OHIO BOULDERING“I drove through Ohio once” is the common reply when I tell climbers where I grew up. So it was a pleasant surprise to get my friend Dan Proudfoot’s recent email reminding me of an upcoming Dr. Topo guide to Athens, Ohio bouldering. Having spent untold hours and dollars on weekend drives from Columbus to the Red River Gorge (3.5 hours each way, give or take), I remember the sense of shock, even frustration, when I first heard there were actual rocks in my state.
OK, I’m exaggerating. After all, I’d cut my n00b teeth on the slippery limestone pockets and edges of the so-called Springfield Gorge, a half-pitch toprope quarry owned by Freemasons (and eventually closed by said Freemasons, after a climber rigging a TR took a fatal grounder in the 90s)—and the Hocking Hills were rumored to have a few decomposing sandboxes of joy worth playing on—so I knew the Buckeye state wasn’t totally litho-lacking. But on the whole, climbing and Ohio just didn’t mix. Then, not a year ago and just a week before I hit the road for Colorado, I got in touch with Dan, who said he’d like to give me a tour of Athens bouldering. A tour? I thought. There’s so much bouldering that a tour is required? I grabbed my pad, camera, and some Red Bull, and was Audi 5000 (actually, I drive a Honda).
I won’t go into all the gritty details of sandstone flakes, slopers, and pockets, but I will say this: there is real bouldering in Athens, Ohio. Some of it is sandychoss. I wasn’t lichen all of it (if you get my meaning). And some of it was lowball and contrived. But some of it was good, a small percentage of it was very good, and likely much more goodness has yet to be found/developed. The jewel of the climbing I witnessed on my tour was undoubtedly Big Mamma, a 20+ foot superthin arête with a full-on, barn-dooring leap to a sloping top. The fall would send an unfortunate climber pin wheeling down an away-sloping hill in a manner too unpredictable to spot.
I was unable to muster the courage to make the final move, despite staring at the leafy, rounded top over and over again. I swore I would send, but one of the more seasoned locals stood back knowingly, arms crossed, until dusk sent me packing. There was a reason no one had yet done Big Mamma. As far as I know it’s still open, so check it out if your passing through.
Big props to the Athens crew, who I met at the local gear shop, Wild Mercantile (wildmercantile.com; the site seems to be having some technical difficulties at the moment). And much respect to the little college town of Athens, home to Ohio University, one of the nation’s top “party schools,” and to a rich community of students, artists, hipsters, and organic farmers.