Scrambles and Climbs off a Well-beaten Path
Mount Marshall is a very popular destination in Shenandoah Park, with good reasons-- it is one of the highest peaks in the park's North District, the trail over North Marshall passes some open clifftops with beautiful views to the west, and the hike to those cliffs, which are just south of the summit, is less than a mile.
Those cliffs provide opportunities for scrambling and toproping, but two problems exist: people looking for solitude may not find it, and anyone below the clifftops may be at risk from unaware hikers throwing rocks from above.
But there are some other crags that are even closer to the trailhead but which see far less usage, and they are the focus of this page. These crags are excellent for scrambling and also offer technical climbing on cliffs up to about 40' high. Although I have not used a rope on any of those routes, I know from comparison to roped climbs I have
done that good routes starting from at least 5.7 are possible. Another plus is that these cliffs, which face mostly south, have some of the best views in the park, as the crest of the Blue Ridge through Shenandoah stretches before you. Although there is better technical climbing at Big Devils Stairs
, Old Rag Mountain
, and Little Stony Man Cliffs
, the first two require approaches of 2-3.5 miles, and the third may be busy with other climbers and will almost definitely be seeing heavy hiking traffic.
There is a climbing guide with a developed section on the park-- Virginia Climber’s Guide
by Jeff Watson, and it may have beta for these crags. Since it has received mostly negative customer reviews on Amazon, including complaints by long-time park visitors about not finding crags and routes where the author says they should be, and since a link implies an endorsement to me, I have not made a link for the book. Also, I cannot vouch for or against it since I haven't read it. But I do mention it for those interested in looking into it.
Getting There and Finding the Crags
Skyline Drive runs north-south through Shenandoah National Park, and there are four access points for it. To reach the crags on North Marshall, it makes the most sense to enter either at the Front Royal (north) entrance or the Thornton Gap entrance.
The trailhead is on the eastern side of Skyline Drive between Mileposts 15 and 16 (just before 16, to be more exact). The Appalachian Trail intersects the parking area here. From the parking area, go left on the AT. After about five minutes of hiking, a large outcrop will be visible just a few yards from the trail, and a short, obvious use trail leads to the outcrop.
There are at least two more crag areas beyond this first one, and they are easily reached via use trails and some mild bushwhacking (Note: dense undergrowth late spring through early fall may make this bushwhacking not so mild).
I don't have experience leading anything here, which is why I suggest toproping these rocks if you want to get into the technical stuff. Some of the crags have sufficient natural anchors atop or close to them, but it would be wise to bring your own gear for setting up anchors.
It is illegal to drill, chip, or do anything else to alter the rock!
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