“The history goes deep with some of the cliffs in these parts,” says Bob Parrott, a low-key Maine resident who is one of New England’s most prolific climbers. “Other stuff is just raw and wild.” That’s a fair summary of New England climbing: rich in tradition, ripe for exploration. There’s room for first ascents here, but with New England’s diverse rock, even day trips to long-established cliffs can offer a taste of the unexpected.
Every style of climbing is represented: Maine has cliffs licked by the waves of the Atlantic, and inland, some beautiful and secluded sport climbing. The Granite State of New Hampshire offers a little taste of Yosemite, with multi-pitch trad climbs up to 1,000 feet tall—as well as the cryptic, swirly schist of Rumney. Then there’s steep Massachusetts’ gneiss and Connecticut’s basaltic traprock. Even tiny Rhode Island shines for its bouldering.
Here, New England locals share some of their favorite 5.10s, some well known, some well off the map—but all classics.
Cathedral Ledge, New Hampshire
FA: Sam Streibert, Dennis Merritt, Steve Arsenault, Bruce Beck, 1971
Intimidation is a classic introduction to Cathedral Ledge’s “little big-wall free climbing.” Forty feet of blocky hero climbing lures you into the first crux, a smeary pull over a small roof that seems dauntingly unprotected. Here’s some local beta: link two medium-sized nuts together and tomahawk a placement into a crack above the roof. If that sounds ridiculous, it is. “I felt like I was cooking freaking marshmallows up there,” say North Conway local Ray Rice of his first time trying to set that crux nut. After pulling the roof, a steep layback corner gains a ledge where an insecure traverse (the second crux) guards the first anchor. The 5.10 is now done, but the action isn’t: continue on with a spicy 5.8 pitch, and two more pitches of 5.9+ to the summit.
PHOTO: Ray Rice past the marshmallow roast and gettin' s'more.
Ragged Mountain, Connecticut
FA: Henry Barber, Bob Anderson, 1972
The Constitution State's unique basaltic “trap rock” demands a wide range of techniques—especially on hard routes like Subline, one of a string of early 1970s FFAs established by “Hot Henry” Barber. “You definitely jam,” says Sam Bendroth, “but it’s not a uniform crack. You kind of throw the whole book at it. There’s slopers, crimpers, pinches—but there aren’t that many jugs.” Expect an extremely pumpy route at the outer limit of 5.10.
PHOTO: "Please be a hand jam..." Sam Bendroth throwing the book at it.
Rumney, New Hampshire
FA: Tom Bowker, 1987
When Tom Bowker placed the bolts on this very stout 5.10, it became the first sport route in Rumney, and one of the first in New England. Despite its modern pro, the climbing has an old-school feel. “Peer Pressure is a classic, technical Rumney 5.10 that climbs like a 5.11,” say local Kayte Knower. Gym-trained climbers will likely find the delicate footwork and burly laybacks difficult, and a little heady compared with Rumney’s more gymnastic routes.
PHOTO: Kayte Knower having a little bit of old-school fun.
Cannon, New Hampshire
FA: Steve Arsenault, Sam Streibert, 1969
This nine-pitch route slices through the middle of New England’s biggest wall. “It has it all,” says Kevin Mahoney. “Finger-tip underclings, good locks, jugs, slab climbing, and a steep exit out of a small cave.” The first four pitches—the hardest and cleanest—have bolted belays, and many climbers bail at this point, only reaching the wall’s halfway point. But as Mahoney says, VMC Direct Direct is “a classy route up the best part of the cliff.” Keep it classy and top out!
PHOTO: Kevin Mahoney, New Hampshire's young man of the mountains.
Great Head, Acadia National Park, Maine
FA: Paul Boissoneault, late 1980s
Acadia’s Great Head is the most impressive sea cliff on the New England coast. “And Head Arête goes right up the friggin’ thing,” declares Pete Fasoldt. Fasoldt—who co-owns the Atlantic Climbing School in Bar Harbor—has seen waves crash five bolts up the route. Even in gentle conditions, the turbulent Atlantic adds some titillating atmosphere. Low down, you’ll find pockets and runnels in the seaside granite. Higher, safe from the tides, expect techy vertical moves. Though primarily bolted, this isn’t a sport climb. Bring a few fi ger and hand-sized pieces and a cool head.
PHOTO: Pete Fasoldt loves a seaside send.
