Vermont Tough Schist, Granite, and Quartzite Rock Climbing by Travis Peckham
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.