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!


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. 


Thanksgiving Week vs. The Feather Pack Jacket

When word came through that EMS was releasing a new and improved version of the Feather Pack jacket (men’s/women’s) to call me excited would be an understatement. I’d been eyeing a couple of down jackets for a while, as an alternative to my synthetic puff jacket—to use as an insulating layer on colder hikes, or as a belay jacket while ice climbing—and the Feather Pack appeared to fit the bill. It’s lightweight, packable, and warm. Moreover, it’s a handsome looking jacket, as fit for a day in the mountains as a night on the town. Which got me thinking: How can I appropriately test-drive such a versatile piece of outerwear?

Just like autumn in the northeast, the week of Thanksgiving is a time of change. It opens with a bit of work, transitions into family time and a day of feasting, and culminates in the form of a beautiful long weekend—the perfect opportunity to get outside. And so, to put the Feather Pack to the test, I’ve invited it to Thanksgiving, adopting it as my go-to jacket for the week, to see how it performs in town and country alike.

Wicked early on the way into work. | Credit: John Lepak
Wicked early on the way into work. | Credit: John Lepak

Monday and Tuesday: Commute, Work, Commute Again

A short work week is a work week all the same, so Monday is about putting the Feather Pack to the test on my heavy-duty commute. From my home in the woods of western Connecticut, getting to my office in New York City each day is a haul. Being on time means leaving before the sun rises, and any outer layer I’m bringing along needs to deal with two different climates. The temperature in the city tends to be incrementally warmer so what works on a freezing-cold Metro-North platform may be a bit heavy once I get into town.

Good news for the Feather Pack—it’s lightweight and it packs down well so, when I needed to shed on the subway or on the sidewalk, it fit right into my work bag.

Cold fingers but pretty warm otherwise. | Credit: John Lepak
Cold fingers but pretty warm otherwise. | Credit: John Lepak

Wednesday: Meal Prep

Each Thanksgiving, as sure as there is turkey and mashed potatoes, there’s an aspect of cooking Thanksgiving Dinner that moves the show outside. Occasionally, a warm fire or grill is involved, but more often than not, it’s shucking oysters and littlenecks en masse for a stuffing, a stew, or to just eat straight-up—this is New England, after all. It’s a bit wet and a bit cold so a warm layer is critical. The Feather Pack made a nice addition to this year’s wetter-than-usual shellfish prep session: the insulation did its job—I was toasty—and the durable water-resistant coating held up well against a little bit of rain.

Warming up after a breezy 5k. | Credit: Hans-Peter Riehle
Warming up after a breezy 5k. | Courtesy: Hans-Peter Riehle

 

Thursday: Run. Then Eat.

If you’re a glutton for punishment, the best way to kick off a day of overeating is with a little bit of exercise. Enter the traditional Thanksgiving morning road race. Since I’ve been running it, the Newtown Turkey Trot has been a cold affair, with temperatures rarely above freezing. Getting out of a warm bed and going out into that is a neat trick. I threw the Feather Pack on over my running clothes before leaving the house with a plan of wearing it until it was time to run and then throwing it back on once the race was through.

This year, while the day was a balmy 44° under partly cloudy skies, the wind was up and it felt a whole lot colder. The jacket was absolutely perfect during warm ups—super warm against the wind chill. Five kilometers later, it was back on again, keeping that body heat close.

Gearing up at the base of Thrills and Skills. | Credit: John Lepak
Gearing up at the base of Thrills and Skills. | Credit: John Lepak

Friday: Crag Day

The leftovers have been packed away, the kitchen is clean, and the day is free. With the masses in town, shopping their little hearts out, it’s finally time to get out and really run the Feather Pack through its paces. A couple of laps at the local crag are in order.

We headed up to Saint John’s Ledges in Kent to do some top roping on the long, slabby Upper Ledge. The Feather Pack, not nearly as weary as I from all of our activity the previous week, was again packed neatly away into my bag.

Typical of late-season rock climbing in New England, it was cold, and once we reached the base of the ledges—accessed via a short, steep section of the Appalachian Trail—the Feather Pack came right out. It was handy keeping warm while setting up the anchors and belaying. The roomy hood—also very warm—fit over my helmet, a Black Diamond Vapor, quite comfortably as well.

