Many of the hikers on the very popular Billy Goat Trail are probably unaware that they are often hiking across the tops of nice climbing areas. The Greek Wall is one such spot, offering moderate and difficult routes ranging from 30-40’. That may not sound too exciting, and there are longer routes just downstream at the Trojan Wall, but if you climb here, you can be almost guaranteed of having the place to yourself. Also, as the cliffs face west, this is a nice spot to climb on winter afternoons.
The Greek Wall is directly across the Potomac River from the Dr. Needlepoint crag, and studying or printing the pictures of it on this page will be helpful in locating this crag since the approach is from the top. The easiest descent is via a Class 4 gully upstream from the named routes, but since water levels can dramatically affect access to the bases of crags out here, rappelling down might be a better option if you know the exact locations of the routes you want to climb.
Upstream of the Greek Wall and in the vicinity of the Class 4 gully is a moss-covered cliff face that offers up to 50’ of climbing suitable for people comfortable “scrambling” "easy" Class 5 routes. I found an enjoyable route there one morning after scrambling down the gully to photograph the cliffs on the other side of the gorge.
Routes on the Greek Wall, upstream to downstream (the photograph below marks the routes):
• Mixolidian (5.10+)
• Phrygian (5.10-)
• Aeolian (5.9+)
• Dorian (5.7)—This crack route is considered to be among the best in the Great Falls area.
• Hades (5.7)
Some notes about climbing at Great Falls: Most people toprope the routes, but the ratings are based on lead conditions, so topropers may think some routes are easier than their ratings suggest.
The climbs at Great Falls are short ones, but they are not sport routes. Most old bolts have been removed, and it is illegal to alter the rock by drilling or other means. Toproping is the predominant style here, but many routes are leadable. The rule at Great Falls: if you can't lead it with natural gear, toprope it just as everyone else does. This is the local ethic and was before the Park Service tightened rules about bolting and altering the rock.
To reach C&O Canal NHP, where the Maryland Great Falls Crags are: From I-495, take Exit 41, just north of the Virginia line, heading west on the Clara Barton Parkway and then onto MacArthur Boulevard. MacArthur leads directly to the park entrance at Great Falls Tavern.
Hike south to the Billy Goat Trail and turn onto it. From the parking area, the crag is about a mile away, but the hike there feels longer because the trail is so rocky. It is in an area where the trail breaks out of the trees and skirts open clifftops directly above the river. If you pass a trail marker marked just as Marker #1, you have gone too far.
Red Tape, Camping, and Links
The park is open from 7 A.M. until dark. There is an admission fee, good for three days, of $5 per vehicle or $3 per person entering on foot or by bicycle. Annual passes and the America the Beautiful Pass ($80 for the latter) are also available.
The park is home to copperheads. It’s unlikely that they hang out in holds on cliffs, but be aware. The danger, though slim, is greatest near the clifftops, especially those near trees, where there are more places for snakes to be.
Watch for poison ivy, especially on the descent.
Consider getting the PATC Climbers' Guide. It focuses just on the Great Falls area and details numerous crags and routes, including the Greek Wall.
C&O Canal NPS site