The Reckoning

One day late this spring, Sam Bendroth and I were climbing on the Mordor Wall of Cathedral Ledge.  Being the spring of the coronavirus, we were feeling pretty nervous about cramped belay ledges and we wanted to make sure that the only respiratory droplets we had to worry about were our own.  So we ventured out on a strange tour of pitches that ranged from classic, clean and gorgeous to strange, dirty and obscure.  At some point Sam started swinging around on an impressive yet forgotten Chris Gill route and I, being bored as belayers sometimes are, began to aimlessly look around the cliff.  It was then that I happened to notice a string of features that went from Diagonal to the left side of the Mordor Roof.  It even looked like there were holds through the roof… good holds…

A couple of weeks later, I helped Sam carry hundreds of feet of rope up to the top of the cliff.  He was excited to go replace bolts, yank out old terrifying bashies and flimsy pins, dial Free Finale in and send the rig (this is classic Sam Bendroth – Find. Fix. Send.)  I thought I’d borrow one of the ropes for a few minutes, rappel in, and check out if those features actually did connect.  Turns out they did.  Just barely and just perfectly.  Later that week I hauled a heavy load up to the top of the cliff and got to work.

The workload required wasn’t too terrible – the rock was generally clean and the route required only a handful of bolts – but the traversing nature of the first pitch made things difficult.  Yet swinging around up there was fun and exciting.  There was a thrill to finding the holds, discovering the gear, watching the peregrines, and simply being on such an airy and beautiful part of the cliff.  I had found a route on Cathedral Ledge – the Cathedral Ledge! – and I knew that it was good.  Never in my wildest of dreams…

Rock climbing Cathedral Ledge

Airy climbing through the left side of the Mordor Roof!  Josh Laskin photo.

A couple weeks later and Sam and I went back up on the Mordor Wall, this time with him belaying me through the new climbing.  I was as nervous about sending as I was about having Sam follow it and give me his honest opinion.  It always feels like there is pressure with the unveiling of a new route but that pressure felt so much heavier because this line was on one of the most important cliffs in the Northeast and in a venue where no new bolt is taken lightly.  While story of the send itself is pretty anticlimactic, the feeling of being up there climbing a route of my own on Cathedral Ledge was so special and amazing that it came with a sense of pride I’ve rarely encountered in my climbing.

Since that day, I’ve been up there with a few more friends and it’s been a blast every single time.  So far, Ray Rice is the only other person that has led the route.  Belaying him as he battled away for the onsight in the hot summer sun was really memorable, particularly given the fact that Ray is one of the most prolific route developers North Conway has ever seen and I have spent many a day fighting my way up some steep and sandbagged Ray Rice route.  (Let the record show that Ray thinks that the route is harder than 10d and that the upper pitch could use a second bolt.  I’m seeking further opinion on both of those points.)

So here it is, The Reckoning.  Go get on it and let me know what you think!

The Reckoning (5.10d)

Rack to #2, with an extra piece in the .4-.5 range (orange Metolius is helpful), nuts.

Great climbing and a spectacular position in the center of the Mordor Wall.  Expect standard Cathedral fare with climbing that might feel wild and a little spicy, particularly when onsighting.

Access the route by climbing up to the Diagonal Block and then following Diagonal through its 5.4 pitch.  Belay at the anchor on the left side of the dike.

Pitch 1:  Start by climbing up the third pitch of Diagonal, taking a hard right after 25’. A techy slab crux leads to some pumpy climbing to get to, and through, the roof. At a horizontal, move right to a bolted anchor at a good stance.

Pitch 2: Traverse right into a short corner and head up to a testy slab sequence that guards the final romp to the trees.

Rock climbing Cathedral Ledge

Just past the tricky slab crux of pitch 2.  Josh Laskin photo.

Summer 2020: We’re In This Thing Together

It’s happening!  We’re finally reopening!

Over the last few months, we have worked hard – and thought even harder – about if and how to reopen Cathedral Mountain Guides and how to get back to climbing in the places we love with the people we care so deeply about.  Most importantly, how to do so responsibly.  And now, finally, we’re happy to say that we are ready!

It is going to be different.  There will be face coverings when we share a tight belay stance, there is a health form that you will have to fill out (twice…), we’ll have to drive separately to the crag, sanitize our hands throughout the day, our gear once the day is done.  And the list goes on.  It’s a lot to ask, we know, but we already ask a lot of each other in a day of climbing.  We are partners out there on the cliff, literally taking each other’s lives into our hands.  This is just one more move along those same lines; one more instance where good planning and good communication is key to a successful day in the mountains.

