The former home of the now-extinct Old Man of the Mountain, the proud symbol of the Granite State, Cannon Cliff still boasts an impressive profile that is hard not to gawk at while driving by on Route 93 underneath. The cliff is composed of layered slabs of granite that seem to periodically give way and join the massive talus field at the bottom. Despite its overall chossy composure, Cannon’s classic lines offer quality that rivals some of the best rock in Yosemite, though on a smaller scale. The tallest sections reach up to 1000 feet in height, and offer arguably the best big adventures in this part of the country.
Cannon is a very traditional climbing area, and requires both experience and good route-finding skills. The grades tend to be stiff, especially on the lower end of the scale, which is important to consider when choosing a climb. A full trad rack with doubles of most sizes and a set of stoppers is required for most climbs, and for some routes (e.g., Vertigo, VMC Direct Direct) double ropes will serve you well.
If you decide to top out (which is recommended for climbs like Moby Grape and Whitney Gilman), there are two main ways to descend. From the top of the main cliff section (Moby Grape), head climber’s right through the bushy escarpment for about 15 minutes until you eventually catch site of the old helicopter landing pad. Cross this until you find the spot where the Old Man used to hang, which now is just a bunch of broken cables and concrete abutments that desperately tried to keep the Old Man in place beyond his natural expiration date. Take the water runnel down (again climber’s right) until it turns into a trail, which will take you all the way down to the lake next to the parking lot (take a right from here). It’s not recommended to leave things at the base, as it’s a pain to get back to the base from the summit, so most folks rack up at the car if they’re planning to top out. If you top out Whitney Gilman, continue to follow the ridge back and up toward the summit and you’ll find an obvious trail that leads first back, then left, then down an endless slope eventually arriving at the carriage road underneath the cliff.
Across the notch and a bit north you’ll find one of the few “tower” climbs in the Northeast, the Eaglet. This one is worth doing at least once for the exposure, and there are a few options of varying difficulty to get to the top.
Mountain Project has a good listing of the better known routes, while Jon Sykes’ guidebooks The Notches or the older Secrets of the Notch are both quite useful for a full listing of what’s available as well as interesting historical information.
- Whitney-Gilman Ridge 5.7
- Moby Grape 5.8
- Vertigo 5.9 R
- Duet Direct 5.10+
- VMC Direct Direct 5.10+
Cannon is a three season crag, though the best seasons are the summer and fall. Spring tends to be wet and seepy with some falling ice and sometimes rock to watch out for. There is often a nasty black fly season in May/June in this area of New Hampshire. The peak summer climbing here is quite enjoyable due to the breeze high on the cliff, but it’s hard to beat the climbing here in the fall when the foliage is in its peak.
The Lafayette Campground is the closest official campground near Cannon cliff. It’s also possible to camp at least 1/4 mile from the road within the National Forest, if you’re looking to save money.
There is no water at the climbing area, so get some before you come.
The best food options post-climbing are in nearby Lincoln and Woodstock. The Gypsy Cafe in Lincoln is fairly unique, while the Woodstock Inn is great for beer and burgers.
You’ll have to stay at a campground around here for a shower, or go swimming at the nearby Profile and Echo lakes.
The hike to the top of Cannon mountain is nice, and if you really want a lazy rest day, you can even take the Gondola up to the top.
If you brought your mountain bike, the best riding in the Northeast can be found about an hour north at Kingdom Trails.
By Tyler Wellman