The USDA-Forest Service refers to this domed uplift as Turtle Rock. Herb and Jan Conn first visited this corridor in the 1950’s referring to it as “The Big Gash”. Standing nearby to the east is the beautiful summit of Porgie (which forms the turtle’s head). Porgie was first ascended by the Conns in 1957 and Jan will be quick to point out the actual names.
The Conns did not claim any first ascents in The Big Gash. As Jan explained the name for “The Big Gash” to me, she made Herb blush. Herb reminded Jan that she didn’t need to share the origins of the name. The first ascentionists of the actual routes within The Big Gash have kept a naming theme consistent with the Conn's original name for the area.
The Big Gash is a 100+ foot deep granite corridor averaging 15 feet wide and splits Turtle Rock in half from the northwest to the southeast. Great solitude can be found in this pristine corridor. Excellent quality granite is found here providing vertical to slightly overhanging routes. The rock tends to be the smoother variety with wild wind sculpted features allowing for great sport climbing. The smooth rock also provides for some classic splitter cracks.
The climbing in The Big Gash will put on a nice pump. The rock here tends to lack the larger crystal structure more commonly found in The Harney Range providing a skin friendly environment. There are no entire routes rated less than 5.9. Approximately 25% of the routes are easier than 5.11-… Some folks refer to The Big Gash as “5.11 Alley”. A handful of 5.12 routes have been developed. Many of the routes conveniently top out at 100’.
One set of cams from .3” thru 4” plus a set of stoppers will adequately protect most routes in the Big Gash. Many routes will require an average number around 10 quick draws while others require up to 15 draws. Over the shoulder length slings are also useful on the crack routes. There are solid anchors for each route. A 60 meter rope is needed for most routes. A stick clip is recommended.
When the temperature soars, The Big Gash stays cool. On the warmest days plan on arriving after 1:00PM to avoid the sun's crossing and optimize the shade for the rest of the day… Would the last one to leave please shut off the “air conditioner”? Be aware The Big Gash will become a wind tunnel on windier days.
You will encounter a fragile and delicate environment in The Big Gash. Always tread lightly and whenever possible step from rock to rock. Please don’t urinate or defecate in The Gig Gash and clean up after your dog likewise. Always treat Mother Nature's Big Gash with respect.
Since there are two sides to the Big Gash (Left and Right) a reference system will number the left (north) side routes using an L before the number for each route. This system will be duplicated for the right (south) side. The numbering sequence will ascend for both sides as you enter from the northwest.
In 2002 the USDA-Forest Service annexed 3600 acres from the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve into the Black Elk Wilderness Area. There was no restriction on power drilling under the previous designation. Most of the routes established in the Big Gash were placed prior to the wilderness annexation. New routes requiring bolts must be hand drilled in all USDA-FS wilderness areas including the Black Elk.
To reach The Big Gash
Just south of Keystone make a left onto US16A (Iron Mt. Highway). Several miles south you will find Iron Mt. Picnic Area and can park there. Follow the paved trail that leaves the west end of the parking lot (by restroom) for about 200 feet. Make a left onto an old two track road (Trail 89B).
Please sign in at the USDA-FS registration kiosk ($100.00 fine possible for not doing so) then continue hiking for about 10 minutes until you reach a fork in the trail. Take the right fork (still Trail 89B) walking another 1-1/2 to 2 minutes. Watch on your left for the second large red bark ponderosa pine tree with a small boulder just beyond the tree. There is also a barb wire fence post on the ground next to the tree. Take a left between the tree and the boulder on a faint climbers trail. From this point it takes another 15 minutes to reach the top of Turtle Rock. When the trail disappears the slabs trend rightward across the slabs into a forested valley. Follow the faint trail into the Big Gash.
This route actually starts and finishes on some crystals but the majority of the holds are beautiful wind sculpts. Steep enough to provide a nice pump for the grade with really neat moves. At the third and fourth bolts stay left and don't get drawn to the right....[more]Browse More Classics in SD