Monday, May 22, 2017

10 Best Boulder Problems in Dartmoor: 7a and up

Considering the amount of rock and natural beauty of Dartmoor National Park the bouldering here has a less than shining reputation and I find myself often defending the place I've grown to love.  To be totally fair to the haters, the large grained granite of the Moor is pretty sharp and doesn't tend to make for the best lines but you have to remember that Dartmoor is massive and can't be judged by only visiting a couple areas.  I imagine most of the naysayers only checked out a few standard crags (Bonehill?) and left with their judgement clouded by smashed egos and bleeding tips.  Dartmoor is so much more than just Bonehill and if you actually know where to look there are plenty of offerings that will appease even the most discerning boulderers.

If you're  coming to Dartmoor for a quick visit then sifting through the chaff can be the crux of the trip as going to the "wrong" place can squander most of a day.  It is with this in mind that I decided to put together list of Dartmoor's best problems above 7a so a visiting climber can tick/try the gems without the painstaking commitment of exploring themselves.

I've put lots of consideration into this list and while I consulted other locals to ensure I didn't overlook something I ultimately draw from my own "expertise" to determine which problems make the cut.  So why should you listen to a yankee that only moved to England two years ago regarding Dartmoor's best problems?  Well, I reckon I may be the person that has seen and done more 7th grade problems in Dartmoor than anyone else (I really do think this is the case, especially at the higher end).  This is due to having the ridiculous luxury of being a stay-at-home dad (thanks to my wonderful wife Lina for making this possible) and my obsession with seeing everything firsthand.  In my short time here I have put in lots of legwork so if there is a tor on a map, rock visible from satellite photos, or an area listed on UKclimbing chances are I've been there and climbed on the most notable problems (yes, there are still a few places I haven't seen/climbed but I've still got time).  My explorations have also led me to "discover" plenty of new areas and cherry pick the best lines (at this point I've establish over 40 problems around Dartmoor with the majority likely being in the 7th grade).  I also fancy myself a discerning boulderer and feel my extensive travels and 15 years experience make me a good candidate for judging boulder problem quality.  That said, climbing is pretty subjective and ego driven and I reckon some folks will totally disagree with this list.  Anyways, I'll stop stroking my own ego and give you the list.  Without further ado here are the best problems in Dartmoor (7a and up)...........

Devon Sent, Bovey Woods:  I think this is hands down the best boulder problem in Dartmoor and the only problem here I feel comfortable calling "world-class".  It comes close to ticking all the boxes as it's a great line that follows awesome "veins" up a gently overhanging face.  It's the perfect height (not quite highball but tall enough to make you think) with pleasing technical movement that gets progressively harder.  The setting isn't necessarily anything special but an individual line up the middle of a boulder in an open forest isn't anything to scoff at either.  If you are visiting the area and have to choose one boulder problem I'd recommend this one.  I will say that you should be prepared to lose some skin as the crimps on Devon Sent are sharp, but that is pretty much par for the course with Dartmoor granite.
Me on the Southwest's best problem

Tropic Thunder, Red Dragon Ridge:  Dartmoor isn't known for its steep climbing but if you like getting horizontal Tropic Thunder is the problem for you.  An independent  line that tackles the prow of an overhanging visor has awesome moves on good rock. Tropic Thunder also makes use of a couple of the rare xenoliths that occasionally appear in Dartmoor granite and is perhaps my finest addition to Dartmoor bouldering.  Initiall I was wary about including my own first-ascents on the list but there are a few that seem to clearly belong.  I also don't think this rig has yet to see a second ascent.
Holding the massive swing (crux) on Tropic Thunder

Yankee Doodle Dandy, Lustleigh:  Apparently this line has been know about for many years and was referred to as "the project boulder".  Certainly one of the cleaner lines around, Yankee Doodle Dandy had just enough holds to make it possible and ends in the most gratifying way ever, with a spicy double dyno to the lip. When I first stumbled across this thing I was told it was a much sot after project but I can't imagine many climbers had actually put much effort in as it didn't end up being overly difficult.  This is another of my first-ascents that seemed to clearly deserve to be on the list.
Yankee Doodle Dandy

Easdon Arete, Easdon:  The Easdon area is very small with only a few problems but Easdon Arete makes this area worth a visit.  A clean line (got to love aretes) with several sequences to get to the top depending on your height and strength.  I'd also highly recommend Easdon Crack on the same boulder that will likely make the list for best under 7a.
Paul on Easdon Arete

