It’s Always Sunny In… 6 Winter-Proof Crags
It's cold out, but that doesn't mean you can't get out. Here are six crags where the sun always shines... or it's at least warm enough to get out on cloudy days.
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Guernsey State Park, Wyoming
Find sun-drenched, desert like climbing in The Cowboy State
Climbing in Wyoming often evokes images of the imposing Tetons, the looming Devils Tower, or the streaked limestone of Ten Sleep. But if you don’t want to climb ice up big mountains or be blown off the rock by high winds, head to Guernsey State Park instead. Located about an hour and a half northeast of Laramie, Guernsey’s one-pitch sport climbs offer sunshine and warmth when temps and conditions elsewhere warrant staying inside and drinking whiskey, because some of the area’s best walls face south and receive all-day sun.
The rock, red orthoquartzite and gray dolomite, looks like it was plucked out of Utah. The surface has great friction and lends itself to pockets, roofs, and even intermittent cracks; most everything is well-bolted. The majority of climbing falls in the 5.10 range, but there are plenty of warm-ups, and even a few 5.12s awaiting the redpointer.
On a windless, sunny day, the temperatures near the wall have measured up to 20 degrees warmer than the ambient temps. Why? Local Guernsey expert Dennis Horning reckons that warm air gets trapped below the dam, which is where the best climbing is: The Red and White Grotto walls have more than 80 routes. If it’s windy at the parking lot, head to the Hot Cinnamon Wall, which gets the sun earliest. “It’s usually not windy at all there,” Horning says. For a warm-up, hop on Deep Cuts (5.8-) or Sunrise Iron Girl (5.9) at the Red Clove and Hot Cinnamon walls, respectively. The 5.10 leaders will find Fizzle of Zach Attack (5.10a) enjoyable, while harder leaders can test their mettle on Pull Down Resistor (5.11c) followed by Inversion Therapy (5.12a). For steep climbing, head to the Maroon Towers Wall, where there are about 20 steeper, unnamed but established routes.
- Season: Climbing can be had year-round, but stick to the north-facing walls in the summer and the south-facing walls in the winter.
- Get there: Take I-25 north from Cheyenne to exit 92. Head east on Highway 26 for about 15 miles, and then turn left on State Highway 317/Lakeside Drive for one mile to the park. It’s $4/day for residents, $6/day for non-residents. Annual passes range from $33 to $53. See mountainproject.com for specific crag approaches.
- Stay there:There are multiple campgrounds throughout the park, from tent sites to yurts, with first-come, first-served sites and reservable sites (wyoparks.state.wy.us); $10/night for residents, $17/night for non-residents. Or call 307-836-2334 to rent a yurt at $50/night.
- Guidebook: Mountainproject.com has detailed and updated info.
Follow the birds south to a land of rocks
Chattanooga’s got it all: mild weather (average high in the mid-60s in March), a happening downtown, and a lifetime of rock climbing. High-quality sandstone is great for everything from traditional crack climbs at Tennessee Wall, to overhanging jug hauls at Foster Falls, to the myriad boulders at Stone Fort. Why go anywhere else?
Tennessee Wall faces south to bask in the sun all day (don’t venture there in the summer). Mostly single-pitch crack climbs line the crag. Requisite moderates include the blocky roofs of Art (5.8) and the hand crack on Golden Locks (5.8+). If you’re well-versed in hand and finger cracks, Cake Walk (5.10a) lives up to its namesake. Fly with the Falcon (5.11b) has everything in a mere 80 feet: a bouldery start, a roof, and a crack that requires some powerful moves.
Foster Falls is a popular sport arena, with a wide range of climbs. Hop on the neighboring routes Ankles Away and Twist and Shout (both 5.9+) to warm up for the varied Something’s Always Wrong (5.10d). The sustained Wristlets (5.11c/d) will test your crimping and lockoff skills. The Left and Right bunkers contain steep, powerful routes like Ethnic Cleansing (5.12a) and Darkie the Bum Beast (5.12d).
Pack your bouldering pad and head a bit north of the city to Stone Fort (aka Little Rock City), located on a golf course. Enjoy everything from palm-slapping slopers to razor-sharp edges. The boulders are all within easy walking distance of each other and the golf clubhouse, whose employees are friendly and accommodating to climbers. (Sign the waiver and pay the $3/day fee there.) Warm up at the Mystery Machine boulder, and then wander throughout the boulderfield to classics like Clarence Bowater Survival (V3), Dragon Lady (V4), Celestial Mechanics (V7), and RobbingtheTooth Fairy (V9). Stone Fort is also home to a leg of the Triple Crown Bouldering Series (triplecrownbouldering.org), which has another stop at Horse Pens 40 in Alabama, an hour, 45 minutes south.
- Season: Climbing is possible year-round, but the heat and humidity is sweltering in the summer. Chase the sun on moderate days in the winter for perfect temps.
- Stay there: Check out The Crash Pad, a climber- and traveler-friendly hostel ($28 to $95/night) with free WiFi, breakfast, and coffee (crashpadchattanooga.com).
