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:
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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
“What belay device is that?” was the question that popped up from my friend @sammyspindel on a short Instagram story clip of my anchor while belaying a client up the last pitch of Upper Refuse on Cathedral Ledge a few days ago. The question generated some great back and forth conversation and ultimately provided the motivation for this post, so thank you for the question Sammy!
What belay device I use is largely determined on what type of climbing I am doing. In this post I’m going to explain the advantages, disadvantages, and helpful strategies of some of the most popular options out there. I will attempt to break it down based on type and style of climbing (gym, sport, trad, alpine, ice, top-rope, multi-pitch, party of 2, party of 3). My hope is you’re able to make some informed choices over what belay device(s) you decide to use. I’ll try to work through these options from simplest to most complex.
Here we go…
The Munter Hitch
Every climber should learn how to use a Munter Hitch. This incredible hitch has served climbers well for over a hundred years. This skill can save the day when your partner drops their shiny new flavor of the day belay device off the top of the 3rd pitch of a 7 pitch climb or when your ropes are two icy from a dripping ice pillar in below freezing temps and you can’t get them bent through your tube-style device. All you need is a pear shaped locking carabiner. I prefer the Petzl Attache or Petzl William Locking Screwgate. Avoid auto-locking carabiners to facilitate tying the hitch onto the carabiner, something I demonstrate in this first video. The second video shows how this can be converted into an auto-locking Munter!
Practice this skill at home. Practice while watching the news. Learn to tie it with your eyes closed. Learn to tie it with one hand. Learn to tie it onto the belay carabiner on the anchor with one hand. Advanced users/aspiring guides: Learn to tie it on to a carabiner so it is already in the “belay” orientation. Learn to it on a carabiner so it is already in the “lower” orientation. Then learn to tie it in both those orientations when the carabiner is on your belay loop (I still struggle with mastering this last step as looking down at the carabiner turns my head upside down).
Some key points about the Munter Hitch…. IT DOES NOT “TWIST” THE ROPE! Improper use of the hitch will introduce serious “twists” and kinks into your rope. The solution? Always keep the brake strand parallel with the load strand. In that orientation you can watch the way the rope moves through the hitch without creating twists. If you hold the brake strand anywhere but parallel you will introduce twists. This is quite un-intuitive when using this hitch to rappel as our muscle memory wants us to pull back or down with the brake hand while rappelling. The proper hand position (and maximum braking power) is obtained by holding the brake strand straight up and parallel with the loaded rope. I know, crazy right? Moving on…
Standard Tube-Style Belay Devices
Almost every climber everywhere has owned and used a classic “tube-style” belay device. It’s as standard as needing a pair of climbing shoes and a chalk bag. There are more options in this category then ever before. While there are subtle differences in weight and design they all function relatively the same. While a summer camp or outdoor club might opt for the cheapest option I’d suggest for the majority of recreational climbers to go for one of the most popular models in use that includes a “higher friction” side to assist with braking and rappelling. The two models I see the most of are the Black Diamond ATC-XP and the Petzl Verso.
Some notes on this style device. I no longer carry one opting instead for the more versatile models that can be used in “plaquette” mode (more on that in a minute). That said for top-rope and lead, single pitch, gym, sport, and trad climbing there is nothing inherently “wrong” about choosing one of these simple devices.
Tube Style Devices with “Plaquette” Mode
For little additional cost and weight you can carry a tube style belay device that can also serve in “plaquette” mode. This is ideal for lead climbers who wish to belay their partner directly off the anchor after leading a pitch. This European style of belaying has become much more prevalent in American climbing in the last few decades for good reason. At its core it is more comfortable for the belayer and much simpler should the second climber need assistance to pass a crux. The time tested choices here are the Black Diamond ATC Guide and the Petzl Reverso 4. Newer options that are gaining solid following’s are the DMM Pivot which makes direct lowered off the anchor while in “guide mode” easier and the Black Diamond ATC Alpine Guide that is optimized for working with skinny twin ropes.
Single Strand Brake Assisting Devices
This category covers devices like the Petzl GriGri, Petzl GriGri+, Black Diamond Pilot, and the new to the scene Wild Country Revo. While noticeably heavier (and pricier, except for the BD Pilot) than simpler tube style device than these devices have more applications then I think most people realize. Devices like the Petzl GriGri are just at home in the climbing gym as they are on large sandstone big walls (especially given the additional durability of the GriGri+). Some climbers may avoid using one of these devices due to needing to carry a second belay device for rappelling. Well, two things… first you can rappel with these (blocked-rappel options), but more importantly and something I will get into towards the end, what’s wrong with carrying two devices? It opens up a lot of options and solutions to potential climbing issues!
You can see my full review of the Petzl Grigri+ HERE!
You can see my full review of the Black Diamond ATC Pilot HERE!
Now we get to the device that sparked this whole post. My Kong Gi-Gi. This device’s most notable quality is that when used in plaquette mode it takes the least amount of force to belay two single rated ropes at the same time. I’ve found no device that comes close to the ease of belaying two single ropes when climbing with two seconds and using “parallel” technique, a common guiding tactic to belay two seconds at the same time.
While belaying directly off the anchor shouldn’t seem tiring I’ve known many guides who developed elbow tendinitis from the repetition of pulling two ropes through plaquettes up thousands of feet of moderate climbing over a decade or so of guiding. It can serve as a rappel device if needed, though that requires an extra locking carabiner and is a relatively low-friction rappel device (third hand back-up strongly recommended).
So what should you carry?