Pe'ahi, Bonehill:  Pe'ahi is located on the Wave Wall at Bonehill and climbs straight out the middle of the feature that aptly gives the wall its name.  I was initially reluctant to include anything from this wall because while it is an impressive feature (and ground zero for hard Dartmoor bouldering) it suffers from an overabundance of variations.  If one was to draw all the established starts/exits/traverses on a topo of the wall it would look more like my 2 year old was left unattended with a sharpie then any kind of coherent climbing information.  That said, I shouldn't let my personal aversion to variations/clutter take away from one of Dartmoor's premier walls and I should say that most of the variations are "obvious" in that they follow clear features and don't eliminate anything.  So if there is one line to do on the Wave Wall it is the one that navigates straight up the middle of the wave from sitting and that is Pe'ahi.  The climbing is pretty straight forward and enjoyable but I found it particularly sharp and condition dependent.  Fortunately it is located a stone's throw from the parking and surrounded by plenty of other climbing.  Pe'ahi is also the hardest problem on this list but without any stopper moves it's a very accessible power-endurance problem.
Cailean on Pe'ahi

Creamtime, Lustleigh:  This sweet bulge has awesome holds and great moves on some of the better rock in Dartmoor.  Great problem.
Mikey on Creamtime

Schmogon, Holwell Tor:  This one doesn't get much traffic as Holwell Tor is a little off the standard circuit which is a shame because it's a good one.  Schmogon follow an arete from sitting and while the crux is low the technical upper section might have some pucker factor.

Javu, Lustleigh: The only problem on the list I haven't done (or even tried) but I've stood underneath and can attest to the impressiveness of the line.  I guess this technically is a route since it gets an E-grad but could easily be bouldered with enough pads.  There isn't actually any protection so I guess you could say it has always been bouldered anyways.  It's at Lustleigh and if anyone is keen I'd love to get on it but don't fancy doing it solo.

Nether Edge, Bovey Woods:  It's easy to see the appeal of Nether Edge as it is an impressive line.  This tall, blunt arete has progressively harder moves and is notorious for spitting off capable climbers.  It is a bit sharp even by Dartmoor standards but the line supersedes the pain factor and Nether Edge makes the list.  It is also conveniently located next to Devon Sent if you want to tick two of the best in a session.
Ian on Nether Edge

Cowboy Butcher/Butcher Baker, Lustleigh:  This problem barely makes the 7a threshold but is a worthy tick regardless of which side of the grade you think it falls on.  A steep face with big moves and two exits (I prefer the direct). 
Josh on Butcher Baker (direct finish)

So there is my top ten.  A few of the problems should easily make everyone's list but it became increasing difficult towards the end to decide which problems to leave off.  Because of that difficulty I figured I'd give some honorable mentions that very easily could have made the list.  So maybe this is a top 20ish list.......   

All the Wray Jose, Wray Cleave
Arkem, Bonehill
Slotted Wall, Bovey Woods
Hung Like a Chimp, Lustleigh
Dancing Queen/Super Trooper, Saddle Tor
Jay-Z, East Side Boulders
Jungle VIP, Lakeside Boulders
Famous Grouse, Bell Tor
Allan Smith, Hound Tor
Flying Visit, Honey Bag Tor
Jungle Book, Bovey Woods
Over the Rainbow, Bovey Woods

There are also a few problems that should have been included but didn't because they are access sensitive.  Also, if there is a problem I overlooked or something that doesn't belong make a case and maybe I'll edit the post (Javu stays on the list....).

Get out there and enjoy Dartmoor.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Tucson Bouldering: Redington Pass (aka Tanque Verde)

Sometimes areas seem to get more spray/attention than warranted while other more deserving ones are ignored and neglected.  I've never fully understood why this is but I've seen it the world over and in Tucson the great neglected area seemed to be a charming little place with the duel name of Redington Pass and/or Tanque Verde.

I actually remembered this area from an exploratory hike I did when passing through Tucson 14 years ago and never forgot the giant water-polished boulders.  For this trip I asked some locals about the place and I was told it wasn't very good, they had never been and/or the other areas where much better.  I started thinking my memories from all those years ago was wrong but fortunately I ignored the naysayers and went back to do some ground truthing only to discover that my memory had indeed served me well.

Redington Pass turned out to be my favorite of the lower elevation areas around Tucson as the climbing, rock and setting are all exceptional and the access is casual.  Several of the best problems I did around Tucson were here and to my surprise the best of them where first ascents.  It boggled my mind that such good problems had been overlooked for so long but hopefully that will change.  I'd venture to say that Tanque Verde is not to be missed for the visiting boulder and is considerably better than the heavily trafficked Hairpin at the base of Mt Lemmon.

