The Gear You Need to Climb Mount Marcy in the Winter

For a winter adventure that’s equal parts unforgettable and challenging, it’s hard to beat a winter ascent of Mount Marcy in the Adirondack High Peaks. Checking in at an elevation of 5,344 feet, Mount Marcy is the highest peak in New York and offers commanding views of the surrounding mountains, lakes, and valleys in all directions. With over 3,000 feet of elevation gain and a round-trip distance of nearly 15 miles via the shortest route to the summit, Mount Marcy makes for a long and challenging hike any time of year, but especially in winter when the temperature drops, the wind howls, and the days are short. Along with possessing the necessary fitness and knowledge, having the proper gear is paramount to completing a winter summit bid not only successfully, but also safely. In addition to common essentials such as a winter hat, gloves/mittens, snowshoes, and waterproof (and possibly insulated) hiking boots, the following 10 gear items are critical for any winter climb of Marcy.

Traction: EMS Ice Talons

Proper traction in winter is absolutely essential, and it seems like every winter weekend an unprepared hiker in bare boots (or even tennis shoes) slips and gets hurt in the High Peaks. With the amount of snow and ice varying from week to week in the winter, as well as with elevation, it’s wise to be prepared for hiking in both deep powder and ice-coated rock slabs on any winter ascent of Marcy. Even when the trail leading to the final summit approach is covered in feet of fluffy snow, the exposed, wind-swept rock slabs that comprise the summit dome are often largely devoid of powdery snow and are instead coated in a thick layer of ice. Snowshoes are typically too clunky and don’t offer sufficient traction for such terrain, but this is where traction devices such as the EMS Ice Talons really shine. Lighter and much more user-friendly than classic crampons, the EMS Ice Talons will allow you to confidently and safely navigate the rime ice and crunchy snow that will almost certainly be encountered below Marcy’s summit.

Trekking Poles: Leki Makalu Lite Cor Tec

The use of trekking poles while hiking is largely a personal decision, but they can be especially handy on a winter ascent of Marcy. In addition to alleviating some lower body stress (especially on the knees while descending), trekking poles can provide critical stability on the exposed final summit push where the wind can be so strong it can throw off your balance and sometimes even knock you on your feet. For hiking in powdery snow, be sure to put some wider baskets at the end of the trekking poles. Similar in concept to snowshoes, broader winter baskets give trekking poles better flotation in deep snow.

Snow Goggles

Snow googles will serve two purposes on this hike. For one thing, they’ll keep your eyelids from freezing shut if the summit is windy (which it often is) and snow is blowing in the air. Secondly, most snow goggles also act as sunglasses to protect against snow blindness, which can occur when unprotected eyes are subjected to extended periods of bright sunshine reflecting off of white snow. While you might be able to get away with using typical sunglasses for eye protection on calm days, mountain weather is unpredictable and winds can whip up in an instant, making snow goggles a prudent accessory to toss in your pack for a winter climb of Marcy.

Wicking Base Layer: EMS Lightweight Synthetic Base Layer Tights and Crewneck Long Sleeve Shirt

Sweating too much while hiking in the winter is one sure-fire way to get into a dangerous, hypothermic situation. Dressing in layers is essential for regulating body temperature, and it all starts with the next-to-skin base layer. Choosing a base layer material that’s wicking and quick-drying is key, and the old adage “cotton kills” comes to mind here. Unlike cotton, which takes a long time to dry once it’s wet and will sap your body of heat, it’s best to utilize synthetic materials or merino wool when choosing a base layer. The EMS Lightweight Synthetic Base Layer tights and crewneck long sleeve, for example, are made of moisture-wicking and quick-drying 100% polyester, which will pull perspiration away from the body to better regulate body temperature and prevent a bone-chilling cold to set in, especially while stopping for a break.

More: How to Dress While Snowshoeing

Credit: Joey Priola

Outdoor Research Skyward II Pants and Outdoor Research Interstellar Jacket

Being at the highest elevation in the state comes with some of the harshest weather in the Northeast. For protection against wind, precipitation, and trudging through deep snow, a breathable outer layer that’s wind and water-proof is key. Pants such as the Skyward II, and a jacket such as the Interstellar (both from Outdoor Research) help form a protective barrier between you and the harsh winter elements, especially when in the exposed alpine zone.

Gaiters: Outdoor Research Crocodile Gaiters

Wet, cold feet are likely the most common complaint among people new to winter hiking. In addition to hiking in sturdy and waterproof boots, gaiters are the best accessory to ensure that feet stay dry and toasty, and are worth their weight in gold on hikes through deep snow. Gaiters effectively cover boot tops and prevent snow from getting in, even when hiking through waist-deep snow. The Outdoor Research Crocodile gaiters are the classic, gold-standard gaiter for winter hiking, and come with a Gore-Tex membrane to ensure that the gaiters don’t wet-out even in slushy conditions.

Credit: Joey Priola

Socks: EMS X-Static Sock Liners and Smartwool Women’s PhD Pro Medium Crew Socks

Continuing with the keeping feet warm and dry theme, choosing the right socks can be the difference between a safe and comfortable hike and a painful and dangerous slog. Just as the aforementioned base layers for your upper and lower body help manage sweat and regulate body temperature, use a thin pair of synthetic liner socks like the EMS X-Static Sock Liners help to pull perspiration away from the foot to prevent cold and clammy feet. Following up the liner sock with a mid-weight sock such as the Smartwool PhD Pro adds extra insulation without overheating.

Down Jacket: EMS Men’s Feather Pack Hooded Jacket

As previously mentioned, layering clothing is critical in winter. A warm yet lightweight insulated jacket should always be in your pack in winter, and will come in handy while stopping to take a snack break and for braving the exposed alpine zone on the final approach to Marcy’s summit. Down offers an optimal warmth-to-weight ratio, and modern down jackets such as the EMS Feather Pack Hooded Jacket now offer water-repellent down which retains its insulation value even in wet conditions.

More: How to Choose the Right Jacket for Winter Adventures

Credit: Joey Priola

Headlamp: Petzl Tikka

Short winter days coupled with a nearly 15 mile round-trip hike means that part of your hike will likely be spent in the dark. Packing a headlamp (and spare batteries) such as the Petzl Tikka will help keep the trail illuminated and you safe when it’s dark out.

Insulated Water Bottle: Camelbak Carry Cap 32 oz Insulated Stainless Steel Bottle

Staying properly hydrated is always important while hiking, but no matter how much water you carry, it won’t do you any good if it’s frozen. Boiling water before the hike and keeping water bottles inside your backpack is typically good enough to keep water from freezing on a day hike, but an insulated water bottle or thermos such as the Camelbak Carry Cap 32 oz Insulated Stainless Steel Bottle will eliminate any doubt that your beverage of choice will be in a liquid state when you need it.


Dawn Patrol: Why You Should Be Ice Climbing Before Work

It’s a little before 10:00 pm and I’m in the parking lot of my regular climbing gym, tucking away my rock shoes and racking screws, slings, and cordalettes onto my harness. I’ve just wrapped up a late evening session and, in about eight hours, will be doing some early-bird laps at a nearby ice climbing area. All before work begins at 9:00 am.

