Local climbing spots to explore before the snow comes
By Talia Green
It is no question Flagstaff often attracts people who are drawn to the outdoors. So, with the last few warm days of the seasons wrapping up, climbers of northern Arizona are flocking to the rocks to get in their last few outdoor climbs of the season.
From traditional climbing, to sport climbing, to bouldering, northern Arizona is home to a variety of diverse geography that can make for a climber’s dream. For the climbing community, there are many great outdoor climbing spots in the area, but there are a few that stand out among the rest.
Among climbing styles, bouldering is the most accessible outdoor activity. All a climber needs is a location, shoes and a crash pad.
“Bouldering is when you climb closer to the ground without ropes,” explains Jason Henrie, membership and marketing director at Flagstaff Climbing Center and climber of 20 years. “Ideally, you would be climbing low enough to where you could jump off the wall without hurting yourself.”
Most bouldering is on pieces of rocks that have fallen off of larger slabs. However, in variation to these large, angular-shaped boulders, a rock formation called the Priest Draw has been gorged out by water-formed limestone roofs, which make the area ideal for bouldering.
“The Priest Draw is very famous,” Henrie says. “It has limestone roofs, which is really a hard thing to find in bouldering; so, it became this thing in the United States where everyone wanted to come and sample it for this style because it is so unique.”
Climbers in the area are fortunate to have such rare resources only a twenty-minute drive from the city.
“I like climbing at The Draw because there are a lot of climbs that require balance and crimping [a finger hold technique], which make it really fun and challenging,” explains Lauren Hill, local freelance graphic designer and climber of one and a half years. “And it is a really fantastic place to climb because there is such an interesting style of rock.”
When it comes to bouldering, Flagstaff is privileged to host a unique arena for climbing that attracts people from all over. The Priest Draw is located down Lake Mary Road and is where to find an exceptional afternoon of bouldering.
Taking the intensity up a notch opens the door to sport climbing, and in the Flagstaff area, one of the best places for climbers to sport climb is Jacks Canyon.
“Sport climbing is climbing with bolts that are close enough protection that if you fall, you shouldn’t hit ledges or the ground,” Henrie says. “You should be able to focus on the difficulty of the climbing rather than the fall factor.”
Just half an hour south of Winslow, Jacks Canyon is known for its gymnastic climbing opportunities. By car, it is no more than an hour and a half from Flagstaff, and local climbers take advantage of this nearby crag.
“It represents what a lot of people think of sport climbing,” Henrie says. “There are close bolts, so it’s more gymnastic rather than scary. You don’t have to worry about falling and hurting yourself as much, so you can push your limits without focusing on those risks as much.”
The area is also known for an abundance of overhanging routs, which is not only challenging for climbers but adds an element of excitement to the climbs. It is a balance between exhilaration and a level of ease that makes the area a great place to be.
“I love that there are shorter climbs,” Hill says. “I was just out there a week ago and it’s great because of the fact that the climbs are short, so you can get a bunch in without getting too pumped. There’s so much there and that variety of difficulty makes it so that you can warm up for an hour and not get too tired.”
Between the range of options and the beauty of the location, Jacks Canyon makes for a pleasant and challenging day of sport climbing.
“Jacks Canyon has many more routes than other local climbing spots,” Henrie says. “And it has easier routes so more people getting into the sport can go there and learn how to lead climb and push their own limits.”
TRADITIONAL (TRAD) CLIMBING
Trad climbing is one of the most technical styles of climbing and requires a higher level of skill and experience. However, for those more experienced climbers, the best place to trad climb is only 45 minutes away at the desert towers of Sedona.
“When trad climbing, you are placing your own equipment in the cliff,” Henrie says. “Some people consider it a more pure form of climbing because you place things into the wall and then you take them back out without damaging the rock. Consequently, it is a more complex form of climbing and you have to be a well-versed climber and have more knowledge of the techniques involved.”
One of the major appeals of climbing in Sedona is the satisfaction that comes with summiting a tower. For a climber, the reward of reaching the top of something is a sort of aesthetic victory.
“Sedona climbing is honestly the most beautiful,” says Andrew Belus, volunteer coordinator at the Grand Canyon Trust and climber of five years. “The climbs there take you to the most fulfilling summits. You can climb to something where the top is the size of your dinner table and be completely surrounded by air; and that’s a big draw to Sedona.”
The experience and skill that trad climbing demands pays off for local climbers. The sense of accomplishment in attacking and completing a trad climb in Sedona is a unique undertaking that leaves climbers feeling rewarded and inspired.
The Priest Draw:
From Flagstaff, head southeast on Lake Mary Road for a little over five miles. Turn right onto Ron Lockett Ranch Road and take the second right. Drive approximately three miles until you see Forest Road 235. Park here, hike down FR 235 and within five minutes you will start to see bouldering routes.
Hop on the I-40 towards Winslow; take Winslow exit 253, North Park Drive, and continue south. Drive about a mile and then turn left onto Second Street and continue until making a right onto Highway 87. Drive south on 87 for about 30 miles. Roughly a mile after marker 313, turn right on to a gated pull-off. Pass the gate and continue down the dirt road for about half a mile. Eventually you will find a campsite with various trails stemming from the parking area into the canyon.
The entire region is filled with climbs, so directions vary. Generally, take highway 89A or 179 and there will be pull-outs from west Sedona continuing up through Oak Creek Canyon.