Crawford Notch Slab Climbs for Fall Foliage

Fall is the perfect opportunity for rock climbers to take advantage of the cool air and increased friction, escape the White Mountain crowds, and do a little high-angle leaf peeping. And, those seeking out moderately-rated routes and great views won’t need to look any further than the slab climbs found in and around Crawford Notch.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Central Slab on Mt. Webster

Mt. Webster’s Central Slab has some of the region’s best climbs. Popular moderates—Lost in the Sun, Direct, and A Bit Short—all go at 5.6 or less and have bolted cruxes and belay anchors. About 1,000 feet long, each offers bird’s-eye views of Crawford Notch, Willey’s Slide, and, in the distance, the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Even better, the 30- to 40-minute uphill approach is such a good crowd deterrent that you’ll rarely encounter too many parties.

For first-time visitors, acing the approach might be more of a challenge. If you’re coming from Conway, park in a small dirt pullout on Route 302, just after the Willey House on the left. Climbers coming from the I-93 side of 302 should use the slab itself as a reference, as the pullout is almost directly across. From here, walk across the street and cross the Saco River. Orange ribbons and small cairns lead you uphill on a climbers’ path into the approach gully and the base of the climb. Pro Tip: Leave some post-climb beers in the Saco to chill.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Lost in the Sun and Direct both leave from the toe, while A Bit Short starts a little up on the right. All three climb interesting slab, interspersed with some fun flakes and overlaps on mostly clean rock. Every belay station offers great views, but be sure to check out the flattish one at the end of Lost in the Sun and Direct. Here, sit down, take off your climbing shoes, have a snack, and soak in the expansiveness of Crawford Notch’s foliage, before you transition to the rappel. Note: The route requires two ropes, and there is no walk-off.

In terms of gear, first-timers should bring a standard rack up to two inches, along with a few doubles of smaller cams. As well, some of the pitches—especially on Direct—have several bolts. So, to prepare, consider adding multiple quickdraws to your normal assortment of runners and alpine draws.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

The West Wall of Mt. Oscar

If long approaches are a turn-off, then check out Mt. Oscar’s West Wall, home to New Hampshire’s most European approach. Simply park at the Bretton Woods ski resort, walk 100 yards to the chairlift, and take it ($5 per person) to the top. From here, hike west on a gravel road for 10 minutes towards the West Mountain summit, enter the woods, and turn left at a wooden sign for West Wall. Then, walk downhill through a pine forest for 10 to 15 minutes to the wall’s base.

The 300-foot tall West Wall has about nine multi-pitch routes ranging in difficulty from 5.4 to 5.7. The slab climbing is fun, with bolts where you want them and generally good gear interspersed. Moreover, it’s a great place to take less-experienced leaders. Specifically, the pitches are short, and every belay station includes bolted anchors with rap rings. However, the shade-induced dampness does make the climbs’ first 10 feet a little slippery.

Once you get above the second pitch, make sure to turn around and enjoy the wilderness behind you. From left to right, you’ll see Mt. Tom, Zealand Notch, the Pemigewasset Wilderness, Mt. Hale, and the Sugarloafs. As you climb higher, look for Mt. Carrigain looming in the distance.

Most West Wall climbs eventually converge into Guides Route, which becomes markedly easier on the fourth and fifth pitches. As a result, many try a route’s first few pitches, rappel to the ground, and then head back up another route. When you’re done, simply keep climbing up Guides Route, until you can scramble on third-class slabs to the West Mountain summit. From there, savor the views as you unrope and pack your gear for the short hike back to the chairlift.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

The Main Slab of Mt. Willard

Mt. Willard’s two-tiered slab looms as one of Crawford Notch’s most prominent landmarks. Home to some of the Whites’ first technical climbing, this is the place for fantastic views and fun, history-steeped routes.

To get to Willard’s Main Slab, park on Route 302 at the dirt pullout just south of the Silver Cascade parking lot. A well-tread trail leaves from the back, heading directly uphill to Hattie’s Garden and a railroad track. Turn right, and follow the track for five to 10 minutes to the loose gully that climbs up to main slab’s bottom left side. Pro Tip: Put your helmet on here. Hugo’s Horror Revisited, the slab’s “easiest” route, begins here. The starts for two other popular routes—Time-Space Continuum and Across the Universe—are along the climbers’ path to the right.

Compared to similarly-rated routes on West Wall and Central Slab, the climbing on Willard is stout. Further, although you’ll find some bolts in between the bolted anchors, the runouts sometimes feel spicy, and you won’t always find good gear in between. Some loose, crumbly rock on a couple segments also complicates matters.