Carry out what you carry in. | Courtesy: Katharina Lepak
Carry out what you carry in. | Courtesy: Katharina Lepak

 

Saturday: Family Time

Getting out needn’t be a physical challenge all the time, and more mellow terrain makes access easier for the whole family. A local park or preserve with some easy trails is a great way to be outside together. Connecticut’s share of the Appalachian Trail offers several easy, scenic stretches along the Housatonic River that fit the bill perfectly.

Being a cooler day on less trying ground gave me good reason to try the Feather Pack in an active way. It also afforded me the opportunity to try it on over a baby carrier, complete with a baby strapped to my chest. I’m happy to report that both the jacket and the baby provided ample warmth.

 

Warming up on a quick break, trying to beat an incoming winter storm. | Credit: Katharina Lepak
Warming up on a quick break, trying to beat an incoming winter storm. | Credit: Katharina Lepak

Sunday: Take a Hike

Closing the book on another successful Thanksgiving weekend also means the opening of the holiday season, and the countless tasks and to-do’s that come with it. A couple of miles in the woods is the perfect reset before diving into all of that.

An impending winter storm meant staying local, and getting out early. I hit the Zoar Trail, a 6.5-mile loop trail in Newtown’s Lower Paugussett State Forest. For a shorter trail, the Zoar Trail offers a little bit of everything: river views, a waterfall, rock hopping, and a decent bit of elevation gain—a good test for an insulating layer like the Feather Pack.

I donned the Feather Pack leaving the house and wore it on the ride out, packing it away at the trailhead. Hiking the Zoar Trail clockwise gets the majority of the climbing out of the way early. I hoofed it, trying to beat the storm. Near the crest of the last hill, I stopped, put the Feather Pack on, and took a breather. As it had all week, it delivered the warmth. I took a drink, had a quick snack, and moved on.

The second half of the loop trail skirts the edge of Lake Zoar. It’s generally flat, so I threw the jacket back on to finish the hike. Soon after, the freezing rain moved in, and I again got a chance to test out the DWR coating. A few miles later, I was warm, dry, and in my truck headed home to watch the snow.

Verdict

The Feather Pack jacket held its own over the course of a long holiday week. It excelled as a resting insulation layer—Whether it was a quick water break on a hike or a longer stretch belaying a partner up a climb, it trapped escaping body heat and kept away the cold. It also served itself well as an around town jacket. As part of the test, I wore it everywhere, from hustling to an office in Manhattan to picking up a turkey in rural Connecticut and it never felt uncomfortable or out of place—a testament to its design, equal parts form and its function.
The best endorsement I can give it though, is that when Monday rolled around again, as I was stepping out into the predawn morning to scrape the ice and snow off my truck, the Feather Pack was the jacket I grabbed. And it’ll be in my pack when I’m back on the trails this weekend, too

A State-by-State Guide to Giving Tuesday in New England

Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday—so much of our time (and money) around Thanksgiving is spent trying to find the perfect gifts for friends and families that it’s easy to lose sight of the organizations working to make our communities better. In recent years, the idea of Giving Tuesday has become popular, reminding us to support the organizations protecting our crags, keeping our waters clean, advocating for open spaces, and exposing the next generation of outdoor lovers to our favorite sports. If you’re in the giving mood, here are some New England outdoor non-profits that could use your support.

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Rhode Island

It makes sense that the state nicknamed the Ocean State is home to awesome water-based organizations. One of the most notable is Save the Bay. Turning 50 years old in 2020, Save the Bay is a 20,000-member-strong group dedicated to protecting one of Rhode Island’s most valuable natural resources, recognizable landmarks, and playgrounds for paddlers and surfers: Narragansett Bay.

Another ocean-inspired Rhode Island organization that will be amped if you hang ten (or more) dollars on them this holiday season is Spread the Swell, which is working to share the stoke by offering free, non-profit surf camps to underprivileged Rhode Island kids.

While the Ocean State is best known for its surf, it’s also home to some of the best bouldering in New England. Spot the Southeast New England Climbers Coalition a donation and assist them in their work to help protect and establish access to crags, along with maintaining popular destinations like Lincoln Woods.

