Badlands Peak *
Religion is a mental disease, often confused with spirituality. --pjs-1965
Although it is very easy to access and has a lot of routes, albeit short ones (30-40' is typical), Devil's Kitchen does not see nearly as much climbing activity as you might expect. This is due to the proximity of the much-publicized and thus very popular Boy Scout Ledges
and Middle Earth
areas. For climbers who don't function well around crowds and noise, which are common at those other two crags, this is a great thing, but, ironically, you might find yourself waiting in line on a nice weekend if, as most others visiting Devil's Kitchen do, plan to climb Short and Easy, an excellent 5.7 crack route that some consider to be the second-best trad lead at Sugarloaf. Considered the best is The Sherpa Connection (5.8) at White Rocks
. In my opinion, the best lead after those two is Seven Wishes (5.6 or 5.7 depending on the start) at Middle Earth. All three of these routes are sustained for the grade and protect very well.
There is not a whole lot of information about Devil's Kitchen out there. The most popular regional guidebook Eric Horst's Rock Climbing Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland
, does not include it. Mountain Project
has it sorted by four different crags-- The Blade, Mottled Wall, Pit Fiend Rock, and Devil's Brew Rock-- but there are only five routes listed in all. Rockclimbing.com
has 22 routes, but, as is often the case on that site, the sorting and beta are poor. There is a good chance that Mark "Indy" Kochte's Climb Maryland!
has good information, but the book appears to be out of print, and used copies start at nearly $100 on Amazon.
Since I do know the exact sorting for all the routes here, which go from 5.4 to 5.10d, I am not going to list them. Instead, I am going to focus on the three that I have climbed and some others about whose locations I am positive. From left to right, then, here they are:
- Gunboat Diplomacy (5.4)-- See photo to locate; near the left end of the 600' long crag. Climb the corner and crack. There is good gear all along the way. At the top, the crap widens and steepens. The trick is to go onto the face to the left. There is a bomber hold that is not immediately apparent. This is a good route for new leaders.
- To Fin or Not To Fin (5.10d)-- This is the arete just to the right of Gunboat Diplomacy.
- Slow and Easy (5.7)-- See photo. On toprope, this is probably a blast and pretty easy, but on lead, it's pretty pumpy and has some awkward stances and moves. Still, it's a must-do lead at Sugarloaf.
- A Light Touch (5.6)-- The arete to the left of Demon Breath (see below).
- Demon Breath (5.9)-- See photo. Climb the short off-width and then go up the center or the left side of the face. The edge is off. This is not a Carderock 5.9; climbers familiar with Maryland Crags will know what I mean by that. Not leadable, and setting a toprope anchor is tricky; with long cord, I was able to tie off a tree and then place two horizontal cams with an equalized sling as my two anchor points. Had I not been out to do trad that day, I probably could not have set a TR anchor. Per the MP page, "You will have to be creative on your TR anchors."
- Balrog (5.10a)-- See photo. Find the "cave" with a thin tree in front of it. Climb up to a roof and then follow a crack right and out around the roof. Then go up the face and find a belay spot. I have not climbed this route, but I do not recommend toproping it because of the huge swing (and perhaps cratering) potential if you fall before getting above the roof.
All that said, nothing is stopping you from coming out, spying a line that looks interesting, and climbing it. The name and the grade don't really matter; the climbing does.
The Elizabeth Furnace Recreation Area has campgrounds, picnic sites, fishng, and trails, but it also has two very nice climbing spots: Talking Headwall and Buzzard Rock. While climbers sometimes say they are going to climb at Elizabeth Furnace, it makes more sense to distinguish between the two sites, especially if friends are coming out later, obviously.
Talking Headwall is the easier crag to get to, though it is far less scenic than Buzzard Rock is. There are some pure trad routes here, but this is mostly a sport/mixed crag with bolted lines going from 5.7 (not really) to 5.12.
There are all kinds of ways to get to Sugarloaf Mountain. Here are two:
From I-270 in Maryland, take Exit 22 onto MD 109 and head west. In about three miles, turn right onto Comus Road. In a few minutes, you will reach the entrance to Sugarloaf. Follow the one-way road up the mountain and park in the West View lot. Instead of taking the Green Trail from the right end of the parking lot (this is the trail accessing Boy Scout Ledges and Middle Earth), head up some steps near the middle of the lot and pick up the Blue Trail. Go left (north) and soon you will see the slabs across a talus field. Boulder-hop your way through the talus to the base. From the parking lot, the approach is 10-15 minutes.
There is also an approach from the west via U.S. 15 and MD 28. From 28, take a left onto Mouth of Monocacy (easy to miss, but another turn comes up shortly after). At a stop sign, turn left and eventually reach an intersection directly across from the park entrance.
Of course, there are other approaches depending on where you are. Google Maps is your friend here.
Once you reach the park, drive up the mountain. Devil's Kitchen is off the right side of the short stretch of road between the East View and West View parking areas, and the walk to the crags takes just a few minutes.
When you reach the East View parking area, either park there or, if you can see that roadside spaces are available along the road ahead, use those to make your approach just a little bit shorter. This section of road is one-way, so you do not want to go on it unless you are certain spaces are open. Otherwise, you will have to go down the mountain and drive back up.
What I really wanted to do was climb Mount Cowen. Said to be one of the best scrambling routes in Greater Yellowstone, going at Class 4 overall with a 5.4 summit block, it sounded perfect for me.
But there were two problems. One was the long hike in, involving a steep descent before climbing to the logical campsite. I hate giving up elevation in order to gain it. The other problem involved time and energy. Climbing Cowen is really best done as a two-nighter; you grunt the 8-9 miles to Elbow Lake and make camp, you climb the peak the next day, and then you hike out the following day.
When you're solo and you can't stand down time and you have to meet your wife the next day, this just doesn't work. In retrospect, given that the weather was perfect, I could have hiked in early, rested a bit, climbed, and then hiked out the next day, but I couldn't have predicted that perfect weather, right?
To be honest, my main reason for bailing on the plan was that I didn't want the long slog up and down, in and out, both ways, for I hate backpacking as well even though I will bear that cross to reach certain places.
So I made a different plan. Crow Mountain was supposed to be Class 3 (easy but still tough enough to make it appealing), and the hike in was supposed to be fairly short and easy. 4 miles and about 1000' of elevation gain to trail's end and camp-- no problem!