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.



Not Your Typical Girl’s Day

By CMG Guide Alexa Siegel

‘Standard Route’ is the classic Grade 3 ice climb at Frankenstein Cliffs in Crawford Notch. On a typical Saturday you have to get there early or wait in line as hoards of people scramble up every which way. To most North Conway locals, Standard is as casual as a summertime dip in the Saco. This was my second season ice climbing and my partner Hanna and I picked Standard Route as our goal for the season. We were quickly running out of time and this would be the most difficult thing either of us had climbed.

Tuckerman's Ravine

Hanna and I sussing out an early season route in Tuckerman’s Ravine

We rolled up in Hanna’s little blue Volkswagen “olf” (the G fell off some time ago) and booted up. As we approached the trestle, a man jumped in front of us leaving his two partners contemplating how to fasten their gators.

“What are you climbing?” the man eagerly asked over his shoulder.

“Just Standard” Hanna said as I struggled to hear from the back of the group.

“Ohh….us too”, he said “Just the other day, I saw someone put their partner on Standard for his first lead. I mean can you imagine that as your first lead?”

Hanna looked back at me and I gave her a nervous wide-eyed stare. He proceeded to lecture us about “putting in your time”. Doubt bubbled to the surface as we listened to his rant.

My boyfriend’s lecture the night before about taking ice climbing more seriously started to make me question our preparedness. “Ice climbing is not like rock climbing Alexa, you can’t fall and you need to be focused,” he droned. When Hanna and I climb together the giggles can often fool onlookers, but these ladies still mean business.

Standard Route

Hanna and I following standard earlier in the season. All smiles here.

At the base the man started racking up but he remained partnerless. Hanna and I were ready, so we decided to start up.  We collected ourselves. Calm, confident Hanna took the first lead. Now it was my turn. Stepping cautiously out of the cave, I felt a rush of nerves, but I shut it out and focused on making each swing stick.  A sense of relief soon overcame me.  We topped out, reveling in our accomplishment, descending into the New Hampshire evening with thoughts of hot whiskey drinks and a toasty wood stove.

Standard Route was not the most technical or the hardest thing I’ve done, yet the memory remains vivid.  Roping up to ice climb with another woman for the first time was an experience that remains crucial to me as a winter climber. Women are outnumbered in the outdoors in general, but this is especially true in the wintertime. This is one of the many reasons I love being a part of Ladies Only Workshops.

Poster Design by Sami Ray

Poster Design by Sami Ray


My regular climbing partners, both male and female, inspire, encourage, and make me laugh until my stomach aches. However, for me it’s a pretty rare opportunity that I get to climb in groups made up solely of women. Ladies Only Clinics create a platform for women to learn from one another and also meet new partners in a supportive environment. Our Ladies Only Workshops promote the development of women as strong, self-reliant climbers with the skills to do it all!


Last year’s Ladies Only Mountaineering course approaching Mount Monroe


13-year old Abi working her way to the top during last weekends Ladies Only Intro to Ice Climbing

13-year old Abi working her way to the top during last weekends Ladies Only Intro to Ice Climbing