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Kimball Canyon

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Black Tower 
Kimball Canyon Crag 

Kimball Canyon Rock Climbing 

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Elevation: 3,123'
Location: 38.65368, -122.62173 View Map  Incorrect?
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Administrators: Aron Quiter, M. Morley, Adam Stackhouse, Salamanizer suchoski, Justin Johnsen, Vicki Schwantes, Kristine Hoffman (sitewide)
Submitted By: Eric Berghorn on Jan 19, 2017
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BETA PHOTO: Mt. St. Helena Overview showing Kimball Canyon loc...


The "discovery" of this remote area on MSH can be traced partly to a trip report provided by three weary college students upon their return from a long day of exploration. In the summer of 1995 Jerry Dodrill, Kurt Jenson and Jared Chaney spent a hot 12-hour day seeking and eventually finding a single pitch rock climb in the remote outback of Robert Louis Stevenson State Park. This adventurous trio endured hours of bushwhacking up a steep secluded canyon to reach this objective, a mysterious tower previously spied from the distant "Far Side" climbing area. Once found, a ground-up ascent of the "Black Tower" was achieved... complete with long run-outs, questionable pro, sketchy rock, and a description peppered with dismissive notes: "To far away". "got lost". "major bushwhacking"... and most memorable the name given to their bold F.A. - "Never Again".

Many years would pass and the details of this ascent were hazy when the unlikely subject of historical airplane crashes on Mt. St. Helena became a topic of interest. MSH's rugged slopes have claimed the lives of several unfortunate aviators piloting all types of aircraft. Long ago, On the morning of February 19, 1956, the pilots of a Navy T-33A Air Force Jet became disoriented when engulfed in low a cloud ceiling. The radio transcripts indicate that before losing contact the pilots were experiencing "extreme turbulence" shortly after takeoff from Hamilton Air Force Base, San Rafael, CA. Days later a search party located wreckage of this doomed training mission strewn across the confines of upper "Kimball Canyon". Various panels and parts of the wreckage remain scattered across the slope near the climbs, and adjacent to the approach trail. Please do not disturb or remove parts of the airplane wreckage as these are historical artifacts protected by the antiquities act. Many of the route names are derived from this historic air tragedy.

The upper reaches of Kimball Canyon extend almost 4 miles above the paved section of the approach and in wet weather concentrate the true "headwaters" of the Napa River. On the highest slopes of MSH this "river" begins as a mere trickle; quickly growing to a torrent in the narrow watercourse before eventually reaching the Napa Valley floor miles below. The stream flows alongside the approach trail to the Black Tower/Kimball Canyon Crag during winter and spring providing a refreshing respite.

The "Black Tower" and it's companion "Kimball Canyon Crag" are clearly visible from the farthest western reaches of the Far Side area. The "Macondo" cliff looks down upon these formations from the opposite rim of Kimball Canyon, almost 1000 vertical feet above the crags. This area is now home to 18+ single pitch sport routes and top rope variations. Anchors can be reached by scrambling up the access trails that snake around the backs of the formations. 10 quick draws and a 60 meter rope will get you up and down all of the climbs, though a few routes on Black Tower are rope stretchers to lower or rappel.

The extremely remote location, long approach, and questionable rock quality reported from the FA was noted and kept this area on the back burner for well over 2 decades. As sport climbing development took hold in other areas of MSH over the past 20 years much work was performed to properly clean and equip routes here. The rock type is Rhyolite and is for the most part solid and featured but varies depending on which route you are on. These formations share a volcanic origin with the other MSH area crags, yet have their own unique flavors and textures. The 100' Black Tower features many climbs of moderate steepness and thoughtful exposure which require attentive footwork and technique. Kimball Canyon Crag offers a host of well-protected steeper routes, with jug hauls, crimps, edges, pockets, huecos, etc. many of the routes here are 70-80 feet in length.

There are several sun and shade exposures offered throughout the area when climbing the routes. Spring and Fall offer the most consistent climbing temps. When the winter wind rips down the shady canyon it can be bitterly cold, yet on the warmest summer days climbing here has a pleasant "Alpine" feel. In the the shade of the trees the North facing routes provide excellent conditions on the hottest summer days.

The climbs are concentrated in such a way that makes this area is a true "destination", one which you could very easily spend a full day climbing and not visit any other areas of the park which are quite distant.

Getting There 

The approach for Kimball Canyon follows the lower park maintenance road around the West side of the mountain, below the Far Side and other climbing areas. Allow yourself 60-90 minutes for the strenuous hike. Park in the same lot along Highway 29 as you would for other areas for Mt. St. Helena. From the Parking Area it is recommended that you begin the initial approach by splitting left off the main trail just above the picnic tables and hiking up the steep unmarked "MINE" trail that follows the creek. DO NOT GO UP THE SWITCHBACKS - WRONG WAY !

At an obvious fork about 150 yards up the unmarked "MINE" trail from the parking area STAY TO THE LEFT and follow along the creek, over a large log, passing the lower Mine shaft. Continue uphill until this small path meets "Silver Trail," an unmarked historic mining road.

