From the Ground, Up.

Yesterday Ray, Conner and I rambled through the woods on a fresh trial after an hour’s bike ride and a 7 am start on Bear Notch Road. We were heading up to Green’s Cliff, the remarkable slice of white granite visible high above the Kanc on the section I call the Swam Donkey Flats. Ray and I had been out there two weeks prior and had a taste of the blank granite walls and beautiful crack systems. Conner had been out the previous Wednesday, solo, and had managed a somewhat complicated rappel in to check out an incredible crack problem, the unfree-ed overhanging splitter called .357.

There were clouds, the woods were in their last throes of summer’s green, and while still a touch humid there was a feeling that fall was coming. Just not quite yet.

We decided to have a look at the section of cliff home to John Strand’s Black Flies Consume Jimmy Dunn, a 5.12d lead-bolted slab from the heyday of hard slab climbing. I would be surprised to hear this has yet been repeated. Avoiding the obvious like an elephant in a room we tip toed around to the left on House Made of Dawn, a high quality and well bolted 11b slab that would be right at home on Cathedral Ledge. The three of us, one rope and half the double rack forgotten on the ground, decide to have a look right to some well known and untouched potential above Black Flies.


It was my lead and Ray and I wanted to know what was around the corner , so I skidder right across a low angle slab, avoiding the oily green seepage. I have no plan other than to have  a look into the beautiful corner system that was hidden from view.

With a cam at my feet on a sloping ledge, feeling exetremely under equipped, I can’t resist the temptation to pull up on some flakes and have a closer look, but pretty soon I’m committed and not so sure it was a good idea. I fish around for small wires, find one and my whole world suddenly gets a lot less immediate. The corner above is pinched off tight, no gear but beautiful, while the flake system out right has a definite ‘dooonnnnngg’ sound to it, but looks oh-so-inviting; positive, juggy. The trouble is, it ends on an overhanging wall. There are some features above, but they just might be down sloping water polished ledges and are they 6′ or 9′ higher?

Again I launch, and again I’m feeling commited. My now meager rack has been down graded into conservation mode while I fish nuts in behind the obviously expanding flake. Eventually a good #2 Calmalot placed in a pod, instead of behind the flake, leaves me feeling more brave and I keep pulling towards the end of it’s rounded and gritty lip. I wiggle in a pretty good nut at the top of the flake, but it is thin here, and instead bury a bigger one a foot or two lower, leaving the first unclipped. If I whip I don’t want the top of the flake coming down with me and scaring my dog. It is funny the things you think about. A few shakes, a few deep breathes, a glance down at what my rope is clipped to and up I go again.

These are the beautiful moments.

My finger tips find little pad shaped indentations in the small, flat granite shelf with only a little lichen. Commiting to a mantle, the next shelf is down sloping and at a long reach, but some groping reveals a couple of edges. I do a half a pull up to see if there is a crack in the back of the shelf. I have two cams left, a 3″ piece and a 1/2″ piece. All I see is flaring, unprotectable, and lightly covered in lichen. I lock off on one arm and brush away some leafy dried crust and hiding there is a textbook horizontal 1/2″ cam placement.

A few minutes later I’m strapped to a bomber thread a good nut, Conner is following.


The young gun latches a sloping and angled rail, his feet directly below his hands, body curved like a bow on the gently overhanging wall, gear just below his feet. He is 15′ above a ledge. He launches his left hand out to a lichen covered rail, fully commited on latching it. I look away. Lichen crunches. He sticks it, his body absorbs the off balance, dynamic, sideways thrutch. The whole time I’m poking Ray and pointing up at the incredible display of bold climbing going on just a few feet above. It is like being little and being tickled by my dad, I want it to end, I want to keep going. The consequences are incomparable here, I can only imagine the hours of toil it would require to rescue a friend in these woods.

A hold that looks from below to be just a ripple becomes a good crimp and Conner gets his feet back underneath him and pulls through to jugs and  good gear. The climbing above is delicate, a gently overhanging flaring crack between two detached flakes, but protected by good gear buried reassuringly in the granite.

Ray and I follow, the short pitch is loaded with excellent climbing. We traverse off left, I’m back in front and it feels strange to clip into a couple of 1/2″ shiny stainless steel bolts, they look foreign, out of place. Just two short pitches below we had been at another bolted anchor and it seemed perfectly normal.


Usually adventures like this happen for me in the winter. This was a rare, warm-weather outing that reminded me of the vitality that is climbing, of the shifts in mindset required in this incredibly diverse sport. Lately I’ve been working a lot, but in this 90′ of new climbing I have today the contentment of a successful expedition. A Saturday odyssey in 2 pitches.

Bayard Russell
Cathedral Mountain Guides
Madison, New Hampshire