If you do go to Tanque Verde be aware that this is a nudist spot so you can let it all hang out or at the very least not be bothered if others do.  Perhaps the reason the place is under the radar is because folks are scared off by birthday suits.........
Here are some photos

Climbing rocks and building sand castles.  Redington actually ended up being an optimal place for the family as this spot is next to the main cluster of boulders.  Not a bad way to spend a winter's day.

The waterfall just downstream from the bouldering.  When we first visited this area we hiked up the canyon be we later realized there is a well established trail that drops you above this waterfall and right at the boulders.  The canyon was a nice hike but the trail make the approach easier.

Prairie on a rad steep line out the belly of a massive boulder.  This problem was just big moves on jugs from the stand and I added an obvious sit-start that is considerably harder.  It is once again surprising that this is a first ascent but unless I hear otherwise I'm calling it Pants Off Dance Off.  There are a couple impressive projects to the right that could be proper hard and definitely worthy.  

The Pictured Boulder is a little further up canyon and had a couple impressive lines on it with the two best being listed as projects.  Three of us spent the better part of 3 hours trying to figure out beta on the best one and in the end managed to crack the improbable sequence and establish Don't Get Chicked.

Jesse discovered that if you lay your leg on the starting self you can reach/use the horrible holds higher up and Prairie cracked the best beta for the final crux move.  I thought Prairie was going to do this thing before me (thus the name) but she had to return two days later for her ascent.

Another line just to the right of Don't Get Chicked brought be back to the Pictured Boulder and ended up being just as good as its neighbor but very different climbing.  There wasn't as much subtleties on this one as it just took some big pulls on decent holds.  I also sit-started this one under the big rail and realized Chicked could be started here as well.  I called the problem Don't Get Dicked.

Of the established problems at Redington Pass my favorite might be Red Arete for its unassuming nature and fantastic climbing.  It packs quite a lot of climbing in a small space and offered some pleasing movement.

Prairie on the steep beginning of Red Arete and then navigating the polished pinches that make the crux.

Tall Smooth White One was the name appropriately given to this massive boulder.  Apparently the lines hadn't been done on this block which seems hard to believe as 3 of the 4 problems I did were in the lower grades.  Maybe the height has scared people off but it still seems presumptuous to claim the first ascents without a more thorough survey of the locals. 

These are the two best problems we did on the Tall Smooth White One and they are sweet.  The one on the left had just enough hold on perfect rock and is by far the hardest of the 4 problems we did (I'm calling it Clothing Optional if it hasn't been done before).  The photo on the right shows Prairie using some of the amazing water polished features of the other problem we dubbed Smoothie.

A parting shot overlooking Tanque Verde.  Will be psyched to get back to this awesome spot.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Wilderness of Rocks: Tucson's Bouldering Wonderland

Wilderness of Rocks was my favorite overall area around Tucson and the place has potential to put Tucson bouldering on the map.  While other Tucson areas are small Wilderness of Rocks is massive as the rock is seemingly endless with the granite offering a variety of features and styles reminiscent of Black Mountain.  The good stuff that has been done is unquestionably world class and only a small fraction of the stone has been explored.  The best is likely yet to come and if you like exploring you could spend a lifetime establishing 3 star problems.

Logistically Wilderness of Rocks takes a bit more effort than most areas as you first drive to the end of the Catalina Hwy (45ish minute drive from Tucson) and then hike at least an hour.  This is also considered a "summer area" as it provides manageable mountain temperatures when Tucson is roasting below but most winters should provide some ideal climbing days.  Of course the high elevation means you can expect Wilderness of Rocks to get shut down much of the winter but fortunately a couple sunny winter day can melt enough snow to make a lot of stuff climbable, but expect to hike through a bit of snow.

Unfortunately I only managed two days in Wilderness of Rocks and I actually spent both days in the same sector but I did of course do some exploring and could very easily have spent a my entire trip here without coming close to seeing everything.  Here are some photos from my days climbing in the Dog Park sector

The Sky Boulder is an amazing piece of rock ringed with great problems.  Nothing quite like starting your climbing day with a warm-up on granite "alligator skin"

Jetpack is one of the establish problems on the steep side of the Sky Boulder.  It's a bit of a one move wonder (dyno of the lip) but still a quality problems.  

Young Bigness is aptly named as the crux requires a massive move that took some effort on my part.  I believe this is the hardest established problem on the boulder but there are a couple good looking projects (like the one to the left) that will take it up a few notches.

