In A Granite State Of Mind At Cannon Cliff
Whether you’re a local New England climber or a visiting crusher looking for an active rest day, head up to Cannon Cliff alongside I-93 and make your way up the obvious ridge slashing its way up the biggest wall in New Hampshire. This is the Whitney-Gilman Ridge (II 5.7 or 5.9). Unfortunately Cannon is no longer home to the famous “Old Man of the Mountain,” and because of this, WEAR A HELMET. This cliff is known for loose rock and difficult route finding. While you can’t eliminate falling rock, climbing a ridge naturally reduces rockfall from above and keeps route finding options to a minimum.
Before leaving the parking lot, be sure to check in at the red sign-in box. Not only does this help keep track of how many climbers head up on Cannon each day, you can also see if anyone else has the same idea as you and, more importantly, what time they started. From the sign-in box, head south along a nice paved bike trail. You will pass a few small “pull-outs” along the way, just after the third pull-out—approximately 10 minutes—look for a small cairn and a climber’s trail on the right. Follow this through the forest to a huge boulder blocking your way. Weave around it on the right and gain Cannon’s signature talus field. Aim for the ridge.
Once you huff and puff your way through the talus, you can poke around the toe of the ridge and hazard a look up the nasty black gash that is the Black Dike (NEI5). Now hop up a short 4th class corner onto a beautiful rope-up ledge right below the great opening pitch. From here, follow the obvious crack, choosing wide hand-jams or zig-zagging a bit to avoid the wideness and belay at another comfortable ledge. Depending on your use of runners and chosen path, rope drag will usually tell you when to stop. If you climb smart and look around, you can avoid any cramped stances.
Around the middle section of the ridge you’ll have to step around and into the shadows where you’ll find the infamous pipe of the “Pipe Pitch.” This is undoubtedly the most insecure and exposed section of the route. But stick with it and you’ll soon be back on the sunny side and setting up yet another comfy belay. With judicious route finding, following the line of strength, you can climb the clean face and thin cracks to the top for a great 5.9 exit. Otherwise, skirt a bit left and keep the grade more moderate. Tread lightly through some loose rock and in no time you’ll be sitting on top of the notorious Cannon Cliff, looking down at the road snaking serenely through Franconia Notch.
Take some pictures, drink some water, don your comfy shoes and hike straight back from the ridge on a good trail. At one point you can look down and right to the top pitch of the Black Dike. Hike a bit further up and soon you’ll be curving down and around the east face of Cannon Cliff, happy you didn’t leave your pack and shoes back at the base. When you return to the car, don’t forget to sign out!