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Panic Town

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Panic Town Rock Climbing 

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Location: 34.47856, -119.70598 View Map  Incorrect?
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Administrators: andy patterson, M. Morley, Adam Stackhouse, Salamanizer suchoski, Justin Johnsen, Vicki Schwantes, Kristine Hoffman (sitewide)
Submitted By: Jeff Mahoney on Apr 20, 2014

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BETA PHOTO: The first three walls at Panic Town.


Rock Climbing Photo: A view of Wall 2, showing the rap stations and wal...
A view of Wall 2, showing the rap stations and walk off/scramble for the left side routes.

With a few sparse and singular exceptions, Santa Barbara has always lacked decent crack climbing in quantity. Happily, that has now changed. Tucked away in a hidden canyon are more than 60 full crack/gear routes (primarily from 5.6 to 5.9 and mostly 90+ feet in length). Seems impossible, right?

Rock Climbing Photo: Wall 3 Tower and some of the lower right & left fl...
Wall 3 Tower and some of the lower right & left flanks. (Note team on top and also climbers on the bottom, right of center.) Photo by Jan Roestel.

Panic Town is a series of five sandstone walls arrayed up the canyon behind Arlington Ridge. The area is reminiscent of San Ysidro with a shaded base under oaks, sycamores and bays then breaks out into towering south-facing crack systems; the difference being that these are all gear-exclusive, long trad lines that require good anchor building skills. (Fortunately, most of the top-outs are near solid oaks trees, sling-able boulders and/or excellent slots.)

Rock Climbing Photo: The first three walls at Panic Town.
The first three walls at Panic Town.

Of course, most local climbers loathe approaches (seems silly if you've invested in trad gear), but in the time it takes to drive to Sespe, you can easily tick off a couple of long routes at Panic Town, and be ready for dozens more. Almost all of the climbs are steeper than the Black Wall, too. Many of the cracks are reminiscent of Joshua Tree (if Joshua Tree were all sandstone and moderate). And what makes this truly worth the 30-40 minute hike, is that after several hours of climbing, you can exit the canyon, turn left and be swimming in the spring-fed pools in a couple of minutes. (And, there are two deepish-water solo problems above Pool 2, FYI.)

Keep in mind that this is all virgin rock, and has only been tended to over the last couple of years. There's still a fair amount of vegetation cropping up in the cracks (naturally), so don't expect everything to be pristine. A number of routes were cleaned over the last couple of months (as recently as 4/19/14), so any additional gardening you do on route will be much appreciated by all.

Rock Climbing Photo: Trevor Marks making things a bit safer for those y...
Trevor Marks making things a bit safer for those yet to climb on the FA of "Nice, Fresh Breath" (6/10/12)

A note of warning: If the winds really start picking up, you should exit the canyon. There will always be hazards (falling trees and large blocks) that come down every time there are major gusts.

Area Ethic - No Bolts

All routes were climbed onsight, ground up with requisite gardening and trundling done on lead. Additional cleaning was done after the FAs. The ethic for this canyon is, and should always remain, bolt-less. There are a few modest rap stations in key areas to save damage to the oak trees and manzanitas on top (two stations on Wall 2, since a 70m will not get you to the ground). All the face climbs between the cracks should remain clean. Feel free to TR them or set pro in adjacent cracks, but there is absolutely no reason that any of the face lines should be bolted. (Also note that they've already been climbed, but haven't been named beyond a few exceptions.) This canyon was developed because there isn't any comparable trad climbing in the entire county. If you feel the need to clip bolts or put up yet another sandstone crimp-job, please go elsewhere.

A basic rack of singles to a #3 Camalot will pretty much get you by on almost everything if you're cruising. A few extra finger-sized pieces are recommended if you want to sew things up. Also, a #4 will ease your mind when building an anchor on a number of the routes on top. (A long piece of webbing may also ease your mind.)

