Travis Peckham literally wrote the book on rock climbing in Vermont with Tough Schist which was published in 2013. As part of the Climbing Access Resource Group Vermont (CRAG-VT) he has helped conserve several cliffs in Bolton and at 44, he just recorded his toughest climb.
Name: Travis Peckham
Lives in: Underhill
Family: Wife, Nancy; children, Flynn (13) and Phoebe (11)
Occupation: Chief technology officer for OpenTempo
Primary sport: Rock climbing, also mountain biking, trail running and snowboarding
VS: Why has climbing become such a growing sport in Vermont?
TP: New areas are being discovered and there is a lot of interest in exploring what Vermont has to offer. It used to be that local climbers went to New York and New Hampshire because those areas were established but now there is a better sense of our grass roots community and a lot of excitement about staying close to home. There’s been an increase in the number of climbing gyms and the guide book has drawn attention to what’s here.
VS: You’re being modest when you refer to “the guidebook” since you wrote the book. Tell us about Tough Schist.
TP: At some level I’ve been writing it for 15 years but I didn’t start in earnest until 2010. I’d always kept track of things I learned along the way as I was climbing. I’ve climbed in Vermont since I came back from college in 1993. Initially I started by just writing a mini-guide for the Bolton area for the members of CRAG-VT but I knew about some climbs in the Smugglers’ Notch area so I threw those in and soon word got out that I was writing a guidebook and next thing I knew climbers started giving me information. Before I knew it I was sitting on a significant amount of material. In the past there had been some resistance to letting the cat out of the bag. People didn’t want to share their spots and there was a time when you would have been burned in effigy for writing a book like this. I wasn’t sure those days were behind us, but there was such an outpouring of positivity that it seemed like the right time.
VS: How did CRAG-VT get started?
TP: It was started unofficially around 2000 when Derek Doucet brought a bunch of us to his house after one of our climbing areas, the Bolton Quarry, was closed because the landowner starting getting flak from his neighbors. Derek brought us together to see what could be done and that initial group of ten turned into CRAG-VT. We ended up making several land acquisitions and becoming partners with the State to manage recreational activity on state land. I was president for five years and I’m still on the board. We purchased four different properties over the years and ended up being able to conserve and protect five cliffs in the Bolton area. One of the things that was really remarkable is that people were volunteering their time, money and energy and they didn’t even know the climbs.
VS: I remember reading about some restrictions on climbing due to peregrine falcons.
TP: On some cliffs we have seasonal closures from April to August to protect them and I also volunteer with VINS and Audubon to help with banding and restoration efforts and helping biologists get to the cliffs. It’s really cool. When I started climbing it was a special thing to see a peregrine falcon but now I see them all the time. Their numbers have really recovered to a level that’s at least as high as before DDT. It’s tough for climbers to have areas closed off, but it’s a great story for the birds. It’s neat to be up on the cliffs with them.
VS: What’s the hardest climb you’ve done?
TP: Like skiing, climbing has a difficulty scale, but it has greater resolution. The scale goes up to 5.15 and I did my first 5.13 climb this year at the age of 44—a route called Firewall at 82 Crag in Bolton. I’ve done dozens of 5.12 climbs but this was a new level of achievement and it’s unlikely that I’ll ever do a 5.14 since it’s an accelerating scale. I feel like this is quite an accomplishment.
VS: What’s the most exotic place you’ve travelled to for climbing?
TP: I’ve travelled to four continents, eight countries and 15 states but probably the most fun was when Nancy and I went to Southeast Asia. We found some really interesting un-touristy places and met people who were excited to show us where they live. Nancy and I also travelled around Australia for three months in a crappy van and climbed three to four days a week in out of the way places.
VS: What does the future hold for rock climbing in Vermont?
TP: Vermont is experiencing a golden age of new route development and exploration which is really exciting to be a part of. The areas adjacent to us have long since been explored and to be a part of the history of climbing in Vermont—both as a historian and a participant—is super exciting. After climbing for 25 years I couldn’t be any more inspired. I still can’t get enough of it. If anything I’m more motivated and more inspired than I’ve ever been.
Travis Peckham’s Five Favorite Climbs:
An amazing journey up the right side of Elephant’s Head in Smuggler’s Notch. Four rope-lengths of steep and overhanging rock with amazing views and stomach-turning exposure.
Arguably Bolton’s best sport climb with 90 feet of steep and super-technical climbing. One of the hardest 1-pitch climbs I’ve done and also one of the best.
Who’s Your Daddy (5.12c)
The Daddy turned me onto what Vermont climbing could be if I was willing to search it out. Hidden in plain sight in Bolton, this unbelievably fun and super-challenging route has crazy iron-cross moves, jumping for handholds, and an upside-down bat-hang from a huge overhang.
Marshfield Corners (5.10b)
Immaculate granite crack climbing with superb views of Groton State Park make this one of Vermont’s all-time traditional climbing classics.
The Great Corner (5.11a)
Nancy and I attempted this route on Wheeler Mountain in the Northeast Kingdom back in 1994, the first time we ever climbed together. I was way out of my league and took a huge fall. Luckily for me Nancy managed the belay and I didn’t hit the deck. We came back several years later after we got married and climbed the route in better style.