Matilija Creek Wheeler Gorge seen from the second bridge
Wheeler Gorge is a collection of rock formations in the Matilija Canyon area in the mountains northeast of the town of Ojai, California.
This deep and rocky section of the north fork of Matilija Creek that we now know as Wheeler Gorge came to be during the construction of Highway 33, also known as Maricopa Highway.
Highway 33 connects Highway 101 to Interstate 5 passing through rugged mountains to the notheast of the town of Ojai. The easiest and the most reasonable course for Highway 33 was to go through Wheeler Gorge. This passage resulted in two tunnels and two bridges, hence all the rock formations next to the highway, the subject of this page.
The formations high above the tunnels.Wheeler Gorge rock climbing area can be divided into three major formations having the majority of the routes. There are also at least three more formations with a few climbs each. The formations are mostly sedimentary, steep and in some cases slightly overhanging. The biggest advantage to Wheeler Gorge is its ease of approach since it is on both sides of a highway’s twin tunnels. The biggest disadvantage to this area is the constant noise of the highway above or next to your head. In a few cases you start your climb some thirty feet below the highway and reach your anchor some forty feet above it.
Some of the climbs, however, are far enough from the highway to be quite pleasant. To approach the base of the climbs you rock hop back and forth across a running creek. Be on the lookout for poison oak. You will run into a lot of it.
Select Routes of Wheeler GorgeBarring the highway noise, climbing on any of the Wheeler Gorge formations can be fun on easier routes and pretty tough on the harder ones. The route difficulty ratings range from 5.9s to 5.12+. Much of the credit for cleaning and bolting the routes can go to a handful of climbers such as Reese Martin, Steve Edwards, Arvind Gupta and D. Gould. During his too short residence in Ventura, the super climber Stuart Ruckman put up a route, Stu Boy, 5.9, well below his ability. My guess is that Steve Edwards named the climb, not Stuart.
It is interesting that you can choose from three different kinds of rock to climb on neighboring formations. Your choices are sandstone, conglomerate or shale. Unlike Foothill Crag, the routes on Wheeler Gorge have a more reasonable number of bolts. Some of the local climbers such as Mathew Fienup have gone to great lengths establishing precedents using the best bolts and anchors available in the market. These local climbers take pride in keeping Wheeler Gorge a safe sport climbing area.
Walking around under the bridges and taking a bit more time to hike up the nearby canyons will reveal the great potential for expansion and route development in Wheeler Gorge. Looking up from the second bridge, the northeast one, will bring into focus a huge and well-featured rock formation further from the highway. As far as I know, that formation is yet to be explored and developed. The approach may be the most difficult part.
There are many more climbs at Wheeler Gorge than those listed in the routes table or the digram. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to get a reasonable distance from the crag to take photos.
Climbs of Wheeler Gorge
|A||Sunshine Dust Bunnies, 5.9, bolts, lower off|
|B||Exodus, 11a/b, bolts, lower off|
|C||Little Buckaroo, 11a, bolts, lower off|
|D||Blush, 11a, bolts, lower off|
|E||Not sure but I think it's Roadside Distractions, 12b, bolts, lower off|
|F||velocity Boy, 11b, bolts, lower off|
|G||Danger Boy, 11a, bolts, lower off|
|H||Stu Boy, 5.9, is to the left of Danger Boy. There is at least one variation; if you stay to the right of the bolts and climb through a roof and face, 11b, bolts, lower off|
There are at least three bolted routes on this cliff just before entering the first tunnel.
Looking high up from the second bridge.
Unlike in the mountains of Santa Barbara, there are a number of campgrounds along Highway 33 on your way to Foothill Crag. Wheeler Gorge Campground is up Highway 33 and not far from here could be used. If you want to camp closer to town, there are many State Beach campgrounds along the beaches of Ventura County.
The following links should help you find a suitable spot for camping.
Ventura Beach Camping
Wheeler Gorge Campground/Ventura, Ojai camping
Emma Wood State Beach
How to get thereDirections to Wheeler Gorge cannot be simpler. From Highway 101 and the city of Ventura, California, take Highway 33 north for 13.2 miles to its junction with Maricopa Highway in the town Ojai. Turn left here onto Maricopa and drive another seven miles. Go through the two tunnels and find a good place to make a U-turn. Come back to the second tunnel and park in a turnout/wide part of the road. Drop down to the creek and rock hop to different crags. The most popular formation is just past the second bridge to your right.