A Night Climb for Two Knights
Avg: 2 from 1 vote
|Type:||Trad, Alpine, 1000 ft, 9 pitches, Grade III|
|FA:||RH & JP, July or Aug. 1966|
|Page Views:||378 total · 13/month|
|Shared By:||Robert Hall on Sep 23, 2015|
|Admins:||Jay Knower, M Sprague, lee hansche, Jeffrey.LeCours, Robert Hall|
DescriptionHISTORY: It is 1966. North Conway has no climbing shop; EMS would arrive 5 years later (at the store now used by IME) and IME would not appear for another decade. Guidebooks??? ..non-existent. Joe and Karen Cote"s first guidebook to Whitehorse and Cathedral would appear three years later in 1969 and list just six (6) routes* on Whitehorse, and nine (9) routes on Cathedral. Humphreys Ledge had one (1) listed in the 2nd edition!
. *There were actually five (5) more routes but Joe missed these.
If you wanted info on rock routes you drove into Boston to the AMCs headquarters (and library) at 5 Joy St. Here you read, volume by volume (no cumulative index) old Appalachia Magazines where, if you had submitted it to him, and if Ken Henderson had deemed it a worthy route he might have published it in the Rock Climbing section.
It is summer 1966 (July or Aug). At a pull-out on Rt 302, about ½ mile south of where Rt 302 is squeezed between the rock walls of Elephant Head and the railroad cut , two young climbers [Knights lets say, after all, they both also played chess! ] gaze up at the face of Mt Willard and said: Why Not?...from older AMC climbers, the leader knows there is a route up there, so the cliff had been climbed ...Looks like 3 or 4 pitches ..2 or 3 to the big bushy tree ledge, then one more to the top and on to the trail back down to the car. At 4:00 in the afternoon they start out.
1966 Approach: Not realizing a railroad track offered a quicker approach, the two scrambled down, crossed the trickling Saco river and bushwhacked up the steep slope, crossed the RR tracks and continued up to the base of a slab.
The Modern Approach - Recommended route: Look for a small cairn about 150 RR-ties "up-notch" of the "Cinema" gully, then follow cairns steeply up, keeping generally to the right side of the wide gully, to a horizontal dirst ledge just right of the "toe" of the slab that is Pitch1 of Star Trek. Move right 25-30 ft and then follow a zig-zag path up on steep ground, finally cutting back left and up to a small flat area suitable for roping up. There should be a triple-trunked bitch tree [photo] on the slab to your left, about 20 ft up. If you find yourself directly below a very mossy slab you are too far right; the correct route touches the very bottom left of this slab at a small overlap.
Alternately, it is possible to approach from Cinema Gully by hiking up and right passing the starts of "Time-Space Continuum" and "Across the Universe [ATU]", continue 30-40 ft up steep side of the ATU slab and then cut horizontally right to the next slab (the "Star Trek" slab), descend to the "toe" of that slab; continue around to the right and intercept the recommended approach. Now (as described above) move right 25-30 ft and then follow a zig-zag path up on steep ground, finally cutting back left and up to a small flat area suitable for roping up. If you find yourself directly below a very mossy slab you are too far right; the correct route touches the very bottom left of this slab at a small overlap.
See the climb "Star Trek" for a route photo showing this route.
History, Con't: A really long rope was 150ft [and then only in twisted-lay Goldline ], otherwise probably 40 meters (about 137 ft). The newest innovation was to tie 1-inch tubular webbing around your waist as a swami belt and tie the rope to that, thus saving the 10 ft of rope that the leader would normally use as a tie-in, using a bowline-on-a-coil.
P1 (As per the FA)- From the nearly flat area on the ground (20ft right and 20ft below the triple-trunked birch) scramble 15-20 ft up very steep ground and move right 15-20 ft to gain the base of a double trunked tree. [ An intermediate step left past a tree might warrant a belay!] Climb an easy ramp back left to the corner with small trees. [photo looking down]. Climb the easy "layback" flake and corner above, [photo] step left onto the main slab near the stunted birch, then up to the tree ledge. 130 ft 5.4
>Move the belay 20-25 ft to the left, look for the "S T" engraved in the rock.
Below are described much cleaner variations/ alternative(s) to the original pitch 1. They are located on the clean, white slab just up and left of the flat area at the end of the approach path. P1 -Var 1 is highly recommended as an alternate to the first pitch of Star Trek. Walk left 15-20 ft from the flat area at the end of the approach path. Climb up an easy crack 15 ft to a ledge with a triple-trunked birch tree.
P1 - Var #1, Yellow on "Slab Photo" - From the triple-trunked birch tree climb straight up 8 ft to a 8-inch overlap (gear). Continue up and left on featured slab, then up just slightly left of the bolt. Continue up, past another bolt, to the left-ish end of the crack/groove (3rd bolt) with tiny vegetation, to a flattish area below 2 black bolts on a steeper slab above. Move right easily to the right edge of the slab (to a stunted birch tree), then up to the tree ledge. 130 ft 5.6.
