Secrets Of The Notch by Jon Sykes
It's been 9 years since the second edition of Ed Webster's "Rock Climbs In The White Mountains Of New Hampshire" which included Cannon Cliff. While Stuart Green's recently released "Climbing New England" (also reviewed here) covered selected routes on Cannon, it was far from exhaustive. For the past couple of years the buzz has been that a new and complete guide to Cannon Cliff was in the works, that local climber Jon Sykes was working on it, and that it just might never get done! Well the book is finally out, and I for one believe that it was worth the wait.
Every area has one of those hard climbers that you might have a heard about, but probably have never met. Since Jon Sykes climbs almost exclusively in the Franconia Notch area of New Hampshire, he fits that mold. Release of this new guide, "Secrets Of The Notch," will hopefully get Jon the broader attention and respect that he deserves. Jon was born an Air Force brat in 1958 in Santa Cruz, California. Living in New Hampshire since 1965 he has spent almost all of his climbing career in the White Mountains. He started climbing in '82, while working for the Cog Railroad on Mt. Washington and just stuck around. Though staying mostly close to home, Jon has climbed in Yosemite and Europe and is a very versatile climber; comfortable on rock, ice, alpine and even big walls. The number of first ascents that Jon has done rope-solo gives you some idea of his character and level of commitment. A great example is "Stacked Deck" on the "Poker Pile!" Jon's passion for "climbing as much as possible" has been aided by a devoted group of friends who help him in this pursuit by letting him stay with them, often for extended periods of time. It is an arrangement that seems to work for all, and he gives them ample credit in the introduction.
Last winter I saw a galley of the Cannon section of "Secrets" at IMCS and I thought it looked pretty good. Like many others I assumed that Cannon was its principal focus. I was surprised to discover only about a third of the book devoted to it and I have heard some grumbling about this, But, after careful review, I really don't see any problem. All of the routes are there, and as up to date as they can possibly be with a constantly exfoliating mountain. The only thing "missing" is the exhaustive history that many of us had gotten used to in the Webster Guides, and that has no affect on the high quality of the information.
The remaining majority of the book is devoted to an assortment of cliffs and crags in the Notch. Some, like Artist's Bluff and The Eaglet, have had meager documentation, but the majority have remained hidden and known only to the locals. This really jumps out at you when you notice that the dates for a good many of the FA at Echo Crag are from '93 and '94! Echo Crag, Profile Cliff, Hounds Hump Ridge, Lincoln Crag and others described in the guide combine to provide tons of interesting and varied climbing. There's more than enough to keep most visitors busy for at least several years. I've made two trips to Echo Crag recently and was rewarded with high quality rock, a wide variety of routes and was impressed with the obvious care that had been taken in developing the area. From what I understand, Jon himself deserves a lot of credit for this work.
One of the more interesting sections of the guide for me was the 35+ pages of ice routes. As someone who has grown tired of Frankenstein and the Black Dike, this is exciting stuff. While he does cover the Dike, Garcia Vega, Ace Of Spades and other well known climbs, there are many that are new to me - especially in the Echo Crag area. This gives me a great new place to spend time during the long New England winter, especially with so many climbs and so accessible to the road.
My single criticism of "Secrets Of The Notch" pertains to the index. While this may sound petty, it is actually quite annoying that there is only a single alphabetical index for all the routes, and no grades are listed along with the names. This makes it very difficult for climbers to find routes of a specific grade. For example, you have to look at every page to winnow out a selection of 5.8's. Most guides these days also include an index "by grade." Both Jon and the publisher have assured me that this will be addressed in the next printing.
In spite of the extensive development of the Notch that Jon has participated in, he has strong ethics about the importance of taking care of the Notch. The Friends Of Franconia Notch is a newly organized coalition of climbers and hikers dedicated to the preservation of the Notch's many trails and cliffs. A percentage of the profits from the guide will be donated to the organization and used towards various ongoing projects within the Notch. With the release of "Secrets Of The Notch" the floodgates are opened and I am sure that the masses of climbers will start to pour through. Hopefully they will respect and appreciate the jewel that is Franconia Notch as much as Jon so obviously does.
Nobody knows the climbing in Franconis Notch better than Jon Sykes and this book shows it. If you climb over in that area, get this book!
B&W photos, ISBN 1-886064-13-X