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Recom-Beast (III 5.9) – Cathedral Ledge, New Hampshire

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Sara Reeder, fresh outta' Recom-Beast's signature third pitch crux traverse, laybacks the booming Beast flake, Cathedral Ledge, New Hampshire. Photo…
Sara Reeder, fresh outta

Two great climbs that climb great together

North Conway, tucked beneath the Moat Mountains of northern New Hampshire, is a climbers’ utopia. It’s a small town (pop. 2,000) bustling with climbing life: everywhere, climbers bike to morning guiding gigs, and then take coffee fuel-ups at The Frontside Grind before reeling off a half-dozen afternoon pitches on the nearby “ledges” — Whitehorse, Humphrey’s, Sundown, or Woodchuck.

The jewel of the area, the 500-foot granite scarp of Cathedral Ledge, lies across the Saco River, just at town’s edge. The prolific Robert Underhill (et al.) made the first ascent of Cathedral, in 1931, via the Standard Route (5.6). The cliff has since been the tooth-cutting crag of choice for a bevy of American greats: Henry Barber, Joe Cote, Jim Dunn, Hugh Herr, Jim Surette, and Ed Webster, etc. But it wasn’t until 1977 that Recom-Beast — a rare splicing of clean cracks and hairy exposure that goes at 5.9 — came to exist.

Recom-Beast links the best pitches on two excellent climbs — Recompense and The Beast 666 — both on the Lower Left Wall. John Turner FA’ed the former in 1959, at the then cutting-edge grade of 5.9; he yielded a near-perfect line ascending clean splitters and corners, with, however, one small blemish: a slightly grovelly, chimney-ish corner on the third pitch. The Beast 666 is a Paul Ross and George Meyers creation with two crusher starts, the harder an aid line (The Cerberus) freed at 5.12+ by Jim Surette in 1985

Mike Heinz was the first, in 1977, to have the great idea of weaving slightly left at the third pitch of Recompense, avoiding the unwelcoming grovel by taking a dicey undercling traverse above a dizzying void — what’s become Recom-Beast’s signature section. Brave those moves and you’ll be rewarded with two of the splitter-est crack stretches in the Northeast: the detached, 60-foot hand-and-fist flake of The Beast 666, and the clean, 60-foot P4 dihedral of Recompense. Heinz’ partner on Recom-Beast, Bob Palais, was so enamored with the climb he repeated it weekly for several months after their FA. Today, the route might see three to five parties on a busy weekend.


Photo by Brian Post.
Photo by Brian Post.

The Beta

Guidebooks:Cathedral and Whitehorse Ledges, by Jerry Handren (Rockfax Series, 1996); Rock Climbs in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, by Ed Webster (Mountain Imagery, 1996)

Guide Services: Chauvin Guides International: (603) 356-8919; EMS: (800) 310-4504; IMCS: (603) 356-7064; Mahoney Alpine Adventures: (603) 387-3879; Rhino Guides: (603) 726-3030; Synnott Mountain Guides: (603) 986-9607

Equipment Shops: EMS: (603) 356-5433; IME: (603) 356-7013; Ragged Mountain Outfitters: (603) 356-3042

Rack: Cams up to No. 3 Camalot (double up on the No. 2s for the Beast flake)

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More classics near the Recom-Beast

By David Schmidt

Chicken Delight (5.9): The name might not instill fear, but you can bet your guns that you’ll be pumped by the time you hit the “Thank God” hold about 2/3 of the way up this diagnoling crack. Yellow Aliens are your friend, as are wired nuts. The rock is spectacular, as it is on the entire swath known as the Barber Wall (named in honor of prolific North Conway first-ascentionist Henry Barber), but if you’re not used to crack climbing, this route might pack a little more punch than you’re expecting out of a one-pitch outing.

The Book of Solemnity (5.10a): This two pitch climb ascends an obvious, right-facing open book to a spicy traverse. Look for soft iron pro, wired-nut placements, and be sure to bring a #2 Camalot to protect the end of the traverse! Then, get psyched for the glory layback on big holds to the anchors, which are two bolts. Typically, bolts wouldn’t be worth mentioning, but this being Cathedral, these are some of the only bolts on the entire wall. The second pitch changes in nature to a face climb, but is also spectacular. A true North Country classic. Just be sure to consider that Joe Cote put this put YEARS before the advent of sticky-rubber shoes. Remember that traverse? Makes you feel differently to think of Cote up there in leather boots on the FFA.”

Nutcracker (5.9): If you learned to climb at Rumney, the Gunks, or other East Coast face climbing Mecca’s, this one will crack your… But if you’re not evolving your crack-climbing skills, you’re not going to fare well in Yosemite, so buck up soldier and plug away! Cams are your friend for the crux, which is roughly halfway up this slightly steeper-than-vertical wall. The going starts off easy enough, but this being a Henry Barber “5.9”, you know that something wicked this way comes…and cometh it does. The pro is solid, the fall is clean (I’ve taken it several times), so consider this perfect homework before tackling anything in the Valley.

Topo by Jeremy Handren from the NEW Cathedral Ledge guidebook COMING SOON!

Recom-Beast (III 5.9) - Cathedral Ledge, New Hampshire