Less-Traveled Classic Moderates on Cathedral Ledge

When you think of Cathedral Ledge moderate rock climbs what comes to mind?

You’re probably thinking of Fun House, Upper Refuse, Toe Crack, and Thin Air. Mountain Project agrees as they are the “only” classics sub 5.8. They are great routes, with long and rich history, and sometimes long lines. There are some less traveled moderates that, for a solid 5.7 leader, can provide some of the best situations & climbing anywhere on the cliff… and they never have a line!

Today Tom and I took a tour of them…

Pitch 2 of Diagonal (160 feet of the best 5.4 in New England)

Pitch 2 of Diagonal. Just keep breathing.

Pitch 2 of Diagonal. Just keep breathing.

“Easy, but wildly exposed”- the new Handren Guidebook. I’ll challenge anyone to show me a pitch of 5.4 climbing in New England with this kind of exposure. The 160 foot dike provides good holds while the expanse of the Mordor Wall dropping off below makes it important to keep reminding yourself this is only 5.4. While it may be worthy of an “R” rating a slip any where along the pitch should result in a clean, though spectacular, fall. There are 2 pins that can lessen the run out toward the top of the pitch but they can be hard to spot. Tom didn’t see either of them and sent it anyways.

Why don’t people do it more often? Well two reasons really. For one getting to the 1st anchor is a bit of a PITA. The easiest way is to climb the first pitch of Standard Route then cross over the chimney and scramble up right to the big beautiful block with the bolted anchor. It’s only 5.6, but the step down to Toe Crack is a bit weird for both the leader and the second.

Pitch one of Standard Route, use long slings, then cross the Chimney and head for this big block!

Pitch one of Standard Route, use long slings, then cross the Chimney and head for this big block!

More importantly I think it is because both old and new guidebooks call it 5.9+ R with Poison Ivy. That’s Pitch 3! We are not doing Pitch 3. We are now rapping down the Mordor Wall. A clean 120 foot rappel brings you to the Free Finale anchor (hanging station, just under an overlap), then a 160 foot rappel that ends free-hanging brings you to the ground.

Rap 120 feet to Free Final anchor

Rap 120 feet to Free Finale anchor (I actually skipped the Free Finale anchor went to the Mordor Wall anchor, it would be more comfortable to stop at the Free Finale anchor instead)

160 feet to the deck

160 feet to the deck

After wrapping our ropes up we headed up hill to the base of another spicy but do-able moderate…

No Man’s Land (5.6R, 160 feet of face climbing goodness)

Yes, this is another “R” rated route. As Mountain Project says you should be very comfortable on 5.6 before attempting this route. That said it isn’t “that” bad. And I’m kinda-a-wuss. If on-sighting it just be sure you are solid at the grade and it is an awesome route. If you don’t want gear spoilers skip the italics:

Scramble up to the first ledge, move right so that the small tree behind you is technically your first “piece”, no need to clip it. Step right off the ledge to get on the dike. Climb 20 feet up on good holds. A green Alien or equivalent will give a marginal placement in a crack to the right. Might as well extend that draw, as this will be the biggest bend in the route. Deep breath then up and left and you’ll come to an awesome natural thread. This is the first real good gear, and to paraphrase the poster on Mountain Project “gives you that I won’t hit the ground feeling”. It’s at least 45 feet up, so it’s kind of equivalent to soloing the first pitch of Thin Air, if you know what I mean. A great horizontal comes up, BD #2, then it gets a bit necky again. A couple more small Aliens/cams can help, but there will be better gear closer to the top.

Looking down as Tom cleans the pitch

Looking down as Tom cleans the pitch

Looking down the pitch as Tom cleans

Looking down the pitch

Since this ends at the Still in Saigon anchor we grabbed the second pitch of the Saigons, rapped, then hammered out the 1st pitch. Both are awesome pitches of 5.8, but this post is about sub 5.8, so moving on to the next great classic sub 5.8 route I’ll turn your attention to…

Pitch 1 of Recompense (150 feet of 5.7 cracks, corners, great holds, and another clean rap)

Corners and Cracks, Corners and Cracks, Corners and Cracks Oh My!

Corners and Cracks, Corners and Cracks, Corners and Cracks Oh My!

This route is known as an ultra classic three pitch 5.9, but the long first pitch is a worthwhile climb in its own right. A couple of the 5.7 moves feel a bit exposed but the gear is quite solid through-out, with just the management of rope drag being an issue for some. The “perfect small ledge” that the pitch ends on is one of the nicest spots to take in the view on the cliff IMO, and you finish with another steep rappel back to your packs.

When compared to places like the Gunks & Precipice we don’t seem to have a lot of moderate classic climbing on Cathedral. But a second look will more than double the amount of quality moderate climbing that can be enjoyed here. Once 5.8 & 5.9 are comfortable Cathedral really opens up, and there are some classics that haven’t been recognized as classics yet (Raising The Roof/The Liger). And fun link-ups, like Toe Crack into Thin Air, Black Lung into Final Gesture… great combos if you are really comfortable at the grade.

Any other more obscure but quality moderates (under 5.9) you enjoy on Cathedral? Don’t worry, I doubt they will get too crowded. 

About David Lottmann

David grew up skiing in the Whites and started climbing at a summer camp just north of Mt. Washington when he was 16. Those first couple of years solidified climbing as a lifetime passion. From 1996-2000 he served in the USMC, and spent the better part of those years traveling the globe (18 countries). After returning to civilian life he moved to North Conway to focus on climbing and was hired in 2004 as a Rock and Ice Instructor. Since then Dave has taken numerous AMGA courses, most recently attaining a Single Pitch Instructor. He has completed a Level 3 AIARE avalanche course, is a Level 2 Course Leader, holds a valid Wilderness First Responder and is a member of Mountain Rescue Service. When David isn't out guiding he enjoys mountain biking, kayaking, hiking, backcountry skiing, trying to cook something new once a week and sampling new micro-brews. He lives in Conway, NH with his wife Michelle, son Alex, and daughter Madalena.
This entry was posted in Rock Climbing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Less-Traveled Classic Moderates on Cathedral Ledge

  1. Chris says:

    Comeau’s Finish (.7) has fantastic position and is great on crowded days… a few others up there in the .9 range also.

    Also, not on Cathedral, but Endeavor (.7+) over on White’s Ledge goes under the radar more than it should. Likewise, Cloudwalkers (.8) in Huntington. (Though I may be confusing Misty and Cloduwalkers… I mean the one in the giant corner!)


    • David Lottmann says:

      Comeau’s is awesome, only slightly reduced by the down climbing shenanigans to get established on it, and the real 3 star part is only the last 15 or so feet, IMO, but I do love those last couple moves! Endeavor is a great one… more people should check out the moderate classics at “the other” White Ledge in Albany… it has quite a few great new routes since 2011 that fit the bill.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s