Reprinted with permission of Appalachia.Appalachia is America's longest-running journal of mountaineering and conservation. It is published bi-annually. Subscriptions and a limited number of back issues are available on-line by visiting http://www.outdoors.org/Publications/Journal/

APPALACHIA November 1935

424

Rhode Island, the Rock Climbers’Paradise. -- Several years ago, I read in the monthly bulletin that there would be rock climbing by the members of the Narragansett chapter at Snake Den.  Since the highest point in the State is only 805 feet above sea level, my curiosity was immediately aroused as to where such practise could be carried out. Even this highest point called Durfee Hill does not sport any cliffs of note.Since then I have learned much, but many people are still unaware of the opportunities in Rhode Island to familiarize themselves with the technique required for larger climbs than ours. It is with this thought in mind that I shall attempt to trace the growth of this pastime in the smallest state in the Union.

Prior to 1928 very little encouragement or publicity was given the rock climber in Narragansett Chapter. To be sure several members attended Boston climbs, and at the Annual Meeting verbal reports were made but no organized effort had been undertaken. At the spring meeting, in March 1928, Robert L.M. Underhill spoke on the experiences of a rock climber, and that year a wave of enthusiasm swept over the informal group, which made the year one of the most successful to date. Although the organization was entirely informal, and there were not as many climbs as in later years, the average attendance was higher. The bulk of the work at this time was carried on by Henry E. Childs, Philip Kraus, and Samuel W. Bridgham, Jr.

It was not until 1931, after nearly three years of climbing, that the first formal committee was announced. Possibly it was thought that since Rhode Island could not be listed as an Alpine Resort, could not boast of a section to compare with the Dolomites, or even sport a Joe English Hill, that those interested in such a pastime could travel with the Boston group. The enthusiasm is best shown by the two following stories taken from the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction side of our history. One member (apparently sane) attended one of the rock-climbing suppers in Boston and while under the influence of the moon on the way back to Providence stopped at one of our early climbing “cliffs” in the Red Rock district of North Attleboro for a midnight climb. Still another scheduled rock climb in February threatened to be snowed out by a blizzard the day before the climb. Machines, snowshoes, and skills were pressed into service and the climb went through as per schedule.

With such enthusiasm and the appointment of a committee consisting of Henry Childs (Chairman), Harry Brook, and John B. Hudson it is needless to say that rock climbing grew by leaps and bounds. To quote from their first report--"Rock Climbing was active during the first twelve months of the year--." During the winter one climb a month was the order while spring and fall saw two climbs a week. The writer vividly remembers his first experience at ropeless climbing during that winter on the northern exposed ledges at Seekonk on the third day of a March “northeaster." This year also marked the beginning of an annual pilgrimage to the famous Joe English Hill at New Boston, N.H. (See Appalachia Dec. 1932, pp.301-4.)

During the winter of 1933-34 the Layback Climb on Joe English disappeared due to frost action and Stebbin's Crack was substituted for it. Having had the pleasure (?) of leading a rope up that climb I sincerely hope that it passes to that land of departed rock climbs. We are also proud of one route on the face that was developed by Hank Childs. The problem of naming the climb was easily solved when, about halfway up, he was beset by a milk snake.  The collector’s urge was too great for the climber and, grasping the snake in one hand, he made his way back down to the base.Hence we now have Hanks' Milk Route.

The following year (1932) saw a continuance of the do-or-die spirit.  The all-year climbing record was continued with a result that the annual report showed a total attendance of nearly 200. This does not mean that 200 different climbers were developed in the Chapter, but the attendance at each climb when totaled reached this figure.  It was about this time that footwear in the group became very aristocratic with the appearance of patent leather. Practically all rock climbers outside of the Narragansett Chapter wear sneakers but we (just to be different) have used a regular stiff shoe with a rubber sole known as "Uskide.”  One member who had an old pair of dress shoes that were inactive had them tapped with this sole and I venture to say that no other group of this type can boast such exclusive style.

      The lean years always follow the fat years and 1933 and 1934 were not quite as successful.  The depression had at last caught up with us and while the enthusiasm was still evident, the climbs were not as well attended.

      We cannot predict what the future will bring us as far as the New Deal is concerned.  Much credit should go to the first committee for their efforts.  They furthered our interests so well that at present the rock climbers in the Narragansett Chapter have organized their activity as thoroughly as any others. John B. Hudson, as a member of the first official committee, spent many weary hours tramping throughout the State in an endeavor to locate new cliffs, and has been very successful.Another member who has worked diligently is Harry Brook. As the Secretary and, later, Chairman, to him fell the drudgery of keeping the records as well as much of the scheduling of the trips. His removal to Maine is a distinct loss to us and we sincerely hope that some of that spirit that urged him to take a week-end at Katahdin from Rhode Island will force him to return occasionally to Rhode Island.

Location of Chief Rhode Island Climbs

Diamond Hill. Some of the best climbing on cliffs varying from 20 to 90 feet high in coarse granite. Hill may be easily seen from road on right as one proceeds from Providence toward Wrentham over the Diamond Hill Road

Catamint Quarry. About 1/4 north of Diamond Hill on same road. Cars are left in highway at juncture with dirt road running left past brick store house. A two-minute walk along this road puts the climber in the quarry where long sloping slabs of a very fine granite (about trap rock) about 60 feet in length defy some of the most experienced.

Joe's Rock. Continuing on same main road toward Wrentham the vertical cliffs of course granite may be seen on left about 3 miles from Diamond Hill. (Actually they are just over the State line into Massachusetts but are used almost exclusively by the Narragansett Chapter.)

Chepachet. From the meeting place on the Putnam Pike about 2 miles west of Twin Elms Dine-and-Dance Hall.Entrance is made between two stone gate posts on the right.More granite cliffs up to 75 feet in height; also a small chimney.

West Gloucester. From the meeting place on Putnam Pike at Bowdish Reservoir, a dirt road is taken to the left directly opposite the Stumble Inn. Overhanging cliffs of course grained granite up to 5O feet high.

Lincoln Woods Reservation. Boulder climbing almost entirely. A narrow crack about 20 feet high provides the best climb in this Reservation.

Seekonk Quarry. The meeting place is at end of Rumford car line at Hunts Mills Bridge. These ledges are of traprock and usually considered the gymnasium of the entire district.

Assonett. Here again we trespass into Massachusetts for pleasure.One of the few real places of local interest where continuous climbing may be practiced over coarse grained granite.Rather difficult to find and interested parties should plan to be at meeting place scheduled in notice.

Tiverton. Continuous climbing over granite cliffs up to nearly 100 feet in height may be found on the estate of Mr. Marvel.

Richmond A. Day