The Bay Area is a great place to learn the basics of climbing. There are over 20 spots to figure out the fundamentals of top roping, anchors and basic technique. But after a year or two most climbers assume they have done it all in the Bay Area and look to Yosemite, Tahoe and beyond. In one sense they are right: Bay Area climbing can’t compete with tall and perfect granite. However, what Bay Area climbing does have that Yosemite doesn’t is convenience and diversity. The climbing is near enough to do in a half day or afternoon trip and can often be combined with top-notch non-climbing activities that range from wine tasting to diving into perfect swimming holes. In addition, most climbers don’t realize there is lot more climbing in the Bay Area than they think – and there are more new climbs discovered every year.
I used to think I had done it all in the Bay Area. Then I got an education from Chris Summit. Chris is the author of four climbing books that cover the Bay Area and he is arguably the most motivated climber around. Not only has he established hundreds of climbs and boulder problems, he continues to climb new routes weekly with the same enthusiasm most climbers have only for their first few years in the sport. He recently shared with me the new routes that were still going up, every month, year round. Below is a sample list of some new climbs discovered in the last few years, followed by some favorite nearby non-climbing activities.
Mt St Helena
Jerry Dodrill and Eric Berghorn have been slowly but steadily finding new climbs on rocks all over Mt. St. Helena at areas like The Bear and The Satellites (on the hillside between the popular Bubble Rock and The Bear). Most of the climbs are 5.10’s and 11’s with a few 5.9’s. Most are sport climbs but there are a few top ropes here and there. In addition to many wineries nearby, a day of climbing can also be combined with hot springs and mineral baths in nearby Calistoga. Harbin Hot springs (near Middletown) is one of the better-known spots. If hot springs are not your thing, there are also hot air balloon rides. My mom did this for her birthday and I have to say that even as a BASE jumper, I still found the hot air balloon ride pretty exciting. Ballooning is best done with a big group of close friends or family and should be followed by an epic breakfast, a break, then some climbing.
Across from The Bear and Satellites at the adjacent Pacific Palisades (south of Mt. St Helena), Aaron Rough and friends have been busy developing single-pitch and even some multi-pitch sport routes on the old trad cliff Table Rock and its smaller but closer neighbor, Table Scraps. The rock is a bit soft but the routes are well protected and the climbing is quite popular.
Salt Point State Park
Chris Summit and Valentine Cullen developed a few new sport, top rope and crack climbs at The Playground (difficulty ranges from 5.7-5.8) and on the Memorial Rock (5.8-5.9). Nearby are some amazing non- climbing activities…if you are qualified. Abalone diving abounds for those with skills and permits. The area is also known for its wild mushrooms. For those looking for less committing post-climbing activities, it’s a popular spot for fishing and general coastal chillin’.
Chris and Val also developed some short but fun new top rope/highball climbs at the small Hideout on the Eel River near Dos Rios and some more new bouldering in the area as well. Chris and Charlie Barrett fixed the start of Green Slab on Swallow Rock (was a 2 bolt 5.6 now is a 3 bolt 5.8) to open up the couple other old classics on Swallow Rock again after a rock at the base washed downstream making the start of the sport climbs much higher and harder. The climbs at The Hideout range from 5.6 to 5.12 and on Swallow Rock from 5.8 to 5.12 and all will be in the new Bay Area Climbing guide coming out this fall along with a lot of good bouldering in the area as well. The spot is near the location for the annual Reggae on the River (on a different fork of the Eel River about 1hr away) and is known for great swimming in crystal clear warm water with sandy beaches. This is arguably the best warm water swimming near San Francisco.
Some Castle Rock locals have found and developed a small but cool new bouldering area just south of Castle Rock State Park in Sanborn-Skyline County Park. The problems range from VB to V8+ on the same sandstone as Castle Rock. In addition, there are a few new problems at the original Castle Rock areas along with a few other locals, including a new V10/11/12 on a small bulgey boulder found behind the mega classic Eco Terrorist. Chris Summit a few years ago cleaned and climbed a classic old Yabo project next to the parking lot at Castle Rock State Park calling it Groundation (V7). In addition to the climbing in the area, there are great trails for hiking and mountain biking. Nearby is California’s first state park, Big Basin, which hosts some good camping.
Over that last five years, Kenny Ariza and Elliot Carlsen have established about 100 new boulder problems atfive new areas on Mt Tamalpais from VB to V7+. Some problems are right next to the road (you can actually park on top of a few) and others require a short hike. Best of all, the problems are almost always above the fog (San Francisco residents can now cheer). After you are done, you can drive to the top of East Peak for probably the best view in the Bay Area and then head down to the new Mill Valley Beerworks, which has the largest selection of beer we know of in the North Bay.
Thanks Chris for your insight into climbing in the Bay Area! Chris founded SuperTopo.com in 1999 with a goal of creating the worlds best climbing guide books. PG carries a full collection of SuperTopo guidebooks and be sure to check out his free topos too!