Three Crags for Early Spring Rock Climbing

With spring’s mild weather arriving early this year, it’s time to venture outside, and remember what it feels like to be on rock. If you’ve spent the winter pulling plastic or you’re simply excited to get outdoors, check out one of these excellent early-season climbing destinations.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Lincoln Woods, Rhode Island

Just minutes outside Providence sits Lincoln Woods State Park. Home to some of New England’s best bouldering, it’s a frequent first stop for many of the region’s climbers. Thanks to its southerly location, it’s rarely exposed to as brutal of a winter, often making the problems dry and climbable, while snow still buries other popular areas.

With various boulders scattered throughout, “The Woods” almost always has something to climb, no matter the conditions. In fact, it’s possible to do everything from chasing the sun to hiding from the wind or even avoiding an unexpected spring shower. Even better, because most of the park’s classic boulders are in close proximity, it’s easy to move between them in search of better conditions or a different grade. Just use the park’s loop road and a handful of well-developed climber paths.

In March and April, cool mornings and evenings provide the perfect temperatures for finding friction on the area’s granite boulders. Later, cool nights keep the bugs at bay. Further making The Woods a great early-season destination, the wide variety of problems, in terms of both style and grade, allows climbers to acquaint themselves with crimps, cracks, and slabs while gradually increasing the difficulty.

While bouldering might be the primary attraction here, Goat Rock has a small amount of top-roping. This roughly 30-foot tall cliff offers some easy slab climbing on its flank and some truly hard climbing on its steep, overhung face. If you are planning on top-roping here, either bring some trad gear or a long static line for anchor building, and beware of broken glass.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Quincy Quarries, Massachusetts

Quincy Quarries is another fantastic early-season destination. Located just seconds from I-93 near Boston, it offers great single-pitch routes on solid granite, as well as a smattering of fun, moderate bouldering. And, just like Lincoln Woods, it is often dry and climbable well before the region’s other areas.

While the heartiest among us come here year round, the season really picks up in early March, when area climbers begin longing for “real rock.” During warm weeknights and weekends, you’ll often find locals sending the most popular routes on C Wall, K Wall, M Wall, and Knight Face. Most parties seem to top-rope a variety of routes during their sessions, moving around the crag from one easy-anchor setup to another. You’ll also encounter some solid trad climbing and even a few sport routes. Whichever style you choose, be forewarned. The grades are old-school, and the layers of graffiti covering the first 10 feet off the ground only make the routes harder.

As long as it’s sunny, the Quarries can deliver a great outing even on the coldest of spring days. The walls of Little Granite Railway Quarry, noted in the Boston Rocks guidebook as A-F walls, form a natural reflector oven, heating the surrounding area as much as 10 degrees above the ambient temperature. If you end up there on one of those days, definitely check out C Wall’s many top-ropeable routes.

Of course, because the Quarries is a multi-use urban park, the climbers tend to head elsewhere once areas to the north and west “open up.” But, this shouldn’t deter you from checking out the early-season scene. Moreover, once you’ve spent a day or two placing your feet on spray-painted nubbins, the friction everywhere else will feel fantastic.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Pawtuckaway State Park, New Hampshire

Pawtuckaway State Park, or P-Way, in southern New Hampshire is best known for its bouldering. But, it’s also home to some fun top-roping and short-but-challenging trad climbing. Because of this, Pawtuckaway has become a popular destination. Generally, it’s the perfect place for getting in early-season pitches and problems while you wait for winter to leave and before the bugs arrive.

Top-ropers will want to visit P-Way’s Lower Slab for its selection of easy-to-set-up moderate climbs and the large open space at the bottom of the cliff. These factors also make this a popular area for large groups.

While the Lower Slab is ideal for rediscovering technique and working noodley winter arms back into shape, the Upper Cliff—located a short walk uphill—offers some stellar crack climbing that can either be top-roped or lead on traditional gear. Before you tape up, don your hand jammies, or go au naturel, however, be aware that what the cracks lack in height, they make up for in difficulty, and the ratings are old school.

Tim-P-Way

No trip to P-Way is complete without trying at least one of the area’s renowned boulder problems. A short walk from the cliffs, the Round Pond area receives a lot of sun, and is home to a diverse group of problems. Thus, it’s an ideal place to visit early in the season. Also a short walk from the cliffs, the Boulder Natural area is home to many of Pawtuckaway’s classic problems.

Don’t forget to visit Pawtuckaway’s Blair Woods bouldering area. Separate from most of P-Way’s other climbing areas, Blair Woods delivers a large amount of easily accessible and moderately rated problems without the crowds. Like everywhere else in Pawtuckaway, bring the bug spray just in case, and be prepared for the park’s skin-eating coarse granite.

