Lyme Works on Holt’s Ledge Rules

  • Scott Swart positions a snow gun at the Dartmouth Skiway on January 30, 2007, as snowmaking on Holt's Ledge and Winslow Mountain begins in earnest. At right is Dustin LeBrun. (Valley News - Rob Strong) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 1/7/2017 12:09:52 AM
Modified: 1/9/2017 4:41:12 PM

Lyme — Rock climbing and hiking on the town-owned portion of Holt’s Ledge has been prohibited since the summer over concerns about property damage, liability and protecting nesting peregrine falcons.

But the Selectboard is working on a management plan for the popular climbing spot and plans to hold a public hearing on Thursday on a new ordinance to regulate the site.

Formal policymaking started last summer after members of the Lyme Conservation Commission discovered an unauthorized climbing course was being built on the cliff of Holt’s Ledge. While the course initially was thought to be on Dartmouth Skiway property owned by Dartmouth College, it turned out to be on town land and also “appeared to be dangerously close to the restricted peregrine falcon nesting area,” a draft of the ordinance states.

Bolts had been inserted into the rock, and climbing ropes had also been installed on town property. Town officials also said that trees had been cut and fire circles constructed.

When Lyme Selectboard member Jay Smith saw the damage, he decided that his first task was to make sure no further harm would be done while the town deliberated on the most logical next step.

As a result, the town-owned portion of Holt’s Ledge was officially posted against trespassing in August. The college portion, which is accessed via trails at the Skiway, remains open for students to practice ice climbing.

Climbers share a portion of Holt’s Ledge, which has an elevation of about 2,100 feet, with the falcons, Smith said. Peregrines were reintroduced on the ledge after coming dangerously close to being eradicated in New England, and Smith said the town takes its responsibility to protect the raptors seriously, as it does maintenance of the 300-foot cliff itself.

“We’ve heard a lot about how much climbers respect the landscape and everything, but what we saw when we first went up there was the complete opposite of that,” Smith said.

Smith helped develop a draft ordinance that would lift the ban on rock-climbing on town-owned cliffs, but also would protect the falcons and public safety.

The ordinance, which will be the subject of a public hearing at 9 a.m. on Thursday in the Lyme Town Office on High Street, would continue the annual cliff closings during senistive nesting periods; create a moratorium on any new “fixed protection” for climbers,” such as new bolts and ropes; delineate that climbers are responsible for assessing the safety of existing routes and ropes on the cliff; discourage the use of ice climbing picks and other such equipment on dry rock; forbid any commercial climbing; monitor use at the site; and prohibit campfires or camping.

Violators would be subject to a fine of $100 for each offense.

Area climbers said they are glad Lyme is taking steps to reopen the cliff, and some also dispute that any of their compatriots had damaged the site.

“The town said that big trees were cut. That is not my experience, I don’t know what they’re talking about,” said Greg Hanlon, a rock climber from Lyme.

“The climbers value that place more than anyone. They’re good stewards of the land.”

Hanlon has been a key advocate for area climbers throughout much of the process. Hanlon started a petition to the Selectboard to reopen the cliff to climbing and gathered more than 200 signatures. He’s optimistic about what may come from the public hearing.

Hanlon said the procedures and plans set forth by the new draft of the ordinance seem reasonable to him. He also said the moratorium on inserting any new bolts in the rock — and therefore any new fixed climbing routes — is one of largest changes detailed.

He said it’s a move in the right direction, considering the town initially considered removing all bolts entirely.

“The route development and bolting was done by people who really knew what they were doing,” Hanlon said. “They essentially provided the town with an incredible resource.”

Smith said as well that after further research and conversations with climbers, it became evident that removing bolts would damage the rock more than leaving existing bolts where they were.

Hanlon agreed that there has been a recent increase in climbers, and new bolts and routes. However, he said, this is not necessarily a bad thing.

Christina Chow and Piper Edelstein, both 14, are two who have benefited from the recent changes. The teens are from Hanover, and after climbing indoors a great deal, they made their first outdoor climb ever together at Holt’s Ledge, and their interest grew from there.

Christina has attended two organizing meetings of local climbers after the ban was enacted, and spoke at a meeting with the Selectboard as well.

“I was really happy to know that we can go there in the spring, or even in the summer,” she said of the hoped-for outcome from the draft ordinance. “It’s one of my favorite places to climb, and it’s so local.”

The issue caught the attention of California producer Craig Flax, who has been working on a documentary about climbing legend Tom Frost.

This spring, while observing the Red Rocks climbing festival, Flax struck up a conversation with the young New Hampshire pair. They were at the festival for the first time, and fit in with the film’s focus on mentoring in the sport of rock-climbing. Tom Frost’s work with photography was another aspect that set him apart as a climber, and, Flax said, he discovered that the girls’ interests matched up with his just as well. He decided to take them to Yosemite, to film them climbing and interacting with Frost, and other legends of climbing young and old.

“When Tom Frost met them, he said that their relationship reminded him a lot of his relationship with Royal Robbins, and that was a beast of a compliment,” Flax said.

Robbins was the contemporary who pushed Frost the hardest during the “golden age” of climbing in the 1970s, when rivalries were built over the race to be the first to climb each face in Yosemite National Park.

“They’re kind of the young stars of the film,” Flax said of Christina and Piper.

But Flax circles back to the golden age. The interaction between climbers and local government has rarely been a simple one, he said.

At one point in the late 1990s, Tom Frost and other climbers sued National Park Service to stop development that threatened a base camp for climbers in Yosemite National Park.

When Flax heard about the ban at Holt’s Ledge, which he called the girls’ “home crag,” he joined the conversation. Flax helped connect local climbers to the Access Fund, a nationwide nonprofit devoted to keeping open access to public rock-climbing locations, and added his own signature to Hanlon’s petition.

“I wanted others in the area to know that a lot of people are watching,” Flax said.

Holt’s Ledge has long been popular with the Dartmouth Outing Club, and it’s website describes it as “a long, rising escarpment that bounds one half of the Dartmouth Skiway in Lyme. … For decades it has been one of our most accessible ice-climbing destinations, with thick flows that form reliably each year. Some of these are quite low-angle, short, and perfect for learning.”

The Dartmouth-owned portion of Holt’s Ledge remains open, and college spokeswoman Diana Lawrence said, “We hope that the climbing community and the Town of Lyme can come to an agreement on the use of the land.”

Henry Nichols can be reached at


Climber Tom Frost was part of a lawsuit against the National Park Service in the late 1990s to stop development that threatened a base camp for climbers in Yosemite National Park. An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the lawsuit.

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