The Awesomeness That is Columnar Basalt (Climbing at the Grotto)

20 10 2009

Last weekend, Sarah Kate and I both needed to do some work for part of the weekend, but we still wanted to get out climbing for a day. I LOVE LOVE LOVE basalt from my previous experiences with it (the Gorge at Smith Rock and Vantage in eastern Washington) and we’d heard good things about climbing at Table Mountain.

So we got an early start and drove out to the Sonora area. Although our guidebook only had minimal description of the area and approach, we managed to reach the crag pretty quickly after a couple false starts up trails that looked like climber trails but were, in fact, not.

Grotto - Oct 09 001

Columnar basalt!

We were psyched to drop down into the Grotto, which is kind of like a triangular pit with 3 walls of basalt, the awesomest one being the one with columns (and an upper tier of sport climbs on steep, blocky rock). We warmed up to the rock on Bandito (5.8), then did Table Manners (5.8/9) and Go With the Flow (5.9), swinging leads (one of us lead, the other followed, then switch for the next route).

Grotto - Oct 09 004

Sarah Kate leading Go with the Flow (5.9).

We were then feeling ready to hop on some harder routes, so I onsighted Three Fingered Jack (5.10b) and Sarah Kate flashed it. From that anchor, we could set a toprope on Snake Bite (“5.11b”). It turned out to be a lot easier than we expected (especially for the grade) and we both toprope flashed it pretty easily. I guess if you had really big fingers, it could have been a bit harder, but I think 11b is really soft for the route, especially compared to its neighbor Rawhide (5.10d) (more on that in a moment).


Lizzy leading Snake Bite (5.11b). Photo thanks to Maria Schriver.

We had wanted to hop on Rawhide (5.10d) next, but there was another group of climbers just racking up to start it, so after a little rest I decided to go for the lead on Snake Bite. My lead went really smoothly (despite the added complication of having the rope in the way of my thin toejams on the “crux” section) and made me think I should have been a little more confident and just tried to onsight the route. Sarah Kate was psyched enough after my send to get on the sharp end, too, sending her hardest trad lead outside of Indian Creek.


Lizzy making a cruxy reach on Snake Bite. Photo thanks to Maria Schriver.

By the time we finished on Snake Bite, the other party was almost done with Rawhide, so we chilled at the base waiting for the route. Continuing our spree of awesome sends (no fall days for both of us), we both flashed the route. The crux was a sustained section of ringlocks and fingerstacks that I found to be much more physically challenging than any move on Snake Bite.


Sarah Kate just after pulling the roof on Snake Bite. Photo thanks to Maria Schriver.

At this point, we had pretty much done every route (that we knew of) at the crag that didn’t involve clipping any bolts. Plus we were getting tired and hungry and I had to get up at 5am the next morning to do some field work for a class. So we decided to head home, by way of some excellent burritos at Chipotle.

Overall, we had a fantastic day. I love basalt cracks. We were a bit bummed that we’d pretty much sent every pure crack line at the crag (probably due to the small size of the crag and the fact that everything was on the slabby side of vertical, unlike the Gorge), but we’ve heard that there are maybe more trad routes at other Table Mountain crags and talked about possibilities for heading up to Trout Creek and the Lower Gorge at Smith Rock to check out more columns. We’re also psyched to check out the sport climbing around Table Mountain so we can have some projects to work on in the winter (i.e. the not Yosemite season).

Any other basalt crag recommendations? I’ve heard Paradise Forks (AZ) is good too…




4 responses

21 10 2009

Have you been to Tieton? I think it’s better than Vantage especially for cracks.

(if you take a trip there, can you bring me? 🙂 my climbing partner hates it…)

21 10 2009

I’ve rafted the Tieton and seen the basalt, but never climbed on it… Too bad Washington and Oregon crags are still not exactly close to me.

22 10 2009

I’ve heard Trout Creek is supposed to be epic…

6 02 2010
Chris McGuinness

Devils Tower, WY. Something like 200 routes that are all 2-3 full pitches of splitter cracks, all within a 30min walk from the parking lot. Definitely worth a roadtrip combined with something else in the area, like the Tetons or Cirque of the Towers.

Can’t believe the second hit on google for “the grotto” sends me to a picture of Sarah Kate.

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