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September 25, 2008
Every crag seems to have its own ethic. In the Northeast we have everything from Rumney's anything-goes attitude to Cathedral & Whitehorse's "don't you dare add another bolt" style. This Tuesday I went climbing at place where no matter what the grade the ethic seemed to be "don't place a bolt less than 30' off the deck." Needless to say this kind of eliminates those who aren't willing to suck it up and go for it.
All summer long I've been hearing about a lot of new route development going on at a crag on Mt. Oscar. Joe & Judy Perez, George Hurley and others have mentioned it as being a great place to climb. I've been meaning to get over there but simply haven't had the opportunity. Brad called wanting to climb on Tuesday and this week I actually had a day available so I gave the Perez's a call. With them on board as guides we were all set.
Mt. Oscar is located across the valley from North Sugarloaf, really on the back side of the Bretton Woods ski area. Here's a link to a USGS topo -
This crag is so easy to get to it's hard to really call it back country climbing. From Crawford Notch you drive a couple of miles past Fabyan Station and look for the entrance to the Zealand Camp road on the left (south) side of the road. You drive all the way down the road past severl turn-off's to the Sugarloaf trail parking area on the right side of the road. Park here. 50' before this parking area there is a gated logging road on the opposite side of the road. If you have a mountain bike, and who doesn't these days, you can ride down this road for about 10-15 minutes looking for an obvious clear-cut on the right that opens out onto the valley. Look for a trail right there on the left. You can push your bike through the tall bushes and up into the woods wherever you feel comfortable and then hike up the trail about 10 minutes to the base of the crag. Back country approaches don't get a whole lot easier than this.
NOTE - at a place where there is a curve in the logging road to the left there is an obvious continuation of the road straight ahead. Word has it that this is an road-kill dump that the Forest Service uses to get rid of dead moose and deer. Apparently at times the stench is overpowering and you see bear and other animals in that area. Be aware and keep your dogs near if they are with you!
The trail to the cliff intersects the cliff is on its leftmost side. There is one more small area about 100' to the left and the main area extends several hundred yards to the right. Although not all that well known, this is not a new crag to climbing. To my understanding Mount Washington Valley climbers Uwe Schneider and Craig Taylor put in several routes here as much as 10 years ago. Brad White remembers climbing a number of them shortly thereafter and I had heard rumors about the place around that time. From what I understand, the first 3 routes on the left side by the trail are some of the original ones. From left to right these are a nice 5.7 and two 5.9's.
Turns out that we weren't the only folks there that day either. When we dumped our bikes there were already 2 other bikes off the trail. Turns out that Jon Sykes and his friend Ben were up there as well - why am I not surprised? Jon was working on finishing a new route of his in the middle of the cliff.
Unfortunately the 5.9's on the left are both perfect examples of this 30' ethic. Altho the initial climbing is fairly moderate, they both have some tricky moves off the deck and if you come off you will end up bouncing off a ledge and tumbling down a ways! I'm not at all sure of the rational for this, but it calls for a bit more commitment than a lot of folks who could appreciate the remaining climbing will muster.
I climbed the initial 5.7 and found it to be excellent. The starting move is a bit of a boulder problem and a bit easier for a tall person. The gear is good and the moves interesting. After some steepish face climbing you pull over into a huge dish onto beautiful rock where you pad left to a lone bolt below a crack. The crack was superb and I wished that it had gone on forever. At the top you continue to the bushes and step right to a new 2-bolt anchor. Here's a picture of Brad following the pitch and Joe Perez leading it a bit later-
Brad White following my pitch
Joe Perez leading the same pitch
Just to the right of the 5.7 in the upper dish was a line of bolts that Joe said was a 5.11. I gave it a try on toprope and I would agree that it's probably 11a or b. It's some very thin moves with pretty widely spaced bolts. We rapped down and tr'd the first 5.9 as neither of us was too much into 30' runouts. It was nice as well, but there was a dicey move before the first bolt that I don't think I would have liked had I been leading it.
Brad and I walked over left to the small 5.7 crack climb. Joe joined us and ate lunch while Brad climbed. Apparently they had put this route up and were wondering what we thought of the grade. Brad ran it up, finishing on the right side of a small roof. I followed it in my approach shoes. Here's a shot of Brad leading -
Brad on the leftmost 5.7
All this time Jon was working his new route and as we finished his 5.7, Jon managed to send it. You could hear his howls of glee echo throughout the valley. Ben managed it as well so there was joy abounding.
