Climb Europe - helping to organise your rock climbing holiday in Utah
It has been said that Utah has almost as many rock routes as it has inhabitants, making Utah one of the best states in America to go rock climbing. There are the iconic sandstone towers and cracks at places such as Indian Creek and Moab; to the big wall sandstone routes at Zion National Park; and sport climbing on the granite and quartzite of northern Utah near Salt Lake City.
The rock climbing around Moab is famous for its magnificent towers and spires, soaring parallel cracks coupled with red orange vertical walls and slabs. Along with the desert environment, these all combine to provide some of the finest sandstone adventure climbing in the World. There is a great variety of climbing here from roadside single pitch sport climbing near the town of Moab to multi-pitch traditional climbing in the middle of the desert.
To the northeast of Moab are two spectacular and scenic rock climbing venues. The Castleton Valley includes one of the region’s most iconic freestanding sandstone spires – Castleton Tower at over 400’ high (130m). Sat next to this high on a sandstone ridge are The Priest and The Rectory, all of which offer some of the finest routes in the United States. The Arches National Park, as the name suggests, features many natural arches and spectacular rock features. No climbing is allowed on many of these arches, but there is still plenty of climbing, from roadside single pitch crack routes to multi-pitch routes on many towers.
South of Moab are the rock climbing venues of Canyonlands National Park and Indian Creek. Canyonlands National Park is famous for its many towers, such as Moses and Zeus, rising out of the desert sand. Though most of the climbing attention is given to the park’s unique spires and towers, there are also plenty of crags and walls as well. Further south is Indian Creek, where there are hundreds of sustained and strenuous crack climbs from 5.10 to 5.13 (F6a to F8a), and it is known as The Mecca of crack climbing. Here there are all types of parallel-sided splitter cracks that require a variety of jamming techniques such as finger-locks, hand-jams, fist-jams, chicken wings and knee-locks.
Zion National Park offers the best adventure rock climbing in Utah. In the main canyon of the park there are some of the World’s largest and steepest sandstone walls. For this reason Zion is often referred to as the sandstone Yosemite. At Zion National Park there are hundreds of routes between 800’ and 1,500’ long (250m to 500m), with some routes up to 2,000’ (over 600m). The style of climbing is on steep vertical big walls with many routes around 1000’ long (over 300m). With regards to protection the majority of the routes require traditional gear such as cams though the belays are usually bolted. Placing gear requires experience which makes Zion climbing an intense and adventurous experience.
The above photograph shows the iconic Castleton Tower on the right, which is over 400’ high (130m), with The Rectory and The Priest on the left in Castleton Valley.
Around the town of St. George in Southwest Utah (excluding Zion National Park) is a large concentration of sport sports across a wide diversity of rock types. Mainly this is sandstone and limestone rock though you will also find basalt and quartzite conglomerate. In total there are over 60 different rock climbing areas around St George with over 1,000 routes across a wide range of grades. All of these sport routes around St George are detailed in the “Rock Climbs of Southwest Utah” that is available to buy from our shop.
The rock climbing around Salt Lake City is very different from the rest of Utah as the rock type is everything but sandstone! The closest rock climbing area to Salt Lake City is the Cottonwood area. Little Cottonwood Canyon offers 500’ high (around 150m) white granite cliffs, which is very solid. Here there are fine cracks and slabs providing multi-pitch climbing and a variety of roadside boulders. Big Cottonwood Canyon is around 100’ (30m) high with both traditional and sport climbs with easy access on quartzite cliffs. Slightly further south is the American Fork climbing area, which offers sport climbing on limestone rock, mainly in the higher grades.
Further south close to Richfield are Maple Canyon and San Rafael Swell. Maple Canyon is a popular sport climbing area, particularly in the summer, with the best time to climb from May through to mid-October. The routes here are all single pitch on good quality conglomerate rock, with good climbing across all grades from 5.7 to 5.14 (F5a to F9a). San Rafael Swell by total contrast is adventure climbing on soft sandstone rock. Here there are a mixture of scattered boulders, pinnacles and buttresses that are up to 700’ (over 200m) high, with all the routes requiring traditional protection.
Gear. The vast majority of the sandstone routes in Utah are protected with traditional gear, usually following crack lines. Many of these crack lines are parallel for an entire pitch meaning that you need as many cams as possible with multiples of each size. It is not uncommon for different teams to share cams at many of these crags. A set of nuts, quickdraws and slings are also required. With regards to ropes a single sport rope is fine (particularly if 80m long) or take double 60m ropes, which are the best option when climbing the many towers.
When to go. The spring (mid-March to late April) and the autumn (early October to mid-November) are the best times to climb in the desert. During these times the temperature is agreeable and there is little rain. During the winter it can get surprisingly cold and the summers are just too hot.