The Classics: Ice Climbing, NH
Vital Stats: Ice Climbing Location: Frankenstein Cliff, Crawford Notch, NH
Season: Late November - early March for most climbs. Expect high temperatures in the low 30s and lows in the single digits.
Routes: Dropline (WI5), Pegasus (WI4), Smear (WI3), Standard Right (WI4)
What you need: Bring at least a 60m rope, 8-12 ice screws of various lengths, cordelette for anchors, and some webbing in case rappel anchors are missing. Don’t forget your helmet - a lot of ice can fall down at Frankenstein, especially on sunny days. The cliff faces north and wind often whips through the Notch, so a warm down jacket and thermos full of hot drink can be the difference between miserable suffering and a fantastic day of climbing.
Getting There: Head north on Hwy 302 out of North Conway, NH. About 1/4 mile after entering Crawford Notch State Park (there will be a small wooden sign on the right side of the road), turn left onto a dirt road and immediately right into a large parking lot. Walk up the road to its end (more parking here) and turn right onto a trail (usually well-packed), following this trail until you reach a large train trestle. For Smear, Pegasus, and other climbs in the Amphitheater, head up and left just before the trestle. For Standard Route, Dropline, and Dracula, cross the trestle and walk another few hundred yards. All routes will be on your left. Most climbs at Frankenstein are 1-2 pitches and usually equipped with webbing anchors on trees at the top. It is possible to walk-off of climbs by heading north until you reach the end of the cliff band, but rappelling is the easiest option.
History: Locals considered ice climbing at Frankenstein Cliff nearly impossible before 1969. That year, Yvon Chouinard revolutionized the sport with the introduction of the down-curved ice pick and Frankenstein’s “impossible” routes became cherry lines waiting to be plucked. The race was on. Winter of 1970-71 saw ascents of many of the classics such as Chia, Pegasus, Standard. Nearly all the best lines had been climbed by 1975. Don’t let the early dates of these ascents fool you. The climbing at Frankenstein is steep and hard, and many a modern climber has lowered unsuccessfully off of Dracula or Dropline wondering, “How the hell did they do that?” In recent years a number of local climbers have put up difficult mixed climbs on the south end of the cliff, proving wrong any of those who claim that “Frankenstein is climbed out.”
Local Beta: Climbing at Frankenstein can be crowded at times, so keep an eye on climbers above and below you. Watch your step crossing the train trestles, as more than a few climbers have ended their day early by catching a crampon or foot between the ties. Other great lines at the cliff include: The Penguin (WI4), Hobbit Couloir (WI4+), Dracula (WI4+), and Chia Direct (WI4+). If you’re parched and famished after a long day of hard ice, head back to North Conway where you can sample delicious brews with the locals at Moat Mountain Smokehouse and Brewing Co., or fill up for the next day’s adventures on hearty homemade pizza at Flatbread Pizza Co. If coffee is a must before you can even think about climbing, stop by Frontside Grind (located just next to Flatbread) for breakfast, and take one of their amazing sandwiches to-go for lunch.
Extra Day: If you’ve gotten your fill at Frankenstein and are looking for a bit more adventure, head north to Mt. Washington for some classic alpine ice above treeline on the highest peak in the state. Pinnacle Gully (WI3, 3 pitches) is a must-do and the best climb on the mountain. If the climbing at Frankenstein wasn’t hard enough, make your way to Cathedral Ledge to sample some of the most difficult and aesthetic ice and mixed climbing in New Hampshire.
Athlete’s Perspective: “Out west and in the Canadian Rockies the rock behind these ice climbs is just not very good, but here at Frankenstein we’re climbing on these routes that form over really good granite. It just makes for this awesome kind of mixed climbing – very technical and delicate.” - Bayard Russell