My quadriceps keep getting more and more sore and it’s making me feel old. Marathon days are fun in a masochistic way, and when Kevin Johnson pitched his Cannon idea to me I was immediately interested. I don’t get to climb there that often, and despite Cannon’s reputation for loose rock (it’s all true) there are some amazing granite pitches.
We met at about 9:30 Wednesday evening at a park and ride near Northampton, Ma. After a long 3.5 hour ride through the most horrendous (amazing) lightning I’ve ever seen we arrived at the pullout near the north end of Cannon Cliff. Instant bivy and 3.5 hours later we were on the move again.
Kevin’s plan was to climb three full-length grade III Cannon routes in a day. A few years ago he pretty casually climbed Moby Grape, III 5.8+ and Vertigo, III 5.9+ in a day and he wanted to see what it was like to add one more to the list. As he was unfamiliar with other routes on the cliff and we wanted to keep the grade fairly moderate for the third route we decided we would choose either Union Jack (bad decision) or Moonshadow (maybe also a bad decision), which are both 5.9.
We planned to do the climbs we were familiar with first and finish with the route we hadn’t done yet. After the fact I see that we may have wanted to sandwich the new one between the two familiar routes. Moby Grape, the most popular of the three routes was definitely going to be our first climb. That way we could beat the crowds (definitely a good decision).
At 4:50 a.m. I heard Kevin moving around and semi-unwillingly arose from my sleeping bag. This was my second pre-5 a.m. start in two days and with only 3.5 hours sleep I was like the walking dead. We racked up, packed our little packs and headed up the talus for the first time. As you would expect, there were no crowds on Moby Grape at 5:30 a.m. I lead the whole route and we were on top at about 9:10 a.m. I am ashamed to say that I’ve never climbed this route to the top, and it’s something that I plan on doing over and over again in the future. This is one of the best 5.8′s in the northeast, and one of the best long 5.8′s in the United States. The rock is a bit shattered in places, but for the most part it’s solid and really fun climbing on God’s own stone – tacky fine-grained white granite.
35 minutes later we were back in the parking lot for a short break, a snack and a water refill. We were warmed up and wide awake now. By 10:30 we were on the first pitch of Vertigo and enjoying the sunny weather (but not the black flys). Kevin lead for the whole route and we were on top at 2:10. Vertigo has some really killer climbing on the lower portion of the route (granite that’s good even for Yosemite). There is however, as I found out at this point, a good reason for the rappel bolts after the Half Moon pitch. The upper 450′ of the route is loose, really loose. A single person with prybar and a twelve pack could have the time of their life trundling large blocks on this route. Not super desirable, but it’s good to do things once just to make sure, right?
After experiencing the upper pitches of Vertigo we decided we weren’t too keen on playing the numbers game on the same upper sections of the cliff again with another route in that vicinity. Union Jack climbs the same upper section as Vertigo and Moonshadow climbs allegedly solid (everything is relative there) rock to the top. We settled for a grade II, the very classic Whitney-Gilman Ridge.
At 3:30, after a loose and longer approach (there seems to have been substantial rockfall recently on the face right of the Black Dike) We climbed the Whitney-G without a whole lot of conversation. Fatigue seemed to settling in a bit for both of us. I felt my strength waning and was definitely getting goofy. The third and final descent, which is longer and steeper on that side of the cliff, was utter punishment. Both Kevin and I felt pretty good after two routes, but the third absolutely wiped us out.
At 6:30 p.m. we hopped in the car and headed down I-93 and back to Northampton, psyched about our day but a wee bit stiff from a lot of movement. Several days later I’m still hobbling around a bit, and walking downhill is pretty uncomfortable. And my neck is a pock-marked, bloody mess from the black flies. So, do three grade III’s (actually two III’s and a II) add up to Grade IX? Well, not really. Maybe grade V+ or VI, with a whole lot of pretty fun moderate granite climbing.