Looking upstream from the top of ‘Shattered Illusions’, at the height of summer; the route’s anchors sit near the top of the Long Branch Buttress, rewarding climbers with one of the most amazing views in the canyon
Climbers are a quixotic breed. We are known to leave behind good jobs, family and loved ones to cross the country, camping in our cars or sketchy rest areas, pounding down twisting wash boarded backroads, living on fast food and cheap beer, bush whacking and hiking for miles, thrashing through thorns and stumbling across talus, to find great crags in unique settings.
Truly great climbs and climbing areas both challenge and inspire; they motivate us to push the edge, to ‘rage against the dying of the light’, and they return us to that quiet place inside, where wonder still lives.
These are the crags from which we return tired but renewed, exhausted and at the same time, restored.
The east end of the Sunshine Wall on a fall day, as seen from the approach trail; these conditions can persist into the middle of winter. Photo by Mike Gray.
Some of these destinations require great expense, deprivation, epic approaches, and hardship of every kind for the lucky and determined few who scale their walls. Others are tucked away, just around the corner, minutes from the main road, less than a morning’s drive from major cities, but somehow still lost to the masses; secret gardens to test strength, endurance, and mental control, in which we can, when day is done, find replenishment for mind, body and soul.
The crags that sit on either side of Long Branch, two miles downstream from Shreve’s little store in the heart of Smoke Hole Canyon, are the perfect setting for this dualistic pursuit of peace and adventure.
Heather Jiles spots Andrea Nelson on the 5.8+ Arete of the Sunshine Wall. Photo by Tyrel Johnson
Hidden behind a screen of trees and perched high on the ridge, the Guide Walls’ southern end was dubbed The Sunshine Wall for good reason. Here you can shed those layers and dance up lines like the long-distance 5.8+ Guide’s Arete, 5.9s Zendo, Funboy and The Never Ending Story, huck and crimp your way through the Guide’s 5.11 or George’s Dilemma, another great bucket tour that leads to a challenging 5.10 roof crux. If you’re in the mood to test your roof technique, try the Macdaddy Roof; weighing in at 5.10d, this body-length overhang will tax even the strong for the bucket at the lip.
Around the corner, on the crag’s middle section and northern end, the east-facing lines of the Ninja Walls offer climbers both summer shade and a haven from winter’s cold, as leaves and temperatures begin to fall.
The author and Andreas Czerwinski enjoying some fall sunshine on The routes of the Macdaddy Roof; the 5.9 Never Ending Story and the Guide 10b
Chris Beauchamp’s ‘Glossolalia’ kicks things off and Nick Kurland’s ‘Cu Rodeo’ ups the ante with thin holds on steep ground and a touch of run-out. Beyond these wait classic Ninja lines like ‘Destiny’ and ‘Hummingbird’, the 5.9- trad headpoint “Name Your Poison’ and mind-boggling roof of 5.10c/d ‘Carpe Diem’.
For a final burn of all remaining rounds, hike out to the north end and jump on crusher Mike Fisher lines like ‘Slight of Hand’, ‘Defenders of the Faith’, or Chris Beauchamp’s thuggish ‘Pon Hoss’.
On the south side of the creek, Long Branch is home to some of the tallest faces, as well as some of the most difficult technical lines, to be found in the canyon.
Tom Cecil’s world-class ‘Beautiful Loser’ checks in at a sustained 5.11 with 9 well-spaced bolts, nearby ‘Shattered Illusions’ requires a full bag of 5.10 tricks over the course of 11 bolts and a V-slot through a roof, while ‘Big Johnson’, ‘The Ron Jeremy Arete’, ‘The Darkness’, ‘The Lightness’, ‘Gone Sniffin’’, ‘Local Hospitality’ and Parker Smith’s new addition ‘Shorty’s Lament’, all lay solid claim to territory at 5.12 and above.
Michael Fisher cruising the bomber moves and stone of ‘Destiny’, one of the original lines at the Ninja Walls.
Troy Johnson and I first came here in the very early 90s, at the invitation of Darrell Hensley, the Seneca Rocks guide and WV native who explored Smoke Hole and climbed here before most people knew the canyon existed. Franklin Gorge, where we had all been climbing for years, was filling up with people and the number of new routes left for development was down to maybe a handful of good lines and a dozen or so more mediocre routes.
Troy and I drove up to Smoke Hole on a windy, rainy day, waving at Franklin as we passed, grabbing coffee at the Shell station at the light, then rolling up 220 through pastureland and river bottom farms. We stared up at Reed Creek and wondered again if the “No Trespassing” signs were bogus (it turned out that they were, but that is another story), waved at the old men of the Liar’s Club, drinking coffee on the bench in front of Kile’s Grocery in Upper Tract, and turned off just before the old iron bridge.
We rounded the curve, crossed the hill by the old Alt farmhouse, and dropped into wonderland. Cliffs rose up on both sides of the river, the nearest just ten feet from the car windows as we stopped to stare up at the huge roof of the Entrance Walls. Another shower drove us back into the car, and hid most of Eagle Rocks and the French Fin from our gaping view as we passed.
Tyrel Johnson fighting the good fight and looking for Zen on the steep Mike Fisher route ‘Defenders of the Faith’ (5.10d), at the Ninja Walls.
Eventually we reached Shreve’s Store, got our bearings, and had almost returned to sanity when we dropped into the lower canyon, and saw that all that had gone before was just a prelude.