If this sounds obsessive, that’s because it probably is. See, it’s finally winter in Connecticut and the local ice is finally in a climbable way—after a January full of obscenely early mornings and ridiculously long drives north, the idea of climbing nearby is all too alluring to pass up. That, and the acknowledgement that Southern New England’s winters are a lot shorter than they used to be, means it’s time to strike while the iron’s hot. Tomorrow, that means getting up early and getting after it before clocking in.

To surfers and skiers, this ritual is a familiar one known as the “dawn patrol.” And the first thing to accept about the dawn patrol is that there won’t be a ton of daylight to work with—the winter sun is a late riser and the workday starts when it always does. Making the most out of pre-work laps means packing efficiently, picking the right spot, and being comfortable alone in the dark.

Leaving the harness, helmet, and crampons out of the pack will make for a quicker transition out of the lot. | Credit: John Lepak

And that’s exactly what I’m doing in a parking lot outside a closed climbing gym: packing efficiently. I’m working with the space in the recently-emptied trunk of my Subaru instead of the inside of my pack.

In the middle, my harness is racked and double-checked to make sure everything I need is on there. To the left, my crampons are laid out ready to go. Above, my helmet, with a headlamp already in place. To the right, my pack: tools fixed to the outside, rope coiled within, stacked atop the remaining essentials. The ride in the morning is going to be short, so I’ll throw the boots and the gaiters on before hitting the road and my hat and gloves are in the passenger seat, alongside a breakfast of a banana and a granola bar.

Everything is in its right place and this is going to make things fly come morning. The harness, helmet, and pack go right on in the lot—the crampons as soon as I cross the street and get onto the snow-packed trail. By the time I reach the ice, I’m already ready to go.

A familiar spot with easy top-out access and a concentration of routes can give you efficiency and variety in your pre-work laps. | Credit: John Lepak

It’s worth noting that dawn patrol ice climbing isn’t going to work just anywhere—selecting the right place is just as critical as preparing the gear ahead of time. I’ve picked my spot carefully: I scouted the ice the previous week and I know, without any certainty, that it’s going to be good to go. I’m also familiar with it, so there won’t be any guess work finding the climbers’ path or accessing the top of the routes in the dark. I’ve got my anchor trees in mind, and I know exactly how I’m going to set up so I can get as many laps in on as many routes as time will allow.

Most importantly, both the drive and the approach are short. Long drives and big hikes are for the weekends—I’ve done my due diligence to seek out areas that are neither far from home nor far from the road so I’m not spending all my time either behind the wheel or huffing my way up the trail.

Oftentimes the dawn patrol is a lonely—but rewarding—experience. | Credit: John Lepak

Partners are typically hard to come by on the dawn patrol—a lot of ice climbers are willing to get an early start for a full day of climbing but the numbers thin out when talking about an hour or two before heading into a full day of work. More often than not these missions are rope-solo missions.

Climbing alone is weird, but one with many worthy merits. Like hiking alone—a much more common experience—climbing by yourself comes with a very unique headspace. My safety is exclusively in my hands, and I know it: there’s no partner check, nor is there any belay save a self-belay—no one’s calling for rescue should something go wrong.  Every move I make needs to be cautious and deliberate. Though, with the silence of the forest, the brightening dawn, and the singular concentration required to move safely comes a meditative state—a centeredness all-to-uncommon for a weekday.


The Gear You Need to Ice Climb at Hillyer Ravine

The deep, dark recesses of Kaaterskill Clove, in the eastern Catskills, are home to some of the area’s best ice climbing. Noteworthy areas include the popular roadside destination of Moore’s Bridge, the looming pillars of Kaaterskill Falls and the long, tiered waterfalls known collectively as The Ravines. The Ravines—including Hillyer, Viola, Wildcat, and Buttermilk—offer some of the Cats’ best long, moderate routes: All weigh in at between four and six pitches in length with a difficulty in the WI3 to WI4 range. The relatively long, strenuous approaches make for a full day affair and lend a remote, backcountry vibe to each. Moreover, their northerly aspect makes for reliable ice throughout the season.

The most accessible of the bunch is Hillyer. Hillyer Ravine climbs about 200 feet in four moderate pitches with each going at around WI3. Substantial ledges separate one pitch from the next and, though you won’t likely see the same number of people here as you would elsewhere in the Cats—the rigor of the approach and the dearth of parking thin the crowds out a bit—there is plenty of room for multiple parties to set up shop. The wide second and third pitches in particular offer a ton of climbable ice and an entire day could easily be spent doing laps on these two pitches alone.

All in all, a day in Hillyer Ravine is a day well spent. And, like any day out, proper preparation and equipment is key—here’s what you need to bring to climb Hillyer.

Credit: John Lepak

Beal Booster 9.7mm Dry Rope

No single tier of Hillyer Ravine stretches higher than 50 feet so a single 60 meter rope will be more than enough—but be sure it’s a dry one. Dry-treated ropes have a coating that prevents water absorption which, on ice, is critical. A frozen climbing rope can ruin your day real quick. The Beal Booster 9.7 mm Dry Rope is a good bet to keep things running smoothly and safely.

Black Diamond Momentum Harness

Whether you’re climbing ice, rock, or indoors, a harness is compulsory. For ice, get one with adjustable leg loops—to account for thick winter layers like the Black Diamond Momentum (men’s/women’s). A couple of Petzl Caritool Evo Holders are a good add for racking screws on the way up and tools on the way down.

Petzl Nomic Ice Tools

There are many types of ice axes, each with their own specific utility. For vertical ice like what you’ll find on Hillyer, a pair of technical ice tools—so defined by their bent shaft, curved pick, and offset grip—are the way to go. The Petzl Nomic is a balanced, workhorse of a tool that’s great for the variety of terrain you’ll find in the Ravines.

Black Diamond Cyborg Pro

Like ice axes, crampons also come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, each designed for a specific function. Crampons with vertical front points like the Black Diamond Cyborg Pro, clipped into a pair of stiff-soled mountaineering boots like the La Sportiva Nepal Evo GTX will get you up Hillyer—and most other routes in the Cats, for that matter—no problem.

Ice Rack

The overwhelming majority of routes in the Catskills are doable with a fistful of ice screws. A couple of Petzl Laserspeed Ice Screws in the 13 to 17cm range will have you covered in Hillyer Ravine. A good bit of cord is definitely handy for building belays between pitches too—20 feet of Sterling 7mm Accessory Cord, two Petzl Attaché Locking Carabiners, and a sturdy tree will make you a nice monopoint anchor.

Tip: The guidebook, An Ice Climber’s Guide to the Catskill Mountains, provides greater detail on what constitutes a typical Catskills ice rack—as well as everything else you need to know about the area.