I guess it makes sense to break this down by end-use… there are so many tools available to us these days but here’s my take on optimizing your belay device load out:
If you’re really not sure you even like climbing but want your own belay device you can keep it simple an pick up a simple tube style belay device like the Black Diamond ATC-XP or Petzl Verso. I think the higher friction side is worth the extra cost. If you are addicted to climbing you might as well invest in a single strand brake-assisting device like the Black Diamond Pilot, Petzl GriGri, or Wild Country Revo.
If you’re going more than one pitch off the deck a plaquette device like the Black Diamond ATC Guide or Petzl Reverso 4 is an easy pick. I’ve started carrying my Petzl GriGri on multi-pitch trad routes for a multitude of reasons since it greatly simplifies rope ascension in a rescue scenario but also works great for hauling bags on big wall. “Lifer’s” with big wall aspirations should seriously consider the added durability of the Petzl GriGri+.
Here I’d go with the standard plaquette device like the Black Diamond ATC Guide or Petzl Reverso 4 and the knowledge of the Munter Hitch mentioned at the beginning to help deal with icy ropes. I leave single strand brake-assisting devices home when ice climbing as they tend to not work as well on ice ropes and weight is a premium. If you climb on really skinny floss like 7.7mm twin ropes you should look at the new Black Diamond ATC Alpine Guide!
Climbing in a party of 3 (Guiding-Style)
Parties of three typically climb in either “Caterpillar” or “Parallel” style. Basically “Caterpillar” is the leader climbs, then belays the first second, after the second arrives with the 2nd rope belays the 3rd climber. It’s slower but a better choice for harder routes and newer climbers as the other option “Parallel” means the leader takes both ropes and belays both seconds simultaneously. A lot of issues can crop up to make this a mini-epic. However for skilled leaders and guides this is often a method that can see a three person party move as fast as a two person party.
As I mentioned earlier carrying two belay devices can make sense in a lot of situations. These are the combos I find myself using most as a climbing guide:
At the end of the day there are an amazing array of belay devices to chose from. The above suggestions are just my personal experience with what has worked well for me. When I started this post I thought I would cover every device out there but there are just way to many options! Hopefully the suggestions and comments I’ve made help you pick a system that works for you! Let me know in the comments if I left out your favorite belay device or if you found any of this useful and…
See you in the mountains!
Northeast Alpine Start
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I’ve been using Ortovox avalanche shovels, probes, and beacons for over 5 years now so I was pretty excited when I got the opportunity to try out the new Ortovox Trad 25 Backpack. Designed for multi-pitch rock climbing with some unique forward thinking features this is definitely a contender for best design in this category.
Let’s take an in-depth look at the different characteristics of this pack.
The dense molded foam used in the shoulder straps and back feel almost gel like. It is very comfortable. The shoulder straps are the appropriate width and contour to my 5’9″ frame perfectly. The length is perfect for my 19 inch torso and the pack rides at the right height when I’m wearing my harness. There is a shorter torso women’s version available as well.
For the amount of features this pack boosts it’s pretty impressive it only weighs one pound 12 ounces (750 grams). You can further lighten the pack by removing the aluminum frame but I found the pack rides so comfortably with the frame intact I left it in.
I was a bit concerned 25 liters (1560 cubic inches) would not be enough for my multi-pitch rock climbing/guiding kit. Turned out I had plenty of room and I think this is a generous 25L pack. It is hydration compatible and even with my 100 ounce CamelBak I was able to get my entire kit inside
When packing everything in this photo I was able to still get my helmet inside. On a subsequent trip where my partner was packing the rack I fit a Sterling Nano 60m 9.1mm climbing rope inside and strapped my helmet on the outside. For those wanting a bit more room for longer more committing routes the pack does come in a 35L size.
One of my favorite features of this pack is the “circumferential zipper”. While I can still cram my gear in via the lid covered top opening (which features it’s own innovative tightening system) when it is time to rack up I can easily get to my rack, quickdraws, shell jacket, etc.
The roomy top pocket easily fits my headlamp, bug dope, and lunch.
Once the pack is loaded up it’s easy to strap a rope on the outside. The top compression straps unhook and expand to fit any size rope and the bungee ice axe attachments on the bottom quickly secure the coil from swinging on your hike in.
The fact that this ultralight pack can hold ice axes makes it a great choice for glaciated alpine terrain, though I would probably bump up to the 35L for longer routes.
The main material seems to be a soft high count denier. I don’t have the exact specs but careful inspection of it reveals high quality stitching and no noticeable stress points. While I have only had the pack a few weeks I feel it will serve well for hundreds of climbs.
Forward Thinking Rescue
Here’s where Ortovox has really done something different. I’ve always known this company to be industry leading when it comes to safety, especially with their commitments to avalanche education. This guiding principle is evident in this pack in a few ways. First, is the simple color choice. As a search & rescue member I am a big fan of high visible orange. It’s one way to be “searchable”. “Be searchable”… that phrase was coined in conjunction with the Recco system that is included in this pack. While this technology is limited in the Northeast right now it’s gaining a lot of popularity in Europe and may gain more traction here. You can learn more about Recco here. Finally, on the inside of the circumferential zipper are imprinted images of alpine emergency signals. There’s also another concealed zippered pocket here that I just found while grabbing this image!
For multi-pitch rock climbing this pack is a great choice. It’s clear Ortovox focuses on design functionality and safety in every product I’ve ever used from them, and this pack is no exception. If you’re looking around for a solid multi-pitch pack option you can purchase this one right here. Doing so helps support this blog!