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Sierra Allen on Credit Card Debt (V4), Rock Gardens
Right next to Alaska is a land less known, but just as vast and rugged. The Yukon Territory is full of potential for discovery. Larger in geographic size than the state of California, and with less than 40,000 human inhabitants, it still contains great expanses of untouched wilderness. It is a land of great potential for climbers seeking virgin stone as only a tiny percentage of the rock here has been explored.
Over the past century, rumours of getting rich off gold brought an influx of destructive human activity to Yukon. More recently, as the global consciousness shifts from extraction of and control over nature to the appreciation and gratitude for it, the Yukon is becoming a destination for folks seeking a different kind of richness: low-impact outdoor adventure in a still pristine landscape.
Sierra Allen on an Unnamed problem in the Alsek Valley
The Yukon is becoming known for being a natural playground for fisherpeople, backpackers, paddlers, dog mushers, cross-country skiers, paragliders and mountain bikers. Rock climbing and bouldering development in the Yukon began decades ago but it is now gaining momentum as more and more people head north, seeking the freedom to play in untamed nature. That desire for adventure is key in really getting the most out of what the Yukon has to offer. Naturally, the climbing areas that have been most developed thus far are concentrated around the Yukon’s capital city, Whitehorse.
Loic Markley on Witness the Sickness (V9), Ibex Valley
Accessibility is the exciting challenge to new development beyond the rock that lies near the Yukon’s sparse highways. Even access to the Yukon’s most prominent bouldering area, the Ibex Valley, requires a 4wd vehicle. Many more possibilities open up to those for whom hiking, four wheeling, and boating are an option. There’s a lot of quality rock out there, rewarding those who are psyched to put in the energy to get out there and seek it!
I invite you to come and experience the wild Canadian north through the simple yet infinitely engaging art of bouldering. The season to climb here is between May and September, with July and August being the months with the best conditions and nearly 24hrs of sunlight. You’ll never have to worry about having to rush to send before dark!
Ethan Allen on Tryndamere (V5) and Jenna Carter on Tryed and True (V0), Ibex Valley
Come expecting a solid variety of world class rock along with some pretty engaging “backyard choss”. Expect quiet beauty, zero crowds, adventure potential everywhere you look, free camping, free clean water and pristine landscapes you’ll be awed by.
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Climber on The Morning After, 5.8.
Mount Rigaud is a little hill on the outskirts of Montreal city. The hill has a small ski hill that is quite popular with area locals and beginners. But what attracts climbers to Mount Rigaud isn’t the skiing! It’s the great little crag that sits on the top of the hill.
People have been climbing at Rigaud since the early 1970’s. The rock has a few cracks, but most of the climbing was done on top-rope. Actually, quite a few lines that are considered sport climbs today were done on trad gear in their heyday. Some of these were even done using pitons before nuts became common. But, it wasn’t until the early 1990’s that Geoff Creighton put up some of the first sport climbs of the area. These climbs were a catalyst for what to Rigaud would be a transformation.
Jerome St-Michel on What About Bob, 5.12a.
Sport climbing is now the norm for Mount Rigaud. With just shy of 100 climbs most of these short sport climbs, it’s not a surprise that Mount Rigaud is very popular today. Almost everyone climbs here in their first years. Most come back to grab the harder climbs or just for a bit of afternoon cragging. Now, thanks to the local climbers with support from the FQME, the older and dangerous hardware has been changed to today’s standard. And many more dangerous climbs have been made safer. Climbing at Rigaud is unique for the area. The rock is sharp. Holds are going to vary from monster jugs to small positive crimps with the assortment of sloping flats that you’re never sure if your hands won’t slip off. When the weather gets warm and humid it can feel slippery!
Olivier Lavoie on 40 Foot Smurf, 5.8.
You’ll have to bring out a complete arsenal of techniques to climb here. Angles vary from slabs to slightly overhanging with climbs sometimes having small roofs to pass. Harder climbs can be powerful and thin. A good reach is a plus at Rigaud and very rarely is endurance a factor. But you’ll often need good footwork and route reading skills. Onsighting is difficult if you are climbing at your limit. But, if you can do the moves, you can do the climb!
Peter Gernassnig on his climb Samson, 5.11b.
Close proximity to the city, easy access to the top of the cliffs and an abundance of easy to moderate climbs, these are all factors that make climbing at Mount Rigaud so popular. Add to that the great view of the Ottawa River valley, it’s easy to understand why people climb here.
