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DC Climbing Advice


Original Post
Andrew Hess · · Brooklyn, NY · Joined Aug 2017 · Points: 0

My family will be in DC for the Thanksgiving weekend, and I've noticed that there is a bit of climbing about 30-45 minutes up the Potomac from DC. I'm thinking that we could go on Friday for some climbing. My son (13), daughter (11) and I are the only climbers, so I'm thinking that my wife and her family could come and hike along the Potomac while we climb. I have everything we need for top roping. I'm not looking for overly challenging climbing, just good climbing fun (we have climbed Jackie, Harvard, Bunny, Classic in the Gunks--for a sense of our level).

Can you recommend areas and routes? The Great Falls Maryland side seems like a good choice--yes? Are there better sites to consider? Assuming we go to Great Falls, are there particular routes that you'd recommend? Are there any tips that will make this a climb-fest outing rather than a frustrating slog?

Help me out and I'll post some inspiring family climbing pics.   

Eli · · GMC3500 · Joined Nov 2010 · Points: 2,788

The Aid Box area at great falls has some fun TRs and is highly accessible, and pretty easy to find. Bring a very small rack and 30-60 feet of webbing for your tr setup. Probably some towels to pad the trees you use. The area has everything from 5.7 to 5.12+.  MP actually has a pretty good description of the areas. I would also recommend checking rockclimbing.com for info.
Don't try leading routes at great falls, you'll surely perish.

Andrew Hess · · Brooklyn, NY · Joined Aug 2017 · Points: 0

Yikes! Not that I'm ready to lead, but what would be the cause of my demise if I attempted to lead there?

ubu · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2009 · Points: 0

Great Falls VA side or Carderock in MD.  The routes on the MD side of Great Falls are limited and have a (relatively) long approach.  Carderock has trivially easy access, a wide range of grades, and at least a handful of routes easy enough to convince your non-climbing family to give it a shot.  GF has more variety, but a longer approach.

As for leading, if you stick with passive protection there are some good routes to play on, but keep in mind that the rock is mica schist and can be friable, slippery, and weak in compression, i.e. not good for cams.  The general consensus is to stick with TR, as there are known cases of active gear failing at both Carderock and Great Falls.

Robert Michael · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2014 · Points: 156

On the Maryland side, go to Carderock. The approach is a couple minutes and there are lots of trees and boulders for setting up topropes. I don't know anything about those Gunks routes, but Carderock has from 5.0-5.13, so you'll find what you need.

Great Falls on the Virginia side has longer routes and, I would argue, a nicer setting. The Sandbox is one of the easiest crags to access, and it's got 5.2-5.7 routes with one 5.11. Dihedrals and Seclusion have long routes (for the area) and a lot of variety, but they can be crowded (but not like the Sandbox).

The weather in the D.C. area can be all over the pace at that time of year. Carderock gets afternoon sun and is great on cold, sunny afternoons. Great Falls VA gets morning sun.

Also, the area is known for sandbagged grades, especially at Carderock, but you're used to the Gunks, so that shouldn't be a huge issue. But I will say that many of the moderates at Carderock feel as difficult as routes one or two grades higher here in Texas, where I moved from Virginia a little over a year ago.

If you want specific route suggestions based on grades, feel free to PM me. I climbed in the region 3 or 4 days a week over the past few years and know it quite well. And I dearly miss Great Falls, so I wouldn't mind talking about it!

Eli · · GMC3500 · Joined Nov 2010 · Points: 2,788
Andrew Hess wrote:

Yikes! Not that I'm ready to lead, but what would be the cause of my demise if I attempted to lead there?

pulled gear, the rock does not offer a lot of friction.

Keegan Day · · Philadelphia, PA · Joined Oct 2017 · Points: 0
Eli wrote:

pulled gear, the rock does not offer a lot of friction.

Plus, Great Falls rules state that it's toproping is the only type of climbing allowed in the park.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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