- Guidebook: Chris Watford’s Dixie Cragger’s Atlas covers the entire area. Grab Volume 1 for Tennessee Wall and Volume 2 for Foster Falls. Get both for $45 at dixiecragger.com. Stone Fort Bouldering, by Andy Wellman, is available at greenergrasspublishing.com for $26.
Zion National Park, Utah
Get down on warm desert sandstone
Zion is sometimes referred to as the sandstone Yosemite. Hundreds of long aid and free climbs soar up to 2,000 feet tall, with most in the 800- to 1,500-foot range. Many Utah natives say February and March are the perfect months to climb in Zion; if the forecast is sunny and snow- and wind-free, you could be climbing in a T-shirt.
The 2,500-foot Mt. Kinesava faces southwest and has multiple world-class free and aid lines up to 5.12. A crowd favorite is the 1,200-foot-long Cowboy Ridge (5.7) that leads to the summit ridge. With a mix of hiking and fourth- and fifth-class scrambling, the only technical pitch is the money spot: an exposed splitter hand crack. The toasty Leaning Wall holds one of Zion’s most classic routes, Space Shot (IV 5.6 C2 or 5.13), as well as bold 5.10s, like the runout but worthy Vernal Equinox (5.10).
For sunny afternoon cragging potential, head to the Confluence area for a plethora of moderates in the one- to two-pitch range. Try Barely Legal (5.7) for a fun bolted face climb, or test your finger-crack prowess on the steep Crimson King (5.11). For more one-pitch crack climbs, the southwest face of the Great White Throne is a solid bet. For a wider adventure, grab your No. 4 and 5 cams and jump on Grasshopper (5.9), or work up the left-facing corner of Birthday Corner (5.11).
- Season: September through April offer the best climbing conditions, though winters can be frigid in the shade. The guidebook recommends climbing where the high is at least 50°F in the sun on big walls, and 40°F on shorter routes. It’s scorching in the summer. Some areas, like Mt. Kinesava, are closed from March to September for peregrine falcon nesting. Check nps.gov/zion for closures.
- Get there: From the north, travel south on I-15 and take exit 27. Go west on UT-17 for about six miles, and then turn left onto UT-9 for about 21 miles. Follow the signs to the park. A seven-day pass is $25.
- Stay there: Stay in either the South or Watchman campgrounds inside the canyon; $16 to $18/night. Watchman takes reservations from late March through October (877-444-6777); South is first-come, first-served.
- Guidebook:Zion Climbing: Free and Clean, by Bryan Bird ($30, supertopo.com)
Hueco Tanks, Texas
It’s not all about the bouldering
Hueco Tanks is known for its unbeatable bouldering. But what many people overlook are the more than 70 classic single- and multi-pitch routes lining the Front Side of North Mountain. The Front Side faces west, but temperatures for February and March reach into the mid- to high 60s, and precipitation is very low. The rough granite provides great friction, but bring some tape—just like on the boulders, those famed huecos and incut holds show up on these routes, and many have sharp edges.
Routes rise up to 250 feet, and most have bolts, although you’ll want to carry a standard trad rack as well, unless you want to run it out. The Lunch Rock wall has excellent easy climbs up to 100 feet, like Lunch Rock Direct (5.7), which follows a finger and hand crack to a roof. The 250-foot “incredibly climbable” Cakewalk Wall offers a few taller options, with “infinite route possibilities,” writes John Sherman in Hueco Tanks Climbing and Bouldering Guide. Sons of Cakewalk (5.6) climbs on good holds to a couple of cracks, and Return of Cakewalk (5.7) features a huge hueco and fun climbing on smaller holds. Don’t miss True Grip (5.10a) at the Perverted Sanctuary, where a so-so first pitch leads to a much better second pitch: an exposed and steep headwall with large pockets.
Move over to the Central Wall and Indecent Exposure Buttress for long, steep routes. Warm up on the sporty Malice in Bucketland (5.9-), which follows huge huecos to a rounded arête, and then head to the sustained and incut Brain Dead (5.10+). Test your wits on the R-rated, three-pitch Rainbow Bridge (5.11b), which has everything from dihedrals to flakes to face climbing.
You don’t need a guide to access the Front Side on North Mountain, but only about 70 people at a time are allowed to climb here. (Only 230 people at a time are allowed to climb in the park.) Reservations are highly recommended; call 512-389-8900 to save your spot.
- Season: Way too hot in the summer. It does get cold and windy at night in the winter, so pack warm clothes accordingly. It’s not uncommon to see a 40-degree swing in temps from day to night.
- Get there: Take Highway 62/180 east out of El Paso, and then turn north on Ranch Road 2775.
- Stay there: Camping in the park ranges from $12 to $16/night (800-792-1112). Or check out the Hueco Rock Ranch, owned by the American Alpine Club. Rates range from $5 tent sites to $35 for a private room for AAC members. Reservations aren’t required but are recommended, especially in the winter months (915-856-7181).