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Massachusetts 

The Pan-Mass Challenge is synonymous with summer in the Bay State, as cyclists push their limits on a variety of rides, raising money for a cause everyone is on board with: defeating cancer. Go the extra mile this year by donating, fundraising, or committing to volunteer at the August event.

Helping keep cyclists safe as they train to tackle the Pan-Mass Challenge’s 187 miles and 2,500 feet of climbing is the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition (MassBike). Help MassBike keep the wheels in motion toward creating a more bicycle-friendly state with a donation or by volunteering your time.

Investing in the sports we love is about more than merely maintenance and access. Chill Boston introduces underserved youth in the Greater Boston Area to board sports such as snowboarding, SUPing, and surfing. Drop in and hook them up with a donation to keep our board-based sports healthy and diverse, while also teaching young people valuable life skills.

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Connecticut

Connecticut is home to outdoor activities as diverse as its landscape, ranging from hiking to rock climbing to cycling. A donation to the Connecticut Forest & Park Association (CFPA) can put a spring in the step of the Nutmeg State’s hikers. The organization is committed to connecting people to the land to protect Connecticut’s forests, parks, walking trails, and open spaces for future generations.

Enthusiasts of Connecticut’s high and wild places will want to tick a donation to the Ragged Mountain Foundation (RMF) off their list. The RMF currently owns 56 acres of land in Southington, Connecticut—including Ragged Mountain—and is focused on stewardship, protection, and public access to the state’s cliffs and crags.

The Connecticut Cycling Advancement Program (CCAP) provides the state’s youth with an organized state-wide cycling league, allowing them to grow within the sport and develop values and skills that transfer to other parts of their life. Ride into the holidays feeling good with a donation to this great group.

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Vermont

Locally grown food, amazing craft beer, and outstanding outdoor experiences are commonly associated with Vermont. One of the orgs aiding Vermont in sustaining this reputation is CRAG Vermont, which is dedicated to preserving access to and maintaining the state’s climbing resources, along with giving hungry and thirsty climbers a place to play. Help CRAG Vermont over the crux with a donation this year.

Vermont is a destination for mountain bikers from across the US and Canada. The Vermont Mountain Bike Association (VMBA) consists of 26 unified chapters dedicated to advocating, educating, and promoting mountain biking in the Green Mountain State. Your donation will facilitate the trails remaining fast, flowy, and flush.

If you think of Vermont’s mountains as more white than green, check out the Vermont Backcountry Alliance (VTBC) this Giving Tuesday. Cutting a check to the VTBC helps keep the state’s legendary tree skiing properly maintained, while also protecting and advancing access for human-powered skiing.

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New Hampshire 

It’s no surprise that the Granite State is a mecca for New England climbers. Friends of the Ledges is an org focusing on stewardship and access to the climbing found in the eastern White Mountains of New Hampshire and Maine. Keep this awesome group sending in the future—they secured nine-acres of land critical for access to Cathedral Ledge and Whitehorse Ledge in 2019—with a donation this year.

Accidents happen in the mountains to even the most experienced hikers, climbers, and skiers. If you happen to have a mishap in the White Mountains, you’ll be glad you came to the aid of Androscoggin Valley Search and Rescue (AVSAR) with a donation this year, as they assist various agencies with search and rescues in the region.

If you pedal your bike in central or southern New Hampshire, you’ve likely spent time on the techy trails built and maintained by the Friends of Massabesic Bicycling Association (FOMBA). A donation to this awesome org helps keep their relationship with Manchester Water Works rolling, and access to these terrific trails open.

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Maine 

Maine is home to the only national park in New England: Acadia. The first U.S. national park originally created by private land donations, you can join in the park’s philanthropic tradition by becoming a member, making a donation, or volunteering with Friends of Acadia—a group helping to preserve, protect, and promote the region’s only national park.

