re-sized ElCapitan

10 Rock Faces to Climb in North America

This is by no means a definitive list of the top ten climbs, nor are they necessarily the most extreme rock climbs out there, but if you’re looking for a fun day (or two) out with a challenging rock face infront of you, and you’re in the area… well try one of these.

El Capitan, California

Nose Route VI 5.11 A3 and Salathe Wall VI 5.10 A3

Fondly known as ‘El Cap’, this huge lump of granite – a 3,000ft (910m) vertical rock formation in Yosemite National Park was once considered impossible to climb, but is now the standard for big-wall climbing. “El Cap” has two main faces, the Southwest (on the left when looking directly at the wall) and the Southeast. Between the two faces juts a massive prow. While today there are numerous established routes on both faces, the most popular and historically famous route is The Nose, which follows the massive prow. however, there are more than a dozen routes up the granite face, all of which are lengthy and complicated.

El Cap, El Capitan

El Capitan

Half Dome

Northwest Face VI 5.9 A3 or 5.11

Also in Yosemite National Park this is another imposing lump of granite and is possibly Yosemite’s most recognised site. It rises more than 4,737 ft (1,444 m) above the valley floor. You can actually hike to the top of The Dome using a trail and cable route that was erected in 1919, but I imagine you rock climbing enthusiasts out there would consider this a poor sort of way to spend a day. So for the serious rock climbers there are over a dozen rock climbing routes leading from the valley up Half Dome’s vertical northwest face. Other routes ascend the south face and the west shoulder. Bear in mind that the Regular north West Face is a 5-day climb!

Tahquitz Rock, California

This massive 1,000ft rock face is sometimes known as Lily Rock. It is located on the high western slope of the San Jacinto mountain range in southern California and is above the mountain town of Idyllwild. It has a steep approach hike (approximately 800ft elevation in a half mile) which makes it both a popular hiking destination and rock climbing area. More than a dozen routes have been established ranging well into the 5.10 territory. It is also where the Yosemite Decimal grading system was developed. It is considered one of the best free climbs in southern California.

Tahquitz Rock, California

Tahquitz Rock, California

 

Moab, Utah

Considered the Mecca for desert climbing, Moab has a great variety of climbs on the sandstone towers of the Colorado Plateau. It can get crowded, but the wide selection for beginners, moderate climbers, and bouldering is unparalleled. Delicate Arch as seen below is CLOSED to climbers.

Delicate Arch in Arches National Park near Moab

Smith Rock, Oregon

The birthplace of modern sport/rock climbing has more than a 1,000 different routes, many of the most challenging on the planet, that have been climbed by some of the best in the sport. They are considered cutting-edge even by today’s standards. Its sheer cliffs of tuff and basalt are ideal for rock climbing of all difficulty levels.

Smith Rock, Oregon

Smith Rock, Oregon

Stone Mountain, North Carolina

Stone Mountain has some of the best friction climbing anywhere – a 600ft (183m) granite dome. Although there are some moderate routes, climbing here can be intimidating due to the featureless nature of the rock and the exposure. A rebolting project in the late 90s by the Carolina Climbers Coalition and the state Park Service replaced all the original bolts and established solid rap stations on most routes.

Stone Mountain, North Carolina

Stone Mountain, North Carolina

Longs Peak

Rocky Mountain National Park offers a lifetime’s worth of spires, snow couloirs, ice smears and ski descents.

This peak has long been of interest to climbers. The easiest route is not “technical” during the summer season (mid July to early September), and was probably first used by American Indians collecting eagle feathers, but the East Face of the mountain is quite steep, and is topped by a gigantic sheer cliff known as “The Diamond”. There is also the popular Keyhole Route which is open all year but is upgraded out-of-season to “technical” as treacherous ice formation and snow fall necessitates the use of specialized climbing equipment including, at a minimum, crampons and an ice axe.

Longs Peak, the 14,000 ft flagship of the Rocky Mountain National Park

Longs Peak 14,000 ft

Flatirons, Boulder, Colorado

And then there are the spectacular Flatirons, rising like thousand-foot spikes out of the base of the Rockies, with climbing at grades accessible to almost everyone. Yvon Chouinard called the East Face of the Third Flatiron, 1,300 feet long and rated 5.4, “The finest beginner’s climb in the country.” As a bonus, these amazing formations are within walking distance to the downtown pubs.

View of the first through fifth Flatirons (right to left, north to south) from Chautauqua Park on a winter morning

Devil’s Tower, Wyoming

In recent years, climbing Devils Tower National Monument has increased in popularity. Today hundreds of climbers scale the sheer rock walls of Devils Tower each summer. These climbers ascend climbing routes on every side, climbing up the various vertical cracks and columns of the rock. The difficulty of these routes vary greatly, ranging from relatively easy to some of the hardest in the world.

Devil's Tower, Wyoming

Devil’s Tower, Wyoming

Cathedral Ledge

New Hampshire 5.6 – 5.11

Because of its easy access and routes of all grades and styles, Cathedral has been deservedly popular for decades. Though new route potential exists, the classic lines receive most of the attention. Routes like Thin Air (5.6), Recompense (5.9), and The Prow (5.11) may see many ascents each weekend. Cathedral has something for everyone as the cliff offers long multi pitch routes, face climbs, splitter cracks, and even a few dubious quality sport routes. From short practice climbs at the North End to the soaring Yosemite-style aid routes of the Central Wall, everyone can be happy at Cathedral Ledge. Some might say that Cathedral Ledge is now a bit out of fashion – but how can a rock which offers something for everyone, and a brilliant climb at that, ever be out of fashion?

Thank you to www.brianpostphoto.com for this picture. I am sure if you get onto his website he will have many more beautiful photographs. I scoured the web for a good photo of Cathedral Ledge, but this was definitely the best…

Panoramic of Cathedral Ledge. Consists of 3 digital images stitched together.

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