Outdoor Research Vigor Midweight Sensor Gloves

Keeping your hands warm and dry is a constant challenge on any winter outing and this rings especially true for ice climbing when your arms are elevated and circulation is limited. A pair of gloves that split the difference between warmth and dexterity—like the Outdoor Research Vigor Midweight Sensor Gloves (men’s/women’s)—will help ward off the dreaded screaming barfies while allowing you to still place screws and clip ropes effectively. Bring two pairs so you can easily replace one if they get soaked.

EMS Feather Pack Hooded Jacket

Staying warm and dry is incredibly important in any winter activity, and layering properly is the best way to do it. The layers you’re going to want to use will largely depend on the conditions but, on a backcountry climb like Hillyer Ravine, it’s important to be prepared for everything with lightweight, packable options. In warmer weather, when things get wet, a light hardshell, like the Marmot Precip Eco Jacket (men’s/women’s) makes things a lot more comfortable. In colder weather, an insulated jacket like the EMS Feather Pack Hooded Jacket (men’s/women’s) keeps the heat in while gearing up, belaying, or having lunch.

Trail Spikes

Clocking in at one mile with 1000 feet of elevation gain from the parking area to the base of the climb, Hillyer Ravine’s approach is a stiff one. Conditions on the well-worn climbers’ trail vary but you can bet on the need for traction. Toss a pair of the new EMS Ice Talons in your pack and you’ll be ready for whatever.

Tip: Hillyer Ravine shares most of its approach with neighboring Viola Ravine and it’s not uncommon to tick both in the same trip by climbing one, rappelling the second, then reversing the order.


52 in 52: The Ultimate Northeast Peakbagger’s Checklist

It’s time to put 2020 in the past (phew!) and start looking ahead. If you dream of filling your 2021 with sitting on craggy mountain tops, running narrow ridgelines, and exploring high places, then we’ve got the list for you. Below are 52 peaks to explore over the next 52 weeks.

Hiking along Franconia Ridge. | Credit: Tim Peck

Winter

  1. Kick off the new year with an ascent of the Northeast’s tallest mountain via its most classic route—the Lion Head on Mount Washington.
  2. What’s better than hiking up New Hampshire’s Mount Moosilaukee? Skiing down it!
  3. Tick not one, but three High Peak summits—Wright, Algonquin, and Iroquois—with a winter traverse of the MacIntyre Range.
  4. Summit Mount Watatic, the southern terminus of the Wapack Trail, and enjoy some pow on the descent. It’s so nice, you’ll want to summit twice.
  5. Climb Mount Colden by the Trap Dike.
  6. Slide into New Hampshire’s 52 With a View with a ski ascent/descent of Mount Cardigan.
  7. Tag two New Hampshire 4,000-footers on one of the most stunning hikes in the White Mountains: Franconia Ridge.
  8. Take the road less traveled by a ski ascent/descent of Whiteface Mountain on the auto road.
  9. Challenge yourself on one of the premier mountaineering routes in the Adirondacks (and tick the tenth highest peak in the range)—the North Face of Gothics.
  10. Get a start on earning your membership to the Catskill 3500 Club with an ascent of Panther Peak, or one of these other awesome winter hikes for aspiring Catskill 3500ers.
  11. Get off trail in the Adirondacks and bushwack to the summit of Number 8 Mountain.
  12. Dip your toe into winter hiking with an ascent of Bauneg Beg Mountain in North Berwick, Maine.
  13. Climb New Hampshire’s best moderate ice climb, Shoestring Gully, then scamper to the top of Mount Webster.
Taking in the views from the rocky summit of Monadnock. | Credit: Tim Peck

Spring

  1. Beat the crowds to the summit of Mount Monadnock—the U.S.’s most-hiked peak—with an early season ascent.
  2. Summit one of the Catskill’s two 4,000-footers, or put your early season legs to the test and try to do them both in a day.
  3. The Thunderbolt Trail on Mount Greylock is one of New England’s most historic ski runs, but once the snow melts, it’s time to challenge your hiking legs on its steep slopes.
  4. “Hike” or “non-technical climbing route”? Either way, the Precipice Trail is one of the best adventures in the Northeast.
  5. Go bouldering and tackle tiny rocks in the country’s smallest state at Lincoln Woods—the Iron Cross boulder might only be 10ish-feet tall, but conquering it by its namesake problem is an accomplishment any pebble wrestler will appreciate.
  6. Take on Connecticut’s tallest peak, Bear Mountain
  7. Climb the fire tower that adorns the summit of New Jersey’s Apple Pie Hill—the highest point in the Pine Barrens at 209 feet above sea level—with a backpacking trip on the Batona Trail.
  8. Ski season at Killington winds down at the end of spring, but hiking season at Killington is just starting.
  9. Escape to warmer weather and complete Virginia’s Triple Crown.
  10. Tick off the peaks along the Skyline Trail in the Blue Hills while the more northern mountains thaw out.
  11. Take in one of the best views in the White Mountains from the summit of Mount Carrigain (and don’t forget to check out the ghost town near its base).
  12. Lay low during mud season, but not too low with an ascent of Vermont’s 968-foot-tall Mount Philo.
  13. Hike to the top of Bald Mountain and take in the views of Sugarloaf and Mount Washington, both of which might still have snow (and skiers!) on them.

Summer

  1. Visit the summit of Monument Mountain and earn bonus points for reciting the famous William Cullen Bryant poem of the same name at the peak.
  2. Avoid crowded summer trails on a trip to the top of Mount Isolation or one of the other often-avoided New Hampshire 4,000-footers.
  3. A dip in a lake is a favorite summer activity for some, others prefer a stellar summit in the Lakes.
  4. Visit Ben & Jerry’s in Waterbury, Vermont….ugh, we mean summit Camel’s Hump.
  5. Try a classic Northeast Sufferfest like the White Mountain Hut to Hut Traverse. Let us know if you remember summiting South Twin! 
  6. Summit, swim, and sit back with your toes in the sand on the Beehive in Acadia National Park.
  7. Take advantage of long summer days to make this nearly 15-mile trek to the tallest peak in the Adirondacks, Mount Marcy.
  8. Discover what the Von Trapps meant when they sang, “The hills are alive…” on Vermont’s Mount Mansfield.
  9. Summit Mount Katahdin then edge your way across its most recognizable feature—the Knife Edge Trail.
  10. Take a trip to the Neutaconkanut Hill Conservancy and climb the highest hill in Providence, Rhode Island, at 296 feet above sea level.
  11. There’s no better trip in the White Mountains for standing on the summits of 4,000-footers than the Pemi Loop—you can tick twelve summits from your list, a quarter of the NH48!
  12. Tackle one of these popular Franconia Notch peaks from a different direction.
  13. Climb the aptly named Ladder Trail to the summit of Dorr Mountain and take in the incredible 360-degree view.  
Sunrise from Cadillac Mountain. | Credit: Tim Peck