P1 - Var #2, Green on "Slab Photo" - From triple-trunked birch tree, step right and continue up along the right margin of the flake (gear in flake), up to a left-rising crack/groove with tiny vegetation growing in it. Move up left along this ( black bolt). Either climb up along the crack/groove (5.6/5.7) for several moves, then straight up to the afore-mention flattish area, [or climb the clean slab directly up past the bolt. (5.7-5.7+]to the same flat area] As with Var#1 move right to the stunted birch, then up to the tree ledge. 130 ft, 5.6/5.7.
Alt #1 (Black dashed line) From the flattish area, climb up and past the first black bolt, then move right to the edge of the slab and up to the tree ledge. 5.7 on the left of the bolt, 5.8 on the right.
Alt #2 (Red dashed line) Continue up past the 2nd black bolt 5.8+? / 5.9? then follow easier rock to the tree ledge.
NOTE: From the "flat" area at the end of the vegetated crack it is also possible to move left along a crack to some trees (old rap anchor) and then climb back right to the tree ledge. (Purple dashed) The terrain here is less solid than on the right.
Once on the tree ledge,walk left along the base of the black band for 30-35 ft; look for the S T semi-engraved on the rock.
P2 The 1966 route followed what would become P2 of Star Trek 16 years later: Two choices to reach the bolt (presumably placed by the Star Trek Voyagers) on the traverse: Choice 1: Start 5-6 ft to the right of the "engraved" "ST". [photo]. Up 20-25 ft in a very shallow right-facing corner, [5.5-5.6] protect (Yellow Alien, or equiv. nut) then traverse horizontally left passing an old 1/4" bolt [and its "replacement", a 3/8"].
Choice 2: Climb up 5-6 ft left of the "ST" on less secure rock, but easier climbing [5.4] , directly to the bolt. From the bolt, continue traversing left 12-15 ft and then climb up through the "nose" [photo]. About 5-6 ft to the right of the top of the "nose" there is a good belay on top of a large flake (Med. cams at your feet, or sit down) Alternately, one can belay at the 3/8" + 1/4" anchor directly above the "nose". [NOTE: All written descriptions imply that the Star Trek variant "Celestial Path" leaves from this belay and moves right and up [photo] to the 2nd, higher bush/tree ledge located right of the 1st tree ledge where P3 of "A Night Climb.." ended.]
P3 - The 1966 route followed what would become P3 of Star Trek: From the top-of-the-flake belay, move left, clip a new 3/8" bolt ["backed up" by the original 1/4" !] then up, first a bit left, then trending up and right on excellent rock with reasonable protection behind rounded flakes. Belay at left, at a 2-bolt anchor. Today you'd end this pitch at the dbl bolt anchor on the left, but in 1966 we moved right to the bush ledge* with small (2015) birch trees, located 25-30 ft to the right of the double bolt anchor of Star Trek. (* Which probably contained a tree, or at least a sturdy bush or two in 1966. In the nearly crackless slab the 1966 duo longed for the safety of a tree-belays!) 100-120 ft 5.5
History (con't) Ed Webster's description of the 1973 route "6000 Salad Bowls" indicates that route climbed through this general area and that the FA party found "several old pitons on the slabs". Did the "knights" leave any this low on the route? I forget, but soft iron pins were notorious in that even if you did remove them they might be nearly useless to use again.
P4 [Today one would probably use the double bolt anchor on Star Trek, so we will describe the pitch that way. The 1966 pitch started from the trees in the bushy ledge.] Move right from the ST anchor to gain the bushy ledge and birch trees. Climb up the obvious large flake/crack [photo] and at its top start moving right on a rising diagonal. [A fixed wire nut is located just beyond the top of the flake/crack. When found in 2015 there was a VERY rotten web-sling looped through the wire, most probably from some 1980's "back off". The sling turned to dust in the hand!] Continue moving right on a rising diagonal and climb up a brown-rock groove [last pro: a #1 (red) Camalot at the base of this brown-rock groove.] When the groove ends, step right and straight up clean white rock [photo] to the mid-slab tree ledge above. The last 50-60 ft is totally unprotected: 5.3-5.4 R/X 160 ft 5.4 R/X (130-140 ft from the small birch trees)
History, con't: By now two things are clear to the 1966 dynamic duo : 1) The trees on bushy ledge above are 80 ft oaks and maples, the duo has dramatically underestimated the height of the cliff 2) its getting dark .
History, Con't: There were no Cams, not even nuts! Protection was afforded only with pitons, [although Sam Streibert had picked up the idea of machine nuts on loops of cord while climbing in England and used them as early as 1963 on the FA of Cathedral's 3 Birches] and the pitons were soft iron at that, and of VERY limited sizes. (Chouinard's chromoly, Lost Arrow blade pitons were then just trickling in to the East coast; his angle pitons for ¾ to 1 and 1 ½ cracks, had not yet arrived. If the crack was much bigger than ½ to ¾ then there was nothing for the leader to use for protection. Wooden wedges were used for aid climbing.)
