New England Climbing- The Differences

All throughout America, climbing routes and rock types vary in difficulty and kind. From the West and Mid-West mammoth routes of Half Dome and Black Canyon to the Alpine climbing of Mount Washington in New Hampshire, climbing can range and differ in elevation gain, altitude, and mixed routes of ice and rock. Here are some of the major differences that occur when you begin to climb on the east coast.

The Hunt-
First and foremost of the major differences is the difficulty in finding routes.  Climbing in the midwest and west is usually more popular creating routes that are easily reached with the help of a guidebook or, unfortunately this is not the case in New England.  Most routes are “word of mouth” routes that are purely spoken among local climbers who know the surrounding area well and can easily relocate them.  Driving to an unfamiliar location in search for a hidden route can leave you hiking with all your gear in the wilderness for hours.  New England can be much like a rainforest from its abundance of precipitation and vegetation will quickly overgrow mark trails and hide once easily accessible routes.  The best way to avoid this struggle is to contact a local climbing group in the area ahead of time.  These people know the area well and are able to guide climbers depending on experience to the most desirable route.

The Rock-
The second difference you will encounter is the rock type.  While I am used to climbing on sandstone and granite in Colorado, the rock in New England is much older and more compressed, thus having less natural handholds making climbing more difficult.While much of the climbing is granite and limestone that varies from rounded boulders to fractured rock, most of the climbs are on schist’s. The Mid-West and West have “big wall” climbs, high altitude, crevasses, and big mountains that entail full days of climbing that are unprecedented in comparison to anything the East coast has to offer. Another factor you will be met with is the wetness of the rock.  Rain is very predominant making the rock slippery and slicker than most other places in the US.

The Grade-
The last major difference you will experience is the fact that East Coasters are tough guys and like to rate their climbs easier than they really are.  While they would most likely disagree and say that climbers elsewhere are just “Sally’s”, I felt that 5.8’s where surely 5.9 if not 5.10-.   This could also be because New England does not have many easy climbs to begin with.  Most all of the classics are 5.9’s or higher leaving less experienced climbers struggling with everything there is to offer. There are some 5.5 easier climbs, but not enough to keep you captivated for too long.  For less experienced climbers looking to improve their skills, they will either have to get good fast, or begin to climb with willing advanced climbers that will push their 5.5 limits to the ability to climb more challenging routes.

By Carolyn Dean