Fall

  1. Get an early start on the South Ridge on Cadillac Mountain and be one of the first people in the U.S. to see the sunrise.
  2. Explore a local foliage fave, Pack Monadnock, in southern New Hampshire. If your legs are springy, add North Pack to your hike as well.
  3. Get out of The City for some hiking—try Bear Mountain or one of these other spectacular peaks. 
  4. Dodge leaf peepers and peak baggers on Mount Guyot or one of these other non-counting New Hampshire 4,000 footers.
  5. Enjoy the foliage from two of Pennsylvania’s best viewpoints, the summits of Pulpit the Pinnacle.
  6. The top of the Eaglet in Franconia Notch is undoubtedly one of the most striking spots in the Northeast.
  7. There’s no better time for a trip to South and North Hancock than after the leaves have hit the ground and traffic quiets down on the Kancamagus.
  8. Bag your first ADK 46er with a trip to the top of Cascade Mountain.
  9. Country roads, take me home / to the place, I belong…West Virginia, mountain(s).
  10. Make the march to the summit of Storm King Mountain and then take a break for a beer at Industrial Arts Brewing Company.
  11. Summit four New Hampshire 4,000-footers—Pierce, Eisenhower, Monroe, and Washington—on a hike along  the country’s oldest continuously maintained hiking trail, the Crawford Path.
  12. Cross the summit of six more New Hampshire 4,000-footers off your list with a backpacking trip across the Carter Range.
  13. Sneak in a trip up Maine’s Mount Reddington before winter conditions make it one of the Northeast’s toughest climbs.

Let’s hope the weirdness peaked in 2020 and we can focus on getting to the top of these 52 peaks in 2021!

Descending Killington. | Credit: Tim Peck

goEast Countdown to Winter Advent(ure) Calendar

For those who are more amped about snowy fun than Christmas Day, you can count down to the official start of winter with this 21-day advent(ure) calendar. Tick them daily for a treat-a-day leading up to December 21, or use it as a guide to the most wonderful time of year. Either way, you’re in for a whole lot of fun!

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Tim Peck

  • December 18: Not ready to tackle Tucks? Ski Mount Washington from the west along the more mellow Cog Railway.
  • December 19: Some argue the best skiing in New Hampshire isn’t found on the state’s biggest peaks, but rather in the woods. Check out some of the Granite State’s best tree skiing.
  • December 20: Conquer a classic multi-pitch ice climb with an ascent of Shoestring Gully.
  • December 21: Celebrate the first official day of winter in style—check one of the Northeast’s most classic mountaineering lines off your list with an ascent of the Lion Head on Mount Washington. Not ready to go it alone? The EMS Climbing School runs trips up the Rockpile all winter.

’Tis the season to be jolly, especially if you tick these awesome activities off this winter. Have other adventures schemed up for the advent of winter? If so, let us know about them in the comments!


Alpha Guide: Climbing Standard Route on Whitehorse Ledge

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Steeped in history, Standard Route on Whitehorse Ledge is a must-do 1,000-foot route offering exposed slab climbing at a moderate grade.

A route almost as old as technical climbing in the Northeast, Standard Route on Whitehorse Ledge was explored by early climbing luminaries Robert Underhill and Kenneth Henderson back in the 1920s. Today, Standard Route is a must-do for old and new climbers alike—offering over a 1,000 feet of moderate, often runout slab climbing with enough spice to keep veteran climbers on their toes and remind rookies just how full on 5.5 can feel, making it a classic moderate slab climbing route in North Conway, New England’s trad climbing mecca.

Quick Facts

Distance: 9 pitches
Time to Complete: Half day for most.
Difficulty: ★★★ (5.5, Grade II)
Scenery:★★★★


Season: Late-Spring to Early-Fall
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: https://www.nps.gov/acad/

Download file: Whitehorse.gpx

Turn-By-Turn

Most climbers approach Whitehorse Ledge from the climbers’ parking lot in a maintenance area just below the White Mountain Hotel. To get there from North Conway, take Route 16 toward the Eastern Slope Inn, turn left onto River Road at the traffic lights just past the inn, and then after about a mile, make another left onto West Side Road. After about another mile, look for a large sign for Hales Location on the right and turn in. Follow that road until the first intersection and turn right. This road will pass a couple of large homes, some of the golf course, and then start bending up toward the hotel. As the road bends uphill to the left, the maintenance area and climbers’ lot are straight ahead.

The climbers’ lot holds about 10 cars, so get there early on busy weekends if you want a spot. Beware that cars parked in the hotel’s regular lot may be towed. Also, there are no facilities in the climbers’ lot, so consider stopping in North Conway beforehand.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Traditional Approach

The approach to Whitehorse Ledge is quick and straightforward. Simply leave the climbers’ lot and walk up the road toward the hotel parking lot. Once you reach the parking lot, look for a well-defined trail leaving from the lot’s right corner. Follow this path for about 5 to 7 minutes to the base of the cliff. As it nears the cliff, the path is a little rocky, so watch your step.

Once you’re at the base of the cliff, picking out Standard Route from the expanse of granite slab before you may seem overwhelming. An easy way to identify Standard Route is to look for the prominent arch rising up the middle of the slab. Trace the arch to the ground—Standard Route’s first pitch starts almost directly below it.

Launch pad with climbers heading up. | Credit: Tim Peck
Launch pad with climbers heading up. | Credit: Tim Peck

Lift Off

Standard Route’s first pitch leaves the ground and heads up and slightly right about 100 feet toward a broad bench that climbers call the Launch Pad. Barely fifth class, some parties just scramble up this pitch then transition to roped climbing on the Launch Pad. However you decide to head up, you’ll eventually want to get situated toward the right side of the Launch Pad for the easiest access to the pitches that follow. There are options for anchors near your feet if you look carefully.

Heading up Pitch 2. | Credit: Tim Peck
Heading up Pitch 2. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Toilet Bowl

Standard Route’s next pitch (5.1R, 110 ft) heads up and slightly right to one of the more humorous features on Whitehorse—the Toilet Bowl. It’s a big hole in the slab with a two-bolt anchor at the top. The pitch is somewhat run-out, although you will pass several flakes that have some options for gear along the way.

Pitch 3. | Credit: Tim Peck
Pitch 3. | Credit: Tim Peck

Crystal Pocket

With your crew converged on the Toilet Bowl, leave the anchor and head up the next pitch. One of the longer pitches on the route (150 feet, 5.2R), it angles slightly left leaving the anchor heading toward two bolts. From the higher bolt, delicately pad a bit more up and left toward a flake at mid-pitch (place some gear here), then blast up the slab toward the Crystal Pocket anchor, a two-tiered ledge covered in crystals with a two-bolt anchor.

On the arch. | Credit: Tim Peck
On the arch. | Credit: Tim Peck

Getting to the Arch

From the Crystal Pocket, your next destination is a thread anchor in Standard Route’s main arch about 100 feet up. To get there, first climb a steeper swell (crux, 5.3), then follow a series of pockets out and right as you angle up to the arch. If you have tricams on your rack, they’ll definitely find homes in these cool-looking pockets.

