Thinking of pulling up roots and heading to a town that’s blessed with a vast amount of rock? Want to be able to make a little cash once you get there, and maybe even buy a pad (for living, not bouldering)? We’re here to help. We created an equation that balances quantity of rock, climate, and economic statistics to find the ideal climbing towns for settling down: This formula crunches the data for seven variables to compute each town’s awesomeness quotient. A total of 4 = “inconceivably fantastic place to be a climber”; 0 = “no better than living in Orlando.”
1. TUCSON, ARIZONA
Awesomeness quotient: 3.41
Tucson in the summertime is hotter than two rabbits screwing in a wool sock. (The average high temperature in July is in the triple digits.) But you won’t notice, as much, when you’re climbing at the Fortress, near the summit of Mt. Lemmon (9,157 feet). In fact, the 27-mile road up Mt. Lemmon is stacked with crags at a variety of elevations. Climbers can migrate up and down the mountain—the lowest rocks are at about 2,000 feet—to fi nd prime conditions in all four seasons.
For those who crave adventure, it’s tough to beat Cochise Stronghold, which lies southwest of Tucson in the Dragoon Mountains. The classics are well-documented, but tight-lipped locals have put up hundreds of other routes, some of which are still waiting for a second ascent. Climbing at Cochise is best in the fall and spring, but good sending days can be found all year long.
Life among the saguaros is relatively affordable. Unemployment is just a hair below the national average, and the typical home sells for less than $150,000.
S = 3; R = 2,600; T1 = 66; T2 = 101; P = 12 inches; H = $144,800; E = 8.5%
Awesomeness quotient: 3.04
A sleepy town turned climbing mecca, Lander is one part old-school cowboy and one part new-school outdoor junkie. Just a stone’s throw from Lander—home base for the National Outdoor Leadership School—is Sinks Canyon, which is laden with sport and trad routes on sandstone, limestone, and granite. The majority of crags in the canyon face south, inviting climbing on sunny days in the winter. In the summer, Lander locals head for the limestone pockets at Wild Iris, which sits at over 9,000 feet.
Climbers with a handful of days off and a fondness for heavy packs can hump it into the Wind River Range in the summer to sample some of the exquisite alpine granite. Mosquito head nets required. Fly rods recommended.
The unemployment rate in Lander is lower than the U.S. as a whole, and a house goes for about $160,000.
S = 4, R = 1,900; T1 = 32; T2 = 86; P = 13 inches; H = $160,000; E = 7%
Awesomeness quotient: 3.02
This desert outpost is packed with slot machines, neon lights, porn, strip malls, and lots of climbing. Just outside of town (which creeps closer every year), the polka-dotted sandstone walls of Red Rock Canyon offer up sweet sport routes, long adventure climbs, and a smattering of boulder problems. Vegas is perhaps lesser known for its bounty of limestone climbing, some of which can be found at higher altitudes. When the strip is sweltering—the average July high is even more brutal than Tucson’s—climbers can flee to the flanks of 11,916-foot Mt. Charleston to take burns on overhanging (and sometimes chipped) limestone sport routes.
There is no shortage of bluebird climbing days in Las Vegas, which gets about four inches of rain a year on average. (February is the city’s wettest month, with an average precipitation of just 0.69 inches.) Housing is cheap and plentiful, but the unemployment rate is in the double digits.
S = 3; R = 2,650; T1 = 57; T2 = 104; P = 4 inches; H = $135,000; E = 13.3
Awesomeness quotient: 2.96
If your only criterion for choosing a climbing town is the number of routes, then Boulder is the undisputed champion. With an estimated 9,500 routes within 60 miles, the biggest climbing dilemmas in Boulder are which crag to go to and where to store all those guidebooks. Boulder’s backyard areas include the iconic trad routes of Eldorado Canyon, clip-ups in Boulder Canyon, and the classic alpine climbs in Rocky Mountain National Park. But Boulder’s mouthwatering selection of rock comes with a price tag: The mean home price is $375,000.
If you’re tight on funds but still interested in life on the Front Range of Colorado, consider swapping Boulder for Golden. You’ll save about $40,000 on a house, and you’ll knock about 20 miles off your drive to granite climbs in the South Platte or sport routes in Clear Creek Canyon.
S = 4; R = 9,500; T1 = 46; T2 = 87; P = 20 inches; H = $375,000; E = 6.9%
Awesomeness quotient: 2.88
The Wasatch Range buttresses Salt Lake City to the east, offering a wealth of routes in its deep canyons. Little Cottonwood Canyon and Big Cottonwood Canyon both offer trad, sport, and even ice routes. The Salt Lake area is also thick with boulder problems, especially in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Further south, narrow, tree-choked American Fork Canyon is stacked with sport climbs, and the leafy canopy keeps climbers cool in the summer.
To the north, Logan Canyon also provides a reprieve from the summer heat. A house is Salt Lake typically sells for around $163,000, the unemployment rate is relatively low, and despite the high population of Mormons, it’s not as hard to get a good post-climb beer as many people think: The city relaxed its liquor laws in 2009, and alcohol consumption jumped more than 50 percent between 2001 and 2009.
S = 3; R = 2,600; T1 = 39; T2 = 89; P = 18 inches; H = $163,100; E = 7.3%
The bouldering hot spot of Bishop, California, clocked in at number six with a quotient of 2.79, followed by Reno, Nevada, where the climbs of Lake Tahoe are a short drive away, with 2.6. Bend, Oregon, the home of Smith Rock, earned a quotient of 2.57, and quirky Prescott, Arizona, grabbed the number nine spot with 2.51. Moab, Utah, king of the splitter sandstone crack, rounded out the top 10 with a quotient of 2.45.
East Coast Meccas
Of course, there’s plenty of killer climbing on the East Coast. There’s also plenty of rain. But if you don’t mind forced rest days—and if you embrace humidity as a way to limber up your muscles—consider these climbing towns.
CHATTANOOGA, TENNESSEE (1.96): Chattanooga gets drenched with an average of 54 inches of precipitation a year. But when it’s not raining, climbing the delicious cracks on Tennessee Wall or pulling over the blocky, bolt-protected overhangs at Foster Falls is a sweet southern treat.
NORTH CONWAY, NEW HAMPSHIRE (1.82): In January, the average high temperature doesn’t even climb into the 30s, but there’s plenty of ice climbing to salve your restless climbing soul. In the summer, choose between long traditional climbs on the granite crags outside of town or head to Rumney to clip bolts.
BOONE, NORTH CAROLINA (1.75): Another southern rainforest, the Boone area gets 51 inches of rain a year. But when you peel back the thick layer of rhododendron bushes and hardwood trees, you’ll find a series of fantastic boulderfields and trad walls tucked into the Appalachian Mountains.
Colorado-based writer Laura Snider is the offspring of two Virginia Tech mathematics professors, and she knows a rock climbing joke that you’ll only get if you’ve studied vector geometry. (Her parents think it’s hilarious.)