The Eaglet via the West Chimney (5.7)

Posted on August 7, 2015 by Chris Lumens in alpine, climbing, hiking.

I’ve been wanting to take a day off work and do some really classic New Hampshire trad climbing. For a while we’d been talking about doing Weissner’s Dike on Cannon, but we decided that perhaps six pitches might be a little much for our first outing in Franconia Notch. After talking with Mike at the gym, we decided that a better trip would be the Eaglet, a free standing rock spire (perhaps the only one in New Hampshire?) by the west chimney route. This would be a three pitch adventure up a very old route.

I’ve passed the Eaglet dozens of times when driving through Franconia Notch. You can see it at the north end of the notch if you look at just the right time. It’s a little far up there, but it’s unmistakeable. I was pretty excited about this climb, though also pretty nervous since I didn’t know anything about the climbing itself.

Approach

Lon and I set out from Merrimack right around 8:30 and made good time up to Franconia Notch. We parked at the Cannon Tramway lot and started getting our gear together at the same time as a car load of three people was doing the same. We asked where they were going, and of course they said the Eaglet. They also said we could go ahead of them since a team of three would be a lot slower. We wouldn’t see or hear from them again. I don’t think they found the trail.

Anyway the approach hike was very easy. We walked under the highway, hit the Greenleaf Trail, and took it for maybe ten minutes until we saw a little cairn, then took the well-worn climbers’ trail up from there. It very quickly got steep and rocky, as you’d expect from an unofficial trail. Climbers don’t generally like to hike, so they don’t put in a lot of time making nice trails with switchbacks. This was typical:

At some point, the trail ran into a wall where the options were to go left or right. Left goes to the Flatiron, another climbable cliff in the same area, so we took the right. Pretty soon, we’d found the wide ledge at the base of the climb and Lon racked up to take off on the first lead. We could tell we were at the start by a couple of old pitons above us.

The climb

First pitch

Lon led off on the first pitch, which I think was the hardest of the climb. He led it pretty solidly but with some nerves at the start, probably because it’s been a little while since he’d done any trad. The route basically goes up a little ridge and then takes a few steps left, at which point you are already over a significant drop due to how the starting ledge ends. It then follows a corner left past an old pin (which had a carabiner on it - perhaps someone bailed and I should have claimed it?), then past a couple bushes on the right to a thin move in another corner, and then finally up onto a wide ledge that is the anchor. In the above picture, you can see the two corners on the left side and the anchor ledge is up in the big clump of trees towards the top.

I though the first corner was difficult but not too difficult, but the second corner was definitely much harder. I actually slipped at this spot and had to try again. I don’t really remember what I did to get past it, but afterwards the climbing got significantly easier and I was finally standing on the ledge. Here, Lon had built a gear anchor. If we’d needed to retreat from this spot, there was one tree that was big enough to support a rappel.

Here I am at the top of the first pitch:

Second pitch

And then here’s the second pitch:

I let Lon lead this pitch, too. In fact I let him lead all the pitches. I was a little nervous about the whole thing having not led outside in a while, and also due to old school 5.7 probably being a little past my comfort zone.

Anyway our consensus on this pitch was that it was technically easier, but physically harder. In the picture above, it follows the big break in the middle to the top of the tree at right, then steps over to the chimney on the right side until you’re standing on the dividing rock, then straight up the main chimney with occassional face moves until you’re on top. Then there’s a big chockstone with a bouldering problem and you’re at the ledge.

Somewhere around the time where he was standing on the dividing rock, Lon discovered that there was no way he’d be able to climb up the chimney with his pack on. So, he took it off and attached it to the back of his harness with cordalette. Then he basically climbed up several feet, pulled the pack up, lifted it above his head, shoved it onto a ledge in the chimney, and repeated. I had to do the same thing but my pack was a lot heavier because it contained the second rope we’d need for the rappel. Like I said, overall this climbing was not very technical but was definitely a grunt. It was also more secure feeling because you’re wedged into the chimney.

