Cragging along California's Central Coast
To most, California's Central Coast is a refreshing kaleidoscope of green vineyards, twisted oaks, and round, open hills between Los Angeles and San Francisco. But to climbers, it’s a secret hideaway with dozens of crags. The Central Coast has some of the state’s best, most diverse cragging. The wild palette includes sandstone, conglomerate, schist, dacite, basalt, and limestone. For boulderers, there’s the Brickyard, Lizard’s Mouth, and Painted Cave, in Santa Barbara (SB); and the dacite boulders strewn around Bishop Peak, in San Luis Obispo (SLO). But arguably one of the best boulderfields hides at Pine Mountain, north of Ventura and SB’s Sespe Gorge. Traddies, meanwhile, will groove on the multi-pitch routes at Sespe, San Ysidro, and Gibraltar Rock, as well as the fi ne lines at Bishop Peak. And sport fanatics will find love at Kryptor (also in SB) and scattered around Bishop Peak’s many faces. These fine, easily accessible areas are but a sample. Road-tripping the Central Coast works both directions, either starting from Bishop Peak and working your way south to the SB crags, and then south to Ventura, or ticking the reverse. Also nice, the Central Coast is climbable year round. This Highway 101 rock odyssey will refresh your spirit even as it exhausts your fi ngertips.
Ventura County Sespe Gorge is a 250-foot sandstone wall rising from the Sespe River. The cracks etched into the low-angle rock comprise some of the coast’s most classic multi-pitch moderates. Even higher (7,000 feet elevation) and a little farther up Highway 33 is Pine Mountain, an immense sandstone boulderfield with problems of all grades. The fun Pine Mountain Pulldown (pinemountaincomp.com) happens each September. Camping: Dennison County Park off Hwy 150 west of Ojai; Lake Casitas Recreation Area on Hwy 150 at Lake Casitas; Pine Mountain Campground; Wheeler Gorge Campground on Hwy 33. Food: Ventura and Ojai offer the best options. Guidebook: Rock Climbing: Santa Barbara & Ventura, by Steve Edwards; available at Mountain Air Sports (mountainairsports.com) in SB, and Sports Chalet in Ventura. Rest Day: If you surf, you’ll want to hit California Street, just north of the pier in Ventura. Or just relax on the beach. Ticklist: •Sespe Gorge: Tree Root (5.5), Ending Crack (5.7) •Pine Mountain: Fifteen Years on Ice (V0-), Sunkissed (V0), Rapunzel (V1 R), Heaven on Top (V3 R), Dissing Euros (V4 R), Sock Hop (V5), Pieces of You (V7), Gyroscope (V8)
Santa Barbara County Santa Barbara, a college town of 80,000 people, boasts excellent sandstone, plus world-class surf and a hip street scene. Gibraltar Rock and San Ysidro have many trad classics (mostly 5.6 to 5.11) with easy approaches and a history dating back to the 1950s. Then there’s Kryptor (AKA Green Dome), with its quality sport climbing from 5.9 to 5.13 on blue schist. The numerous, accessible hueco-pocketed blocs at the Brickyard and Lizard’s Mouth, though not as extensive as Pine Mountain, will also blow your mind with their hundreds of problems from V0- to V11. For a quick hit, visit Painted Cave just west on Painted Cave Road, with dozens of problems up to V11. Camping: El Capitan, Refugio, and Gaviota state parks, along the Pacific Ocean north of town off Hwy 101, are wonderful beach campgrounds, though they fill up quickly. You’ll find hotels in town, too. Food: State Street is the main drag, with plenty of quality restaurants. There are also more than 100 authentic taquerias in town. The Daily Grind, on Mission Street, close to Gibraltar, has great coffee, etc. Guidebooks: Rock Climbing: Santa Barbara & Ventura, by Steve Edwards (mountainairsports.com); Ocean’s 11, A Bouldering Guide, by Bob Banks (mountainairsports.com) Rest Day: In Santa Barbara, visit State Street; for culture, try the Mission. The town also has a cool zoo — and, of course, the beach. Ticklist: •Gibraltar Rock Area: Mid-Face Gibraltar (5.6), Rapture (5.8), A Route Runs Through It (5.10c), The Nose (5.11a), Makunaima (5.11b) •San Ysidro: Peels of Laughter (5.7 R), Many Happy Returns (5.9), Face Lift (5.10a), Great Race (5.10a) •Kryptor: Dancing Fingers (5.10d), Monsters in the Maze (5.12b) •Painted Cave: Hallway Traverse (V0), Baby’s Head (V0+), Heavy Traffic (V3 R), Big Deal (V5), Break on Through (V10), and then most everything at the Brickyard and Lizard’s Mouth
San Luis Obispo County This northern outpost plays host to dacite, as hard as granite and with bountiful, sharply angled features. Technical, heady climbing — using natural gear to supplement the bolts — is the game. While several other morros (volcanic plugs from a bygone era) offer amazing climbing, Bishop Peak is accessible and has the most options. During the last 10 years, modern routes up to 5.12 have begun to fill in the steeper sections. Plus, the dynamite bouldering circuit below the mountain makes Bishop Peak a one-stop destination for multi-discipline climbers. Camping: Pismo and Morro Bay state beaches have great camping; also try El Chorro Regional Park off Hwy 1 (near Cuesta College). Food: Higuera Street in SLO hosts a farmer’s market each Thursday, beginning at 6 p.m.; the entire town seems to show up for food, music, and bar-hopping. You’ll also find plenty of quality college joints throughout town, like Chile Peppers (791 Foothill). Guidebook: California Central Coast Climbs: San Luis Obispo, by Tom Slater (slatervision.com or fixehardware.com). Rest Day: Pismo Beach and Morro Bay are quaint beach towns. Stroll along the ocean, or catch some surf off Pismo Pier or by Morro Rock. You’ll also find good mountain-bike trails at Cabrillo Peak, in Morro Bay. Montana De Oro, a slice of Big Sur just beyond Los Osos, is certainly worth a visit for hiking, biking, and even surfing. And don’t miss the brand new SLO OP Climbing Gym on 289 Prado Rd, open 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. (slo-opclimbing.org, 805-748-1478) Ticklist: 60 Seconds Over Soledad (5.6), Shadow (5.8), P-Crack (5.8), Thin Man (5.9), Lycra (5.10b), Camel (5.10b), Edgeucation (5.11a), Across the Universe (5.11a), Crankin’ (5.11), Rat Race (5.11d) and the five main boulders at the base of Bishop Peak (5.8 to V8) are certainly worth a visit.