Ya, ya. We all know about Fountainbleau, Frankenjura, RRG and the likes, but there are plenty of climbing areas that have a ton to offer without the hype and the crowds.
This here (hear ye, hear ye!) is a call to celebrate the lesser knowns, the under the radars, and the off the beaten tracks. They may be smaller, recently opened, just being developed, or harder to navigate (read: Adventurous!).
For the lucky few, these may be home crags, like Thacher State Park sitting 20 minutes from Albany; Or require a bit of self-reliance, like the bring all your food and potable water destination of Dover Island; Or even serious daring spirit to visit the unheralded yet prodigious country of Montenegro.
To round up this list, I called on a little help from my friends, from fellow bloggers to kind folks on Mountain Project. Read on for 10 destinations you probably haven’t heard of, but will be grateful for next time you’re looking at something under the radar.
Climbing type: Sport
Josh Cook puts up routes and bolts the Balkans to this list:
“What if I were to tell you that there is a European climbing area that overlooks a UNESCO World Heritage site, has tufa-filled limestone, boasts routes from 5.8 to 5.14, is well-bolted, only a ten minute walk from the Old Town tourist center, and never has anyone there?
‘Lies!’, you’d say.
Welcome to Montenegro.
Škaljari is a crag I recently bolted and, in the two years that I have been climbing there, I have seen a total of fifteen other climbers—most are ones I brought myself.
Too good to be true? Well, there is one con: a local paranoid schizophrenic thinks climbers (i.e., me and my climbing partner) are killing the goats that sometimes are up at the crag. So he blocks the trail with trash and yells at us occasionally for going up there. Also, you need to come with a climbing partner; there are almost no climbers in this country, so you won’t randomly find someone to belay you.
But glorious are the days climbing that limestone and looking out over Kotor Bay. Well worth a stop on your Balkan tour.”
Opened in 2017, this is the newest sport climbing area in the Northeast, and only the third NY State Forest to allow climbing (Minnewaska and Harriman being the others).
Located 20 minutes from Albany, Thacher sits between the Gunks, 75 miles south, and the Adirondacks, 120 miles north. And if you want to get audacious, it is 170 miles from Rumney, NH, the sport climbing mecca of New England. All of which is to say, climbers of NYC no longer have to drive 5.5 hours for stellar sport, they now have it in their, relative, backyard.
There are currently about 65 routes ranging from 5.6 to 5.12a, and they will appeal to gym enthusiasts as most climbs are roughly 50 feet high, with none longer than 90′. Thacher is special for its dark-gray limestone, which stands out against the granite of New England, the conglomerate of the Gunks, or the anorthosite of the ADKs.
Krista deMolitor makes the case for island bouldering off the coast of Nova Scotia:
“This secluded island with breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean is home to arguably some of the best bouldering problems on the East Coast of Canada. The razor sharp granite makes for superb friction which is excellent for sending, but tortuous on the skin. Dover offers an array of problems falling in the easier to intermediate range, but is also notable for some of its harder classics such as White Trash V7, Blacksmith Dyno V9, Exciter (sit) V10, and Horizontal Matter V11. Visit www.cnsmobeta.ca for a list of all problems.
There are no amenities on the island, so one must bring camping gear and food. The island is very exposed on sunny days with zero tree cover so packing sunscreen and a generous amount of water is strongly advised. The easiest access to the island is by boat. Contact Rod at OceanSpray B&B to book a round trip boat ride for a fee but make sure to give him at least 3 days notice. Boulderfest is a huge event put on every August by Climb Nova Scotia and is a great opportunity to visit the island with lots of climbers who are equally psyched. A visit to the maritimes would not be complete without a trip to Dover Island.”
High-Clip tells you why you need to visit King’s Bluff next time you’re near Nashville:
“Perched up on a 40 foot climb with 2 bolts, I internally chastise myself for not checking out the bolt locations before climbing the route, but then tell myself it’s totally cool because it’s only a 5.5, and I’m the High-Clip. Easy peasy.
Except, routes at King’s Bluff are STOUT. The run-outs are pretty bad, especially given that the wall height ranges from 30-60 feet (most are around 45-55′). And rusty bolts/chains never make anyone feel any better, but at least most of these have newer protection placed adjacent to them. Other than that, this place is the bomb!
King’s Bluff is located in Clarksville, Tennessee, about 45 minutes from Nashville. Managed by the Southern Climbers Coalition (SCC), the area is very well labelled and approachable. The SCC keeps it gated, though you can ask for the code as a climber. There’s a short path and some stairs, on either side stretch the sick walls. Even more, the routes are labelled with their names and their grades. With Mountain Project, it’s almost too easy to find star routes, like “Touchy-Feely,” “Chimney Sweep,” and “Wired for Sound.”