At the boulder problem on top, I took a very different tactic from Lon. He did some crazy overhead heel hook thing (well, he said he did - I couldn’t see from the belay ledge). I was able to reach up and kind of behind the stone to grab it. Then I could turn myself right, work my feet up a bit, which let me work my hands up a bit, which let me work my feet up a bit more, and so on until I was on the ledge.

Towards the top, I noticed this extremely sketchy old spinning bolt. We didn’t use it:

This ledge was even more deluxe than the first. It’s basically the saddle between the ridge and the Eaglet. The anchor was many slings around a couple large rocks with newish looking rap rings. There’s space enough for a couple people to bivy, and it provides you a really great view of the whole notch. It’s also your first views behind the Eaglet, to the cliffs beyond. We could see other anchors hanging off the cliffs and sometimes even a glint from a bolt. Here’s Lon taking a break:

Third pitch

And then it was time for the third pitch:

This pitch starts up some easy rock in the center of the picture until you are standing on the little pillar towards the left side, then steps over the gap to a thin face that’s protected by a bolt right at head level. Once past that you move around a little ledge to the back side, pass a whole pile of ancient rusty pitons and a fixed tricam, and make one or two more moves to the summit.

The only part of this Lon had any trouble with at all was making the moves up the thin face. There’s a couple sad crimps and a high foot or two, but after that you’ve basically got nothing besides the edge of the ridge. Lon had trouble with it and we thought it might be height-dependent, but I had a lot of trouble with it too. I think it’s the crux of the whole climb. He did eventually make it past it, and here’s proof:

On my way up, I spotted a white sling sticking out of a crack near the beginning. It was a stuck cam. I spent several minutes trying to fiddle with it, and even used the nut tool to try prying the wires and lobes, but it was extremely overcammed and I could barely even see it. I was unable to free it and collect my first booty gear, which was probably the most disappointing part of the whole trip.

Summit

The top is about the size of a picnic ledge with a two bolt anchor, and two very shiny rappel bolts and rings maybe a foot below the summit on the face. I had a little bit of a freak out moment knowing that I’d have to rappel down from here (which I hate to do) and that detracted from my enjoyment quite a bit. However, it is a really cool place. You are completely exposed on all sides so you have a great view of the notch, all the cliffs behind, and where the old man of the mountain used to be. We took an extended break here for Lon to rig up the rappel gear, eat, drink, and enjoy the achievement. I also had him take pictures with my camera, like this one of me on the summit:

Descent

After ten or fifteen minutes, though, it was time to go. I decided I’d like to rappel first since I didn’t want to be left on the summit by myself and I wanted someone to double check my knots and backup device. Lon got everything set and chucked the ropes off the ledge. They went so far down and around a corner that we couldn’t even see the ground that they (hopefully) could reach. We tied knots in the end, just in case.

I was super nervous about starting the rappel, so despite Lon’s creative ideas for how to get started I just sort of faced away from the cliff and chucked myself back until the slings caught on the anchor. It wasn’t the most graceful of moves but it worked and prevented me from having to think about it too much. After a few steps, though, the nerves went away and I was just cruising down the side of the Eaglet. I passed a big ledge on the face about 50’ down, then got into a very long corner. At this corner I could finally see the ground and our ropes. I knew we were good. I went into a free hanging section under the bottom of the corner, then another slab, another hang, and I was on the ground right by where we’d started.

I yelled up to Lon that I was off rappel and immediately started taking all the climbing crap off and packing it away. Lon followed several minutes later after taking some more pictures from the summit and packing things up. I got a couple really nice backlit pictures of his descent, like so:

Then we packed up and hiked on out. We had to start out very carefully over all the talus, but the farther down we got the faster we could go until we were back to cruising down the Greenleaf. It was a very exciting day and I felt very accomplished for having done it, despite not doing any leading.

All pictures