More Than Most Would Think
Shenandoah National Park probably does not come to mind when one thinks of the top climbing areas in the East. Nevertheless, there is technical climbing out here beyond the endless scrambling and bouldering opportunities the park presents. Those not aware of this are missing out.
What I offer on this page is a list of spots in Shenandoah National Park that offer known technical routes that are difficult and long enough to warrant roping up or appeal to those who like free soloing. All the links are to SP pages. The idea is that someone interested in climbing opportunities in SNP could use this page for ideas about where to go, link to the SP pages for the directions, and then go do the exploring/studying/climbing himself or herself.
This page gives some brief commentaries on the objectives but does NOT get into the HOW aspect of climbing them. Furthermore, most of the pages to which this one links discuss hiking and/or scrambling, not technical climbing. For that reason, I recommend that climbers bring toproping gear the first time they go to these sites—there are usually very good natural anchors available, and the longest climbs are about 100 vertical feet.
For purposes of inclusion, sites mentioned must have climbs of at least 25 feet and 5.0 or harder ratings. The sites are listed in order of location, north to south. My sources for this information are my own firsthand experiences and the guidebook Rock Climbing Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland by Eric Horst.
There is a climbing guide with a developed section on the park—Virginia Climber’s Guide by Jeff Watson. Since it has received mostly negative customer reviews on Amazon, including complaints by long-time park visitors about not finding crags and routes where the author says they should be, and since a link implies an endorsement to me, I have not made a link for the book. Also, I cannot vouch for or against it since I haven't read it. But I do mention it for those interested in looking into it.
As I spend more time in SNP with an eye for climbing, I hope this list will grow. Remember, these are only objectives that have SP pages. There are many other climbing spots in the park. Get out there and climb them, and add them to SP!
• Fort Windham Rocks: Better for scrambling, but some short topropes are possible.
• Compton Peak: Some 40’ routes on basalt crags.
• Mount Marshall: Boulders and cliffs along the trail to the summit, climbs up to 60’ and mostly in the moderate range.
• Big Devils Stairs: Cliffs up to 100' in a real wilderness setting.
• Little Devils Stairs: Several outcrops, routes from 5.6-5.10.
• Marys Rock: At and near the summit, you can find topropes of up to 40’ and from 5.3-5.9 in difficulty.
• Little Stony Man Cliffs: Some of the park’s highest cliffs—around 100’ in height, and many opportunities for toproping or leading from 5.0 to at least 5.10. The SP page for this spot does focus on climbing opportunities.
• Old Rag Mountain: The Ridge Trail scramble (class 2-3) is well-known but so crowded now that the route is almost unbearable unless one goes on a winter weekday. Unknown to most people, though, Old Rag has several crags, some right off the trail or in the summit area, that collectively offer more than 100 routes, the vast majority of which are in the 5.7-5.12 range. The guidebook recommended on this page has an entire chapter devoted just to this mountain, and there is detailed climbing beta including photos and diagrams.
• Whiteoak Canyon: The book I don’t recommend supposedly has over 150 routes for this area, but it’s this area’s section on which some of the strongest customer complaints focus. But I know from many visits that there are many high cliffs in the canyon and that this is also one of Shenandoah’s few areas that feature good ice climbing.
• Crescent Rock: Really better for scrambling and free soloing than for roped climbing; see the page for more details.
• Hawksbill Mountain: At the summit area are a 70’ cliff and several outcrops up to 30’.
• Lost Cliffs: This SP page was created with scrambling and climbing in mind, not hiking. It is a little-visited area and well worth checking out. Even if you just want to do some scrambling, you’ll find no crowds and scrambles as good as or better than what one finds on Old Rag and Bearfence Mountain.
• Bearfence Mountain: A popular scrambling route climbs this peak, and in my opinion the scrambling here is better (and less crowded) than it is on Old Rag. Technical climbers can find some greenstone outcrops suitable for toproping.
• Big Run Cliffs: Close to where Big Run exits the park, there are many crumbly-to-decent cliffs in the 30-60’ range. The route page shows photos and contains some firsthand experience about climbing in this area, which is among Shenandoah’s wildest and most remote.
• Calvary Rocks: Not much to climb with rope here, and hard to get to due to buskwhacking, but it's there.
• Chimney Rock: Some good cracks and faces below the popular trailside overlooks.