Rock Climbing Photo: (Onsite ground-up gardening? What does that mean?)...
(Onsite ground-up gardening? What does that mean?) Ches Upham getting ready to thrash through some unforgiving oak up left on the FA of "Monsters," while Alex Lau has his own problems on "The State of My Tractor." (5/28/12)

Panic Town has been a labor of love/work in progress for several years. All the trundling, weed pulling, rock fall, poison oak rashes, gouges, bee stings, rattlesnake strikes and general unpleasantness was endured by a group of great and dedicated climbers, namely: Menzo & Linda Baird, Alex Lau, Trevor Marks, Christian Maurer, Jan Roestel, Ches Upham, Chris Wing, Phil Woods and Jeff Mahoney. If you happen to run across any of them, tell them thanks for helping establish this unique climbing area (and then buy them a beer).

Rock Climbing Photo: The first ascents team.
The first ascents team.

Getting There 

(Lat/Long: 34.47856, -119.70599) You're basically taking the Jesusita Trail to Mission Creek, then heading up the canyon 1/3 mile (just before 3 Pools). Average approach time is 30-45 minutes from the trailhead if you're familiar with the canyon. 45 mins to an hour if it's your first time.

Rock Climbing Photo: Panic Town reference perspective. (Looking WNW fro...
Panic Town reference perspective. (Looking WNW from Tunnel Trail.) Stay along the 3 Pools/Mission Canyon trail (white line, roughly), not up to Arlington.

Start at the Tunnel trailhead and follow the road to the end, then stay straight on the dirt to the Jesusita junction.

Rock Climbing Photo: Stay straight (leftish) at the end of of the aspha...
Stay straight (leftish) at the end of of the asphalt road.

Follow this to the creek and across. About 60' up the creek on the left side, you'll see a short, loose scramble past an oak tree that takes you above 7 Falls.

Rock Climbing Photo: At the hairpin that takes you down and across the ...
At the hairpin that takes you down and across the creek, cut right early and across, then up the obvious scramble left.

At the 7 Falls overlook junction with the start of the Arlington/Cathedral trail, stay straight on the traversing trail that heads up the canyon.

Rock Climbing Photo: At the lookout point above 7 Falls, stay straight ...
At the lookout point above 7 Falls, stay straight on the contour trail (don't head up toward Arlington).

If you've been to 3 Pools, this is where you're headed. Stay on the trail until it ends at a 15' 3rd class wall with obvious footholds and a diagonal ledge.

Rock Climbing Photo: The 3rd class wall at the end of the path.
The 3rd class wall at the end of the path.

Past this is Theology Crag. Stay in the creekbed and boulder hop for another 350 yards, until you see a boulder with a sporadic cairn and a path leading left.

Rock Climbing Photo: Leaving the dry creek bed.
Leaving the dry creek bed.

After 80' look up and left and you'll see the right end of Wall 1. (If you get to the first pool, you've gone too far. Backtrack about 100'.)

Rock Climbing Photo: Just before you hear the creek babbling (year-roun...
Just before you hear the creek babbling (year-round, regardless of how bone-dry the approach might be).

Head up this canyon and that's it. (The entrance has been cleared and is now wide and passable, but still be mindful of the poison oak. Even though we've pulled out hundreds of pounds of it, along with the bramble, it will always be lurking.)

Climbing Season

Weather station 2.7 miles from here

52 Total Climbing Routes

['4 Stars',0],['3 Stars',13],['2 Stars',23],['1 Star',3],['Bomb',0]

Classic Climbing Routes in Panic Town

Mountain Project's determination of the classic, most popular, highest rated climbing routes for Panic Town:
A Beer, Simon   5.6 4c 14 V 12 S 4b     Trad, 1 pitch, 70'   Wall 5
Monsters in the Bathroom   5.7 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b     Trad, 1 pitch, 120'   Wall 2
Birthday Party   5.7 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b     Trad, 130'   Wall 3
Putrid Rat   5.7 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b     Trad, 1 pitch, 130'   Wall 3
Atlantean a-Go-Go   5.7 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b     Trad, 95'   Wall 2
Postman   5.7 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b     Trad, 80'   Wall 5
Fantastic Coffee   5.7 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b     Trad, 1 pitch, 85'   Wall 2
Dancing Like a Nutter   5.7 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b     Trad, 1 pitch, 90'   Wall 1
Lovely Snowball   5.7+ 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b     Trad, 90'   Wall 1
Another Quick Shower   5.7+ 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b     Trad, 90'   Wall 1
Barracudas!   5.7+ 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b PG13     Trad, 100'   Wall 2
I Could Eat a Horse   5.7+ 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b     Trad, 1 pitch, 55'   Wall 3
Couture (Seam)   5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c R     Trad, 1 pitch, 60'   Wall 5
I Wanna Be Your Pussy Cat   5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c     Trad, 65'   Wall 3
The State of My Tractor   5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c     Trad, 1 pitch, 100'   Wall 2
Shark Ride   5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c R     Trad, 2 pitches, 165'   Wall 3
What Dumb-asses!   5.8+ 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c     Trad, 160'   Wall 2
What on Earth?   5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a     TR, 1 pitch, 65'   Wall 3
Browse More Rock Climbing Classics in Panic Town

