Guide's Picks: Connecticut Climbing

As the East Coast’s oldest climbing school, the EMS Climbing School has been guiding clients up the Northeast’s classic spots and providing technical instruction to those looking to hone their skills since 1968. Although sending Whitehorse slabs, cruising Cathedral cracks, and rocking over roofs in the Gunks out of our North Conway and New Paltz locations are the first thoughts that spring to mind for many of our customers, the truth is, there are many great climbing sites outside of these two destination locations. Even better, the Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School guides at many of those places!

Guide: MIKE LACKMAN

School: NORTH CONWAY

Specialty: ROCK CLIMBING, SKIING

EMS Climbing School guide Mike Lackman got his start on the short cliffs of eastern Connecticut and transitioned many of the techniques and skills he developed there to the Northeast’s big alpine sites, such as Cannon, Mount Washington, and Katahdin, as well as to Wyoming’s Tetons and Wind Rivers and Washington’s Northern Cascades. While you can still find Mike guiding out of our North Conway location, he loves sharing the same cliffs where he developed his passion with new and experienced climbers alike. A nice bonus for Mike is that the season lasts a little longer in Connecticut than it does in North Conway due to its more southerly longitude and the dark nature of the rock (think Send-tember, Rock-tober, and Go-vember).

The Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School primarily guides two locations in Connecticut—Ragged Mountain and Pinnacle Rock—and both sites have something for individuals of all abilities. Need another reason to try one of these lesser-known locations? Many of these spots have history’s most notable climbers as first ascensionists: Fritz Wiessner, who gained notoriety for his near-summit of K2 in 1939; Layton Kor, first ascensionist of two of the Fifty Classic Climbs of North America; and notorious Northeast climber Henry Barber, who has too many accomplishments to list. So when ascending many of these Connecticut classics, you’re also following in the footsteps of some of the sport’s greats.

Convinced on Connecticut climbing? Awesome! Below are Mike’s five must-do spots for everyone from the beginner to the expert.

Courtesy: Mike Lackman

Knight’s Move, Ragged Mountain

Although the excellent route Knight’s Move at Ragged Mountain is rated a beginner-friendly 5.4, don’t think of this as an easy climb; at the end of the route’s three pitches, it will have you wishing there were more. Knight’s Move delivers the exposure that you typically find on more advanced routes with straightforward climbing that everyone will appreciate.

Ancient Way, Ragged Mountain

Despite Connecticut not being a “destination” climbing location, it has fostered an old-school culture, and the grades reflect that. Climbers won’t find the soft sport or generous gym grading on Connecticut traprock. In that spirit, Ancient Way is another one of Ragged Mountain’s easier climbs that suits all abilities. Rated at a reasonable 5.5, Ancient Way delivers sustained and exposed climbing as you jam and stem your way to the top of the cliff.

Zambezi and Emerald City, Pinnacle Rock

For climbers looking for more of a challenge or seeking to step up a grade or two, Pinnacle Rock offers two of the finest 5.8s in the state. Both Zambezi and Emerald City offer moderate climbing that forces you to take your technique to the next level. Whether it’s pulling Zambezi’s crux roof or fighting your way up Emerald City’s finger crack, these experiences are sure to please. The only complaint we ever hear is that customers wish the routes were longer, because they weren’t ready to be done.

Unconquerable Crack, Ragged Mountain

Unconquerable Crack, rated between a 5.9 and 5.10, is somewhat of a local test piece. While today’s climbers might find the modest grade a ways away from what is considered advanced, remember that this is Connecticut, and sandbags are prominent. Good crack climbing technique is a must if you want to send this line and so is stamina, as Unconquerable Crack offers little rest and sustained climbing…and the route only gets harder as you move up it.

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Courtesy: Mike Lackman

Fall is the perfect time for climbing in Connecticut, as the humidity lowers, bugs disappear, and friction increases. Mike tells me that, because of the warm nature of the rock, even days that you think will be too cold for climbing are comfortable. Of course, Mike is also a ski guide, and cold is his bread and butter.

If you’ve always wanted to climb, are looking to perfect your skills, or would like to get the tour from a local, give the EMS Climbing School a call, and ask about climbing with Mike in Connecticut. And, if you nab a coveted on-sight of Unconquerable Crack, let us know—we might have a job for you.