While it is moderately scary climbing, it is rewarding. At the top of each route you’ll see a beautiful river running past. The walls extend far into the green abyss of trees on either side, and if you listen all you’ll hear is perhaps the light jangle of quickdraws against rock. Despite any fear you may feel while climbing, the peace at the tops of these climbs is unbeatable.”
Ryan Siacci sings praise about a lesser known crag in Peru from up high, 4000m up that is:
“When folks think about South American sport climbing, they think about Hatun Machay – the sacred rock forest of the Andes. But this famed crag has had problems in recent years, including the destruction of the refugio and chopping of many classic routes. Route developers from the nearby city of Huaraz have since abandoned the once celebrated crag, instead focusing attention on the ‘recently discovered’ Inka Waqanqa.
Although there are still fewer than 100 routes, Inka Waqanqa offers high quality climbing and oodles of potential. The orange-black ramparts have tons of room for development, with the volcanic rock forming pocketed, technical face climbs and thin, difficult slabs. If bouldering is more your scene, the scope for new problems is almost endless.
Still something of a hidden gem, climbing at Inka Waqanqa is nothing short of idyllic. The rolling green fields are dotted with wildflowers and the swirling Andean mists lend the scene a sense of grandeur. An excellent campsite can be found among the crumbling stone ruins, complete with running water and a remarkably clean pit toilet. Best of all, it’s free!
But remember, take some time to get acclimatised – sport climbing at 4000m sure ain’t easy!”
Massachusetts’ highest concentration of bouldering problems (over 1,100 listed on MP) is located, unexpectedly, in Lynn, Lynn the city of sin.
Only 10 miles from Boston, it should be frequented more often, but the woodsy terrain and vast expanse of the park–at 2,200 acres!–make finding the erratics a little challenging. Approaches can be up to 30 minutes of hiking. Ya know, because it’s a big place.
Don’t let that daunt you, Tim McGivern and Dave Twardowski, local climbers, put all the problems on the map. Literally. You can download it here to help you navigate around. You’ll be glad you came as there are plenty of classics from easy (try Bear Grease, V1) to moderate (Holly the Happy Heel Hooker, V3+) to oh damn that’s hard (Green Haze, V7+). There’s even some trad too. Nestled in an idyllic setting, the offering rivals the better known bouldering options in the area, Pawtuckaway and Lincoln Woods.
Wesley Payette proclaims wilderness climbing in southern Illinois. Who knew! Well, now you do:
“For those craving a bit of wilderness in their sport climbing experience, Jackson Falls in the Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois might be just the place. Ancient mossy boulders and chuckling streams create a peaceful and wild destination. Powerful crimps, shallow pockets, slopey topouts and technical vertical climbing give rise to unique movement and whacky beta.
While predominantly low- angle climbing, the canyon caters to all styles, from thuggy overhanging to heart-breaking slab. In addition, it’s fairly uncrowded even on the nicest days. Those used to waiting in line at the Red may find themselves alone on a four or five-star route. Despite having fewer routes than more popular sport climbing areas, Jackson Falls contains incredible quality and variety. Some of the most classic, unique and interesting routes include Groovy Marcia 5.9, Cheerio Bowl 5.10a, Group Therapy 5.10c, Wild at Heart 5.10d, Lasso the Vulture 5.11a, Who Needs Friends? 5.12a, Detox Mountain 5.12a, Butcher of Baghdad 5.13a, Red Corvette 5.13a, and East of East St. Louis 5.13c.
Jackson Falls is well off the beaten path, so make sure you prepare for wilderness camping if you want to hang about (primitive camping is located atop the cliffs).”
“The Dolomites in Northern Italy are one of the best places in the world for hiking or climbing. The Catinaccio Mountain offers one of the best views of the nearby mountains from its peak at nearly 3,000 meters above sea level.
The start of the climb can be reached via a 3-hour hike and via ferrata from the top of Kölner Hut chairlift. The climb itself starts at Santnerpass Hut consists of two two-hour legs with an elevation of 170 and 190 meters and a difficulty of 6 SL.
After enjoying the incredible views of the surrounding mountains, the descent brings you back to the Santnerpass Hut where you can have an amazing Tyrolean meal or a drink before heading back. If you are not leaving early in the morning, staying overnight at the hut is also an option.
This will also allow you to see the sunset and the sunrise from 2,700 meters above sea level.”
