I started racking up at the base of the Eaglet Spire in New Hampshire’s Franconia Notch Sunday morning with a knot in my stomach and a bit of nausea. Doug and I had been looking up at the Eaglet Spire for a few years now during many trips through the notch. The Eaglet is the only free standing spire on the east coast, and is one of the better kept secrets in New Hampshire. It is so well kept that before I became a climber I had no idea of its existence, despite hundreds of hiking trips on Franconia Notch’s peaks.
Part of the reason for the the Eaglet’s secrecy is that it is not easily visible from the road and does not have a designated turn off viewing station. In fact, the Eaglet is difficult to see on the drive north through the notch but you get an excellent view of it as you come back down south. Over the last few years I often found myself slowing traffic behind me down as I dropped the speed on my car and turned my gaze from the road to the sky in order to catch a glimpse of the spire on my many trips through the notch.
Doug and I had been talking about climbing the Eaglet Spire for the last couple seasons and had yet to make a trip to it for numerous reasons: skill, commitment, and other interests (namely sport climbing and bouldering in my case).
But on Sunday morning, after a steep forty minute hike through the woods and up a scree field, the climbing became very real as Doug and I could look up and see the spire’s summit looming more than three hundred feet overhead. We debated who would get the first pitch and eventually I reluctantly took it. My mind quickly found the resolve for leading, but my stomach was not fully on board as I fought the nerves of forging upward into the unknown. In hindsight, the three cups of coffee and two donuts that I consumed on the drive north could also have been culprits in my stomach’s distress.
We both found the climbing relatively enjoyable, although perhaps a bit stiff for the grade; I suppose that solid grading should be expected when climbing more adventurous routes a little ways off the beaten path. You could also argue that some route finding errors may have made the climb more difficult than it needed to be (this seems to be a trend). My fears of finding loose rock and vegetation were put to rest as the rock was remarkably solid and took good gear, with the exception of one twenty foot section between pitch one and two.
I always assumed the joy in climbing a spire would be the feeling of standing literally on the top of something. That assumption was quickly dispatched after making a committing move onto the very exposed face of the Eaglet and clipping the fixed anchors to stand on top. The feelings of joy and accomplishment are swiftly replaced by claustrophobia when your second arrives and you find yourself sharing a postage stamp-sized space three hundred feet high. Once you incorporate two ropes and rigging a rappel, the summit becomes a tangled mess of limbs, climbing gear, and rope. I was more than happy to bid the summit farewell and rappel to a bigger, more comfortable ledge.