Once you’re at the thread, either build an anchor or proceed a few feet up and around the corner to a vertical crack that eats mid-sized cams. Neither of these anchors is particularly comfortable, but from the latter anchor, your second will have a better view of the pitch ahead and won’t be hassled at the rap station by a party rappelling off Sliding Board or Wave Length.

Climbing just below Lunch Ledge. | Credit: Tim Peck
Climbing just below Lunch Ledge. | Credit: Tim Peck

Lunch Ledge

Perhaps the most enjoyable section of the climb, the next pitch (5.4, 130 ft) first follows the large arch as it arcs up and right. At a weakness, the pitch then ascends a small break in the slab up featured, vertical terrain to a two-bolt anchor atop Lunch Ledge. This section of hero climbing has great hands and feet and is quite moderate—so long as you climb the easier, left side of the intersecting arch.

Due to its size and location (more than halfway up the climb), Lunch Ledge is the perfect spot to pause, have a snack, and rehydrate. Many parties rappel from here—working down to the ground in five double-rope rappels. If you’re at all wavering about going higher, this is one of the last good spots to rappel from.

Pro Tip: Since rappelling on Whitehorse requires two 60m ropes, plan on climbing as a party of three or carrying a long tag line so that you can get down if you decide to rap.

Underneath the crux. | Credit: Tim Peck
Underneath the crux. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Business

The pitch above Lunch Ledge is the 5.5 crux of Standard Route. Start on the right end of Lunch Ledge and climb up about 20 feet. From here, climbers traverse right to a left-leaning ramp that takes you to the top of the pitch. Start by making a sharp right and padding delicately across a smooth slab protected by a bolt. Next, step slightly down onto a small ledge, clip another bolt, and continue padding right past the infamous “Brown Spot” and toward the ramp. Once on the ramp, continue up for about 40 feet to a right-facing corner. Climb through the corner and then continue up and left for a few additional moves. Build an anchor below the final overlap.

Besides presenting the route’s physical crux, this twisty-turny pitch also presents a rope management challenge. To minimize rope drag, consider placing long slings on your pieces. Another alternative is to do the more direct 5.7 variation.

Climbing on the upper slabs. | Credit: Tim Peck
Climbing on the upper slabs. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Finishing Pitches

From the anchor above the Brown Spot, there are three more pitches to the top of Standard Route. The first pitch (5.2R, 80 ft) follows the overlap left, reaching a featured dike that you’ll ascend briefly to a ledge. Build an anchor here.

The last two pitches (both 5.2R, 150 ft) follow the dike to the top of Whitehorse. These two pitches are split in the middle by another large overlap, which is easily passed on its left end near a small pine tree. Just above the pine tree, look for a small ledge where you can build an anchor.

The final pitch stays in the dike, passing one old bolt before reaching the top of the cliff. Build an anchor on a solid tree and bring the rest of your crew up.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Variations

The Original Route: If the opening pitches above the Toilet Bowl are crowded, an excellent alternative is to start up the pitch and climb to about the half-way point. Once there, move left toward a long ledge leading over to the base of the route’s namesake arch and a two-bolt anchor. From this anchor, climbers ascend the arch for two pitches (both 5.3) rejoining the normal route at the thread anchor atop the Crystal Pocket pitch. Best avoided in wet conditions, this variation is the original Standard Route and a must-do for aficionados of Northeast climbing history.

The 5.7 Variation: A spicier alternative to the Brown Spot pitch is to take a straighter, more direct route to the anchor. Technically the fourth pitch of Slabs Direct (5.7 PG, 120 ft), this pitch starts the same way as the normal route. It climbs up and right for about 20 feet toward a left-leaning corner then deviates from the normal route—climb the corner then step right onto a slab protected by a bolt. Continue moving up and right toward a ramp. Follow the ramp left to a corner, ascend the corner (pin) and build a belay just below the final overlap, at the same spot where the Brown Spot pitch normally ends. Use long slings to minimize rope drag.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Atop Whitehorse

With the technical climbing behind you and ample places to sit comfortably, the top of Whitehorse Ledge provides a picturesque setting for rehydrating, switching from climbing to approach shoes, packing your rope and rack, and getting ready for the descent. Before leaving, be sure to soak up the fantastic views, with North Conway in the foreground and the White Mountains spilling out north.

Climbing near Lunch Ledge. | Credit: Tim Peck
Climbing near Lunch Ledge. | Credit: Tim Peck

Getting Down

From the top of the climb, start walking climbers’ right toward the saddle between Whitehorse and Cathedral, following a well-trod path ducking in and out of the woods and occasionally onto some low-angle slabs. Shortly after the trail departs from the slabs for a final time, it forks. Head right (going left will bring you to Cathedral), and follow the initially steep, but eventually mellow, trail for 15 to 20 minutes to the base of the slabs.


Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Kit

  • Tricams are a particularly useful piece of protection on Standard Route, as they slide into pockets that don’t accommodate nuts or cams.
  • A 60-meter rope is the perfect length for Standard Route and you won’t go wrong with a Sterling Nano IX 9.0 mm, but like we said above, if you plan on repelling, you’ll need two.
  • Big enough to carry your climbing kit, layers, food, and water, the Black Diamond Speed 22 is the ideal-sized climbing pack for a trip up Whitehorse.
  • There isn’t much protection from the sun on Whitehorse’s exposed slabs—a sun shirt offers simple, safe protection.
  • A sticky-soled pair of approach shoes are invaluable at Whitehorse—many will scramble up to the Launch Pad (or even the first few pitches) in them while everyone appreciates them on the at-times-steep and scrambly descent.
  • Feel like climbing more? Check out the North Conway Rock Guide for all the information needed to tackle other routes at Whitehorse, along with the area’s other crags.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Keys to the Trip

  • Slab climbing on wet rock is terrifying. If the rock is wet, it’s raining, or rain is in the forecast, consider a different objective.
  • The routes on the Slabs on Whitehorse (Sea of Holes, Sliding Board, Standard Route, Beginner’s Route, and Cormier-Magness) are extremely popular. Plan on an early start or climbing during the week to avoid crowds and traffic jams.
  • There aren’t a lot of placements on several pitches of Standard Route. A normal rack for the route might be 9 cams (0.3, 0.4, 0.5, 0.75, 1, 2 with doubles of 0.5, 0.75, and 1), a size run of nuts (5-13), a few small tri-cams, and 8 alpine draws.
  • Sending Standard Route is an achievement worth celebrating. Flatbread Company in North Conway is only a few minutes from the cliff and offers the tastiest pizza around.
  • Realized you were missing a key piece of gear on the route? Want to cruise for a deal on a new puffy? Just want to check out the latest and greatest in outdoor gear? Stop into our North Conway store before you head home!
  • If you’re not sure you’re up for leading the route but really want to climb it, the Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School will be happy to guide you up it.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Current Conditions

Have you recently climbed Standard Route on Whitehorse? What did you think? Post your experience in the comments for others!


