Grayson Highlands State Park (GHSP) has been called a tonic for the mind, body and soul. I have heard this sentiment offered by a number folks who love the outdoors but have never avidly climbed, and it accurately describes the scenery that envelops anyone, climber or not, who visits the Appalachian Highlands of Virginia. Cascading mountain streams, lofty boreal forests of spruce and fir, fall foliage showing fiery sugar maples and dancing yellow big toothed aspen, wild ponies, expansive mountain top balds, high elevation bogs, and foggy morning hollows (read “hollers”) are just a few of my favorite attributes of this region of Virginia. The 1000 boulder problems scattered throughout GHSP make this place yet another reason to return, season after season.
With elevations ranging between 3,500 and 5,089 feet, and being at a more northern latitude than other Southeastern bouldering areas, GHSP is without question the best summer bouldering in the Southeast. It isn’t only due to the high-northern Appalachian aspect of Grayson that allows for wonderful summertime sends. The very nature of the boulders adds to this. GHSP boulders are steep (VERY steep) with shaded overhangs leading to -usually- juggy topouts. Bouldering in Grayson Highlands is frequently a powerful, fingertip oriented, 45 degree affair. Vertical or slabby boulders are quite rare. Atypical Grayson holds are in-cut crimps and flakes (it is unusual to find a crux move involving a fiction dependent sloper). Once most Southeastern boulderfields become too humid, overgrown, and bug infested, GHSP thaws out from the icy winter as the spring season kicks into high gear.
Spring conditions are great in Grayson to be sure. Summer bouldering in GHSP is as good as it gets in the Southeast, but fall, as with every other Appalachian boulderfield, is the crown jewel for perfect projecting. Adding to the awesomeness of fall conditions, GHSP has without-a-doubt the best fall foliage in Virginia (and the literal bus loads of “leafer” tourists stand as testament). Crisp conditions, beautiful golden and red colors surrounding, and hundreds of boulder problems within a few minutes of the parking lot tend to spoil visiting climbers. With grades currently spanning from V0 to V12 (one boulder housing every grade from V2-V12), and with hikes ranging from 45 seconds to 30 minutes, what’s not to love?
Bouldering in Grayson Highlands unofficially began in the early 1990’s with clandestine sessions at outlier boulderfields by the likes of James Litz and several others out of North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. The total number of boulder problems likely didn’t exceed 200 until secure access and official approval of GHSP bouldering was gained in 2008-2009. Since then, open communication between climbers and park staff, careful development regarding recreational impacts and the park’s rare plant species, and volunteerism towards construction of approved access trails has opened many new GHSP boulderfields. The 1000th boulder problem was climbed in 2014. Now, with the full color Grayson Highlands Bouldering Guidebook and Rakkup’s mobile guidebook app, these wonderful areas, boulders, and problems in the most scenic section of Virginia’s Appalachian Mountains are even more accessible.