Just a short walk downstream from Juliet’s Balcony, the popular and beautiful Seclusion area has something for everyone. It is a classic Great Falls crag; like Dihedrals, it rises directly from the potent Potomac River and reaches high (for the area). Its cliffs are some of the most spectacular to be found at Great Falls, and that’s just with viewing and photography in mind.
The cliffs here are up to 50 feet in height, but they seem much taller because of their sheerness and their rising straight from the river. Standing at the water’s edge and looking straight up does, in fact, provide a wild and humbling feeling. Most climbing here is done via toproping, but good lead climbs are possible along some of the crack and arête routes.
Some named routes at Seclusion (upstream-downstream):
• Seclusion (5.7)—a crack route on the upstream face.
• Nubbin (5.1)—a river-facing wall just around the corner from Seclusion and at the upstream end of the crag; nice for scramblers.
• Zig-Zag Edge (5.5)—follows a crack just left of Nubbin, then climbs the arête above.
• Stan’s Lead (5.5)—climbs left onto a ramp from below the aforementioned arête, then into a large corner and below an overhang; challenging scrambling route with one very seriously exposed crux move about halfway up.
• Sickle Face (5.10b/c)—20 feet left of Zig-Zag Edge; combination of crack and face moves.
• Snowflake (5.6)—climbs flakes past a right-facing corner and finishes up a crack in the corner; just a few yards left of Sickle Face.
• Flaky (5.8)—climbs a corner face, then a prominent flake.
• Great Beginnings (5.7)—about 10 feet left of Flaky; climbs straight up, then to a right facing corner about halfway up, which leads to the top.
• Nylons (5.9)—climb a corner and flakes, then through a bulge; about 10 feet left of Great Beginnings.
• Original Juliet’s Balcony (5.1)—good for scramblers, not really worth the trouble of roping up; about 50 feet left of Nylons; climb the right side of the large, low-angle wall, with the correct route going just past the left side of a small ledge (the “balcony").
• Romeo’s Retreat (5.0)—another nice one for scramblers; climb up the middle of the low-angle wall; the left side of the wall drops into Class 4.
Scramblers, take heart! In addition to these routes, most of which require sensible people to rope up, there are some nice routes available for you (and I’m among your number). Three in particular stand out:
• At the upstream end, just right of the Seclusion route, a crack system leads from the base of Seclusion all the way to the top of the crag. This climb is 5.0-5.2 and very good for unroped climbers who need more excitement than Class 3 and 4 scrambles usually offer (see photo marked "Upstream End").
• Between Nylons and the wall holding Original Juliet’s Balcony and Romeo’s Retreat, try any of a few cracks, ledges, and protrusions and climb as close as possible to straight up. This will put you into the upper end of the Original Juliet’s Balcony route. Some of the moves here can get into the 5.4 range, but the exposure, while respectable, isn’t extreme, and the hardest technical moves are short ones.
• Left of the Original Juliet’s Balcony/Romeo’s Retreat wall, look for a crack running up the corner dividing the Seclusion crag from the Romeo’s Ladder one. This crack is 5.0/5.1.
If you have climbed or do climb any of these routes, 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.
Getting ThereLocals will know their own best ways. For others, though, these directions are easiest to follow:
From 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 Seclusion, 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 the crag.
Relatively easy Class 3/4 descents are possible from either end of the crag. An even easier approach is a bit farther downstream at the downstream end of the Romeo’s Ladder crag.
It should take less than 30 minutes to hike from the parking area to the top of Seclusion.
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.