Whitehorse Ledge is one of the major rock climbing areas of New England and, together with neighboring Cathedral Ledge
, looms over the town of North Conway, NH. The cliff is more than 800 ft high and is divided into two sections, The Slabs area and The South Buttress area. The Slabs provide perhaps the best slab/friction climbing in the northeast and host many multi-pitch classics up to 9 pitches in length. Some of the most popular routes are Standard Route (5.5), Sliding Board (5.7), Beginner's Route (5.5), and Sea of Holes (5.7). Many of these climbs are completely featureless for long stretches, resulting in big runouts (not for the inexperiened leader). A few bolts will be found on almost every route though and there are some opportunities to place gear in cracks and flakes as well. Almost all of the belays are at solid two-bolt anchors. The South Buttress, on the other hand, is a steep 650 ft wall left of The Slabs with many steep, hard lines (mostly 5.9 and harder). This area is also home to numerous classics, including Ethereal Crack (5.10d), Children's Crusade (5.9), Last Unicorn (5.10c), Lost Souls (5.10a), and Inferno (5.8). A visit to the White Mountains isn't complete without an ascent of at least one of the classic lines on Whitehorse. Since The Slabs area is the most popular, I have summarized some of the most popular lines below.
1) Beginner's Route (II 5.5, 8 pitches)
-- Starts on the far right side of the cliff below an obvious pine tree partway up the slabs. The route is runout and popular with guided parties. After the last pitch, rappel or climb 3 pitches on Standard Route to the summit.
2) Standard Route (II 5.5, 9 pitches)
-- The route begins just left of where the approach trail reaches the cliff and starts with a 90 ft scramble/walk up the lower slabs to a flat area known as the Launch Pad. The first two pitches smear up right from here to a pothole known as the Toilet Bowl, and then left to a huge right-curving arch which is the most prominent feature of the cliff. Passing the overlaps above the arch from the belay at Lunch Ledge is the crux of the route. The climb is generally well-protected and has mostly bolted belays. See the Standard Route page for a detailed description of the entire climb.
3) The Quartz Pocket (II 5.4R, 2 pitches)
-- A popular two pitch variation to the beginning of Standard Route which is useful for passing slower parties in the arch. From the Toilet Bowl, climb straight up past a bolt, then a lieback flake to reach a bolted belay at the Quartz Pocket. From here, continue straight up to join Standard Route at the top of Pitch 4 (belay at fixed slings).
4) Slabs Direct (II 5.7, 4 pitches)
-- A runout route between Beginner's Route and Standard Route which intersects the latter midway through Pitch 5, just before Lunch Ledge. Begin from the Launch Pad, but smear way right and up to a 2-bolt anchor below a left-facing flake. From here, continue straight up in 3 more pitches to Lunch Ledge. The second pitch is 5.7R where it moves up over a slight bulge.
5) Sliding Board (II 5.7, 6 pitches)
-- This route climbs the slab just left of the prominent arch of Standard Route. Also starts from the Launch Pad, moving up and left to a belay just left of a small birch tree. From here, the route climbs 4 more pitches up the slabs to the final overlap. It is possible to rappel from here, or climb up through the final overlap (5.5) to join Standard Route and continue to the summit.
6) Sea of Holes (II 5.7, 4 pitches)
-- Located at the far left end of The Slabs, below two arches and a white streak. The route climbs straight up, passing to the right of the higher arch, then up the white streak to a left-facing corner. Finish at a pine tree on a large terrace and rappel to the ground (4 double-rope rappels).
There are numerous other routes here and in the South Buttress area. Detailed descriptions can be found in the guidebooks listed to the left.
From Route 16 in North Conway, proceed to the northernmost traffic light in town, just north of Eastern Mountain Sports (EMS) and International Mountain Equipment (IME). Go west on River Road from this traffic light and drive 0.9 miles, crossing over the Saco River, to reach the junction with West Side Road. Turn left (south) on West Side Road and proceed another 0.9 miles to a right turn at a sign for the White Mountain Hotel. This turn is just past the Lobster Trap restaurant which you will pass on your left. Drive 0.5 miles to Fairway Drive, turn right, and proceed 0.5 miles to the hotel. Park in the lower parking lot which is directly ahead. Fairway Drive continues uphill to the main hotel parking lot. On crowded weekends, it may be necessary to park at Cathedral Ledge and follow the Bryce Path south to the base of the slabs.
Getting to the Base of the Cliffs
From the Climber/Hiker parking area, walk up Fairway Drive to the main hotel parking area. The trail begins at the north end of this parking lot (i.e. the near end as you are walking up the road). Follow the obvious path for 5 minutes to the base of The Slabs, just below and right of the Launch Pad. For South Buttress routes, follow along the base of the cliff.
No permits or passes are required and there is no fee for climbing at Whitehorse Ledge.
When To Climb
April to October for rock climbing - September and October are the best months with cool temperatures and stable weather.
Public campsites can be found in the White Mountain National Forest. The closest to Whitehorse and Cathedral Ledges are Covered Bridge, Jigger Johnson, and Blackberry Crossing on the Kancamagus Highway (NH 112). These are fee areas open on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information, click here
. There are a number of private campgrounds in the North Conway area as well, including Eastern Slope Campground
, Saco River Family Campground, Cove Campground
, and The Beach Family Campground. These tend to be a little expensive ($25 per night for two adults).