We gibbered. We pointed, craned our necks and pointed some more, making nonsense noises and banging our heads on the windshield, spilling coffee.
Two miles beyond the store, we reached the destination Darrell had described and a breaking point at the same instant; parked, grabbed water bottles, and scrambled madly up the talus slope leading to the base of the Long Branch Buttress.
After half an hour of absolutely speechless wandering, we nodded to each other, returned to the car, and headed home to gather allies and supplies.
Troy came back and bolted “Local Hospitality’, ‘Big Johnson’, ‘Pigs on the Wing’, and began the task of ground-up bolting the visionary project that would eventually become Mike Farnsworth’s ‘The Lightness’. He took off from the start of my mixed route “Through the Looking Glass’ and gave us the superb 5.11 ‘Pigs on the Wing’.
The massive Long Branch Buttress, in the heart of Smoke Hole Canyon. Photo by Mike Gray
Rachel Levinson and Melissa Wine joined us, as did Mike Fisher, Greg Fangor, Chris Riha and a host of talented climbers from the Shenandoah and Albemarle valleys. Together, the group of us cleaned and put up ‘Shattered Illusions’, then Melissa and I produced ‘Hippo Head’ (the wall’s first all-female FA by Wine and Levinson), ‘Batteries Not Included’ and ‘Overtime’.
Taking a break from developing routes on the far side of the creek, at the Sunshine Wall, Tom Cecil, Tony Barnes and Darrell came over to bolt ‘Beautiful Loser’ and Tony’s mixed 5.10 line in the cave to the left.
Mike Fisher had dubbed our group the Five Deadly Ninjas, a tongue-in-cheek nod from his deep love of Kung Fu theater. Troy, Rachel, Melissa, myself, and Mr. Fisher decided that we needed a look at the walls they were developing on the other side of the creek, and the classic lines of the Ninja Walls were born in the following months.
Mike Farnsworth, on the crux of “The Lightness”, 5.12d, Darkside, Long Branch Buttress.
Life went on, our little crew drifted apart, and I moved off to the west. I would call Mike Fisher on my occasional trips home, and we would invariably wind up at Smoke Hole for a climb or three, plotting on the remaining lines in this apparently forgotten corner of West Virginia.
In 2003, I returned to the Valley, and we put up Funboy and Zendo on an overlooked ledge at the Sunshine Wall. Four years later, we bolted and led the routes of the Corvinus Cave, at Long Branch.
A recent surge in activity saw four new lines at or above 5.12, bolted and led by Michael Farnsworth, the guy who conquered one of the steepest routes of Seneca Rocks. Added to the already impressive set of routes in place, you have an area to test the mettle of climbers from around the globe.
Mahtaab Bagherzadeh eyes the long road ahead, facing the first of many cruxes on ‘Shattered Illusions’, the longest 5.10 on the Long Branch Buttress. Photo by Tyrel Johnson.
But don’t worry, moderate climbers and fun seekers… there’s still plenty of good times to be had, with enjoyable lines tucked in amongst the test pieces and enduro routes. Smile your way through sport warm-ups like ‘My Silver Lining’ (5.7), ‘Lost World Arete’ (5.7), or ‘Batteries Not Included’ (5.8+), mix things up with bolt and gear offerings like the 5.8 ‘Through the Looking Glass’, or take a break from the bolts and pull out the whole rack for the long trad adventure of 5.7 ‘Cherry Lane’.
Although the road is a bit bumpy, and even dusty and blessed with more than its share of potholes, from the crags of Long Branch and the Guide Walls, climbers are still less than an hour from hot food, showers and all the comforts of modern life.
Volunteers are constantly working to protect access, maintain the trails and improve old routes with new hardware.
Racked up and ready for ground-up adventure; the author clips in for the first ascent of ‘Cherry Lane’, 5.7, Darkside, Long Branch Buttress.
No bushwhacking, no epics, no ‘scene’, just great lines of all levels on great stone, a zen garden in which to find a bit of peace and quiet, in the beat of your heart, in the heart of the canyon.
Outrage Wall Left-upper-sense-of-religion-right
Since its initial development, El Potrero Chico has always been known as a perfect winter climbing destination. The area is riddled with natural beauty, complete with a gorgeous circling mountain range, unique desert vegetation, a mild winter climate and of course, the titanic, pristine walls of El Potrero Chico. They are remarkable to look at no matter who you are, and for a climber they are a nearly endless playground. Even the locals, although few of them climb these walls, love and appreciate the intensely beautiful mountain that they live in the shadow of. And throughout the years the locals have always been open to the climbing community that arrives each winter when the conditions are ideal. Between October and February you’ll find climbers coming in from all over the world, especially from the United States and Canada. Come March, the exodus of climbers begins as the heat of the summer starts to set in. But no matter the time of year that you decide to visit, the local town of Hidalgo is always welcoming. Just keep in mind that if it’s a hot and sunny day, there is still plenty to climb in the shade. With the walls mostly being north or south facing, you can decide on where you want to climb based on the heat and sun situation.
Andrea Bessler on Baked Fresh Daily 5.10c.
Climbing started here in the late 80’s and early 90’s and has seen more than a couple waves of heavy development. Jeff Jackson and Alex Catlin really found a gem in the Northeastern region of Mexico. At first, coming down here and drilling with their gas powered drills was more than a little bit of a shock to the locals but the good times quickly started rolling with plenty of Tecate and tequila flowing. A few of the local families, influenced by the initial generosity of Homero Gutierrez Villarreal, have done major work on building the climber friendly community of Potrero Chico. The small backyards that housed a few tents back in the day are now excellent campgrounds that are home to hundreds of climbers during the climbing season. There is no amount of praise that is enough to Homero and his family for getting it all started.