What’s your favorite early season crag? Tell us about it in the comments!


Bouldering in the Ocean State: Lincoln Woods

To all but the locals, referring to Rhode Island as a climbing destination sounds like a joke. Even some struggle to believe that the nation’s smallest state is also home to some of the region’s best bouldering at Lincoln Woods (or, more simply, “The Woods”). In fact, some climbers even struggle to know where Rhode Island is.

I have two friends from the Ocean State who crisscrossed the U.S. on a climbing trip and claim they were treated like celebrities everywhere from the Red River Gorge in Kentucky to Bishop, California. Why? Because no one had ever met someone from Rhode Island. The most common thing they heard on their trip was, “Rhode Island…That’s near Cape Cod. Right?”

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Southern New England’s Secret

Perhaps it’s for the best that the rest of the country hasn’t learned of The Woods’ high-quality granite blocks. After all, it’s located just minutes outside of Providence, an hour from Boston, and an hour and a half from Hartford, making it an easy day trip for many in the Northeast’s major metropolitan areas.

Also, with a plenitude of moderate problems, The Woods is an attractive destination for groups of mixed abilities. Weekends here can get a little crazy, but don’t worry. There are plenty of problems to go around and solitude can be easily found by visiting the more out-of-the-way boulders. Be warned, though: To me, many of these challenges felt hard for their grade.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Why It’s Popular

Like its proximity to the area’s big cities, The Woods’ bouldering logistics are also incredibly convenient. Unlike many New England crags, The Woods has an abundance of parking, with multiple lots to service the diverse user groups frequenting the park. In all my years going here, I have never struggled to find a spot for my car.

Furthermore, a paved road loops around the park and comes within a short distance of many of The Woods’ classic boulders, making navigation a breeze and climbing typically only a short walk away. Additionally, many of its quality sites are adjacent to each other, allowing climbers to hop from boulder to boulder with relative ease. 

For me, once snow’s on the ground, I gravitate from climbing shoes to ski boots. However, at Lincoln Woods, you can find something to climb year-round. Some boulders sit in the shade or frequently get a cooling wind, making for comfortable climbing on the warm days of spring and summer. And, for the cold days of late fall and winter, plenty sit in the sun or reside in spots that seem to hold warm air.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

So Much to Do

Many will spend years just trying to visit all of the park’s boulders, never mind send every problem. But, for your next visit, consider checking out some of The Woods’ can’t-miss spots at least once and trying some of its must-do problems. Here’s a look at some of its more popular areas, all within an easy walk from your car. And, the best part is, all of these spots are about a five-minute walk from one another, so try them all!

The Great Slab/Wave

A short walk down the road from the park’s main entrance and around the pond brings you to The Great Slab/Wave, considered one of The Woods’ most iconic problems. Depending on who you talk to or where you get your beta, this popular boulder is either called The Great Slab, after the imposing slab you see from the road, or The Wave, after the boulder’s most notorious problem.

Climbing The Wave (V2) is a rite of passage for Lincoln Woods boulderers and should not be missed. Like the many problems here, don’t let its moderate grade fool you. The Wave is hard and combines a wide variety of climbing styles, forcing you into steep terrain and requiring you to use everything from slopers to cracks.

The Ship’s Prow

If the leaves are off the trees, you can see the Ship’s Prow from The Wave, as it’s just across a well-used dirt path. An extremely popular boulder, the Ship’s Prow sees a great deal of traffic, thanks to its proliferation of easy-to-moderate climbs and confidence-inspiring flat landings. It’s not uncommon to find a group of beginners projecting here, next to hardcore climbers warming up.

Although this spot is home to multiple fun problems, the Ship’s Prow Traverse (V1) is the area’s must-do route. You’ll find that it traverses roughly half of the boulder before topping out at the rock’s highest point.

The Iron Cross Boulder

If you look left, across from the pond as you approach The Wave, you’ll see a few boulders scattered up the hill. Following a well-established path, head up the hill to three of The Woods’ most notorious boulders.

On the far right is the the Iron Cross Boulder. Much like The Wave, this boulder gets its name from its most notable problem, The Iron Cross (V4)—which itself is known for a signature iron-cross move.

Shorter people, be warned: The starting hold on The Iron Cross is pretty high off the ground, and I have witnessed all sorts of trickery—from stacking pads to jumping to getting a boost—to reach it. If the starting hold is a little too high, or you’re just looking for something more moderate, the vertical wall facing the road holds a bunch of fun—albeit tall—problems.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Mack’s Traverse

To the left of the Iron Cross Boulder is Mack’s Traverse, which is also named after its signature problem. Mack’s Traverse (V2) crosses nearly all of the boulder’s entirety from right to left and is another classic problem that lures you in by looking easier than it is.