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Francisco atop Raising Arizona 5.7
Elizabeth Furnace is a beautiful area located in the George Washington NF. Only a 1 hour drive from DC, it is the sport crag of choice for VA/MD/DC residents. Its name is derived from early 1800s history when a blast furnace located in the region was used to make pig iron using the currents of Passage Creek as a power source. Ore that was mined nearby and purified by the furnace was then transported to the South Fork of the Shenandoah River and taken downstream for forging in Harpers Ferry, WV. Today, the region is primarily a recreational area for families, with camping facilities that are readily accessible to those hiking the Massanutten & Tuscarora trails. Other activities to be enjoyed nearby, besides rock climbing, are camping, hiking, and mountain biking. The area offers two main crags; the roadside 5 minute approach Talking Headwall, and the mountain top 45 minute approach Buzzard Rock.
Melissa on Failure to Communicate 5.7
This guide is a comprehensive collection of the Elizabeth Furnace climbing region. It includes both Buzzard Rocks & Talking Headwall. Located in the north eastern outskirts of the George Washington National Forest, it is only a 1 hour drive from the DC region.
Talking Headwall is NoVa’s iconic roadside crag. Talking Headwall offers great sandstone features with overhangs and is the location of choice for new climbers to practice and hone their skills. Featured climbs are “Leading Should Feel This Way” (5.10), “I Love Big Jugs” (5.8), “Furnasty” (5.12), “Pure Energy” (5.10), and many others.
Mike – Suzzanne – Scott on Failure to Communiate 5.7
Buzzard Rock, with clean tuscarora sandstone and solid gear placements. Buzzard offers great features with mostly slab climbing and minimal overhangs. It is the location of choice for new climbers to practice and hone their trad skills. Featured climbs are the iconic “Anonymous Flake” (5.8 – 5.11), “Pulp Friction” (5.9), “Ass Cannibal” (5.8), and the new routes at the Adam Kopley Memorial Boulder.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for route updates & corrections. Contributions to this guidebook have been made by Francisco J Fuentes & Sean Tracy.
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Athar Naseer, Gaping Crack (V3)
Boat Rock is a granite playground nestled in the heart of a bustling metropolis. It consists of monstrous boulders hidden within a beautiful southern forest. The contrast between this amazing paradise of sharp boulders and the fast-moving cement city that has enveloped this climbing Eden is stark and dramatic. Boat Rock is an amazing respite for the climber stranded in the city, and is the most extensive and varied bouldering park within a few hours of Atlanta.
Boat Rock boasts a variety of climbers that called the Boat their stomping grounds, including Robyn Erbesfield, Bob Cormany, Ron Kauk, Curtis Glass, Shannon Stegg, Jerry Roberts, and Rich Gottlieb who all have made Boat Rock a destination for those looking to develop technical skills in this slab filled area.
Alex Liu, on Easy Crack Traverse (V3)
Boat Rock is notorious for being saved from urban progress by advocacy groups, especially the Southeastern Climber’s Coalition. Today, the area is divided between being held for climbers, and still owned by others, so climbers have to be aware of where boundaries are. Future plans seem to incorporate the outlying areas that possess interesting problems into use for climbers of Boat Rock permanently.
The pinnacle of climbing season is late January, where it doesn’t usually get blistering cold in this area of Georgia. The closer to summer, the ever-present humidity makes its presence known to climbers. Spring and fall are beautiful times to enjoy this park, but as the foliage is beautiful on the trees, it does inhibit navigating the boulders for beginners and new-comers.
Boat Rock is a place for climbers of varying ability levels. This is a great place to develop great slab climbing skills, as well as crack climbing, edging and balance.
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John Dorough on the classic, Magic Meat , 12a
Denny Cove — a new crag to the Chattanooga area offering 154 (and counting) sport and trad routes. The rakkup Denny Cove guide is currently the exclusive guide to this brand new area. Chatt Steel edition II (due out 2017) will debut Denny Cove in print, along with several other new areas to the Chattanooga region.
Denny Cove is located down the street from Foster Falls and up the mountain from Castle Rock — putting it squarely in one of the most popular areas to rock climb in the South Cumberland region. Jason Reynolds (park ranger at the nearby Foster Falls) established the first routes at the cliff in 2011 and would later tell Steven Farmer and Cody Averbeck about the area. These two walked the cliff and were blown away by the variety of the different walls. Dubbing it a ‘Sandstone Buffet,’ the two recruited a core group of developers including John Dorough, Dave Wilson, Edward Yates, and Anthony Meeks. Over the next several years, the group would spend most weekends at the cliff knocking choss off of the buffet wall and making fun of each other.