Emma Ayling on Surfin the Wave 5.10d.
Over the years as climbers came and went, a few decided to set up a more prominent home in Hidalgo. Ed Wright, also known as Magic Ed, is probably the most well known because of all the help he gave out to climbers visiting the area. Airport runs, climbing information, and massive amounts of route development made him a legend in Potrero Chico history. He also spent a great deal of time helping out in the local community by getting kids get out rock climbing. His love for the area lives on every time someone gets out there and climbs one of his classic routes.
Evan Johnson on Dead-Man Walking 5.9.
With over 600 plus routes here, almost entirely sport, there is plenty of climbing available for everyone, even during the busy season. Although the crowds can seem a little daunting from mid December to mid January, if you are willing to step off the beaten path you’ll find yourself exploring the lesser known climbs here and I can assure you that there are plenty of gems tucked away in Potrero–enough to find you coming here season after season for a great Christmas and New Year’s getaway. Most of the climbing here is slab or vertical face climbing that will have you pulling on small crimps while balancing on miniscule feet to gain your way to anchors and summits. But for the lover of overhanging rock, don’t be discouraged! There are a few big crags here with overhanging headwalls, both single-pitch and multi-pitch. Only a handful of traditional lines remain including the epic ridge climbs that have only seen a handful of ascents, though they are best climbed in the off season when there is less climber traffic in the area due to poor rock quality and safety concerns for the people below you.
Mike Burdon on Bottom Feeder 5.12d.
Although the bolt lines can be packed tight in on certain walls, there is so much room for future development if you are willing to walk a little ways. Most of the current routes are within a 5 to 10 minute walk from the road which is nice and easy on the legs, but don’t let the longer approaches for certain crags keep you from checking out some really good climbs. With everything so close to the campgrounds, you don’t even need a car, making Potrero a fantastic winter vacation destination. And now with the El Potrero Chico’s new rakkup mobile app, all the amazing crags of Potrero Chico are even more accessible with all new color topo photos, route descriptions and climb ratings to help you find exactly what you want. As the area continues to grow, rakkup allows you to have an extremely up-to-date guidebook right in your pocket, without having to purchase new editions. In the future, a printed book will also be available.
Carolyn Coffey on the OS of Flash 5.11b
Finding rock climbing in the Midwest is not easy. Believe it or not a nice little area can be found in Eastern Iowa next to corn and hog farms near the town of Monticello. Three separate areas: Pictured Rocks, Indian Bluffs and Ozark Wildlife combine to form an area referred to by many as Wild Iowa. While unexpected, the climbing can be quite good and many leave satisfied that a stop wasn’t a waste of time.
Khadija Shahid at Windy Point 5.11a
Formed in ancient seas 2-300 million years ago, the Silurian Dolomite was revealed by erosion and contains some incredibly formed features. One might encounter pockets, crimps, combos, slopers, jugs and even fossils on route. While the Iowa climbing history predates the surge of bolting in the early 1990’s, it was the advent of the sport climbing revolution that was responsible for many of the rock climbs in Iowa. Over 100 bolted sport routes offer most styles of limestone climbing from technical slabs to steep jug hauls from 5.6 to 5.12. Trad climbing can be found as well near the pocketed faces but the Iowa Limestone guide will focus almost solely on sport climbs. Wild Iowa can provide a nice fix for regional climbers who can’t make longer drives to more popular/larger areas.
Emilie on Schoolio 5.9
Fall and Spring are the best seasons to climb at Wild Iowa, considering the cold winters and the humid summers. Occasionally, one can get a blue bird day in winter that is warm enough to enjoy South facing climbs. Also, many hard core climbers brave the humidity and insects to get some pitches in during the summer months. That said, the best days are found once the stifling heat abates in September -November or during the Spring season in late March – May. It should be mentioned accessing the areas in winter can be difficult. There is a gate that blocks car traffic to Pictured Rocks during the winter months, however foot traffic is still allowed.
The impetus for this guide came simply from meeting travelling climbers over the years,that had no idea how to find entire areas or what the climbs were rising before them. What better way to aid these climbers than to combine a GPS map to all climbs with the best descriptions of the climbs available. We sincerely hope you have fun climbing Iowa Limestone and that this guide aids your enjoyment!
South of Smoke Hole Canyon and the town of Upper Tract, Reed’s Creek Road intersects with the old Petersburg Turnpike, after winding down from the shoulders of North Fork Mountain through meadows of cows and sheep, steep ridges surrounding proud old family homes and weathered barns, clusters of doublewide trailers and modular housing and the occasional vine-covered ruin of a log cabin.
Cindy Bender (now Gray) pulls welcome buckets on Welcome to Reed Creek (5.7)
The road is busier than it once was, but there are days, late summer evenings and pristine winter afternoons, when the sound of a tractor is more common than that of an automobile, and there is a sense of timelessness, the smell of honeysuckle, livestock, strains of gospel music and southern rock in the air.
This is Reed’s Creek; a series of south-facing arêtes and dihedrals and a high-quality selection of sixty sport and trad lines on featured metamorphic limestone, with a reasonable approach hike, a serviceable trail and ample parking, just off State Route 220 in West Virginia’s historic Pendleton County.