 Before going to the Dog Park I'd seen some photos of one particular problem that I desperately wanted to check out and I didn't disappoint.  The locals had established a left exit called Surfing but I was struck by the obvious line up the rail and sent a good portion of my day (and all my skin) flailing on it.  It was the reason I went back to this area and after a bit more work and with the help of Alex we cracked the beta and sent one after the other.  It's been dubbed Minnie's Haberdashery and is alone worth the hike.

On the left is Alex doing the crux during the FA of Minnies Haberdashery and on the right is Prairie trying Surfing.

I saw so many amazing unclimbed boulders but time restraints limited me to only establish a few.  We dubbed this beautiful swooping slab Pressure Drop and it was harder (and therefore spicier) than I had expected.  I ended up bailing a little right at this point but the line I'd like to do would take the non-crimp I have my left-hand on with the right-hand and do a terrifying slab dyno.   I also did the striking arete on the left side this boulder. 

Jefe on just another amazing boulder he cleaned up.  This one is called Creep Show.

Stev on Creep Show.  

 On the way out from the Dog Park we walked through another sector (Magic Forest) and had just enough time to bang out a cool sloper problem called Hell Bitch.  I would not recommend this problem to those of shorter stature as a couple moves are a no-go if you can't reach from the big feet.  On the right is Prairie trying to dyno where taller folks just stand up. 

 Psyched to get back to this place.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Tucson Bouldering: Things to Consider

Here is the first of several posts I'm hoping to do about my recent trip to the States and the climbing around Tucson, AZ.  Hope you enjoy

Recently I had a great four weeks in the USA where the vast majority of my time was spent around Tucson in Southern Arizona.  I took my usual systematic approach to trying to see as much of the bouldering as possible, ticking the best problems along the way, and I feel I did pretty well during my short time.  It was a blast and the bouldering actually blew away my expectations and I'll venture to say this corner of Arizona should be a winter destination.  Seriously, there is so much good bouldering already established (and other climbing for that matter) and the locals have only scratched the surface.  There is tons of development to do and not just in the remote areas as several of the best problems I did were FAs in well established areas with easy access.  The climate, quality/quantity of climbing, and the convenience of having family in the area will likely make Tucson my new winter spot.  Good times.

Until I get around to going through all my photos/videos from the trip here are a few things to consider if you decide to take a bouldering trip to Tucson.

  1. Mt Lemmon and the Catalina Hwy.  Mt Lemmon technically refers to the highest point in the Santa Catalina Mountains just north of Tucson but is it used more broadly by climbers to reference the area that holds the majority of the bouldering (and rope climbing).  The Catalina Hwy is what makes much of the climbing in this area possible as it winds up the mountain, gaining several thousand feet in the process and providing access to the bouldering on "Lemmon".
     Looking down on Tucson from Wilderness of Rocks up towards the top of Mt Lemmon
  2. Lots of bouldering but widely dispersed.  While the total amount of bouldering around Tucson is impressive, most of the individual areas are quite small and cater more to the cherry-picking hard-man than the high volume moderate climber.  The exception to this rule is Wilderness of Rocks which is an expansive area where you could post up for days.  Unfortunately W.o.R requires an hour plus approach and is mostly underdeveloped.
  3. Adjustable Climate.  Tucson is an ideal winter spot as you can expect to climb in a t-shirt in the dead of winter.  You also can "pick your conditions" to a degree as the climbing high up in the Catalinas is considerably cooler if things get too warm at the lower areas.  We were pretty lucky as the higher stuff (like Wilderness of Rocks) was climbable most days but in some years snow levels might limit climbing to the lower elevations.
    Only a 30ish minute drive separated our snowman and sandcastle
  4. Variety of climbing.  The bouldering around Tucson is actually quite varied as you can pull on steep pocketed volcanic, thrash your tips on granite, or slap some water-polished gneiss.  The rock on Mt Lemmon alone varies between areas so don't get discouraged if you visit one place and decide it's not for you.  In general I'd say Wilderness of Rocks offers some of the best stone if you don't count the water-polished stuff in the narrow canyons.  And of course there is heaps of rope climbing which is meant to be pretty good (if you're into that kind of thing).
  5. Potential.  Those that know me are aware that I like having the option to find new stuff and areas with potential have massive appeal to me.  The developed climbing around Tucson will keep most people entertained for a fair amount of time but the surface has only been scratched, especially if you are willing to hike.  Hopefully the locals are getting after it as I'm excite to see what they have found for my return next winter.
  6. Old Pueblo Bouldering.  I almost forgot to mention a great resource for Tucson bouldering.  Old Pueblo Boulder ( is a database for the bouldering around Tucson and while it is far from complete it still provides loads of good information with the map feature and photos of boulders being particularly useful. The site has over 1600 boulder problems thus far and while there are some glaring omissions (like the Dog Park and Gnarnia) it is quite an undertaking and I found the site very helpful and would like to extend a big THANK YOU to those that created Old Pueblo.  
    This shot only shows a few of the boulders to be found at Cochise Stronghold, a little over 1 hour from Tucson.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Dartmoor Bouldering: Four from the Moor

I'm gearing up for the annual trip to the States and I can't be more excited to see friends and family while climbing worthy rock.  The trip will be a bit different this year as it is "only" 4 weeks and we'll be based out of Tucson, Arizona.  Good times will be had and I'm psyched for some new rocks.

