When I received the winter 2020 edition of Climbing Magazine, I was thrilled to see that Moby Grape was highlighted on pages 26 and 27. At first glance, the piece looks amazing. There’s a beautifully artistic topo by Shante Lomprey and three magnificent photos by Brent Doscher of Lee Hansche and Jordan Cargill. It was really great to see that Cannon Cliff get some exposure in the national climbing press.
Then I looked a bit closer and realized that this piece was full of errors.
Overall, the topo does a great job of showing elements of Cannon Cliff that are NOT on the route. Unfortunately, most of the display and wording related to the route is deeply flawed. Let’s starting at the bottom and working our way up:
- The route starts at the bottom of the Conn Buttress, the left side of which is where the original route starts. Reppy’s Crack splits the face of the buttress. The topo does not show the clearly defined right side of the buttress (which is about 10 feet right of Reppy’s).
- Reppy’s Crack, the now-standard start to the route, is shown with a dotted line ascending to the right of the actual crack. I assume the dotted line is supposed to show that the crack is an alternate line, but dotted lines generally are used to show slab climbs, not cracks.
- The bolted anchor is above and slightly to the left of Reppy’s Crack. The standard route to the anchor moves to the right side of the buttress after the main part of Reppy’s ends. The topo does not show this movement to the right and then back to the left but incorrectly shows the anchor to be well right of Reppy’s Crack.
- The original start is correctly shown as starting with a sustained layback. However, it incorrectly shows 1 bolt on the route. There are currently 2 bolts. One protects a ground fall and is about 15 or so feet off the deck. The second protects the crux move to the right (which goes at about 5.9 and is roughly where the bolt is shown).
- The topo states “5.9 cracks” on the upper section of this first pitch. The layback is sustained and runout. The bolt-protected crux move from the corner out onto the face is about 5.9. Above this section are some wonderful hand cracks leading to the bolted anchor. None of these are any harder than Reppy’s Crack, which is considered to be 5.8.
- Additionally, the topo shows a long horizontal traverse right to get to the anchor. This traverse simply does not exist since the anchor is basically centered on the top of the buttress, slightly right of the finishing cracks of the original pitch and slightly left of the finish to Reppy’s Crack.
- The most physical sequence of Moby Grape is the Triangle Roof near the top of the second pitch. It is a very prominent feature visible from the ground that, inexplicably, is not rendered at all in the topo. Instead, the topo states “5.8 loose rock.” It appears that this is a misunderstanding of the pitch. The first 75 feet of the pitch involves generally easy, low angle climbing through an area that includes some loose rock and a short chimney. The second half of the pitch involves steeper climbing on bomber rock, including the 5.8 Triangle Roof (that many of us feel is stiff for the grade). It is, therefore, accurate to say that there is 5.8 climbing and that there is loose rock, but “5.8 loose rock” implies that the 5.8 climbing is on loose rock. This is not the case.
- The third pitch does include a great 5.7 flake. However, it is not where it is shown in the topo. The actual flake is to the right of the right edge of the Conn Buttress. This edge is portrayed in the topo, but the location of the flake is wrong.
- On the topo’s 4th pitch, The Sickle is pointing to the right. In reality, it faces to the left and the slab move to the right to get to it is one of the more exciting (yet well-protected) moves on the route.
- The topo shows this pitch as being 5.8 PG-13. The only PG-13 climbing in this section would be the largely unprotectable Finger of Fate, but the way that the pitches are laid out on the topo places the Finger on the next pitch. This pitch as shown can be sewn up with gear. If you’re going to give it a protection grade, it would be G.
- While the topo shows a little arrow pointing to the Fickle Finger of Fate, it doesn’t really portray the Finger. This large shark fin of rock is quite prominent and is even visible from the highway. It’s strange that the topo doesn’t show it.
- The 6th and 7th pitches roughly show the route correctly, although the scale is inconsistent since the usual way to climb after the Boulder Problem is a short pitch straight up to a large ledge before the next pitch leads diagonally right up a tricky face over to The Cave.
- The topo correctly states that The Cave is up there around the end of the 7th But The Cave is another really prominent feature that is not portrayed on the topo. It allows access to a raised buttress that unlocks the upper part of the wall. It appears that this feature might actually be closer to where the anchor for the 6th pitch is shown on the topo.
- The final pitch is roughly shown correctly in moving to the right up “5.8 cracks [and] slabs.” This is a complicated 250 feet of varied climbing that would be very tough to show in a detailed topo.
- Kurt’s Corner is directly above The Cave. The topo shows a sharp traverse to the left. It also makes Kurt’s Corner appear to be shorter than the traditional finish, which it is not.
- Finally, the topo shows an arrow to the left for the walk off. Anyone who follows this would get horribly lost since there is no reasonable descent to the left from this part of the cliff. The actual descent is to the right (which makes sense since the climb is well right of center of the cliff).
