The Whitney Gilman Ridge, Cannon Cliff (11/4/15)

Yesterday Oliver returned fresh off his 5 day trip to Yosemite where he had bagged the iconic Royal Arches and Cathedral Peak. Next on my tick list for him back east was the Whitney Gilman Ridge, a classic east coast climb that should be on every climbers wish list!

We left Conway at 8:20am and started across the Kancamagus Highway.

About 10 miles later Oliver was telling me a story about forgetting one of the ropes after getting to Royal Arches and it dawned on me I had left our rope right next to my front door.

We left Conway at 9:00am and started across the Kancamagus Highway.

We drove north through the notch and after reversing direction pulled into the climber’s lot and checked the sign in box. No one had signed in for anything on the cliff. We filled out a trip plan for “the WG” and hopped back in the car.

I’m convinced that this climb is best approached from Lafayette Place Campground to the south despite almost every guidebook and website recommending to approach from the north climber lot. Two reasons;

First, at the end of the day when you hit the bike path you are much closer to your car and it is slightly downhill instead of slightly uphill.

Second, it’s a lot easier to be sure you’ve found the right approach trail. Many people trying to find it from the north have passed it then found the descent trail and believed it to be the approach trail. This leads to a lot of wasted time and perhaps some horrendous bushwhacking. When coming from the south you simply locate the first marked trail on the left (the descent trail), then find the next one. It also happens to be exactly .99mi if you are using any type of GPS device.

We left the car at 10:07am.

For us it was a 15 brisk walk to reach the approach trail.

Whitney Gilman Ridge
Our track log, red for approach, black for descent. Just under 2.8 miles round-trip.

We made our way up the talus field to the stunning ridge.

The Whitney Gilman Ridge
The Whitney Gilman Ridge

During our scramble I shared some of the fascinating history of the route. It is simply amazing that Bradley Gilman and Hassler Whitney pulled this route off on August 3, 1929! It has been suggested by the late climbing historian Guy Waterman that at the time of this ascent it was the hardest rock climb in the States!

It took us 52 minutes to reach the route, of which there are a few variations. I always prefer the direct start to the original line.

PITCH 1 & 2

Whitney Gilman Ridge Direct Start
Whitney Gilman Ridge Direct Start

The crux of this pitch is in the 5.6 – 5.7 range but it happens to be right off the ground trying to reach that horizontal on the right. You can get some really solid arm bars in the crack, which is featured if you reach far enough back, and you should be able to get up to that horizontal, get a good left arm bar and foot jam, and calmly place your first piece (SPOILER: .5 BD cam, clipped directly is perfect).

After that it is just really fun cruising to a nice belay ledge (140ft) with some attractive parallel cracks (often a fixed cam or two is in the left hand crack). This is an excellent place to stop to maintain easy communication, but you could push higher up if you are climbing on a 60m rope and feeling strong for the grade. (SPOILER: both cracks are fun but the right one is a little easier). I pushed on to the next ledge, technically the top of pitch 2. The options for a gear anchor on this large ledge are pretty far back from the edge which could make communication challenging as running it to here is about 55 meters. Using a method to extend yourself back to the edge of the ledge will really help with belaying your second.

While belaying Oliver up I could see our shadows being cast further down the cliff. You can easily see me at the top of the second pitch and Oliver reaching the large ledge at the top of  the first pitch:

Whitney Gilman Ridge
Can you see us?
The Whitney Gilman Ridge
Oliver finishing up the 2nd pitch in good style


From here I usually take the 5.8 right side variation. This variation brings you up a stellar splitter jam crack to an optional small belay ledge below the slightly overhanging “North Wall”. The moves leaving the anchor here are a bit tricky but the holds are positive and after a few feet the climbing eases up just before merging with the famous Pipe Pitch at the pipe itself. I think next time I head that way I’ll try skipping the small stance and continue up the steep North Wall & Pipe Pitch. I’m pretty sure the rope will make it and drag will be minimal if you run out the easier bits at the beginning before reaching the splitter jam crack.

Today though I decide to take the original line as I hadn’t seen how rockfall from a few years ago had altered this section and I was curious how it may have changed. I also liked the idea of another belay in the sun. The climbing was pretty casual and it was easy to avoid the loose stuff by staying right towards the end of the pitch. A fixed nut & cam in the left hand crack along with some of your own gear makes for a fast anchor, and you can stare at the splitter knee eating crack while you belay thinking about how not to put your knee in it. (Spoiler: Use the right most crack and face holds on the right and never touch the knee eating crack)

Pitch 4

Oliver arrived ready for the infamous “Pipe Pitch”. This is one of my favorite pitches anywhere. You just can not beat the exposure as you pass the historic pipe and the Black Dike drops hundreds of feet below you. I realize as I’m staring down at the damp looking Black Dike that the first ice climb of the season was done 16 days ago! Check out this pic from NEIce:

Black Dike, Cannon Cliff
16 days ago on the neighboring Black Dike! From, Photo by Majka Burhardt. More on their climb in this Julbo article

No signs of ice today as I pull through the crux in a t-shirt and sunglasses.

Whitney Gilman Ridge, Cannon Cliff
Oliver has just pulled the exposed moves on the Pipe Pitch and is all smiles

Pitch 5

Sticking with the original line I did a quick pitch up to the small stance below the final corner. The anchor here is a bit tricky. A .75 BD Camalot placed up high in an undercling flake, combined with a knifeblade fixed pin and a small alien to the right make it happen.

Whitney Gilman Ridge, Cannon Cliff
Oliver arrives at the start of the last pitch

Pitch 6

The moves off the anchor on this pitch are a bit funky. There’s a bit of “questionable” holds here and there (it is Cannon after all), but with a funky high-step and stretch to reach a pin higher, one move right and it’s all over. Happy cruising from there we reach the top at 2:30pm, 3.5 hours on route.

After un-roping and enjoying the view we head down the descent trail which takes a cool hour to reach the car (I really think that is faster than walking back up the bike path to the climbers lot.

Another fantastic day with Oliver! I’ve climbed a fair bit with Oliver in the last month or so and I was curious to see how much so I totaled up our 5 days of climbing we have had since our first climb on September 19th.

Day 1 Cormier-Magness, Whitehorse, first 4 pitches and Upper Refuse, Cathedral 900ft

Day 2 Standard Route, Whitehorse 1,150ft

Day 3 Thin Air, Cathedral, 3 North End Routes , 550ft

Day 4 Lakeview, Cannon Cliff, 1,100ft

Day 5 Whitney Gilman Ridge, Cannon Cliff, 600ft

4,300 feet of technical climbing in just over a month (plus a trip to Yosemite). Oliver is really getting after it! I can’t wait to get him out on some nice long ice routes this winter!

Coming Monday a review on the new EMS® Men’s Feather Pack 800 DownTek™ Hooded Jacket.

EMS® Men’s Feather Pack 800 DownTek™ Hooded Jacket
EMS® Men’s Feather Pack 800 DownTek™ Hooded Jacket- Top of Whitney Gilman Ridge, Cannon Cliff, Franconia Notch State Park, New Hampshire- photo by Oliver

See you in the mountains,


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