Trevor Albert cuts loose on Ryan Eubank’s Golden Horseshoe (5.10b/c)
Guides from Seneca Rocks first put bit to stone to the walls of Reed Creek in 2002 and 2003, creating Welcome to Reed Creek, One Page at a Time, and Catfish Strangler, the original Boneyard Routes.
The routes were good and the stone was fine, but there were other crags and other callings, and they moved on to new horizons.
Although visited once or twice by some local legends, the crag languished for years, hidden behind the thick summer canopy, layers of old fence, greenbrier and No Trespassing signs, until I found the three original lines on a scouting expedition in 2008 and was blown away by the untapped potential of the other walls.
Unknown climber stretched out on the crux of Catfish Strangler (5.10b) Photo by Mike Gray
The following week, I made my way to the Cheat Potomac Ranger Station, where records indicated that the land was public. I wasted no time and began exploring and developing routes, starting with the 5.10 Reaching Conclusions, the premier line on the Reach Wall.
The following spring, Lyndon State College sensei Jamie Struck brought an eager crew from Vermont to create the lower trails around the Gypsies Wall and top-rope the line that would become Shaved Scamper. Long-time area developer and hard man Mike Fisher and NoVA’s Ryan Eubank soon joined the development push with routes like Second Rule, Shaolin Mantis, Little Purple Flowers, Hunter’s Moon and Grapevine Massacre. Cindy Bender was there from the start, with hot coffee and snacks, spending long hours on belay and building trail before dancing up some of the first ascents of lines like A Horse With No Name, Second Rule, Winterharvest and Fire On the Mountain.
Whitney Moss, reaching for hope on the crux of Disorientation 101 (5.11)
Following repeated questions of property boundaries, the author’s investigation into county tax records, deed descriptions, and MNF survey documents proved once and for all that these sweet crags were public land. Route development resumed immediately.
Pennsylvania climbers Michael Stewart and Randy La Force added excellent moderates like Dr. Taco and Superman, as word of the crag began to spread among locals and across the region.
Following the proactive precedent of Franklin Gorge, The First Spring Send-a-thon and Trail Daze event was organized and attended by Gray, Bender, Fisher, Eubank and a coalition of strong climbers from Northern Virginia and the District of Columbia, as well as “locals” from Charlottesville and Harrisonburg. Trails around and leading to the Boneyard were improved and expanded, and trash was collected along Reed Creek Road. The National Forest resurveyed and marked the boundaries along the private property line, making it easier for hunters and climbers to avoid trespassing.
Brian Brydges, cruising through a sweet April day on Little Purple Flowers (5.9)
Today, Reed’s has over 40 routes, in a wide variety of grades and styles, from Mike Fisher’s 5.7 funfest dihedral Second Rule and my own trad 5.7 SuperNatural to technical challenges like Fisher’s 5.11+ Shaolin Mantis, Eubank’s burly 5.11 Grapevine Massacre, and Michael Farnsworth’s 5.12 cave line Harlem. Newcomers Chris Beauchamp and Tyrel Johnson have been adding bold trad, mixed and sport lines like Invasive Species and Mare Imbrium.
(Tyrel has been instrumental in continuing the tradition of trail work and stewardship, and tireless the editing process; hiking trails, correcting errors, and tweaking all the details of the app.)
The project Cold Day in Hell, originally bolted by Eubank, has yet to see an ascent, despite repeated tries by strong 5.12 climbers who say the grade may be as high as 5.13.
Sunny winter days and shady summer mornings, easy access, great lines and an incredible setting, just off the beaten path; Reed’s Creek has something for every climber.
Bouldering in the City: The Best Gear and Apps
Wall Street Journal’s Sanette Tanaka writes:
The Apps | Short of befriending an experienced urban boulderer, consulting an app is probably the easiest way to learn about climbing routes near you. “Mountain Project” and “Rakkup,” both available free on iOS and Android, catalogue thousands of climbing routes, and work offline once data is downloaded.
The key difference between the two is that the 100,000-plus climbs in Mountain Project are sourced from the app’s users, whereas Rakkup’s nearly 24,000 climbs (available through in-app purchases) are culled from the company’s digital guidebooks, which are written by local climbers.
The long and pumpy EKV .12c at Slavery Wall.
Tucked into the Western slope of the Big Horn Mountains Ten Sleep Canyon has miles of dolomite cliff line offering nearly 1000 rock climbing routes. You will find pockets of every shape and size along with edges, flakes and a perfect texture for sticking to climbing shoes no matter where you place them. The climbing in Ten Sleep often tends toward longer single pitch sport climbs requiring technique, endurance and a cool head. Highway 16 links this canyon from top to bottom providing access to dozens of individual crags and Old Road 18 parallels it on the other side of the river providing loads of free camping and more crags. The weather is typical of arid high desert and provides year round opportunities to get out cragging.
Mike Snyder grappling with the bouldery finish of Electric Jesus .13b at Downtown.
Author Mike Snyder’s initial Rakkup offering for Ten Sleep Canyon includes the main wall in the Upper Canyon stretching from Downtown all the way up to The French Cattle Ranch. In addition, Lake Point and the newest dope spot, Crag 6 are included as well. Other crags will be added periodically until the guide includes all crags and routes in the canyon.
Downtown, the lowest crag in the Upper Canyon has a gentle approach to 40 climbs. High quality and never crowded, you will find classics such as The Band is Just Fantastic .10a, Big Boy Pants .11a, Robot Steamroller .12b and Shaker .13b. Just up from Downtown are Metropolis and World Domination Sectors with long soaring routes like Crux Luthor .9/.12d, Jesus Christ Super Jew .11b, Bobby’s Got A Dirty Mouth .11c and Napoleon’s High Chair .12a/b.