Rock Climbing Photo: Stay left along the Creek when reaching an obvious...
Stay left along the Creek when reaching an obvious fork in the trail. Cross the log, than the Creek itself and continue up the opposite bank until reaching the "Silver Trail" Turn left and continue down this trail for 1/8 mile. Turn right on Paved road next to the buildings.

Rock Climbing Photo: Creek coming out of the mine shaft on your right. ...
Creek coming out of the mine shaft on your right. Correct way.

TURN LEFT and follow the wide SILVER TRAIL until you reach a paved road. Here you will see a series of Red Buildings and a Cabin owned by the State Park. Please do not disturb the occupant of this cabin who is a State Park Volunteer. Access to the area around the Cabin is "authorized use only."

Rock Climbing Photo: State Park Buildings continue hiking west past the...
State Park Buildings continue hiking west past the buildings on paved road for 1.5 miles

Rock Climbing Photo: Walk west on the paved road.
Walk west on the paved road.

TURN RIGHT, walking West, away from the buildings on the paved road as it meanders up and down for about 1.5 miles (~30 minutes to the Kimball Canyon approach trail). At times you can view in the distance a large steep-sided grey rock (50 ft. tall) which is known locally as "The Turks Head." The paved road becomes a dirt track and eventually reverts to an obvious single track trail cutting up and down across beautiful swaths of open meadows (straight forward).

Rock Climbing Photo: The Turks Head at sunset.
The Turks Head at sunset.

As you reach the base of Kimball Canyon the trail cuts back into the mountain and you come to a concrete water crossing. When the water is flowing in the winter and spring you may have to remove your shoes to cross this obvious landmark. From here we take a small steep path up the canyon on the west (left) side of the creek. If you keep going on the road you will come to the Turk’s Head, which means you went too far.

Look for the approach trail entrance just across the stream, next to a big rock. Begin hiking up the narrow and steep approach trail, staying above the creek as it climbs through the forest for about a half mile, ~20 minutes. This narrow trail meanders a bit with a few switchbacks to surpass the steepest sections.

When you pass through the area of the 1956 plane crash wreckage (the airplane graveyard) you are getting closer to the Kimball Canyon Crag which will eventually appear through the trees on the slope up to the left.

The approach trail brings you directly to the steep overhanging prow and the routes Pre-Flight, and T-33. Go right to reach the shady North Face routes, and left to reach the sunny South Face. To access Black Tower, go left and look for a trail that leads West for a hundred yards across slope.


DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE EFFORT OF THIS APPROACH HIKE !!! (mostly uphill on the approach with 860 feet of total elevation gain from the parking area.) Always bring a headlamp, and bury any human waste at least 6" deep. This is a fragile area... Thank you for not trashing it!

In regards to safety use every precaution and wear a helmet when climbing here. Carry plenty of food, water, and a jacket on cooler days (and a first aid kit!) Beware of loose rock ! Cell phones do work fairly well since it's close to the cell tower, but be prepared to self-rescue at all times. This area is remote, hard to access for the uninitiated, and far from help in the event of an accident.

Climbing Season

For the Mount St. Helena area.

Weather station 2.1 miles from here

19 Total Climbing Routes

['4 Stars',2],['3 Stars',14],['2 Stars',2],['1 Star',1],['Bomb',0]

Featured Route For Kimball Canyon
Rock Climbing Photo: Ceiling Zero from below. Very interesting holds an...

Ceiling Zero 5.12a 7a+ 25 VIII+ 25 E5 6a  California : San Francisco Bay Area : ... : Kimball Canyon Crag
Thin face climbing past 3 bolts leads into a steep stemming corner on lichened rock. After passing this gain a recess next to another powerful crux bulge, and keep your balance on the final steep ledges before reaching the anchor. There are a couple of ways to finish this route. Steve Curtis was the first ascent. Former suitors may want to re-visit since prominent holds previously used are now gone. The lower crux is a LOT more challenging without the loose shake-out jug/flake....[more]   Browse More Classics in California

Photos of Kimball Canyon Slideshow Add Photo
Rock Climbing Photo: Climber on Black Sheep Squadron 5.10d
Climber on Black Sheep Squadron 5.10d
Rock Climbing Photo: Kimball Canyon Crag, seen from the East, above the...
Kimball Canyon Crag, seen from the East, above the...
Rock Climbing Photo: Black Tower (Left) and Kimball Crag at Right. The ...
Black Tower (Left) and Kimball Crag at Right. The ...
Rock Climbing Photo: North Face (8 Routes) Kimball Canyon Crag
North Face (8 Routes) Kimball Canyon Crag
Rock Climbing Photo: Hiking out after climbing in Kimball Canyon.
BETA PHOTO: Hiking out after climbing in Kimball Canyon.
Rock Climbing Photo: Jerry Dodrill and Friends climbing on the Black To...
Jerry Dodrill and Friends climbing on the Black To...
Rock Climbing Photo: Kimball Canyon Crag
Kimball Canyon Crag
Rock Climbing Photo: The Black Tower
The Black Tower

Comments on Kimball Canyon Add Comment
Show which comments
By splitclimber
Jan 20, 2017
nice writeup Eric. about time these climbs were included on MP since they are in Thornburg's Bay Area Rock guide.

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