Volunteer Canyon (The Cwm) Rock Climbing
|GPS:||35.12, -111.935 Google Map · Climbing Area Map|
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|Shared By:||Jed Alan on Dec 27, 2009 · Updates|
|Admins:||Greg Opland, Luke Bertelsen, JJ Schlick, Brian Boyd|
Volunteer Canyon hosts some of the tallest columnar basalt in NAZ, but probably not in a way you would like to imagine. Compared to Paradise Forks, Volunteer Canyon is wild, blocky, unkempt, often loose, and dirty. Though there is a growing number of neo classics to be found, it is still a place to get away from the crowds and explore your sense of adventure. The scenery and the over all vibe of the place is worth the visit. And for some, will lead to many more. It is an amazing canyon which intimidates and inspires.
HISTORY In the early days Volunteer Canyon was known by local climbers as The Cwm, which is a Whelsh term for a steep mountain cirque. I believe it was Scott Baxter who coined it. "A Cheap Way to Fly" by Tim Toula ('86) is the only published guidebook to date with any information on the area, and that only contains selected routes and the most basic beta. In the second edition there is a very informative and entertaining segment on the history of climbing in the Flagstaff area...a recommended read.
Surprisingly, early on, this area was climbed at before the discovery of Paradise Forks. After that fateful finding of the Forks however, Volunteer turned into a ghost town, back water area which was known for having terrible road access, hard to find established routes, and poorly maintained lines due to neglect. The easily accessed Paradise Forks eclipsed Volunteer, and development here came to a grinding halt. More modern development through the 80's and 90's and early 2000’s continued in the form of infrequent, short bursts by folks who worked in quiet and did not leave much evidence of their coming and going. Though it may not be obvious, significant efforts were made to clean and climb lines during this time. Many possible names of routes have been lost, many actual FAs are unknown, many of the routes are not new.. The history of this place is complicated and mysterious, which matches the overall vibe of the place. Volunteer is now receiving the attention it always deserved with modern classics being born or rediscovered every short season.
Most of the routes listed here require rapping into specific belay points or ledges. Bringing an ascender and a grigri down to the belay is prudent in case the need arise to retreat up your fixed line. This canyon is known for moving wind around and may make verbal communication impossible. The belays can take a while, so dress accordingly. You can always haul stuff out on the fixed line. - JJ (some additions by Jed)
THE NORTH SIDE is home to such age old classics as Tralfamadore 5.9+, and Beautiful Day 5.8+. It is a stunning series of columns and quite a lot to take in the first time you see it. Classics such as The Lost Highway, Green Knight, and White Hawk should keep you happily dancing in the sun.
THE SOUTH SIDE is a collection of unique walls, with routes scattered about in the folds of it's teetering columns. Home to the Canary Cracks which were first lead in the 1970s, as well as, some more modern endeavors which certainly expand the scope of NAZ basalt and it's classic lines. While having to rap into specific belays is time consuming, it does allow one to brush and clean the route on the way down. This side sees regular dirt runoff during seasonal rains. A tooth brush will do wonders. A mini whisk brush will work miracles.
LAND USE Volunteer Canyon is in Coconino National Forest. It is also, just like Paradise Forks, within the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness. The Wilderness boundary is right at the rim of the canyon so as soon as you drop over the rim you are technically inside of the Wilderness which holds greater restrictions for use of fixed protection. If you are involved in establishing any routes in Sycamore Canyon or any Arizona Wilderness it is appropriate to familiarize yourself with the regulations.
An updated understanding of Wilderness fixed protection laws and ethics as they apply to Sycamore Canyon based on recent discussions with land managers here is that there is a gray area that asks for quite a bit of self-governance and an ethic around new bolts. Bolting is not prohibited in Sycamore Canyon Wilderness, however the ethic is that it should be done at a minimum to connect aesthetic lines. The suggestion is to only to place bolts in Wilderness if absolutely necessary for doing that. It encourages climbers to be a little extra bold... If there is enough pro, and you can’t climb it without a bolt, then you’re not ready for it… leave it unbolted and top rope it (Check out one of the hardest lines here, Surviving the Times…No bolts…) If it’s a bolt line/sport route, that’s pretty clearly not okay… The FS has recently stated they don't want to see that. DO NOT add bolts to established routes. There are abundant opportunities for use of removable protection at Volunteer Canyon so it is generally regarded as a trad-climbing destination.
Also, the use of power drills is illegal in any Wilderness area anywhere at this point. There can be significant fines for illegal bolts in the Wilderness. The legal/ethical status of bolts on the rim is uncertain and there are community discussions currently under-way around this matter…. More info to come based on official boundary descriptions. The Forest Service wants us to self-regulate. It is clear that blatant disregard for laws/ethics is what forces them to become involved.
From Flagstaff head west on Interstate 40 towards Williams. Exit at the Parks Exit, and head south on FR 141. Follow that until the junction of 527 (also looking for "Boy Scout Camp" signs at this point), and take a left. Stay on 527 for almost two miles where there will be another junction (FR 530), take a right. In a half mile, take a left back onto FR 527. Follow this for two miles and eventually you'll literally cross over the very top of the canyon. Park along the side of the road and walk west to the canyon.
That being said, these roads see a lot of abuse, seasonal closures, are choked with boulders, and are of otherwise ill temper. (EDIT 9/9/2020- the roads have been improved) A 4X4 will be needed in anything but perfect dry conditions. A high clearance vehicle minimum, and expect to drive pretty slowly. With a good vehicle, the total drive time from Flagstaff takes about 45 minutes and is roughly 30 miles, however the bad section is only a three mile final stretch.
Classic Climbing Routes at Volunteer Canyon (The Cwm)
Days w Precip