Another incredible private land donation (and the Northeast’s best hope for a second national park) is the 80,000+ acres donated by the co-founder of Burt’s Bees known as Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. While you probably can’t match enormous donations such as this, you can help preserve and protect this parcel by joining or donating to the Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters, taking part in the tradition of selflessness and generosity that birthed this area’s creation

If you’ve ever climbed Mount Katahdin and marveled at the wildness of Baxter State Park, you owe a debt of gratitude to Maine’s 53rd governor, Percival Baxter, who gave the park to the people of Maine with the mandate that it remain forever wild. Get in the giving spirit of the former governor with a gift to the Friends of Baxter State Park, who are working to preserve, support, and enhance the wilderness character of the park.

Do you know of another nonprofit that could use some support this year? If so, leave it in the comments so our readers can check it out.


Video: How to Pay Out Slack

Priority one: Keep your climber safe and comfortable.


Alpha Guide: Climbing Little Finger on Lake George

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

With three moderate pitches of splitter granite hanging high above Lake George, Little Finger is one of the Northeast’s most enjoyable climbs.

How many climbs in the Northeast have a paddle approach? One of the most unique climbs in the Northeast, the approach to Little Finger begins with a short paddle approach across the clear, blue water of Lake George. Once situated at the base of the route, climbers are treated to three moderately rated, easy-to-protect pitches of splitter granite climbing 500+ feet above the lake. Be sure to style the climbing—you’re likely to have an audience of captivated boaters below.

Quick Facts

Length: 3 Pitches
Time to Complete: Half-day
Difficulty: ★★★
Scenery:★★★★


Season: May through November
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: https://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/24493.html

Download file: Little_Finger.gpx

Turn-By-Turn

Climbing Little Finger begins with a paddle approach from Rogers Rock Campground in Hague, New York. Located right off 9N, the campground is just six miles from Ticonderoga.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Canoe Approach

From the boat launch, paddle left away from the swimming area (43.792904, -73.480690). Almost immediately, there’s a large cliff along the shore to your left. That’s not the climb, but it’s a good clue you’re headed in the right direction. Continue hugging the lakeside as you head for a shallow break between the shore and Juniper Island. Round the bend. After a few more minutes of paddling, the face is visible on your left. Aim for the low spot dead ahead (43.797157, -73.466560). Overall, it’s about 25 minutes of paddling.

Pro Tip: The water is deep, it’s often windy, and the waves can be big. Wear a PFD. Also, pack your gear in dry bags and secure them to your canoe, kayak, or SUP.

 

The Scramble

Once you’ve lugged your boat out of the water, scramble up to a sort-of-flat spot just above. This is a great place to transition from paddling to climbing. Empty the dry bags, don your climbing gear, and get ready to scramble along the base of the ledge to the start of the climb.

The scramble across is about 30 yards. It goes across, then down to the water, then up a short blocky section that you’ll want to watch less experienced climbers on. From there, it’s an easy stroll to the base of the climb, which starts at a good platform by a boulder right at the base of a vertical crack running up the entire face (43.797398, -73.466385). On the platform, there’s plenty of room to flake your ropes.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The First Pitch

The first pitch follows the obvious vertical crack for about 200 feet to a depression by a small overlap. Anchor there using, among other things, two new-ish pitons. Although the pitons are awkwardly spaced, there are opportunities to use small and mid-sized gear to build a solid three-piece anchor.

The climbing to this point is fantastic. Right off the deck is a short blocky section leading into an awesome crack that pierces the slab. The crux of the pitch is early on, in the bottom half of the crack, but it is never very hard, maxing out at 5.5.

After the initial difficulties, the pitch is a low-angle calf burner. There’s protection everywhere, with the crack eating everything from nuts to mid-sized cams. Since the pitch is long, be sure to bring a lot of gear in that range to ensure you have enough to zip it up.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Second Pitch 

Leaving the first pitch’s belay (43.797676, -73.466774), step up and right into the crack, then charge up it to the bottom of a large roof and build a traditional anchor there. Although it doesn’t look it, the pitch is a long one, running almost 200 feet.

Again, the climbing is moderate and well protected, all in the 5.4-5.5 range. The crack eats mid-sized gear, so protecting it shouldn’t be a problem. Throughout this pitch, there’s also lots of feet, meaning there’s plenty of comfortable stances from which to place gear.