- Guidebook: Hueco Tanks Climbing and Bouldering Guide, Second Edition, by John Sherman ($30, falcon.com)
Queen Creek Canyon, Arizona
Pull on pockets in The Grand Canyon State
Pockets, pockets, pockets! The area’s dacite, a volcanic rock, offers just about every size and depth of solution hole on sport climbs that line vertical walls, overhangs, and even roofs. The state’s sunny, dry climate offers perfect winter conditions; the best months are October through May.
Start at the popular Pond, which faces south and has a host of routes up to 5.13a. The Casting Couch (5.9) and Area Horizon (5.10a) are local favorites, while projectors will want to focus on routes like Mona Lisa (5.11b) and Desert Devil (5.13a). (In the summer, cool off with a jump in the pond, but only if the falls are flowing.)
If it’s too crowded at the Pond, reverse course and head to Lower Devil’s Canyon, where Phoenix local Manny Rangel says there’s been a resurgence of new routes. You might be the only climbers there due to the four-wheel-drive approach—or you can hike several miles instead. But it’s worth it: Numerous pinnacles beckon. Don’t miss the iconic Totem Pole (5.10c/d) on a tall, skinny tower with an even skinnier summit. If you’ve got your trad rack, head to Lower Devil’s East, with a multitude of quality routes on more spires. Crack climbers should try out Accelerated Climbology (5.9); for a cool arête, hop on the first pitch of High Man on the Shmotem Pole (5.11-; the second pitch is still a project). Many new routes have gone up in the last few years at the Refuge, with more than 80 climbs to enjoy; download the mini-guide at geir.com/refugemini.pdf.
If you’re itching for boulders, you’re in luck. Queen Creek was once the site of the huge Phoenix Bouldering Competition, with hundreds of problems to play on at Oak Flats. The sharp and unforgiving rock can be hell on your fingers, so bring plenty of tape and skin balm. Start on the short lines at the Warm-up Boulders before moving to the Tetons, with incut edges on challenging lines. Or keep walking to Waterfall Canyon for big pockets on bulgy faces. The impressive Shark Wall offers huge huecos on overhanging faces, and if you’ve got skin to waste, finish up at the Bermuda Triangle.
- Season: Year-round, but very hot in the summer. February and March offer warm weather in the mid-60s and 70s but occasional rain.
- Get there: About an hour from Phoenix just outside Superior, Arizona. Travel east on Highway 60 from Superior up a hill and through a tunnel. Two miles past the tunnel is Magma Mine Road, which leads to the Oak Flats Campground and a few climbing areas.
- Stay there: Oak Flats Campground is free and first-come, first-served with vault toilets, but no water or trash service.
- Guidebook: Beg, borrow, or steal a copy of the Rock Jock’s Guide to Queen Creek Canyon, Superior, Arizona, by Marty Karabin, which is no longer in print. Mountainproject.com has great info as well.
San Diego, California
Hit the beach, and quality granite
Looking for fun climbing in California that doesn’t involve the crowds of Bishop and Joshua Tree? Somewhat ironically, you’ll find what you’re after just outside of San Diego, where a plethora of granite bouldering, sport, and trad areas await. The climate doesn’t vary much throughout the year, with temps remaining comfortably in the 60s and 70s even in the winter months.For varied and high-quality bouldering and toproping, try Mt. Woodson, located about 30 minutes northeast of the city. Hundreds of fine-grained granite boulders lay scattered in the green hills. The smooth, round rocks lend themselves to steep face climbing and cracks. An uphill hike on an easy trail (anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes to the summit) gets you to the climbs, but the views of the Pacific, the city, and Mexico are well worth the effort. Plus, boulder problems can be found all along the path, even up to the top. Some of the taller boulders can be set up as lead climbs; bring a light trad rack. Don’t miss the huge, triangular Uncertainty Principle boulder, seen from the road, with its popular namesake route going at 5.11c. The Poison Oak area has many problems and routes ranging from V1 to 5.13a. And 5.11 climbers will love the accessible Cave area, where the best routes include Bat Flake (5.10d), Starface (5.11a/b), and The Cave (5.11a).
Just southeast of Mt. Woodson are the scenic Poway Crags, with short and steep granite routes on Iron Mountain that are mostly bolted; they might require extra pro, so bring a small rack. Visit here when the weather is cool, as the cliffs are south- and east-facing and receive sun much of the day. There are very few warm-ups here; the powerful nature of the routes beckons to those comfortable leading 5.10 and up. Head to the Sport Wall for a dense concentration of 5.10 and 5.11 lines, like Suspended Evolution (5.10d). For longer routes, visit the Godzilla Buttress and hop on its best route Godzilla (5.10b). Don’t forget your helmet; there is loose rock.
- Season: Some crags, like Ramona Wall at Poway, have raptor closures from December to August. Check mountainproject.com for updates.
- Stay there: Dos Picos County Park is close to both Mt. Woodson and the Poway Crags in Ramona. Tent sites are $24/night, and amenities include showers, horseshoe rings, and picnic tables.
- Guidebook: A few out-of-print guides exist online, or find topo maps at climbingtoposofsandiego.com; mountainproject.com has the most updated info.