Matt and Joanne’s Page

May 9, 2008

City of Rocks

Filed under: Climbing, Roadtrip — Matt Stamplis @ 1:17 pm

The City of Rocks, nestled away in a valley in rural Idaho (there’s a redundant statement if I’ve ever heard one), provide Joshua Tree-like granite formations for climbers in the Northwest. We had planned on coming here a few times in the last couple years but plans always fell through – the long drive from Portland makes it a bit of a hassle and other locations were always more convenient. But now, on our way between Salt Lake City and Oregon, we found a great excuse to stop here for a couple weeks.

We were a little worried that we were heading North too soon when it started snowing on our first day. Thankfully the bad weather was short lived and we enjoyed great weather in our 2 weeks here. In some ways late-April, early-May might be the best time to climb here for a few reasons: (1) You won’t need to fight for a camp spot (also a good time for dirt bag climbers to “guerilla camp” – not that we condone that sort of behavior!), (2) Aside from weekends, you’ll have most of the Reserve to yourself. There was never more than 2-3 other climbing parties in the entire park on weekdays! Even on weekends we sometimes had popular walls such as Parking Lot Wall and The Breadloaves completely to ourselves. (3) Weather can be a little bit dicey – we missed a couple days of climbing because of wind/snow but but otherwise we enjoyed plenty of 60 degree days in the sun. (4) The base of east and north facing walls are still covered by snow so it makes some routes easier to clip the first bolt – and provides a natural crashpad!

The climbing is super solid granite with a huge variety of climbing routes: most of the rock is vertical to less than vertical with lots of crack systems as well as featured faces and slabs. Some cracks tend to be bottomed-out and flared making it a little trickier to find pro – especially since we spent the last month plugging cams into splitters in the desert. More than many climbing areas, this place is designed for beginner climbers with many classic sub-5.10 routes. As an added bonus, pitches are long – many routes require a 70 meter rope or 2 ropes to get off.

We spent the first week of our trip ticking off some of the easier classics before tackling some harder routes. One thing we noticed, in particular on some of the older routes – bolt placements were not always in a great spot. It seemed like half the routes we got on had cruxes that were 6-10 feet above the last bolt. I usually have no problem taking falls but the rock here tends to be a bit lower angle, creating a potential for skin-scrapping, ankle-breaking tumbles. So heads up on some of the routes!

If you’re not climbing or hiking or biking, there’s really not much to do in the City. This place is far from any big cities. The nearby town of Almo has basic ameneties but plan on bringing lots of food for a long trip. For those nights that you don’t want to cook, we’d highly recommend the only choice in town! The Almo Outpost has good burgers at a good price ($6 for a 1/2 pounder). For gas and groceries, go to Tracy’s General Store – Idaho’s oldest store. They don’t have a big selection but you can find enough there to make a few meals when you run out of food. Cellphone reception is mostly non-existent in the area but we were able to get a connection near the Rocky Mountain Campground. You have to drive 20 miles to Elba for more reliable service.

I wouldn’t usually plug businesses here but I have to give a thumbs up to IME in Salt Lake City – we bought a rope from them and drove up here to Idaho to climb. It was then that we realized that the rope was mislabeled: we paid for a 70-meter rope but it was only 60 meters. We called them and explained the situation. One of the guys who works there (Shingo) actually brought a new 70-meter up to us and delivered it to us at the base of Bath Rock in the middle of a windy snowstorm – now that’s customer service. So those who live around Salt Lake City, support your local climbing shop! 🙂

Climbing Quality: Mostly 1-pitch roadside cragging. A good variety of routes. See the bottom of this post for our favorites.

Camping: Awesome dispersed camping. Boulder in your campground! Stupid campground prices – you need a calculator to figure out the cost: $11.73/per night or something like that. Free camping on BLM land somewhere outside of the park.

Rest Day Activities: Go mountain biking, look for treasure near Treasure Rock, look for old wagon ruts, scramble around.

The City of Rocks!


Joanne showing an interesting way to start I Can’t Believe It (5.10a).

I’m thinking of a new route name in Joshua Tree…maybe Poodles Are Climbers Too. Yogi was able to easily climb up to the 2nd bolt on Theater of Shadows 5.7. In fact, if there weren’t a couple of steep sections, he probably could have climbed the whole route! We simulclimbed this (without Yogi!) in 1 long pitch with 40-some loose biners to clip bolts.

Matt gets ready to lasso some chickenheads on Cowgirl 5.5. Downclimb the 4th class Rebar route on the backside to get off.

The funky lichen-covered wall of Thin Slice 5.10a. An easy slab start leads to the business and fairly sustained climbing all the way to the chains.

This man-eating hueco marks the start of Firewater 5.11b. If Tribal Boundaries was too easy for you, give this face climb a try!

Joanne tiptoes towards the crux of Wheat Thin 5.7. This one is just plain fun – a big cam #5 or #6 camelot is optional but helpful for the top.

Another fun 10a gear route – Animal Cracker 5.10a. The upper section is a bit of a funky offwidth but there’s a thin crack next to it that makes things a bit more manageable. Bring a #5 camelot (new-size).

Our favorite routes at the City? We think these are all must-dos!
Cowgirl 5.5 – Get out your lasso – you can climb this with only runners as pro. This pitch would be at home in Cochise and very much like What’s My Line p1, p2
Norma’s Book 5.5 – Much more fun than it looks, this is one of the best pitches of this grade I’ve climbed. I do think this might not necessary be a 5.5 for a 5.5 climber though since it involves all sort of technique from chimney to face climbing.
Intruding Dike 5.7 – Splitter finger crack with juggy face holds, a good warmup for the nearby Bloody Fingers. This route looks harder than it is
Theater of Shadows 5.7 – 4 pitches (or a long simulclimb – bring 40+ biners) of well-protected (our dog can clip the 2nd bolt!) slab climbing.
Skyline 5.8 – A great line up to the summit of Morning Glory Spire. This has 1 interesting traverse move but everything else is easier climbing.
Rye Crisp 5.8 – A crazy looking flake with fun lieback moves. Having 2 #3 and 2 #4 camelots is nice. Joanne doesn’t like this route too much, the flake sounded really hollow.
Wheat thin 5.7 – Real cool route with easy crux and great gear, once again, I think this looks harder than it really is
Z-Cracks 5.9 – A short route that packs a punch as you work yourself up into the upper crack.
Thin Slice 5.10a – Great finger crack – looks much harder but good footholds cover the face.
Bloody Fingers 5.10a – The leader who was climbing this before me took a sliding fall at the crux and tore open his finger (irony!). As you’d expect from the name, this crack is mostly fingers but with some thought-provoking moves up high.
Tribal Boundaries 5.10b – Whoah! While climbing this route I had serious Deja Vu – the technical crimping here would be at home on the Morning Glory Wall at Smith Rock. After getting through the sustained middle section, there are some final tricky moves establishing yourself onto the final slab.
Self Abuse 5.10d – Several difficult sections and a devious crux make this a challenging mixed route. The hardest moves are well-protected with bolts but you’ll need some gear – there’s some pockets for 1 or 2 TCUs between the 1st and 2nd bolts.

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