Proper Preparation: Part 2

by Colin Aina

Welcome to Part 2! 

In Part 1, I mentioned preparedness and its value to training, life events, and outdoor pursuits. In my quest for adventure I've been fortunate to become friends with some truly great people who share the same love for the outdoors (and adrenaline) that I do. 

On July 28th of these year, I set out with Nick Sintros, Ben Greene, and Jason Graver to tackle a classic Northeast multi-pitch rock climb. I learned the basics of ice and rock climbing from these gents and sharing the same affinity for good food, great beer, and childish humor ensured our friendship. Every time I climb with them, I learn something new and it helps that they have about 35 years of climbing experience between them. Ben's birthday was this day and he wanted to celebrate by climbing The Whitney-Gilman Route on Cannon cliff in Franconia Notch, New Hampshire. 

If you are familiar with the iconic Old Man in the Mountain (it collapsed in May of 2003), the five granite cliff ledges on Cannon that resemble a face when viewed from the north, the route is a few hundred feet south of him. The first ascent of this 600 foot ridge was accomplished by Bradley Gilman and Hassler Whitney in 1929 (great info and pics here) and has become "The" climb for an aspiring advanced climber. The difficulty of the climb varies from about 5.6 to 5.9 (rating ranges from 5.0 to 5.15+) but its length, exposure and long pitches make it quite the endeavor of strength and stamina, taking about 3-4 hours to complete. This climb has been on my list and I was surprised that none of the others had tackled it either, making it a sweeter celebration of Ben's birthday.

 Whitney Gilman Ridge

Whitney Gilman Ridge

 Cannon Cliff

Cannon Cliff

We separately headed to Franconia Notch from our corners of New England the night before and camped at the Lafayette Place Campground situated in the shadow of the climb. This route gets a lot of action in the summer months so climbing it on a Thursday and being the first party on it were imperative. The last thing you want to do is have to wait for a party that's already climbing. Being that this climb is made up of slowly delaminating granite makes it a hazard for rockfall (notice the talus field of rock debris at the base of it) which is magnified when someone is climbing above you. We rolled out of our tents a bit before 7am, make some quick breakfast, packed and checked our gear then started the hour approach hike to the base of the climb. The accessibility of the climb is also what makes it popular; an easy walk for just under a mile on a connected bike path to the campsite to a wooded path and onto the talus field. Scrambling up the talus takes a good amount of agility and gets the heart pumping...appropriate warmup for the climb. We were drenched when we got to the base of the route. 

It was decided that Jason and I would climb together, and Ben with Nick. Normally, the WG route is climbed in 5 pitches, we would attempt to do it in 4. This is dependent on a few factors; A. the length of your rope limits how far you can climb, B. A location on the climb where there's an accessible spot for the lead climber to create an anchor from which to belay the seconding climber. Jason and I started first, with him leading the climb and placing protection (cams or nuts) in the cracks and attaching his rope to them as I belayed him from the bottom. 

 Jason leading 1st pitch

Jason leading 1st pitch

We were climbing on a 70 meter rope so he was able to link the first 2 pitches into one long pitch, and stopped at about 140 feet to construct an anchor. Once he signaled that he was in good position he gave me the "climb on" command. I tied the rope to my harness, tightened my shoes, chalked up the hands and did a final personal gear check. "See ya up there" I said to Nick and Ben, and began to climb. The route seemed daunting at first, as Jason was belaying from atop a bulge that I couldn't see above. I climbed and as he felt the rope slacken, proceeded to belay me up. It didn't take me long to finish the 140 feet to reach Jason and I may have climbed a tad too fast (I normally do this on my first climb of the day, old sprinter habits die hard).

 Colin on 1st pitch

Colin on 1st pitch

 Second pitch

Second pitch

While I was getting situated for Jason to start leading up Pitch 2, I could hear Ben and Nick communicating below as Ben lead the pitch that I had just finished. Jason readied his gear and I gave him the commands, "You're on belay...ready to climb," "climbing," he chimed back at me and headed up. As I belayed him, I anticipated Ben to crest the bulge and join me on the ledge from which I was standing. I periodically glanced down and saw his rope as he climbed in a blind spot. Jason shouted to me about how fun the climbing was up above and I was anxious to get on it. "What's taking those guys so long?" He yelled down to me. I then yelled down at Ben, "Hey what are you guys doing down there?" Ben shouted up in a slightly concerned but composed tone, "Colin...I think I broke my ankle. I fell about 10 feet and landed on the ledge."

"Oh F&@!K" I blurted out.