Green Mountain Grip: Vermont’s Top Climbing Destinations

From adventure routes to sport crags, the Green Mountain State has a lot to offer.

By Dave Russo | March 14th, 2017

Hayden Bove on The Doggfather (5.12b), 82 Crag, Bolton. Photo: Outdoor Gear Exchange.

Falling in the shadow of the Northeast’s more prominent climbing destinations, Vermont’s rock has remained relatively unknown. Yet tucked into the rolling Green Mountains, Vermont’s climbing maintains the solitary sense of adventure that so often gets diminished amid the crowds of Whitehorse, Rumney, and Acadia.

From the long routes of Wheeler Mountain and Marshfield Ledge to the sport crags of Bolton to the boulders of Groton and Smugglers’ Notch, this little state has a lot to offer. Here are the highlights and beta for Vermont’s top climbing destinations.

 


 

Wheeler Mountain: Adventure Climbing

View of Wheeler Mountain from above. Photo: Sam Davies / Outdoor Gear Exchange.

Up in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom near Barton and east of Lake Willoughby, the adventure of climbing’s early pioneering days is still alive and well. This crag’s first documented route was climbed in 1947 when James C. Maxwell and John C. Hurd scrambled up Wheeler Mountain’s Standard Route. The steep granite slabs and cracks were established with a traditional ground up ethic—expect the climbing to be both exciting and bold. Wheeler Mountain is rarely crowded, and with 100-plus routes to find and project, you should plan on having to do a little cleaning while you’re there.

Best Season:

August-October and March-May

Classic Climbs:

  • Moosehead Crack (5.7), 100 feet ★★★
  • Whine and Cheese (5.11a), 300 feet (three pitches) ★★★
  • Vj’s (5.5), 400 feet (three pitches) ★★★
  • The Great Corner (5.11a), 100 feet ★★★
  • Kingdom Crack (5.10b), 50 feet ★★★
  • Strangers in the Kingdom (5.11a), 70 feet ★★★
  • Hot Seat in Hell (5.11d), 100 feet ★★★

Rest days:

Hit up Kingdom Trails for mountain biking and trail running, or swim and paddle in Lake Willoughby.

Where to Stay:

  • Campground at Lake Willoughby
  • GMC rental cabin at Wheeler Pond

Amenities:

  • Groceries in Barton
  • Beer and Snacks across from the beach at Lake Willoughby

 


 

Marshfield Ledge & Groton Bouldering: Secret Granite

Sam Baum on Just for Goobs (5.7), Marshfield Ledge. Photo: Sam Davies / Outdoor Gear Exchange.

Perhaps it’s the lack of cell phone service, the length of the approach, or the bumpy logging roads that protect this crag, but Marshfield Ledge might be Vermont’s best-kept secret. Remote in the best way possible, Marshfield has no crowds, no roads in sight, and no noise: just granite slabs and the High Grade Ledge, which features some of Vermont’s hardest sport climbs, including a few of the state’s only 5.14’s.

Hidden in nearby Groton State forest, there are 100-plus established boulder problems. If you stay at Kettle Pond, the Gem Boulder—also known as the Campground boulder—is right by some of the lean-tos and offers a dozen problems of varying difficulty. Check in with locals for beta as most of these boulders are found through word of mouth.

Best Season:

Fall, with its brilliant foliage and cool temperatures, is the best time to climb at the cliff, hands down. Part of the cliff is closed due to nesting Peregrine Falcons during the summer. Spring can yield decent days because the ledge is south facing.

David Russo on the classic V2 Gem Boulder, Groton State Forest. Photo: Josh Worley / Outdoor Gear Exchange.

Classic Climbs:

  • Just for Goobs (5.7), 350 feet (three pitches) ★★
  • Shorty’s Poop Route (5.10a), 420 feet (four pitches) ★★
  • Marshfield Corners (5.10b), 300 feet (three pitches) ★★★
  • Proud and Free (5.11b), 60 feet ★★★
  • High Grade (5.13a), 70 feet ★★★
  • Stoning the Fascist (5.14b), 70 feet ★★★
  • The Hardway (5.14a), 90 feet ★★★

Rest days:

Hike the Owl’s Head Trail in Groton State Forest for a lovely view of Lake Groton. You can also paddle at any one of the state forest’s many pristine ponds.

Where to Stay:

  • Kettle Pond
  • Big Deer State Park
  • Stillwater State Park

Amenities:

  • Eat pizza and drink beer at Positive Pie in Plainfield
  • Coffee, baked goods, and lunch are available at Rainbow Sweets in Marshfield (pizza on weekends)

 


 

Smugglers’ Notch: Vermont’s “Alpine” Climbing

Roy Quanstrom on Touching the Sky (V12), Smugglers’ Notch. Photo: Sam Davies / Outdoor Gear Exchange.

Smugglers’ Notch, also popular to skiers and ice climbers, is Vermont’s “alpine” training ground. The Notch, as it is lovingly referred to, is also full of roadside boulders that have fallen from the jagged cliffs lining either side of the road. These boulders have caught the eye of climbers and tourists alike ever since the winding mountain road has been open to automobile traffic. John Sherman’s famous book “Stone Crusade” even gives mention to the bouldering potential in The Notch.

More recently, climbers have started to explore the area’s longer walls and new route potential. Check out the digital version of Travis Peckham’s Tough Schist: Rock Climbing in Northern Vermont for updates and new routes (found on the Rakkup App).

