Vikki and I spent the weekend in Boston watching Alec graduate and eating way too much food. There’s nothing like a Chinese family celebrating the success of its offspring to stop your diet plans in their tracks (we’ve been striding towards eating only plant-based foods). We did manage to visit Rock Spot Boston and drop off samples for Kevin, the retail manager. While there, we happened to meet Metro Rock gym manager John, who was at Rock Spot because he was avoiding the crowds! Apparently, MR is gigantic, but much more of a “scene.”
After the weekend, we drove out to Farley. Vikki picked up a shift along the way, so we didn’t get there until Wednesday afternoon. A hilarious thing happened while hunting around for a place to stay, but I’ll relate that story later. The denouement is that we didn’t actually make it to climb until Thursday morning.
Farley sits on Highway 2, nestled in a very pretty little valley forged by Miller’s River. The town itself is tiny, with maybe 4 total roads. It is greener than a leprechaun’s lucky drawers, and is surrounded by state parks and state forests (Erving SF, Wendell SF, Montague SF, Warwick SF, Northfield SF…). It’s reminiscent of a less remote Lost Coast. We visited the town of Wendell, a sub-1000 person town founded in 1781. There is a country store and DejaBrew, and then trees and country roads. I think these are all descendants of Mass Bay Colonists who wanted the quiet life away from the Cape, and have retained their solitude for 250 years.
Farley Ledges is on many climber’s maps, as there are many videos and articles written about the area. Even though it’s on the map, there is no such thing as a map for the place. This Mountain Project forum will explain that last sentence. If you are too lazy to read, then the upshot is that due to delicate access issues, the climbers of Western Massachusetts have asked that no route info of any kind be published, in order to keep the crowds to a minimum. More on this in another post.
So Thursday came around, and we were flying blind. Thankfully, there’s enough info to find the main areas. We parked and hiked in with pads, hoping to get some exploratory bouldering in. The map at the trailhead shows two areas, Warm Up and Grouse. We did our best to find what climbs we could, and found a couple of decent lines. What we didn’t realize until later was that, aside from a few warm-ups, the bouldering at Farley is largely V8+, and most of it very tall. Little Vikki and I, pad-hungry and out of bouldering shape, had to make the most of our day by trying the bottom halves of fun-looking testpieces. Someday, I will return and do The Speed of Life!
As per the MP forum, we were hunting out locals who, the internet assured us, would be friendly and accommodating tour guides. With a long day of bouldering out of the question, we latched on to the first other climbers we saw, and before long were introduced to Tim.
Tim had just lowered from working a fun-looking .12d called Diabolic, and while his friends took off to get to work, he spent an hour with us showing us climbs and chatting about the climbing at Farley Ledges.
Tim has been a longtime member of the Western Mass Climber’s Coalition, and has built stairs, cleaned routes, rebolted, and trailbuilt with the best of ‘em. He rarely climbs outside of the area, and his love for Farley is obvious. We found the forum to be correct. Tim was more than helpful, and we resolved to come back on Friday morning for some tasty-looking sport climbing.
As a side note, the mosquitoes were heinous. What’s worse, the locals assured us that conditions were great, and that we were lucky to have so few bugs. Okay, fine, but when you are trying to film and mosquitoes are flying into your ears and around the lens, and happily munching away on your legs while you are distracted, you don’t feel so lucky.
But lucky we were, because it turns out that the people in this region are unbelievably generous and friendly, and that’s not just the climbers. After Thursday’s failed bouldering excursion, we headed into Erving, a small town a couple of miles up the road. We decided to park the truck in a big lot, make dinner, and sleep, and if anyone bothered us, we’d just move. We were sick of driving around the woods looking for camping. Nobody bothered us at all until the morning, when the owner of the restaurant came out while we were eating breakfast and asked us if we needed anything. We explained our situation, and she hastened to make sure we knew we were welcome to stay the weekend, and to come inside if we needed water or bathrooms. Imagine that happening in Boston…
Another incident illustrates the pace and style of life around Farley and Erving. This is the funny story I mentioned earlier. We were driving towards Erving State Forest to find free camping. Society doesn’t understand people who don’t crave roofs over their heads, and for the privilege of being different, tends to charge people for a “safe” place to camp so that these fringe lunatics can be safely monitored. Vikki and I have no desire for a roof and no desire to pay for toilet access, and were driving around one of the many state forests in the area trying to get away from those who would charge us to sleep. Spying a dirt road, I charged up it with Bert (literally exclaiming “an unmarked dirt road? I have to take it!”), only to stop at an insurmountable rock 50 feet later. Attempting to back up, the front wheel got stuck in a soft spot in the ground and the two rear wheels refused to gain traction on the smooth dirt. A half an hour of digging and throwing stones under the tires and rocking back and forth only got us more stuck, so we began walking back to town to call a tow truck.
Half a mile down the road, we walked by a house with a sign advertising heirloom tomato plants for sale. Will and his mother Libby (or Wibby, couldn’t quite tell what she said) were out front, and after we exchanged pleasantries, Will offered to pull us out. We joined him in his Dodge and returned to the marshy soup that Bert was stuck in.
Will is 31, went to University of New Hampshire on a football scholarship, and moved to Erving with his family 12 years ago. He showed off his new Transformer tattoo, and before hitching us up, offered us a smoke. It was clear that we were immediately friends. The truck came out easily (he had 2 wheel drive, and I said that between us, we had 4WD and it should be easy!), and we ended up hanging out with Will at his friend Bob’s house enjoying homemade apple wine. When we became sleepy, Will directed us to one of his secret spots in the woods, which turned out to be a perfect place to camp. The situation had gone from desperate and mosquito-ridden to warm and inviting, and the kindness of strangers yet again proved to be a reliable asset.
Unfortunately, when we woke up on Friday morning in the parking lot in Erving, it was raining hard. We explored the surrounding forests by car, then dropped in to say hi to Bob before hitting the road and meeting my family for dinner in Providence, Rhode Island. I definitely wish to return to Farley for some serious climbing, and hopefully these photos do the same for you! (Also, if anyone has name/grade info, I’m definitely curious.)
IF YOU GO TO FARLEY LEDGES:
– Read this forum, if you haven’t yet.
– Get your drinking water from the spring on Moss Brook Road. Follow signs for heirloom tomato plants, then drive a bit further until you see a pullout and a little white PVC pipe on the right. People come from miles around for this stuff.
– Expect bugs, particularly in Spring/Summer.
– Be prepared for boulders, cracks, and bolts. All-rounders, get psyched!
– Stick to trails, pick up trash, yadda yadda.
– Expect any route with a golden first bolt to require some trad gear.
– Buy stuff in Erving. The town owns the crag, and might be happy if climbers were spending money there. Vote with your wallet.
Under no circumstances should you:
– Park on Highway 2, or outside of the dedicated parking lots the WMCC has worked hard to secure.
– Publish route information anywhere.
– Ignore closures, be hella loud, or do anything else to further jeopardize access.
– Shop at the local Walmart. Seriously. Buy local. And don’t go to the Subway either.
– Leave without taking a look at Speed of Life. Whether you climb V12 or V1.2, it is an inspiring line. It’s literally in the middle of the Red Trail, so you can’t miss it.