The very first area in the Upper Canyon was the Mondo Beyondo which spawned tons of good routes and crags extending in both directions. Smack dab in the middle of the Mondo and directly up the trail from the main parking area is the Slavery Wall, hosting the oldest routes in the Upper Canyon and the inspiration to continue seeking out more and more walls/routes to develop. When you visit, try Beer Bong .10b, Wagon Wheel of Death .11c, Blackalicious .12a, EKV .12c and Gold Member .13d. There are also satellite crags extending off to the right and left providing different grades and angles of climbing for everyone in your posse.
Always on you from the word go, Esplanada .12d at French Cattle Ranch is a classic.
Up a little farther into the trees is Valhalla with areas like Vietnam, Munitions, the Oblivion Roof and Sex and Drugs. The 5.11’s and 5.12- routes in this beautiful part of the woods are superb. Bikini Girls with Machine Guns .11a, Hanoi Hilton .11c/d, Pump Me Like A Shotgun .11d and Cocaine Rodeo .12a. Wander high enough in the woods and you’ll find the Superratic pillar, this jaw dropping clean swath of bullet stone holds a high concentration of 5.13’s. The Great White Behemoth .12b , Hellion . 13c and F’d in the A .14a, will make you want to try everything there. Go ahead, you won’t be disappointed.
Hardman Ethan Pringle unlocks the bouldery start of He Biggum .13d at Superratic.
The French Cattle Ranch lies beyond all the rest at the highest elevation on the main wall. The Shinto wall has beautiful dark streaks defining its routes, while Sector D’or et Bleu and the Grashopper Wall look like multi-colored french limestone. The Matrix Pillar and the Back Forty host moderate Charlie Kardalef masterpieces. Many long vertical puzzles await including Euro Trash Girl .10b, I Just Do Eyes .11b, Center El Shinto .12b, Esplanada .12d and Galactic Emperor .13d.
The highest developed crag in the canyon is Lake Point. Its almost difficult to leave the parking area walking across the CCC constructed dam and gazing out across the lake, but rest assured supreme pocket tugging awaits. Ringed with horizontal pocket lines (HPL’s) found not often enough at other crags in the canyon, Lake Point has ’em in spades. At all different angles and facing in a multitude of directions, the climbs at Lake Point are a climbers dream. Check out Suits and Boots .8, Dirt Gator .10b, The Gooey Grasshopper .11d, Triple Double .12a and Bonnie and Clyde .12c.
Longtime developer of classic moderates Charlie Kardalef scored a home run with his first route Schools Out .10d at Slavery Wall.
Crag 6, so secret, we had to hide it way up on top, two miles South East of Ten Sleep Canyon. So far this concentrated climbing nugget has stayed off the radar, however all is revealed in the new Rakkup guide. Find the Mushroom Tip and the Rap Stars Wall jam packed with some of the best 5.13’s anywhere. There are some .10’s and .11’s too of equal quality. Warm up on The Buffalo has Landed .10b, Mr. Hyde .11b. Try Sniggity Nutz .12a, Swamp Thang .12b and Special Delivery .12c. Then throw yourself at any of 10 of the coolest 5.13’s out there.
Jamie Smith piecing together Frank (31/8a+), The Mine. Photo Micky Wiswedel
The Cape Peninsula is renowned for its world-famous landmark, one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature – Table Mountain and the Table Mountain chain. This rugged mountain chain creates an undulating ridge, which forms the backbone of the Peninsula, starting from the striking front of Table Mountain that overlooks the city, running through the beautiful and exposed Silvermine Reserve, over the cave-riddled Kalk Bay mountains and ending in the Cape of Good Hope Reserve at Cape Point – the very tip of the Peninsula.
Fortunately for climbers in Cape Town, the Cape Peninsula is blessed with a string of great crags giving very diverse climbing from short powerful routes on the bulging quartzite crags of Trappieskop and Peer’s Cave, the ever-popular faces of the Silvermine crags, to the very steep and mega-pumpy crags of The Mine and The Hole. As far as grades are concerned, there is something for everyone. Crags like Lakeside Pinnacle, Lower Silvermine and Higgovale Quarry are popular among beginners and for those who want a relaxing day at the crag, while Silvermine Main Crag and Fawlty Towers takes one up a notch or two. Whatever your desires, there are many routes on quality sandstone, just waiting to be caressed by your fingertips. Just go out and get ’em!
For a guide to all the trad climbing on the Cape Peninsula get Cape Peninsula Select – A guide to trad climbing in the Cape Peninsula.
Oliver Kruger doing the Trance Dance (23/6c+), Silvermine Main Crag. Photo Garrreth Bird
The entire Table Mountain chain falls under the jurisdiction of the Table Mountain National Park and a Wild Card will get you free entrance into Silvermine, as well as any other reserve on the Peninsula as well as throughout the Western Cape and the country, depending which cluster you purchase. For Cape Town residents who do not have a Wild Card, there is also the option of purchasing a My Green Card. This is an annual card, which allows the holder 12 free entries into any Cape Peninsula reserve, including Silvermine. Okay, so all this just gains you entry. To actually climb (sport climbing only), you will also need to purchase an Activity Permit. This permit is valid for one year and allows you to climb anywhere on the Cape Peninsula. But if you are a member of the MCSA, then you will not need an Activity Permit. Remember to carry your MCSA card. For further information or clarity on all this card stuff, contact Table Mountain National Park on +27 (0)21 712 7471 or email@example.com. For all access updates and information, you can also call the Mountain Club of South Africa (MCSA) on +27 (0)21 465 3412.
