Sprocket Rocks is a great escape from the desert heat that can grip southwestern Utah and is considered part of the West Cedar Crags area located at 6000’+/- over 10 miles west of Cedar City on Highway 56. While some shun the crystalline welded tuff (type of rock consisting of consolidated volcanic ash), I personally find it a joy compared to the frail sandstone of Snow Canyon and other like climbing crags closer to Saint George. This entire area sits on the Hurricane fault which separates the Colorado Plateau and Great Basin desert. Welded tuff is basically a product of lava (pyroclastic) flows hot enough to fuse or "weld" still-hot ash into a single uniform layer called a “cooling unit”. To me this rock has the look and feel of airy lightweight limestone and more particularly reminds me of the Ten Pins climbing area in Needles, South Dakota.
As before mentioned, some like welded tuff, some don’t. Todd Goss put it best, “caviar to some and Ramen noodles to others”. The crystals obviously are not to be relied on, but the edges seem bomber to someone who does not experience granite much anyway. Bring your trad gear, as two of the better routes involve nice 5.10 cracks running the length of the route.
The first five routes are on a rock they individually named Embryology Rock. It is the first large rock on the left side of this string of features.
- Fiesta at Elmos - 35’- 5.7/ Not sure this can seriously be called a 5.7, so if you were looking for an easy 5.7 lead, grab it. Not much to it, just textured slab up to chains. Shares the left face of a rock they have specifically named “Embryology Rock” with Super Groover. Gets afternoon sun (at 6000’ you might be looking for this). Three bolts to anchor, the middle bolt is shared with Super Groover.
- Super Groover - 35’- 5.8/ Todd says medium pro placement, but I don’t see the need. Three bolts to the same chains as Fiesta at Elmos. They share that middle bolt. Challenging start here that makes it a 5.8, just a move or two though, then a run up. Don’t cheat the start too far left, or you will miss the action.
- Embryology Crack - 35’- 5.10/ (trad)
- League Night - 40’- 5.11/ This is my favorite route thus far at Sprocket Rocks (May, 2007). This is an easy route to identify as large green hangers occupy the top 2/3rd of the route. You need to place small gear in a right angled crack to start. The crack goes nicely with a little layback and then dumps you on sparse ground at the first bolt. From there it is tiny, but bomber, crimps and edges through four bolts to a hanging position on chains. You get just a small break or two when you need it to make this a good 5.11 lead for 5.10 climbers.
- Project/ The bolts to the right of League Night peter out before blending in with League Night. Looks to still be missing a bolt if that was the builder’s intent. Going to be some overhang 5.12 if ever finished.
- Erie Heights - 35’- 5.10d/
- Rimjob - 30’- 5.12b-c/
- Get Fixed - 35’- 5.11/
- De-Appendix Day - 35’- 5.11b/
- Ticks on Parade - 45’- 5.10/ (looks to be a great trad route)
- Missy’s Playhouse - 40’- 5.8/ If you follow the existing trail straight up from the correct parking area, this is one of the first routes you see. An obvious chimney formed by two blocks to your right. If you like stemming, this route seems easier than 5.8 (my thoughts), if you don’t like stemming and have tight runner’s hips, etc., then it will seem tougher (my wife’s thoughts). Anyway, fun route, stem and clip, stem and clip until you lose the right block, then grab a bomber ledge above and make an interesting mantle move onto the face below the chains. Four bolts to anchor. A bolt has been removed from the original anchor and the replacement set far back. Use a long runner equalized with a figure 8 to get your rope off the edge for top rope purposes.
- Septic Death - 30’- 5.6/ A 5.6 route named Septic Death? Anderson has a great sense of humor. Uneventful route that runs parallel to the very nice arête line, “Line Between Light and Dark”. There is another line of bolts, only two I believe, in between Missy’s Playhouse and Septic Death. I would ignore them. Somebody was thinking of a 5.6 route here too, but not worth the trouble to finish.
- Line Between Light and Dark - 30’- 5.10d/ Great little route up a steep and pumpy arête on the edge of the same feature used for part of Missy’s Playhouse and Septic Death, to the right side. A bit overhanging, but positive grips. Three bolts to chains.
- White Harlem - 30’- 5.11d/ Same wall as Line Between Light and Dark
- Lip Before Clip - 35’- 5.10/ Move over to the next feature which looks suspiciously like the “cookie monster” (see photo!). I am not sure which is which here between Lip Before Clip and Cedar Variation, but they are both basically the same in difficulty and use the same finish which represents the crux move anyway. Assuming Lip Before Clip if the left route, it only has four bolts, not five (as per the Todd’s guide book) to a nasty little anchor that has a little bit of everything going on. I would use a long runner, equalized with a figure 8, to get your rope over the rough overhang for top rope purposes. These routes are both uneventful, but the feature is cool looking with shady belay spots. The more difficult move is past the last bolt, which both routes use and then real positive stuff to get you through the overhang by turning it to the right.
- Cedar Variation - 35’- 5.10/ Same as for “Lip Before Clip” except the first three bolts are around the corner to the right. Then traverse onto Lip Before Clip for the finish. Lip Before Clip is more sustained. Neither are difficult 5.10’s.
Getting ThereSprocket Rocks can be accessed one of two ways. Either right off of I-15 in Cedar City, by taking Highway 56 twelve miles west of Main Street or via Highway 18 north of Saint George to Highway 56 and then travel east past Pinto Road. What you are looking for is a BLM sign on the north side of Highway 56. Just west of this sign is an unmarked sandy road heading into junipers. You can see the crags up high to the west. Meander through the trees (perfect for a jeep, tight squeeze for anything else) until you come across the power lines. Turn left and park across from a well built cairn (2007) on the right side. The trail up to Sprocket Rocks is quite pleasant passing several unique features along the way, the first of which is in the shape of an oversized sofa chair. The 2nd is actually bolted with chains on top. Seems to be overdoing it a little for no taller than it is. Continue past this large rock to the base of the upper crags. The first climbs you should come to are a great crack trad climb called Ticks on Parade and a bolted chimney climb to the right of it called Missy’s Playhouse.
Red TapeThe BLM manages nearly 22.9 million acres of public lands in Utah, representing about 42 percent of the state. The regulations regarding most BLM land are fairly wide open compared to State and Federal parks. It appears you can camp and climb in this area at will. Pit fires are highly discouraged if not illegal but you see them. Like most of the rock back in the St. George area, you should not climb at West Cedar Crags within 24 hours of any rain. Remember, this is simply hardened volcanic ash.
This welded tuff is for sure a different rock than sandstone, but still would absorb a significant amount of moisture from rain I would assume. Don’t climb on it for at least 24 hours after a rain. At 6000’, climbing in the winter can definitely be too cold in this region. But of course that means the West Cedar Crags serve as a great escape from the searing heat in the spring and summer if you are camping out in southwestern Utah.