Ditch the Cold: 8 Wintertime Rock Climbing Escapes in North America

The bliss of cool Sendtember and Rocktober days has finally given way to downright cold, snow-, and ice-covered rock and perpetually numb fingertips. To us climbers, that usually means we either give in to the sterile siren song of the climbing gym, turn in our rock shoes for ski boots, or go full masochist and pick up ice tools to tide us over until our screaming barfies resign and our frozen fingers thaw. But, fear not. While your Rumney project is snowed-in, other climbing areas are coming into their prime, if you can escape the Northeast to check them out. So, take a winter vacation, dig your rock shoes back out, and sample some of the best winter climbing destinations in North America.

Credit: Ted Schiele
Credit: Ted Schiele

The American Southwest & Mexico

The American Southwest is undoubtedly the best place to go. Plentiful sun and mild temperatures will melt away your icy Northeastern core. Whether you’re a new boulderer just getting your feet wet or a hardened tradster who isn’t ready to sacrifice your fingers and toes to the ice climbing gods, the Southwest is open to a lifetime of trips.

Credit: Ted Schiele
Credit: Ted Schiele

Joshua Tree National Park, CA

The former stomping grounds of climbing legends like John Bachar and John Long, Joshua Tree’s rock formations beg to be climbed. The park is home to roughly 5,000 routes, so its variety really shines. Bring your crack skills and your rack, because you’re inside a wonderland of rocks. World-class bouldering also intermingles with trad climbing here, for those who want to stay closer to the ground.

Lodging can be had in the town of Joshua Tree, but if you really want to immerse yourself in the rock, get a spot at either Ryan or Hidden Valley Campground and walk to these world-class climbs. On rest days, go exploring the labyrinths of rock, or check out the multitude of day hikes and short loops. Don’t miss the Cholla Cactus Garden at sundown or the views of the Colorado and Mojave Deserts from atop Ryan Mountain.

Classics:

  • Double Cross (5.7+, trad)
  • Sail Away (5.8, trad)
  • White Rastafarian (V2 R)
Credit: Hayden Bove
Credit: Hayden Bove

Red Rock Canyon, NV

Its placement right outside Las Vegas makes Red Rocks a perfect winter getaway. The beautiful sandstone peaks provide ample opportunities for every sort of climber. If you’re a boulderer, check out the Kraft Boulders for concentrated bouldering, or venture deep into the canyons for a solitary experience. Sport routes are ample throughout the area, especially in Calico Basin and The Black Corridor, where great lines are just an arm’s length apart.

For the adventure climber, Red Rocks is a no-brainer, as it offers routes over 1,000 feet tall for full-day outings on bomber, well-protected rock. Stay at the nearby campground, snag a local Airbnb, or go all-out and hit the Strip to try to make back that money you spent on new cams. Rain is infrequent in this area, especially compared to the East, but if there is precipitation, be sure not to climb until the rock has fully dried to preserve the routes.

Classics:

  • Solar Slab (9 pitches, 5.6, trad)
  • Epinephrine (13 pitches, 5.9, trad)
  • Levitation 29 (9 pitches, 5.11b, mixed)
Credit: Ted Schiele
Credit: Ted Schiele

Bishop, CA

A favorite among climbers, this unassuming town on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada is California’s most concentrated climbing hotspot, packed with sport destinations, world-famous bouldering areas, and alpine granite masterpieces.

The steep-walled Owens River Gorge cuts through hundreds of feet of volcanic tuft. As such, the sport climbs here are long and pumpy, favoring endurance over all else. Despite sharing the same rock as the gorge, the boulders on the Volcanic Tablelands offer more gymnastic movement, involving pockets and overhanging features. It stays much warmer here than any other climbing area in Bishop, so it’s a great option when the temperature drops.

Credit: Ted Schiele
Credit: Ted Schiele

The real crown jewel, though, is the Buttermilks. These granite monoliths sit below the imposing Mount Tom on the edge of the Owens River Valley. They have a reputation as only a location for highball bouldering, but that isn’t true. Rather, there are classic climbs for people of all comfort levels.