Naureen Goheer cranking through the first crux on A Gift of Wings (28/7c), The Mine. Photo Micky Wiswedel
Weather and when to visit
The Cape Peninsula generally gets all the weather systems before the rest of the Western Cape, and often more severely than the inland areas. In saying that, the Peninsula is still a year-round climbing destination, but can be rather wet and miserable if you are unlucky enough to pick a rainy period for your holiday. To be safe, plan to visit during the long summer months. It may get hot, but there are always shady crags to climb on, and you will be able to enjoy the beaches, the awesome summer evenings, and take advantage of long daylight hours.
Prof. Steven Bradshaw pulling off some chemistry on his as yet unrepeated test piece, Hey Jupiter (34/8c), Underside, Cape Peninsula. Photo Guy Holwill
Although there are one or two campsites on the Peninsula, camping is not recommended. These campsites are far from the city, and it’s generally not safe to leave tents and camping stuff unattended while out climbing for the day. Depending on your financial position, there is a wide range of backpacker lodges, guest houses, B&Bs and hotels scattered throughout the Peninsula. Generally, the closer you are to the city and the Waterfront, the more you will pay for accommodation. A popular backpacker lodge among visiting climbers is Green Elephant in Observatory. Contact them on +27 21 448 6359 or firstname.lastname@example.org. They are close to the City Rock indoor climbing gym and also to the trendy Lower Observatory Main Road, which has some good cafes, pubs and restaurants. Observatory is a short drive from the city centre and V&A Waterfront. For more information on accommodation elsewhere on the Peninsula, contact the Western Cape Tourism office on +27 21 426 5647 or email@example.com.
Cowboys, Buffalo Bill, Museum of the Rockies, tourism and Yellowstone – Cody, Wyoming is home to Western tradition and beautiful yet rugged scenery. Minutes West of town is the Shoshone Canyon hosting nearly all of the rock climbing. The diversity of geologic formations in many of the canyons found in Wyoming features Sandstone, limestone/dolomite and granite and the Shoshone Canyon is no different. Bouldering, sport climbing and traditional gear routes offer climbers a variety of challenges and mild weather with over 300 sunny days per year assure you can climb almost any day year round. With a population under 10,000, Cody has a small but dedicated local climbing scene and with so few visitors, you’ll never wait in line or have to share a route. Oh and did I mention the ice… Yes, cody is a little slice of climbing heaven.
Bryant Hall starting up Any Color You Like 5.13b in The Lower Canyon
The Island is Cody’s most accessible crag and attracts the most visitors. This alcove of multibillion year old granite has more than 50 modern well protected sport routes and a few gear climbs all of which are very high quality. A five minute completely flat approach makes this a favorite for locals and visitors alike. This area is stacked with memorable moderates such as Feeling All Right (5.8), Search (5.8), Bitch With A Broomstick (5.8) and many others. There are also classic 5.10’s such as Community Service (5.10b), Pea Green Limousine (5.10c), Illegal Dihedral (5.10d) and Big Ben (5.10d). Try Light Tension (5.11a), Balls (5.11b) or Black Wall (5.11c) and for something a little harder, The Horn of Plenty (5.12a), Certain Damage (5.12b) or Redhead (5.12d) will test your crimp strength. The nearly 200 foot high walls currently offer only single pitch climbs however, Spider Pig (5.12b) is a 3 pitch bolt protected multi-pitch that tackles the tallest part of the Tunnel Wall.
John Morrison working his way out the steep roof on Butch 5.12c at The Hideout Wall at the Upper Bridge Bands.
The limestone/dolomite bands run nearly the entire length of the canyon. While the quality varies based on the geologic sedimentary layer, there are certain bands that offer the pocketed greatness that makes Wyoming dolomite world famous. All of the ‘Bands’ are South facing and ideal in the Spring and Fall months and on Sunny Winter days. The East Bridge Bands offers a concentrated collection of climbs featuring crimps and pockets. Most are well protected sport climbs although there are also several easier gear protected trad climbs. Don’t miss Tidy Bowl Lid (5.8), Pocket Full of Pigeons (5.9), Tall Boy (5.10c), Chocolate Malt (5.11b) or Orange Whip (5.12a).
Jason Litton hucking the big throw on Stranahan’s 5.12c at The Single Malt Wall.
The Bridge Bands are one of the areas older crags and has a variety of routes done in different styles from traditional, to bolder lower angle slabs to more modern and steeper pockety sport routes. The crag has two tiers and offers single and two pitch climbs, although the second tier has a generous sized ledge extending over half the length of the cliff. Long moderates like Feels Like Summer (5.9) and Stilts (5.10a) contradict the puzzling, mind bending low angle climbs of the Mud Wall like Seam Dream (5.11a) and Chess (5.11d). Meanwhile the second tier Cowboy Wall offers pockety steeper gems such as Space Wrangler (5.10b), Blood Drive (5.10d) and Chief of Scouts (5.12a).
