One-Pitch Wonders: Rose Ledges, Massachusetts

As the cliffs came into view, I immediately felt like a kid in a candy store. I started identifying lines from the guidebook: Tennessee Flake, Guillotine, Double Helix. My hands were sweating with excitement.  

I made sure that Matt, my climbing partner, brought in his static line. Based on my last time here, four years ago, I had to go deep for sufficient natural anchors to top rope. I was positive those last trees were either raw or otherwise devastated, so we climbed the wooden steps placed in the gully that divided the most popular climbs at Rose Ledges from the less-explored lichen-covered gneiss. Shock and awe greeted us as I crept closer to the edge on my safety line, and there, I noticed two perfectly spaced, level, and shiny new top rope anchor bolts.

Rose CliffsThe New England climbing community considers bolting a relative faux pas, as it supposedly scars these millennia-old surfaces. But, a recent movement now supports bolting, with the main tenant being, “Bolt for safe, leave the face.” I was delighted to discover Rose had become privy to this belief, for no one but a climber would have found these placements.

I giddily rigged up a simple top rope anchor, although I knew this meant our climbing time would likely double. I started to rappel off the end and realized in my enthusiasm that I had actually set the rope to the next climb. I conferred with Matt, and we agreed to go with the flow. I noted that it was the top of a hairline crack he had ogled from the bottom; however, it ended up being a terrifically sequenced 5.10 many call Widowmaker

I had been on lead for my first attempt at it before heading back down. “Well, Matt, I guess you can try it now,” I told him. “Just be warned: It’s a little stiff for a warm up.”

Ready and not at all discouraged from our flailing (though we both did eventually top out the Widowmaker), we moved our anchor and went to the route we originally intended, Guillotine.

Guillotine is known for a great combination of laybacks and complex stemming moves, with a big finale over a short, overhanging boulder. After watching Matt try it with only a little trouble at the cruxes, I got the bright idea that it would be more fun if I strung the rope from the ground up.

This proved to solidify the appropriateness of the name, as I realized I had used far too much of my large gear near the bottom of the climb. Probably the worst moment was when I heard my .75 cam walk itself out of the crack and skitter down the line, making my modestly protected run a certain deck situation if I didn’t get the largest nut I had left in my hand slotted and clipped. But, knowing a climb could cut you in half at any time has always been part of the game.

The rest of the day went smoothly: We were able to get in the remainder of the main face’s classics, effortlessly transitioning the rope down the line with little time invested in re-equalizing. Even in the middle of June, mild temperatures lasted all day, and the cliffs appeared just barely as peaks over the trees.

Logistics wise, the cliff is about an hour north of Hartford, an hour and a half east of Albany, and about the same distance from Boston. There, we opted to stay at a local campsite on the Connecticut River, 10 minutes away from parking. Expect a good half hour-plus hike in, depending on your pace. All in all, it has everything I look for in a one-pitch wonder: accessibility, easy setup, and, most of all, great climbing.

Rose Cliffs

One-Pitch Wonders: Pinnacle in Farmington, CT

It’s only one pitch. Wonder why it’s worth it?

“The guidebook said this was just a 5.6, so how the heck did I get in this position?” I thought 40 feet in the air on the sharp end. I was placing one last hallelujah nut before exiting the intersecting pair of dihedrals from which the climb got its name.

I looked over my left shoulder as my leg started to go up and down like a sewing machine, and took a calming breath as I reached for the positive edge that would help me escape the A-Frame. I carefully back-stepped onto the opposing wall, so I could press myself out of what was an unexpectedly thrilling problem.

20160418_092226After four more moves and one more piece of pro, I topped out to a good belay stance on the respectfully progressive climb known as A-Frame (for reasons now abundantly apparent) at the top of a cliff called Pinnacle in Farmington, CT.

Once Brien, my second, topped out, cursing me in the process for making this his first outdoor ascent and experiencing the shock of transitioning from solid 5.8/5.9-ish indoor climbs to a rather stiff 5.6, we had options: Walk along the top of the cliffs and set a top-rope in one of four or five distinct areas ranging from 30 to 80 feet, or rappel back down and sew another line with trad gear.

As we were setting up for our second route of the day, the venue started to fill with a few characters, mostly other climbers. A guy named Matt, clad in slacks and a Ragged Mountain Foundation member T-shirt, came by to greet us and then proceeded up the five-point-easy-face to our left for a warmup solo. I started to get the distinct impression that this was the status quo for the area: a mix of experienced enthusiasts, novices bringing their friends for a thrill, and local dirtbags looking to get a quick few laps before lunch. It was about the shortest approach you could ask for a climbing venue, and everyone we talked to smiled and was happy to be there.

Although friendly to climbers, Pinnacle Cliffs is on privately owned land that was bought essentially for quarrying rights. The rumor mill is great around this place; some say that before the quarrying, it was a former Nike missile site, while others claim there’s a former insane asylum foundation on the land. Either way, it is a regularly trafficked hot spot for climbers and sightseers. The only unfortunate drawback to its convenience, despite the fact that Ragged Mountain Foundation does a conservation day once a year at the cliff, is that it’s in deep need of further cleanup from those less environmentally conscious climbers.

Still, the best part is that there is a little bit for everyone at this playground, beginner to hardcore, trad, and top-rope inclined alike. To go, rack up with the basics for trad or a long static line to set up your top-rope anchor, and then bring a smile and a friendly attitude, because you are sure to meet someone loving the day the same way as you are.

20160418_092435Editor’s Note: David is highlighting the top locations for the best done-in-a-day adventuring you can do in the East: single-pitch rock climbing. Although we lack the towering granite and the breathtaking (and often remote) monoliths of the Midwest and Western states, the East has a plethora of what we dub “one-pitch wonders”: climbing sites that are diverse and varied, scattered in the nooks and corners of the region. But at just one pitch of climbing, these spots allow for easy accessibility, smaller racks, and low commitment, and are perfect for everyone from the day-tripper and weekend warriors to avid climbers and even students.