Explore Connecticut's Litchfield Hills This Fall

Nestled in Connecticut’s rugged Litchfield Hills, the town of Kent is the postcard-perfect image of rural Southern New England. From its charming center at the intersection of US-7 and CT-341, bucolic farmland gives way to dense second-growth forests, rocky hillsides, and pristine waterways—all a study in contrast to the densely populated suburban tableau that the Nutmeg State typically evokes.

What local hikers, trail runners, climbers, and paddlers already know though, is that Kent is more than just a pretty face. Miles of trails, awesome climbing, and plenty of water—both technical and flat—make Kent a full-value day trip. Throw in some excellent restaurants and a destination-worthy brewery, and you’ve got yourself a fine spot for a long weekend.

The views from the Macedonia Ridge Trail will have you forgetting you’re in the fourth most densely populated state in the country. | Credit: John Lepak
The views from the Macedonia Ridge Trail will have you forgetting you’re in the fourth most densely populated state in the country. | Credit: John Lepak

Hiking and Trail Running

From hilltop to hollow, Kent’s state parks, forests, and private land trusts provide access to miles and miles of high-quality trail fit for hikers and runners of all abilities.

The centerpiece, of course, is the venerable Appalachian Trail. 51 of the AT’s 2,190 miles run through Connecticut’s Litchfield Hills offering some of the loveliest low-elevation day hiking and backpacking options in the northeast. If you’re looking for an easy and scenic stroll, head south from Bull’s Bridge to Ten Mile Hill (4.5 miles, out-and-back), taking in a 19th-century covered bridge and a beautiful section of the Housatonic River along the way. For something a bit more challenging, head south from the Saint John’s Ledges trailhead on River Road, traversing Fuller Mountain, Caleb Peak, and Saint John’s Ledges while you catch views on your way to the AT’s junction with CT-341 (4.3 miles, one-way). Looking to fill your weekend? Just north of Kent, in Sharon, the AT–Mohawk Loop (39.4 miles, loop), is an excellent backpacking route that connects the Appalachian trails of the past and present—today’s Mohawk Trail actually traces the original path of the AT before it was rerouted in the 1970’s.

The AT isn’t the only game in town though. Just around the corner, Macedonia Brook State Park boasts an impressive network of trails that offer a not-so subtle reminder that “low-elevation” doesn’t always mean “easy.” Varied terrain, outstanding views, and a climactic rock scramble characterize the Macedonia Ridge Trail—a part of Connecticut’s Blue-blazed Trail Network and one of the state’s finest—as it works its way up and over Cobble Mountain (6.4 miles, loop).

A few miles northeast, Kent Falls State Park and its dramatic, stepped, eponymous cascade drops over 250 feet as it flows into the Housatonic River. Linking the Park Path up with the Red and Yellow Trails makes for a lovely, easy hike up and around the falls (1.5 miles, loop).

Trail Magic (5.9-) at Saint John’s Ledges in Kent is one of the most enjoyable single pitches of climbing in the state. | Credit: John Lepak

Climbing

Connecticut climbing has a reputation for short routes, steep traprock ridges, and incredible sandbags, but Saint John’s Ledges, rising above the Housatonic River in Kent, offers climbers a bit of a diversion: slab. Right along the Appalachian Trail, a quarter mile in from the trailhead parking area on River Road, are the Upper Ledges, a long stretch of friction slab reaching well over 100 feet high in some places.

There’s a good range of difficulty but the majority of lines register as solid, enjoyable moderates with a mix of heady slab moves and jammable cracks—and though some are leadable, protection can be sparse (or non-existent), and top-rope is generally the order of the day. A 60-meter rope alone won’t do it on some routes so be sure to bring a 70 or plenty of static line to build anchors with. Everything is east-facing, and the top half of the Upper Ledges are sunny and warm in the morning, so climbing here can comfortably extend late into the season. Must-do’s include Half Bling (5.8+), Falling Bodies (5.6), and the excellent Trail Magic (5.9-).

There are a handful of areas, and a good amount of climbable terrain, at Saint John’s in addition to the Upper Ledges, including the Lower Ledges, a short, beginner-friendly cliff just off the trailhead parking area. With a pair of super-easy routes like Wilderness Crack (5.3) and Try (5.2), this is an excellent spot for first-time climbers—and if its popularity with groups and classes is any indication, the Lower Ledges may well be the best such area in the state. There is a little bit of something for everyone here though, and more experienced climbers headed for the Upper Ledges will enjoy a change of pace (and some shade) on stout face climbs like The Graduate (5.10-).

The Housatonic River, known for its quality fly fishing and kayaking, as seen from Bull’s Bridge. | Credit: John Lepak
The Housatonic River, known for its quality fly fishing and kayaking, as seen from Bull’s Bridge. | Credit: John Lepak

Paddling

From its headwaters in Massachusetts’ Berkshire Mountains, the Housatonic River travels 149 miles on its course to Long Island Sound, effectively halving the town of Kent from northeast to southwest in the process. Like the surrounding hills, the Housatonic is emblematic of Connecticut’s Northwest Corner—it’s also one of the finest destinations in the east to fisherman and kayakers alike. The river moves quickly and can be technical at several points, the most noteworthy of which is the Staircase, an obstacle just south of Bull’s Bridge, that heralds rapids up to Class V when the water’s high.

Those seeking gentler waters need look no further than Lake Waramaug State Park. Situated on the border of Kent, Warren, and New Preston, Lake Waramaug is a gorgeous lake in a stunning setting—absolutely perfect for an early morning paddle. The state park also has an adjoining campground, a great spot if you’re in for more than a daytrip.

Kent Falls Brewing Company, located on a working farm in Kent Hollow, makes some of the best beer in the state. | Credit: John Lepak
Kent Falls Brewing Company, located on a working farm in Kent Hollow, makes some of the best beer in the state. | Credit: John Lepak

Eating and Drinking

For a small town, Kent does really well on the food and drink. Get started in the heart of town at Swyft, a cool little joint in a restored 18th-century home that serves up modern, seasonal fare alongside a robust tap list. A local draft and one of their wood-fired, Neapolitan-style pizzas tend to hit the spot after a big day on the trail or at the crag.

No trip to Kent is complete without grabbing a beer at Kent Falls Brewing Company. Located in Kent Hollow, just a hop, skip, and a jump from Lake Waramaug, Kent Falls Brewing Company is a brewery on a working farm specializing in locally sourced ingredients. Their beer menu is wide-ranging, ever changing, and always excellent and the setting is as bucolic rural Connecticut as it gets.


New England Training Ground: A History of Rock Climbing at Crow Hill

From Intertwine to Tarzan to Cro-Magnon, Crow Hill features plenty of memorable, high-quality rock climbing routes. Nestled in Leominster State Forest, climbers have been visiting Crow Hill for over a century. And with first ascensionists like Sam Streibert, Steve Arsenault, Henry Barber, Ed Webster, and Tim Kemple, visiting climbers really shouldn’t be surprised that the area’s classics are super sandbagged.

Henry Barber in the film Uncommon Ground.
Henry Barber in the film Uncommon Ground.