All that said, the view down is unparalleled, especially during peak foliage season. Mt. Webster’s slabs command it to the southeast, soaring above the Saco River and Route 302 to the notch’s southern end. In the west, Mt. Willey’s forest and slides reach 4,000 feet in elevation.

 

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

There is much to love about climbing in Crawford Notch, and in the fall, these crags get even better, as the bugs go away and friction improves. Best of all, after a rope-length or two, you’re far removed from the leaf-peeping masses and get rewarded with a view that beats anything they’re seeing down below.


A Leaf-Peeper's Guide to the Northeast's Fall Foliage

Fall is in the air. The mornings are crisp and cool, and at higher elevations, speckles of fall colors amid the summery green have begun to emerge. The woods have fallen silent as birds hunker down and ready themselves for their great migration. Photosynthesis also slows to a stop. For the winter, the bright green, sugar-producing factories within the leaves shut down, giving those red, orange, and yellow pigments time to shine. Not long from now, a blanket of fall-ripened leaves will be scattered along the Northeast’s trails. It’s officially leaf-peeping season, the best time of the year to hike and climb. Those pesky black flies are gone, the air is the perfect temperature, and the scenery is unmatched.

2017’s fall foliage predictions are promising. If September weather permits, we may be looking at a particularly vibrant autumn. While the 2016 drought would normally affect the forest unfavorably, the several large snowfall events followed by warming this past winter resulted in plenty of snowmelt to recharge the soil moisture, leading to healthy forest foliage over the summer. Typically, trees stressed by drought cause the leaves to change earlier. However, fall’s projected higher temperatures combined with sun and cool nights could counteract this pattern by delaying foliage change. Therefore, this season’s peak foliage timeline is very close to the average.

Credit: Lida
Credit: Lida

When will the foliage peak?

Based on the National Fall Foliage Prediction map, the Northeast’s first peak foliage period starts later this month.

Northern NY, VT, NH, ME Remaining VT, NH, ME, Upstate NY MA, CT, RI, Northern PA, Remaining NY NJ, Remaining PA, MD, DE
Aug. 20 Minimal
Aug. 27 Patchy
Sept. 3 Partial
Sept. 10 Near Peak
Sept. 17 Peak
Sept. 24 Past Peak
Oct. 1
Oct. 8
Oct. 15

These estimations all depend on the weather from September through October. So, before planning your fall trip, check the weekly foliage report to get the most up-to-date information.

Where can I see the best fall foliage?

If you time it right, there are plenty of places to view the fall scenery:

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Lake Placid, NY

A small mountain town in the Northern Adirondacks’ High Peaks Region, the Village of Lake Placid is situated on Mirror Lake and has plenty of shops and restaurants to explore. Just six miles out of town, you can find the Adirondack Loj at Heart Lake. For an easy hike with relatively little effort, head to the summit of Mount Jo, a 2.6-mile round-trip hike with spectacular views of the High Peaks. Epic views from the top are, in fact, screensaver worthy. And, that’s no joke: Apple has a fall scene from the top of Mt. Jo as one of their screensavers. If you are looking for a more challenging hike, the High Peaks are accessible from the same parking lot.

Estimated peak foliage range: Last week of September to the first week in October

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Woodstock, NY

A historic mountain town in the heart of the Catskills, Woodstock prides itself on fostering a connection with art and nature. Here, Overlook Mountain has been an important spiritual centerpiece, and this hike up has no shortage of interesting features! In fact, a fire tower at the top looks out over the gorgeous Hudson Valley. At its base sits a Buddhist temple for hikers to respectfully explore. On the way up this gentle grade, you will run into the remains of the Overlook Mountain House.

Estimated peak foliage range: Third to the fourth week of October

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Stowe, VT

Stowe, VT is well known for its picturesque fall scenery and outdoor recreation during the winter. This quaint, warm town has everything from biking and hiking to art events and museums.

The Pinnacle hiking trail is a 3.1-mile round-trip beginner hike near Stowe and offers a view of Mount Mansfield that will knock your socks off. Alternatively, for more of a challenge, you can hike Mount Mansfield itself—an eight-mile loop—that will get you to the very top of Vermont at 4,393 ft.

Estimated peak foliage range: Third and fourth weeks of September

 

There are, of course, hundreds more locations where you can view the Northeast’s fall foliage. Even a simple walk in the woods or a car ride down an old country road can be a breathtaking experience. Just get out there, wherever you can, and try to enjoy the fall colors!

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