Type: Trad, Alpine, 600 ft, 6 pitches, Grade II
FA: Bradley Gilman and Hassler Whitney, 1929
Page Views: 90,776 total · 540/month
Shared By: Robert Hall on Oct 12, 2006 with 2 Suggestions
Admins: Jay Knower, M Sprague, lee hansche, Jeffrey LeCours, Jonathan Steitzer, Robert Hall

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Approach & Description

[Revised description, with History added 11/28/17]
Whitney Gilman climbs the prominent ridge on the left side of Cannon. Interesting climbing, great belay ledges and incredible exposure make this climb a classic one. Edging up the well defined arete is an experience unique to New Hampshire climbing. There is no 5.7 more exposed than the WG.

The climb has NO FIXED ANCHORS at belays (although there is/was (2013) a 2-bolt emergency rap station in the vicinity of the end of P2). There are a few fixed pitons, and those that do exist are decades old. If you don’t have a hard hat, beg, borrow, steal, or buy one for this route.

There are many more potential belay stances than are listed in the route description. The route description is written to be a way to climb the route, not "THE" way. This is a very popular route; if you find you have the route to yourself try pinching yourself, you may be dreaming!

Approach: The approach is long. Expect about one hour of hiking. Park at the “Trailhead Parking” on the south-bound side of “Rt 93” about ½ mile south of the Tramway and the “Old Man Viewpoint”. [“U-turn” here if you’re going northbound.] Register at the box, (don’t forget to sign OUT at the end of the day) and walk south along the paved bike path (passing one “false trail” by a large boulder) to the path with a log and cairn. (see photo). The most common error is to walk too far and hike up the “down” trail. (see photo of “down” trail) Don’t hike up the “down” trail; it puts you WAY out of position on the talus. Follow the well-worn “up-trail” to the talus, then cairns across and up the talus. ONCE AT THE TALUS LINE, LOOK BACKWARDS FREQUENTLY SO YOU CAN FIND THE OPENING TO THE TRAIL FROM THE TALUS; if you back off the climb for any reason, you’ll be VERY happy to be able to hike back on the trail, rather than bushwhack!
See also the alternate approach beta (below Description)

Description:

NOTE: I list 6 [pitches here, but there are many opportunities to run pitches together. Esp. 3 & 4, although doing the pipe" pitch" with your belayer nearly 130 ft below seems more like soloing it. In the "old days" we used to belay on the platform just below the pipe pitch, but that was when the crack took a 2-inch "bong pition" for a bomber belay.)  

The Ridge START- Scramble up 15 ft to the very front of the buttress where a 3-4” vertical crack splits the face. [Var 1, 2]

P1 - Pitch 1 usually climbs the crack directly from the bottom (about 5.7, bring at least a #3 Camalot), or you can start on the face to the right and climb up about 8 ft to a horizontal and then hand traverse left ( reported to be about 5.5 -5.6) into the vertical crack. Continue up the crack system, moving slightly leftwards as the corner veers right. Belay at the base of a clean right-facing corner/vertical crack with old cams “fixed”. (or combine with P2) about 120 -140 ft, maybe more, 5.7 ,
[Note: The “fixed” cams are probably due to leader falls on “tipped out” cams, since the left-hand crack is substantially harder than the “unlikely looking”, but easier, right hand crack/flake.]

P2 –Climb the right-hand edge of the flake/crack, step left to the top of the flake and then move left and up on “unlikely looking” but easy climbing. Then move up and left on much easier terrain and belay about anywhere. Most will try to get close to the “V-groove” one of the key features of the next pitch. If you are doing the 5.8 “exposure” variation [Var. 3] a good belay is on a bushy ledge a few feet up and right. P2 is about 70 – 100 ft 5.5

P3 –Up into the brown rock “V-groove” with pitons ( 5.6) ; [ The “V-groove” has become more difficult than in the “earlier days” of the W-G.] Exit left, and move up into where rockfall has changed the route even more. [NOTE: If you make P3 very short (or P2 long) and set a belay at the start of the rockfall area, you avoid crossing the potentially lose rock which lies pretty much directly above your belayer.] 80-90 ft 5.6 (130-140 ft 5.6 -5.7 to upper belay)

P4 –If you have belayed at the left end of the rockfall area, move right, with some awkward moves, (and rope drag) across the rockfall area to the base of the block with double cracks. Gain the top of the block via your choice of the 4-5” off-width crack or the 1”-2” crack. [NOTE: If you chose the 4-5” crack, beware getting your knee jammed in the crack, the cause of at least one rescue.] Now move out onto the north face for the “Pipe Pitch” [15 ft of very exposed climbing]. With so much exposure it’s hard to say the “stance” at the pipe is slightly claustrophobic but it is. Three pins, and cracks for wire nuts, mark the way ahead. Footing fades and the trick is to move left onto the face for good hands and feet at the last minute. (Somewhat height related) [NOTE: If you think your second may have trouble here, you can belay just above, a bit on the right.] Otherwise, continue up and right, momentarily out on the north face again, and then up a belay. 120-130 ft 5.7 – 5.7+ (about 30 ft shorter if starting from the beginning of the rockfall area.)

NOTES: 1) Variation 3 [described later] ends here at the belay just above the pipe. 2) The pipe is not the original pipe but was replaced after the original “went missing”. 3) The “baby angle” piton, high above the pipe, was driven in Nov 1967 and has held at least one leader fall since then!

