As climbers we are now privileged time players who can enjoy these natural jewels. The climbing pioneers who explore the mountains around here shared their mettled spirit, with which they climbed the summits of the region, to the generations who followed them. Now, the new generation is exploring the territory with new eyes, discovering and rediscovering its places and trying to transmit their knowledge to share their spirit of adventure, so that future generations can enjoy the jewels this valley has to offer.
Throughout the years the Columbia Valley was the scene of many clashes, starting with the formation of the valley itself. A titanic battle of the elements created over many years the Columbia River fault that now separates the intriguing Purcells range from the indomitable Rockies mountains. This trench is the scene of spectacular rock formations. On one side the granite; pure, solid and straight pierces the earth’s crust and vibrates in us the names of the “Bubagoos”, “Leaning towers”, “Sally Serana”. While in the East the more friable limestone creates unique silhouettes such as “Goodsir Mountains”, “Rockwall”, “Flow Peak”, “White Tail” ….
La vallée de la Columbia fût le lieux de bien des affrontements, à
commencer par la formation de la vallée elle-même. Un combat titanesque des
éléments à créer au cours de longues années la faille de la rivière Columbia
qui sépare maintenant l’intrigante chaîne de montagnes des Purcells de
l’indomptables chaînes des Rocheuses. Cette tranchée est le théâtre de
formations rocheuses spectaculaires. D’un côté le granite; pure, solide et
droit perce l’écorce terrestre et fait vibrer en nous les noms de «Bubagoos»,
«Leaning towers», «Sally Serana». Tandis qu’à l’Est le calcaire plus friable
crée des silhouettes uniques telle que les «monts Goodsir», le «Rockwall»,
«Flow peak», «White Tail», etc.
En tant que grimpeurs nous sommes maintenant de
privilégiés acteurs du temps qui pouvons
jouir de ces bijoux naturels. Les pionniers de l’escalade qui sont passés par ici
ont su partager leur esprit fougueux avec lequel ils ont gravit les sommets de
la région aux générations qui les suivirent. Maintenant, la nouvelle génération
explore avec un nouvel œil le territoire, elle découvre et redécouvre ses
endroits et tente de transmettre leur savoir pour partager leur esprit
d’aventure, afin que les générations futures puissent profiter des joyaux que
cette vallée a à offrir.
Columbia Valley Rock Climbing by Bruno-Pierre Couture was last modified: April 9th, 2019 by BPC
The Parc de la Matawinie is a beautiful wildness area with great hiking trails, lakes and superb views. Sainte Émélie-de l’Énergie is the gateway to this beautiful playground. If climbing is your fix, you are in luck. There are lots of undeveloped areas if you’re ready for a little bushwhacking. But if you want ready to climb routes well then you won’t be held lacking.
Proximus is the typical roadside crag with little to no approach. Just park and walk for less than one min and choose your climb. Most climbs here are bolt protected sport climbs, but you’ll find a few easier trad lines if that’s more to your taste. The angle varies from polished slabs to overhanging faces and arêtes. The climbs are quite technical and thought provoking. It’s just a great place to try hard.
Sérénité is simply unique. The climbing here is great. It’s definitively one of my favourite cliffs in the Montreal area. Two distinctly different climbing styles will greet you here. First off is 25m of overhanging face with lots of features. Pump and technique is the challenge here. Climbs will have you redlining for the anchors. The second style is more of a face-slab style. But unlike most featureless friction slabs, you’ll be greeted to a variety of slopey step-like holds. Creative positioning and mantling will get you through some cruxes but good footwork and balance are the key. And if that’s not enough, bring your fishing rod and walk up to the lake to try and catch you lake trout that only the patient will catch.
Have fun and enjoy.
Socrate Badeau on New York New-York 5.10 (Sérénité)
Simon Brunette on Dupond 5.10 & Louise Quattrocchi on Bazoka Joe 5.10 (Sérénité)
Rohan Badeau swinging on Toquerre 5.8 (Proximus)
hiking Sérénité with kids
hiking Parc de la Matawinie with friends
Evan Stassinos on Chipless 5.12 (Proximus)
Delphine & Megan on Puissance Turbo 5.7 (Proximus)
David Savoie taking a rare breather on Bachibouzouk 5.13a (Sérénité)
Brune Demers-Giroux on the FA of Bazoka Joe 5.10 (Sérénité)
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James Otey on Tsunami 5.12c/d
Rumney is the premier sport climbing venue in the Northeast. Located at the southwestern corner of the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire, the crags are scattered across the south-facing slopes of Rattlesnake Mountain. With a wide selection of all-bolted routes from 5.2 to 5.15, there are challenges for climbers of any ability.
Chloe Leberge on Yer Anus 5.9
But it is more than the bolts that make Rumney so special. Each of the cliffs has a distinctive feel, making it seem like many different areas in one. The predominant rock type –schist – demands a skillfull blend of power and technique. A scenic setting above the Baker River, a great swimming hole, and stable access all contribute to the area’s popularity.
This is the fifth guidebook to Rumney, and the area has undergone incredible changes over that time. Gone are the days of having the crags to yourself –and of free parking. The Forest Service has used the fees to upgrade the parking lots, construct toilet facilities, and improve trails accessing the cliffs. By paying the parking fee and obeying all closures, climbers can demonstrate that we are a responsible user group, and ensure future access for all of us.