The trickiest part of the second pitch is building the anchor. Just below the roof are several hollow flakes that don’t inspire confidence and aren’t the spot to place a cam. Slightly above the flakes there’s a small slot in the crack for a mid-sized cam and a medium nut. Below the roof, at about 11 o’clock, there’s also room for another mid-sized cam and, with some finagling, a bigger nut. If all this doesn’t sound appealing, there’s a small depression just below the hollow flakes (15 feet before the roof) with lots of options in the crack for a gear anchor.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Third Pitch

From the anchor under the overlap (43.797886, -73.467148), step up so that you can reach above the roof, then traverse right for about 10 feet to rejoin the crack. From here, the climb follows a runnel for about 175 feet toward bolted anchors, one at the top of the crack and another, with rap rings, about 25 feet off to the right.

The third pitch is well protected except for the traverse, where there’s little gear. To protect your second from a big swing, make sure to set a solid piece at the first good spot at the roof’s right end.

If you’re looking for something slightly harder than 5.5, consider the 5.7 variation that follows a thin vertical crack straight up from the belay. After a couple of difficulties, you’ll end up at the anchor just above the runnel that pitch 3 finishes on.

Once you’re atop the third pitch (43.798054, -73.467148), take some time—if you haven’t already—to admire the view. The climb drops away in the foreground, replaced by the deep blue of Lake George and the dark green of the mountains in the distance. It’s a fantastic setting, one you’ll be reluctant to leave.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Raps

Whenever you can break away from the view, it’s three double-rope rappels with 60m ropes back down to the ground. Each of the anchors is bolted and very easy to spot while on rappel. With true 70m ropes, you can do it in 2 rappels, but the last rap to the ground is a rope stretcher.

The last rap will leave you on a ledge a little to climbers’ right of the climb. On the ledge, coil your ropes, then scramble back to your boat. Just before the base of Little Finger, there’s an open slab that drops down into the base of the water. It’s easy to traverse, but watch less experienced folks closely as they cross; any fall would be a long (and wet) one.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Paddle Back

Once you reach your boat, dump your gear in your dry bags, put your PFD back on, get the boat in the water, and retrace the paddle you did earlier in the day. The paddle back will likely be challenging, as it’s usually into the wind and waves. Wakes from passing motorboats can add a little spice as well.


Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Kit

  • Between the waves and deep water, it’s great to have dry bags to store your ropes, rack, and climbing shoes. A couple of 65L bags from Sea to Summit will hold everything with room to spare.
  • The boat landing at Little Finger is rocky and slippery. Send it in style with a water shoe from NRS such as the Kicker Remix (men’s/women’s) or a river sandal like the Teva Terra Fi 4 (men’s/women’s).
  • On summer days, the sun beats down on Rogers Rock until mid afternoon. Wear a sunshirt like the Black Diamond Alpenglow Hoodie (men’s/women’s) to avoid baking in the sun.
  • Multi-pitch climbers on low-angle routes such as Little Finger are at risk of something either falling or getting knocked down on them. With this in mind, pack a climbing helmet like the Black Diamond Vapor.
  • Two 70-meter ropes, like the Sterling Fusion Nano Dry 9.0 70m allow you to cut out a rappel.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Keys to the Trip

  • Motorboat traffic can sometimes make communication between climbers difficult. Before you leave the belay, have a plan so that your second will know what to do even if he/she can’t hear you.
  • You might think that climbing above the water is a great choice for sweltering summer days; However, Little Finger has a well-deserved reputation for scorching unsuspecting climbers thanks to the exposed slab and reflective water. Consequently, it’s best avoided on the sunniest summer days.
  • Climb in a bathing suit because there are lots of places to swim on the way back (including the Rogers Rock Campground swimming area).
  • A great way to cool off and replace the calories you burned is with soft-serve ice cream from the Wind-Chill Factory.
  • If you prefer craft beer to ice cream cones, take the 30-minute drive to Battle Hill Brewing in Fort Ann, New York.
  • If you loved Little Finger and are anxious for more climbing, Rogers Rock is home to a lot more routes. Get the beta for the rest of the climbs in Adirondack Rock, the routes around Lake George are found in Volume 2.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Current Conditions

Have you climbed Little Finger recently? Post your experience and the conditions (with the date of your climb) in the comments for others!


Video: How to Catch a Fall

Step one: “The belayer keeps me from hitting the ground.”