In the meantime here is a little video of 4 problems from different places on Dartmoor.  All are considered area classics but some are a bit more obscure and don't get much traffic (particularly Dark Devotion).  Hope you enjoy the video.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Little Cottonwood Canyon: Bad News and a Bouldering Video

I'll start off by apologizing for the prolonged absence from posting.  There are multiple reasons for the break and hopefully I'll get back into semi-regular posts.  If there is anyone out there that still reads this blog but wants more frequent "climbing porn" then I'd recommend following my Instagram, Facebook, and/or checking out Climbingpics (I post photos there for time to time).  Ok, now to an actual blog-post.

A couple weeks back a Salt Lake City climber discovered that several problems in Little Cottonwood Canyon had been vandalized.  Apparently someone went to several popular sectors and smashed/pried off some holds.  There were roughly 20 problems effected and while all of them still go (I'm told most are actually easier now) it's a real shame someone would do this.  Obviously the culprit had at least a basic understanding of climbing as they targeted classic problems with their blatantly malicious act.  You can read more about the vandalism at Rock and Ice.

Anyways, the bad new got me thinking out Little Cottonwood Canyon and I decided to finally throw together some footage from my brief time there last year.  This little video is from a brief solo session where I had a couple hours to try to do as many of the classics as I could.  It ended up being very productive as I was able to do every problem on my list and even had time to add one from the 5-Mile sector across the road from Riverside.  Doing this circuit is less impressive when you consider that I had previously done 5 of the 8 problems in the video but I was still pretty happy with myself.  It's also worth noting that of all the problems in the video only Butt Trumpet (from the 5-Mile sector) was vandalized as the perpetrators were apparently too lazy to walk further than 20 feet from the road.

Hope you enjoy the video

Little Cottonwood Canyon Bouldering: The Riverside Circuit from Walker Kearney on Vimeo.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Going Coastal: Tintagel Bouldering

Tintagel is primary known for the ruins of what is believed to be King Author's legendary castle, but if you're a climber there is another attraction that is worth a visit.  The bouldering at Tintagel is limited but it has what I consider to be the best single coastal boulder in the Southwest (as least the best I've seen).  For the most part I've been pretty unimpressed with much of the coastal bouldering but Tintagel did not disappoint as it offers a high concentration of independent lines and a beautiful setting.

This massive boulder is the highlight of Tintagel and provides most of the good climbs on a steep face.

Most of England's coastal bouldering is tidal.  That means that you have a window around low tide when you can climb and during large swells you might be totally hosed.  It also means that during the winter these areas are absolutely pummeled by winter storms that can so some serious rearranging.  This shot is from my first time at Tintagel last spring and if you look at the previous photo you'll notice a couple very large boulders missing just to the left of the monster I'm climbing.  The ocean is powerful and this time it was nice and made room for a couple sweet roof climbs but you never know what will happen next winter.  Do yourself a favor and do these awesome climbs now in case nature wants to rearrange.  

Here is Mikey doing Purple Haze, one of the main climbs on the boulder.  

Grant and Chris both fired the most sought after tick at Tintagel, Awol Apprentice.  A great line and great sustained movement takes you right up the center of the massive boulder.  This climb also used to be a few moves shorter but a couple years ago a large boulder was removed from underneath it and deposited under a different climb (which now is unclimbable).

While it's the straight ups that are the main draw there are plenty of linkup and variations as the boulder's features provide for plenty of alternative starts, exits and traverses.  Lots of options if you want to get a get a workout.  Mikey dialing in Awol in hopes of establishing the long traverse in from the left.

There are several other problems on different boulders with my favorite being Colorado Dreaming.  This rig requires a bit of thuggery and trickery but is well worth figuring out.  I'm told this problem didn't used to be so steep as the boulder shifted a couple years back.  Crazy stuff as this boulder is seriously massive.

When high tide ends your bouldering session you can mosey over to Tintagel's castle and see where King Author used to hang.  Pretty cool place.