Kevin Ogden on Whip Tide 5.12b.
Climbers have helped to make Rumney what it is today. In 1993, access to the crags was posted by a private landowner. The Access Fund and the Rumney Climber’s Association (RCA) bought the land, and then sold it to the Forest Service. Most recently, the RCA has purchased the last privately owned area of cliffs – the Northwest Crags – through their “final frontier” initiative. A new parking lot has been constructed at the Buffalo Pit, and a new trail was built in order to provide additional access to the Northwest Crags. Please consider joining both the Access Fund and the Rumney Climber’s Association in order to help preserve the crags that we love so much.
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Drone footage of the Painted Corridor, Photo: Rock Abond
If you’ve ever wondered what China or other parts of the Far East look like, now’s your chance. Yangshuo is one of the most unbelievably hip places on this planet. It’s a microcosm of everything you ever wanted in life. You know how there are those tiny locations nestled into the threadwork of each countries daily life labeled an ‘escape’, well Yangshuo is one of them. Life is pleasant here. Everyone walks around with a smile and are content with life. It’s a place removed from big city drama, allows cultures to cross, and welcomes every idea under the sun.
Traditional cormorant fishing culture, Photo: Anotherdayattheoffice.com
For starters, Yangshuo is located amidst the most amazing and fantastic scenery you will ever lay eyes upon. Plentiful 200m tall green towers rise abruptly in every direction starting immediately outside your hotel balcony continuing past your wildest fantasies. And when there aren’t any towers, you’ll find farmer villages surrounded by lush rice paddies and crazy amounts of interconnected trails with swimming holes and hidden caves. The best way to enjoy it all is by grabbing a bicycle and heading out to discover a surreal world where ancient lifestyles mingle with contemporary pursuits.
Overlooking Yangshuo Town, Photo: David Kaszlikowski
Heading back into town, you might be turned-off by the blistering pace of China’s population and their go-get-it attitude, but then you’ll realize what’s ahead of you is more interesting than the tranquil nature 5 minutes at your back. The town of Yangshuo offers a different perspective of China’s rich history more than any other tourist destination. As said before, it’s used as an escape from the real world, a weekend holiday get-away. The upbeat metropolitan tourists have forced Yangshuo to host an array of first-world amenities rivaled by few and far between. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the comfort.
Approach to The Egg, Photo: Ursa Kenk
So as you can see, Yangshuo is a tale of two towns. One with unrivaled natural beauty and a downhome local scene, ahhhh…the climbing, local people, and landscape are simply amazing. Then the second, an upbeat take-it-as-it-comes metropolitan escapade, with either a romantic calmness or wild eccentric nightlife. Yangshuo is an incredibly rare treasure to find on this planet, and its calling for you to experience it. Bring your smiles, climbing shoes, and adventurous soul, all to let yourself get lost in the splendor of everything that is China.
The only way to discuss rock climbing in Yangshuo is to start with the complete experience. Sure, you can travel here purely for the climbing, but after a few days you’ll realize there is so much more. Yangshuo is stocked full of the most interesting international climbers you will meet anywhere, and when intertwined with such a huge diversity of climbing styles it has evolved into the epitome of a world-class rock climbing destination.
Moon Hill, Photo: Henn Photography
Yangshuo rock is stupendous. The karst topography present in South China offers an experience like no other; areas in Thailand Laos and Vietnam can’t compete with the plethora of rock nor the subtle variations found in the rock of Yangshuo. Each of the 50+ crags are located on different towers resulting in every climbing sector having different atmosphere, scenery, and approaches. Furthermore, none of the crags are similar to each other with regards to sun exposure, weather protection, or rock features. Once you experience it, you’ll easily understand why Yangshuo’s rock caters to everyone’s preferred climbing style…even limestone cracks!
Moon Hill, Photo: Henn Photography
As mentioned, there is something for everyone. Routes range in difficulty from 5.5/4 to 5.14d/9a with plenty of high-end Open Projects. There is steep pumpy terrain, technical edgy face climbs, and 3D body torqueing routes. You can pull on tufas until your heart’s content or tip-toe crimp your way to heaven. Everything is possible in Yangshuo including, multi-pitches, deep-water soloing, traditional routes, and limitless development potential. These are the main reasons why Yangshuo has been repeatedly featured in climbing films as well as magazines and continues to attract professional climbers from around the globe.
Yangshuo is one of the best climbing locations in the world. Yes, the rock diversity plays a major role in this designation, but when mixed with friendly welcoming people, a plethora of opposite sex eye-candy, comfortable and familiar living amenities, and easy access to international travel hubs, it’s difficult to find another location with such appeal. After you’ve been here for a while, you may never want to leave. The amount of psych emanating from your crag mates is unrivaled anywhere. You’ll push past individual mental limitations and find undiscovered motivation to attain your next high-point. Give Yangshuo the chance to show you what is possible in this world. It could be the next place you call home!
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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.
Buy Elizabeth Furnace here and save money versus purchasing from within our app via Apple or Google. It’s exactly the same guidebook, but offered at a lower price on rakkup.com.
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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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
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.
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.