Climbing ‘Gold Mine’ Hanging Mountain Opens to Public
This October, a tiny town in the Massachusetts Berkshires became the site of a climbing access victory that benefits all parties involved. After 2 years of development, Hanging Mountain is officially open to the public.
Access negotiations between private landowners and climbing groups don’t always pan out. Property owners tend toward skepticism when regarding climbers, and for good reason — it’s inherently dangerous, and those who do it can be a little rowdy.
But that’s not the case at Hanging Mountain, Massachusetts’ newest crag. So far, amity has prevailed between previous owner Dana Ehninger and the cliff’s new owners, a collaborative group including local climbers and the Access Fund. The cliff, in the rural municipality of Sandisfield, Mass., opened for climbing on Oct. 2.
Ehninger, who still lives on 9 acres of property she retained near the crag, told the Berkshire Eagle that the development work — and the people performing it — had impressed her.
“Have you met them?” she asked. “These guys are great.”
Hanging Mountain Routes, Rules
Those guys include local climbers Russ Allen, Christopher Beauchamp, and Jeff Squire. The three know they’ve got something special at Hanging Mountain; the resource is significant in its size and quality, especially in the context of its location.
Situated 3 miles from the Connecticut border, the 14-acre site features a 1,000-foot-long southeast-facing cliff band. Ten different crags range in height from around 60 feet to 240 feet. The rock is an amalgam of granite, gneiss, and schist.
Allen said that previously, local climbers had to travel to the Adirondacks, the Gunks, or Rumney to find similar rock. “In the scope of the climbing world, buying a property like this is somewhat similar to finding a gold mine,” he said.
“This sort of thing just doesn’t happen, especially in the Northeast,” added Beauchamp. “For one thing, there just isn’t that much rock in this part of the world, or it’s kind of rinky-dink.”
So far, developers have added routes as well as infrastructure. Mountain Project currently lists just under 40 sport and trad routes, from 5.7 to mid-5.13.
Volunteers have built over a half-mile of trails, including permanent structures like boardwalks and stone steps. Two entrance kiosks displaying maps, regulations, and risk advisories sit beyond an unpaved parking lot.
Sectors of the cliff remain roped off while developers continue to clean loose rock, vegetation, etc.
It all takes place under rules prescribed by various permitting authorities. For instance, MassWildlife’s Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program recognizes the area as a “priority habitat” for nesting pairs of peregrine falcons. As a result, yearly closures will take place from Feb. 15 to June 15.
The Western Massachusetts Climbers’ Coalition, which Squire founded and still advises, bought the parcel from Ehlinger in 2019 for $101,500. Financial help came from the Ragged Mountain Foundation of Southington, Conn., and the Access Fund.
Ehninger, who bought the original 23-acre property 20 years ago, indicated that she’s happy to have the money. But the retired teacher, who’s approaching 60, says the resulting windfall is not the most critical part of the transaction.
Instead, she told the Eagle that keeping a beautiful place open to the public was her priority. She also noted that she’s been wise to the incognito climbing that’s taken place there over the years. Beauchamp, for instance, said he started visiting a decade ago. Ehninger never chased off the interlopers, despite her insurance company advising her to do so.
It’s all above board now at Hanging Mountain. Bring along the $5 suggested donation “access fee” and your helmet if you’re keen to visit. To be infinitely clear: Wear your helmet. The Coalition points out that most routes still have some amount of loose rock.
You can find the parking lot and download the PDF guidebook at the Western Massachusetts Climbers’ Coalition.