Page Type Page Type: Area/Range
Location Lat/Lon: 34.57824°N / 119.25821°W
Activities Activities: Trad Climbing, Sport Climbing, Toprope
Seasons Season: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter
Additional Information Elevation: 3481 ft / 1061 m
Sign the Climber's Log


The FortressThe Fortress
Lichen-free Ending CrackBlack Wall
Wheeler Gorge RocksWheeler Gorge
Potrero JohnPotrero John
The town of Ojai, California, has been a hub of cultural activities for decades. You find famous authors, musicians, painters, sculpters and movie stars calling this charming little town their home. What’s not obvious, however, is that Ojai is the gateway to many back country wilderness experiences such as hiking, biking, camping, hoseback riding, and yes, rock climbing.

There are many rock formations in the mountains of Ojai; five of which I have submitted “Mountain And Rock” pages on. These five formations are, Wheeler Gorge, Foothill Crag, Black Wall
, The Fortress and Potrero John. In this “Area And Range” page, my attempt is to make a brief introduction to this area with hopes for many more supplimental submissions in the future.

Four of the major rock climbing areas covered in this page are located along a winding two lane Maricopa Highway, just to the north of the town of Ojai. One of the formations, Foothill Crag, also known as “The Foot” is within walking distance of the town itself. During the 1990s you could drive to within a five minute walk of “Foothill Crag.” Following the major improvements and route development, mostly by the late Reese Martin, the popularity of this crag soared. This flux in activity brought with it many discontented and angry neighbors. The city of Ojai was forced to ban parking anywhere near Foothill Crag. Nowadays you are forced to hike some thirty minutes on an access trail running along private properties and people’s backyards. I’m not sure if the neighbors came out of this set up any happier.

Driving north on Maricopa Highway, the first formation you come to is Wheeler Gorge. This formation is next to Wheeler Creek, a pleasant place to climb. there are a number of formations here that have never been touched. Driving further up Maricopa Highway your next stop is Black Wall/Sespe Wall, some twenty miles from the town of Ojai. This is the oldest and the most popular crag in this area. Black Wall offers many easy to moderate routes.
Unfortunately, the highway noise can be deafening. On some weekends there may be motorcycle races up and down this highway.

Foothill CragFoothill Crag
Foothill CragFoothill Crag

The next two formations are Potrero John and The Fortress. These two formations are so close together that you may think they are connected, but they are not. Potrero John offers a number of sport routes on a clean and steep face. The Fortress, in contrast to Potrero John, is a complex formation with nothing but trad routes, never mind the sparsely spaced bolts. It is not clear why this formation lagged behind in route development for decades. The rock still requires a great deal of cleaning and the approach trail is in bad need of improvement. There are, however, a number of climbs in the 5.8 to 5.9 difficulty range that have been established on The Fortress.

Wheeler Gorge

Wheeler Gorge

Routes of the sandstone area
Barring the highway noise, climbing on any of the Wheeler Gorge formations can be fun on easier routes and pretty tough on the harder ones. The route difficulty ratings range from 5.9s to 5.12+. Much of the credit for cleaning and bolting the routes can go to a handful of climbers such as Reese Martin, Steve Edwards, Arvind Gupta and D. Gould. During his too short residence in Ventura, the super climber Stuart Ruckman put up a route, Stu Boy, 5.9, well below his ability. My guess is that Steve Edwards named the climb, not Stuart.
Routes of the left wall
It is interesting that you can choose from three different kinds of rock to climb on neighboring formations. Your choices are sandstone, conglomerate or shale. Unlike Foothill Crag, the routes on Wheeler Gorge have a more reasonable number of bolts. Some of the local climbers such as Mathew Fienup have gone to great lengths establishing precedents using the best bolts and anchors available in the market. These local climbers take pride in keeping Wheeler Gorge a safe sport climbing area.

Walking around under the bridges and taking a bit more time to hike up the nearby canyons will reveal the great potential for expansion and route development in Wheeler Gorge. Looking up from the second bridge, the northeast one, will bring into focus a huge and well-featured rock formation further from the highway. As far as I know, that formation is yet to be explored and developed. The approach may be the most difficult part.

There are many more climbs at Wheeler Gorge than those listed in the routes table or the digram. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to get a reasonable distance from the crag to take photos.