Like Foster Falls, Denny Cove has a wall for everybody. Be it slabs, faces, to bunkers, Denny has it. Of special interest is the Buffet Wall which can really only be compared to the Lizard Wall in Little River Canyon, AL. Like Lizard Wall, the buffet wall is one of the driest walls in the region during wet weather. More importantly, the wall has a one of a kind climbing personality that blends limestone side pulling down low with classic pumpy Sandstone edges up high. This wall has nearly 50 5.12s with routes up to 100′ long — and is not to be missed!
In all, Denny Cove is a huge and highly valued addition to the Chattanooga climbing portfolio. It also represents a watershed acquisition project spearheaded by the Southeastern Climbers Coalition and the Access Fund. 10% of sales from this guidebook on rakkup will go the SCC to help preserve climbing access at Denny Cove.
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Gaz Leah on Prudence Clasico 5.13c , Virgincita Cave.
Hidden within the majestic valleys of the Sierra Madre Oriental, just outside the sprawling city of Monterrey, lies the wonderland that is Parque La Huasteca.
Gaz Leah on the first ascent of The Life You Can Save, 5.12+, Pico Independencia.
Gigantic spines of limestone cut the jagged landscape like knifes to the heavens and cascading canyons bestow hypnotizing vistas that reach as far as the eye can see. For decades, the park remained elusive to the outside world, an almost mythical place that few ventured into but the enigmatic Huichol people, whose annual pilgrimage to the pay tribute to Abuelo Fuego (Grandfather Fire) has been a tradition for millennia.
In recent years, the park has witnessed an awakening. The tales of it’s beauty have travelled far and wide, carried by images of it’s breathtaking scenery and signature views of Pico Independencia. Combined with it’s incredible selection of climbing routes ranging in grades from 5.7 to 5.14+, and boulders from V0 – V11, the park continues to attract visitors from across the globe and as far as the U.K., Germany and Sweden.
Clayton Reagan, Atodo Madre, 5.14a, La Bestia Cave.
Possessing a plethora of activities including sport climbing, bouldering, big walling, running, mountaineering, hiking, cycling, highlining, base jumping and camping, there is something to quiche the thirst of even the most ambitious adventurer!
Pargue La Huasteca Entrance.
Parque La Huasteca by Gareth “Gaz” Leah was last modified: January 16th, 2017 by todd
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Ines Papert at the Ouray Ice Park.
Rock and Ice Magazine once came out with a statistic that Ouray had more climbers per capita than any other US city. I’m guessing they came up with that number during ice climbing season. I think it’s also safe to assume Ouray also has more ice climbs per capita of any US city.
Angelika Rainer on Careless Whisper, M11, The Remedy Crag.
Most people enter Ouray from the north. The experience of weaving through the desert like sandstone canyons south of Montrose and popping out in Ridgeway at the foot of the San Juans makes your heart skip a beat. Lofty snow covered peaks striated with cliff bands rise uninterrupted for seven thousand feet from the valley floor. Interesting enough, a glacial carved u-shaped canyon, lined with red rock, forms a sort of red carpet to welcome the visiting climber. It’s not long before you spot ice high on the hillsides and soon it’s forming alongside the road as well. Rubber necking at the cliffs as you wind your way around the corners it’s all you can do to keep the vehicle out of the river. Then, the mountainsides curve away and an idyllic alpine town with hot springs lays before you. Welcome to Ouray! If you arrived from the south, than likely you’ve been white-knuckling the steep exposed corners and wondering why the hell are there no guardrails. Yes, that canyon is full of cars that didn’t manage to make that turn. Your first stop will likely be at the brewery and you’ll be more than ready for a drink.
Jack Jefferies on Goldine, M10, The Posers Lounge.
Being in the southern latitudes for an ice climbing destination, Ouray benefits from short but often sunny winter days that help to build and refresh the ice via melt/freeze cycles. That, and ice farmers are hired to keep the ice big and fat in the Ouray Ice Park usually from mid-December till the end of March. The coldest of cold days have highs around ten degrees Fahrenheit, but often temps are in the 20s and 30s making for pretty comfortable climbing conditions.
Grant Kleeves on Fissure Out, M10, The Remedy Crag.
