By all accounts the south face of Gibraltar Rock was the first major rock formation to be noticed and climbed by Santa Barbara climbers in the early to mid nineteen fifties. The earliest of such climbers was Herbert Rickert. He, along with a few friends, did a great deal of cleaning and brush removing to clear a path up this face.
Although the sport of rock climbing had been an accepted and established activity in Europe for centuries, it had not made it to our little neck of the woods yet. Judging by the old photos, dated back to the mid fifties, people climbed in sturdy city shoes and used goldlines to rock climb.
At the present time the South Face of Gibraltar Rock is clean, and for the most part, solid. Decades of climbing on this rock has broken off most of the loose holds and has created ninety feet of beautiful and fun rock climbing. Many climbers, who went on to climb much bigger and better walls and mountains, trace back their begininnings to this rock.
The south face of Gibraltar Rock would have to be the most popular face in all of Santa Barbara County. These ninety feet of clean, steep and well featured face are the scene of weekend rock climbing classes and enthusiasts alike. I could claim that every inch, or at least every foot, of this face has been climbed on top rope or on lead. However, some sections are void of cracks for placing protection. That fact has not stopped climbers risking life and limb, and in a few cases without a rope or a partner.
encouraging a young student to go off the edge
Beta giving pooch
Our young rock climbing instructor
Climbs of the south face
Most of the climbs on the south face are moderate, and they range from 5.4 to 5.8. There is one exception, and it’s called The Nose. The Nose, B, is an overhanging hand crack rated 11a. This powerful crack leads to a solid double bolt chain anchor just over the lip.
Another very popular climb on the south face of Gibraltar Rock is a climb called Clingon. This climb is rated 5.8. I found this climb harder than just a 5.8 rating. The climb starts just to the right of the The Nose’s alcove. After climbing out of the alcove, climb through a shallow left facing dihedral and a small roof to the left. Climbing past this small roof to the ledge is the crux. Continue on the face moves to the top.
The easiest climbs are on the right hand side of the face. Most of them start on the, not so easy, openning moves of The Ladder. Once about 25 feet up you have many options. Contiueing up the wide crack/chimney is about 5.4. Other options go left and up on cracks or face moves can range to about 5.8. You can make it as interesting as you like.
Climbs of the south face of Gibraltar Rock
Smooth Arete, 12a, this is a top rope problem
The Nose, 11a, the most popular climb on Gibraltar Rock
Clingon, 5.8, this climb is harder than its rating
The Ladder, 5.4-5.8 depending on where you decide to climb
How to get there
View of the Santa Barbara Harbor seen from the hillsides to the north.
From Highway 101 take the Las Positas off ramp. For those coming from the south turn right; for those coming from the north turn left. In either case, drive toward the mountains to the north of Santa Barbara. Continue up Las Positas for .85 miles to State Street, where the name of Las Positas changes to San Roque. Continue driving straight toward the mountains until you come to HWY 192 (Foothill Road) in another .5 mile. Turn right at the intersection and continue up Foothill Road for 1.9 miles to its intersection with Mountain Drive. Turn left onto Mountain Drive and drive for .5 mile to its intersection with Gibraltar Road. Gibralatr Rock is about five miles from this point. You will recognize Gibraltar Rock located to the west of the road when you begin to see a large sandstone formation immediately to your right (east side of the road). This formation is “The Bolt Ladder.” Gibraltar Rock is a little further up the road and to your left. There are ample turnouts for parking between here and the next two turns in the road.
Camping and guide book
Turkey Vulture seen in the Santa Barbara back country
Unfortunately, there are no campgrounds close and convenient to Gibraltar Rock.
However, there is one very large and well developed campground at Cachuma Lake, and a few less developed ones along Paradise Road off Highway 154. There are also a few campgrounds along Highway 101 at El Capitan State Park and Refugio State Park.