Fall is the season to be in New England. The oppressive humidity of summer has lifted, replaced by crisp air, crisper apples, and crunchy leaves. The sun is now a welcomed sight, thawing the first frosts, and the rolling hills are transformed from waves of uniform green to speckled yellow, red, and orange—we like to forget about the brown oaks. Every weekend one small town or another hosts a fair, with fresh pressed apple cider, oxen pulls, and 700-pound pumpkins, and coffee shops, restaurants, and local breweries begin making everything apple and pumpkin flavored, from pumpkin maple lattes to apple crisp to pumpkin cheesecake. New England entertains each of the senses with its fall delights.
Autumn is also the best time to climb in the Northeast. Summer is the wrong kind of “sticky,” with your hands sweating off even the largest jugs. Winter is too cold, bringing on numb fingers and toes and later the screaming barfies. Spring simply doesn’t exist. But fall is perfect. Crisp mornings and evenings for bouldering, sunny afternoons for sport climbing, and the most amazing, colorful views for trad climbing on White Horse, Cathedral, and, best of all, Cannon. On warm September days, you can climb in a t-shirt and belay in a light jacket, never cold but never overheating. On the crisper days of late October, you can find sunny crags to keep your fingers warm on long pitches and wrap yourself in the comfort of a down jacket to belay. Your rest days can be spent apple picking, baking, hiking through peak foliage season, and getting lost in corn mazes.
Crunching through colorful leaves between boulders in Lincoln Woods or down the hill into Pawtuckaway adds a little spice to the approach. The crisper temperatures lead to the perfect balance between cool, sticky rock for gripping crimps and slopers and air just warm enough to prevent your shoe rubber from hardening and glassing off tiny edges. You can bring a thermos of hot apple cider to warm your hands and refuel between burns and munch on toasted pumpkin seeds while you take a break to jump in a pile of leaves.
The sun goes down earlier than in June, but there’s still plenty of light until dinnertime to get in a full days worth of climbing even with a two hour drive—sometimes more or less depending on where you live—to North Conway or Rumney, and, if you get to the crag before noon, you can still enjoy a chilled pumpkin spice brew while, exhausted from working your project, you watch the sunset intensify the blazing foliage.
There are few things more enjoyable after a long day of climbing than sipping warm butternut squash soup or munching on hot apple cider donuts encased in cinnamon sugar. You’re tired, hungry, and have earned your treat. You can still camp at the crag, though a 20 degree bag is recommended for October; crawling into your down cocoon with only your nose poking out into the frosty air is like being wrapped in a warm hug for the night.
Alex Honnold chided me this summer for talking about climbing in New England for the fall. When I told him he should check it out, he reminded me: “There’s this place called Yosemite.” Yes, I’ve heard of Yosemite; I hear it’s quite spectacular. One can spend days on the side of the cliff, never having to set foot on the ground. There’s no El Cap in Maine, Vermont or New Hampshire, and you probably won’t be hanging your portaledge halfway up Cannon, but if you’re on the East Coast, or would like to give some Northeast granite and schist a try, then fall is the time to visit New England.
So, whether you’re a local or just passing through, you might as well snap a few leaf pictures and sample some homemade apple crisp from a fair vendor while you’re here climbing.
Originally published September 28, 2015, on coffeetapeibuprofenclimb.blogspot.com.