This weekend we decided to escape the heat and humidity, as best as we could, by giving alpine bouldering a try. We drove up to Smuggler’s Notch in Vermont, which is about 3-4 hours from where we live. The early morning drive was, for the most part, nice and easy. When we were in Vermont and getting close to the climbing area, there were a bunch of beautiful little towns filled with things I love like farms, cheese, glass blowing, and wood working/carving shops. It had a cozy feel to it, despite how largely abandoned a lot of it felt due to being an off season ski/snowboard area. Along the road you could see sprawling vibrant green fields and meadows of bright yellow, blue, white, and purple flowers. It is a very picturesque area.
We knew there was an impending storm, and the dark clouds that loomed over the mountain tops had us worried. We prepared a back up plan for how to enjoy the day if the storm gave way, and went for it anyway. This ended up being a good idea, because the storm held off until we left and the strong wind gusts felt incredible after weeks of oppressive heat. It was like being out at sea with the consistently strong whips of wind in all directions.
The truck maneuvered it’s way through the winding, sometimes very narrow, road that led up to the boulders. If you are planning a trip to this spot, you want to be wary of possible road closures and what season it is. It is not always possible to drive up it, and Mountain Project warns of potential heavy fines. This was not a problem for us and we were able to park really close to the boulders, but it is something to be mindful of.
Once you are there, it is very obvious this would be a bouldering location. There are massive boulders everywhere! Some are right on the edge of the road, some jutting out and almost into the road. It is by far the easiest approach I’ve ever encountered. There is zero hiking required to get to some of these boulders. In the past, I have hesitated at the thought of alpine bouldering because I picture the very long hike I took to get to the boulders in Idaho Springs, Colorado. Lazy sounding I know, but some days you feel up to hike and some days you just don’t. Regardless, this is not the case for this area. The boulders are literally right there. If you do want more of a work out, there are some awesome looking hiking trails and bike paths. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to ride my bike as much as being in this area. It looks behind incredible for it.
There is very easy access to nice restrooms too, since the visitor’s center is also right there. However, this means the area is filled with tourists who are there for a plethora of different reasons. There’s a lot of space and it didn’t feel like anyone was particularly in the way. It is just that we saw people all over doing a variety of things from picnics to taking fake climbing pictures to screaming in excitement over who know’s what. It’s maybe the closest you’ll get to feeling like you’re in the gym while outside. It is such a gorgeous area though, and still holds tight that glorious feeling of being out in nature. I was too stunned by the impressive nature to notice the tourist all that much.
Of course, the most important question would be if the climbs were worth the long drive. In short answer, after the day was done, yes! I look forward to going back and exploring more. I left feeling psyched to do much more, and wishing we didn’t have to leave yet. The day didn’t quite start out as love at first climb though.
We arrived, found a solid parking spot in the middle of the action and close to Josh’s goal boulders of the day, and warmed up with the no hangs.
Then we took the really short walk, like several feet, to the first boulders I wanted to try. These boulders were low to the ground, which is nice since the area has a bunch of intimidating highballs. These climbs seemed easy enough in appearance, but were deceptive. The schist rock of this area is high quality, with nice little quartz cracks and features. Some of it, however, is very slick and my initial attempts were complete shut downs. Such as this fine little climb here, which we believe to be about V4, but might need to look into more.
The rock here, at least, is so smooth and appealing to see, but hard to work. I give it some solid tries wanting to make progress but also feeling a bit worried nothing would feel climbable. The hand holds felt smooth, but easy enough to grip, and the feet just felt hard to find or stick. We took a walk around to the boulders close to it and behind it, and things were much different. The rock quality was still solid, but other routes felt more manageable and engaging. Soon we started having a lot of fun and finding projects quickly. Whether the slick rock are your thing or you’d prefer things more similar to the grittiness I gravitate towards, it is possible to find things you’ll love. There is a seemingly wide variety and some very exciting routes.
A V0 around the corner proved to be a better warm up, for the obvious reason of being an easier start, but also this climb was just a lot of fun. It had amazing crimps, which I love. The movement was fun, though it was one of those ones you will probably climb a little different each time you get on it. There are a lot of options.
Next to it was a slightly harder option, but equally as fun warm up climb. This climb had some challenging movement on incredible jug holds. Really the difficult part was adjusting the pad to cover the protruding rock you could hit, while also keeping it far enough away from your body that you can actually climb. It happens from time to time, but it was well worth the minimal efforts. I enjoyed this climb a lot. You start on a sloper hold, big move out and left, then bring your body into the biggest under-cling jug there is. You can bump right hand,reach up for a large, jug crimp, gain a big foot hold and summit to an easy top out. At least, this is how I saw it.
Josh quickly set eyes on this climb “The Impossible Problem.” He made quick work on it, but lost a lot of skin figuring out the beta and sending didn’t happen due to one hard move. He has figured it all out though, and I’m confident it will happen next time. This climb made for some excellent photos.
He then spent the rest of his efforts giving a few tries on “Touching the Sky.” That climb is gorgeous, but terrifying in the potential landings. From a lot of photos, it is hard to see how tall it is because people start on a boulder that is below it. However, with the wrong kind of fall, it could be possible to fall from both and tumble down quite a ways. To put in a little perspective, the warm up climbs I did and that were pictured above, are actually the lower boulder. People climb on top of that boulder to get to this one. The other side, where one would likely fall, is a bit lower than the side I climbed, but it is also right above a little hill. Next to “Touching the Sky.” is an iconic V2. I felt around the first few moves, but I’m a bit of a baby when it comes to huge falls so a send, honestly even a real go, was not in the works for me. I did capture a picture of a man I don’t know the name of doing a fine job with it.
All in all, we got a great first taste of this location. I had a lot of fun and look forward to our return. We plan to do a lot more and make even more of a day out it by staying a weekend. It was cooler, the climbing was fun, and the rock quality was worthy of the trip. When leaving, we headed through Stowe and grabbed some food at Piecasso. http://www.piecasso.com. It was a fun little spot. Bright colors, interesting decor, and decent pizza. We got some by the slice and tried out a few interesting mixes. I had buffalo chicken with banana peppers and a mozzarella, pesto, basil, and sundried tomato slice that was drizzled in balsamic. It was mighty tasty.
Normally, an initial trip is a bit on the easy going side for us. It can be hard to find things and know where to go. Now that we’ve looked at it, got a feel for the area, and tried out a few things, I’m sure our next trip will be a bit more extensive. I look forward to picking out some projects and trying hard. Leave a comment if you’ve visited and tell us what you think.