I spent three days last week tramping around in the rainy woods of New Hampshire’s White Mountains — and loved every minute of it. Sure, I would have preferred sunshine, but I’m happy to say we made the absolute best of a bad situation. When you hit an unexpected bump in the road, you can’t just throw up your hands and give up; you roll with it.
I’d been looking forward to this trip, three days of sport climbing at Rumney Rocks with nine friends from Brooklyn Boulders, for weeks. So I was more than a little disappointed when the forecast called for persistent rain all week. We thought of postponing the trip, but some of us (including me) had jumped through hoops to get these days off and couldn’t easily reschedule. So we went for it, and our faith paid off.
Rumney is one of the premiere sport climbing destinations in the USA. Most of the routes were established in the late 80s and early 90s, though some even more recently. It’s best known for some classic climbs of 5.11 and above, but has solid routes all the way down to 5.0.
On Monday, June 4th, I rose well before dawn to meet the group in nearby Williamsburg. My neighborhood was still bustling from the previous night as I strode, dreary eyed but filled with adrenaline, to the subway. This is something wonderful and unique about New York City. Even on a Monday morning the previous night’s revelers mix with the early morning laborers on their way to another day. We quickly packed the cars, discussed our route and set off for points north. About an hour into the five hour ride the rain began. Too late to turn around now.
We arrived at 10:30am, and while the rain had stopped for the moment, we knew the rock would be wet for the rest of the day. Our spirits, however, were not dampened. We checked in to our accommodations at the wonderfully rustic and perfectly convenient Common Cafe, grabbed a quick and delicious egg sandwich, and set off to scout out some routes. A few of us had been climbing here before, and suspected some areas might be overhanging enough to stay dry regardless of the rain, and they were right! We were able to climb portions of routes at the Orange Crush wall, including a classic route by the same name.
I can’t say our first day was totally satisfying, but we got out there and got loosened up, which was far more than I expected as we hiked up to the crag in the driving rain. We got a taste!
We awoke to the blissful silence of dry weather, and while the sun didn’t fully cooperate, we were beyond grateful for this small gift. Tuesday was our only full day here, and if we were going to be lucky this was the time to cash in our karma.
After a lazy morning we hiked our gear up to the New Wave wall and discussed our options. There were dry-ish climbs, but they were all 5.11 and above — not exactly in my wheelhouse, especially for a warm-up. But a few of the stronger climbers in our group wanted to give it a whirl because we’d hiked a decent distance up to it, so we split from them and headed to the Meadows area and the Parking Lot Wall. Here we found a trove of solid 5.7-5.9 climbs ranging from 40 to 70 feet and mostly dry. Hallelujah! We set up shop and busted out the gear.
Climbing highlights for me were sending my first full lead climb on the long and slightly damp Glory Jean’s (5.6). It was juggy and had clear beta, save for a tricky hand traverse and awkward top out. At about 65 feet it was the perfect first lead: got my heart pumping and tested my resolve, but didn’t present a technical challenge.
After a nice rest and a few shorter climbs I hopped back on the sharp end and (with plenty of beta from my belay partner) successfully led Egg McMeadows (5.10a). Maybe I was feeling energized by the improved conditions, but if you told me I’d lead my first climb (inside or out) and a 10a in the same day, I wouldn’t have believed it. To put it mildly, I was feeling good.
Our plan for our last day in Rumney was to climb for the first half of the day and head home after lunch. Unfortunately, that was not in the forecast. Soon after we woke the rain began again. After staring at the darkening skies for a few hours, we decided to bag it and get a head start on the trip home. My plans to work on Jolt, a classic 100 foot 5.10b, were dashed. On the bright side, this left us enough time to rendezvous back at Brooklyn Boulders to scratch the itch once more before we officially split up!
If I ever doubt my love for climbing again, I’ll remember this trip and the incredible experience I had in the face of huge disappointment. I can’t wait for next time.
If you prefer cheap, cozy, and convenient to sparkling clean and luxurious, stay at the Common Cafe for $25 per person per night without linens or $35 with linens. Their main business is the adjacent cafe where you can get a very good breakfast. The smoothies ($5) are delicious and a meal alone. They also serve lunch, though we packed our own. A limited selection of climbing essentials is also available for purchase upstairs. Staff was very accommodating and welcoming to us city folk. The Rumney Climbers Association has a nice list of other options.
Plymouth, New Hampshire is about 10 minutes away by car and has nearly everything you might have forgotten. Walmart and a Hannaford grocery store are well stocked. Thai Smile is an excellent dinner option. The Drunken Noodles ($12) were perfectly spiced and satisfying, and the Tofu Triangle ($5) appetizer was also very good.
Parking ($3 per day) at the crag was no problem for us, but if you’re going on the weekend I heard it fills up fast. Get their early. There are two lots a few hundred feet apart with about twenty spots in each. If you don’t get a spot there you’ll have a long walk to the crag.