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 Atrium 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 Atrium is about 50 yards downstream from the Greek Wall and is across from the Degree 101
crag on the Virginia side. Access is by Class 4 ledges located downstream from the routes, which are, upstream to downstream, as follows (a photograph on this page marks the routes):
• Macedonian (5.10-)
• Athenian (5.7)
• Spartan (5.11-)—This 40’ face climb is considered to be among the best in the Great Falls area.
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.
Degree 101-- Use to help locate the top of the Atrium.
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.
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 Atrium.
C&O Canal NPS site