Brad & I walked back over to the main area where Ben was leading a nice looking climb to the right of the second 5.9. I'm not sure of the grade, but it looked fun -
Ben leading a nice climb
Brad & I headed down the cliff a bit where Joe was leading a nice little arch. It looked a bit like a smaller version of Three Birches and took a lot of gear -
Joe Perez on the arch
Jon had mentioned a nice 5.8 a bit further to the right that started at a couple of large holes. You climb to the first hole, step left into another and them make a step-across to a stance and step up to a bolt. By then you would now be at that magical number, 30' off the deck before the first piece, which was that bolt. I looked it over and it actually seemed a bit more reasonable than the others, so I saddled-up & went for it. My attitude about this kind of stuff is that once I start, I don't think or I'm in trouble. I've done the start to Children's Crusade a number of times and had no problem except for when I've started thinking about the fact that I'm 30' up that ramp with no pro. This time I just hummed a Neil Young tune in my head, babbled a bit to Brad and bingo - I was at the bolt.
From there a little face climbing led up to a beautiful crack/flake that went on for probably 40'. Other than wishing I had another gold and red Camelot on my rack (actually Brad's rack since I brought the rope), I couldn't have asked for a lot more. The rough rock was totally positive, my Tradmaster's fit the crack perfectly and all was right with the world. Time stood still, with absolutely no thoughts of bugs or bailouts intruding into my perfect little world. At the top of the crack I stepped right to a stance just below a large blocky roof. I had no more large gear so getting over the block was a bit more dicey than I would have liked. This is a climb where doubles on the 1,2 and 3 Camelots would have been good.
I couldn't see where the climb was supposed to go from here, so I settled into my imitation George Hurley adventure-climbing mode. I pulled up onto a lichen-covered strip of rock, slung a tiny bush and fought my way up through more bushes and scrub to a corner. I slung a small tree and pulled over the corner to a ledge where I spotted a nice looking crack/flake in the shape of an inverted L that would certainly take some gear. Unfortunately by this time the rope-drag was heinous and I couldn't see myself laying it back and hauling that rope. So, I wandered a bit left to a scraggly pine tree, set up an anchor and belayed Brad up.
By this time it was 4pm. As I had to get going to be home in time to make it to my son's parent-teacher meeting at 6pm we need to rap. We only had a single 60 meter rope and we didn't think that there was any chance we could get down in one rap so Brad rapped down to a tree about 30' below us just left of that big blocky roof. Low and behold there was a nice rap station set up on the tree. I followed him and we reset the rope and it went all the way to the ground - perfect!
Everyone else was spent for the day so the 6 of us all hiked down the trail together to the bikes. Except for one slight rise it was all downhill back to the cars. What a beautiful finish to a perfect day.
While a small area there is lots of nice climbing on generally good rock in a superb setting and it's only 20 minutes from the car. Heck, on a perfect fall afternoon it doesn't get a whole lot better than that, does it?
Thursday October 9th, Cabot Hall, AMC HQ, 5 Joy Street, Boston. Show starts at 7:30pm
May 21 – June 5, 2008, a group of mostly AMC members from New England made an attempt on the tallest mountain in North America. This is the story being told by some of the team members. The team name was chosen to honor Dominic Cartier-Luckhurst, the 19-year old son of our hiking friend Neil. Dominic died in an avalanche near Lake Louise, Alberta on January 7th, 2008.
No door charge although we will have a jar for voluntary donations benefitting the AMC Mountaineering Committee.
On September 19 George Hurley, Mike Khan and Wendy Yager put up a new route called Post Mortem (5.9+). Hard to believe that it's never been done, but George can find new lines almost anywhere!
Climb any one of the many climbs at the North End to get to the ledge above the cracks, head over above They Died Laughing and set up a belay. Climb directly up and then stay about 25' right of the Unicorn corner. Continue to the trees at the top. Gear - standard Cathedral rack. Walk off down the climbers trail or rappel from trees.
In the back-country above Crawford Notch on Tuesday where we were there were absolutely NO bugs to be seen! There also weren't any in my yard right here by Cathedral Ledge on Wednesday afternoon. This recent round of cold nights may have pretty much knocked them completely out of the picture except for a few strays here & there. It's about time...
Up on one of the Mount Washington Valley's finest crags and want to know what that climb you're looking at is? Or maybe you're on your way up from Boston and want to check out the Ice Report for your upcoming weekend plans. Or more likely, you're at work just want to daydream about your next adventure. Well if you have a smart phone handy, you can get to NEClimbs from anywhere you have cell service. While it doesn't offer every single feature of the site and it's not an "app", in mobile form, it does do a whole lot and is very useful. Here is the live link to the mobile version of NEClimbs:
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Have fun and climb safe,
The White Mountain Report
North Conway, New Hampshire
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