The weather is starting to warm up (in places that aren’t Vermont, anyway) and that means one thing, naturally: Spring rock climbing road trip!
We gathered up several of OGE’s many resident rock climbing aficionados and asked them for their favorite climbing destinations, some classic routes there, and some beta for making your next trip there a great one.
In this article:
Smith Rock | Rocktown | The Obed | Yosemite
Quality Geology: Smith Rock
Writeup by Anna G.
Smith Rock State Park, located in the town of Terrebonne, Oregon, is definitely worthy of your precious vacation time. Boasting uber-classic climbs, easy access, and lots of sunshine, a trip to Smith is bound to start your summer off on the right foot. Sport climbing reigns supreme here, but if you bring your trad rack you’ll be rewarded with some moderate multi-pitch routes that let you get a birds’ eye view of the park.
Once you book your ticket, start dreaming about dancing up routes using almost invisible features. The geology of the area left vertical walls with really cool “chicken heads”, pocket features, small edges, and in some spots, giant holes in the rock known as huecos.
Smith Rock is generally considered the birthplace of modern sport climbing, with the route To Bolt or Not to Be (5.14a). But if you’re not quite up to that grade yet, there’s enough climbing of all levels to be entertained for a lifetime.
Anna’s Favorite Routes
5 gallon buckets (5.8)
This follows several huge huecos up the beautiful yellow face. Some are almost big enough to crawl into. With big holds and not too steep, this is sure to please anyone in your group. Get on this one before everyone else has had their coffee or be prepared to wait in line for this classic.
Screaming Yellow Zonkers (5.10b)
Located on the backside of the park, this route has a lot of variety. The bolts are spaced in the classic Smith-style (aka, a little far apart but still safe), and the rock gives you fun knobs and chicken heads to pull on. The climb up and over the pass is a bit spooky but totally worth it, so plan to spend the day (or afternoon at least) on the backside. For making the trip over the pass you’ll be rewarded with less crowds and some pretty spectacular climbing.
Crack Babies (5.12b)
If you get bored of vertical face climbing, head into the Cocaine Gully and hop on this route. Steep, powerful moves and big holds make this one just plain fun to climb. Most routes in Smith tend to quest up long faces, but the relatively short height of Crack Babies makes it a great route for a strong boulderer. Be sure to stick clip the first bolt of this one as the first few moves are a little funky.
More than any other place I’ve visited, Smith Rock is home to the high first bolt. A stick clip is considered mandatory gear. If you’re flying, try bringing a stick clip head, then stop by a hardware store to pick up a painters’ pole. At the end of the trip you can probably resell the pole in the campground for a few bucks!
Make sure you have the right shoes, too—something stiff, with a good edge. You won’t need anything super downturned, so think the Otaki, Miura VS, Vapor Lace or Shaman. If you’re planning on doing moderates all day, pack something comfortable like the Taranatulace, Origin or Defy.
The easiest sleeping accommodations can be found in the Smith Bivy, a quick 15-minute walk from the crag. Get there early, as spots tend to fill up quickly on the weekends. The group cooking area creates a great space to swap send stories and plan the next day’s climbing. Included in your $8/person/day fee are hot showers, toilets, a sink to wash dishes, power outlets for phones, and a phenomenal view.
When you get tired of camp food, drive into nearby Terrebonne to eat at the Terrebonne Depot. An old converted train station, this is an awesome spot to celebrate a successful climbing trip. They have a creative menu that is guaranteed to please and it’s not so expensive you can’t afford gas to get back home. If you’re looking for a slightly less formal spot, don’t miss Base Camp Pizza. You can’t beat their friendly staff and huge pies.
When it’s time for your rest day (because let’s face it: you’ll probably need one eventually) head into Bend, Oregon. This town has everything you could want, from shopping to paddling, hiking, biking and *some* nightlife, if you can’t find it at the crag, you can find it in Bend. If you’re visiting with a big appetite, go to the Taj Palace—the all-you-can-eat lunch buffet left me nearly unable to walk out of the building.
There’s a reason why so many people flock to this tiny town in Oregon each spring and fall, and though I’ll admit that long, vertical face climbs tend to be my anti-style, the beauty of Smith Rock and the quality of the routes left me longing to come back again and again.
Wild & Scenic: The Obed
Writeup by Ethan G.
The “Obed” is a quiet, often overlooked climbing area nestled in Eastern Tennessee just outside the tiny town of Wartburg. Located at the confluence of the Obed River and Clear Creek, this exceptional climbing destination is stacked with high-quality routes of all grades, from 5.7 to 5.13—though the meat of the climbing is 5.10 – 5.12. Plus, for the pebble-wrestlers out there, the Lily Boulders contain many of the southeast’s best and most classic boulder problems from V2 to V14.
