(Birth Canal in photo above) The most beautiful hiking at the City of Rocks can be found in what the local guide labels the North Fork Circle Creek area. One of the larger faces at the City is named Steinfell’s Dome which is accessed via a separate and dead end road named Circle Creek Overlook. This road is a right hand turn before you make the main City of Rocks right hand turn. It is well signed and this trailhead services both the Steinfell area as well as the outback objectives to the east of the main reserve. Stripe Rock, the Great Wall and Tahitian Wall are several of the main climbing areas, but the rock croppings laid out in these huge flowering meadows are vast and varied. Stripe Rock centers the area and gaining its summit gives you a solid scouting opportunity to determine where you are going next.
Great Wall and Grey Wall are to the north of Stripe. Great Wall is actually the smaller of the two and is further west parallel to Grey. What drew me to this remote feature at the City originally was a route named Three Star Corner (5.10a). The old guide gave this trad route the maximum recommendaton and quoted someone as saying “one of the best crack pitches in the park”. Well that is an overstatement to say the least but it was an enjoyable corner climb, not really a crack/splitter climb, short and not near worth the praise given. My favorite route by far on the Great Wall is Birth Canal, 5.10d**, a two pitch potential pure trad classic not listed until the latest guide was published (2020).
Park at the Circle Creek Overlook Trailhead at City of Rocks. Follow the road beyond the gate northwest from the parking area. Take a left through another gate following the road through huge meadows. Continue west and soon you will easily make out Stripe Rock as the dome shaped feature with a huge dike running up its left side (the “stripe). Turn right after Bucket Land (all well signed in 2013) and proceed through another gate at the creek. Split right bypassing Stripe’s access across the creek and follow the trail on the right side of the creek. Great Wall is the lower wall and Grey Wall is the upper one. To reach Three Star Corner, locate the huge triangle cut out on the lower right face. Aim through the burnt out forest to the base of this large roof. Three Star Corner climbs the right facing corner up the left side of this feature (not right side as Bingham states) . The other routes can be accessed by following the base of the wall left (north).
Birth Canal- 5.10d**, 2 Pitches/ One of the wilder trips at the City. I thought I had climbed everything I wanted to at the Great Wall then came across the name of this route (added to the latest guide book as of 2020) and could tell there was probably something to it. Sure enough, there is this incredulous hole at the top of a steep corner at the north end of the west facing wall of the Great Wall. It is essentially hidden from most views until you bushwhack to the base of it. And as you might suspect, it can be a "birthing" experience getting through that “hole in the sky” depending on how large you are. I am 5’11” and 145lbs and I made plenty of grunts squeezing through it. The hole looks larger than it actually is from below. This is a two-pitch route. The 1st is non-descript and climbs up vegetated cracks to an obvious ledge to build a gear belay. The guide indicates 5.9 but there are no real 5.9 moves. Mostly just an approach pitch. From the ledge head up the wide and grass choked crack that eventually lands you below the corner proper. The crux through this section was having to step up onto and rely on a grass patch at a wide section. I had brought a #6 and was glad to have it for this one move. The transition left and up into the steep and intimidating corner above is the awkward crux at the grade. A #.4/.5 off set cam was perfect to protect this move and about the only cam that could protect it well. Once in the corner, the left wall sheds off and does not inspire confidence for your left foot. There are pockets of hand jams, but many times the crack is wider than that. The guide calls for #4’s of which I placed none. Between what I used on lead and both gear belays, I used a #5, and doubles from #.75 to #3 along with a few smaller pieces. Once squeezing through the hole, you can place small to medium gear on the summit for a gear belay. Downclimb north meandering down to the ground and cut back west and then south to the base of the route. Dow
Mystery Bolt Route- 5.9***/ I have climbed this route but can't find my notes, only fully bolted route on the wall as of 2020. Short at 70' to anchors vs most of the other lines which go to the top. Dow
Ye-Haw- 5.9+R*, 2 Pitches/ (my beta predates 2020 by a decade, this route might have been retrobolted since then) This route is located on the left side of the wall. After the first two bolts, the 3rd is very difficult to pick out. This is a mixed route and there is at least 60’ between the 2nd and 3rd bolt. The first bolt is accessed from traversing in from the left below a moss filled crack system above on the left side of the wall. The 2nd bolt continues a rightward traverse. Keep angling up and right finding several good placements (C4#.75 and .5). Follow the positive ground and trust there is a bolt up and right. The 3rd bolt starts the vertical 5.9 portion of the climb. There are two more bolts to a chain anchor. Only the last pro bolt and the anchor itself have been replaced. The first four bolts have fully rusted stems. You cannot rap this route with a 70m. I left a leaver biner on the 2nd bolt that a 70m just reaches from the fixed anchor. It took courage to rap on it though and would take more courage to fall on the 3rd or 4th bolt. I advise staying off this route until it gets retrofitted. Mixed. Dow
Yahoo- 5.9**, 2 Pitches/ Located just left of Modello in an obvious crack through a small roof. This route is 275’ and I did run it to the top of the formation in one pitch with my partner simul climbing through fairly tame ground. However there is much more rope drag on Yahoo than Modelo. This has less to do with extensions and more to do with how much rope is dragging against the ramp start. I advise doing it in two pitches. I unnecessarily ran most of it out because there was too much rope drag. The top part of this route had a ton of fun stemming at the grade as you maneuvered through several bulges on steep positive rock. A counter weight belay on top with one C4#.4 in the floor. Trad. Dow
Modelo- 5.9**, 2 Pitches/ Located in a large left facing corner which is left of a striking roof feature on the right side of the main wall. This route is 260’. With a 70m rope, I made it to sa mall ledge (230’) with good medium pro for an anchor. I was not as comfortable with my second simul climbing this one because the start is the stoutest part of the pitch. However, we were both comfortable soloing the last 30’ and thus un-roped at 230’. I originally started up the true corner until my partner pointed out the outstanding flake system to my right. This fantastic varnished flake system with a hand crack in it is the route. Due to the jugs this would be a 5.8 at many places. Once you get through this outstanding start (cracks through flakes), you pull out right and continue up to the obvious widecrack above. Everything goes pretty quick and easy to the belay but offers sustained “fun” if nothing else. If you combine this start with the finish on Yahoo, you would have one of the best 5.9 pitches at the City. There is more than the average normal amount of rat piss on this route. Gear to 3". Dow
Three Star Corner- 5.10a***/”One of the best crack pitches in the park” is not a proper assessment neither is the local guides "three star" recommendation. It is a corner, not a splitter, and thus barely classifies as a "crack" climb. It is made up of a unique multi-roofed corner with mostly finger jams and laybacks at the cruxes, but is also relatively short for all the praise in the guide. It was quite dirty when I climbed and had no discernible trail leading up to it. I speculate it was rarely climbed through 2010. Finding it is easy, look for the huge triangular roof on the far right shoulder of the Great Wall. Walk straight up to it. The rap hangers are a bit hard to see. The crux is close to the deck, a tight dirty finger corner. The upper part offers nice finger jams. The final slab traverse right to the anchor might feel a bit exposed for someone lacking slab skills. Single rope rap. Dow
I advise taking a single rope up to the Great Wall, if you can't rap a route with it, just walk off to the north.