But, to send Mack’s Traverse, you need good beta and even better footwork. Like any classic at a high-traffic area, it seems that the boulder’s every hold is ticked, making where to go misleading at times. Furthermore, the problem is steeper than it appears. As well, because of the incredible amount of traffic it sees, the feet are pretty slippery. In fact, if you forget to keep pressure on them, you’re sure to slide off.

If Mack’s Traverse isn’t happening for you, you’ll find a handful of easier straight-up climbs on the right end and the face. And, if they seemed too easy, just walk down the short hill to the Warm-Up Cave, where you’ll find some of The Woods’ hardest problems.

Warm-Up Cave

Like all listed above, the Warm-Up Cave also sees a lot of traffic due to its high-quality problems and proximity to the park’s entrance. Although you’ll find a number of harder problems here, its easier routes keep beginner and intermediate climbers busy, too.

In spite of its harder climbs, the most notable problem at the Warm-Up Cave is within nearly every man’s reach. Neil’s Lunge (V4) starts in the boulder’s middle on a half-moon flake. Move up the flake to a small crimp, and then, psych yourself up for a dynamic lunge move to better holds.

Looking for something easier? The Cave Warm-Up (V1) follows a fun and obvious line of good holds to the boulder’s highest point. Be warned: Although you’ll encounter all positive holds, at some point, you’ll realize you’re pretty high off the ground, which can be a little intimidating.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

These problems are an awesome place to get started, but they are just the tip of the iceberg. And, while Mountain Project or a guidebook has even more listed, over the years, locals have shown me all sorts of hidden variations and challenges. Of course, the only way you get that type of beta is going directly there. Like I said initially, there is no bad time to visit…so, attempt these challenges at the first available opportunity.


The Top 6 Early Winter Hikes in RI and CT

There’s something special about walking through the woods in winter, with fresh powder crunching underfoot and air so crisp you could almost snap it in two. And, there’s arguably no better place to experience the season in all of its frosty glory than in New England.

In thinking about the many dozens of hikes throughout this region, we’ve ditched the notorious, like the White and Green Mountains, in favor of some lesser-known trails in oft-forgotten Rhode Island and Connecticut, and picked out the ones that are absolutely spectacular this time of year.

1. The Neutaconkanut Hill Conservancy

Trailhead: 675 Plainfield St., Providence, Rhode Island

With 88 preserved acres, the Neutaconkanut Hill Conservancy has one prominent claim to fame: Within its borders sits the highest hill in Providence. While 296 feet above sea level may be laughable to some, the breathtaking views from its hilltop meadow most definitely aren’t—especially when covered with snow. Take the 1.5-mile Pinnacle Trail for the best vistas.

IMG_60132. Long Pond

Trailhead: North Road, Rockville, Rhode Island

As the temperatures drop, sometimes the best way to warm up isn’t by a fire—it’s on a challenging day hike. The 5.7-mile hike around Ell and Long Ponds will most certainly get hearts pumping and test your endurance. The trails wind through large rocky outcrops, wetlands, and steep, wooded areas. Make sure to wear good hiking shoes and bring plenty of water.

EMS-Winter-Active-SnowShoe-7183_Facebook

3. Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge

Ninigret Park, Charlestown, RI

As one of five national wildlife refuges in Rhode Island, Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge offers 858 acres of diverse upland and wetland habitat for exploration. Formerly part of Charlestown Naval Auxiliary Landing Field, the area now offers a great opportunity for visitors to witness visual reminders of the Laurentide Ice Sheet, view more than 250 recorded bird species, and take in some spectacular vistas of Watchaug Pond. Even better? Just a few minutes away sits the Frosty Drew Nature Center and Observatory, where the public is invited year-round to discover the stars and planets in some of Rhode Island’s darkest skies. Viewings are on Friday evenings, and if you visit during the winter, there’s a good chance you’ll have the place to yourself.

4. Bear Mountain

Route 41, Salisbury, CT

Did you know that Connecticut’s most northwestern corner is home to its tallest peak? Bear Mountain is a favorite hike among Nutmeggers and hikers looking to tackle portions, if not all, of the Appalachian Trail. During the summer months, trails up to its summit often get clogged with hikers, and that’s if you’re lucky enough to get a parking spot at the trailhead. Hikers can choose from two trails that will get you to the top: Undermountain Trail and Lion’s Head. Both are moderately strenuous and require hikers to be willing to climb steep terrain.

