Selected Rock Crags of Boston

Hey, Bostonians:

Have a few hours free this week? Skip the gym and prepare for your next trip to Rumney or Pawtuckaway at these local Boston climbing crags!

The greater Boston area is home to a ton of outdoor climbing and bouldering spots, most of which offer a range of difficulties and climbing styles. Climb safely and set up a top rope for anything over your comfort zone (EMS Schools offer a great Top Rope Set Up class). To get there, biking is usually the easiest mode of transportation, but driving, Ubering, or taking the T is never a bad choice if the crag is far. Check out my favorites:

Hammond Pond Lower Wall

1. Hammond Pond

I love this place. Newton’s Hammond Pond Reservation is home to an awesome collection of climbs. The dominant rock is Roxbury puddingstone, the Massachusetts state rock and a conglomerate that primarily consists of glacial pebbles and pockets that give the climbs here really unique but sometimes sharp features.

Mountain Project lists 130 climbs throughout the reservation’s 14 crags. Most bouldering landings here are good, but as you should always do when climbing outdoors, make sure to lay down a couple pads and always use a spotter. There are a few wall cracks at Hammond Pond that offer viable trad leads, but most routes should be top-roped using extended tree anchors (30 to 40 feet).

How to get there:

Driving: Go west on Route 9 to the Chestnut Hill Mall right before reaching Hammond Pond Parkway. Here, you’ll find parking spaces for the Hammond Pond Reservation located on the northeast side of the mall lot.

Biking: Take Beacon Street west and then turn left on Woodman Road right after Boston College. Stay on Woodman, until you reach Suffolk Road and then head west until you reach the Reservation’s entrance.

The T: Catch the Green Line D train to the Chestnut Hill stop and walk south on Hammond Street, until you hit the Chestnut Hill Mall.

Lower “Main” Wall

This prominent 35-foot wall sits directly toward the pond’s shore when you walk from the trailhead at the Chestnut Hill Mall; you can’t miss it! Lower Wall is an awesome place to bring beginner climbers. If you’re bringing a group, try to get there early in the morning, because this crag can get pretty crowded later in the day. When you go to climb, set up your anchor on at least two of the topside trees and extend it over the edge. Lower Wall contains climbs ranging from 5.2 to 5.8 and some pretty fun hand and finger cracks. If it’s quiet, it’s a perfect spot to practice pro placement.

Recommended Climb: Hidden Magic, 5.7

Hammond Pond The Alove 2

The Alcove

The Alcove is home to some of the best bouldering routes you can find in Boston. This area is slightly harder to locate than Lower Wall but well worth a few extra minutes of your time to find. When walking from the trailhead at the Chestnut Hill Mall, just take your first left onto the trail going uphill before Lower Wall. After walking a couple of minutes, you’ll find the trail squeezed between two 15-foot boulders, and you’ve reached the Alcove. The climbs here range from about V0 to V6, and it’s visited year round due to its sunny southern exposure.

Recommended Climb: Breakfast of Champions, V3

2. Rattlesnake Rocks

These 10 crags sit on a secluded ridgeline in the famous Blue Hills Reservation of Braintree. The band of 30-foot granite cliffs offers climbs from about 5.5 to 5.11, as well as a few high-ball boulder problems. Top-roping off pro here is the norm, but there are a few crack climbs that could be led if you’re feeling confident.

Mountain Project lists 32 climbs in the area, but there are much more in reality. If you’re interested in exploring and documenting them, Rattlesnake Rocks is a great local spot to check out. The approach is about a 15-minute hike from the Shea Ice Rink parking lot. Take the Skyline Trail from the parking lot’s south side and hike about 10 minutes to cross Wampatuck Road. From here, continue for a few more minutes, and you’ll reach the crags.

How to get there:

Driving: Follow Route 93 south to exit 8 for Willard Street. From Willard, keep driving south, until you see Shea Ice Rink on the west side of the road and park there.

Biking: No matter which way you’re coming from, you’ll have to take a complex series of side roads, but the benefit of biking is that you can ride in directly on Wampatuck Road and pretty much start off right at the crags.

The T: Take the Red Line to Quincy Adams and then switch to Bus #238 and ride to the intersection of Willard and Ames Streets. Once here, the rink parking lot is right across the street.

Black and White Rocks Crag 1- Pinnacle Rock

3. Black and White Rocks

Not a ton of info is available about this spot online, which might be a good thing. Black and White Rocks is located in the southeastern corner of the Middlesex Fells Reservation in Melrose. The rock here ranges from about 15- to 80-feet tall and is rarely visited. Most of the climbs are only a short walk from the surrounding road, and in the winter, some great local ice climbs can form. There are several undocumented routes in the area; for a more comprehensive list, pick up a copy of MIT Outing Club’s Boston Rocks guidebook.

