a thought occurred to me as i was driving away from a local climbing area today: are certain climbing areas really good because they truly are that good, or are they only good because you live within a close proximity to them?
there are a few places that pop into my head as being truly amazing climbing areas. first on my personal list is the red river gorge, in eastern kentucky. when i lived in west lafayette, indiana, going to school at purdue university, i would skip class and drive the four hours just for a day of climbing. i’ve driven solo from denver to the red (18 hours drive time, with a two hour “power nap”), for a 10 day trip. i climbed 9 of those 10 days, and it was worth every minute and every mile. i have never regretted going there and i doubt i ever will.
another area that sticks out in my mind is yosemite. trad, sport, bouldering, big wall, “the valley” has it all! everything you could want is there, and people come from all over the world to sample the rock. lucky are the ones that also happen to live close by…or luckier still, the dying breed of the “valley rat” finding ways to squat and survive living within the park. but you plan big trips around yosemite, most people don’t just “pop in”. the few trips that i took there, i drove many hours with friends in a haze of cigarette smoke and coffee just to have a shot at climbing those monolithic granite domes.
also near and dear to my heart is rifle. i feel lucky to be so close to it, but i would gladly drive long distances to spend a good chunk of time there. in fact, every summer there is always an influx of strong dirtbag climbers from all corners of the country that live in the canyon. hell, in 2011 i was one of them. as far as sport climbing is concerned, it’s one of the best places to really test your mettle (as long as you climb under 5.15a). there is such a high concentration of difficult climbs, and such varied styles within the small and narrow canyon, that you shouldn’t get bored. everything is crazy convenient, with no approaches or hikes. you get to climb hard and be lazy at the same time. win-win situation if you ask me.
on the flip side, there are areas that are good because you live so close to them. the first one in this category that i can think of is clear creek canyon, just west of golden. i love clear creek. i have climbed more times there than probably any other area. but let’s be honest, if it wasn’t 30 minutes away from denver, it wouldn’t be a destination. not by a long shot. however, it allows you to get after-work sessions during the summers, quick training sessions on real rock, and offers hard enough routes to allow us normal climbers to push our limits. it’s a great place to have in our backyard, but world class?
now i know i’m going to take a lot of heat for this next one (DISCLAIMER: i am a wiener of a trad climber, and if given the choice, i will always choose to clip a bolt before i plug gear. i do plug said gear from time to time, more for an active rest day than to push my limits. take the following with a large grain of salt and a bit of humor), but another area that falls within the “good by proximity” category (for me) is eldorado canyon state park. i know that it is very historically significant, and don’t get me wrong, 9 times out of 10 i do have a lot of fun there. but i personally don’t think it’s as good as it was hyped up to be. the rock quality and overall size just didn’t live up to the mythical expectations i had in my own head. if it was any further away, i don’t know if i’d ever go. i’ll put it this way, if i had to drive the same distance that i drive to rifle (three hours worth), eldo wouldn’t be a thing to me. but being right outside boulder, it’s very convenient, and you can climb a lot of different terrain.
so i’m curious to know if you agree or disagree with any of my picks. or comment with your own favorites. or local haunts that wouldn’t be worth a sizable drive. we want to know where and why! and what’s the longest you have driven or would drive just to get your outdoor rock fix?