OverviewThe Romeo’s Ladder crag is adjacent to Seclusion and separated only by an interesting crack and a short wall, but the two crags are quite different in character. Seclusion, which rises directly from the Potomac River and towers above it, offers a bit of Great Falls at its wildest and most spectacular. Romeo’s Ladder, though it is home to some of Great Falls’ most popular and most challenging climbs, is set back a few yards from the river and seems somehow quieter and tamer, and the cliffs are a little lower, reaching about 40 feet in height. But don’t let that keep you away from the nice climbing opportunities there.
As is the case elsewhere in the park, toproping is the predominant climbing style here, but leads are feasibly on routes such as Delivery Room and Romeo's Ladder.
As a look at the next section’s list of routes can tell you, there isn’t much here for beginners and scramblers. There are, though, a few options, which will be detailed after the routes list.
Routes at Romeo’s Ladder (upstream to downstream):
• Romeo’s Ladder (5.6)—very popular crack route on the upstream-facing wall of the crag.
• Ergometer (5.11c/d)—around the arête from Romeo’s Ladder, this is a face route 10-12 feet left of the arête.
• Lunging Ledges (5.9)—about 10 feet left of Entropy; climb the face, then the flakes, to the corner and up top.
• Entropy (5.11b)—look for an old bolt ladder; about 10 feet to its right is a flake that leads to a small overhang, from which you move left and then head up for the finish on a large flake facing right.
• The Demon (5.12d)—guidebook author Eric Horst says this may be the hardest climb at Great Falls; it is the face between Entropy and Oyster, and it finishes along the same line the other two do.
• Oyster (5.12b/c)—after climbing the face along the old bolt ladder, go up the right-facing flake; the upper portion is the same finish that Entropy and Oyster share.
• Delivery Room (5.5)—chimney and jam up the obvious crack near the downstream end and about 10 feet left of the old bolt ladder.
If you’re really good with cracks, you can probably handle Delivery Room, but getting started may be tricky, as the bottom of the route is smooth and the crack disappears.
Another option-- just right of the Romeo’s Ladder face, in the corner formed by the face and the river-facing wall, there is a steep, narrow crack/gully system heading all the way to the top. This climb is around 5.2, with most of the lower half in Class 4 territory. It is a nice, reasonably safe climb. The climb is about 40 feet in all, and the lower part follows an easy crack that shouldn't give any trouble to anyone who has free soloed Class 5 routes before. The upper part gets steeper and harder, and the uppermost portion may also be a little dirty, but it's still not too taxing to manage it. Still, if that upper part should prove undesirable for any reason, look for a narrow, low-angle ledge near it leading right (just below the short horizontal crack in the photo to the right). I often use this ledge to descend to the lower part of the route in order to access the Seclusion and Romeo's Ladder crags, but it is a good ascent variation in itself.
A third, more challenging option than the preceding one-- near the downstream end of the crag, left of Delivery Room, look for three old iron rings fastened in the cliff face. The wall left of the rings offers a few ways up in the 5.3-5.4 range (short moves). The upstream-facing wall to the right of this face has some nice options that can get up to 5.6, but they are short enough to give a go by scrambling. All these routes are actually part of the Little Aid Box crag, which is stranded between the Romeo's Ladder and Aid Box crags.
Getting ThereFrom the western part of I-495, a piece of the Capital Beltway, take Exit 44 for Route 193, Georgetown Pike; this is the second exit south of the Maryland border. Drive west for a few miles until you see the well-signed road leading to Great Falls Park. Turn right and follow the road about a mile to the entrance station. There are two large parking lots after the entrance station.
To reach the crag, hike south from the parking lot, past the three falls overlooks, and onto the River Trail. After passing the Sandbox and Dihedrals access points (there are signs indicating them), the trail drops down some wooden steps, makes a bridged stream crossing, and then climbs a set of wooden steps. At the top of the climb, the trail splits in three, with the River Trail heading right. Follow the River Trail across some wooden planks. Shortly after them, you will come to an eroded area that has a nice view of the upstream end of Seclusion (with the Seclusion route). It’s about 40 more yards to the top of that crag. Continue hiking until you see the Romeo's Ladder route on an upstream-facing wall (see primary image). A crack/gully system here offers Class 4/low 5 downclimb options, but you can also hike a bit further downstream to much easier Class 3 access to the downstream end of the crag.
It should take less than 30 minutes to hike from the parking area to the top of the Romeo's Ladder crag.
Red TapeThe park is open from 7 A.M. until dark every day except Christmas. There is an admission fee, good for three days, of $5 per vehicle or $3 per person entering on foot or by bicycle. Annual and interagency passes are also available (the latter costs $80).
Climbers are required to register (free). There is a registration box at the climbers’ parking area, and there is also one at the visitor center.
Drilling to place bolts is prohibited. If you use chalk, try to use colors that blend with the rock here.
The area is popular and can be quite crowded, especially on weekends spring through fall. Also, some of the people there, skilled as they may be, are less the sanctity-of-nature types and more the types who see mountains and crags as a climbing gym with cool views. Don’t be surprised to see a climber smoking a cigarette or yakking on a cell phone about his new BMW or his stock portfolio as he waits his turn. So if you prefer a little communion with your climbing, try going on a weekday or in winter (but be aware that mornings, when the Virginia side of the Great Falls area gets plenty of sun, are often in the 20’s F or lower in winter, not great for climbing).
The park is home to copperheads. It’s unlikely that they hang out in holds on the cliffs themselves, but be aware. The danger, though slim, is greatest near the clifftops, where there are more places for snakes to be.
Poison ivy is abundant. The humid period from late spring through early fall features gnats, mosquitoes, and other biting insects.
External LinkGreat Falls NPS site
CampingNone-- day use only
Other InformationIf you have climbed or do climb any of the routes listed on this page, or any that aren’t, please add a route page or supply an overview in Additions (I will add it to the main page).
The attached pictures, if you click on them, will provide more details about the crag and some of the routes on it.
An excellent resource for the area is Eric Horst’s Rock Climbing Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland. The section on Great Falls provides one-sentence overviews of the routes. There are also photos, taken either from a boat or from the Maryland side, of the crags, and the photos have useful diagrams showing the locations and directions of the routes. The guide leaves the step-by-step concerns, and the fun, to you.
Even better is the PATC Climbers' Guide, which focuses just on the Great Falls area.