Ty Gagne's From High Places: The variety draws serious climbers from all around

August 10. 2018 11:59PM

Kayte Knower climbing Suburban, rated 5.13a, at Rumney Climbing Area. A 5.13 (a, b, c or d) difficulty rating is near the top of the 15-step Class 5 technical rock climbing scale in the Yosemite Decimal System. (Jay Knower)

Jay Knower's first encounter with the Rumney Climbing Area was in 2003, and it hooked him. Fifteen years later he's still climbing there and speaks with the enthusiasm and passion of a first-time visitor to the popular cliffs.

"Rumney climbing is incredibly fun, and while it's relatively low risk, you have to understand the techniques of sport climbing and have that foundation of skill to be safe and enjoy it," Knower says.

The Rumney Climbing Area consists of a series of cliffs along the southwest slope of Rattlesnake Mountain in Rumney. According to Knower, who is also a member of the board of directors of the Rumney Climbers Association, each of the 20 or so cliffs has a slightly different aspect.

"It's not cookie cutter," he said. "Each cliff is completely different. They have their own character and style. Some of the cliffs are exposed to more sun and are warmer, and others are cooler and have a nice breeze. There are over 1,000 different routes to choose from."

The Rumney Climbers Association is a nonprofit group of dedicated climbers who work to promote good stewardship of the area by helping to maintain it, providing information and education to visiting climbers, and ensuring that the climbing community maintains a good relationship with the surrounding area.

The role of the association has become increasingly important as the climbing area grows in popularity - reaching far beyond the Baker River Valley. Climbers travel from places like Boston, New York, and Montreal to take advantage of all the cliffs have to offer. Knower explains that Rumney is centrally located among these large population centers and as such sees high activity during rock climbing season.

"The parking often looks full, but with so many cliffs across the slope it really spreads people out," Knower said. The lot is off Buffalo Road near state Route 25.

To meet the increasing demand, while still being mindful of the impact on the surrounding community, land purchases have been made to increase access to the cliffs and parking. The Access Fund purchased the last privately-owned track of land on the cliffs and added additional parking, and the American Alpine Club recently purchased land across the street from the climbing area and created a campground. Local businesses like the Rumney Common Café are visited by climbers in search of some pre- or post-climb calories.

For those interested in exploring what the Rumney Climbing Area has to offer, consider Ward Smith's book "Rock Climbing Guide to Rumney" or a guide service in the region.

Ty Gagne lives, works and climbs (not often enough) in New Hampshire. He is the author of "Where You'll Find Me: Risk, Decisions, and the Last Climb of Kate Matrosova" (TMC Books, 2017), and a contributor to the AMC's journal, Appalachia.

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