, and several others are usually closed by the first major snowfall, sometime in November. The roads generally do not open again until they are clear of snow in the spring, usually in early May.
Friends of the Ledges, an affiliate of the Access Fund, is the local stewardship and advocacy organization for climbing in the eastern White Mountains. Comprised entirely of volunteers, Friends of the Ledges works to develop and sustain good relationships between climbers and land managers in the region. The organization also manages bolt replacement. An updated list of recently replaced bolts and a form to submit observations of old bolts is available on their website. Learn more and become a member: www.nhledges.org or email: firstname.lastname@example.org In coordination with the Androscoggin Valley Search and Rescue and the NH Fish and Game, the Mountain Rescue Service handles technical rescues in the White Mountain Region. This is a volunteer organization, consisting mostly of local guides and climbers, and depends on donations to operate. The Mountain Rescue Service deserves your support whether you reside here or are traveling through. Donations can be sent to: Mountain Rescue Service, PO Box 494, North Conway, NH 03860
In the event of an accident call: International Mountain Equipment (IME): (603) 356-7013 NH Fish and Game: (603) 271-3421 North Conway Fire and Rescue: 911
Generally speaking, there are three different rock types found in the area covered by this guidebook: granite, gneiss and schist, and a volcanic rock called syenite.
The syenite is only found in a small area on the north side of the eastern end of the Kancamagus Highway (Route 112). Syenite is a beautiful, solid, fine-grained rock that is very good for climbing. There are a lot of attractive thin cracks and corners in syenite that allow for some very good traditional climbing. The faces have a lot of small, square-cut edges, and the occasional flake, which makes for some very good, and usually quite fingery sport climbing, mostly in the upper grades.
Most of the cliffs in the area consist of various forms of granite. This is quite a variable medium that can be featureless (much of Green′s Cliff), or covered in holds (The Wonderwall on Whitehorse, the Thin Air Face on Cathedral). Mostly it is a very solid, medium-grained rock that provides superb climbing and is typically characterized by cracks, corners, and faces that are vertical or less. Climbing on granite often requires the use of specific techniques, such as hand or finger jams for most of the crack climbs. Even the face climbing is a different style from that found on other types of rock; it is generally not as steep, but is often a lot more blank for a given grade. Granite is not a rock that is very forgiving of poor technique, and for most, the learning curve is not very steep. The bottom line is that it takes time and effort to learn the skills needed to climb here. But, once mastered, you have one of the best collections of traditional-style routes in the country as a playground.
The hills to the north and east of North Conway have many outcrops whose rock is categorized as gneiss and schist. These rocks have been subject to intense heat and pressure, resulting in a modified form of the original. At crags such as Buck′s Ledge, Jockey′s Cap, or Shell Pond′s Family Crag, the base rock – granite – has been contorted and transformed into a 'granitic gneiss.' Schist, being slightly different, originates as a sedimentary rock, such as sandstone, and is transformed through heat and pressure into a mica-rich rock found at places such as Shell Pond′s Main Cliff, the Beach Wall, Tumbledown Dick, and the Connie - Solstice Zone. From a climbing point of view, gneiss and schist generally lend themselves to sport climbs for a number of reasons. Typically, gniess and schist have a crumbly surface in their natural states, but they clean up quickly to leave a really nice, grippy rock. Unlike granite, the gniess and schist are usually covered with an interesting and varied assortment of face holds, which allow for some very steep climbing, and many long, pumpy pitches. The gniess and schist provide a gymnastic style of climbing that complements the technical granite and fingery syenite.
The rock climbing season in North Conway generally extends from early April to the end of October, but conditions vary greatly from year to year and it is not at all uncommon to find good climbing conditions outside of these months. Certain cliffs, such as Shell Pond, Shagg Crag, the South Buttress of Whitehorse, and Squaredock Ledge are very sunny and sheltered and can have great climbing even in the depths of winter. Conversely, a late spring snowfall can sometimes keep Cathedral Ledge soaking wet until early May.
Usually, the spring and fall have the best climbing conditions, with pleasantly sunny days, cool temperatures, and relatively low humidity providing great friction. The summer can be hot and humid, but not unreasonably so, and seldom for long. Furthermore, great conditions can, and often do, blow through at any time.
There is quite a lot of rock in the area that is climbable when it's raining. Sundown (Main Cliff), Shell Pond (Main Cliff), Shagg Crag, the Cathedral Cave, and parts of Band M all have quite a lot of climbing that stays dry. It is usually possible to salvage a bit of climbing out of even the soggiest day. Sometime in May, black flies and mosquitoes start to make their presence felt. They are usually pretty thick in the air for a couple of weeks, before gradually thinning out towards the end of the hottest months, and are more or less gone by September. For the uninitiated, the first few weeks of bug season can be very unpleasant, making the heavy use of insect repellent pretty much mandatory. However, wearing the right sort of clothes, knowing which cliffs to avoid, and climbing at the right time of day can all make a big difference, and make even the worst few weeks manageable.
In recent years, ticks have increasingly become an issue throughout the area during the spring. With a number of serious diseases being communicable from ticks, it is prudent to perform frequent and thorough checks.
In Nevada, if you drive off the road just once, your tire marks can be seen in the desert for years afterwards. In New England, on the other hand, through leaves dropping, roots growing, storms flooding, and ground freezing and thawing, a well-used trail can disappear between the fall and the spring. It seems plausible that if Mankind was to suddenly die off, the great New England forests would swallow up all signs of our existence within 100 years.