I should also note that the locations of the belays shown are not the preferred spots. As with most long trad routes, you can break up pitches anywhere you want, but the best locations for belays are fairly different from what is portrayed in this topo.
As mentioned above, the three photos chosen to go with this piece are beautiful with great composition. But two of the three pictures are of one single formation – the Fickle Finger of Fate. It’s a unique and cool feature to be sure, but when only three pictures are meant to show off the greatness of a 1,200 foot route, why use up so much space on one feature? This is especially the case when most climbers ascend the right side of the Finger, leaving the short, awkward squeeze chimney on the left side alone. There are other parts of the climb that are incredibly interesting and photogenic, including, but not limited to: the Triangle Roof, the traverse to The Sickle, the tricky, slabby section below the Cave, the outrageous Cave Move, the awesome laybacking up Kurt’s Corner, and the finishing cracks on the standard finish.
The best I can say about the short article accompanying the topo is that it includes some useful history about the route. The author seems to have climbed the route once, five years ago, when she was a self-described “newer climber” who had something approaching an epic on the route.
She includes a number of comments that lead those of us who know the route to scratch our heads. Apparently, she isn’t aware that the Sickle is a different rock formation from the Finger of Fate when she writes that, in reference to the Finger, “one can either squeeze between the fin and the wall or come around to the exposed face of the Sickle.” After choosing to climb the left side of the Finger, she describes getting stuck when “the large cams swung across [her] body.” This is not a route that requires large cams – the biggest I’m aware of anyone bringing is a #4 (although I suppose any gear on one’s harness can get them stuck in a squeeze). The author goes on to describe her partner getting “sucked into Kurt’s Corner,” even though it is far more intricate to get to than the standard finish, and then being “gripped” on wet rock above a lone #0.2 cam. Once you get to Kurt’s Corner, it is easy to sew it up with gear, so it’s not clear where her partner was during this situation.
Beyond these dubious elements is the overall tone of the piece, which repeatedly refers to rockfall and ends with the ominous statement of “it’s best not to wait to check out this Northeast gem, because it might be gone tomorrow.” It is absolutely true that rockfall happens on Cannon. But this is also true on cliffs such as Half Dome, where more than two pitches of the Regular route were wiped out by rockfall in 2015, or El Capitan, where multiple massive rockfalls have occured recently. The entire Bonatti Pillar on the Aiguille du Dru collapsed in 2005! Do articles about Half Dome or El Cap or the Alps dwell on the potential for rockfall and warn that climbers should hurry since the route might fall down soon? The reality is that rockfall happens on big walls and we need to use good mountain sense and accept some objective risk when climbing in such grand environments.
As I mentioned at the start, I think it is great when the national climbing press focuses attention on New Hampshire climbing and particularly on Cannon. Moby Grape is a truly magnificent route. It is long and sustained, but never too challenging and certainly doesn’t have any throwaway pitches. It is incredibly varied and requires the full range of granite rock climbing skills. And every pitch has at least one really memorable and fun feature. While Shelma Jun was completely correct in writing that it “is one of the best moderate trad climbs in the Northeast,” I would go further by removing some of those qualifiers. In fact, one of my quests in climbing has been to find a long 5.8 anywhere that equals Moby Grape. It’s an interesting exercise that has so far stymied me. I have climbed a lot of long 5.8s and haven’t come across anything that comes close in Yosemite, the Bugaboos, the Tetons, the High Sierras, or anywhere in the East. (Let me know if you have any suggestions.)
So hopefully you can understand how very disappointed I was when something that should be so positive proved to be a huge disappointment.
Shante Lomprey is clearly a talented artist and her topo is a beautiful work of art. But it is inaccurate. The artist noted on Instagram that she had never heard of the route before drawing the topo and that it was a lot of work to do research on it from afar. She went on to state that “now a trip to New Hampshire may be in order.” Did anyone who knows the route even look at the topo before it was published?
While it is good that Shelma Jun included some good history related to the route in the short piece accompanying the topo, it seems very odd that the introduction to such an amazing route would be made by someone who had a single experience on the route years earlier. I climbed the East Buttress of Middle Cathedral Rock a dozen or so years ago. Does that make me the right person to write an article about what makes it special?
All of this leads to one basic question: Did anyone at Climbing Magazine do any fact checking? Did anyone at Climbing Magazine try to follow up to see if the topo or text was accurate? Did no one notice that the topo shows 8 pitches but the “Beta” section and the text refers to the climb being 7 pitches? (Yes, it is a trad route that can be broken up in any number of combinations, but shouldn’t the article at least be internally consistent?)
Maybe I am overreacting. Maybe I am too close. Maybe I am focusing on things that don’t matter. With all of this in mind, I hope that this piece helps draw attention to the amazing climbing here in the Granite State. I hope people are attracted by the beauty of the topo (but don’t try to follow it!). I hope that the pictures inspire folks to come to the Notch prepared to do some adventure climbing on our big, awesome wall.