Climbs of Wheeler Gorge
ASunshine Dust Bunnies, 5.9, bolts, lower off
BExodus, 11a/b, bolts, lower off
CLittle Buckaroo, 11a, bolts, lower off
DBlush, 11a, bolts, lower off
ENot sure but I think it's Roadside Distractions, 12b, bolts, lower off
Fvelocity Boy, 11b, bolts, lower off
GDanger Boy, 11a, bolts, lower off
HStu Boy, 5.9, is to the left of Danger Boy. There is at least one variation; if you stay to the right of the bolts and climb through a roof and face, 11b, bolts, lower off

Foothill Crag/The Foot

Foothill Crag

Routes of the main formationThe Main formation

On my latest visit to Foothill Crag in 2009, I was impressed by the amount of the work that local climbers had put into developing this crag. The bolts looked safe and well-placed. The anchors are made of the latest and safest hardware available in the market today. Typical for any sport climbing area, the anchors are placed just below the top of the rock. On Foothill Crag additional bolts have been placed on the large boulders on the top to secure a belay or for setting up a rappel station without bending over the top to reach for the face anchors. Safety seems to have been the main concern on the minds of these few local climbers.
Routes of the smaller formationRoutes of the satellite formation

The rock itself is sandstone and faily soft on the hand. The routes are, for the most part, under 90 degrees and slabby. There are, however, a few overhangs for those looking for a greater challenge. With five anchors on the left formation, and two on the right one, you can set up top rope on virtually every climb on Foothill Crag. The majority of the climbs on Foothill Crag are in the 5.8 to 5.9 range. There are, however, two 5.10s that seem to win the greatest praise from climbers. These two climbs are “Ruthless Poodles, 10a” and From The Ashes, 10b” both put up by Reese Martin with “ground up” and self belay technique.

Important Note:

Although Foothill Crag could be considered as a sport climbing area, the bolts are quite sparce and the distances between them greater than you expect. Taking a supplimentry rack is highly recommended.

The best way to get to the top of the rock is via a great trail on the left side of this rock. There is a gully that divides the two larger and smaller formations. Forget about using that one for descent. It’s loose, steep and dangerous.

Climbs of Foothill Crag
ABijou, 10a, 2bolts to a ledge. If you climb to the top past two more bolts, it will be 10c, Standard rack
BChummin' For A Splatter 11b, two bolts and a standard rack
CI Love LA, bolts and a standard Rack
DRuthless Poodles, 10a, bolts and standard rack
EThe Crack, 5.6, standard rack
FClean Sweep, 5.9, 3 bolts and standard rack
GSob Story, 5.8, 2 bolts and standard rack
HBlown Out, 5.9, standard rack
IOverblown, 5.8, Rack up to 3.5 inches
JMoon Doggies, 5.8, Rack up to 3.5 inches
KTeetering On The Edge, 10d, a few bolts
LFrom The Ashes, 10b, a few bolts, standard rack

Black Wall/Sespe Wall

Black Wall

Climbs of the left sideLeft Side

My best guess for how far back the history of climbing on Black Wall may go, is the late fifties.
I have no doubt that Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia and a Ventura resident, played a role in establishing some of the routes on Black Wall. I started climbing on Black Wall in 1969, and I always came back with at least one tick stuck to my body. In the old times we did not have fixed anchors to rap down the face. We climbed to the top and came down the brush-covered east shoulder. I figure I picked up the ticks on the way down. In fact, for many years I called this rock “Tick Wall.” Thank to the efforts of the local climbers, there are bolt anchors on the most popular routes here. No need to go to the very top and pick up ticks. You can get to the bottom with two raps.

Climbs of the Left Side
AHalf Ascent, 5.5, standard rack
BMcTavish, 5.6,standard rack
CChip's Block, 5.6, standard rack
DSlime Climb, 5.3, standard rack
EWasp, 5.8, standard rack
FSting, 10+, standard rack
GMrs. Murphy's Rusty Old Packard, 5.5, standard rack

Climbs of the right sideRight side

There are several reasons for the popularity of Black Wall. The twenty mile drive from Ventura is really very pleasant. You may just want to go for a drive through the mountains, even if you are not interested in climbing. Another reason could be the easy approach. The approach to the base should not take more than 30-60 seconds. Black Wall is just across the creek from the road. Yes, I did say creek. The belayer stands right next to a creek. If you are climbing a route on the left side, your belayer has to find a rock to stand on. Finall, the rock itself, Black Wall is low angle and very slabby. If you have dropped out of climbing scene and want to get back on the rock, Black Wall is your ticket. The “Tree Root” is only 5.5 and as the name indicates, you have a tree at the end of every pitch. You also have a crack that you follow the entire way. You can sew up the climb if you wish.
Note: We are trying to preserve the trees. There are anchor bolts for belaying and rappelling. Please use them and use the trees only for shade.

The other extremely popular route is “Ending Crack, 5.7.” There are now two bolt anchors at the end of each of the two pitches. The first pitch is very well protected. The second pitch follows face moves with sporatic thin cracks here and there. Take some thin pieces for the second pitch. The anchor bolts are a welcomed sight and can be used for rapping to the bottom.

