Non-Traditional: 8 Long, Moderate Sport Routes
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There’s something iconic about multi-pitch climbing: the exposure, the endurance, the feeling of exploration and adventure. Or maybe as rock climbers, fueled by our hunger for the extraordinary, we just want to get as far off the ground as possible. Whatever your reason, multi-pitch climbing is not reserved for climbers with a full trad rack. If you’re an adventurous bolt-clipper looking for a big day, or if you want to bag your first multi-pitch, find your destination here.
(5.10+, 7 pitches)
Red Rock Canyon, Nevada
FA: Michael Clifford, Jorge Urioste
Consider yourself lucky to simply experience the Mars-like atmosphere of Red Rock. But top out on the 700-foot Unimpeachable Groping, and you’re in some of the most enviable climbing shoes around. It stands out among the canyon’s endless tick list as one of the ultra-classics, with “steep and sustained climbing up a stunning sweep of stone,” says Phil Broscovak. Most of the route calls for thin, intricate face climbing on a beautifully textured wall. The six to seven pitches involve thoughtful, delicate, and sometimes powerful moves, with “a summit of a prominent red tower offering tremendous views,” Broscovak says. “What’s not to like?”
You’ll find Unimpeachable Groping in Juniper Canyon at the Ginger Buttress. Continue uphill from the start of Ginger Cracks toward the obvious black water streak.
- Descent: Five double-rope rappels
- Rack: Quickdraws, small cams
- Guidebook: Rock Climbing Red Rocks, by Todd Swain
- Season: September through April
(5.10a, 6 pitches)
Mt. Rundle, Alberta, Canada
FA: Mark Whalen
This six-pitch line up the textured limestone of the East End of Mt. Rundle (EEOR) was the first multi-pitch sport route in the Canadian Rockies’ Bow Valley, established in 1990. According to Jon Jones, co-author of Sport Climbs in the Canadian Rockies, it’s also one of the best moderate multi-pitches in the area.
“[True Grit] has continuously interesting and sustained climbing with great views of the Bow and Spray River valleys and Ha Ling Peak,” says Jones. You’ll enjoy mostly low-angled face climbing and friction moves, where good footwork comes in handy, and every pitch goes at 5.10a. “There’s also some nice stemming on the fourth pitch, and the occasional move around a bulge,” says Jones.
Pitch three contains a 5.10c variation, where you can follow the arête to the left of the corner. If that’s too spicy, stick to the 5.10a version, which moves right into a groove. Both ways will take you to the same belay stance to the right of a steep corner.
From the reservoir parking lot across from EEOR, take the trail left of a huge boulder and head northwest via steep switchbacks. When you get close to the south end of the wall, follow the trail along the base of EEOR. Look for a ledge that angles up and right, and scramble up to the belay station (with bolts).
- Descent: Four double-rope rappels
- Rack: Quickdraws
- Guidebook: Sport Climbs in the Canadian Rockies, by John Martin and Jon Jones
- Season: May through August
Theater of Shadows
(5.7, 4 pitches)
City of Rocks, Idaho
FA: Kevin Pogue
This closely bolted and low-angled climb, with stellar views of the Circle Creek Valley, makes for a popular multi-pitch sport route amid the City’s mostly single-pitch lines. Located on Jackson’s Thumb, the route was named by the first-ascent party after discovering that they could watch their silhouettes projected onto the adjacent Steinfell’s Dome while climbing in the late afternoon.
The four pitches of Tuolumne-style knobs and balancey slabs are evenly and abundantly bolted, lacking those stressful runouts common on many easy face routes. “Old-schoolers will feel comfortable skipping about half the bolts, while newbies will love the freedom of climbing without risking a whipper,” says Dave Bingham. “I can’t imagine a better multi-pitch beginner route.”
To find Theater of Shadows, follow the obvious trail up from the Circle Creek Overlook parking to Steinfell’s and walk left to Jackson’s Thumb.
- Descent: Two single-rope rappels
- Rack: Quickdraws
- Guidebook: City of Rocks Idaho: A Climber’s Guide, by Dave Bingham
- Season: May through October
Black Cat Bone
(5.10d, 9 pitches)
El Potrero Chico, Mexico
FA: Ed Wright, Dane Bass
If you really dig multi-pitch sport climbing, head south of the border to the paradise that is El Potrero Chico. Located in the state of Nuevo Leon in the East Sierra Madre, “The Little Coral” is a natural basin with steep, 2,000-foot-tall limestone walls that host close to 200 well-bolted sport routes up to 23 pitches, ranging in grade from 5.7 to 5.14.
On the Jungle Wall, you’ll find Black Cat Bone, one of Potrero’s classics. “There is such a wide variety of features from pitch to pitch,” first ascensionist Dane Bass says, “and a wide array of techniques needed to climb them.” You’ll encounter everything from roofs to open-book stemming, with thin faces, juggy faces, and a only flaring chimney along the way. Plus, the route gets more shade than almost all of the other moderate multi-pitches in Potrero, says Bass. Black Cat Bone has only a 10-minute approach, and you’ll score a fantastic view after topping out on the 1,000-foot-long route: a unique vantage of both the Virgin Canyon and the Main Canyon. To find Black Cat Bone, locate the large overhang to the right of Space Boyz, and follow the path to the route.
- Descent: Nine single-rope rappels
- Rack: Quickdraws
- Guidebook: The Whole Enchilada: A Climber’s Guide to Potrero Chico, by Dane Bass
- Season: November through February
The Young and the Rackless
(5.9+, 4 pitches)
Boulder Canyon, Colorado
FA: Vaino Kodas, Mark Rolofson
If you live and climb on the Front Range, it’s likely you’ve heard of this Boulder Canyon favorite. It was the first moderate multi-pitch sport climb in the canyon when Vaino Kodas and Mark Rolofson made the first ascent in 2003. While other sport lines of similar grade have been bolted since, it still stands out as the most popular.