Featured Route For Panic Town
Rock Climbing Photo: Menzo Baird hiding behind the trees en route to th...

Fantastic Coffee 5.7 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b  California : Central Coast : ... : Wall 2
The first, far right long crack on Wall 2 - a great route to get acquainted with the wall. Take the crack straight up over a few lips, then decide which diagonal crack line you want to take to the oak on the ledge up left. Excellent pro throughout. Rap off the ring.)...[more]   Browse More Classics in California

Photos of Panic Town Slideshow Add Photo
Rock Climbing Photo: Wall 3 Tower and some of the lower right & left fl...
BETA PHOTO: Wall 3 Tower and some of the lower right & left fl...
Rock Climbing Photo: To give you an idea of the work put in over the la...
To give you an idea of the work put in over the la...
Rock Climbing Photo: A little gardening & trundling on Wall 1. (Photo b...
A little gardening & trundling on Wall 1. (Photo b...

Comments on Panic Town Add Comment
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Comments displayed oldest to newestSkip Ahead to the Most Recent Dated Jun 14, 2017
By andy patterson
From: Carpinteria, CA
Apr 22, 2014
I gotta admit, when Jeff first told me about Panic Town, I was skeptical. I've searched and bushwhacked the canyons behind SB looking for routes, only to have my hopes repeatedly dashed. And how many times have you heard an overzealous local touting "untapped potential" in thar hills?

Panic Town may have a "long" approach by some standards, but when you factor in house-to-crag time, and the sheer number of vertical feet available, Panic Town is not only a convenient destination, it might be the best moderate mecca for gear-heads within a two-hour radius. If you're considering a long weekend drive to Yosemite to log some hours on 5.7-5.8 cracks, consider saving money and check out Panic Town. It won't replace the Big Ditch, but it will get you ready for bigger objectives abroad, while providing good local flavor in the meantime.

I've only climbed a handful of the prominent cracks, but all were fun, well-protected(ish), and tall.

Well done, Jeff et al.
By Jeff Mahoney
From: Santa Barbara, CA
Apr 22, 2014
Thanks for the stellar endorsement, Andy! (If that doesn't get some traffic on the walls, nothing will.)
By kerryburns
Apr 23, 2014
Ya radical - super impressive and inspiring work! Thanks for the strong efforts - pretty amazing find, sorta sums up the central coast trad dream right there. Hope to check out the climbs soon and pitchers will be on me if I run into any of yall at the brewhouse.
By steve edwards
From: SLC, UT
Apr 23, 2014
Wow, someone even more optimistic than me when it comes to "that could be a good crag." Tried to scurry up interest in this place but no one was willing to invest, even with Dr. K telling everyone he'd lead the charge. Excellent vision as to what is possible. Congrats! Hopefully it'll get enough use to stay this way.

One comment and one question: seems like after all that work, you'd have given those walls actual names. The PO Wall, Garden from Hell... just a couple of things that come to mind.

Finally, what do the "modest rap stations" consist of?
By Jeff Mahoney
From: Santa Barbara, CA
Apr 23, 2014
Thanks, Steve. Yep, lots out there to climb if you're not expecting a "Crag o'" approach.

