Friday, August 21, 2009

Photo Essay: Moby Grape and Whitney Gilman in a Day (Cannon Cliff, NH; June 2009)

Well, it's my first post, so let's make it a good one...

Do I look angry in this photo? Tired? Hungry? Trick question; the answer is all of the above. It’s 4:45am, and I’m waiting for my ride to arrive. I live in Burlington, Vermont- Cannon is two hours east, in New Hampshire- so an alpine start is definitely a necessity unless waiting in line is your idea of a good day out. Problem is, Nick (my ride) is late. He showed up about 5am, and we took off… and then turned around about a half an hour out when he realized he’d forgotten his ropes.

The drive to Cannon this early in the morning is eerie. I’ve been three times now, and it’s always the same: Fog, fog, and more fog, all of which somehow clears at about 8:30 or 9:00 in the morning. Until it clears, though, it can be pretty damn thick. I think- or, at least, I hope- that the moose like to sleep this early in the morning. I almost hit one coming back from Rumney earlier this year, and I have to say, hitting a moose is not high on my list of things to do.

Our goal at Cannon was to knock off three big routes in a day: Moby Grape, Vertigo, and the Whitney-Gilman Ridge. Any of these is classic and a good day out all on its own (not least of which because of the approach, which is, for all Cannon routes, about 45 minutes uphill through a massive talus- and boulder-field); all three in a day would be a pretty big coup for me, especially since I’ve been climbing less frequently as a result of the med school and all. Moby Grape- ~1,000 feet and 7-8 pitches- was our first objective, and Reppy’s Crack- a stellar single-pitch line in its own right- was the first pitch. Reppy’s is kind of a misleading introduction to Cannon in general, since it’s pretty easy to see where the line goes and it protects well. It’s also a great way to warm up for the seven pitches above. That’s not me leading- that’s Nick. I was too hosed from the approach. Funny thing- I’m pretty fast on approaches- I routinely leave most of my partners well in the dust. Nick is much, much, (much) faster. Almost embarrassingly so. And he seemed to have boundless energy when we got to the base, so, whatever: His lead.

This is the second pitch of Moby Grape, and more representative of what the whole Cannon experience is all about: Wandering lines, loose rock, and some significant route-finding challenges. You’ll notice two ropes here; that’s both to account for the wandering nature of the routes, and a bit of precaution, since loose rock- especially loose, sharp granite- has a remarkable predilection for slicing through nylon.

Check it out: Nick racking with the Whitney-Gilman in the background. We could see all of our other objectives all day long, including…


I swear to god I lead some of these pitches- in fact, minus Reppy’s I lead all crux pitches, but what can I do? Nick had no camera. Here’s Nick following P3. He’s just above a tricky little roof that I swear cannot be got around gracefully. We had no problems, but a couple of weeks later I came back with a friend and watched as a leader whipped, messed up his ankles pretty badly, and had to bail.

Here’s Nick taking off on pitch 4. This doesn’t look like much, but all of those blocks he’s so carefully slotted bits of gear behind are just loaded and ready to go…

Ahh- a shot of me. That’s the Fickle Finger of Fate above me, and the Sickle below. These two features are named, I think, only because no one can believe they’re still attached to the cliff. Getting around these entailed some of the coolest climbing I think I’ve ever done, all a good ten or fifteen feet run-out. I made a friend lead this section next time up, and I think he may have nearly made a mess of his pants.

On top- at least, the way we topped out, which I wouldn’t recommend- the angle dropped off dramatically and we found ourselves picking through blueberry brambles. Nick led the last pitch, which apparently has no anchors (as I discovered when I topped out to find him sitting on top, heels dug into a mound of dirt).

Getting down and back to the WG was kind of draining- the usual descent heads off to the main parking lot, but that puts you at the bottom of the talus slope approach, so, in the interest of time (we were still going for all three at this point) we cut back into the cliff at about half-height and bushwhacked for the base. It nearly did me in.

We headed for the Whitney-Gilman ridge, which was (as expected at Cannon) a bit sketchy, but mercifully short (the guidebook describes it in 5-6 pitches, but I don’t know what kind of masochist would want to spend that much time building anchors; we did it in three). WG is a great route with some significant history- it was put up in the ‘50s- and some of that history is still hanging around en route (for example, I clipped three or four rusty old timebomb pitons somewhere mid-pitch 1).

At about this time, three routes turned into two.

And that... is that. Nick on top; still no pictures of me. Those will have to wait for another day, I suppose.


  1. Nice TR - I believe I was the guy who fell on the roof and hurt his ankle. Still bumming from that, but your TR was a nice reminder of what climbing is really like.

  2. Great TR, thanks for sharing! And nice sends!