Kevin Wilkinson copping a rest on The Judge .13a in the Lower Canyon
Directly above the Bridge Bands is band of bullet hard dolomite with some of the best and hardest pocket routes in Cody. The soaring 1500 foot tall cliff has many layers of unclimbable rock though the Upper Bridge Bands is an anomaly of streaked brilliance in the middle of the cliff, featuring two dozen short and powerful routes spread between The Hideout and Bandit Walls. The hike is significant in comparison with Cody’s other short approaches but the views are breathtaking with the North Fork of the Shoshone and the Buffalo Bill Reservoir visible to the West and the town of Cody visible to the East, the price of admission is worth the effort. Perfect pockets abound on routes like In The Middle (5.11a), On The Run (5.12a/b), Butch (5.12c) and The Kid (5.12d) at the Hideout Wall. Just around the corner try Showdown (5.11a), Lone Bandit (5.11c) or Skoal Bandit (5.11b/c) to satisfy your pocket tugging jones.
Climber making his way into the Lower Canyon
The Bands extend to the West as well and other lesser developed gems exist for those willing to go for an adventure walk. Just For Kix, Popeye and Woodrow Walls have older routes and some spirited trad outings, although motivated locals have realized the potential for new routing and are installing fun new clip ups. Look for updates in these areas in the future. Meanwhile try Kickin It (5.10b), Psycho Holiday (5.11c) and Strong to the Finish (5.12c) to sample current crop.
Mike Snyder stretches out on Single Track 5.10d at The Single Malt Wall.
No climbing trip to the Shoshone Canyon of Cody would be complete without a visit to the Lower Canyon. With another ridiculously simple approach, the (closed to public vehicle traffic) paved road leading down into the canyon deposits you at the base of a nearly 1000 foot deep gorge with granite walls soaring up on either side. The river cutting the through this canyon provides moisture and a juxtaposition to the grandiose rock monoliths, offering great fishing, kayaking and even the rare river otter spotting if your lucky. Although the number of amazing sport climbs has grown exponentially in the past 5 years, traditional gear protected routes with an adventurous feel were the norm for many years. The rock climbs are spread out on both sides of the canyon with both splitter cracks and shiny bolts grabbing your attention as you explore. The Single Malt Wall holds the highest concentration of routes and perhaps the easiest access with many pitches beginning on or near the road. Crowd pleasers include Glen Morangie (5.10a), Single Track (5.10d), Bowmore (5.11a) and Oban (5.12b). Elsewhere in the canyon seek out the 3 pitch trad route Dee’s Freeze (5.8), a seven pitch sport route called Lemme Tell Ya Whats Cool (5.8), In Stitches (5.11a), Phoenix (5.12a/b), Goliath (5.13a) and Any Color You Like (5.13b).
Dennis Delay crushing Anxious (5.11c)
Cows, maple syrup, and the world’s best beer- yes, we have those things here in Vermont. We also have great rock climbing. Vermont has amazing geological diversity that includes quartz-banded green schist along the Green Mountain spine, granite in the Northeast Kingdom, and quartzite at Lake Dunmore. Being further from major population centers and less obvious than cliffs of North Conway and New Paltz, Vermont’s climbing areas were long overlooked. None the less, Vermont has slowly and quietly evolved into one of the most beautiful, challenging, and varied climbing areas in the Northeast.
Eric Seaton at the 82 Crag
The epicenter of Vermont rock climbing is Bolton. A short, 30-minute drive from Burlington, Bolton’s collection of schist crags offers many options for trad, sport, and top-roping. Chockstone (5.8), The Rose (5.10a) and The Thorn (5.11a) are some of the best crack climbs in the area and should not be missed. Those seeking 5.11 and 5.12 sport climbs will find inspiration on the big overhangs at the Carcass Crag and the giant breaking wave of The 82. Don’t miss the chance to clip bolts on Truffle Hog (5.10a), The Cat’s Ass (5.11d), Doggfather (5.12b), Who’s Your Daddy (5.12c), and Encryption (5.12d). Lower West is Bolton’s best top-rope area with a popular collection of moderates up to 5.10. While the cliff can be a bit crowded when college is in session, it’s usually not a problem to get on something fun even on the busiest days.
Peter Kamitses exploring new lines in Smuggs
In north-central Vermont, the great cleft of Smuggler’s Notch breaks Mount Mansfield from its northern sibling, Spruce Peak. Here, towering alpine cliffs rise hundreds of feet to overlook long, wet gullies filled with loose scree and talus. Long known as an ice climbing and bouldering destination, Smuggs is also home to some of the northeast’s most unique multi-pitch climbs. Roped climbs here have challenging approaches, steep rock, amazing views, and crap-your-pants exposure. Few climbs in the east can be compared to routes like Airavata (5.12b), a wild 4-pitch sport climb up the 300-foot overhanging left arête of Elephant’s Head.
Travis Peckham on the FA of The Beachhead (5.9+ PG)
Standing on the “diving boards” atop of the 400-foot buttress of The Deep End (5.11b), looking down a thousand feet into the notch below is memorable to say the least. While multi-pitch alpine sport climbs are one of the things that make this area stand out, old-school trad classics like Elephant’s Head Crack (5.9+) and Quartz Crack (5.9+) never disappoint those looking for an alpine adventure.
Heading east from the Green Mountains schist yields to granite, and the big cliffs of the Northeast Kingdom present some of the highest quality rock in New England. The fine-grained white granite slabs of Wheeler Mountain rise hundreds of feet to challenge both footwork and resolve. Bold face and friction climbing in their purest forms are found on classics like VJ’s (5.6), The Right Stuff (5.9), and Whine and Cheese (5.11b). It’s impossible to miss Wheeler’s crown jewel: The Great Corner (5.11a), a huge open book rising from the top of a beautiful 300-foot slab. An hour south of Wheeler is a second big granite dome, Marshfield Ledge.