For the first time since 1990, Bolton Dome is being re-opened to the public. And to great fanfare. What used to be the area’s most popular cliff in the 70s and 80s, it was closed due to the private landowner’s concerns. Poof. Gone went the best climbing near Burlington, VT.
But not anymore, says CRAG-VT and the Access Fund! They purchased the land to the cool tune of $358,750 last year, proving the value (once again) of conservation orgs for keeping climbing areas open, accessible, and sustained.
Join the fun and celebrate the momentous occasion with the launch party on May 18. If you want all the beta, Travis Peckam’s Vermont climbing guide, Tough Schist, is your best bet. Or you can get them on the app version of the book in Rakkup.
Staunton State Park, Pine, CO, USA
Climbing type: Sport, Trad
Todd Rawls is boosting Staunton for the adventurist climber near Denver:
“Nestled amongst ponderosas and pines just fifteen minutes west of Conifer, CO and requiring a 45-minute approach for even the closest crags, Staunton State Park offers a secluded getaway for the adventurous sport-climber despite its relatively close proximity to the Denver metropolitan area.
Perhaps one of the finest features of the climbing here is the abundant offering of classic, steep hard climbs located just minutes from shorter, well-bolted moderates, making this an ideal spot for climbers of all abilities. There are also plenty of moderate trad lines and harder mixed stuff for those more inclined towards placing their own protection.
The Tan Corridor and The Dungeon are the crème of the crop, with the Tan Corridor offering numerous well-bolted and utterly classic 10s and 11s, and The Dungeon throwing in pump-a-thon routes all the way through mid-13. Reef On It! (10a), The Opportunist (11a), and If and Only If (13b) are all some of the best single-pitches of their grade in the state!
As of 2018 there is now camping available within the park as well, and free water to boot.”
Ballikayalar (or Honey Crag in Turkish) is the best outdoor climbing near Istanbul.
It is about an hour drive from the city of 15 million and consists of over 70 routes on limestone. The lines range from 7 to 35m, and most fall within a difficulty rating of 5.10 to 5.12 (or VI to IX- in UIAA). Many of the older routes were originally climbed as trad, and now that they are bolted the line naturally follow the cracks. There are two main sectors, the Left and the Right, as in, on the Left or Right of the valley (when peering into it).
To climb here is to steep in the history of rock climbing in Turkey. Ballikayalar is one of the original crags to be developed in the country. By sheer luck, I had the opportunity to climb with one of the pioneers: Emre has been climbing here for over 33 years and has many first and second ascents to his name.We were joined by Sevki, a big wall climber who has spent time at Yosemite. Fun fact: He met Alex Honnold there… on El Cap!… While Alex was free solo down-climbing!Overall, it’s a beautiful valley with a babbling brook running down the middle. After spending nearly a month in Istanbul, this was a desperately needed respite from a city sorely lacking in nature. Oddly, Balli sits on the edge of an industrial area. Look one way and you see factories spewing smoke. Turn around and it’s nature at it’s finest.
I am a beginner and stuck to the lower grades. Sevki and Emre showed me some of the “classics”, which had been developed in 1987 (older than I am!).
Percussion: VI/VI+. Originally climbed as a trad route (by Emre and others), this follows a thin line on the inner side of a cave. It involves lean-backs, bridging your feet wider than expected, and big reach ups. It is quite pumpy.
Davul (Drum): VI+: Emre had the first ascent on this one. This is pumpy, featuring big, juggy holds, bigger reaches and a lot of lean-backs. Drum and Percussion are meant as brothers of sorts, and their names allude to the pounding your arms take when climbing them.
How to Get There
The easiest way is by car. Take the E80 or D100 East towards Ankara. The closest town is Gebze.Public Transport: TheCrag.com and RockClimbing.com have suggestions for how to get there by bus. I won’t pretend to give advice here since I didn’t try this myself.
When to Go
Istanbul and the surrounding area to the East has mild weather in the Winter (we had 50 F/ 10 C in late December). Reading other people’s accounts, the area is climbable year round.
We started in a corner on the Left Sector away from the sun. The closest area to the entrance of the Left Sector faces the East and was receiving direct sun when we arrived. Around the bend, the sectors stayed in the shade until mid-afternoon. It had rained two days before and the routes were still wet in the shade. The Right Sector receives sun nearly all day.
You can pick up food and snacks in Gebze. There are several bodegas and cafes right in town.If you need climbing gear, Istanbul is unfortunately lacking in this regard. I only found two shops that sell climbing shoes (K2 Outdoor and Everest Outdoor). Atlas Outdoor had some draws and biners. Decathalon also sells some gear, but I didn’t check out the selection.