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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Big Cottonwood Canyon is rock climbers paradise

By Jessica Dunn

Did you know you face a greater risk of death from scuba diving or surgical anesthesia than rock climbing?

Fall is a great season for climbing. It’s usually not too hot or too cold, and as long as the weather stays nice there’s still plenty of climbing time to squeeze in.

There are many opportunities and places to climb in Utah. Students at the U are within 30 minutes of hundreds of climbing routes of varying difficulties. From City Creek Canyon to Mount Olympus to Lone Peak Cirque and everything in between, Salt Lake City is a major climbing haven.

Big Cottonwood Canyon is a local favorite. It’s easily accessible and offers a full spectrum of difficulties with good routes ranging from a degree of difficulty of 5.4 to 5.13 on the Brazilian grade scale. All climbers, from beginners to experts, can be challenged on the canyon’s cliffs.

The cliffs here are steeper than you think and the quartzite rock of Big Cottonwood Canyon takes some getting used to. The rock is slippery with holds forming odd angles and crazy body positions, but beginners will be able to appreciate the abundant handholds.

Bolts protect many of the lines in the canyon and make for a safer lead climb. The popular routes are maintained by locals who frequent the area. So you won’t have to worry much about a rusty or loose bolt, though you should always check.

Big Cottonwood Canyon is literally littered with routes from top to bottom. You could drive up and basically pull over anywhere and be able to climb.

A few popular spots include Dogwood Crag, the Salt Lake Slips and Storm Mountain Picnic Area.

Dogwood Crag is located about a mile up the canyon near the Dogwood Picnic Area and has a very short approach. You can access it by crossing the stream during low water or going through the picnic area to the eastern side where you’ll find a trail. To find the farthest routes, follow the trail up and east and for the closer routes, keep by the stream.

The routes can be reached from the top of the wall and allow easy rope setup without a lead climber for beginners. The rock here is slick at the bottom but climbable because of its backward slant.

The routes range from 5.6 to 5.13a. On the western, closer routes the farther east you go the more difficult the climb. The first few routes, Take Me to the River and On the Skids, have plenty of handholds and can be climbed very quickly. However, the next few, Haven’t Got a Clue and I Think I’m Going Bald have very slippery, rounded starts, but the climb quickens after that.

The Salt Lake Slips is a popular area because of its high-caliber rock, square edges and moderately difficult bolted routes. It also has a comfortable angle and an easy approach. You can park about 2.45 miles up the canyon either at a pullout or along the road. Then you drop down the embankment and cross the river to find the trail with the well-shaded, river-cooled walls.

The main wall faces east with some really good climbs at the north end. One route, the Italian Arete, follows a thin ridge to the ledge for a fairly easy climb.

The climb just right of the ledge, the Entre Nous, is deceptively harder with a mid-section that has few handholds. It may take a minute and some confidence for the beginning climber, but it’s well worth it to accomplish the 5.8+. (Though it might be safe to just give it the full 5.9.)

The last two, most northern routes are clean, continuous climbs with mostly obvious, but fun moves.

Storm Mountain Picnic Area has many sub-areas to climb. Reservoir Ridge is located just over Static Wall and north of the concrete dam at the west end of the reservoir. To access it, drive about three miles up the canyon, around Silent Rock, over the bridge and then park in the first lot to your left. Walk toward the reservoir and when you get to the dam follow the trail that goes to the right and toward the wall. The first place you come to is Reservoir Ridge.

Reservoir Ridge is a great place for new and beginning climbers. It has great rock and only a few tricky moves. There are several bolted variations to climb and even an unbolted small (but very fun) crag climb for the brave. The climbs farthest to your right have abundant hand and footholds and are easy but longer climbs.

Grab your gear or your friend with all the gear and head up to Big Cottonwood to enjoy rock climbing in the fall.

Or you could risk your life and go scuba diving, I guess.

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