The responsibility of minimizing the risks associated with climbing during a pandemic is shared between guide and guest.  The only way we can do this is with your help.  Together we can move forward to climb again, to teach and learn again, and to be on those brilliant New Hampshire rock climbs once again.

So if you are ready to get out climbing, we would love to be out there with you.  Know that the safety and well-being of our guests and guides remain our top-priority.  We pledge to take this risk seriously and to remain vigilant as we navigate an ever-evolving situation.

Please check out the nittier, grittier version of our Climbing & COVID-19 response and don’t hesitate to contact us with any ideas or questions you may have.  As always, we’re here to fine-tune the day(s) to meet your goals and needs.



Responsible Climbing in the Era of COVID-19

As the promise of warm weather and dry rock combines with the pent up energy from hunkering down for the last 10 weeks, a lot of us are beginning to venture back out to the crag.  Dipping our toes in the climbing waters feels strange… but really good and grounding… but also a little strange…

Is this the right thing to be doing?  Are we being responsible to our community?  Are the risks worth it?  

The questions weigh heavily and everyone is likely to answer them a little bit differently.  Ultimately, for me, I have decided that it is worth it.  The level of personal risk is acceptable and the risk of exposure to the community is low.  It definitely feels a little weird and it is hard to add so many rules and caveats to something that I was first attracted to because of the freedom I found in it.  However, I’ve been adapting, trying my best to figure it out, and adjusting as the times change and the understanding of the situation improves.  Flexibility seems to be key here, and just like everybody else, I’ve been rolling with the punches.  This is as true in climbing as it is in day-to-day life right now.For what it’s worth, here are some of the things I’ve been thinking about as I make my decisions surrounding going climbing:

  • Who am I climbing with?  Up until yesterday, I had only gone climbing with people living in my household (I am lucky to live with two different climbing partners).  Yesterday, I climbed with a friend outside of my personal quarantine bubble for the first time.  Before doing so, I considered his approach to life in the age of the coronavirus.  Was it in sync with mine?  What was his day-to-day exposure like?  Most importantly, did he have any signs or symptoms of COVID-19?
  • Where am I climbing?  Crags that are open, local, and where I can easily avoid other parties.  It feels really good to see other climbers and say hey, but I want to steer clear of close quarters and shared belay ledges.  I realize I’m really lucky right now because in the North Conway area there are no shortage of options – climbing at the popular venues like Cathedral or Whitehorse at the off-peak times, checking out the backcountry crags on the weekend, rapping in to check out those obscure routes that have always been on the list…
  • What am I climbing? Usually at this point in the season, I am fit and finding my groove – my mental game is as strong as my fingers and I’m starting to send some harder routes and aim for the season’s big projects.  Obviously, that’s not exactly where I am right now.  I’m taking it easy.  I’m still warming up the head and the body and climbing rather conservatively.  I do intend to start pushing the difficulty envelope more and more, but only on the routes that I know are well-protected.  It’s probably not the season for those spicy Cathedral Ledge routes that are still on the list.
  • What else has changed?  For one, hand sanitizer used to be just be buried in my first aid kit.  Now it is in the brain of my pack and I reach for it regularly throughout the day.  I haven’t donned a mask at the cliff yet, but as climbers venture out more and more, I expect this to become a part of climbing this season.  I’ve been wearing my helmet even when I maybe would otherwise choose not to, I try to place more gear, and I take the opportunity to use a stick clip more than I usually do.  In general, I’m trying to be more thoughtful, more flexible, and extra cognizant of the potential impacts of me going climbing.  I’m keeping an eye on what’s happening at the local hospitals and asking myself whether or not it is ok for me to hobble into the ER with a broken ankle.  I’m thinking of what a full-blown rescue would look like – the large group, the close quarters, the reality of rescuers in the field not having hospital-grade PPE – and am reminded that this is unacceptable.

If you, too, begin to grab the rack and head for the crag, please do so thoughtfully and responsibly.  Check in regularly with the current regulations regarding travel in your area, as well as wherever you plan to climb.  Be conservative.  Be flexible.  Stay local.  Wash your hands.  And remember that sometimes, making the right choice means staying home.

And while you’re thinking about it – check out these resources from the Access Fund and the American Alpine Club.