Ouray is located in southwest Colorado, where we boast 300 days of sunshine, coffee shops, several nearby hot springs, legal weed, and enough microbrews you could probably try a new one every day. When the cold icy terrain no longer seems your thing, Moab and desert rock climbing are only a couple hours away. Oh, and then there’s the access. Yeah, I know the Canadian Rockies are sooo big and there’s sooo much ice, but waking up at 4 am and driving several hours day after day to climb sure does get tiresome. In Ouray, drive times feel long if you go all the way to Silverton or all the way Telluride, at about 1:15 minutes. Otherwise, a car isn’t even needed for many of the climbs. Once you get the area a little dialed, you might work from the Chocolate shop for a few hours, then many step out and rope-solo 10 pitches in the ice park which might only take about 2 hours and feel pretty content with your day.
Kitty Calhoun at the Ouray Ice Park.
As of initial release, this guide has over 300 climbs, and more on the way. In the future, I’ll likely add Telluride and Silverton and more obscure local routes as well. In the meantime, the areas along highway 550 including around town, and Red Mountain Pass are covered. Of course, the Ouray Ice Park is covered and has some new climbs not previously covered in older guides. The scenic Camp Bird road or Canyon Creek Canyon (I never realized how redundant that sounded), is of course covered including Skylight, classics like the Ribbon and Bird Brain Boulevard, and the newer Hall of Justice. For those with overbuilt upper bodies and skinny little legs, you might enjoy the new Remedy dry-tooling crag that’s right in town. Viva Ouray!
When people think of Arabia, they tend to think of big sand dunes with Lawrence of Arabia standing in a pose with his hand on his hip and maybe a falcon on his shoulder for good effect. They don’t think of the mountainous country that is Oman. Peaks as high as 3000m and shear faces of up to 1000m, which should appeal to climbers everywhere. While it is literally covered in rock, due to the tectonic plates being pushed up from the Indian ocean, it is difficult to find good rock or at least the kind that appeals to sport climbers. Oman is, in fact, an incredibly beautiful country that makes for a great escape for those climbers stuck in European or North American winter weather. Pretty much guaranteed sunny weather all year round with ample amounts of climbing and other activities, it’s hard to think of why one wouldn’t consider coming to Oman.
Historically speaking, climbing in Oman is relatively new. The first mention of climbing in Oman was when Frenchman Raymond Renaud climbed the aptly named French pillar in 1979 with siege tactics to tackle Jebal Misht (1100m). Rumor has it that the Sultan had a helicopter pick the team up from the top and whisk them off to a celebration to commemorate their ascent. While this seems unlikely, it wouldn’t be the first time something outlandish happened in the gulf. Renaud and other French guides have been coming to Oman ever since and indeed have been behind much of the early development. There were also a number of British developers as well. Jeff Horby for one, who developed many adventurous routes up Jebal Misht and elsewhere.
In more recent news, Oman has had several famous climbers come and climb and get media coverage. People may remember Alex Honnold’s visit to the coast doing some DWS. Along with Jimmy Chin, Hazel Findlay and Mark Synnott, they made a short film about their climbs in Musandum, Oman.
Interestingly many of these routes had already been climbed by a group of British climbers (Tim Emmett, Neil Gresham, Mikey Robertson and Seb Grieve) and local strong men Read Macadam and Toby Foord-Kelcey.
A short time after that, Chris Sharma and Stefan Glowacz came to Oman to climb out of a cave, literally! They called the route, what else but “Into the Light”. This was the same name that Read Macadam and Jacob Oberhauser called the route they climbed out of at a nearby cave a month earlier. As unoriginal as these names seem Red Bull had an issue with two routes being called the same name. As Red Bull paid so much money and spent so much time organizing the trip and expedition, Read and Jacob graciously renamed their route “Out of the Dark” (Has to make you smile, right?). Both climbs were filmed and are available online:
However, as far as sport climbing in the Muscat goes, it wasn’t until Patrick Cabiro and Nathalie Hanriot were commissioned by the Ministry of Tourism that Oman started to see its first modern sport routes (2008). In fact, they were the driving force in the development of Wadi Daykiah and “La Gorgette”. They were also the first to bolt in Hadash. More importantly, they gave the impedes to local residents to start developing their own routes close to Muscat.
