Route Guide- The Best 5.6 Pitch on Cathedral Ledge

Rock climbing Cathedral Ledge
Climber: Alexandra Roberts, Photo by Brent Doscher

You’ve probably never heard of the best 5.6 pitch on Cathedral Ledge. Better than Thin Air? Yes. Better than a version of Upper Refuse? Definitely? Better than Child’s Play? Of course!

After a few people asked me about the climb I was on yesterday I decided to post some details about it because frankly this climb deserves more traffic! We do not have many moderate trad pitches on Cathedral and this one is five stars and few people even know about it… I’m hoping to change that!

The climb in question, is the 2nd pitch of Goofer’s Delight. There’s a few reasons why this wasn’t getting climbed much. Here’s some history:

History

The first ascent was during the summer of 1970 by Henry Barber and Bill O’Connell. Henry returned to the climb and got the first free ascent in October of 1972 with Bob Anderson. As Ed Webster’s Rock Climbs in the White Mountains, 3rd Ed. describes the first pitch “A sustained and strenuous climb… thrash over the lip of the cave (5.9+)”. Take note that this climb was rated 5.9+ prior to 5.10 being a recognized new grade of difficulty. Anyone who wants to do the first pitch of this route should be thinking it will be hard 5.10.

Webster’s book also suggests that the 2nd pitch follows “a dirty, right-diagonalling [sic] crack (5.6) through the lichen to the top, or (a better choice), finish up Tabu (5.9 R).

Jerry Handren’s earlier guidebook, Cathedral and Whitehorse Ledges shows some discrepancies in its description listing the route as 5.9, then the first pitch at 5.10a, followed by calling the second pitch both 5.8 (assuming this is if you finish up a corner to the right of Tabu) or 5.6 (assuming you finish up the dirty flake).

The most recent guidebook, North Conway Rock Climbs (2012), also by Jerry Handren, makes no mention of the 5.6 finish and only lists the 5.8 more direct corner finish.

Fast forward to 2016. Local climber Joe Comeau replaces the bolted anchor and protection bolt on Tabu, and spends a few days scrubbing the lichen on the 5.6 finish of Goofer’s Delight. What’s uncovered is one of the nicest wildly exposed moderate pitches in New Hampshire. The only catch is unless you are up for the first pitch burly (5.9+) “thrash” you’ll need to rap in for this one. To help with those logistics I provide the following topo and description.

Rock Climbing on Cathedral Ledge

Descent

You can rappel with a single 60 meter rope from an oak tree about 20-25 feet back from the edge (1). I was actually breaking in my new Sterling Velocity, a great 9.8 mm rope! I set my anchor quite high in this tree to aid with the pull after descending. Your ropes should hang to climbers left of the small pine near the edge. The ends will easily reach the bolted anchor below Tabu but double check your middle mark is accurate and close the system! I prefer to tie into one end before I start my rappel. That way as soon as I reach the station I am ready to clove-in to the bolted station (2) (I use a mini-quad here).

If the first climber down is leading the pitch have the second climber arrive on the left side of the station to make exiting the station easier. Once they are secured to the anchor the rope should pull smoothly and it’s a decent ledge for a ledge coil.

rock climbing Cathedral Ledge
Rap to the small birch, yellow highlighted route shows the 5.6 path, the large pine mid-way is partially obscuring the 5.8 direct finish

Leave the anchor and walk/traverse out right past a small pine and into a stellar hand-rail/crack. The feet are really good here despite it looking dirty in spots. Don’t forget to place something for your second despite the mellow traversing. You can sling the huge pine tree (3) mid-pitch with a double length sling. The second half of the pitch is 5 stars, if only it could go on for another 100 feet!

rock climbing Cathedral Ledge
Maury McKinney stopping to place his first piece after leaving the anchor… the large pine is mid-way, and the small notch to the left of the tree on skyline is the finish. It is hard to capture how stunning this feature is especially past the large pine

After pulling the wildly exposed final moves you have two options for an anchor. If you have the right sizes left (#1, #2 BD Camalots) you can get a great gear anchor in these cracks (4). If not you can go back to the trees (5). If you do I would suggest using a technique to extend yourself back towards the edge for better communication (and awesome photo ops). These trees are a bit “piney” so I don’t like to run my rope around them (use a cord and locker). A system that uses a “BHK” for a master point is great here.

Gear

If you are comfortable with the grade (it feels more 5.5 to me but the exposure might make it feel 5.6) a regular rack up to #2 is sufficient. If you want to sew it up I would double up on the .75, and #1. Tri-cams work well in a few places. It’s definitely a G-rated route when it comes to protecting it, just don’t leave your second with a huge swing potential.

Summary

This is an excellent end of day pitch after topping out Upper Refuse or Thin Air if you’re looking to get one more great pitch in before heading out. You can combine it with top-belaying both Tabu (or leading it if you are up for it), and Reverse Camber, or a lap on nearby Pine Tree Eliminate. Due to the traversing nature of the climb top-belaying it without leading it first is not feasible. So that’s it, best 5.6 pitch on the cliff! Check it out and let me know if you agree/disagree!

See you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start

References:

Rock Climbs in the White Mountains, East Volume, 3rd Edition by Ed Webster, pages 133-137

Cathedral and Whitehorse Ledges, by Jerry Handren, page 64

North Conway Rock Climbs, by Jerry Handren, pages 211-212

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