The town is full of climbers, van-dwellers, and vacationers alike. Check into one of the hotels in town or make use of the Pleasant Valley Campground at only $2 a night. Being only 45 minutes from Mammoth means that you could be bouldering at the Buttermilks in the morning, and make it to Mammoth Mountain for some fresh Sierra powder by lunch.

Classics:

  • Heavenly Path (V1)
  • Jedi Mind Tricks (V4)
  • High Plains Drifter (V7)
Courtesy: Visit El Paso
Courtesy: Visit El Paso

Hueco Tanks, TX

The birthplace of American bouldering is a winter destination that still holds up to this day. Much has changed since the legendary John Sherman devised his V-grade scale here. Currently, two of the three areas, East and West Mountains, are closed to the public without a paid guide, due to a high concentration of sensitive pictographs. North Mountain is open without a guide, but climbers must make reservations in advance. Despite the red tape, it remains an awesome spot to spend a trip and provides a more private and pure experience than what you would find at places like Red Rocks.

Classics:

  • Ghetto Simulator (V2)
  • Moonshine Roof (V4)
  • Baby Face (V7)
Courtesy: Scarpa
Courtesy: Scarpa

El Potrero Chico, Mexico

Ever dream about doing Yosemite-esque, big-wall climbing with nothing but a stash of quickdraws? Dream no more, because, just south of the border, the small town of Hidalgo is a limestone paradise and more. Fly to Monterrey, Mexico, and catch a taxi, or punch it south from Laredo, Texas, for three hours to arrive in Hidalgo. Nearly everything is a sport line that is well-bolted and without crazy runouts, including 20-pitch big-wall routes.

If 2,000-foot epics aren’t in your wheelhouse, more reasonable multi-pitch outings and single-pitch cragging can be had all within a short walk or drive from town. Stay at one of the numerous campgrounds and climbers’ hangouts here, all with views of cliffs like Rancho el Sendero and Homero.

Classics:

  • Will the Wolf Survive? (4 pitches, 5.10a, sport)
  • Space Boyz (11 pitches, 5.10d, sport)
  • Gringo Disco (1 pitch, 5.11b, sport)

 

The Southeast

Long known for its outstanding climbing, Southeast sandstone is some of the finest anywhere. It’s perhaps best known as a fall destination because of places like Red River Gorge in Kentucky and New River Gorge in West Virginia, but drive a little further south towards Chattanooga and get ready to slap some Southern slopers through until spring. All of these destinations are close to each other, so hitting them all in one short trip is possible. Word to the wise: This is still the East we’re talking about, so it rains and will likely be chilly. Need a place to stay on your Southern journey, and you’re not into stealth camping? Hit up the Crash Pad in Chattanooga for a place to…crash, as well as pick up some beta on all the locations. It’s also a nice central location for all the bouldering in the area.

481658034_1280x720

Stone Fort (LRC), TN

Stone Fort (aka Little Rock City) has something for everyone: great, inspiring lines at all grades, slopers, crimps, highballs, and lowballs. The boulders are on a golf course, so park at the climbers’ specific lot and sign in at the clubhouse.

Classics:

  • Storming The Castle (V1+)
  • Mystery Machine (V3)
  • The Wave (V6)

Ricktown, GA

Rocktown, GA

More secluded than either Stone Fort or HP40, Rocktown is a newer area with fresh problems still being put up. The rock is similar to elsewhere in the Chattanooga area, with huecos, crimps, and a plethora of slopers leading to even more slopers and then to the top-outs. Free camping is possible in the lot for those looking for a longer-term visit or wanting to keep costs down.

Classics:

  • Ripple (V2)
  • Croc Block (V5)
  • Golden Shower (V5)

Horse Pens 40, AL

A remarkably dense boulder field that can be traversed in 10 minutes means there’s less approaching and more sending. Get your top-out pants on, because these routes are challenging and slopey. And, stock up on skincare materials—it’s like climbing on sandpaper here. HP40 is on private land in the foothills of the Southern Appalachians, so be sure to respect the owners. If you aren’t making use of the camping on site, pay your bouldering fee to ensure that we can continue to climb here. It’s less than two hours from Chattanooga, so it’s a good option to stay here for a few days at a time before returning to the other boulder fields nearer to the city.

Classics:

  • Bum Boy (V3)
  • Groove Rider (V5)
  • Popeye (V5)