With short crux sections and good protection, this pleasant and varied climb is just challenging enough to make for a fun introduction to multi-pitch climbing, and quality granite diminishes thoughts of loose rock. Pitch one angles up an interesting vertical face to pitch two’s cracks and steep face climbing. According to Rolofson, pitch three offers two variations that each end on a good ledge: Climb Knife’s Edge, a spectacular arête, or the hand crack called Bobbit Corner. Cruxy moves follow by pulling over a small bulge onto a right-angled ramp along a thin crack. Pitch four eases back, with fun friction-slab climbing.
The Young and the Rackless is located on East Blob Rock, about 100 feet up the gully to the right (east) of the rock, to the left of a dead pine tree.
- Descent: Two single-rope rappels or walk off
- Rack: Quickdraws
- Guidebook: Boulder Canyon Rock Climbs, by Bob D’Antonio
- Season: The Young and the Rackless is south-facing and receives a lot of sun; climbing can be good year-round, depending on temperatures. Raptor closures are often in effect from February 1 into spring; check Boulder Climbing Community for updates.
(5.10a, 4 pitches)
Corte Madera, California
FA: Jeff Brown, Keli Balo
Hidden in the San Diego area’s mountainous backcountry is a pleasant retreat for climbers in Southern California: the beautiful, south-facing Corte Madera. Sunset Streaks, as aesthetic as its name implies, climbs the largest part of the crag’s face up a distinct dike on the Main Wall. “It feels like a very natural line,” says local climber Daniel Wade, “not contrived like many sport routes can be.”
The route involves mostly face climbing on small but positive edges, and increases in difficulty and exposure the higher you get. The dike on pitches three and four can be seen from the ground, and the crux is getting established into the dike from the belay at the top of pitch two. “It’s probably the best pitch of climbing I have led to date,” says Wade. There are two bolted variations at the start of pitch three: a delicate and balancey 5.9 portion moves right from the anchor and then back left to the dike, while the bouldery 5.10a start moves straight up from the anchor.
It’s recommended to rappel from the top of Corte Madera to the route; anchors are to the left of the summit block. Four raps with a single rope will get you to the base of Sunset Streaks.
- Descent: Four single-rope rappels or walk off
- Rack: Quickdraws
- Guidebook: The San Diego Climber Pocket Guide, by the Allied Climbers of San Diego
- Season: Year-round; closed from March 1 to July 31 for raptor nesting
(5.10a, 5 pitches)
Cochise Stronghold, Arizona
FA: Scott Ayers, Mark Colby
Don’t let the vertical, 165-foot first pitch scare you away from this stunning climb. While at first glance it may look like a blank 5.13, you’ll quickly discover the hidden in-cut slots that justify this mostly moderate route’s 5.10a rating.
Overlooking East Stronghold, Endgame ascends the steep west side of End Pinnacle, a freestanding spire in the Rockfellow Domes. It’s a remote area and requires some heavy hiking to get to the base, so chances are you’ll have the route to yourself. Endgame has fun moves ranging from big holds on alligatorskin rock to sections of thin, thought-provoking face climbing that leave you wondering where the next bolt is. (It’s usually just above you.)
The first pitch has sustained 5.10a moves on “wind-polished, gold-colored plates of beautiful granite patina, better even than anything in the Buttermilks,” photographer Jim Thornburg says. The second pitch, while not as hard, has a runout 5.8 traverse protected by one old bolt—bring slings and look for chickenheads to tie off. Pitch three is more technical and requires burly undercling moves and traversing along a bulging and angling crack—some people bring a 0.75-inch cam to supplement the bolts. Stem up the chimney above the belay, and then keep low as you work across the face to the right.
“Endgame offers everything that a great route should,” says Stewart Green, author of Rock Climbing Arizona. “It has interesting and sustained climbing, lots of exposure, enough protection, and a spectacular airy summit.”
Rockfellow Domes can be accessed by both the East and West Strongholds; the east approach is shorter and steeper, while the west approach is longer and more gradual.
- Descent: Three double-rope rappels
- Rack: Quickdraws, small cams or nuts
- Guidebook: Rock Climbing Arizona, by Stewart Green
- Season: Late October through April
(5.11b, 22 pitches)
Rock Canyon, Utah
FA: Tristan Higbee, Thomas Gappmayer
Two and a half years of painstaking bolting went into this 2,000-foot-long route. First ascensionist Tristan Higbee describes Squawstruck as sometimes feeling more like mountaineering than rock climbing—an all-day challenge. Don’t let the bolts fool you; it’s not for the faint of heart.
The slightly less-than-vertical climbing is interspersed with cruxy roofs and a healthy amount of choss. Though the rock is pocketed in sections, you’ll mostly edge your way up the mountain. Along the way, you’ll pass every color and quality of limestone imaginable, from shingled, dark gray to beautiful, water-streaked orange. Plentiful ledges provide natural belay stances.
“The route is a fantastic and exciting adventure,” Higbee says. You’ll experience the adventure on pitch two as you make the literal leap of faith from the top of a pillar back to the main wall, and throughout the upper half of the route, which Higbee describes as continuously difficult.
The crux comes on pitch 14 (see small photo). Good edges up a slabby, tan face lead to a corner, and then an imposing, 20-foot roof. Follow the corner around the roof before encountering the exposed crux. “It’s pretty exciting,” Higbee says.
To find Squawstruck, hike up the talus gulley between the crags Appendage and PA’s Mother until you gain the ridge top. Head right to the start of the route.
- Descent: Walk off via Squaw Peak Trail
- Rack: Quickdraws, long slings
- Guidebook: mountainproject.com
- Season: April through November