Things change quickly here: a cleaned route will grow over with lichen; a spotless crack will fill with dirt; a rappel tree will get blown down; a logging road will get swallowed up by new tree growth. Aside from these naturally occurring changes, new routes will get added, bolts and pins will be chopped, or replaced, or repositioned, and cliffs will fall in and out of popularity. In short, this guidebook is a snapshot of the climbing in the North Conway area at a particular point in time. As we move away from that point in time, things will change - sometimes drastically. New online resources, such as Mountain Project and NE Climbs, are a great way to keep track of some of the changes that do occur. We have tried to make the information in this book both detailed and accurate, but ultimately, climbers must rely on their own good judgment to keep safe. What follows are some pointers to help users of this guidebook interpret the information that it contains.
This guidebook has ten chapters which correspond to ten different areas within the overall region. The areas roughly go from west to east, and south to north. Each area generally includes a collection of cliffs that are close together. Cathedral and Whitehorse Ledges are such big cliffs that they each have their own chapter. Within each chapter, the different cliffs are described with an access map that tells you how to get to the parking area, and an approach map that tells you how to get to the cliff.
The routes on smaller cliffs are described and numbered all at once in a single section, but bigger, more complex cliffs may be subdivided into several different sections, usually corresponding to well-defined features of the cliff. Such cliffs will usually have an overview picture with the individual sections illustrated.
Some routes within a section are assigned a route number. If a route has a route number, then the number is used to identify that route on a photo diagram or plan map. If a route has no route number, then it is not marked on a photo diagram or plan map. In most cases, route descriptions are on the same page as their photo diagram. In certain sections, where the route descriptions are spread over several pages, the photo diagram containing those routes will always be within that section. When the photo diagram contains numerous route lines that could lead to confusion, multiple colors are used for the route lines. This is merely to help distinguish one route from another.
A sport climb. A route that is protected exclusively by closely-spaced bolts with a fixed anchor at the top. All sport climbs, whether they appear in diagrams or not, are marked with the red dot symbol. Conversely, black dots are used for traditional and mixed routes. If a route has no dot, it is assumed to be traditionally protected.
Generally the route names are those given by the first ascent party. However, there were quite a few mystery routes with no established name. Rather than having numerous 'Unknowns,' we have taken the liberty of providing a name for every route in the book. In future guidebook editions, some route names will change as their real names come to light. Hopefully, the confusion that this causes is the lesser of two evils.
This is the actual climbing length of the route rather than the vertical height gained. It takes the place of the commitment grade (I,II,III,IV, etc.) since along with the description, it gives a pretty accurate idea of the scale of the undertaking.
The Yosemite Decimal System is used: 5.0 to 5.14 with the grades from 5.10 up subdivided into a,b,c, and d. In a few cases, we have used the standard seriousness ratings (R and X). But generally, where a route is known to be serious for some reason, this will be mentioned in the description. Do not assume that a route is safe just because there is no seriousness rating or any mention of danger in the description.
This guidebook uses a three star system to rate the quality of the routes. Obviously, this is a very subjective undertaking and these ratings should be taken with a grain of salt. Certain personal biases no doubt crept into the assessment. Clean rock, sweeping natural lines, and sustained climbing are factors that increase the quality of a route. Loose rock, dirt, a wandering or contrived line, or a combination thereof are seen as deterrents.
We have tried to be very conservative in doling out stars so that the really good routes stand out; this is mostly done to point visiting climbers to the very best routes. The fact that a route has no stars does not mean that it is not worth doing. Instead, we have tried to mention in the text if a route is really poor quality.
It is worth pointing out that this book describes a very diverse collection of climbing areas - it's hard to compare a six pitch granite trad climb with a 40' schist sport route. Certainly, many Rumney climbers are of the opinion that no granite slab deserves any stars - ever. If a route gets stars, it means that it's a good route of its type. And if you're a 5.13 climber who just got spanked on a beautiful 5.9 slab, just remember - it's not the route that's crap, it's your technique!
Many of the old quarter-inch bolts have been replaced with solid ?" bolts, but quite a few still remain, especially on older routes on some of the more obscure cliffs. These bolts are unreliable and should be backed up, if possible.
The dagger symbol (†) is used for routes where we have been unable to track down a definitive description. The given route description should be treated as a very rough guide at best.
On many of the multipitch routes on the taller cliffs like Whitehorse and Cathedral Ledges, adjacent climbs will often share the first several pitches. Where this is the case, the pitch numbers of a route that breaks off from the main line reflect the number of pitches required to reach that point. For example, Wavelength starts by climbing the first 4 pitches of Standard Route; so the first pitch number is 5.
Where possible, the names of the first ascent team are included. Generally, the name that appears first is the climber who led the pitch, or on multipitch routes, the hardest pitch. Having said that, many of the older routes put up in ground-up style were very much a team effort, with climbers taking turns, figuring out moves, and drilling holes.
Where possible, we have tried to include a recommended gear list. This is a very rough guide to what a climber comfortable at the grade might need to protect a particular climb.
Example: Single rack to 3"
This would be a full set of wires, and a full set of cams from a Metolius #00 to a #3 Camalot. It would also include a number of biners, slings, and quickdraws appropriate for the particular type of climb.
Tricams are particularly useful for the occasional crystal pockets that appear on slab climbs at places like The Slabs on Whitehorse and Rainbow Slabs.
Small brass nuts are pretty much essential on many climbs. They are described under the general term RPs, which was the original producer of this type of nut. If a description calls for RPs, then any of the modern equivalents will do.
Many of the trad routes done in the 1980s and early 1990s were originally climbed with double ropes. The use of double ropes is a bit of a dying art in New England these days. But where double ropes are really helpful, either to protect the leader or the second, we have tried to mention this in the gear recommendations.