Bolton Valley, Vermont
FA: John Bouchard, 1975
Sandwiched between the Adirondacks to the west and New Hampshire’s many cliffs to the east, the rolling Green Mountain State is often overlooked by climbers—not necessarily a bad thing when you’re looking for a pristine experience. The approach to The Rose begins on the 272-mile Long Trail (the country’s oldest long-distance trail, running the length of Vermont), winding through lush forests and over sparkling brooks. Just when you’ve decided there’s no climbing in the area, you round a corner and are greeted by the towering, splitter crack of The Rose. “The climbing is perfect,” says Emilie Drinkwater. “Secure hand jams —never desperate, but defi nitely pumpy. I wish it were hundreds of feet longer!”
PHOTO: Emilie Drinkwater partakes in the laying on of hands.
Shagg Crag, Maine
FA: Bob Parrott, 1995
“I could do this climb 100 times and have it feel fun every time,” says Katelyn Dolan of The Great Escape. “It’s like no other climb I’ve done in New England.” This gymnastic, endurance line of wrapper jugs traverses a 30-degree overhang, the one line of weakness on a wall stacked with 5.12s. After bouldering up to a high first bolt, expect heroic moves along a system of rails—but beware, the hardest moves come last. The Escape is a shortened version of an earlier route, Zagg Shagg (5.11d), which continues for another five bolts of burly, technical fun.
PHOTO: Katelyn Dolan ready to bust out a rail.
Whitehorse Ledge, New Hampshire
FA: Ed Webster, Doug Madara, 1976
All but lost on the far left side of Whitehorse’s South Buttress is this outstanding classic. “Whitehorse Ledge is known for slab and face climbs, but Atlantis is neither,” says Janet Bergman. “It climbs more like a route in Yosemite.” Some burly laybacking on pitch one, a moderate chimney, and then a steep 5.9 flake pitch land you high on the wall. After more chimneying, traverse under a roof and escape via a glorious finger crack—the dramatic crux.
PHOTO: Janet Bergman crux cruisin'.
Farley Ledge, Massachusetts
FA: Unrecorded, but possibly Ed Ward in the 1960s
Jon LaValley says Barn Door Crack has “the three main ingredients of a classic: super-high-quality stone, an obvious line, and you can do it over and over again and it doesn’t get old.” LaValley would know. While working on the first ascent of an adjacent 5.13 offwidth, this was his warm-up. “It does that classic New England thing and throws one move of everything at you,” says LaValley. Expect jams from fingers to ring-locks to hands, and a bit of offwidth. Barn Door Crack now has a fourth key ingredient for a classic: You can legally climb it, thanks to the Western Massachusetts Climbers Coalition’s efforts to negotiate public access to the cliff.
PHOTO: Jon LaValley keeps his eyes on the prize.
Laughing Lion, Maine
FA: Bob Parrott, 1996
Located on the Maine/New Hampshire border in Evans Notch, this is the kind of route climbers mean when they say, “hidden gem.” It’s an obvious line that gives you some wild air and varied climbing—before blasting through a 25-foot roof. Bayard Russell describes the mental crux: “You’re at a wobbly, breezy little stance, knowing you have to commit to some full-on, feet-up-high laybacking.” The route has two bolts; bring a single rack up to hand sizes—and a sporting attitude.
PHOTO: Bayard Russell hoping for the last laugh on this engaging line.
Crow Hill, MA
Gritstone-like. A burly boulder problem leads to a stunning overhanging crack.
The Power of Positive Thinking
Quincy Quarries, MA
Like any 5.10 at Quincy Quarries, this should feel like 5.12 to most climbers.
Rose Ledge, MA
OK, so it’s a 40-foot toprope problem (can be led, with a bit of spice)—but SO fun.
East Peak, CT
Steep, sustained, physical, steep crack climbing. Did we say steep?
Book of Solemnity
We solemnly swear that the first pitch is the most beautiful dihedral in the Northeast.
As good as its namesake break. How many different kinds of face moves can you do in 50 feet? Stoked!
Crack in the Woods
Kancamangus Highway, NH
Remote and perfect—overhanging hands, to a roof, to overhanging hands.
Elegant, Henry Barber thin-crack 1970s testpiece—definitely no gimme.
Humphry’s Ledge, NH
Sustained, diverse, multi-pitch adventure!
But can you get the feet to stick, too? One of Cannon’s shortest routes, featuring a gorgeous diagonal fi nger crack.
A Dare by the Sea
Otter Cliffs, ME
FA’d by the late, great Connecticut climber Jim Adair. Best line at Otter.
Eagle Bluff, ME
Eagle Bluff, near Clifton, Maine, has well over 100 routes, including this sweet, two-pitch trad line.