Given the immediate and sequential nature of the walls in the canyon (and the fact that routes were going up everywhere right away) Wall 1, 2, 3, etc. was just the default. Hopefully, in time, we'll see some nicknames that are more characteristic and descriptive that eventually stick. (It was truly a temple of doom situation when we first went up there---everything could've been called the PO Wall and/or Garden from Hell.) We'll be bulk loading routes for "Invisible Wall" soon (the sport area in Cold Spring Canyon---I sent you an email about a year or two ago. Deb said you and Bob had been looking at it) which has more creative-ish names for the walls.

Lastly, the "modest rap stations" are primarily camo'd single-ring Fixe 1/2" anchors (4.5 to 6" lengths) in pairs, with the exception of the right side of Wall 2 and there's just a single. (People were fine rapping off a chipmunk-chewed piece of 5/8" webbing around a small oak on a single Walmart ring, but seem to need convincing on a solid 1/2" bolt---go figure.) Here's what they look like.
By Matthew Fienup
From: Ventura, CA
May 13, 2014
Oh, man. What an awesome place. I can't remember the last time that I had such an enjoyable outing in Santa Barbara. Despite afternoon temps in the 80s, we found the area to be pleasantly shaded.

Our initial hike in took about an hour (I'm sure we could get that down to 45 minutes on our second attempt). We had a little difficulty knowing when to leave the dry creek bed to head up the side canyon that is home to Panic Town. Fortunately, there were cairns marking the way.

Rock Climbing Photo: Leaving the dry creek bed.
Leaving the dry creek bed.
By Jeff Mahoney
From: Santa Barbara, CA
May 13, 2014
WAIT! Were you there on Saturday? Damn, we were up on 5 doing maintenance. The few things I heard wafting up the canyon were quite complimentary, haha. Wait until you get on the some of the other routes. (Ping me next time.)

But, thanks, Matthew. Yeah, kind of a shocker: lots (and lots) of legitimate trad in S.B. Still seems impossible, but thankfully it ain't.

(And thanks for adding the pic of where to leave the creekbed. I have the same shot, but waited to post it until we cut up the big bay tree that recently fell and was closing off the trail just past there. You were lucky we were an hour or so ahead of you and got most of it trimmed and moved out of the way. Ah, timing...)
By Matthew Fienup
From: Ventura, CA
May 13, 2014
No, today!
By Jeff Mahoney
From: Santa Barbara, CA
May 13, 2014
Ouch. Hope you went in the pools afterward...
By Chairrison
Jul 30, 2014
dropped a nut tool from the top of Putrid Rat (left wall 3 tower). I think it fell in a crack but it anyone finds it I would love it back.

p.s. This place is great! Thank you developers for all the hard work.
By Rachel Jutkowitz
From: Santa Barbara, California
Aug 16, 2014
This area is fantastic. It is a Mecca for moderate trad! If you're one of the few trad climbers in Santa Barbara, you have to check this place out. Thank you so much for those who worked hard to make this place accessible to the climbing community!
By kfox Fox
Oct 28, 2014
If you are reading this and thinking maybe I should check this place out......someday..... GO TO PANIC TOWN!!

Sure you could have a lovely drive through the inland empire to spend half your day waiting in line to get on Double Cross OR you could come to Panic Town where you will find loads of moderate trad lines with hardly anyone around. Beautiful canyon, good rock, great scenery and a lot of fun climbing awaits you.

By Cole Paiement
Apr 6, 2015
Headed up to SB yesterday for a change of pace from normal sport climbing in the Santa Monicas. Checked out Panic Town. Wanted to leave some comments:

1. Timed the hike back to the car since we had learned the route. Took us 1 hour at a good pace. 45 minutes could be done if you know the route and charge a lot of it but a 30 minute approach is a joke IMO.

2. As of early April 2015, poison oak is EVERYWHERE on the trail in. Easy enough to avoid (at least I hope) but keep an eye open.

3. This is a new area so expect dirt in the crack, some bushes to navigate in places, and grainy placements. I imagine it will clean up very well with more traffic.

That being said, the climbing was really entertaining. Definitely some great moderate cracks on fairly solid rock. Looks to also be potential for many more added lines. If you find yourself in the area and are burning to climb some trad, it is definitely worth the hike. But don't cancel your weekend trip to Yosemite or Jtree, as some others have suggested.

