Chasing the Shade: 6 Crags You Can Climb in the Summer

20190529- West Virginia-New River Gorge

Climbing in the summer can be a problem, but at several locations across the U.S.—including West Virginia’s New River Gorge—you can find the combination of shade and altitude to make it worth the trip. Photo: Mark Doliner

For climbers, an “endless summer” would be a waking nightmare. As the temperatures rise and, in many parts of the country, humidity increases, rock becomes hotter to the touch and chalk turns to paste on sweaty palms. Crags that are prime for climbing in the spring and fall are suddenly off-limits since no one wants to belay a buddy in the glaring sun all day.

But in a few magical places, climbing in the summer is not an impossibility. Chasing the shade likely means changing locations throughout the day, If you’re willing to work for it, you might just have a summer to remember. Here are six great places to get you started.

1. Lander, Wyoming

At just over 5,300 feet above sea level, Lander already has an advantage over lower-elevation climbing destinations. The town is a climbing hub: Just up the road are Sinks Canyon and Wild Iris, both beloved sport-climbing destinations. At Sinks Canyon, head to Killer Cave, where the tops of all the super-steep lines keep shade all day. (By mid-afternoon, you’re good to climb most of the wall in shade.) Hop on Action Candy (5.10a) to get a feel for the area. Or go up in altitude to Wild Iris, where most climbs are south-facing but the 9,000-foot elevation keeps temps lower. Make for the OK Corral area, where Claim Jumper (5.10c) is not to be missed. Lander hosts the International Climbers’ Festival every July, so plan your visit according to whether you’d rather avoid crowds or commune with other climbers.

2. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Rocky Mountain National Park’s best-known climbing is at Lumpy Ridge, a multi-pitch trad enthusiast’s paradise. For the quintessential Lumpy experience, get an alpine start at Sundance Buttress, which will give you time to get up all six pitches of an uber-classic like Kor’s Flake (5.7+) before you’re baking in the sun. Not into plugging gear? RMNP still has plenty to offer. If you’re willing to take those crash pads for a hike, Chaos Canyon is one of the premier bouldering destinations in Colorado; it has the added benefit of being fairly secluded compared to bouldering spots with shorter approaches. Don’t miss the Potato Chip Boulder, where you can warm up on moderates before getting to the namesake problem (V7).

3. Maple Canyon, Utah

An hour south of Provo, Maple has a huge concentration of sport routes, and it’s in primo shape from June through September. The towering canyon walls and increasing elevation keep temperatures considerably cooler than they are in the foothills and plains to the east. The Schoolroom Area is excellent for avoiding the sun, though it tends to be crowded thanks to its abundance of moderates. Privately owned Box Canyon is cool and shady even when temps spike in town, so it’s ideal for summer cragging. Watermelon Sugar (5.12a) is a classic, and if you’re not quite there yet, there are a handful of decent moderates at the EFS Wall, including Half As Cool As You (5.9).

4. Leavenworth, Washington

As you drive past the towering trees and awe-inspiring peaks of the Leavenworth area, it’s easy to think you’ve somehow ended up in wonderland—and the illusion only continues when you enter Leavenworth proper, a faux-Bavarian town where everything from the sausage stand to the local gas station is ready for year-round Oktoberfest. The climbing here isn’t too shabby, either. Head to Icicle Canyon, which is in excellent condition for climbing during the summer months, to jump on trad classics like Paydirt (5.7) or Sonic Boom (5.10). There’s also tons of bouldering in the Leavenworth area, with much of it is still in development.

5. Tuolumne Meadows, California

The granite domes of Tuolumne Meadows are enough to make any climber start salivating. The good news is that the High Sierra’s milder climate means you won’t be spending summer visits to Tuolumne in an oven. You’ll find far fewer crowds than in Yosemite Valley, even in the prime climbing season, which runs from May through early fall. Much of the climbing here is on gear, so bring a rack. Moderate classics include the five-pitch Cowboy Marmot (5.7) on Marmot Dome. There are also tons of classics at the Stately Pleasure Dome, which—though occasionally crowded—offers some of the best summit views you’ll find anywhere. Don’t miss Black Angel (5.11a).

6. New River Gorge, West Virginia

The southeastern United States is often overlooked as a summer destination; lots of folks make their pilgrimages to the New River Gorge during the fall, when things start to cool off. But the beauty of climbing at the New in the summer is that when it’s too hot to climb, you can jump into a swimming hole to cool off. The sport climbs here are super-steep, and the overhangs (along with big, shady trees) often help keep things in shade. The Kaymoor and Sunshine areas are ideal for summer climbing. Kaymoor, in particular, is home to some incredibly high-quality climbs, including Rico Suave (5.10a), Scenic Adult (5.11c), and Thunderstruck (5.12b).

Written by Emma Walker for Matcha in partnership with Outdoor Gear Exchange.

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Published:July 30, 2019

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