The Eaglet is New Hampshire’s only free-standing spire and, for climbers wanting a majestic adventure, is home to a few separate routes, with West Chimney (5.7) being the most popular. In 1929, Lincoln O’Brien and Robert Underhill recognized this beautiful structure and decided to take a closer look, unknowingly making the historic first ascent of a soon-to-be classic.
My alarm rang: It was 5:45 a.m. as I jumped out of bed, straight into my approach shoes. I was so excited that I hardly noticed the lack of sleep. After packing my car, I drove two hours north to meet up with my climbing partner, Justin. We immediately began to discuss the routes on our objective, The Eaglet. As we conceptualized over some hot tea, we realized that the mountain face would only make this climb much more epic.
Justin and I began our short but steep 30-minute hike to the base. After some back-and-forth banter, we finally geared up. Due to the icy conditions, we discussed minor changes to our route and decided West Chimney was the best line of ascent. Justin and I climb often and have attempted many different crags, but nothing compared to The Eaglet on this day.
The First Pitch
West Chimney’s first pitch begins to the climbers’ left. Justin started on the first lead, threading his way up ledges and shallow corners on the spire’s left-hand skyline. Given the abnormally difficult conditions, I had decided to relinquish the sharp end, which was made easier by my partner’s vast experience in this type of dicey terrain. Playing into your partner’s strengths is the key to success and safety in the mountains, and this day was his turn.
Given the route’s circuitous line of ascent and the wind carrying our voices off into the void, we came to a resolution: to use an age-old mountaineering formula for voiceless communication. This code—primitive at best—is based on sharp, distinct rope tugs: Three clear pulls indicate on-belay. When you’re climbing multi-pitch walls, communication is critical.
“I was so excited that I hardly noticed the lack of sleep”
Soon after Justin started out, I heard a holler of elation and subsequently felt three tugs. I got ready and began climbing, only to realize how icy the first hold was.
I continued up toward the route’s first crux, a small ceiling you need to climb up and around. There, I spotted a piton so old I assumed it was put in place by the first ascensionist. About 15 feet past this section, the climb got pretty slabby. This forced me to move quickly, so I didn’t slip.
After crushing through this part of the journey, I headed up and left to a loose and snowy vertical gully. A few tricky moves placed me at our first belay atop a ledge, where I joined Justin with a huge smile. With the energy of pure enjoyment, we were determined to get to the top.
The Final Pitch
The next pitch—my favorite—was a 60-foot crack, one splitting two walls and big enough to wedge our bodies into. After we snaked our way up using all sorts of abnormal moves, we reached the coolest feature: a chockstone the size of a Smart car blocking the crack’s exit. Still short of desperation and driven to succeed, I dug my way up. Trying so hard, I couldn’t help but look like I was in a cage fight. Justin began to laugh after witnessing my unusual facial expressions.
After grunting my way up to the second anchor, I once again reunited with Justin’s energy. He gets so stoked over climbing, and honestly at this point, it had completely rubbed off on me. It has been said that climbing is 90-percent mental. So, with this perspective, I’ve never had an unhappy moment out on these vertical adventures.
I finally set up for him to begin the final pitch. Making his way up the icy route, he began to spiral around the notch that stood between the cliff and its pinnacle. Justin then placed a quickdraw on a piton and turned to me to exclaim, “Rachael, you are going to love this!”
That was an obvious understatement. My eyes widened and my heart began to race from the exposure. Franconia Notch shimmered from a light dusting of snow and ice glimmering in the sun.
After one final hold to the top, I was standing next to Justin, looking at what we had just climbed and taking note of what we were actually standing on. This view once again made me speechless. Here we were, standing nearly midair with nothing but the White Mountains and an energetic atmosphere surrounding us.
This was hands down the most epic journey I’ve done in my two years of climbing. I cannot wait for the many more Justin and I will plan together and accomplish in the future.