This area is best known for its massive horizontal sandstone roofs, and some of the sport climbs go more “out” than “up”! The sandstone here is very compact and high quality— it’s easily mistaken for granite. Expect to palm plenty of slopers, and grab flat jugs that get worse as you lock off on long reaches to that one crimpy imperfection in the gray shield of stone that is your new project.
The most popular area in the Obed is definitely South Clear—easy access and plenty of moderates make for a convenient place for everyone in your group to find climbing that suits them. Don’t miss the highly unique crag, Stephen King Library, a thirty foot vertical wall topped by a 40-foot horizontal roof, and yes, there are climbs that go out it!
If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous (and don’t mind an approach), be sure to check out the Tierrany Roofs on the north side of the Obed River. This south-facing, sunny wall has some of the area’s longest and most majestic routes. The wall’s namesake route, Tierrany (5.12a), is a great place to start and there are plenty of 5.10’s on the “slabby” lower wall to keep the whole group happy.
Ethan’s Favorite Routes
Arguably the best of the grade in the Obed, this is a must-do if you are climbing in the South Clear area. The position and exposure of this route is fantastic, not to mention the high-quality climbing itself. Fairly long and reasonably sustained with no real “crux” this makes for a great project for the aspiring 5.10 climber or the perfect warm up for harder routes nearby.
Pale Face (5.11a)
Located toward the far end of the South Face area, your eye will immediately recognize this aptly named route. Stick clip a high first bolt, navigate around a low roof and up a short ramp to catch a rest before launching into a series of sequential slopers and flat holds with smeary feet on a beautiful expanse of stonker pale-white sandstone. Finish up a pumpy, steep face to the anchors.
Located in the sleeper zone of Little Clear, this route packs some serious punch. Start up a left leaning flake that leads to powerful boulder problem in a body length horizontal roof. Pull the lip and to gain the “rest” at the base of the steep headwall loaded with more power-sapping boulder cruxes separated by good holds that lead to the chains. Rad.
If you are camping, then you’ll have the pleasure of staying at Del and Marty’s Lily Pad. This may be one of the most welcoming climber campgrounds in the country, and with the brewery that Del recently built on-site you’ll be hard pressed to find a better place to spend a rest day. Friday night campfires frequently come with sluggish Saturday mornings, so plan your climbing days accordingly!
Nearby Wartburg has some grocery stores and a few restaurants, but if you really want to spend some time in town for a decent cup of coffee, internet access, catch a movie, or hit a Whole Foods, head to Oak Ridge or Knoxville, about 45 minutes away.
Rockin’ Out at Rocktown
Writeup by Mel M.Located in the secluded hills of Northern Georgia next to La Fayette (pronounced la-fi-et by locals), Rocktown is one of the best bouldering locations in the southeast.
With several acres of large sandstone boulders, friction for days, nice flat(ish) landings, and a fantastic variety of 4 star climbs from V0-V8 with amazing movement, the place should be crawling with gym rats, but (thank the Lord) the one-mile approach is a little long for the lazy boulderer carrying mad pads.
The campground is dry, bathroom-less, and with limited flat parking spots for the #Vanlife folk, Rocktown doesn’t see the shoulder-season traffic that other nearby areas like LRC and Horse Pens 40 do, which is why I love coming here every chance I can.
Mel’s Favorite Routes
There are ample warm up spots: Hueco Simulator is my favorite one, even though it’s a longer approach than warming up at the Orb. It gets great morning light, and it’s a short walk to the Corridor—which houses The Ripple, one the best V2’s I’ve ever climbed! A big bonus is that the area around Hueco Simulator is secluded, making it easier to cat hole my way through my morning poo.
Looking for a quiet place to climb V5-V6? Walk downhill from Hueco Simulator and you’ll find the Back Street Boulders. I love Full Circle (V5) and its low right start variation (rated V6). The moves are thuggish, big and fun, all with a safe landing. The top-out requires some precision, delicacy and not too many balls—just enough to keep it spicy.
Even if you don’t climb harder than V8, you should check out The Vagina (V7, an old school rating in the guide book). It’s in the Front Corridor, so chances are that you’ll walk right past it. This climb is a beautiful, overhung, uber classic with powerful moves, precision, and a nice landing. It’s worth putting on your tick/project list. Note that short people can climb it too!
Be sure to pack a saw, or bring firewood if you come here during the real boulder season when the night-time lows hit the low 30’s. A campfire is a nice place to connect with your fellow climbers or some cool spelunkers (turns out, there’s a nearby cave system that folks regularly visit). Bring Climb On, Ryno Skin or your favorite finger balm, because your tips are going to get wrecked.