Matt Bressler on The Fissure Stony (5.8+)
Here you’ll find Marshfield Corners (5.10b), a route whose climactic 3rd pitch is as good as it gets. Perfect fingers and hands splitting a hundred-foot left-facing corner with expansive views of lakes, marshes, and the vast uninterrupted wilderness of Groton State Park. While many of the cliff’s climbs are multi-pitch faces and cracks in the 5.8 to 5.10d range, Marshfield Ledge is also home to the High Grade wall, a stunning 110-degree sport crag where you’ll find pumpy enduro-fests up to 5.14. When climbing in the Northeast Kingdom, drop by Parker Pie or Hill Farmstead Brewery to sample some of the world’s most sought-after quaffables.
Travis Peckham at Bald Hill
Further to the southeast, Lake Dunmore provides one of the better beginner areas in the state on cliffs of diamond-hard Cheshire quartzite. The cliffs have a short approach through a wonderful old hemlock grove and the views from the crags are spectacular, encompassing a significant portion of the central Adirondacks. The cliffs have a good selection of top-rope climbs in the 5.5 to 5.7 range. Bring extra-long rigging or a static line to set up anchors as the trees are set back significantly from the edge of the cliff. Lake Dunmore itself, and the nearby Falls of Lana, offer excellent swimming in the summer and should not be missed.
Phoebe Peckham at Lake Dunmore
Schist, granite, quartzite, trad, sport, beer, cows- Vermont has a lot to offer. Tough Schist reveals decades of rock climbing exploration and route development on roadside crags, backcountry cliffs, and alpine rock.
Erica Braun on The Laundry Chute (5.7).
Carderock has been Washington, DC’s favorite escape for rock climbers for almost a hundred years, for good reason. Conveniently nestled at the edge of residential Washington, DC and overlooking the Potomac River, it’s a perfect stop for climbers looking for a quick fix before heading home for dinner. Because the crags are less than a hundred yards from the parking lot, and the Billy Goat C trail runs through the crag, access to the top and the bottom is quick and easy. It’s no surprise that Carderock is busy every night during the summer with campers, climbing classes, and regulars.
There is a pervasive myth that Carderock is a beginner’s crag. This myth probably took hold because of the presence of families with young children scrambling on the rocks. The locals know that the climbs are heavily sandbagged, rated by hardcore climbers decades ago before quartz holds broke off and the schist wore down to a smooth polish, turning Carderock into “the grease of the East.” In reality, Carderock has a breadth of difficulties. It has easy laybacks and fun chimneys for beginners. But, it also has many of the most difficult friction slab routes on the East Coast. Chris Sharma, arguably the best climber in the world, fell repeatedly on Evan’s Bolt Ladder (5.12d) during a televised National Public Radio interview. We have tried to address the pervasive sandbagging in our guidebook by re-rating some climbs as objectively as we could; this results in some surprising differences between our ratings and those historically known. Let us know what you think!
Carter Braun at the top of Trudie’s Terror (5.8)
The rock is a mica schist with quartz knobs arising from the Wissahickon bedrock formation. The schist is slick during the humid summers. Shoes stick best during the spring and fall when the air is brisk and dry. Because the schist is slick and friable, protection can slip out or break out easily. Therefore, lead climbing is not recommended at Carderock, and all its routes are top-roped and usually tied into trees or boulders.
To get started climbing at Carderock, you only need minimal equipment. If you’ve never climbed outdoors before, we strongly recommend taking a climbing class offered by Earth Treks, REI, or a local guide, because almost all accidents at Carderock have happened with inexperienced climbers. We recommend a 40 meter dynamic climbing rope, 30-40 meters of burly static line, and at least two additional locking carabiners. If you can manage to rock a pair of Carhartt’s double-duck pants and tie your anchors using bowline hitches, you’ll blend in with the old-school locals.
In our guidebook, we touch on Carderock’s storied history. It was the site of some of the earliest technical climbing in North America, dating to the 1920s. Herbie’s Horror, one of the first 5.9 routes in North America, is at Carderock. Herbie’s wife, Jan Conn, went on to participate in the first all-female ascent of Devil’s Tower, Wyoming. The Conns named climbs at Seneca Rocks, in New Hampshire, and out west. Many accomplished climbers and mountaineers climbed here who went on to first ascents at prominent peaks in the Tetons, Denali, and elsewhere. Noel Odell, who was the last person to see George Leigh Mallory alive on Everest in 1924, is said to have climbed at Carderock.
Today, Carderock is a section of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park. Its continued conservation is because of the efforts of the Mountaineering Section of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC-MS) and dedicated local climbers like John Forrest Gregory, the ‘mayor of Carderock.’
In creating our guidebook, we tried to make it comprehensive and easy to use. We include the main walls at Carderock but also less climbed areas, including Outlook Rocks, Easter Egg Rocks, Jam Box, and Vaso Island. We’ve also included photos showing you where to place your top-rope anchors, since climbs look much different looking down than they do when you’re looking up from the bottom. We hope that our guidebook helps you find the challenge you seek and that it adds enjoyment to your day. We’re going to keep working on our guidebook until we feel that all our photographs are perfectly clear and our beta is rock solid, even if this takes us years. And, if you see us around at Carderock and recognize us, don’t be a stranger – say hello!
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