5. Gay City State Park

Route 85, Hebron, CT

Located on the Hebron-Bolton town line, Gay City’s 1,569 acres offer explorers a chance to peek into the state’s history. The park’s actually named after a now-extinct mill town that once occupied the area. Today, old stone foundations, several cellar holes, and some crumbling tombstones offer a glimpse into this once-prosperous township.

Sleeping Giant 3

6. Sleeping Giant State Park

Trailhead: Mt. Carmel Ave., Hamden, CT

Two miles of mountaintop resembling a sleeping giant give this park its name and make it a distinguishing feature of Connecticut’s skyline. A 1.5-mile trail through dense forest leads to a stone observation tower on Mt. Carmel’s peak, where hikers can look out over Long Island Sound, parts of New Haven and Cheshire, and almost right down onto the campus of Quinnipiac University.

Sleeping Giant 2


The Top 6 New England Hikes

If you’re not getting out hiking this month in New England, you’re missing out! Between the weather, foliage, and lack of bugs, any trail in this northeastern corner is sure to give you a great day out. But, we couldn’t pick just one, so we asked our staff to help choose the best New England hikes.

Credit: Chris Picardi
Credit: Chris Picardi

Maine: The Knife Edge

Chris Picardi

For some, summiting Maine’s Mt. Katahdin marks the culmination of an epic journey along the Appalachian Trail, while for many others, it’s the reward after a strenuous day hike. Regardless of why you are hiking Katahdin, the mountain’s one feature that will almost certainly leave you in awe is the Knife Edge Trail. This 1.1-mile stretch traverses an exposed ridge with plummeting drops on both sides. While the trail can be deadly during inclement weather, on a clear day, it provides the best views of the rest of the mountain and some of the most rugged landscapes in all of New England.

Credit: Hannah Wholtmann
Credit: Hannah Wholtmann

New Hampshire: Mount Liberty

Hannah Wohltmann

With only four miles to the summit, making it the easiest of the Franconia Ridge hikes, 4,459-foot Mount Liberty offers incredible 360-degree views of the surrounding White Mountains. This mountain is accessible and extraordinary in all four seasons of the year. Ascend and descend the Liberty Springs Trail, and make sure you don’t forget your camera! Whether you’re thru-hiking or day hiking, Mount Liberty is the best bang for your buck. 

Credit: Liz Bonacci
Credit: Liz Bonacci

Connecticut: Bear Mountain

Liz Bonacci

Looking for a great hike the whole family can enjoy? Look no further than Bear Mountain in Salisbury. While this mountain stands as the tallest in Connecticut, at 2,316 feet, don’t be intimidated. Take the Undermountain Trail off Route 41 and proceed gradually to the summit for three miles. The slower ascent allows you to chat with friends and family while enjoying the breathtaking views of the Berkshires in Connecticut and Massachusetts. The remains of an old stone tower at the summit let you scramble to the top to capture that “perfect” picture, or simply sit and enjoy lunch while basking in the accomplishment of climbing Connecticut’s highest peak.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Massachusetts: Mount Wachusett

Tim Peck

John Muir famously said, “The mountains are calling, and I must go,” but what happens when the mountains are calling, and you have other commitments? That’s where the convenience of Mount Wachusett comes in. The mountain is less than half an hour from Worcester, less than an hour from Boston, and under an hour and a half from Providence and Hartford, making it the go-to for anyone seeking an adventure without spending an entire day in the car. With an incredibly diverse array of trails, the mountain offers routes for everyone, as hikers can choose steep and direct ascents like the Pine Hill Trail or longer, more gradual climbs like Harrington. No matter which you choose, those who summit Mount Wachusett will be rewarded with great views of Mount Monadnock and Mount Watatic, and on clear days, the Boston skyline is visible, as well.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Rhode Island: The North-South Trail

Ryan Wichelns

There aren’t too many places in the country’s second-most densely populated state where you can really feel like you’re away from it, but the North-South Trail in the Arcadia Management Area might be one of them. The N-S Trail runs continuously from the Massachusetts border in the north to the ocean in the south, but the 13-mile thru-hike where it bisects Arcadia, with its mixture of quiet forests, old farmland, and 10-foot Stepstone Falls, is a highlight. Head south from the Hazard Road Parking Area to Buttonwood Road, and then, spend a night at the park’s only permitted backcountry campsite, located by Stepstone Falls.

Courtesy: Justin Rumano/Flickr
Courtesy: Justin Rumano/Flickr

Vermont: Devil’s Gulch

Go down, rather than up, to hike one of the hardest sections of the state-splitting Long Trail. The five-mile loop will take you over a mountain and then down deep, so you can scramble over logs, boulders, and through a small cave, all surrounded by 175-foot walls. Watch for moose amongst the ponds and meadows on the other side before looping back.