How to get there:

Driving: Take I-93 north to exit 33 onto Elm Street and follow it to the intersection of Woodland and Highland. Head south on Highland Avenue and take E Border Road to turn left onto Fellsway east. Drive a couple minutes north and park at the first parking area on the left. The trails across the street access most of the crags.

Biking: The easiest way is to ride Fellsway north right from the Charles!

The T: Take the Orange Line to Oak Grove Station and walk about 25 minutes from there to the crag.

Recommended Climb: Crag 1- Delirium, 5.9

Quincy Quarries

4. Quincy Quarries

Quincy Quarries is the most well-known and photographed climbing area in Boston. The graffiti-covered granite here gets up to around 85 feet. Mountain Project lists 106 routes on the crag’s 21 faces. Usually there’s a crowd, but the rock tends to stay pretty dry. If you’re feeling it, there are a few trad routes here, but most of the climbing is top-roping off a mix of bolts and metal bar anchor points. If you’ve never climbed outside before, EMS Schools offers group and private climbing lessons at Quincy Quarries!

How to get there:

Driving: Follow I-93 to exit 8, and take your first right onto Ricciuti Drive.

Biking: Follow a pretty complex series of roads.

The T: Take the Red Line to Quincy Center and then switch to Bus #215 to Copeland and Willard Streets. Exit the bus, cross under the expressway, and take the first right onto Ricciuti Drive. The Quarries are on the right, a quarter-mile up Ricciuti Drive.

Recommended Climb: Q Wall- Steep Arete, 5.11

First Look: Olympic climbing in 2020

A couple of weeks ago, the International Olympic Committee officially approved the addition of five new youth-focused sports to the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games. Along with baseball/softball, karate, surfing, and skateboarding, climbing made the cut.

The Olympic Committee finally realized what organizations like the World Surf League, International Federation of Sport Climbing, and X Games have known for years: These sports have huge followings of passionate athletes and engaged fans. Although nearly everyone involved in the climbing world can agree that this is significant, reactions on how much impact it will have on the sport are mixed. Ryan Wichelns, EMS goEast Editor, asked various outdoor industry insiders at Outdoor Retailer earlier this month about their take on Olympic Climbing.

Cedar Wright, Courtesy of The North Face.

Some people like Cedar Wright, professional climber and filmmaker for The North Face, said that he sees this as a “big tipping point” for the sport and that it’s a sign “climbing is officially going mainstream.” Phil Powers, CEO of The American Alpine Club, had a different take, saying that “the advent of gyms and the proliferation of climbing” has already moved the sport into the mainstream. Although Phil does not think the Olympics will be groundbreaking for climbing, he is “glad the Olympics are catching up.” Yet others like Emily Harrington, another professional climber of The North Face, are rather indecisive and feel “a little bit uneasy” about the potential impact it could have on climbing culture and the community.

Most climbers, some even ecstatic to see the sport move up to the Olympic level, have been rather disappointed by the format chosen for competition. Climbing as a whole in the Olympics will be broken into sport, bouldering, and speed segments for male and female competitors. Instead of isolating these events as different independent skills within the sport, as is commonly done with skiing in the Winter Olympics, they are clumped together with a combined scoring system. Medals will be awarded to male and female climbers with the highest point tally of all three integrated categories. This is not a model of competition commonly used in any other climbing competitions. It oversimplifies different forms of climbing and ostracizes the athletes who work tirelessly to excel at a specific style. Cedar Wright told Ryan, “Hopefully they get their s__t together with the way they’re scoring it all. The whole combined-one-medal-thing is just b______t and it shows a lack of understanding of the sport.”

Sasha DiGiulian, female World Climbing Champion and someone we’ll probably see competing for the U.S. in Tokyo, shares a similar view to Cedar Wright on the issue. In an article published by Outside Online, Sasha says that “the way the sport is packaged for the Olympics is a fabricated, artificial version of competitive climbing.” Although she feels more than displeased about the format, she is still heavily considering competing.

At the end of the day, Olympic Climbing verifies the seriousness of a sport that has maintained a devoted following for decades. Although the overarching climbing community may not agree with the new Olympic format, fans must keep supporting athletes and the 2020 Olympic Games. After Tokyo, when the IOC sees how engaged our community really is, hopefully the competition structure for future games will be updated to reflect and include all of the best climbers.