If you plan on climbing at Cannon cliff, try to find a climb other than Moby Grape.
When you exit the parking lot at the base of Cannon Cliff, you will see a box on right hand side where you are expected to leave a record of your party, your vehicle, and your planned climb. Before I placed my sheet in the slot, I scanned through the 7 or so sheets from parties ahead of us. Two were planning on climbing Whitney-Gilman, one had listed a couple difficult climbs, and four were planning on climbing Moby Grape.
The path to the cliff was different than I remembered from my last trip, back in 1993. After walking up and down the path a few times, looking for the cairn that was no longer there, I finally pulled out the guide book to see that we were supposed to hook a hard right on a small path right after the bridge. The hike up to the cliff comes up just to the right of the former site of the “Old Man of the Mountains.” The fog line was right at the base of the cliff, preventing us from really identifying any features on the cliff. Still, I knew that we were to the right of the start of Moby. So we walked left along the base of the cliff.
Cannon really is a tremendous piece of granite. The frost action is brutal there, ;leading to lots of rock fall each year. That means that it has a lot of interesting features. Walking past many of the other climbs, you could see multiple lines up, corners, roofs, cracks, and aretes.
The first pitch of Moby Grape has been replaced by a better start, a single pitch climb. Reppy’s crack is a 5.8 hand crack that would feel right at home in Yosemite. When we arrived, there was a party on the climb, with the second just visible at the top of the crack, and another party all ready to go. We took our time getting prepped, as we would have to wait for both the leader and the second, but we were in no rush. Even though the climb is 8 pitches, only a couple go at 5.8 and most are easier. I did realize that I had forgotten my headlamp, and Pete admitted that he didn’t have his either. The leader of the party just starting the climb was a new leader, and had gotten scared recently, and did not know how to crack climb. He made about five feet of vertical progress in twenty minutes. We decided to move to a different climb. We decided not to do the original start of Moby as it took larger gear than we had brought, and the crowds up higher were likely to be as bad as we had there on the ground. Instead, we moved over to Vertigo, a 5.9 a few hundred feet back toward the trail.
Actually, the first pitch was not Vertigo at all, but instead the first pitch of Union Jack. It was a clean, straight ahead 5.6 and Pete lead it with no trouble at all, setting up anchor a a pair of brand new bolts that would make the ASCA proud. The second pitch went at 5.8 and was mine. The first part was quite straight forward, interesting enough with a combo of crack and layback ending at a bolt. Yep, a bolt on Cannon. The bolt was there to let you lower out, and pendulum around the corner. I’ve done a little bit of aid climbing, and cheated on my share of climbs, but I don’t recall having to do a pendulum, and certainly not one as tricky as this. I had a goldlocks moment there: My first attempt was too high, my second was too low. My third was too high. But my fourth attempt was just right. I managed to grovel across the slab to the finger crack about 20 feet to my right and get up into the second part of the pitch. Due to the way the rope was running from the bolt, I had to run it out a bit before I could place another piece, but the crack was stellar, probably 5.7 climbing. I got stumped right before the anchor, and ended up hang-dogging the last move. It was a fairly physical sequence, and I was feeling pumped. The two climbers ahead of use were rappelling down, and I ended up hanging out at the anchor with one of them. Between their tale of the offwidth and the fact that I was freezing made me decided I did not want to complete the climb. IT was Only 5.9, but I am pretty out of shape, my partner wasn’t going to lead it, and I was close to fried.
Instead, we rappelled one long 200′ rap to the ground and moved over to Slow and Easy. This is a 5.8 crack on the left edge of the big wall area. Pete gave it a quick attempt, but was shut down by the unfamiliar climbing style. I gave it a go, and, although challenged by it, lead it clean. I love crack climbing, in case you were wondering.
On the hike out, we walked down directly beneath the former site of the old man. I turned and looked up ward and saw, silhouetted against the sky two cables. They looked like wipers that had been left up while someone cleaned the windshield. I wondered which of the boulders we scrambled across had been part of New Hampshire’s icon.