“This is a 5.9?!” Visit enough crags and you’ll learn climbing’s universal truth: Ratings are subjective. Grades depend on when an area was developed, what gear was available at the time, which climbers were establishing routes, and so forth. And when certain routes seem optimistically graded, they usually don’t get changed—instead, they get billed as sandbagged. But these aren’t routes to avoid. On the contrary, they deliver some of the country’s most fun and spicy climbing. Here are seven of our favorites.
Not all sandbagging comes in the form of a cruel joke from your friends. Some of it was born from an era where the Yosemite Decimal System (YDS) topped out at 5.9—once believed to be the limit of climbing abilities. In the 1960s, many hard routes were given a 5.9+ rating even when moves soared well beyond that pay bracket. (An extreme example is Boulder Canyon’s The Umph Slot, which was originally rated 5.8+ in 1965. Consensus today says 5.10+!) Some routes are notorious and bear a reputation that precedes them, while others lay quietly in wait to shut down an unsuspecting punter.
When summertime highs hit the triple digits, even the most hard-core climbers lose enthusiasm for chasing shade at their local crags. So this summer, ditch the draws and cams, unearth your bikini and board shorts, and find a climb over deep, cool water. You don’t have to fly to Mallorca to experience deep water soloing. Below, some of North America’s favorite “psicobloc” destinations.
What do we love more than climbing? Road trips to climbing areas! Here, we've covered more than 40 crags and peaks across the United States, with dozens of routes recommended by locals, kick ass rest day activities, the lowdown on the best grub and pubs, and more!
The Fifty Classic Climbs of North America started as an idea hatched over a bottle of wine. It was the mid-1970s, and Steve Roper was eating lunch with Allen Steck; the two were reminiscing over epics in Yosemite from the early 1960s. Both were pioneers of the Valley, but each had considerable careers on peaks elsewhere, including Steck’s first ascent of Mt. Logan’s complete Hummingbird Ridge in Alaska and Roper’s first free ascent of the Kor-Ingalls Route in Castle Valley, Utah.
Expanding your repertoire to include snow climbing opens up a tremendous trove of new objectives, including those alluring lines called couloirs that drop like ribbons down mountainsides. While the masses choose the path of the choss field to gain the summit, you’ll ascend couloirs in record time by the addictive rhythm of kicking steps in the snow. It’s truly hypnotic. Best of all? Snow climbing doesn’t necessarily mean winter conditions.
Before spring-loaded camming devices came along, climbers’ racks consisted of stoppers, hexes, and slings. The following nine routes were originally climbed only on passive pro; many are still doable in this style (some only if you’re bold). Enjoy a taste of what leading was like in the Golden Age of clean climbing.
It’s easy to get down on winter. The fourth season brings short, cold, and damp days, which drives rock climbers to the gym. But here’s the good part: All those laps you ticked and workouts you completed should have you in the best shape of the year—just in time for snowmelt. Test yourself at one of these go-before-you-die areas famous for the endurance their routes require.
You know that cliff you’ve driven by countless times, scanning it for features, eyeballing the approach, and wondering if it’s climbable? Other climbers have probably seen it, too. And at some point, someone will bushwhack up and tug on some lichen-covered holds. That’s how development starts. Climbers pull out brushes and drills, scrub handholds, and put up a handful of routes. Then a handful more get developed, and soon approach trails begin to form. Before you know it, a new crag or boulderfield is born.
Here are seven must-do pillar ice climbs, from New York to British Columbia, including the uber-classics The Rigid Designator in Vail, Colorado, and Dropline in Frankenstein, New Hampshire.
Ice climbers, like alpinists, have short memories. Come fall, the wet ropes, overburdened packs, and screaming barfies of the previous winter are long forgotten. As the Internet lights up with rumors of fresh ice, climbers start yearning for those first swings—or perhaps delicate taps—into glassy smears and dripping pillars. Early season ice climbing has its issues, though.