Rescue???!!..."911"...forget 'em, nonexistent! Get into trouble, you get yourself out.
Sticky rubber was 20+ years in the future; EBs more than a decade away. Even Vibram soled Robbins Boots were still a few years in the future. Climbers climbed in mountain boots, or maybe the soft kletter-shoe. Vibram, pretty much the same as the original formula from 1937, was as sticky as it got!
P5 - Look for a single pine tree about 80-100 ft up, that is your goal for this pitch. Climb 25 ft up a dike-like groove located about 20 ft left of a sandy, slabby gully. When the groove ends, climb a short white face to an obvious left-facing flake. Up the flake and step right to the single pine tree. A very pretty pitch, even if it is easy. 80-90 ft 5.3 [ It is believed that Celestial Path climbs the sandy, slabby gully and continues up the broken nose / buttress of rock above. ]
P6 A rising diagonal up left on slab takes you from the lonely pine tree to the bottom of the Big Tree Ledge 80-90 ft 5.3-5.4 R [could be combined with P5]
"P7" - Scramble (up and leftwards seems easiest, watch for lose rocks) up the steep slope and pick up the faint climber's path near the base. Class 2-3. [I added this 3/2/17 when I noticed there was no "p7" R Hall]
History, Con't: Now it is 100% clear that the duo will be benighted. They discuss an unplanned bivi on the tree ledge, and decide to push on. A full moon [well, at least full enough to see by] rises as they walk underneath the imposing upper wall, passing what would become, decades later, climbs such as Salespitch and Challenger.
They march up through the high-angle bushes, trees, and occasional lose rock to the base of the upper wall. Moving to the right along it they dismiss most of what they see as having too much unknown above what is visible. Eventually they arrive at what appears to be the end of the tree ledge and see for the first time rock that seems reasonably climbable.
P8 [Var] By moonlight the leader climbs up over grassy steps [photo] and up the shallow corner/open book of what, 25 years later, would become the first 25-30 feet of Ground Control. He reaches high and hammers in a soft-iron, 1/2, angle piton [photo] [all they had in 1966] into a hole in the crack above, climbs up and over, and gazes up at the polished face above. (This would become the very continuous 5.7+ / 5.8- P2 of Ground Control, and today sports three bolts above the double bolt anchor.), Moving a little higher, off to the right he spies .. deliverance!... a low angle slab and the top trees.
P8 (Continued) About 5-10 ft above the piton move right and down on a series of steps leading right, and past a 10-inch curved left-facing flake ( TCU, e.g. Red micro-Camalot, but alas there was nothing in 1966) to a stance below a 10 ft piece of steeper slab. [photo] Climb the slab (crux: 5.7+? to 5.8+? "PG/R" today, "R/X" in 1966) and step right to much easier climbing. Continue up and right to bushes and trees. 120-140 ft 5.7? to 5.8? R
Var P8 From the belay at the base of the grassy ledges, move out right and then up into a right-rising gully [photo]. Climb this to the top, make a step up left, then directly up and arrive at the easier climbing just to the right of the 5.7+/5.8 move of the original P8. Continue as with P8 up right, to a tree belay and then P9 to the top. Taking this variation reduces the grade of P8 to about 5.5-5.6 PG / PG-13
While the rock looks ugly, it is actually one of the best trad-protected pitches on the cliff! .
NOTE: Research by Jon Sykes for his new guidebook The NOTCHES revealed that this pitch was probably FA'ed 4July85 by Butch and Jeanne Kinnon. They called their route The Christening 5.5X. Jon speculates that they then finished on P9 of "Night Climb", but the route description given has their climb's last 2 pitches moving left too much for "Night Climb", which moves right at the top of P8 and then goes straight up on P9. "Night" also finishes in a "nowhere land", while the Kinnons reported reaching a "climber's path".
Their "P2" and "P3" would be consistent with using the P8 belay tree of "Night Climb", then ascending left-ish on a now-heavily-lichen&moss covered "black" slab to trees, then P3 up a low-angle slab which "hides" in the trees right of the top of "Ground Control" to hit the woods near the climber's path. When I was rapping around to re-discover "Night Climb's" P8 & P9 I noticed what looked like brushed footholds on the aforementioned "black slab" but thought they were more recent than 1985...but now I think that timing is about correct. If so, I'd say "more than 5.5" (!) and definitely "X" !
P9 Climb the 4-5 ft wide streak of lichen-free, light grey rock to the trees. 80 ft 5.5 R/X
Descent: Bushwhack uphill and slightly right[Alt] to the climbers path from Hitchcock Gully, thence onto the summit of Mt Willard and the hiking trail. Descend the trail to Rt 302, walk back to the car, arriving about 12 am in the morning.
Alternately, bushwhack uphill and slightly right, THEN cut back left and up to the area slightly above, and to the right, of where Ground Control ends. Continue to the summit and the hiking trail.