2/10/12 - New England’s biggest crag, Cannon Cliff, has seen some cool winter action in recent weeks, with a couple of new variations to the classic Icarus in the middle of the cliff as well as the second winter “ascent” of the mile-long girdle traverse of the crag.
Cannon Cliff is known for unpredictable weather and considerable loose rock, making it a serious wall for competent climbers. Icarus was the first route on the wall to have its first ascent in winter, in January 1974, by Rick Wilcox and John Bouchard.
Matt McCormick and Bayard Russell seized an opportunity to create a long new variation to Icarus when they just happened to see “an incredible smear seemingly pouring out of nowhere,” according to McCormick’s blog. McCormick and Russell had set out the morning of February 2, despite less-than-ideal weather—35 degrees with rain. “I have to admit I was not optimistic,” said McCormick in his blog. They met at Cannon at 7:30 a.m. and walked the base of the cliff, trying to find the perfect route, when they saw smear on Icarus.
The warm weather proved to be a challenge for the climbers, but they persevered despite melting ice and rain soaking the climbers as they negotiated the route. “Water pretty much poured from everywhere, soaking my down belay jacket and keeping Bayard on his toes as the choosy rock and turf began to come unglued,” wrote McCormick. They swapped leads into the evening hours, and by the last pitch it was “consistently switching between pouring rain, hail, and snow.”
“Topping out the middle of Cannon in winter is not something you get to do very often,” McCormick wrote. “The setting is amazing with all the scrub pines and granite blocks covered in hoar frost.” From car to car, the climb and approach took 12 hours. They named the variation The Minotaur and rated it NEI 4+ M6+.
On February 7, Russell and Elliot Gaddy visited the area and pioneered another variation on Icarus, which they call Daedalus. (The exact line of the original Icarus is not certain.) A day later, McCormick and Freddie Wilkinson drove back to the cliff again, this time with their eyes on the winter girdle traverse on Cannon Cliff, a full day of up-and-down climbing that had only been completed by one pair, John Bouchard and Mark Richey, back in 1995. McCormick and Wilkinson had tried the girdle last season but bailed about two-thirds of the way across.
“We left the car around 5:30 a.m. and topped out on the Black Dike at about 5:30 p.m.,” McCormick said. “We started by soloing up right of Lakeview to just below the Old Man [of the Mountains'] remnants, and then basically headed left over a series of traverses, rappels/lower-outs, and some really quality upward pitches too. One of the highlights of the route is "walking the plank" for 60 feet across the top of the Great Flake that forms the Ghost Roof. Definitely sharp on both ends, without any gear between the start and finish!”
Video from last year’s attempt on the Cannon girdle below.
Dates of ascents: February 2012
Sources: Bayard Russell, Matt McCormick, mattmccormickclimbing.blogspot.com