Three crash pads for a couple does it here. You gotta love the South, folks are so friendly and willing to pad up boulders together that I’ve never wanted for more.
If you are like me (I don’t really do rest days) and all you need is more water, cheap beer, a high calorie grilled sandwich with meat and a few grocery items, then Uncle Jed’s Store, 7.5 miles from the campground is your stop.
Climbing in Yosemite
Writeup by Tim S.If you’ve been climbing for any amount of time, you’ve heard about the climbing in Yosemite. Its huge walls have been the stage on which several generations of climbers have sought to push the sport to new limits. While “The Valley” certainly holds challenges for today’s elite climbers, there’s an entire lifetime of climbing for us mere mortals as well.
If trad climbing is your thing, Yosemite is the place to be. From 5.6 to 5.14, single pitches to 3000-foot big wall routes, Yosemite’s generally well protected granite walls have something for everyone. Looking for cracks? The Valley has a lot of ‘em. Slabs? Got those too. Techy face climbing? Yep. There’s even some high quality bouldering to be had.
Along with the climbing, you’ll be treated to gorgeous views, great fireside stories in Camp 4, and you’ll be following in the footsteps of some climbing legends.
In short: GO! It’s amazing!
Tim’s Favorite Routes
Yosemite’s classic climbs could, quite literally, fill a guide book. Below are a few that stick out, though this is only scratching the surface. It’s also worth noting that many of the valley’s long routes feature a pitch or two of off-width climbing. If you’re unfamiliar climbing the wide, these pitches will feel really sandbagged—and kinda scary. Generator Crack (5.10c) is an easy to access (and toprope) off-width, if you’re looking to hone your flailing skills in a more forgiving environment.
Beginner trad climbers can find some great multi pitch options such as After Six (5.7). The hardest pitch is right off the ground, followed by several pitches of easier, well-protected climbing with beautiful views and El Cap towering over you to the left. The top out has a nice spot to take in the view before an easy hike down.
More advanced climbers may enjoy the awesome cracks at Cookie Cliff such as Outer Limits (5.10c) or long classic test pieces such as Astroman (5.11c) on Washington Column.
For the crushers out there, hard single pitches like Cosmic Debris (5.13b) or any number of long, hard free climbs on El Cap such as Golden Gate (5.13a) and everything in between.
Speaking of El Cap, if aid climbing is your thing, many call The Nose (5.9 C2) “the best rock climb in the world”. Most parties spend 3-5 days on the wall, though 1 day pushes are not out of the question even for us mortals. If you’re looking for something a bit shorter, the West Face on Leaning Tower or The South Face on Washington Column are also great choices.
Black Diamond Camalot C4s: Here’s a quick climbing history lesson for you: Modern cams were invented by a Yosemite climber to better protect the splitter cracks of the Valley. They’re now a staple piece of gear for any trad climber, with BD’s C4 being the gold standard. The dual axle helps each piece cover a wider size range and they’re one of the more durable pieces of climbing gear out there. Many longer climbs in Yosemite have some pitches of wide climbing, so the larger C4’s (often a #5) can be pretty handy.
DMM Alloy Offsets: They may be made by the Euros, but these stoppers feel like they were built for Yosemite’s flaring cracks and pin scars. On many Valley climbs these are much more useful than a standard set of nuts.
La Sportiva TC Pro shoes: Tommy Caldwell had these built for free climbing the Dawn Wall, though they’re a great for just about any Yosemite climb. They edge well, give you plenty of support on long routes, and protect your feet and ankles in cracks. Just make sure to put your initials on them. Pretty much eveyone hanging out in Camp 4 has a pair, and it’s easy to get em mixed up (I’m only joking a little bit here).
When you’re ready for a rest day, Yosemite has plenty of hikes to keep you busy, a grocery store in the park for resupply, and great places like El Cap Meadow to chill and take in the view.
One thing to keep in mind, though, is that Yosemite is a busy spot, and finding a place to stay is sometimes the crux of the trip. Camp 4 the classic climbers’ haunt, but it only has a limited number of spots and doesn’t take reservations. There are also limits to how many nights you can spend in the park, which vary based on the time of year. Camping out of bounds and sleeping in your car in parking lots are against the rules, and the rangers strictly enforce them. There are a few other campsites that take reservations, places to sleep in your adventure rig just outside of the park, and even the ritzy Majestic Yosemite Hotel (formerly the Ahwahnee) in the park if you have money to burn. A little research ahead of time will help ensure you have a comfy place to crash for the night after climbing.