Best Season:

May through October. Smugglers’ Notch is one of the only places in Vermont to climb during the summer months, when the heat and bugs are unbearable elsewhere. You can also bring a headlamp and climb at night to escape the warmer temperatures.

Classic Climbs:

  • The Diagonal (5.8+), 170 feet (two pitches) ★★★
  • Quartz Crack (5.9), 360 feet (four pitches) ★★★
  • Elephant’s Head Crack (5.9+), 200 feet (three pitches) ★★★
  • Better Living Through Chemistry (5.9+), 280 feet (sport, three pitches) ★★
  • The Deep End (5.11b), 390 feet (four pitches) ★★★
  • Airavata (5.12b), 300 feet (sport, four pitches) ★★★★

Classic Boulder Problems:

  • The Fin (V1), highball ★★★★
  • The Obtuse (V1) ★★★
  • Biscuit (V2) ★★★
  • Pac-Man (V3) ★★★
  • Nemesis (V5) ★★★
  • Little Cottonwood (V6) ★★★★
  • Pulled Pork (V7) ★★★
  • The Impossible Problem (V8) ★★★
  • Truth and Lies (V11) ★★★★
  • Touching the Sky (V12) ★★★★

Rest days:

Hike Mount Hunger or paddle/swim at Waterbury Reservoir. Then check out some live music and drinks at the Rusty Nail in Stowe.

Where to Stay:

  • Brewster River Campground
  • Smugglers’ Notch State Park
  • Waterbury Reservoir
  • Lots of Air BNB options and ski homes are available to rent at off-season summer rates.

Amenities:

  • The Alchemist Brewery (home of the famous Heady Topper)
  • Prohibition Pig
  • The Reservoir in Waterbury
  • The Ben and Jerry’s factory for dessert!

 


 

Bolton: VT Craggin’

Bolton is 30 minutes from Burlington and has become the go-to destination for the after-work climbing crowd and weekend warriors. The crags of Bolton are not just convenient, they are also diverse and one of the few places in Vermont with casual “craggin”.

Climbers can expect to find something for everyone here, whether they’re looking for trad, sport, multipitch, or top rope climbing options. There are also some boulders at the base of Upper West Bolton, though boulderers would be better served making the drive to Smugglers’ Notch or Groton.

Best Season:

September and October are fantastic in Bolton. May through July can yield good days, but it will be buggy. Many of the cliffs in Bolton are closed in the spring for Peregrine Falcons. Check with Crag VT for info on closures.

Hayden Bove on The Doggfather (5.12b), 82 Crag, Bolton. Photo: Outdoor Gear Exchange.

Classic Climbs:

Upper West:

  • Chockstone (5.8), 100 feet ★★★★
  • Private Property (5.8+), 60 feet ★★★
  • Dr. Dias (5.9+), 100 feet ★★★
  • The Rose (5.10a), 100 feet ★★★
  • Fresh Meat (5.10b), 80 feet ★★★
  • Paradox (5.10d/11a), 60 feet ★★★
  • The Thorn (5.11a), 60 feet★★★★

Upper Upper West:

  • Noises in the Night (5.7), 140 feet ★★★
  • Sling the Horn (5.8), 300 feet (two pitches) ★★★
  • Ladybug (5.10c), 160 feet ★★★

Carcass Crag:

  • Progress 5.11a 80’ ★★★
  • Worthless Stud 5.11c 70’ ★★★
  • Alternative Power 5.12a 50’ ★★★
  • Who’s Your Daddy 5.12c 80’ ★★★★

82 Crag:

  • Crimp Chimp (5.9+), 180 feet (two pitches) ★★★★
  • Politics of Dancing (5.10a), 120 feet ★★★★
  • Truffle Hog (5.10a), 180 feet (two pitches) ★★★★
  • Doggfather (5.12b), 65 feet ★★★
  • Encryption (5.12d), 85 feet ★★★

Bone Mountain:

  • Family Picnic (5.7), 150 feet (two pitches) ★★★★
  • Lost in the Forest (5.8+), 180 feet (two pitches) ★★★
  • Dust-in Bones (5.9), 50 feet ★★★
  • The Biter (5.10d), 90 feet ★★★
  • Give a Dog a Bone )5.11a), 50 feet ★★★

Rest days:

Check out nearby Burlington! North Beach and Oakledge Park offer great barbeque spots, beach lounging, and slacklining opportunities. Head downtown and do some shopping on Church Street—there is a little shop there called Outdoor Gear Exchange where you can get all the climbing gear and beta spray you desire (wink-wink). And while you’re in town, stop by some of the breweries in Burlington’s South End.

Where to Stay:

  • Mt. Philo Campground
  • Little River Campground
  • North Beach Campground
  • Plenty of AirBNB and rental options are available in and around Burlington.

Amenities:

Near Bolton:

  • Richmond Market for groceries and food
  • The Hatchet for beer, food, and creamees (that’s what we Vermonters call soft serve ice cream)
  • Stone Corral for beer and music
  • Coffee and baked goods at Sweet Simone’s

Near Burlington:

  • The Farm House Tap & Grill
  • Duino Duende
  • El Cortijo
  • Groceries, food, and beer at The City Market Co-op
  • Check out the Truck Stop at ArtsRiot for a dizzying array of food trucks

 


 

About the author

Dave Russo is a staff writer for Outdoor Gear Exchange. Based in Vermont, he is a short drive from adventures at one of many local Green Mountain crags. When he isn’t out exploring new cliffs and boulders, he can be found curled up with a book, joined by his partner Helen and their crag dog, Willow.

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