Trad Routes at Great Falls

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Maryland/Virginia, United States, North America
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Trad Routes at Great Falls
Created On: Sep 16, 2014
Last Edited On: Jun 7, 2016
Climbers in the Great Falls area almost exclusively toprope the routes because there are so many smooth rock faces, because natural anchors are abundant, and because access trails approach the clifftops. In fact, trad climbing in the area comes with the warning that the rock has been known to crumble slightly or break and gear has been known to slip out. Many strongly advise against leading here, and others feel okay with it. You decide!

However, there are some fair to very good routes that can be led. This page does not claim to be the final word on them; I have listed only routes that I have led or know can be led. If you have experience with others, please let me know so I can add them to this list.

This great blog post discusses trad out here, along with firsthand experiences leading several routes.

All the routes are single-pitch. The longest are around 60'.

Recommended gear: I have found that the most useful pro all-around here is one or two full sets of stoppers. However, I have also used hexes of all sizes, cams of all sizes, and Tricams from black to blue. Note, though, that the gear most often mentioned as being prone to failing here is the cam.

The routes below are solid leads because they have good or decent pro all the way or just about all the way. In the log post, the author talks of some routes I haven't listed, and I haven't included those because he makes them sound a bit sketchy as leads. I've done several of the listed routes on lead and have toproped or free soloed all of them, so I know what I'm talking about at least a little bit! (The blog post does mention some leads of routes I haven't even toproped, and I haven't included them since I have no experience at all with them.)

Virginia Side

RouteDifficultyParent CragNotes
Right Dihedral5.2Sandbox
Route can be extended left or right from top via a crack. Left is more like 5.4 or 5.5, right 5.0-5.2.
Sand Box Corner5.4SandboxThis is maybe THE classic beginner's route at Great Falls. On the easier side of 5.4, it also is excellent for learning and practicing to lead.
Sand Box Crack5.6SandboxYou'll want to stick something big into this diagonal, uneven crack early on and then put something else in soon; it gets easier as you get higher.
Box Left5.2SandboxTakes big gear as well as small, from small stoppers to a #6 Camalot.
Pretty sketchy-- shallow cracks. Take small gear.
Beginner's Dihedral5.2Dihedrals Not a lot of chances for good pro. Boring for anyone experienced and not so good for learners for the aforementioned reason. But it's trad-friendly in an area that mostly isn't, so hey. 
Pride5.4DihedralsFeels a bit harder than 5.4, harder than 5.5 Prejudice right next door. Great hand crack most of the way.
Layback Dihedral5.4DihedralsA bit run-out at the start and also at the finish, but awesome gear through the middle.
Epigone5.6Juliet's Balcony
Very short, but high-quality crack.
Left Stuff5.7Juliet's BalconyTough start, then a great crack to the finish.
Backslider 5.7Juliet's BalconyPerhaps the hardest 5.7 at Great Falls. Very tough for the grade. It's directly below Left Stuff, so you can link the two for a climb of close to 70', about as long as it gets at Great Falls, or you can two-pitch it for the practice with building belay anchors.
Possibilities5.9Juliet's BalconyRight next to Backslider. I haven't led this but know that it has been on stoppers.
Trellis5.0Juliet's BalconyVery easy, only the upper half will take decent pro. Mostly used as a descent route.
Seclusion Corner5.1SeclusionNot too exciting, only Class 5 at the very top.
Seclusion 5.4-5.7SeclusionThe classic route (5.7) starts below and left of a prominent flaring crack to the top (look for a tree growing from it); the 5.4 goes straight up to that crack.
Nubbin Corner5.2SeclusionEasy route but good opportunities to place pro.
Zig-Zag Edge5.5SeclusionThere are enough flakes and cracks to take gear. 
Stan's Lead 5.5Seclusion Despite the title, this is not a very good lead if you follow the traditional route. (A 5.7 alternative finishes straight up via a nice crack.) The lower half of the climb takes no gear unless you have very long slings (requiring you to go well off-route just to place the gear), but the upper half will take gear. 
Snowflake5.6 SeclusionThe finish is harder than 5.6, more like 5.8. Most don't know this because they don't top out since they're toproping it.
Great Beginnings5.7SeclusionThe crux comes early with a diagonal ascent requiring some underclinging and laybacking.
Romeo's Corner5.2Romeo's LadderShort, not great for placing pro.
Romeo's Ladder5.6+Romeo's LadderPerhaps the most popular climb at Great Falls. Holds can be pretty greasy. Good pro, though.
Romeo's Left 5.8Romeo's LadderVery nice crack system. I haven't led this but have seen it led (on cams).
Delivery Room5.5 Romeo's LadderLittle opportunity for pro on the upper half, but by that point it's practically a walkup; the fun is below.
Lost Arrow 5.10cAid Box
This route is tough enough on toprope; I have never led it and probably never will, but the line clearly can take small gear.
Diagonal5.9-Aid BoxThe start would be run-out, but there would be pro the rest of the way.
Dark Corner5.6Aid BoxGood pro.
Bird's Nest5.7Bird's Nest Because there is a traversing section on this one, it can help teach good rope management.
Armbuster5.9 Bird's NestRead the linked blog post. This is where a guy's gear failed and he decked, injuring himself badly. 
The Nose5.6CorniceThe crux is fairly early with working around an overhanging block. In my opinion, it would be sketchy to lead the route up to and through this part, but there is an easier and more pro-friendly line on the wall to its right.
Cornice5.7+CorniceI have not led this or seen it led, but the page linked to above contains a firsthand account of it.
Balder5.4Dr. NeedlepointLast third of this doesn't have good pro but is basically a scramble. It's also a bit dirty due to rarely being climbed.
Needlepoint Corner5.3Dr. NeedlepointGood pro. Stiff for the grade because it is steep and even overhanging at times.
Dr. Needlepoint 5.9 Dr. Needlepoint I've toproped this and think it could be led, as it follows some cracks up a steep, slightly overhanging face. 
Last Exit5.6Degree 101
I've read that a set of stoppers and BD C4 1-3 will do for leading this one. However, I would note that although the guidebook describes the climb as mostly a crack, it is really a flake, and flakes are usually better protected with passive gear. When I led it, I went all-passive. I also found the pro a little sketchy near the top. 
Socrates' Downfall 5.8Cow Hoof
On toprope, this is a stout 5.8. I watched a guy lead it and heard him mutter several times that no way was it a 5.8.
F.I.S.T.5.9- Cow HoofStart is an off-width.

