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 feasible on routes such as Delivery Room and Romeo's Ladder.
As a look at the section on 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.
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, but take an immediate right instead and drive to the "lower lot," which is popular with climbers and kayakers and closer to the crags.
Hike to the River Trail, the last maintained trail before the river. After passing the Sandbox and Dihedrals access points, 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 around 15 minutes to hike from the parking area to the top of the Romeo's Ladder crag.
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.
For Scramblers: 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 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. 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 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.
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.
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. If you want quieter climbing, try going on a weekday or in winter.
The park is home to copperheads. It’s unlikely that they hang out in crevices and ledges 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.