Summer may be the time when most of us take our vacations, but the fall may be the best time to be outdoors on the rocks. The temperatures are cooler, crowds are fewer and you’re surrounded by beautiful fall color. Keeping that in mind, here are five fall climbing destinations within a relatively short drive of Philadelphia to keep you climbing through the season.
1. Ralph Stover
Ralph Stover State Park , along the Delaware River in Pipersville, PA, has a mixture of trad, sport, top rope and bouldering routes ranging from 5.0 to 5.12d and V0 to V7. The rock is red agrillite with some bands of friable shale throughout. The rock does not have a lot of friction, making smears and slopers feel insecure. In the summer, Stover can be hot, and have a lot of poison ivy. But when the cooler weather comes, the south-facing cliffs will catch the sun and the narrow gorge shelters it from the wind.
Ralph Stover is the closest trad climbing area to Philadelphia. In addition to trad climbing, Stover also has sport, bouldering, and top rope routes. The tallest parts of the cliff are about 200 feet tall, but most routes are one or two pitches and 75 to 125 feet tall. The first wall you reach from the descent trail is the Practice Face. This is one of the most popular walls because it is the shortest hike and has easy access to set up top ropes.
Ralph Stover is a great place for any type of rock climber. About half of the climbs are 5.8 or below. This is great for beginners that know how to set up top rope anchors or experienced climbers who are bringing friends out to try climbing. The gear climbing at Stover has runouts and tricky gear placements that will offer a challenge for traditional climbers.
2. Wissahickon Valley Park
Wissahickon Valley Park is the best place to climb within the city limits of Philadelphia. It’s also the place where people have been climbing the longest, with enthusiasts first taking to the rocks in the 1950s. Livezey Rock is a top rope and bouldering area formed by blasting that exposed a wall of Wissahickon Schist. The main wall has eliminate boulder problems and five sets of bolted anchors for top roping.
There are a few other boulders throughout the Wissahickon Valley Park with established boulder problems. Wissahickon is the best place to go if you want to climb on real rock, but don’t have enough time for a full day trip to one of the further away climbing areas.
3. Haycock Mountain
Haycock Mountain , Philadelphia’s best and closest bouldering area, is a wooded hill covered in diabase boulders. Diabase is an igneous rock that forms rounded boulders with high-friction texture and minimal features for hand and footholds. Haycock has problems ranging from V0 to V11 and up. The style of climbing is very technical and requires a lot of smearing and balance.
The diabase rock like at Haycock only exists in a few areas in the world. Climbing on diabase offers a different climbing style than climbing on granite, sandstone, limestone, or other common rock types. The slab climbing here is excellent.
The high friction rock will grab your shoe rubber and let you waltz up blank faces. Face climbs usually involve little crimps like Ninja Squirrel (V6) or cracks like Hematoma (V2). If you like to boulder, you will love Haycock. There are quality boulder problems for the beginner and the expert climber. The rock here will test your technique and route reading abilities. It is a great place for a beginner to learn new skills and for and expert to practice theirs.
4. Mount Gretna
Mount Gretna is a diabase bouldering area located in the Governor Dick Nature Preserve . The boulders at Gretna are very clean, and the trails there are wide and well maintained. The boulders are on a south facing hillside, which makes it warm on a cool sunny day, and it dries out quickly after a rain. The closest climbs are within five minutes of the parking lot, but some of the furthest areas are about a 20 minute hike.
Mount Gretna is a great place to spend a day bouldering. The trails are good, the landings are usually flat, and the boulders come in all shapes and sizes. The initial areas you will reach from the parking lot are The Coleflesh Area, The 45 Boulder, Smiley, and Shamoo Area. The must-do climbs in these areas are: Colflesh (V5), Body Snap (V5), Fabulous (V4), Smiley (V4), and Shamoo (V6).
It’s a great place for any level climber, with boulder problems ranging from V0 to V11. The best areas for a beginner are the Colflesh Area and the Shamoo Area. Some of the moderate classics include Poison Ivy (V0), Talking to Myself (V1) and Overlord (V2).
5. Birdsboro Quarry
Birdsboro is a sport climbing area located in an inactive quarry near Reading, PA. The rock is diabase, but the walls were created by cutting and blasting. So, unlike the local bouldering areas, the rock is smooth. The walls surround a lake and some multi-pitch routes even climb above the water. The angle of the walls ranges from slab to steep overhangs, and the cliff height ranges from 30 to 110 feet.
Birdsboro is the most popular crag in the Philadelphia area, so it can get crowded on weekends when the weather is good. “The Bird” has a little bit of everything. The Main Wall is the first wall on the upper ledge when you walk in. Hog Nose (5.11c) and Bye Bye Bolt (5.9) are some of the classics on this wall. If you want to climb tall pumpy routes, check out the Big Wall at the end of the upper ledge.
Birdsboro has climbs for climbers of any level. If you’re a beginner, there are over 70 climbs below 5.10. Entry-level climbs can be found at almost any wall in the quarry. If you are an advanced climber, check out the Big Wall and Wall of Immortals. These walls host a handful of climbs, from 5.12 to 5.14, that will keep you busy. Some of the most difficult climbs in the quarry include Flippin the Bird (5.13), Opposing Gravity (5.13) and Romania (5.14).