Hamza Zidoum on Abracadabra 6c (5.11a) Wadi Daykia Photo credit: Natasa Silec
Enter Kim Vaughn and Bill Huguelet, two local residents keen to develop routes close to home, who developed several routes in Kubra Canyon. They spent a lot of their own time and money developing these routes. We have a lot of thanks to give to Bill and Kim as Kubra is still one of the best afternoon crags. It’s also a great place to start your climbing trip in Oman with lots of moderates and a great bolted multi-pitch. Bill and Kim first called Kubra “Secret Canyon” as they kept the development a secret from the now bustling climbing group. One weekend they surprised the group with a new crag! A nice surprise to a have an additional 40 some odd routes added to your climbing inventory.
Natasa Silec on The Bulge 6c (5.11a) Kubra Canyon Photo credit: Miguel Willis
So in a few short years, Oman went from about 5 sport routes to about 80. The only problem was that most of these routes were in the French grade 6 range (5.10). Very few 7’s (5.12) and no 8’s (5.13) had been developed. Not to mention one of the more picturesque crags (Hadash) was generally over looked. Here comes the Canadian influence, Read Macadam and Larry Michienzi. In a few short years Larry and Read started to develop Hadash to its fullest and easily doubled both the number of routes and a number of harder climbs in Oman. While Kubra and Daykia are home to some great moderates, Hadash is home to some of the hardest routes in Arabia and as the altitude of Hadash is 1500m it is a great place to climb from October to April.
Photo Credit: Natasa Silec
So while Kubra has some great moderates and Hadash has some great harder climbs Daykia is still home to the easiest approach (if you have a 4X4☺ ). You can literally belay out of your car if you want. It also has some fantastic 6c’s (5.11a/b)! and some nice moderates as well. Check out the slightly run out Turbo barbeque (6c/5.11a) and Agath Exit (6c+/5.11b/c) if that’s your jam. Insiders beta: head to Daykia early as it goes in the sun by mid-afternoon and even in the winter it can be quite warm.
Hamza Zidoum Gets beta from Local Photo Credit Natasa Silec
Wadi Bini Alf is a scenic drive up a wadi that many tourists are drawn to. Climbers have the added benefit of some spectacular climbing as well. Not only is the climbing and scenery a huge advantage, so is the fact that many of the crags are quite accessible in the summer. When temps in Muscat and Dubai are near 50 C it is often in the mid 20’s at Wall of Shadows (afternoon shade) or Brikat Al Sharaf (morning shade). Depending on the season, certain crags are better due to the position of the sun. In the spring and early summer the Wall of Shadows and Brikat Al Sharaf are the best bet for cool temps. However, in the late summer and early fall Le Reef (afternoon) and Makhta Jaber (morning) are better for shade.
As nice as it is to have these summer crags, La Gorgette is by far the cherry on the cake. A beautiful slot canyon with an amazing atmosphere and even more amazing climbing. Walk to the end of the canyon to check out the quaint village of Balad Sayt and camp below the date palms for a full Omani experience. On rest days, take a walk down Snake Gorge (with either rappels, longer version or just pool jumping with the short version). This crag is best from October to March.
Camping at La Gorette
Interestingly, the crags are also divided by difficulty and while you can find a little of something for everyone at all of the crags, certain crags seem to be better for certain grades. Le Reef and the Wall of Shadows have excellent moderates and beginner climbs but both crags also have a few harder climbs as well. On the other hand, Brikat and La Gorgette lean toward the harder end with many 7’s (5.12-5.13). In the middle, is the newest crag in Oman, Makhta Jaber which only has a few routes so far but with the kind donations of visiting climbers more routes are sure to appear in the guide in the near future.
Two paper guides have been written about climbing in Oman. The Macdonald Guide (out of print) and a more recent guide also called ‘Climbing in Oman’ by long time Austrian climbing guide Jakob Oberhauser. While Jakob’s guide is very thorough it does lack the availability that an electronic guide can offer and also, while it has many details of the sport climbing in the area, it lacks some of the most up-to-date sport routes and topos. Of course, if it is multi-pitch climbing you are after, this is the guide for you. However, for those that want to do a little sport climbing in the Muscat area, this app is a very good supplement.
Bone Mountain VT: A Hike with Rakkup | NY Ski Blog
The New York Ski Blog author “ml242” writes:
…As I continued on the steep switchbacks of a work road, I ran into some No Trespassing signs. It was at that moment I remembered that I had a guidebook in the Rakkup app on my iPhone. Embracing the new technology, I put the first edition print back in my pack and clicked through the trail guide. The GPS showed I was slightly off course, so I wandered back and hit the go button to navigate to the top with some turn-by-turn.
NY SKi Blog: Bone Mountain VT: A Hike with rakkup was last modified: December 14th, 2016 by todd
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.