Note: There are several more climbs on Black Wall than the diagram and the tables indicate. There are also many variations to all of the standard climbs. It would be impossible to include all of these climbs without causing confusion. I have tried to include all the climbs that I feel receive most traffic.

Climbs of the Right Side
HPipe Cleaner, 5.6, standard rack
IWhite Spider, 5.7, standard rack
JEnding Crack, 5.7, standard rack
left KWadka, 5.7, runout, standard rack
right KTree Root, 5.5, standard rack
LPine To Pine, 5.6, standard rack
MHairy Airy, 5.7, standard rack

The Fortress

The Fortress
Routes of the middle and right formationsRoutes of the middle and right formations
Routes of the left formationRoutes of the left formation

At first glance, there are three distinct pinnacle/triangular shaped formations that stand out. These three formations contain the majority of the routes on The Fortress. Upon closer look, however, you will discover a few smaller satellite faces with a few routes of their own and potential for several more. One such face on the left sports a 5.4 route called “Footprints.” Another mini pinnacle on the extreme right offers a 5.9 climb named “Consumption Dysfunction.”

Thanks to the efforts a handful of climbers such as Mathew Fienup, the three larger formations in center of The Fortress complex offer a variety of routes from one to two pitches long. Most of the routes end on a ledge. Look out for the unfinished routes that climb up a few bolts and stop in the middle of the face. The routes are convoluted and you will find yourself weaving around bushes and blocks of rock. It’s a good idea to use plenty of runners here.

The Fortress is generally northeast facing and several of the faces get shade early in the day. This has caused large amounts of lichen to grow on several of the faces. Take a good strong brush to clean some of the holds.

Climbs of The Fortress
AFoot Prints, 5.4, standard rack
BSnicker Doodle, 5.9+, standard rack
CBlue In Green, 5.6, standard rack
DRational Expectations, 5.7, standard rack
EMagali's Arete, 5.7, standard rack
FNatural Rate of Unemployment, 5.10, standard rack
GPermanent Income Hypothesis, 5.9+, standard rack
HFree to Choose, 5.9, 2 pitches, standard rack
IConsumption Dysfunction, 5.9+, standard rack

Potrero John

Potrero John

Far Left side
Left side
Left of the middle
right side
extreme right side

Climbs of Potrero John
AEl Potrero, 5.9, now bolted, but still a runout
BZyzzxx, 5.8, five bolts
CPro Job, 5.9+, variation to route D, three bolts
DMicccis, 5.9, four bolts
ENot sure about the name or rating of this route.
FMenage a Trois, 10b, four bolts, a classic climb,
GRubber Man, AKA Color Blind, 10c/d, five bolts
HNewly bolted route, unknown name or rating
IBeginnings, 5.5, standard rack, this climb is on a separate rock just to the right of Potrero John, not shown in the route topos

Potrero John may be considered as the sport climbers’ answer to its immediate neighbors Black Wall, also known as Sespe Wall and The Fortress. On Black Wall and The Fortress you find nothing but “Trad” routes, and on Potrero John nothing but bolted sport climbs.

Sport climbing was not always order of the day on Potrero John. In fact, the history of climbing on Potrero John can be traced back to the 1970s when two of the biggest names in rock climbing, Yvon Chouinard and Henry Barber, climbed a hairline fracture in the middle of the face using thin stoppers of the period for protection. Now, that’s what I call climbing.

Subsequent to the few and far between first ascents on Potrero John, a few 1/4 inch bolts were added on different parts of the rock. In the mid 1990s the old skinny bolts were removed, probably by the late Reese Martin, and replaced by beefier and safer 3/8 bolts. On my last visit to this rock, I noticed that the two old top rope problems on the far right and far left are now bolted bringing the number of sport routes up to seven.


Views of the surrounding areas

Unlike in the mountains of Santa Barbara, there are a number of campgrounds along Highway 33 on your way to Black Wall. Wheeler Gorge Campground is one. If you want to camp closer to town, there are many State Beach campgrounds along the beaches of Ventura County.
The following links should help you find a suitable spot for camping.

Ventura/Ojai weather

Ventura Beach Camping

Wheeler Gorge Campground/Ventura, Ojai camping

Emma Wood State Beach

How to get there

Views of the surrounding areas

Directions to Black Wall of Sespe Gorge cannot be simpler. From Highway 101 and the city of Ventura, California, take Highway 33 north for 13.2 miles to its junction with Maricopa Road in the town Ojai. Turn left here onto Maricopa and drive another twenty miles. You will see Black Wall to your left across the creek.



Children refers to the set of objects that logically fall under a given object. For example, the Aconcagua mountain page is a child of the 'Aconcagua Group' and the 'Seven Summits.' The Aconcagua mountain itself has many routes, photos, and trip reports as children.