Thanks to everyone putting work into this place. I will definitely be back.
By Jeff Mahoney
From: Santa Barbara, CA
Apr 8, 2015
Thanks, Cole. Fortunately (and unfortunately) for you, we had our first "spring cleaning" on Walls 1-3 on Saturday, pulling out a lot of weeds, poison oak and bramble from the routes which meant there was a lot more dirt in the cracks than usual---but you didn't have to contend with much vegetation on route (depending on what you climbed). The recent wind storms also contributed to a 300 lb. block shifting on the top of Wall 2 which got trundled and unleashed a huge amount of sand down most of the right-hand routes, too. But, we cleared out most of the poison oak and fallen branches from the bases, so it's not so bad once you get into the canyon.

As to the approach time, yes, once you've been up there a few times, it gets a lot faster. Our group of 7 and a dog (lugging big packs of racks, ropes, loppers, saws, etc.) got up there in 45 mins., so yeah, more trips and you'll have it dialed.

We'll be doing additional work on the trail up to Wall 5 soon, so that path will be easier to navigate and most of the routes (worth climbing) should be pretty clean.
By Robert Holder
Jun 1, 2015
Just went up to Wall 1 with a couple friends today. It is clear that a lot of work has been put into this place (so thank you!!). The base is shady and climbing is solid. Tons to do just on Wall 1! I can't wait to check out the other walls.

P.S. if you have never been up here before, download the directions and the pictures on this page. They were extremely helpful.
By Bridget Croke
Aug 12, 2015
What a great place! In SB on vacation from Vermont. Had a great little adventure here. Great sandstone, endless options. Rock def still a little friable, but just need to be careful on the faces. Had a blast. Got our rope stuck in the constriction at the bulge on the single pitch rap station on wall two and had to find the scramble around to save the rope - but that just added to the fun. That said, careful pulling rope after rapping as that constriction seemed to be a magnet for our rope. Kudos to the folks who cleaned all the routes and all the poison oak.
By Allijean
May 15, 2017
Hey Panic Townspeople,
In hopes that this is the appropriate forum to be reviving, I WANNA GO HERE! I'm new to the SB area and don't know any trad climbers here yet, but this place looks SO awesome (and perhaps in need of some TLC). Poison oak and I are pals. PM me if you want to do some spring crack-cleaning with me here, I'd love to connect.
By Mike Womack
From: Los Angeles, CA
Jun 12, 2017
I havn't been here yet. Do any of the walls have nice flat bases where it would be comfortable to let your toddler run around for example?
By andy patterson
From: Carpinteria, CA
Jun 12, 2017
Mike, I wouldn't bring a toddler here, unless you have an extra person to watch said toddler LIKE A HAWK. There are copious amounts of poison oak near the base of the cliff, and lots of loose rock. It's not impossible to bring a toddler, but you would need to be on it (I have a toddler and I would want at least two people: one to belay, one to watch the kiddo).
By Jeff Mahoney
From: Santa Barbara, CA
Jun 12, 2017
Andy is correct, but I'll be a wee tad more emphatic: DON'T BRING A TODDLER HERE! Yes, poison oak dominates the landscape, as does rockfall (and no, not just from climbing, but even moderate breezes in the trees and bushes at the top of the walls will dislodge bits of rubble, dead branches and other projectiles). You won't enjoy climbing if you're worrying about your kid at the base, either---not to mention the distraction of an unhappy toddler who will most likely voice his or her displeasure at being confined...

That being said, if you have the luxury of an extra person to keep an eye on the youngster, there are some nice pools & waterways that start about 100' further up Mission Canyon (the main canyon you branched off from, not PT canyon), that will keep kids safely, and happily, occupied all day.
By Matthew Fienup
From: Ventura, CA
Jun 12, 2017
And I would bring a kiddie harness and a cordelette in order to short rope your little one up the boulder that must be ascended at one point along the trail.

And no one has mentioned the rattlesnakes yet...
By Mike Womack
From: Los Angeles, CA
Jun 14, 2017
Thanks for the toddler beta guys! Very glad I asked.

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