From the top Ways to climb Alternate start Next door
This river-facing wall has one of the classic Great Falls routes, Layback Dihedral, plus some challenging unnamed routes right next door.
The route information here is done from an unroped climber’s perspective and is primarily for such climbers. On a top rope, this route is easy and doesn’t warrant its own page. And although the route has a crack system suitable for lead climbing with natural gear, be warned that the rock here is very smooth and that protection has been known to slip out, hence one of the reasons toproping is the principal method of climbing at Great Falls.
If you like free soloing, though, Layback is a great route-- challenging enough to be worth the effort, dangerous enough to thrill you, and just a lot of fun in general.
The Layback Dihedral route is among the most popular at Great Falls. First of all, it is aesthetically pleasing. Second, it is a clean route. Third, it is long (60’) for a Great Falls route. Finally, it can take less than fifteen minutes to hike from the parking area to the base of the route.
Because of its friendly rating and its proximity to the parking area, Layback Dihedral is a favorite target for climbing classes and roped beginners. Don’t show up here on a nice weekend anytime after 9 A.M. and expect to find the route without someone else's rope thrown over it already. Instead, arrive at the park’s opening time (7 A.M.) or try this on a weekday fall through spring.
What makes this route challenging, exciting, and a little scary for the unroped climber is the exposure and, especially, since almost all technical climbs have exposure, the slippery rock. The Potomac River has polished this rock for ages, and the result is both lovely and dangerous. Even clad in rock shoes, the feet are prone to slipping here. And although there is a crack system almost all the way up, the crack turns into a finger crack as it reaches higher, and, of course, the friendlier handholds disappear as the crack narrows. The finish is a move to the right, but there is an alternate, and easier, exit left. And I’ll be honest—after nearly falling off the route close to the top, I was in no mood for the harder exit and finished left instead.
There are two ways to start the climb (see photo, red and blue routes). Both join about halfway up the climb. The right side, which is the correct and harder way, is the way I took. The left side is a little easier and provides some reasonably safe spots from which to photograph the route, which I don’t recommend that unroped climbers do if they are either higher on the route or following the official route from the bottom.
Right next door on the left is an unnamed climb that you might find intriguing (see photo). It is also harder than 5.4, but I couldn’t estimate it since I haven’t completed it myself. Choose either the left or right approach (left is easier, neither harder than 5.4) and climb until you are beneath the overhang, which is part of the 5.11 The Roll route and way beyond the scope of this page. Then climb up a short wall to the right. This wall offers very little to grasp and appears to be a friction climb on a steep angle. Not something for me!
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