The Beginnings

New England rock climbing as we know it today began in the 1920s when influential climbers like Robert Underhill brought the rope-handling techniques learned in the Alps back to the region. Crow Hill, as well as other Boston-area crags, provided Underhill—along with climbers like Lincoln O’Brien, Kenneth Henderson (Henderson Ridge), and O’Brien’s sister and Underhill’s future wife Mirriam—with a vital training ground to hone skills before tackling the region’s most challenging climbs: notable ascents include the first ascent of Cannon, the Eaglet, and the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle.

The bible of Northeast climbing history, Yankee Rock & Ice, describes Underhill as “calm, unhurried, and graceful on rock, one who consistently substituted finesse for strength.” Today’s Crow Hill climbers should take heed, even the crag’s more modern routes are usually overcome with technique rather than strong fingers.

Crow Hill’s close proximity to Boston made it an ideal training ground for early AMCers, like Underhill and O’Brien, and also made it a convenient location for educating troops. With Fort Devens just down the road, from World War II through the start of the 1970s, Crow Hill’s 100-foot cliffs were a place where the Army took soldiers to instruct them in the use of climbing gear and rock climbing techniques.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Renaissance

Crow Hill experienced a renaissance in the late 1960s when climbers like Steve Arsenault started frequenting the area, attempting to aid the crag’s numerous cracks. Among Arsenault’s prizes were the first ascents of Jane (1966) and the now-super-classic route Cro-Magnon (1967).

With the free climbing revolution in the early 1970s, many climbers had their eyes on the first free ascents of Arsenault’s aid routes. Among them was standout Boston-area, AMC climber, “Hot” Henry Barber. A year before bursting onto the national stage with his onsight solo of Yosemite’s Steck-Salathé Route, Barber had already made waves in New England, ushering Massachusetts’ first 5.11 with first free ascent of Jane at Crow Hill. According to Boston Rocks, the leading area guide book, Jane “may have been one of the hardest pitches in the U.S.” when it was freed in 1972. While Barber’s route Jane remains a testpiece today, his lasting legacy at Crow Hill is his ethic and style.

Barber’s cutting-edge climb came just a year after Connecticut climbing legend Sam Siebert and Dennis Merritt’s note-worthy contribution to Crow Hill—the first free ascent of Cro-Magnon (5.10). On another small New England crag, Ragged Mountain, Siebert and Merritt had the rare chance to upstage Barber, when their ascent of Aid Crack was re-graded from 5.9 to 5.10 making it, not Barber’s Subline, the first 5.10 in Connecticut.

Not merely adding cutting edge climbs, Barber, Streibert, Merritt, and Bob Anderson—a regular partner of both Barber (FFA of Airitation on Cathedral together) and Streibert (FFA of Cannon’s VMC together) that Yankee Rock & Ice called the most underrated rock climber of the 1970s— went on to add numerous routes to Crow Hill, including Intertwine, Topaz, and The Recidivist.

Ed Webster was another area legend who made his mark at Crow during this period. He scored the first free ascent of Thin Line (5.8), a classic finger crack, in 1973. That same year, he aided his way up Lizard’s Head (A2; now 5.11 free) and Hesitation (A3), logging the first ascents of each.

Tim Kemple in the film Uncommon Ground.
Tim Kemple in the film Uncommon Ground.

A Return to Prominence 

Although climbers in the 1970s picked many of Crow’s plumb lines, they didn’t get them all. A few decades later, two local climbers—Tim Kemple and Peter Vintoniv—put Crow Hill back on the map, setting a new standard for the crag and springboarding their climbing careers in the process. In fact, the duo’s ascent of Absolute, a 5.13 R/X route to the left of Jane inspired Barber to comment, “A guy I really respect is Tim Kemple. Because he’s taken bouldering and applied that control and everyday knowledge and ability of crimping on really small holds and he’s able to run it out very very difficult of 5.12, 5.13 sections with minimal protection…that’s a real progression of the sport.”

Barber obviously knows what he’s talking about; according to Kemple, the route’s name comes from the “absolute commitment involved” in climbing. Footage of his ascent, featured in the Northeast climbing film Uncommon Ground, is burned into the memories of New England climbers of a certain generation. For Kemple and Vintoniv, Absolute was one of a trilogy of hard climbs they sent at Crow Hill in the year 2000. They also ticked the first free ascents of Doesn’t Matter, 5.13a (which previously went at 5.10 A2), and Dune, 5.12-5.13R/X.

To Bolt, or Not to Bolt 

If Dune strikes a chord with New England climbers, it’s because the route sparked controversy a few years ago when a few bolts appeared on the route. Bolting has always been a tenuous question, especially at crags with rich histories like Crow Hill. Although the battle over bolts reached its height in the 1980s and 1990s, in 2015 it was thrust to the forefront of New England climbing when someone bolted one of Crow Hill’s proudest routes, Dune.

The history of Dune made the situation even more complex. The route was first sent after John Mallory added some bolts—but they were chopped quickly thereafter. In 1999, Mark Richey and Barry Rugo climbed Dune on pre-placed gear, and a year later Kemple and Vintonic sent it from the ground up.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Visiting Crow Hill Today

Every climber in the region should test themselves on the gneiss at this classic crag. Although the climbing season at Crow runs from late March through December, late summer and fall days after a dry spell are best. The area offers something for everybody, too—with beginner-friendly areas at both ends of the crag (End Crags on the left end and Practice Face on the right end) and plenty of fixed anchors across the cliff-top to set up top-ropes and sample classics before committing to a lead. Sending here will earn the respect of even the crustiest trad climber and leave you with the confidence to tackle harder routes and bigger objectives.

 

Have a favorite route at Crow Hill? Tell us which one in the comments!


Get Ready For Fall Climbing With This DIY Hangboard

Aside from climbing itself, adopting a regular hangboarding routine is the best way to build finger strength and, in turn, improve your climbing. If you have a hangboard at home, then you’re already familiar with its many virtues. If you don’t, then today is the day to get one—and what better way to come by a hangboard than to break out the power tools and build one yourself? It’s neither complicated nor expensive and, since you’re the one doing the building, it can be made entirely to your specifications.

The following is just one example, so feel free to mix it up based on the materials and tools you have on-hand, as well as based on your personal preferences. Anything goes when you’re doing it yourself—build the hangboard that you want to train on.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

Materials and Tools

Here’s what you’ll need to get going:

Materials

  • ¾” plywood cut to 24” x 9.5”
  • 2” x 4” cut to 24”
  • 2 8” x 6” x 1” panels
  • Trim of various sizes for edge holds
  • 14 1½” Screws
  • 6 smaller screws for edge holds
  • Wood glue

Tools

  • Power drill with a 1” Forstner bit
  • Circular saw
  • Wood chisel
  • Hammer
  • Sandpaper
  • Clamps
  • Square
  • Pencil

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

Measure Twice

Get started by laying out your holds. Using a tape measure, a square, and a pencil, draw your plan directly onto the pieces of wood you’ll be using. A compass is handy for drawing the rounded corners of the pocket holds.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

Cut Once

Using a circular saw or a miter saw, cut your wood to size. If you’d like to include slopers on your board, now’s the time to add them. Set your circular saw to the desired angle and cut along the long edge of the 2” x 4” piece.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

Drill Away

Using a drill with a Forstner bit, bore your pockets out of the 8” x 6” x 1” panels. Pay extra attention to the depth that you’re drilling so that it’s consistent from hold to hold. Putting a piece of tape on the drill bit itself, measured from the tip to your desired depth, is a good way to keep track and make sure you’re not going too deep.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

Take the Edge Off

Once you’ve made all your cuts and have bored all your holes, the next step is to smooth the edges so you’re not destroying your fingers with splinters.

