North Conway Rock Climbs
by Jerry Handren
It's been 3 years in the making, but Jerry Handren's new guide to the Mount Washington Valley and vicinity, is in the stores and available wherever fine guidebooks are sold. In the introduction Jerry claims; "My goal has been to make this the most usable, accurate, and detailed guidebook to the Eastern White Mountains to date." So does it live up to the hype, or is it simply a rehash of what came before?
Believe it or not it's been 16 years since both Ed Webster's Rock Climbs In The White Mountain Of New Hampshire Third Edition and the Rockfax Cathedral and Whitehorse Ledges guides came out. There have been a few other guides that have come out in that time, but they have generally only covered the classics or "selected routes". There is no question that a huge amount of quality climbing has been added over these past 16 years here in the Valley and surrounding vicinity. Valley expat Jerry Handren wrote the Rockfax guide and now he has put together a completely new guide to the area.
Guide books are a world unto themselves. The amount of detail contained in the the most limited book is pretty amazing when you think about it: directions to the climb, descriptions and history, details of each pitch and sometimes every move, any special gear required, consensus ratings, how to get off, and first ascent information at the least. And if you are like Ed Webster, you throw in all a history of climbing in the area. WHEW! It's a big undertaking for sure. I know 'cause I have a wealth of information on in the Routes database of my web site (neclimbs.com) and I have considered doing a guide myself. I seriously considered it, but it's an incredibly daunting task, not to mention a pretty big capital outlay, and wisely I decided to leave it up to the experts. ands wisely again, Jerry Handren has risen to the task.
While the book is "limited" to the area from Sandwich Notch in the southwest to Tumbledown Dick in the north and over to Shagg Craig in the northeast, that's a huge hunk-o-land. In spite of having lived here for 16 years and climbed in the area for another 10 before that, Jerry has managed to detail a number of areas that I've never been to, much less climbed at. Now with the latest information at hand for a number of these backwoods cliffs that have become quite popular over the past year or so, I feel that it's going to be a while before I tap the area out, not that I probably could anyway.
When I first got the book in my hands I was immediately impressed by it's quality. This is a well printed tome, with tons of pictures, maps and topo maps, and all in full color. The book opens easily and generally lays flat when you open it out. The first 9 pages contain a well written introduction to the area; including an overall topo map of the area, table of contents, information about the rock, the weather, places to stay, how the book is set up and the GPS data. It's well worth at least scanning through all of this information, especially the layout section. If for nothing else than to know what the difference is between the black and red route numbers! [wry grin] I'd be remiss if I didn't give a big call-out about the pictures. I don't think there is a single place you can open the book without seeing a full-color picture, map or topo. Most of the climbing pictures are new, with only a few having been used in previous guides. Most of the route description pictures were apparently taken from a helicopter, so with the numbers and dotted lines you'd be pretty hard pressed not to be able to figure things out.
I've been reading through the book for the past 2 weeks and I gotta say it's is really chock full. A number of the places described in the book such as Square Ledge, Green's and Owl's Cliffs, the upper sections of Shell Pond and the Laughing Lion Crag have all been developed pretty much off the radar over the past several years. It's nice to see them properly covered. In addition at last we have well written descriptions of the generally undocumented climbing at Tumbledown Dick and other areas up near Bethel. Couple that with GPS data and good approach descriptions, and pretty much everyone should be able to find even the more obscure crags like Crag-Y.
I went out with Jerry to White's Ledge for an afternoon while he was putting this together. We climbed the first couple of pitches of Endeavor, Inside Straight and Finesse. I watched his process and was impressed with how he calculated the length of the climb, confirmed the ratings and documented the information. This made me feel quite confident about the quality of the information.
Of course all this is nitpicking, but since I'm an editor/reviewer it's my job to point all this out! Regardless, Jerry has done a superb job and it's a welcome addition to my ever-expanding collection of guidebooks. At $38 retail it's a tad expensive, but you get what you pay for and I'm happy to give him a 5 star rating. If you climb, or plan on climbing in the area, this is currently the book to get.
368 pages, all in color, tons pictures, topo maps and GPS data, 9" x 6", ISBN:978-4675-1313-5