It was 1994 and I was 16 years old. I had been spending every paycheck I earned after school at the Salem, NH EMS on climbing gear. While cooling off one night at the long since closed Mill City Rock Gym I thumbed through a climbing magazine article titled “Ten under 10- Ten Classic Trad Climbs Under 5.10”. Number 6 on this list? Lakeview, Cannon Cliff, New Hampshire, Grade 3 YDS 5.6.
I was intrigued. Moderate multi-pitch climbing in New Hampshire? I had to do this climb. I started obsessing about it that summer. My first attempt was with my Assistant Manager Peg Foss. We drove up 93 in a light drizzle that ended right as we arrived in the iconic Franconia Notch. The cliff looked like it might dry, so we hiked up to the base. I took the first pitch, damp 5.3 climbing, but do-able. Peg started up the 2nd pitch, and at the first over-lap struggled, yelled “watch me” and slipped off.
It was her first leader fall.
It was my first leader fall catch.
She slid past me on the slab with enough time to make eye contact and ask “You got me!?”
Her only piece, an inverted pink tri-cam, kept her from going more than a few feet past the belay. Her ankle was bruised and she had torn through her nylon hiking pants to her underwear, but we somehow decided it would be a good idea to keep going. I volunteered to do all the leading.
2 pitches from the top the description in the guidebook confused me. Up this gully into a left facing book?
“Well this must be it.” I thought.
20 minutes later while sketching out in what I later discovered was off-route 5.8x terrain I finally admitted defeat, lowered off a suspicious horn, and we bushwhacked our way off the route to the north. After 20 years I still remember it as being one of the most heinous bushwhacks of my life.
My junior year of High-school started.
For my 2nd attempt I convinced a school mate to play hookie and “come try rock climbing”. I drove us north up 93 with a borrowed harness and convinced myself he would be fine following in sneakers. At the top of the 2nd pitch he declared he was terrified and didn’t want to continue, so I traversed out right into the shrubbery and embarked on the 2nd worse bushwhack of my life.
On my 3rd attempt I teamed up with “Tom”. We arrived at the base of the route just as another party was starting. I did everything I could to stay on their heels so I would find the correct finish to the climb. Finally, I stood out on the Old Man’s brow and tried to take in the amazing valley that sprawled below me, having just completed my first multi-pitch rock climb. In only 3 attempts. In just under 9 hours.
It’s been 20 years. What has changed? There was the 4 years in the Marines. 18 countries. 5 continents. Getting out and moving back to NH. Going back to work for EMS in Newington, NH. Transfer up to North Conway EMS. Retail. Waiting tables. Bartending. Seeing people die in the mountains. Avalanche courses. Guiding courses. The Old Man falls down! Get hired as a guide. More courses. A couple more deaths. Some… strangers in the mountains doing what they loved, others… much closer.
A girlfriend. A fiancee. A wife! A son! A daughter!
Here I am. 20 years later. Back at the climb that made me a climber. Leading Oliver, who started climbing a decade before I was born, and making his way back into the sport after a 30 year hiatus. Still using the 40 year old backpack he climbed with in Yosemite and the Cascades!
We leave the car at 10:35am, a late start for Cannon in my opinion but Oliver has showed endurance and skill over the last few weeks climbing with me on Cathedral and Whitehorse and I’m confident we can make good time.
We reach the base of the climb in about 35 minutes. I mistakenly took us up the Moby Grape approach trail forgetting that the Lakeview trail requires taking a hard right on the Pemi Trail after crossing the bridge. No matter, this only probably cost us 5-10 minutes. We rope up and off we go.
We make fairly good time up the first 4 pitches. The Old Man falling in 2003 has greatly altered the 5th pitch, and I choose to do the “uphill tree thrutching” bypass to the right to gain the traverse over to “Lunch Ledge”. Here, at 12:30, we take a minute to eat and drink.
Then up the two iconic last pitches… some of the best 5.5 & 5.6 climbing anywhere.
All day in the back of my mind I had been thinking about the memorable “Archival” Flake that guards the fun stemming corner at the top. This flake has frustrated quite a few good climbers, and for the leader it is a bit of a “no fall” zone due to the low angle slab below it. I had it mastered 20 years ago, and today muscle memory brought me up it via “monter a cheval”, or “mount the horse”.
At 2pm we were on the top. While the flake move had provided a solid challenge for Oliver the reward at the top was obvious.
“This may be the greatest climb I have ever done” says the guy who used to stay in Camp Four and lead friends on climbs in the Cascades in his college years.
It was at this moment I realized I first stood up here 2o years ago, a somewhat reckless teenager getting hooked on something that would steer my life forever.
After a 30 minute break we make our way down the descent trail reaching the car at 3:15pm. I peak Oliver’s interest in some of the great climbing across the way.
Here’s to the next 20 years of adventure, and what life will bring. They’ll be plenty of ups, and a few downs, but I couldn’t be more excited to experience them.
See you in the mountains,