P5 –Move up and then left across a large (20ft x 20ft) sloping slab to the base of a beautiful dihedral / crack. [ possible belay here] . Up the dihedral on really fun climbing, then back out on the north face again, and then up and left to a almost flat slab and establish a belay. 100-120 ft 5.5

P6 – Move diagonally left and up for 25-30 ft (occasional piton on the way) to a sort of triangular stance at the base of a shallow dihedral. Directly up this (5.7) past a few pitons (Back ‘em up!) to the top. 70-90 ft 5.7  [At one time the triangular stance held 1 ½ to 2 feet of rock blocks, so you stood much higher, making the crux first moves of the dihedral much easier!]  Recent [2016-2018] reports (see COMMENTS) are that the flakes in this final dihedral are sounding more and more "hollow". TAKE CARE, and climb "softly", i.e no great pulling outwards. 

Bottom Section - W-G Ridge

Variations: 
Variation 1 to the START – This was the “normal” start during the 1960’s and 70’s. Walk up the talus 75 +/- feet beyond the ridge start to a gully in the north wall. Up this, stepping onto a slab at about 70ft, and then back left to a chimney-like formation. Exit east (left) out of the chimney and up an easy section of rock to the belay at the top of P1. 80-100 ft 5.4 +/- (infrequently done now, so there may have been some change)

Variation 2 to the START – Little climbed, but an interesting route, especially if considered as a start to Variation#3 (?!) The F.A. went at 5.7 A-1 or A-2; has it been done free? START - Above Variation #1, and about 20 ft below where the Black Dike enters the talus, go directly up a series of cracks and features to where a large block juts out left and “caps” the line. The F.A. used aid in the crack at the block’s bottom to exit left. One might think it should go free as an undercling traverse. Descend a bit to reach the belay at the end of P2. 110-120 ft 5.7 A-1 / A-2

Variation 3 – The “5.8 Exposed Crack Variation” (?) If you think the “pipe pitch” is exposed this one is sure to grab your attention……On P2 of the normal route (or just above where “Var#2” ends) once you are above the flake/crack and the “unlikely looking but easy climbing”, move up and right to establish a belay below a vertical crack. The variation (P3) starts by climbing the vertical crack (5.8), then makes a mantel (possible intermediate belay) and continues past a spike and a left-facing corner on the north wall (5.7 / 5.7+) to reach the ledge below the pipe. Belay here, or continue up the “Pipe Pitch”, up past the pipe to the small belay mentioned at the end of P4 of the normal route. 165 ft (+/- depending on belay) 5.8 and “5.7+ wild” .

There are variations at the top of the climb, some are mentioned in the COMMENTs.

Descent

Walk straight up into the woods on a well worn trail. The trail heads left and downhill. After a considerable amount of walking, you will reach the bike path. The trail does not go back to the base, so do not leave gear there.

Protection

Standard light rack to 3" (#3 Camalot-sized). Wire nuts are helpful, especially to back-up the pins on the Pipe pitch. The 4+inch wide crack below the pipe pitch can be proteced in a smaller crack on its right, or bring along a #4 or #5.

There are many fixed pins en route, so bring a number of slings. One rope is fine. If it is necessary to rap, one rope will get you down since there are so many ledges. You will need to leave gear, as there are no fixed anchors. Also, a helmet is mandatory.

Alternate Approach Beta

NEAlpineStart has suggested that it might be better to approach the WG Ridge from the Lafayette Place Campground to the south. Take the bike path north, pass the W-G descent trail and continue on to the normal W-G ascent trail. (see photos). If you're only gunning for the WG, this makes sense, as when you come down the campground is a short walk downhill along the bike path from the descent trail. Still, 99% of the climbers attempting the WG still use the northern lot.

History

Five decades before the introduction of “sticky rubber” and 25 years before Vibram rubber, Hassler Whitney and Bradley Gilman made the first ascent on Aug. 3rd, 1929. Using the short, natural-fiber ropes of the day (read “rope breaks with any leader fall”), the ascent was done in 17 pitches. No pitons were used for belays, nor for intermediate protection.

The original pipe was installed by Ken Henderson, probably on the 3rd or 4th ascent (Of course, he led the 2nd ascent). The idea was that the rope between belayer and climber would be draped around the pipe, thus providing a “protection” point….of course the “draping” also provided plenty of slack!...BUT, if the pipe didn’t “pull” the rope would run over the relatively smooth rock where the pipe had been driven, instead of over the rough and sharp edge of the ridge itself, thus giving the chance the rope would not break.

Was it easier then? According to G. & L. Waterman in their excellent history of Northeast climbing “Yankee Rock and Ice”, Whitney likened the difficulty to the Alps’ Grepon, about an “old school” 5.6. The Watermans mention changes (between 1929 and 1992) that increased the difficulty. Since this climber first climbed the route in 1966, I have seen changes in the first pitch, the third pitch (the V-groove pitch) and the last pitch increase those pitch difficulties from 5.5-5.6 to 5.7, from 5.5 to 5.6, and from 5.4-5.5 to 5.6-5.7, respectively. The “off width”, leading up to the “pipe pitch” has gone from an “easy” foot-and-hand/fist 2” jam crack (actually smaller than 2” since a 2” bong-piton fit perfectly) to today’s “knee catching” size. However, to me, the “pipe pitch” seems unchanged in that time frame. My opinion: the climb as a whole has gotten more difficult, but the crux remains about the same as 50 years ago.

Photos