For the pockets, start with a wood chisel, taking a little bit of the edge off at a time. Finish with sandpaper. For the slopers and the edge holds, give them a good work over with sandpaper until they’re smooth to the touch.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

Assemble the Pieces

Once everything is cut, bored, and smoothed to your specifications, it’s time to put it together. Attach each piece to the plywood backing with wood glue. Clamp and allow the glue time to dry.

When the glue has had sufficient time to dry, drill pilot holes at regular intervals around each piece and fix them to the plywood backing with decking screws.

Hang it Up

How you choose to mount your hangboard will be largely dependent on your set-up at home. You can drill a couple of holes and run some cord through it—cool and portable—or you can use a stud finder and some decking screws to mount it permanently to a wall. However you ultimately decide to mount it, be sure it’s securely fixed to a solid structure before you even dream of weighting it.


Is Your Climbing Gear Safe? How To Inspect It And When To Know to Retire It

Inspecting climbing gear is the best way to ensure that it still works properly and is safe to use. Making gear inspection a regular, ongoing part of your routine is important for your safety and that of your climbing partners, as the consequences of gear failing due to inattention to issues can be fatal. You need the utmost trust in your climbing equipment, and it needs to perform every time it’s used. 

Below are some tips on how to inspect common climbing gear, and what to look for when retiring a piece. If you have any questions don’t hesitate to reach out to your local EMS Climbing School.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

Wires and Cables

Found in protection like nuts, cams, and some hexes. Check the entire length of cable, carefully feeling for frays or damage. Kinks are not necessarily bad, but can interfere with function, making protection harder to place effectively. Check that a kink is not hiding a tear in the cable. Frayed cables indicate a piece ready for retirement, except in very minor cases, but make sure that any tiny frays won’t be hooking on slings or rope. 

Carabiners

Inspect the body of the carabiner, looking and feeling for cracks, burrs, and wear grooves. Check the action of the gate, as well as locking features if your carabiner has any. Any moving parts that become sticky or slow can be cleaned in hot water and lubricated with dry lubricant like what Metolius sells. Once a groove gets deeper than 10 percent of the carabiner’s thickness or develops an edge, it’s time to retire. As for the fabled “microfractures,” extensive break testing has disproved the concept in modern metal pieces, but if you have any doubts, retire the piece. 

Belay Devices

There are so many vastly different belay devices that we will keep it general here. As with carabiners, look over and feel the entire device, and pay special attention to the area(s) of the device that handles the rope. Pay attention to different materials, and actuate any parts that are meant to move. Check with manufacturers’ specifications. If any sharp edges or deep grooves form, then the device should be retired. 

Cams

Check the lobes for cracks or deformation. Inspect the axle(s) and the rest of the cam head, then go down the stem and look for deformation in the plastic casing or in the exposed cables, depending on the device. Check that the trigger still works, and that the trigger wires are intact (slight fraying can be acceptable here) and if not, you can buy replacements for some models. If your cam has a thumb-loop, check the integrity of the casing and shape of the loop. Finally examine the sling for any signs of damage (more on slings below). Actuate the cam plenty of times and observe how each part is working, and look, listen, and feel for anything out of the ordinary. If the action of the cam sticks or feels slow, or if the head is dirty, try cleaning the cam in hot water and lubricating the axles (Metolius lube is best). If cam slings are worn or questionable, you can get them reslung by one of several companies, including Black Diamond, Metolius (both will mend their own cams only), Mountain Tools, and the local Ragged Mountain Equipment (both work on a variety of gear). 

Credit: Sean Coit
Credit: Sean Coit

Rope

Start at one end, and using one hand, pull the rope slowly through a thumb and finger of the other hand (pinched on the rope) to feel for anything out of the ordinary while you are looking for discolored spots, fraying, or the dreaded “core shot.” Feel for lumps, flat spots, and irregular stiffness as you go. If you come across a questionable area, pinch the rope at this point, making a tight bend or bight. A healthy rope when bent will make a tight circular shape, and if you find a sharp bend or pinch, you’ve found a core shot. Core shots generally mean retiring the rope, although if close enough (within a meter or two) to the ends of the rope a core shot can be cut off. If you are cutting your rope remember that any marked midpoint is now inaccurate, and your rope is shorter than you’re used to. Fuzzy ropes are not necessarily done for, but it can be a tricky judgment call to gauge how much fuzz is too much, so pay attention to manufacturers’ lifespan recommendations as well as the performance of the rope. If you are ever unsure about a damage spot or excessive wear, seek qualified opinions as every case is different. 

Slings and Cord

Like the rope inspection, use your fingers to feel as you visually inspect. Check for fraying, tears, melted spots, and discoloration, and feel for stiffness or softness. Be especially wary of certain areas like stitching or bar-tacks where a loop is joined, or sewn ends on a piece of cord, as well as areas that are normally covered or bent in the same place (both are applicable in cams). It is a good idea to untie any knots that you have tied when inspecting softgoods, as melting and wear can occur inside of a knot without being visible. 

Rock Climbing

Helmets

The most important thing to check is the structural integrity of the helmet, by looking and feeling for cracks, dents, or other deformations all over the outside and inside of the protective parts of the helmet. Take any liners out while doing this, and it is worth noting that stickers or decorations on the outside of the helmet can make finding potential issues more difficult. Small dings in the helmet may not be a big deal, but even minor impacts can affect the strength of the helmet over time. Any large deformities or cracks warrant retiring. When checking the harness of the helmet, inspect the webbing as you would any other cord, and test the closure. Check any plastic parts for fatigue or cracks. 

Harness

Inspections for metal and textile parts are the same as above. Check for fraying or blown stitching throughout the harness as well as wear in the tie in points and belay loop. Make sure buckles are free of sharp spots and not deformed. If there is any doubt about the integrity of the harness it should be retired. 

Shoes

Climbing shoes primarily get retired or serviced due to performance concerns, and while not always the case, this  could even affect the safety of the climber. Luckily, you don’t need a new pair of shoes every time one pair is worn out, and can get your shoes resoled for quite a bit less. Once the sole starts to wear through to the rand, it’s time for a resole. If you can see your toe through the rand then you need a new rand as well, but resole shops can mend both the rand and sole. The best local shops are New England reSoul in Newfields, NH and Plattsburgh Shoe Hospital in Peru, NY.