Worth the Walk: Backcountry Bolt-Clipping
Sport climbing equals roadside climbing, right? Not necessarily. Although schlepping a weighty power drill and bolting gear deep into the backcountry isn’t very appealing, a few devoted route developers do make the effort, and thank God they do. Imagine: backcountry beauty, the serenity of a rarely traveled area, and beefy bolt protection. Here, we highlight six sterling sport climbs that are at least a 45-minute walk from the car. Packing a light trad rack will round out your options at some of these crags, and be sure to throw in a headlamp—you still have to walk back at the end of the day.
El Cajon Mountain, San Diego, California
It’s a one- to 1.5-hour uphill grunt to get to El Cajon, a large crag about 45 minutes east of San Diego. Avoid this one in the summer months because of the overpowering heat, and start hiking early any other time of year. The reward is one- to five-pitch routes on highly featured granite, with views that extend to the Coronado Islands (off the coast of Baja, California) on a clear day. Unlike many sub-5.10 “sport climbs,” Leonids has ample bolts for 5.9 leaders, and all three of its pitches go at the same grade. If this feels like a warm-up, try the two-pitch Manana (5.10), just to the left, after you rap down.
Approach: About two miles and 1,800 vertical feet
Best beta: climbingtoposofsandiego.com
Condorphamine Addiction (5.10b)
Icicle Creek, Leavenworth, Washington
The state of Washington is home to some of the longest sport routes in the U.S.—Infinite Bliss (5.10c) on Mt. Garfield has 23 pitches! (This route was also controversial because it was illegally drilled in a federal wilderness area.) Condorphamine Addiction is a shorter multi-pitch—and outside any designated wilderness area—on a formation called the Condor Buttress, with generous bolting and tricky friction-move cruxes. Though it’s set up for seven short pitches with bolted anchors, most people link a few pitches and climb it in three or four. A fun variation start, Opus of the Condorian Kind, adds a 5.10a pitch, making it a full-value route with three 5.10 pitches.
Approach: About one hour on a climbers’ trail
Best beta: Leavenworth Rock, by Viktor Kramar
Thief Among Us (5.12c)
The Dew Mound, Chugach State Park, Alaska
Alaska isn’t exactly known for its sport climbing (other than the Alaska Rock Gym), but there are a few gems tucked among the semi-frozen choss. The Dew Mound in Chugach State Park, just east of Anchorage, has about 20 sport and trad routes—mostly 5.10—on better than average greywacke, a typically loose sedimentary rock. Thief, considered to be one of Alaska’s best sport routes, “is not your typical greywacke climb,” says local Ben Chiswall. “It’s slightly overhanging and climbs pockets and crimps.” For a warm-up, try Stonemaster (5.10b), left of Thief.
Approach: About two miles on good trails
Best beta: Alaska Rock Climbing Guide (2nd Edition), by Kelsey Gray
Redneck on a Rope (5.10d)
Snowy Mountain, Adirondacks, New York
It’s a steep, two-hour hike to the climbs on the south side of Snowy Mountain, and you’ll need a No. 4 Cam or similar large piece to protect the start of the best “sport route” at the crag. But Redneck on a Rope “is on the cover of Adirondack Rock for a reason,” says guidebook author Jim Lawyer. The climb is anorthosite, a well-featured igneous rock, and is covered with pockets and plates, making for superb face climbing. Some compare it to the buckety sandstone of Red Rock in Nevada. Plus, the views down to Indian Lake and over to Wallface and other peaks near Indian Pass are unforgettable. Redneck is a full 50-meter pitch of crimps and shallow pockets (after the opening 5.8 offwidth). Several easier bolted routes on the same textured stone will fill out the day. Bring two ropes to rappel, or plan on two raps.
Approach: Two hours of steep trail and some bushwhacking
Best beta: Adirondack Rock, by Jim Lawyer and Jeremy Haas
1/2 Route (5.10d)
Kolob Canyon, Zion National Park, Utah
Proving he has an eye for pure rock routes as well as huge mountain lines, Conrad Anker put up the first climbs on the wildly overhanging, tiger-striped walls at the end of Kolob Canyon’s south fork, back in the 1990s. Namaste (5.11d/12a) and Huecos Rancheros (5.12c) are stupendous 45-meter pitches. If you’re looking for something shorter and easier, the appropriately named 1/2 Route climbs the left side of the same overhanging wall, with the same man-eating huecos, for seven bolts. (A three-bolt extension bumps the grade to 5.11.) Don’t miss the rests where you get to sit inside the holds!
Approach: About 45 minutes up a flat, sandy canyon bottom
Best beta: mountainproject.com
Rap Bolters From Hell (5.12a)
Lost Dome, Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, Oklahoma
Think of Oklahoma, and backcountry climbing might be the last thing that comes to mind, but in the Wichita Mountains you can get way off the beaten path. Lost Dome is about 45 minutes from the car—unless, says Sooner State native Andrew Tower, “there’s a bison on the path. Then you need to add some time.” Assuming you make it past the wildlife in the Charon’s Gardens Wilderness Area (no new sport routes, please), you’ll find granite face climbs like the crimpfest Rap Bolters From Hell. The half-dozen other sport routes at Lost Dome, ranging from 5.10 to 5.13, require a variety of techniques—crimping, friction, and cracks.
Approach: About two miles on hiking and climbers’ trails
Best beta: Oklahoma Select, A Climbers Guide, by Tony Mayse