Climbing the Saco Crag – North Conway, New Hampshire

I’m certainly not the most experienced outdoor climber in the world, but I have made my way to a few crags over the year. There was West Virginia’s New River Gorge, Kentucky’s Red River Gorge, Wisconsin’s Devil’s Lake, and a failed attempt in South Dakota’s Palisades.

Rubbing a climbing gnome for good luck

Rubbing a climbing gnome for good luck

Well I’ve added one more outdoor location to the list, but it was considerably more empty and more difficult to find. Since I’m not all that confident on bolt anchor setting, my outdoor climbing ventures are restricted to wherever I can hike to the top and anchor down to trees and boulders.

Before traveling to New Hampshire, I stumbled upon Joe Lyon’s blog, The Pursuit of Life. He offered pleasantly relevant advice about good top rope routes in the area and suggested the north end of Cathedral Ledge, Humphrey’s Ledge area of the Saco Crag, and Pinkham Notch at Square Ledge.

One of my first stops in New Hampshire was the White Mountain National Forest Visitor Center, where I took iPhone photos of a few key pages from a climbing guide book. Unlike in some climbing destinations, the guidebook didn’t seem all the helpful, so I really didn’t feel like making an investment in one.

I first hiked the Square Ledge Trail in search of “Chimney Route” and “The Brain”(coordinates 44.256774 – 71.245654), which Joe’s blog promised me. After a moderate hike, I found the climbing area and saw a bolt on the side of the rock. However, there were no natural anchors to tie into and there were no other climbers around to ask for advice.

My next stop was Saco Crag (coordinates 44.095537 – 71.168833). Even with notes from various climbing websites and photos of the guidebook pages, I spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to figure out where the routes were. Plenty of tree anchors were around, but where were the routes on this slab of rock?

Thank goodness for occasional yoga

Thank goodness for occasional yoga

While driving along West Side Road in North Conway, you can totally zip past the climbing area and not even know it. The crag is tucked away in the woods and there’s a dirt pullout area on the side opposite the river. If you’re around during summertime, you’ll know the area when you see people putting kayaks and tubes in the Saco River on the other side.

You’ll look up and ask yourself, “is that really the way to the crag?” And the answer is yes. A two-minute, steep, and dirty hike takes you to the promised land.

After finally settling on what I believed the V-Groove route (a 5.8) to be, I set up to climb routes #2, 3, and 4. These were 5.8 and 5.9 rated climbs that looked fairly reasonable. V-Groove was a crack climb on the right side that was trickier than I expected. There’s supposedly 18 routes on this wall, but they’re situated pretty close together and it’s hard to tell what’s what.

Some of the routes were totally overgrown, so I spent my mid-climb rest time swatting away moss, branches, bees, spiders, and spider webs. I never encountered a single other groups of climbers at Saco Crag (or any of the others supposed climbing areas I’d previously checked out) during my entire visit.

Hey New Hampshire climbers: where are you?!

Although my experience of climbing in New Hampshire was more about searching for routes than actual climbing them, it did feel great to get back up on some rock. Even though I visited New Hampshire during the heat of late June, Saco Crag was cool and shady, with a nearby river to take a dip in as well.

From what I’ve read, climbing is a “thing” in New Hampshire, but I do wonder how many climbers are making good use of all that granite. If anyone has climbed in the area, I’d love to hear from you so I can plan my next northeastern climbing adventure a little more effectively.

Thanks New Hampshire, I enjoyed your rocks and hope to see them again soon.