Maryland Side

RouteDifficultyParent CragNotes
Peg's Progress5.4The Bulges
The routes here are seldom climbed these days and might not have been adjusted when the YDS expanded beyond 5.9. This route may feel harder, from 5.5-5.7.
Rocky Road 5.9-Rocky Islands  
Center Ring5.8Rocky Islands 
Rock and Roll5.7 Rocky Islands  
Dorian5.7The Greek Wall
Considered to be among the best routes in the area.
Odyssey5.2-5.4The Trojan Wall
Very easy, use flakes for placing gear.
AAU Crack5.10+Spitzbergen
Out of my league for leading, but the crack system here obviously invites (dares) gear.
Jam Crack5.2Carderock
Bottom half has no pro but is basically a stiff scramble to a big ledge.
Sterling's Crack5.7CarderockTough lead for the grade. Many on toprope think this is more like 5.8, so don't lead it unless you are a solid 5.8 leader.
Beginner's Crack5.3CarderockPlacements aren't too great but are enough to make this doable. Get out early if you want this one, as it is very popular.
Spider Walk5.7Carderock Runout but easy at the end.
The Crack5.3CarderockMany feel the opening move is more like 5.8. It is definitely tougher than 5.3. The finish feels a little stiff for the grade as well. Very friendly to gear once you get that first piece in, which isn't easy for most.
Easy Layback5.4CarderockGets pretty run-out at the top unless you have long slings.
Trudie's Terror5.6CarderockRun-out but easy at the end, good pro until then. Note-- one guidebook calls this 5.4 and another calls it 5.8. It is neither; 5.6 feels like a happy medium.